Sunday, March 3, 2024

3/3: Debs Deal; Kip, Bert, Murry Sign; Lou Leaves; Ray HoF; RIP Al; HBD Matt, Trent, Ron, Neal, Jesse, Yo-Yo, Bill & Yaller

  • 1879 - C Ed “Yaller” Phelps was born in Albany, NY. Phelps was on the 1902 and 1903 National League pennant-winning clubs and played in the 1903 World Series, forming the Pirates’ first Fall Classic battery with Deacon Phillippe. He served mainly as a back-up catcher (he started in 1903-04) during his six-year Pittsburgh career (1902-04, 1906-08), hitting .247 as a Bucco. Ed’s career claim to fame is that he caught six straight shutouts for the Pirates in 1903, still a post-1900 record. His nickname of "Yaller" referred to his sallow complexion, according to his family. 
  • 1897 - 2B Lou Bierbauer was sold to the St. Louis Browns after six seasons with Pittsburgh. His 1891 signing by the Bucs, after he was left unprotected by the Philadelphia Athletics, was denounced by the A’s as “piratical,” leading to the Alleghenys evolving into the Pirates. The “king of the second baseman” had a slow start to his Steel City days, but rallied to hit .284 over his final four Bucco campaigns and his glovework was elite throughout. After a couple of years with the Browns and some minor league touring, he retired to his hometown of Erie. 
  • 1910 - C Bill Brenzel was born in Oakland, California. He spent parts of three seasons in MLB, beginning in 1932 with the Pirates when he got into nine games and went 1-for-24. He earned a reputation for his good glove, bad bat (.198 lifetime BA), and per his obit, quick wit and slow feet. He spent 18 years in pro ball (he left high school to begin his playing days at age 17), then managed in the minor leagues before becoming a long-time scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. 
  • 1912 - C Aubrey “Yo-Yo” Epps was born in Memphis, Tennessee. In the final game of the 1935 campaign, Epps caught for Pittsburgh after being purchased from the Birmingham Barons, where he was hitting .301, and went 3-for-4 with three RBI (and two errors, oops). The Pirates had high hopes for Epps - they had to outbid the Cleveland Indians to win him from Birmingham - but that game turned out to be his only major league appearance. He contracted a serious case of pneumonia during the off season and it cost him a chance at making the roster. Aubrey bounced around for another six seasons in the minor leagues and retired after the 1941 season at age 29. His nickname was due to his proficiency with a yo-yo. 
Deb Garms - 1941 Play Ball
  • 1940 - The Boston Braves sold OF Debs Garms to the Pirates. In 358 at bats for Pittsburgh he led the NL in hitting with a .355 average. At the time, there was no minimal at-bat requirement; league prez Ford Frick said the title was unofficial and 100 games, the traditional but unofficial cut-off line, was enough to qualify (Garms got into 103 contests), raising a hubbub as Cub fans thought Stan Hack's full-time .317 BA was tops. The league refused to bend, but in 1950, the NL made 2.6 AB’s per game the magic number. The veteran was sold to St. Louis after the 1941 season, where he would finish his career in 1945. Debs, btw, is not a moniker but his given name. His parents christened him in honor of early twentieth century labor activist and socialist, Eugene Debs. 
  • 1949 - RHP Jesse Jefferson was born in Midlothian, Virginia. In a nine-year career as both a starter and reliever, Jesse tossed one game for the Pirates in 1980 after the Bucs claimed him in September off the waiver wire from Toronto, where he was a member of the original expansion Jays. The outing was a strong effort by Jefferson, who beat the Cubs, 3-1, by going 6-2/3 IP of three-hit ball. It wasn’t enough to keep the 31-year-old in Pittsburgh, but it did get him a final contract with the Angels, where he finished out his MLB days after the 1981 season. 
  • 1952 - RHP Murry Dickson won the battle of the counting numbers, ending a two-day holdout by signing his ‘52 contract with the Bucs. Murray led the league in hits allowed (294), earned runs surrendered (129), home runs given up (32) and posted 16 losses with a 4.02 ERA. On the other side of the coin, he appeared in 45 outings with 35 starts, worked 288-2/3 innings and won 20 games, adding a couple of saves along the way. He was looking to plump his salary from $20,000 to $30,000 and almost made his case as he agreed to a $27,000 deal. 
  • 1960 - LHP Neal Heaton was born in South Ozone Park, NY. He pitched for Pittsburgh from 1989-91, making the All Star team in 1990 after a 9-1/2.87 mid-June start. Heaton, who had battled tendinitis, credited the 1990 success to a new pitch, a knuckle change. The league apparently caught on; he finished the year at 12-9. As a Pirate, his line was 21-19 with a 3.46 ERA. Heaton now coaches at the All-Pro Academy in Bellport, NY, and worked with Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz when they were in high school. 
Ron Wotus - 1983-84 photo via Sports Memorabilia
  • 1961 - IF Ron Wotus was born in Colchester, Connecticut. Ron spent his MLB career in Pittsburgh, getting into 32 games and batting .207 between 1983-84. He played in the minors afterwards, ending his playing days in the Giant organization. Wotus remained with the G-Men as a minor league manager from 1991 to 1997. He became the Giants third base coach in 1998 under Dusty Baker and has served as bench coach since 1999 under Baker, Felipe Alou and Bruce Bochy before returning to the 3B box in 2017; now he’s San Fran’s special assistant of baseball operations. Wotus was interviewed by the Bucs for the head honcho job in 2000, losing out to Lloyd McClendon. 
  • 1964 - Coach Trent Jewett was born in Dallas. Jewett was a catcher on the Pirate farm before continuing on as a coach in the organization. He managed the Triple-A Nashville Sounds from 1998 to 2000, was the Bucs third base coach from 2000-02, then returned to managing AAA Nashville and Indy until 2008 when he skipped to the Nats system. In 2013, he joined Lloyd McClendon as bench coach for Seattle, a position he held through 2015 when both Trent and Lloyd were let go. 
  • 1977 - Former Post Gazette Sports Editor Al Abrams passed away at age 73 after a heart attack. He covered the sports beat for the PPG from 1926 until his death and served as its sports editor from April 1947 to March 1974, with his regular “Sidelights on Sports” column continuing on even after he gave up the editorship. But his greatest contribution to the local sports scene may have been when Abrams founded the Post-Gazette Dapper Dan Club in 1936, now the Dapper Dan Charities, which awards an annual local Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Award and supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western PA for its sports activities. 
  • 1978 - Newly acquired RHP Bert Blyleven signed a new deal with the Pirates, overriding his old Texas contract (under the rules then, Bert needed to have a single contract - the Rangers had an annuity set up for him - or he would be eligible for free agency at the end of the year). The details announced by the team were fuzzy; the FO just said it was multi-year and included deferred payments, with Baseball Reference listing his 1979 salary at $500 K and the ‘80 pay at $300 K. Apparently it satisfied the Fryin’ Dutchman - he went on to post a 14-10/3.03 slash, working team-highs of 34 starts, 243-2/3 innings, 11 complete games, four shutouts and 182 whiffs. They also found time to work out a depth deal, signing 2B Mike Edwards. He was sent to Oakland in April. 
Matt Diaz - 2011 photo Claus Anderson/Getty
  • 1978 - OF Matt Diaz was born in Portland, Oregon. In December of 2010, he signed a two-year/$4.125M free-agent contract that could reach $5M w/bonuses with the Pirates, who were looking for some platoon punch to add to their attack. Instead, he suffered a power outage and slashed .259/.303/.324 without a dinger, resulting in the Pirates trading him back to the Braves, the club he had left after a non-tender, at the deadline for Eliecer Cardenas. Matt put 11 years in the league with a .290 lifetime BA after he hung ‘em up following the 2013 campaign, appearing in just 77 more games after he left town. 
  • 1987 - 3B Ray Dandridge was the only player elected to the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee. He spent a handful of games with the Homestead Grays in 1937 as a 23-year-old pup early during a career that spanned 22 campaigns. Dandridge was nicknamed “Hooks” because of his bowed legs, but like the similarly-statured Honus Wagner, was an elite fielder and batter, considered by many to be the Negro League’s premier hot corner guy. He missed out on an MLB shot because of his age (35), but still hit .362 in the American Association, where he was Rookie of the Year in 1949 and MVP in ‘50. Ray went on to become a Giants’ scout after his playing days. 
  • 1988 - RHP Bob Kipper signed a split contract, w/$125K for the bigs and $75K for the minors, as a take-it-or-leave-it tender offer from the Bucs. Neither he nor his agent was very pleased by the deal, with the agent suggesting the Pirates trade Kip someplace he would be more appreciated, at least financially. But Kipper made it through the season with an uninterrupted MLB stay, and got $105K added to his salary next season, sticking with Pittsburgh through the 1991 campaign.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

3/2: Jay, Ollie Snub Arb; Barkley Brouhaha; Mixed Ump Crew; RIP Howie; HBD Johan, Junior, Miguel, Jim, Brandon, Don, Albie, Frank, Rip, Bill & Chick

  • 1879 - RHP Joe “Chick” Robitaille was born in Whitehall, New York. He spent his two year MLB career as a Pirate (1904-05), slashing 12-8/2.56 before being released in August 1905. Chick signed on with the Washington Senators the following season as a free agent, but never returned to the big leagues. 
  • 1886 - The American Association met and overruled Denny McKnight, AA president and also owner of the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, over who held the rights to 2B Sam Barkley, then voted to suspend Barkley for signing with Pittsburgh. The issue turned around St. Louis Browns owner Chris von der Ahe, who had sold Barkley’s rights to Pittsburgh in January; Baltimore had sent him $1,000 for Barkley’s contract after a verbal agreement but it arrived after the Steel City deal. The case was eventually resolved by allowing Barkley to play for the Alleghenys, which sent Milt Scott from Pittsburgh to Baltimore as compensation, while von der Ahe got to keep Baltimore’s check to give everyone a piece of the pie, essentially completing a three-team deal. After all that horsetrading, Barkley hit .248 in his two years with the club, splitting time between first and second base. 
  • 1891 - C Bill Fischer was born in New York City. Bill spent the last two seasons of his five year career in Pittsburgh (he was traded to the Bucs by the Chicago Cubs in July 1916 as the Pirates were stockpiling catchers to spell the aging George Gibson) and hit .277 in 137 games before hangin’ the spikes up after the 1917 campaign. Fischer had a career year in 1915 playing for the pennant-winning Chicago Whales of the Federal League, when he batted .329. 
  • 1898 - RHP Floyd “Rip” Wheeler was born in Marion, Kentucky. After winning 23 games in the minors, the Bucs called him up in late 1921. He gave up three earned runs in three frames and opened 1922 in the minors. He got one more inning in Pittsburgh before joining the Cubs, where he yo-yoed between the show and the farm for a couple of seasons. Rip quietly concluded his career after three more minor league years in 1928 at age 30 playing for Evansville. 
Frank Colman - 1944 photo Find-A-Grave
  • 1918 - 1B/OF/PH Frank Colman was born in London, Ontario. He played for the Bucs from 1941-46, getting just 373 PA and hitting .233. In 1947, Frank’s career ended with the Yankees when a leg injury followed by surgery finished his MLB playing days. Frank caught on as a player-manager in the minors for a while, then bought the team he started out on, the London Majors. Frank later founded the Eager Beaver baseball group for kids, and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 as a ballplayer and ambassador of the sport. 
  • 1924 - OF Cal “Abie” Abrams was born in Philadelphia. He spent 1953 in Pittsburgh as the starting RF, hitting .286 with 15 HR, and was traded early in 1954 to Baltimore for P Dick Littlefield. Abrams hit .269 over his career, but drew 304 walks to just 290 whiffs and ended up with a .386 lifetime OBP in eight seasons with the Dodgers, Reds, Pirates, Orioles and White Sox. Abie ran a college bar after retirement and then became a celebrity host for a cruise liner. 
  • 1936 - RHP Don Schwall was born in Wilkes-Barre. A two-sport college star (he was All-Conference hoopster) at Oklahoma, he won the AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1961 with the Red Sox, beating out teammate Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski. He settled into journeyman status and was converted to the bullpen later in his career by the Bucs. He was a Pirate from 1963-66, going 22-23-4 with a 3.23 ERA. Don retired to Pittsburgh’s North Hills and worked as a broker. 
  • 1960 - RHP Howie Camnitz, 78, passed away in Louisville, Kentucky. He pitched nine years (1904, 1906-13) for the Pirates, with a line of 116-84-13/2.63, went to Philly briefly and returned to toss for the Federal League Pittsburgh Rebels in 1914-15, slashing 14-19-1/3.32. Camnitz was the ace of the 1909 World Series champs, and though he didn’t have a good Fall Classic, his 25-6-3/1.62 regular season was a big reason the Bucs won the flag. He threw for 235+ innings for seven straight seasons (1908-14), won 20+ games three times, and was on the same staff as his brother Harry in ‘09. Howie retired after his Rebels stint with a bum wing and became a car salesman. 
Howie Camnitz - Helmar Oasis
  • 1985 - IF Brandon Wood was born in Austin, Texas. A first round pick of the Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels in 2003 (23rd overall), he spent parts of five seasons with the Halos. The Bucs claimed him in April of 2011 off waivers and he got into 99 games that season, batting .220 with seven homers while playing all four infield positions (primarily third base). He was with four other organizations after that campaign, but ‘11 was his last season in MLB. After being cut in camp by the Padres in 2014, he played a year of indie ball before he hung up his mitt and became a minor league manager in the San Diego system. Wood now runs a training academy in Billings, Montana. 
  • 1985 - 2B Jim Negrych was born in Buffalo, New York. He never made it to the show but was a local story during his career. The Pirates drafted two-time All-American Negrych out of Pitt in the sixth round of the 2006 MLB Draft as the first Panther drafted since the Bucs selected P Larry Lamonde in 1981 (Dan Marino ‘79 & Ken Macha ‘72 were prior picks). In 2008, Negrych was the Pirates minor league player of the year and was a Carolina League All-Star, then with Atoona and again with Indy he was named an Organizational All-Star. But he topped out at AAA and bounced around several organizations, earning upper level honors but no promotions. Jim took his game east to the Chinese League for a couple of seasons, helped coach at Pitt, managed the New England College League Keene Swamp Bats and is now a regional scout for the Cards. 
  • 1995 - IF/OF/DH Miguel Andujar was born in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. After a breakout campaign for the Yankees in 2018 (.297/27/92) that saw him finish second in the Rookie-of-the-Year vote, he faded badly (he hit .230 with a 61 OPS+ from 2019-22) and was waived in late September of 2022 by New York. The Bucs claimed him, hoping that a change of scenery and some steady plate visits will help fill the Pirates right-handed hole at DH. Andujar was a surprise DFA before ‘23 camp, but passed through waivers and got a late season call, hitting .250 with four HRs/18 RBI in 30 games. Andújar was waived again in November, but this time he was claimed by the Oakland Athletics and quickly signed for one-year/$1.7M. 
Miguel Andujar - 2023 Topps Heritage
  • 1996 - At St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field, two Japanese umpires worked the Pirates-Cards exhibition game along with two U.S. umpires as part of an exchange program that also had American umpires working games in Japan. "I thought they (the Japanese) did a good job," said Pirates manager Jim Leyland. "And even if they didn't, you couldn't argue with them." Scott Zucker of UPI added that “(Tony) LaRussa offered that his only Japanese conversation consists of shaking his head 'yes' or 'no.' Keeping LaRussa quiet should be enough to keep any umpire, no matter what his nationality, happy.” The Bucs won the contest, 11-2, behind Denny Neagle’s first spring start without any international incidents. 
  • 1997 - RHP Junior Fernandez was born in Santo Domingo Centro, Dominican Republic. He was an on-and-off member of the Cards roster from 2019, going 1-1/5.15 in 50 games. He was waived in September and claimed by the Bucs, getting into three games. He only gave up a hit, but walked four (in his MLB career, he averages six free passes per game) in 3-1/3 IP with two K. Junior was released and pitched in the Yankee, Blue Jay and Nat systems; he’s now working in Japan. 
  • 1998 - RHP Johan Oviedo was born in La Habana, Cuba. He was inked by the Cards in 2016 and made his big league debut in 2020. The Cards used him out of the pen by 2022, but he was returned to the rotation by the Bucs, who acquired him as part of the Jose Quintana deadline deal. Johan got seven outings as a Pirate, going 2-2/3.23. Johan followed with a 9-14/4.31 slash in ‘23, working 177-2/3 IP and tying Mitch Keller for the most starts with 32. But 2024 ended up a lost season after Oviedo underwent off-season TJ surgery. 
  • 2005 - LHP Ollie Perez, 23, and OF Jason Bay, 26, symbolically refused to sign their pre-arb contracts, dissatisfied with the raises offered by the Pirates after their 2004 performances. Perez was given $381,000, a $60,000 increase (the largest pre-arb raise ever given by the Bucs) and Bay received $355,000, a $50,000 bump over 2004’s salary. Perez was coming off a 12-10/2.98 campaign while Rookie of the Year Bay batted .282 with 26 homers and 82 RBI.

Friday, March 1, 2024

3/1: PNC Reopens; Arb Protest; Roberto Late To Camp; Pirates Pirating; Forbes Field Started; Cuban Camp; MLB Radio Deal; Lockout; Drug Testing; HBD Trevor, Johnny, Jumbo, Lefty, Henry & Paul

  • 1855 - OF and general utilityman Paul Hines was born somewhere in Virginia. Hines played in 1,659 games in three major leagues from 1872-91, had 2,135 hits, hit .300+ 11 times and posted a career batting average of .302. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans, he played for the Alleghenys during part of the disastrous 1890 113-loss season and performed at their level, hitting a career low .182 in 31 games. He was 35 then and had one more season left in him, bouncing back with a more representative .282 BA in his swan song with Washington. 
  • 1864 - C Henry Yaik was born in Detroit. His big league career was spent with the Alleghenys when he played two games in October, 1888. Henry caught in one contest and played LF in another, with two hits, a walk, and an RBI in seven PA. His claim to fame: Henry was the catcher for Cy Young in the minors when they were battery mates for the Tri State League Canton club in 1890. 
  • 1885 - LHP Cleon “Lefty” Webb was born in New Gilead, Ohio. He joined the Pirates on September 1st, 1909 via the prospect draft. In his only big league season, he split time between the Bucs and the American Association Indianapolis squad in 1910, making seven Pittsburgh appearances (three starts) with a 2-1/5.67 line. 1914 was his last pro year; the Ohio Wesleyan grad went on to a second career of teaching, coaching and eventually became a school superintendent. 
  • 1891 - After earlier spiriting 2B Lou Bierbauer away from Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys again raided the American Association by signing OF Pete Browning and P Scott Stratton away from the Louisville Colonels, further cementing its new nickname of "Pirates." The Alleghenys were never found guilty of wrongdoing in any of the deals, and they thumbed their noses at being called piratical by rebranding as the Pirates for the 1891 season, at least per some of the media. The nickname slowly but surely caught on over time and was finally stitched on the team's uniforms in 1912. 
Forbes Field - 1909 Singer Company postcard
  • 1909 - Barney Dreyfuss began construction of a stadium near Schenley Park in Oakland, which would eventually be named Forbes Field after General John Forbes of French and Indian War fame. The steel-and-concrete ballyard was built and opened remarkably quickly on June 30th, remaining the Bucco’s playground for decades. The Pirates won three World Series there while sharing it with Pitt, the Steelers, the circus, rallies and events of all stripes before shutting down in 1970 and moving to the North Shore and Three Rivers Stadium. 
  • 1915 - RHP Nick “Jumbo” Strincevich was born in Gary, Indiana. The Pirates sent Lloyd Waner to the Boston Braves for Nick, and he remained a Buc from 1941-48, starting about half the games he appeared in while compiling a slash of 42-40-5/4.05 before being sold to the Phils. Strincevich was selected to play on the 1945 All-Star team but unfortunately due to wartime travel restrictions, the game and his day in the sun was canceled. Jumbo pitched 16 seasons of pro ball. His nickname was lifted from his dad, who was known as Big Jumbo and Nick as Little Jumbo. 
  • 1939 - The first Major League Broadcasting Agreement was signed just prior to the 1939 season. Prior to that, many MLB clubs didn’t broadcast their games over the radio for fear of losing attendance, especially the two-team cities. Afterward, they all did except for a couple of times that clubs didn’t get their asking price for the rights. The first televised game was also aired this year, and in 1953 ABC began broadcasting a national game on Saturdays. League-wide broadcasts started when Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis orchestrated a deal in 1935 that allowed the World Series to be carried over the radio on all three major networks. In exchange, baseball was paid $400,000 for the radio rights. This marked the beginning of the end of the radio bans, and by 1939, all MLB teams were free to broadcast their games on the radio. 
  • 1953 - The Pirates opened their first and only spring camp in Havana. The Cuban government didn’t garner the hoped-for financial results of the experiment while the Pirates missed competing against other MLB teams based in Florida, and as a result, the original three-year deal ended up one-and-done by mutual agreement. The biggest hurdle was the absence of drawing card Ralph Kiner, who was a holdout. It was a sore point for both the Cuban promoters, who counted on his star power, and the Pirates front office, who wanted him back in the fold. 
Pirates in Havana - 1953 Post-Gazette photo
  • 1956 - Roberto Clemente held out, missing the opening of camp. The Pirates offered $7,000; he felt he deserved $10,000. The Bucs held all the cards and signed The Great One for $7,500, but Roberto quickly made up the difference by hitting .311 and doubling his paycheck to $15,000 the following campaign. Clemente quickly became noted in Pittsburgh circles for late arrivals to camp for any variety of reasons, and while it didn't seem to hurt his preparation for the season ahead, it did cause some tooth-gnashing by his managers. 
  • 1957 - 2B Johnny Ray was born in Chouteau, Oklahoma. Johnny was the Rookie of the Year runner-up in 1982 to Steve Sax, playing in 162 games and hitting .318, also winning a Silver Slugger award in 1983 and named a Player of the Month in 1986. He played from 1981-87 for the Bucs, posting a .286 BA before being moved to make room for Jose Lind. He wasn’t done when the Pirates sent him to the Angels; in four years there, he batted .296 and played in an All-Star game. 
  • 1965 - Roberto Clemente didn’t report for spring training, suffering from malaria. He made it to camp a month later and muddled along until mid-May (his BA was .235 on May 21st), before he rallied to win the NL batting title with a .329 BA. He did struggle all year with his power stroke, bopping just 21 doubles and 10 home runs with 65 RBI, his lowest totals since 1959. The effects didn’t linger as a healthy Roberto went long 29 times with 119 RBI and a .317 batting average the following campaign and was named the National League’s 1966 MVP. 
  • 1976 - The owners commenced a spring training lockout, which lasted 17 days. Unwilling to delay the start of the season, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn decreed training camps to open March 18th. Players agreed to open the 1976 season without a collective bargaining agreement in place, and no games were canceled. A new four-year CBA was hammered out in July that allowed for free agency. It was ratified in August, with 24 players taking advantage of the new status. 
Camp lockout - 3/3/1976 Charley Feeney/Post-Gazette
  • 1984 - The Pirates announced that their minor league players would be drug-tested when they reported to camp and then would be spot-tested during the season, though the big league roster went scot-free. Pete Peterson told Bob Hertzel of the Press that “I personally feel there should be drug testing on the major league level...” but it wasn’t permitted under the MLB CBA. 
  • 1988 - RHP Trevor Cahill was born in Oceanside, California. He was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the second round of the 2006 draft out of high school. Cahill debuted in 2009 as a starter/long man, signing late with the Pirates in mid-March of 2021, with the Bucs the ninth club he’s hurled for. As a mound hybrid, he fit into Shelty’s plan to use an extended rotation, but went 1-5/6.57. In July, he was put on the IL with a calf injury and then fractured his foot. Cahill was non-tendered, then spent ‘22 in the Mets system and is now a free agent. 
  • 2006 - Four Pirates who hadn’t reached arb yet - LHP’s Zach Duke & Mike Gonzalez, OF Chris Duffy and 2B Jose Castillo - refused to sign their contracts in a symbolic snit over the amount the Pirates had allotted them. GM Dave Littlefield said they had an internal salary system the club was sticking to, and the players themselves accepted their payday fate w/o much ado after the fact. Castillo got $348K, Gonzalez $347K, Duke $335K and Duffy $331K. 13 other pre-arb Buccos went with the flow and signed their deals with nary a peep. 
  • 2021 - The governor relaxed venue closure rules and allowed the Pirates to use 20% of its PNC Park capacity for fans, or roughly 7,900 people per game, as long as social distancing protocols were in place. It was a baby-step return to normalcy for baseball as fans had been banned during the 2020 campaign due to Covid.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

2/29: Quiet Leap Day - Teke Signs, AJ Bunt Blooper; Maz Still On The Outside; Grapefruit Glasnost; HBD Bligh

  • 1980 - Kent Tekulve was unsigned and didn’t report to camp when it opened on the 27th after going 10-3-31/2.75 in ‘79 and saving three World Series matches. But after a short holdout, he agreed to a three-year/$1.5M contract on this date. He made his first (and only) All-Star appearance during the season, but also had issues with nerve damage that limited his workload and threw off his delivery in ‘80-81. Even with that hurdle, Teke soldiered on solidly - during the deal’s span, he appeared in 208 games with a slash of 25-25-44/2.95. 
Teke - 2003 Topps Tribute
  • 1988 - The Pirates practiced a little hardball glasnost by hosting the Soviet Union national baseball coaches, who were touring a handful of MLB spring training sites, at Pirate City. The Buc brass, led by Syd Thrift, shared some drills with the Russian coaches, showed them the difference between a two-and-four seamer and even taught them some plyometrics before gifting them with ball caps and baseballs, which were a rare (and much valued) commodity in the USSR. 
  • 1996 - OF Bligh Madris was born in Las Vegas. The Bucs drafted him in the ninth round of the 1997 draft out of Colorado Mesa University. He began to get notice in 2021 in the upper levels and was red hot at Indy in ‘22, getting the call to Pittsburgh in mid-June. In his first game, he went 3-for-4 (the first Pirate to have three hits in his debut since Jason Kendall in 1996) with two RBI, a run scored and a stolen base. But Madris' bat went quiet and he was DFA’ed in September, with Tampa Bay claiming him. He later was sold to the Astros and is now part of the Detroit Tigers organization. Bligh trivia: he’s the first Palauan MLB player. 
  • 2000 - Bill Mazeroski was passed over by the Veterans Committee for selection into the Hall of Fame by one vote. Maz told the Pittsburgh Press that “I don’t think about it. I haven’t worried about it for 64 years.” Billy didn’t have to bite his lip to hide his disappointment for too much longer - he was finally elected into the Hall a year later, proving there is room for a glove in Cooperstown. 
  • 2012 - Newly signed AJ Burnett fractured his orbital eye socket after fouling a ball into his puss during a spring bunting drill. He required surgery and was out of action until April 21st. Fortunately, AJ recovered without a hitch, tossing a seven-inning, three-hit shutout against the Cards for a 2-0 win upon his return. Not only did he go on to win 16 games for the Bucs, but the practice for laying one down paid off - he dropped five successful bunts during the campaign, although the fans covered their eyes in trepidation every time Batman squared up.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

2/28: Jack, A-Ram, Bob, Homer Sign; Cover Boy Clemente; Druggies Dinged; Barney Buys Into Philly; Price Goes Up; HBD Aroldis, Aaron, Lil, Jud, Moose, Cotton Top & Jack

  • 1865 - P Jack Easton was born in Bridgeport, Ohio. He tossed in the MLB for five years, closing out with a three-game (one start) stint with the Pirates in 1894, posting a line of 0-1/4.12. He finished his pro career in 1897 at age 32 with Wheeling of the Interstate League. He worked in glass plants after his playing days, passing away young in 1903 of consumption (TB). 
  • 1881 - IF Terry “Cotton Top” Turner was born at Sandy Lake in Mercer County. He only got seven at-bats for Pittsburgh as a 20-year-old rookie in 1901 after a two-day August audition, but after some seasoning on the farm, Terry carved out a 17-year MLB career, almost entirely as a Cleveland Nap/Indian. Turner’s calling card was as a master at “small ball.” He was a strong defender who led AL shortstops in fielding four times. On the attack, though he only had a .253 BA, Terry was a great bunter (he laid down 268 sac bunts) and a speedy, fearless runner who pioneered the use of the head-first slide while stealing 256 bases as a pro. His “Cotton Top” nickname came about because of his light hair. 
  • 1881 - OF Harry “Moose” McCormick was born in Philadelphia. Moose had a scattered five-year career in the big leagues and was an early pinch-hitting stalwart, hitting .285 over his career. He played his 1904 rookie campaign in part with the Pirates, hitting .290 in 66 games. His post-baseball career was interesting - he served in the military during WW1 and was a salesman, ump & minor league manager before serving as the skipper at Bucknell & West Point. Moose rejoined the Army during WW2, heading up the physical training program at Mitchell Field and became a director of vets housing after the war. He also wrote a coaching manual (“The Fundamentals of Baseball” in 1931) and spent two years running a baseball exhibit at the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940. His nickname dated back to high school where he was a strapping 5’11”, 185 pounds. 
Jud Wilson - Helmar T207
  • 1897 - IF Ernest Judson (Jud or Boojum) Wilson was born in Remington, Virginia. Jud played for the Homestead Grays (1931-1932, 1940-1945) and had a brief stop with the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932. The Grays’ captain and Hall of Fame infielder compiled a .351 lifetime BA. He was indifferent with the glove and feisty - his Hall of Fame bio describes him as “ill tempered and fearless” - but was one of the best pure hitters the Negro Leagues ever produced. Satchel Paige gave him his nickname when he yielded a line drive off Wilson's bat that zipped by his head. After that, Satchel called Jud by the sound the ball made: "Booh-ZHOOM!" per Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post. 
  • 1899 - RHP Ulysses Simpson Grant (“Lil”) Stoner - he got the nickname in his youth because his brother couldn’t pronounce Ulysses - was born in Bowie, Texas, the 17th of 18 children. Lil threw seven years for the Tigers; he was workmanlike, winning 10 or more games three times, but could never meet his highly-touted expectations. After that run, he got a brief look in Pittsburgh in 1930 (5-2/3 IP, three runs, seven hits) before being sent to Fort Worth. He had a bounce back campaign there at age 31, but failed a brief audition in Philly the following season and was out of pro ball altogether after the 1932 campaign. Stoner was quite the Renaissance Man - he was an excellent cook (his teammates sometimes called him the “Bowie Baker” because of his culinary skills), became famed for his flower-raising abilities (he was often called on to judge shows) and was an Enrico Caruso opera fan per Bob Hurte of SABR
  • 1903 - A syndicate headed by Philadelphia socialite James Potter that included Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss bought the Phillies for $170,000 and brought in former Bucco Chief Zimmer as a player/manager. Though they sold the team two years later, ownership interest in more than one team, with its inherent conflicts of interest, wasn’t prohibited until 1910. 
  • 1905 - Pittsburgh signed LHP/C Homer Hillebrand as a free agent. The 25-year-old saw action with the Bucs over the next two seasons, posting an 8-4-1/2.53 line in 17 games and batting .237 in 18 more games at first, outfield and behind the plate. The Pirates used the versatile Hillebrand on the slab because of his rifle at backstop; it was a mixed blessing as he was an effective pitcher but limited by arm soreness. Homer had to retire after a partial 1906 campaign because of his bum wing. He tried to make a comeback in 1908, but fell short. The lefty was a Princeton guy and a true 4-H’er - his full name was Homer Hiller Henry Hillebrand. 
Homer Hillebrand - 1905 Chicago History Museum/Getty
  • 1926 - The Pirates announced an increase in ticket prices at Forbes Field: with tax included, box seats jumped to $1.75; reserved $1.50; grandstand $1.10 and bleachers remained the same at $.50. When the ballyard closed in 1970, ticket prices ranged from $3.50-$1 at The House of Thrills. 
  • 1960 - LF Bob Skinner wasn’t happy about it, but he became the last Pirate to sign a contract on the opening day of camp at Fort Myers. He had a 40-point drop in BA from 1958 to ‘59 (albeit .321 to .280) and the team clipped his salary from $18,000 to $15,000. His pay would continue to yo-yo in his remaining three years in Pittsburgh, as he made $21K in ‘61, $18 K in ‘62 and $31 K in ‘63, before being traded away and settling on a pay scale in the mid-20’s range during his final five seasons with Cincinnati and Saint Louis. 
  • 1970 - Roberto Clemente was featured on the cover of The Sporting News for the story “Swan Song?” TSN needn’t have worried about The Great One fading into the sunset; the 35-year-old Arriba hit .352, earned a spot on the All Star team for the division-winning Buccos and won a Gold Glove. 
  • 1986 - Commissioner Peter Ueberroth gave seven players who were admitted drug users, including ex-Pirates Dave Parker (Reds) and Dale Berra (Yankees), a choice of a year's suspension without pay or being assessed hefty fines (10% of their salary to a drug program) plus career-long drug testing‚ along with 100 hours of drug-related community service, as a result of the Pittsburgh Cocaine trial. Parker, then with the Cincinnati Reds, and Berra, with the New York Yankees, unsurprisingly took the fine/testing/community service penalty. Lee Lacy (Orioles) and Al Holland (Yankees), likewise ex-Bucs, were issued lesser fines equal to 5% of their salary and had to perform 50 hours community service. 
Aaron Thompson - 2011 photo via Steiner Sports
  • 1987 - LHP Aaron Thompson was born in Santa Fe. A first round pick (#22 overall) of the Marlins in 2005, the Pirates picked him up off waivers during the winter of 2010, and he made his MLB debut in August, 2011. He got into four games (7-2/3 IP, 7.04 ERA) and was released at the end of the year. He later popped up briefly in the Twins bullpen (2014-15). He was let go after 2015, played a year of indie ball, spent another season in Mexico, and then retired in 2017. 
  • 1988 - LHP Aroldis Chapman was born in Holguin, Cuba. The Pirates signed the 14-year vet and seven-time All Star to a one-year/$10.5 M contract as a bridge man and experienced closer behind David Bednar to add another brick to an already-sturdy bullpen back end. 
  • 2002 - The team agreed to terms with 3B Aramis Ramirez on a back-loaded, three-year contract extension through 2004 for $9.5M. The Bucs traded him to Chicago, along with Kenny Lofton, in mid-2003 for IF Bobby Hill and a farmhand before the big money fell due. A-Ram finished his career with the Bucs in 2015, retiring after 18 MLB campaigns with a .283 BA, 368 HR and 1,417 RBI.
  • 2006 - The team and SS Jack Wilson worked out a three-year/$20.2M contract extension through the 2009 season with a limited no-trade clause and an $8.4M club option for 2010. He was sent to Seattle before the 2009 deadline. Injury-plagued in his later years (he only played 90+ games once from 2008-12), Jack retired after the 2012 campaign and now is a college coach.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

2/27: Cole Train, Josias, Big Daddy Sign; Mule Sold; Posey, Pie HoF; Candy Comeback; Early Pace-Of-Play; Bucs Grieved; HBD Craig & Matt

  • 1901 - So ya think that the pace-of-play/20-second clock is just a recent debate? After a Philadelphia meeting, the National League Rules Committee told umpires that a ball should be called if the pitcher does not throw to a ready batter within 20 seconds; they wanted to keep the game moving along at its two-hour tempo. Among other changes, the rule-makers directed umpires to chastise players who fouled off good pitches. This wasn’t intended so much to keep the game moving as a measure to save the owners the cost of replacement baseballs. 
  • 1926 - The Pirates sold 22-year-old OF George “Mule” Haas to the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association. The Buccos had a set outfield at the time, but should have been a little more patient with Mule. After two years with the Crackers and a .323 BA in 1927, the Philly Athletics bought him for $16,000 and he stayed in the majors for 11 years. Mule hit .292 lifetime by batting .280 or better for eight of his next nine campaigns, including three .300+ seasons. 
  • 1948 - 3B Pie Traynor was elected to the Hall of Fame by the baseball writers. The infielder spent his entire 17-year career with the Pirates, where he compiled a .320 lifetime batting average and never had a season where he struck out more than 28 times. Traynor was best known for his glove at the hot corner, where he recorded 2,288 putouts and started 308 double plays. He was formally inducted on June 13th, 1949, and accepted with a succinct 40-word speech. Pie stayed in the City after his career and is buried in Homewood Cemetery. 
  • 1968 - 1B/OF Matt Stairs was born in St. John, New Brunswick. Matt made a stop in Pittsburgh in 2003, hitting .292 with 20 homers before moving on to KC as a free agent. Stairs was a vet at relocating; in his 19 big league campaigns, he played for a dozen different franchises. He is just one of five Canadian players with 200+ HRs and was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. He was nicknamed “Stairsmaster," a play on his name. Matt was also known as the “Wonder Hamster.” He told Joe O'Connor of the National Post that “I have no idea what the Wonder Hamster was all about. That was from a fan in Oakland.” He did offer that "I'm short and chubby. I get up there and I'm a little guy" so it’s likely that his physique may be the moniker’s genesis. After he racked the bat for the last time, Matt worked with Boston as a TV game analyst, then went to Philly as a batting coach in 2016. He moved to San Diego after the 2017 season following Pete Mackanin’s dismissal and lasted a year; he’s been out of MLB since then. 
Matt Stairs - 2003 Topps Home Field Advantage
  • 1977 - OF/PH Craig Monroe was born in Texarkana, Texas. The vet hadn’t had a solid year since 2006, but the Bucs inked him as a free agent in 2009, hoping for a bounce back from the 32-year-old. They didn’t get it; he hit .215 with three homers and was released on July 1st, ending his MLB career. A Tiger broadcaster for the past decade, Monroe is the analyst on Bally Sports Detroit. 
  • 1985 - The Pirates signed 35-year-old RHP Rick Reuschel to a one-year NRI deal (it became official the next day). The FA had gone 5-5/5.17 with the Cubs and inked a contract with Pittsburgh after a bid to join the Giants fell through, with both he and the Bucs looking at a possible long relief role. Big Daddy did get into six games as a reliever, but ended up starting 85 times in 2-1/2 seasons with Buccos, slashing 31-30-1/3.04 over that time and earning an All Star berth. He was then traded to the team that didn’t originally want him, San Francisco, where he worked 4-1/2 more years, winning 36 games in 1988-89 and another All Star spot before hangin’ up the spikes in 1991 at the age of 42 to close a 19-year career. 
  • 1993 - LHP John Candelaria mounted a comeback with the Pirates at age 39 after leaving the fold in 1985 and then tossing for seven other clubs. But he ran into problems quickly, one of which was being arrested on this date for DUI. He apologized, promised it wouldn’t happen again, and then nailed down a bullpen spot in camp. But Father Time had caught up to the Candy Man - he was released in early July after 24 outings/8.24 ERA, ending his career after 19 seasons. 
  • 2002 - The Pirates re-signed RHP Josias Manzanillo to a minor league contract worth $550K at the MLB level. Jose had shot himself in the foot after turning down arb, where it was estimated that he could be awarded $2M, to seek a multi-year, free agent payday that never materialized. He fired his agent and told Robert Dvorchak of the Post-Gazette “I really don't understand how this thing works. I only know that I'm here. Things worked out that way.” But after two strong Pirates seasons (5-4-2/3.39 from 2000-01), he fizzled in 2002 after elbow surgery, was released in August and out of the league after the 2004 campaign. 
Cum Posey - Helmar Oasis
  • 2006 - Homestead Gray player, manager and owner Cumberland “Cum” Posey was selected for membership by the Hall of Fame’s Special Committee on the Negro Leagues, along with 1B/3B Jud Wilson of the Grays/Pittsburgh Crawfords and RHP Ray Brown of the Grays. Included in the class was OF Pete Hill, who was born (or at least raised from an early age) in Pittsburgh and first played for the Keystones. The Pittsburgh posse was inducted on July 30th. 
  • 2016 - Gerrit Cole signed a contract for $541,000, the same amount he made in 2015 with $531,000 in base pay plus a $10,000 bonus for making the All-Star team. He was a pre-arb player with no control over negotiations, and claimed that when he bickered for a bigger paycheck after a 19-win/2.60 ERA/202 K All-Star campaign, the Bucs countered by offering him the minimum of $507,500 if he didn’t take their offer. The Pirates FO was looking ahead to the baseline of his first arb year (Cole Train got $3.75M in 2017) and Gerrit had already pocketed an $8M signing bonus. Cole said “I understand the business of this game, but it is hard to accept…” adding he would carry no hangover from it going into the season. It did demonstrate that the Pittsburgh purse strings were tight, and Cole was sent to Houston in 2018, where he signed for $6.75M. 
  • 2018 - The MLBPA filed a grievance against four teams - the Pirates, Marlins, Rays and A's - complaining that they weren’t properly spending their revenue sharing monies “in an effort to improve its performance on the field” as specified in the CBA. The Pirates were targeted after dealing Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole for a pack of pups. MLB backed the Bucs, and GM Neil Huntington said “...our revenue sharing receipts have decreased for seven consecutive seasons, (while) our major league payroll more than doubled over that same period.” The grievance is still in limbo as the gulf between the financial have and have-nots grows.

Monday, February 26, 2024

2/26: Simon-Starr; CBA Agreement & Full Camp; Tossin' Tommy; Early Players Union; HBD Joe, Stan, Sonny, Vic, Preacher, Wobby & Sam

  • 1863 - IF Simeon Henry Jean “Sam” LaRocque was born in St. Mathias, Quebec. Sam played fairly regularly for Pittsburgh in 1890, getting into 111 games w/481 PA, hitting .242, but after just one outing in 1891 was shipped to Louisville, where he ended his pro career. Sam remained active in the minors afterward, working as a player/manager through the 1907 season. 
  • 1891 - 2B/PH Jack “Wobby” Hammond was born in Amsterdam, New York. A star high school athlete signed by the Indians out of Colgate, he got three brief stops in the show, his last being a nine-game, three-for-11 (.273) stand with the Bucs in 1922 when he was 31. Wobby showed a good stick in the minors, but mostly played at Class A. He retired from the American Association Kansas City Blues the year after his Pirates debut, hitting .300 in his final pro hurrah. 
  • 1901 - After a bout of American League raids and player league-jumping, the National League suits sat down with Pirates catcher Chief Zimmer, the president of the Players Protective Association. The two sides agreed to contract concessions for NL players who stayed home, including recognition of the union, a one-year reserve clause and minor league clarifications. Zimmer promised to suspend members of the union who jumped leagues in return. The summit didn’t work; the players expected more leeway and continued to chase a more lucrative paycheck from the AL while the union, beset by both sides, folded after the 1903 season. 
  • 1909 - The Pirates traded IF Charlie Starr to the Boston Doves for a PTBNL, C Mike Simon, who was sent to the Bucs a few days later. 1909 was Starr’s last season while Simon was a Bucco backup for the next five years, compiling a .244 BA and tossing out 45% or more of base stealers four of his five campaigns. Mike spent his last two campaigns in the Federal League. 
Mike Simon - 1912 T207
  • 1916 - LHP Elwin “Preacher” Roe was born in Ash Flat, Arizona. Preacher worked early in his career with the Pirates from 1944-47, where he was 34-47/3.73. He started off with two strong years, but an off season cracked noggin in 1945 from a tussle with a basketball ref was followed by a pair of poor campaigns. Preacher was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers and bloomed (a spitter added to his arsenal was said to have helped him mightily), earning four All-Star berths and pitching in three different World Series. There are two versions of how he got his childhood nickname. One story is that he was an ornery kid, and his grandma called him "Preacher" in hopes that he would eventually behave like a man of the cloth. The other more likely bit of lore is that a minister and his wife used to ride young Elwin around whenever they went out for a ride on their buggy, and he became known as Preacher because of his association with them. 
  • 1930 - C/3B Vic Janowicz was born in Elyria, Ohio. A gridiron All-America and Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, Janowicz passed on football to sign for $75K as a bonus baby with the Bucs. He hit only .214 over two seasons (1953-54) as a bench player. He returned to football late in the 1954 season with the Washington Redskins as a kick returner and became their starting halfback in 1955. An automobile accident in 1956 ended his athletic career. 
  • 1936 - Tommy Padden, a Pirates catcher, reportedly tossed a silver dollar about 475 feet over the Merrimack River and into a snow pile in front of a large crowd who came to witness the exhibition. Tommy was copy-catting the feat of the Washington Senator’s Walter “Big Train” Johnson, who flipped a coin across the Rappahannock a few days prior to duplicate the alleged long-toss (the deed is of dubious veracity) of George Washington per the New Hampshire History Blog. 
  • 1941 - 1B George “Sonny” Kopacz was born in Chicago. Sonny was a AAAA player who spent 14 seasons in the minors, eight in AAA, and in 1970 was the International League’s MVP with a line of .310/29/115 for the Pirates Columbus Jets. That campaign earned him a cup of coffee with the Bucs, but in 10 games he went 3-for-16 with no extra base knocks. He spent three more seasons a step away in AAA, retiring after the 1973 season at the age of 32. 
Sonny Kopacz - 1971 Topps Rookie All Stars
  • 1961 - Pitching coach Stan Kyles was born in Chicago. After an 11-year minor league pitching career, Kyles began coaching in the indie leagues and quickly got gigs with the Cubs (1992-93, 1997-2000), Rockies (1994-96) and Brewers (2001-12), spending his final three years as Milwaukee’s bullpen coach. Starting in 2013, he taught in the Pirates system throughout various levels until 2021, when he became a victim of MLB’s minor league consolidation 
  • 1973 - It was a pretty good start to the week for the Bucs - the day before, the players agreed to a three-year CBA, canceling the owners’ lockout threats. With that news, the earlier camps (the Pirates included) opened OTD and it was a full house for Pittsburgh after Richie Hebner signed his contract, the last one that was outstanding. But manager Bill Virdon’s work was cut out for him - he had to replace Roberto Clemente in the lineup and locker room. The Quail couldn’t solve that riddle, and was fired in early September with a 67-69 record. 
  • 1983 - RHP Joe Martinez was born in South Orange, New Jersey. Joe joined the Bucs at the 2010 deadline as part of the Javy Lopez deal with the Giants. He got into five outings, but didn’t impress despite a 3.12 ERA and was waived to Cleveland. He appeared in three more MLB games for the D-Backs and Tribe in 2012-13, then retired in 2014 at age 31 after 1,100 minor league IPs.

Camp Kicks Into Gear

Let the Grapefruit League commence...


  • Mitch Keller and the Bucs agreed on a five-year/$77M extension with no options, running through 2028. He was named an NL All-Star for the first time in 2023 after slashing 13-9/4.21 and working a career-high 32 starts/194-1/3 IP while setting the franchise record for Ks in a season by a RHP with 210. Mitch’s deal is the largest contract for a pitcher in team history, and the $15.4M per year average value of the deal is also the highest for the franchise. Not too surprisingly, Shelty then announced that Keller will be the Opening Day pitcher on March 28th against the Marlins in Miami; he was last year's Opening Day hurler, too.
Mitch Keller - 2024/
  • The Bucs dropped Saturday's Grapefruit League Opener, 5-3, to the Twins. Kyle Nicholas gave up a three-run dinger to allow most of the damage. Henry Davis went 2-for-3 while looking a little rough behind the dish (which may have as much to do with the pitching as his glove) while Jake Lamb had two hits and Edward Olivares drove in a pair. They started Keller and the A Team on Sunday v the O's, dropping a 2-0 decision.
  • OF Canaan Smith-Njigba, lost to Seattle earlier this month when he was DFA'ed to clear room for Aroldis Chapman's signing, rejoined the Bucs on Monday after the Mariners waived him. RHP JT Brubaker was moved to the 60-day IL to clear a 40-man spot for CSN; Brubaker is recovering from TJ surgery and isn't expected to be back until sometime around All Star break.
  • BTW, the youngest player in camp this year is 19-year-old 2B Termarr Johnson.
  • The Athletic’s Stephen J. Nesbitt and Ken Rosenthal caused a stir with their article (behind a paywall) describing some organizational issues with the Pirates, from coaching to penny-pinching. It caused a stir among the faithful but was quickly steamrolled by the Keller signing. Funny about that timing...
  • If it's not one thing, it's another...the MLB players have a beef with the Nike new uni's; not only are the numbers and name lettering smaller, but the pants are transparent enough for peek-a-boo shows. Please, camp battles, commence...
  • SportsNet Pittsburgh added four morel Pirates spring training games: 2/26 at Toronto, 3/13 at Toronto, 3/15 at Yankees & 3/20 at Yankees. The network will pick up the feeds of Rogers SportsNet (Blue Jays) and the YES Network (Yankees). 
  • Well, about time: part of Bradenton's 27th Street running past Pirate City was renamed Roberto Clemente Memorial Way on Wednesday.
  • LHP Austin Davis (10 outings as a Buc in 2021) signed a minor league deal with the San Diego Padres.
  • RHP José De León died at the age of 63 due to cancer. He started his 13-year, five-team MLB journey in Pittsburgh, tossing here from 1983-86 (17-38-4/4.02).
  • Local s/o to the Heinz History Center for being selected the #1 History Museum in the US; a big part of that is the Western PA Sports Museum. which fills two stories of the Heinz Museum building.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

2/25: Womack-Boyd; Matt, Big Poison Sign; Comfy Camp; Mexican Connection; Anti-Trust & CBA's; HBD Syd, Aaron, Phil, Xavier, Jim & Phil

  • 1893 - LHP Phil Slattery was born in Harper, Iowa. He got his only sip from the MLB well in 1915, doing nicely as a Bucco. In three outings covering eight frames, the 22-year-old pitched scoreless ball, giving up just five hits and a walk. His Pirates stop was in between stints with Marshallville of the Central Association, and that’s where he returned to after his September audition in Pittsburgh. Phil worked in the Central League through 1921 when he retired. 
  • 1906 - Pampered players department: The Pittsburgh Press reported that for spring drills in Hot Springs, manager Fred Clarke decided to “ away with the running in from the park to the hotel after afternoon practice. The road is a hard (and) one the players injured their legs while sprinting. If the men rode in open cars, they caught cold. Clarke will try to have a closed car held...until practice ends.” The team opened camp March 14th, barnstormed through a seven-game exhibition schedule starting April 4th and started playing for keeps with a Pirates squad who was presumably sniffle-free and with fresh legs on April 12th. 
  • 1929 - Pirate GM Syd Thrift was born in Locust Hill, Virginia. Thrift had been out of baseball for nine years when he was the surprise hire for general manager in 1985. He brought in dark horse Jim Leyland as manager and dealt veterans like Don Robinson, Tony Pena and Rick Reuschel in exchange for young prospects like Doug Drabek, Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere, Mike Dunne, Chico Lind and Jeff Robinson. Thrift's term ended after the 1988 season when he was fired after noisily butting heads with his front office overseers. Syd may not have been Mr. Personality, but he’s credited for laying the foundation for the team's success in the early nineties under Jim Leyland. 
  • 1931 - RHP Jim Dunn was born in Valdosta, Georgia. His only MLB work was done with the Bucs in 1952; in three outings, he went 0-1/3.38 in 5-1/3 IP as a 21-year-old. He started in the Pirates system after being signed in 1951 out of Alabama, and the Pirates lost him in the 1955 minor league draft. He pitched solidly in 1955-57, going through three levels with the Bucs and Cubs, but hit the wall in AA in 1958 and retired a year later at age 28. 
Paul Waner - 2/20/1937 Press cartoon/Berger
  • 1937 - Paul Waner ended his holdout after a phone call with President Bill Benswanger ended in an agreement on terms and went to camp. The salary was undisclosed, but was in the $15-16,000 range, a quite modest jump. He had made $14,000 in ‘36, a year in which he won the league batting title with a .373 BA and equaled his personal best with a .446 OBP. 
  • 1957 - In a big day for MLB, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 6-3 that baseball is the only professional sport exempt from antitrust laws, withstanding a challenge from the NFL. Ever since, congressmen (mainly from areas without teams) have threatened to rescind the exemption, but baseball has managed to dodge the bullet so far. The case was Radovich v. The National Football League, and the NFL tried to sway the court to give it the same antitrust status as baseball, but the Supremes ruled that it was a matter for legislative, not judicial, action. 
  • 1973 - A new three-year CBA was reached between MLB and the MLBPA. Included items were a $15,000 minimum salary, salary arbitration, and the '10 and five' rule, which allowed a player with 10 years in the major leagues, the last five with his current team, to veto a trade. The players were briefly locked out of camp before the deal was agreed upon. 
  • 1981 - The MLBPA voted for a strike authorization on May 29th if free agent compensation wasn’t settled. It wasn’t, and the 1981 Major League Baseball strike, the first work stoppage to result in regular season games being canceled, began on June 12th after an NLRB hearing couldn’t resolve the long-simmering issue. It forced the cancellation of 713 games before the two sides reached an agreement on July 31st and play resumed on August 10th, with the Pirates getting just 102 games in, the fewest in baseball. The 1981 campaign was split into first and second half winners w/playoffs and the compensation issue was never resolved satisfactorily. The negotiations were so toxic that when peace returned, MLBPA’s Marvin Miller and MLB negotiator Ray Grebey refused to shake hands or even pose with one another; the animosity would lead to more stoppages and the 1994-95 strike that canceled an entire season. 
Xavier Paul - 2011 Topps Update
  • 1985 - OF Xavier Paul was born in Slidell, Louisiana. After a couple of seasons with the Dodgers, the Pirates claimed him in 2011. He hit .254 in 121 games and was released in the offseason, playing three more years as a reserve for the Reds and Diamondbacks while also bouncing around in the minors, Mexico and the indies before retiring after the 2018 campaign. 
  • 1987 - RHP Phil Irwin was born in Germantown, Tennessee. The U of Mississippi hurler was drafted in the 19th round of the 2009 draft on the recommendation of scout Darren Mazeroski and posted a promising minor league resume. He was called up for a spot start in 2013 but his rookie year was short circuited when he injured his arm after his return to Indy, requiring ulnar nerve surgery (he had a forearm issue in 2012 which was likely the first sign of the damage). Phil came back to work in the Arizona Fall League but never was the same. He was DFA’ed by the Pirates in 2014 and claimed by the Rangers. He made one start for them and spent his last pro season in Korea in 2015. 
  • 1989 - Chuck Lamar, a Pirates scouting supervisor, engineered a three-year working agreement with the Mexico City Red Devils, following a mutually beneficial one-year option deal between the clubs. The Reds delivered Mexican players to the Pirates through contract swaps and provided scouting while Pittsburgh sent three players, usually guys on the AAA bubble, to Mexico City for the season. The arrangement lasted for 14 years overall and provided the Pirates with players like Francisco Cordova, Ricardo Rincon and Esteban Loaiza while it lasted. 
  • 1996 - LHP Aaron Fletcher was born in Geneseo, Illinois. The lefty was drafted by the Nats in the 2018 draft during the 14th round and traded to Seattle in 2019 as part of the Hunter Strickland deal. He was whacked around (12.38 ERA) in 10 appearances in 2020-21, waived and claimed by the Pirates. The reliever broke camp with the Bucs in 2022 after a sharp spring performance, replacing Sam Howard in the pen after he started the season on the IL. He went 0-1/6.94 in nine outings, was waived in July and claimed by the San Francisco Giants. They released him from AAA during the 2023 campaign and he’s now a free agent. 
Aaron Fletcher - 2022 photo/
  • 1999 - The Pirates traded 2B Tony Womack to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a PTBNL (RHP Jason Boyd, who was sent over in August) and minor league OF Paul Weichard. The original deal (Womack/Al Martin for Bernard Gilkey) was scotched when Gilkey wouldn’t agree to contract revisions. Womack led the NL in steals for three straight seasons, two with the Bucs, and played on Arizona and St. Louis World Series clubs. Mike Benjamin was supposed to keep the spot warm until Warren Morris was ready for everyday action, but the deal instead led to an unsettled situation at second with Morris, Pat Meares, Pokey Reese and Abraham Nunez holding down 2B until Jose Castillo’s arrival in 2004. Boyd got into four games as a Pirate while Weichard was a teenage lottery ticket who was often hurt and in four Pirates seasons never got past AA. 
  • 2005 - OF Matt Lawton signed a one-year, $7.75M deal with the Pirates. The Bucs traded him at the deadline to the Chicago Cubs for Jody Gerut. He had a solid half season for Pittsburgh, hitting .273 with 10 HR and 44 RBI before being flipped. It was his last hurrah; he played 11 games in 2006 for the Seattle Mariners to close out his 12-year, seven-team career.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

2/24: HBD Hans, Wilbur, John Henry, Earl, Steamboat, Bronson & Robert; Drabek, Smiley Sign; Honus Day; Bucs A-Go-Go?; Greenberg Flick

  • 1874 - Hall of Famer (he was part of the first class, with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, et al) Honus Wagner was born in Chartiers, now a part of Carnegie. Considered by many to be the greatest SS to ever play, he spent 18 years (1900-17) with Pittsburgh and played on a pair of World Series teams, winning in 1909. The Flying Dutchman won eight NL batting titles with a lifetime .328 BA. He drove in 100+ runs nine times and scored 100+ runs seven times. Wagner also served as a Pirate coach from 1933-51 and very briefly was a player/manager. 
  • 1892 - LHP Wilbur Cooper was born in Bearsville, West Virginia. Cooper tossed for 13 years in Pittsburgh (1912-24), winning 202 games, the most in Pirate history, with a 2.74 ERA and 263 complete games to his credit. He and Carl Mays are the only two 20th century pitchers who worked over 3,000 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA that aren’t in the Hall of Fame. 
  • 1898 - 2B John Henry Russell was born in Dolcito, Alabama. He played second and short for the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932-33, batting between Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston while earning a 1933 All-Star bid. Russell was considered one of the Negro League’s premier defenders and earned his keep at the dish, hitting .276 for Pittsburgh per Seamheads. Russell finished his career the following season at age 36 with the Cleveland Red Sox.
  • 1907 - C Earl Grace was born in Barlow, Kentucky. He was a reserve catcher for the Bucs from 1931-35 with a .275 BA, coming over from the Chicago Cubs for C Rollie Hemsley. Earl handled a glove as well as he handled a bat. In 1932, he finished the season with just one error in 413 chances to establish a then-National League record with a .998 fielding average. Grace spent 15 seasons in pro ball, retiring in 1940 and becoming a Phoenix-based real estate broker who did some spare scouting for the Yankees. Trivia: Earl was traded three times in his career; all three deals were for another catcher. 
Earl Grace - 1933 Pgh Press photo
  • 1909 - RHP Clarence “Steamboat” Struss was born in Riverdale, Illinois. In 1934, the Pirates brought Steamboat up from Little Rock, where he was the Southern Association’s strikeout leader. The 25-year-old “smokeball” artist got the start for the last game of the season and gave up six runs (five earned) in seven innings. Struss held the Cubs to seven hits, but six walks and a wild pitch that plated the winning run did him in (Bucco beatman Volney Walsh of the Press, who called him “Steamer,” recapped the game with a terse “He was too wild.”). Struss helped his own cause by smoking a two-run double. He pitched in the minors until 1941 in the Cub and White Sox systems but never got a second invite to the bigs. He picked up his nickname while playing in the bush leagues. 
  • 1955 - Mayor Dave Lawrence declared it “Honus Wagner Day” in Pittsburgh to celebrate his 81st birthday and Hans held court at his house. Friends, politicos, old teammates and writers filled his living room, as did a barrage of birthday cards. It also was the last push needed to close the remaining $7,000 funding gap to complete a statue honoring him. The final funds rolled in and the Dutchman attended the dedication of his Frank Vittor statue outside of Forbes Field in Schenley Park on April 30th before passing away in December. His bronze has since followed the Pirates around, moving from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium and now displayed outside PNC Park. 
  • 1977 - RHP Bronson Arroyo was born in Key West Florida. A third round pick of the Bucs in 1995, Bronson debuted with the Pirates in 2000 and worked three seasons for Pittsburgh, splitting the time between starting and the pen while slashing 9-14/5.41. He’s put in more than a decade of MLB work since then, mainly with the Reds, before being derailed by TJ surgery in July of 2014. The 40-year-old came back to pitch a final season for the Reds in 2017, retiring after the year with 16 campaigns spent with four clubs on his big league resume. 
Bronson Arroyo - 1998 Bowman Rookie
  • 1981 - How close were the Bucs to leaving? The Pirates, bleeding money, filed suit in the Allegheny County Courthouse for the annulment of its lease at Three Rivers Stadium after receiving relocation overtures from New Orleans, Washington & Tampa. The case was resolved when the Galbreath family sold the team in 1985 to a public-private partnership after threatening bankruptcy. 
  • 1988 - The Pirates signed RHP Doug Drabek ($160K) and LHP John Smiley ($100K) to contracts, with both Drabek and Smiley in their final year of pre-arb. Both eventually made up for lost income in spades by earning multi-million dollar deals later down the road in their careers. 
  • 1993 - RHP Robert Stephenson was born in Martinez, California. He was the Reds first round pick in 2011 as a prep pitcher and debuted as a starter in 2016. Spotty as a rotation arm, he was converted to the bullpen in 2019. After a steady season as a set-up man, he was traded to Colorado and had another solid campaign in 2021. He got off to a rough start for the Rox the following season and was waived in August. The Pirates claimed him, and in 13 games he slashed 0-1/3.38. In June of ‘23, he was traded to Tampa Bay and as an FA after the campaign (3-4-1/3.10 & 13 K/9 IP between the clubs), he inked a three-year/$33M deal with the Angels. 
  • 2000 - “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” had its local premiere at the Carnegie Museum of Art as part of the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Festival. The 1998 documentary featured archival shots, interviews and songs of Hammerin’ Hank’s era. Greenberg caught a lot of grief by being baseball's first Jewish superstar, and was considered by many Jews to be their equivalent of Jackie Robinson. The film was well received; it won a dozen various awards between 1998-2001.