Saturday, February 4, 2023

2/4 Through 1964: Harris Bought, Grantham Sold; DD Clemente; Early All-Timers; Hoopin' Hans; HBD Dan, Steve, Schoolboy, Possum & Lefty

  • 1875 - OF Alfonzo “Lefty” Davis was born in Nashville. Between 1901-02, he went to the plate 678 times for the Pirates and hit .300 w/.399 OBP, scoring 139 runs in 146 games played while swiping 41 sacks. Despite that production on the bases, he would only play two more big league seasons (.237 BA/.292 OBP with three other teams), spending most of his career toiling in the minors as both a player and manager. Lefty passed away on his birthday in 1919. 
Possum Witted - 1921 Exhibits
  • 1890 - UT George “Possum” Whitted (he picked up his nickname because of his tales of backwoods possum hunting) was born in Durham, North Carolina. Possum played in Pittsburgh from 1919-21, hitting .286 while manning first, third and left field. The vet was at the back end of an 11-year big league career while with the Pirates, and after one game for the Dodgers in 1922, his MLB days were done. His versatility was a big part of his longevity. Possum was the first rookie in history to start at every position except pitcher and catcher during a season, and over the course of his career started at least 39 times at every non-battery position. 
  • 1902 - The Hans Wagner basketball team made its debut, defeating a five from McDonald by a 9-5 score. It was common for players to work or tour in some fashion during the off-season to augment their meager pays, wrote Max Bultman of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (per Baseball Reference, The Flying Dutchman made just $138,500 during his 17-year career, topping out at $10K per season). Barnstorming was an especially popular practice for star players, who could trade in on their name for cash to carry them through the winter; the Pittsburgh Press of 2/5/1902 noted that pitcher Deacon Phillippe canceled a trip to Virginia because he was too busy practicing for manager Fred Clarke’s hockey team. Wagner was an all-around athlete - Hans’ hoopsters were an off season tradition and Wagner himself helped coach basketball at Carnegie HS and Carnegie Tech during the off-season and his post-baseball years. 
  • 1916 - RHP “Schoolboy” (he was a high school whiz on the mound, once striking out 25 opponents) Johnny Taylor was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Schoolboy began his pro career in the Negro/Latin Leagues in 1935 and joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1938, going 11-2. Like many on the team, he jumped to Mexico the following year and played there until 1942 when he entered the Army during WW2. He played ball sporadically after the war, tossing his last game in 1948.
Joe Harris - 1927 photo/George Rinhart Detroit Public Library
  • 1927 - The Bucs claimed veteran 1B/OF Joe Harris for the waiver price from Washington, where he was made expendable by the acquisition of Tris Speaker even though Joe had hit .306. Harris, an Allegheny County native from Coulter on the Yough, was pleased with the deal, and the Bucs were, too. He started 116 games in Pittsburgh as a 36-year-old, hitting .326 in ‘27 and batting .391 in June of 1928 when he was flipped to the Brooklyn Robins for Charlie Hargreaves in what became the 37-year-old’s final bow after 10 MLB seasons. 
  • 1932 - The Pirates sold 31-year-old 2B George Grantham to the Reds. Grantham was the Bucco second sacker for the 1925 and 1927 World Series clubs and put up seven straight .300+ seasons for Pittsburgh, with a BA of .315 between 1925-31. The FO must have had a glimmer that his tank was running low; his .300 streak ended at Cincinnati (.294) while his Pirates replacement Tony Piet hit .282 and then .323 the following campaign. George became a sub for the Reds in 1933 and the next campaign was his final MLB tour of duty. 
  • 1934 - The Pittsburgh Press announced its all-time Pirates squad (it was a limited edition, with the years bookended from 1900-33) but it was a pretty decent collection of talent - the outfield was RF Paul “Big Poison” Waner, CF Ginger Beaumont & LF Fred Clarke, the infield was made up of 3B Pie Trayner, SS Hans Wagner, 2B Claude Ritchey & 1B Kitty Barnsfield, and the battery consisted of C George “Mooney” Gibson, southpaw Wilbur Cooper & righty Deacon Phillippe. 
  • 1949 - OF Steve Brye was born in Alameda, California. Steve was a former first round pick of the Twins out of high school and had eight years in the show when the Pirates signed him as an extra outfielder in 1978. He played all three outfield spots during the campaign and pinch hit, getting into 66 games while batting .235 during the year. He was released after the season, played a year in AAA Hawaii for San Diego and retired at the age of 30. 
Steve Brye - 1979 Topps
  • 1962 - LHP Dan “Sacman” Plesac was born in Gary, Indiana. He was a Buc from 1995-96, about in the middle of his 18-year career in the show, and slashed 10-9-14/3.86 while with Pittsburgh. He was a part of the deal swung after the 1996 campaign that brought Jose Silva, Craig Wilson and Abraham Nunez to the Pirates from the Toronto Blue Jays. 
  • 1962 - Roberto Clemente was given the Dapper Dan Man of the Year Award after hitting .351 in 1961 to claim the NL batting title, his first of four crowns. Ex-Pittsburgh mayor and then Pennsylvania governor David Lawrence presented Clemente with his plaque to a standing ovation from the 2,000+ fans packed into the room. The Great One was humble, saying that “This award belongs to the fans and my teammates as much as it does to me." Dick Stuart also was presented with a DD award after hitting .301 with 35 HR’s and 117 RBI’s.

2/4 From 1965: Frankie, Arquimedes Sign; Arroyo, Bo Go; Pops-A-Go-Go; HBD Danny, Doug, Dennis & Neal

  • 1969 - Pirates GM Neal Huntington was born in Amherst, New Hampshire. He was named the Pirates GM after the 2007 season, replacing Dave Littlefield. Huntington built a team that broke a twenty-year losing streak and then made the playoffs from 2013-15, but the wheels fell off and he was fired after a 69-win campaign in 2019. Before Pittsburgh, he had been the Assistant Director of Player Development with the Montreal Expos in 1995 before moving on to the Cleveland Indians for 10 years, becoming their Special Assistant to the GM (2006–2007). He was replaced by an old baseball teammate from Amherst, Ben Cherington. 
  • 1970 - The Bucs sent noted bon vivant and so-so hurler Bo Belinsky to the Reds for RHP Dennis Ribant. Belinsky went 0-3 in eight games as a Pirate with a 4.58 ERA, and 1970 was the end of the MLB trail for Ribant (who had previously tossed for Pittsburgh in 1967) as he never pitched in the show again. Belinsky tossed three times for the Reds, and that was it for his big league stay. 
Dennis Ribant - 1967 Topps
  • 1971 - RHP Dennis Konuszewski was born in Bridgeport, Michigan. Dennis was chosen in the seventh round of the 1992 draft out of the U of Michigan by the Pirates and got called up in August of 1995. He came very close to having an ERA of infinity - he faced five batters, with four of them reaching base (he wasn’t smacked around so much as unlucky - a walk, two ground ball singles through the infield and a flare was the damage done against him) and two of the runners scored, leaving him with a 54.00 ERA in 1/3 IP. He was sent back down, with Jim Leyland telling Dennis he’d return (spoiler alert: Leyland fibbed). Konuszewski remained in the Pirates system from 1995-97, mostly for the AA Carolina Mudcats, before leaving baseball to become a sales rep and little league coach.
  • 1972 - It was a busy week for Willie Stargell. He began it with a White House visit with President Dick Nixon as part of the War on Drugs, then returned to Pittsburgh to visit the Black Athlete’s Foundation offices before signing his contract (the amount was undisclosed, but the Pirates called it a “substantial increase” from 1971). Then on the 5th, he joined Danny Murtaugh and Roberto Clemente as one of the co-winners of the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year Award. 
  • 1980 - LHP Doug Slaten was born in Venice, California. Slaten had spent four years in Arizona and two more in Washington before joining the Pirates in 2012 as a minor league FA. The 32-year-old spent most of his time at Indianapolis, but was called to work 10 games for the Bucs and acquitted himself well with a 2.77 ERA in 10 outings. Still, he was released at the end of the year, ending his MLB career. He earned an asterisk for Indy in April, serving up the last three outs of a combined no-hitter started by Justin Wilson and Jose Diaz. 
Doug Slaten - 2012 photo/Keith Allison, Flickr
  • 1996 - RHP Danny Darwin signed with the Pirates after a couple of dismal seasons at Boston, Toronto and Texas. He went 7-9 with a sparkling 3.02 ERA and was flipped at the deadline to Houston for reliever Rick Loiselle. Darwin was dubbed "Doctor Death" by Houston’s Nolan Ryan because Danny was always ready to rumble. He got into two famous bouts with teammates Orel Hershiser and Barry Bonds, though Bonds was just a raucous verbal altercation. 
  • 2003 - The Red Sox claimed Bronson Arroyo off waivers from the Pirates. After three seasons and a 9-14/5.44 ERA for Pittsburgh, he worked an additional 15 years in the show, winning 100+ games while going 10 straight years with 32+ starts and tossing 200 or more IP in nine of those campaigns. After a stint with the Arizona D-Backs in 2014 following an eight-year run with Cincinnati, he returned to the Reds organization in 2017 after taking a nearly three-year big league hiatus due to TJ surgery and elbow issues. He retired in September, was gifted with a guitar and rocking chair before his farewell and then played 40 minutes of Pearl Jam hits with his band postgame. 
  • 2015 - The Pirates purchased the contract of RHP Arquimedes Caminero from the Miami Marlins. The hard-throwing righty got into 112 games for the Pirates in 2015-16, slashing 6-3-1 (his only big league save)/3.58 with 23 holds, but his 1.66 WHIP got him shipped to Seattle for a pair of minor leaguers during his second year. He finished out his MLB stay there, keeping on by tossing in the minors, Japanese, and the Dominican Leagues before retiring in 2022 and taking on a minor league pitching coach position with the Houston Astros. 
Arquimedes - 2015 Topps
  • 2019 - The Pirates brought back LHP Frankie Liriano on a NRI deal worth $1.8M with an additional $1.5M available in incentives, with opt-out dates. Francisco had posted a 19-32/4.89 line since 2016, his final Bucco campaign, though he had developed as an effective LOOGY, limiting lefties to a .210 BA in 2017-18. He was signed to audition as a swingman who could relieve and fill in as an opener if the Bucs went that route in 2019, and made the team one more time, slashing 5-3/3.47 solely from the pen. He was released at the end of the year, took a Covid opt-out option in 2020, tried to comeback with the Phils in ‘21 unsuccessfully and then announced his retirement in 2022.

Friday, February 3, 2023

2/3: Mike, Tony, Stu, Rip Sign; Martin, Billy HoF; Caribbean HoF; Pops - DD; Plan B Ok'd; Last Calls; He's No Angel; RIP Bob & Tom; HBD Austin, Freddie, Joe & Live Oak

  • 1851 - OF George “Live Oak” Taylor was born in Belfast, Maine. He spent the majority of his brief career with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1884, playing 41 of his 67 big league games for the North Side nine. Taylor hit .211 and made a bundle of errors in center field, moving on to the Western League the next season. He finished out his pro career playing minor league ball in San Francisco, where he lived, and passed on from consumption in 1888 at the young age of 37. 
  • 1901 - Pirate utility man Tom O’Brien, who was born in Verona, died from pneumonia contracted while weak from typhoid at the age of 27 (buyer beware - we’ve also seen the 4th and 9th cited as his final day, so...). It’s said that the fatal combo was brought on by drinking seawater as a seasickness remedy while on a Cuban barnstorming trip. He was set to start after hitting .294 between 1899-1900, and his death left a void in the Buc lineup ultimately filled by Kitty Bransfield. 
Joe Coleman -1980 Topps
  • 1947 - RHP Joe Coleman was born in Boston, Massachusetts. It took Joe 15 years of big league pitching before he landed with the Bucs in 1979. Though just 32, the mileage on his arm showed as he went 0-2/6.10 after being called up from the minors in mid-July. Coleman appeared in his final major league game on September 24th as he didn’t make the cut for the postseason roster, then twirled for three more seasons in the PCL. Joe’s been a scout, coach and manager at the minor and major league levels for a variety of clubs since he hung up his mitt. He’s the middle man of an MLB baseball family - his dad Joe pitched in the forties & fifties while his son Casey tossed from 2010-14. 
  • 1949 - RHP Rip Sewell agreed to his 12th Bucco contract, signing for an undisclosed sum. The 41-year-old was coming off a 13-3/3.48 campaign, but 1949 would be his last hurrah, though it was successful - he went 6-1/3.91, with his ERA still around league average. He and the ol’ eephus pitch retired with 143-97/3.43 line, 243 games started (he pitched 390 Bucco outings overall), 137 complete games, 2,119-1/3 IP and three All-Star outings as a Pirate. 
  • 1959 - After rejecting the first two offers, 1B Dick Stuart and GM Joe Brown had a two-hour sit down and finally came up with a one-year/$11,000 agreement. Big Stu hammered 16 homers in 67 games as a rookie in 1958 and would go on to post a line of .297/.362/.549 with 27 HR in ‘59, getting into 101 contests while sharing the first base job w/Rocky Nelson and Ted Kluszewski. 
Fred Toliver - 1993 Fleer
  • 1961 - RHP Freddie Toliver was born in Natchez, Mississippi. Toliver worked 78 games in seven MLB years with his last big league stint as a Pirate in 1993 when he went 1-0/3.74 in 12 outings. Freddie truly lived out of a suitcase: he played for 10 different teams bouncing between the minors and the show from 1989-93; no wonder he called it a day after that season. 
  • 1975 - The Special Veterans Committee selected 2B Billy Herman (Cubs, Dodgers, Braves and Pirates) for the Hall of Fame. He spent his final season in 1947 as a Bucco player/manager, getting into 15 games and hitting .213. Billy played 15 years, hit .304 and was considered the best defensive second sacker of his time. He was inducted into the Hall on August 18th. 
  • 1977 - The Hall of Fame's Special Committee on the Negro Leagues selected Cuban star Martin Dihigo into the Hall, where he was inducted on August 8th. Dihigo, who at one time or another played every position on the field, was with the Homestead Grays from 1927-28 and is the only man who’s been selected to the Cuban, Mexican, and United States Baseball Halls of Fame. 
  • 1980 - Willie Stargell was given the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year honor for 1979. Cap’n Willie was the World Series MVP and NL’s co-MVP (with the Cards’ Keith Hernandez) in ‘79. It was his second DD award - he shared the 1971 honor with Danny Murtaugh and Roberto Clemente. 
Willie Stargell - 1994 Sports Design
  • 1982 - Minor league C Angel Rodriguez‚ 20, who played for the Pirates' Alexandria club (Carolina League), was suspended for one year for telling opposing Latino batters what pitches were coming, tipping them off in Spanish. Rodriguez had been suspended by the Pirates during an August 19th game against Lynchburg, and baseball added its punishment after investigators had obtained incriminating eyewitness accounts/written statements from eight umpires and several managers. He returned in 1984, but never got past the AAA level. 
  • 1984 - C Tony Pena agreed to a four-year pact with the Pirates worth $4.15M, avoiding a scheduled arb hearing (he had asked for $780,000; the Bucs offered $625,000; the new contract earned him a midpoint $700,000 for year one). It was a good deal for the Pirates; Tony was an All-Star for the next three years and two-time Gold Glove winner, then was flipped to the Cards for Andy Van Slyke, Spanky LaValliere and Mike Dunne in 1987. 
  • 1989 - The Pirates tried to splash Rennie Stennett, 38, and Gateway HS lefty Tim Conroy, 28, who started his MLB career at age 18, with some of Ponce deLeon’s Fountain of Youth elixir by signing the pair to minor league deals. Alas, Rennie, who had sat out the past eight years, and Tim, whose last big league outing was in 1987, had short-lived comebacks: Stennett went 2-for-3 as a spring pinch hitter but had lost his range and was cut at the end of camp, and Conroy got a couple of outings in AAA Buffalo before he hung ‘em up for good. 
Austin Davis - 2020 photo via MLB.com
  • 1993 - LHP Austin Davis was born in Scottsdale, Arizona. Drafted by the Phils in 2014, the reliever made his debut in 2018 and did OK (1-2/4.15, 32 appearances), had a shaky 2019, then was hit hard in a couple of outings in 2020 and DFA’ed; the Pirates swung a PTBNL (RHP Joel Cesar) deal for him. The Bucs called him up on September 11th off the taxi squad as a mid-inning arm and he appeared briefly with the big club again the following year. He was traded in the 2021 off season to the Boston Red Sox for multi-purpose player Michael Chavis. 
  • 1999 - “Plan B” passed the Pennsylvania legislature, assuring state money to complete new stadiums in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, a process that began for Steel City leaders back in 1991. It locked in some team payback (one state aide said the deal was neither a grant nor a loan, but a “groan”) after suffering setbacks in both Harrisburg back rooms and Pittsburgh voting booths. As a result, the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all Three Rivers Stadium was finally replaced by PNC Park and Heinz Field, both of which opened in 2001. 
  • 2001 - RHP Mike Lincoln joined the Pirates from the Twins after being released in the off season. The Bucs converted the starter to a bullpen role, and in three years with Pittsburgh (2001-03), he went 7-9-5 with a 3.50 ERA, closing briefly in 2003. He had a bruised shoulder in his last season, working just 36-1/3 IP, and was non-tendered after the campaign. Lincoln went to the Cards, but had TJ surgery during the 2004 season. It took four years for him to bounce back, but he did rally for a final three-year tour (2008-10) with the Reds before retiring. 
Mike Lincoln - 2002 Upper Deck
  • 2015 - The Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame inducted six new members, including Roberto Clemente. He joined former Buccos Manny Mota, Tony Armas Sr., George Brunet, Juan Pizarro, Vicente Romo, and Luis Arroyo as members. The following year, ex-Bucco catcher Tony Pena was also inducted into the Hall. Later, a pair of short-term Bucs, Luis Sojo and Armando Rios, were also inducted. 
  • 2019 - RHP Bob Friend passed away at the age of 88 from cardiac arrest. Friend toed the slab for the Pirates for 15 years (1951-65), winning 191 games and was an ironman, never appearing in fewer than 32 outings in a year while posting an 11-year streak of 200+ IP. He holds the franchise mark for innings pitched (3,480-1/3), games started (477) and strikeouts (1,682). Bob spent his last season with the Yankees and Mets and returned to Pittsburgh, working an insurance business and becoming a two-time County Controller. He also was one of the founders of the Pirates Alumni Association.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

2/2 Through the 1960s: Schoolboy, Burleigh HoF; Dapper Dan Steve; Contract Crunch; NL Formed; HBD Pat, Manny, John, Fred & Big Bill

  • 1876 - The National League was formed in New York City, replacing the old National Association. The Pirates were not among the original group and the franchise didn’t join the NL until after the 1886 campaign, when the Alleghenys (re-formed in 1882) bolted from the American Association, but they’ve settled in nicely since then. They’ve collected 18 NL/Divisional pennants, made seven World Series appearances and claimed five Fall Classic titles. 
Bill Abstein - 1909 photo/Paul Thompson
  • 1882 - 1B “Big Bill” Abstein was born in St. Louis. He was a Pirates backup in 1906 and after two years with Eastern League Providence, he returned as a starter in 1909, batting .258 for the Bucs and playing all seven games during Pittsburgh’s World Series win over Detroit. He closed out his brief career the following season with his hometown St Louis Browns. Bill was a two-sport star; he also played soccer for a couple of St Louis clubs when he wasn’t swatting baseballs. 
  • 1927 - LHP Fred Waters was born in Benton, Mississippi. He came to Pittsburgh in the Danny O’Connell blockbuster and tossed from 1955-56, going 2-2/2.89, mainly from the pen. Fred was injured in winter ball and never made it back to the bigs, although he did spend 13 years toiling in the minors. He became a long-time coach and manager, primarily in the Twins organization. 
  • 1951 - Eight Pirates rejected contracts offered by Bucco GM Branch Rickey - pitchers Cliff Chambers, Murry Dickson and Vic Lombardi; catchers Clyde McCullough and Ed FitzGerald, 1B Jack Phillips, IF Pete Castiglione and OF Wally Westbrook. They all settled on deals before the season except for Lombardi, who had his salary offer cut by the 25% maximum allowed by the league, and instead signed with Hollywood of Pacific Coast League. He never earned another MLB job, but still tossed for nine more seasons. Except for a three-year stint with Toronto of the International League, he tossed on the left coast through the 1959 season, retiring at age 36 after 17 pro campaigns. 
  • 1954 - LHP John Tudor was born in Schenectady, New York. He went 12-11/3.27 in his only Bucco season, 1984, with the team scoring two or fewer runs in nine of his losses. That December, the Bucs traded him & Brian Harper to the Cardinals for George Hendrick & minor-leaguer Steve Barnard. Tudor sarcastically said of the deal “I’ll miss the parrot” and then went on to win 21 games for the Redbirds to lead them to the NL title and World Series in 1985. 
Manny Sarmiento - 1983 Donruss
  • 1956 - RHP Manny Sarmiento was born in Cagua, Venezuela. The Bucs purchased the five-year vet from the Red Sox and Manny tossed a pair of strong campaigns in 1982-83, slashing 12-9-5/3.25 as a swingman starter (he got 17 of his 22 MLB starts in 1982) and reliever (he was sent back full-time to the pen in 1983). He blew out his elbow during camp in 1984 and though only 28-years-old, he never pitched in the majors again. 
  • 1962 - LHP Pat Clements was born in McCloud, California. He was in Pittsburgh early in his career from 1985-86, going 0-6-4/3.12. He then became a piece of the 1986 deal with the Yankees that landed Doug Drabek for the Pirates. He worked through the 1992 season for NY, San Diego and Baltimore as a bridge reliever. 
  • 1964 - RHP Burleigh Grimes was selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee and was inducted on July 27th. The 270-game winner began, ended, and played some during the middle of his career with the Pirates. Also chosen was OF Heinie Manush, who spent his last two seasons (1938-39) in Pittsburgh, getting 25 at-bats. Heinie finished a 17-year MLB run with a lifetime average of .330, then managed in the minors, scouted, and coached. 
  • 1969 - Steve Blass shared the Dapper Dan Award with Steelers running back Dick Hoak after they were tied with 25-1/2 votes each. Blass put together a slash line of 18-6/2.13 in his breakout campaign with a career-high 147 strikeouts, becoming the ninth Pirate since 1943 to claim a piece of the DD. The annual awards dinner was held at the Hilton Hotel. 
Waite Hoyt - 1933 photo Conlon Collection/TSN/Getty
  • 1969 - RHP Waite "Schoolboy" Hoyt was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee. He spent 4-1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh between 1933-37, going 35-31-18/3.08, topped by a 15-5 record in 1934. Schoolboy had a 21-year career, played on three World Series championship clubs and then retired to the broadcasting booth. He was inducted on July 28th.

2/2 From 1970: Dale, Robby Sign; Freddie HoF; Vested; Skinned; Buck, Ed & Len; RIP; HBD Troy, Travis & Ronny

  • 1976 - The Special Veterans Committee selected OF Freddie Lindstrom to the Hall of Fame. He played two of his 13 big league campaigns for Pittsburgh, hitting .302 and driving in 147 runs. Freddie hit .311 over his big league days and was considered the top third baseman of his era until he broke his leg and had to move to the OF. He was inducted on August 9th. 
Fred Lindstrom - 1933 Goudey Big League
  • 1982 - The Pirates lost Joel Skinner when the Chicago White Sox picked the catcher as compensation for their free agent relief pitcher Ed Farmer signing with the Phillies. It was a side effect of a hare-brained system developed in the early days of free agency that was scrapped in 1985 after a five-year run. Teams could protect 26 players and the rest ended up in a compensation pool to replace lost players, so a club didn’t need to participate but still could lose a prospect. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt anything but Bucco depth as Joel, OF Bob Skinner’s son, ended up bouncing between the majors and minors with the Yankees and Indians until his retirement in 1994, making more of a name for himself as a minor league manager than he did as a big league player. 
  • 1983 - SS Ronny Cedeno was born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. He manned the spot for Pittsburgh from 2009-11, hitting a streaky .254 and never showing any consistency in the field, flashing the good, the bad & the ugly with both his stick and leather. He last played for the Phils in 2013 and since 2016 has played in the Italian, Mexican and Venezuelan leagues. 
  • 1988 - RHP Jeff Robinson avoided arb and signed a deal with the Bucs for $475K. He was looking for $540K while the FO countered with $375K, and they settled a little over midpoint. He had joined the Pirates in August as part of the Rick Rueschel swap and slashed 2-1-4/3.04 for the Bucs and 8-9-14/2.85 during the overall campaign, earning himself a nice jump over his $180,000 salary of ‘87. 
Jeff Robinson - 1988 Score
  • 1988 - OF Travis Snider was born in Kirkland, Washington. He came to the Bucs from Toronto in the 2012 Brad Lincoln deal. After sputtering for a couple of years, he had a solid 2014 season with 13 HR and a .264 BA, which earned him an off-season ticket to Baltimore for a pair of minor league prospects. Snider returned to the Bucs in August, 2015, was released after the year and signed with KC, bouncing around the minors since then before retiring after the 2021 season. He was known as “Lunchbox Hero” due to his team cookouts and hearty lunch grab-bags, always featuring his favorite, red meat. Earlier in his career, Toronto fans dubbed Snider as “Moonraker” due to the towering home runs he launched. 
  • 1993 - Len Levy, who did a little bit of everything for the Pirates but playing, passed away at age 79 in Palm Desert, California. A Pittsburgh kid who went to Taylor Allderdice HS, Len started with the Bucs as a ticket taker, bat boy, and briefly as a minor league catcher - he had been signed to a contract by Pie Traynor in 1936 - before joining the Marines. Five years of service as a leatherneck ended his big league dreams and he began farm club/bullpen coaching in 1947. He became a Pittsburgh-area scout from 1951-56, bird dogging Maz, Dick Groat and Frank Thomas, then became a Pirates coach from 1957-63. He ran an auto dealership on Forbes Avenue in Oakland for 30+ years and was inducted into the Western PA Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. 
  • 1996 - The Pirates re-signed free agent IF Dale Sveum after he had been rostered at AAA Calgary for the 1995 campaign. Dale again spent most of ‘96 at AAA Calgary, getting into just 12 games, but was back in the show for ‘97, appearing in 126 contests and batting .261 with a dozen dingers. He left after that, to return in 1999 for his last hurrah before beginning his coaching odyssey by managing at AA Altoona for a couple of seasons. 
Troy Stokes Jr. - 2021 Pirates image
  • 1996 - OF Troy Stokes Jr. was born in Columbia, Maryland. He was a fourth round pick of the Brewers in 2014 out of HS. He moved on to the Detroit organization in 2020 and had a strong spring, but hamate surgery on his hand caused him to miss the entire truncated season. He was released, ended up with the Pirates the following season as a spring training NRI, sent to Indy during camp and called to the show for the first time on May 9th. He started, and went 0-for-4 with a couple of nice grabs in right field. He was traded to Milwaukee in a minor deal in June, played indie ball in 2022 and is currently a free agent. 
  • 2001 - The Pirates proved that everything old is new again when they modeled their new PNC Park sleeveless tops, introducing them to the fans at Pirates Fest at the Carnegie Science Center. It was part of their “New Era of Baseball” promo and a nod to the old days of flannels when the Bucco singlet look began in 1957 and lasted until the final game at Forbes Field in 1970. The flavor that was replaced was the TRS era double knits. The vests lasted until 2009, with an additional season of sleeveless Sundays; now the unis appear during throwback games. 
  • 2008 - Ump Ed Vargo died of heart failure at age 79 in his hometown of Butler. Ed was a minor league catcher who took to umpiring while in the service. After eight years of arbitration in the bushes following the military, he became an NL ump from 1960-1983, then umpire supervisor from 1984-1997. Vargo worked the first night World Series game in 1971, Sandy Koufax's perfecto, eight no-no’s, the last series at Forbes Field and the Polo Grounds, the game when Henry Aaron tied the Bambino’s HR mark, four All-Star Games, four NLCS, and four World Series. Ed was inducted into the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame in 1966 and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. 
Ed Vargo - photo via Ancestry.com
  • 2021 - LHP Grant “Buck” Jackson died at age 78 of Covid complications. The lefty tossed for six years (1977-82) for the Bucs, slashing 29-19-36/3.23 and he went 2-0 in six scoreless appearances during the 1979 NLCS/World Series, winning game seven of the Fall Classic against the Orioles. He shuffled among teams in his final two campaigns, but started and ended 1981-82 as a Pirate.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

2/1: Cruz, Armas Sign; Julio Dealt; War Tax; Holy Moly, HBDs Galore: Ernie, Rosey, Cecilio, Jim B, Stolmy, Jim M, Bob, Chuck, Candy Jim T, Dixie & Jim K

  • 1884 - Pirate announcer Rosey Rowswell was born in Alton, Illinois and raised in Tarentum. In 1936, he joined WWSW as a Pirate broadcaster and remained with the station and team until his death. His last on-air partner was Bob Prince from 1948-54, who called Rowswell his mentor. Rosey was an unabashed homer, and known for his home run call of “Open the window, Aunt Minnie, here she comes” followed by the sound of shattering glass. He also coined the term “Buccos” and “FOB” (when the bases were loaded, they were Full Of Buccos). Rowswell died in Pittsburgh in 1955 at the age of 71 and was buried in Allegheny Cemetery. 
Candy Jim - photo via Center for Negro League Research
  • 1884 - 3B/manager “Candy Jim” Taylor was born in Anderson, South Carolina. Taylor spent three decades playing in the Negro Leagues and another three decades managing. Candy Jim took the reins of the Homestead Grays from 1943-44 when their manager, Vic Harris, was on hiatus and working in the war industry. The Grays didn't miss a beat, claiming the title and the Negro League World Series both seasons under Taylor. During his career, he played/coached for 25 different teams and became the winningest manager in Negro League history with 1,049 victories while posting a .285 lifetime BA as a player. Per “Forgotten Heroes” by Dr. Layton Revel & Luis Munoz, Taylor got his nickname of “Candy Jim” because he played third base as sweet as candy. 
  • 1884 - RF Jim Kelly was born in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He didn’t have a very lengthy pro career, spending two of his three MLB seasons in Pittsburgh, batting .227 as a part-time Pirate in 1914 and .294 as a starting outfielder for the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federation League the following year. He was a sly one - born Robert John Taggert, he used the name James Robert Kelly and trimmed six years off his age (he changed his B-Date to 1890) to muddy the fact that he was beginning his minor league career as a long-in-the-tooth 27-year-old. 
  • 1892 - RHP Oland “Dixie” McArthur was born in Vernon, Alabama (hence the nickname). His major league career consisted of one inning of work for the Bucs in 1914. The 22-year-old represented well in that one outing, giving up just a hit with a whiff and no runs. He was a football star at Texas A&M before the Pirates signed him, but Dixie turned his back on the gridiron life to stay with the organization for five years, pitching solidly in the minors but never making it back to the show. He retired and moved on to the real world, where he was a success as an auto dealer and later in real estate before passing away at age 94. 
  • 1918 - Baseball joined the war effort when a 10% tax was levied on its ticket sales, which was expected to raise $200,000 during the 1918 season. The tax was even imposed on homeowners who sold rooftop or treetop seats, and scalpers, if identified by the Federal revenuers, had to pay 50% on any charge beyond face value in addition to a fine. 
Chuck Churn - 1957 photo via Baseball Birthdays
  • 1930 - RHP Chuck Churn was born in Bridgetown, Virginia. The Pirates signed him in 1949 out of HS, and he was moving up in the system when the service called him during the Korean War. He came back, continued to impress and got a five-game audition with Pittsburgh, going 0-0/4.32, as a 27-year-old rookie. From there, he played for four different organizations over the next two years after Boston claimed him in the Rule 5 draft, getting cups of coffee in the show with the Indians and Dodgers. He tossed in the minors for all or parts of 18 campaigns and retired after the 1967 season. His highlight big league moment came in 1959 with the Dodgers, when he defeated ElRoy Face and the Pirates, 5-4, in relief for his last MLB win. It was the only loss of the year (18-1) for the Baron of the Bullpen, and ended his 22-game winning streak. 
  • 1931 - LHP Bob Smith was born in Woodsville, New Hampshire. The journeyman worked out of the Pirates bullpen from 1957-59, where he went 8-19-1/3.74 in 75 appearances. Smith’s everyday name played havoc with him. While with the Boston system, a similarly built lefty of the same name was often confused with him, and the Sox had to revert to using initials to differentiate the pair. In Pittsburgh, he suffered a more embarrassing fate - Smith’s 1958 Topps card, he claims, ran the picture of Cardinal outfielder Bobby Gene Smith rather than his, and he has never autographed that particular card because of the mix-up. 
  • 1947 - RHP Jim McKee was born in Columbus, Ohio. Jim tossed briefly for the Pirates in 1972-73, going 1-1/4.17 in 17 outings. He was a life-long Bucco, selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round of the 1969 draft out of Otterbein College (he was the first Cardinal baseball player ever drafted) and closed out his career in 1974 at AAA Charleston. He died at age 55, the victim of an auto wreck. 
  • 1955 - RHP Ernie Camacho was born in Salinas, California. He spent 10 years in the show, stopping off in Pittsburgh early in his voyage in 1981 when the Bucs sent Bob Owchinko to Oakland to get him. He spent most of his time with AAA Portland, getting into seven Pirates games with an 0-1/4.98 slash. He was swapped, along with SS Vance Law, to the Chicago White Sox for P Ross Baumgarten and minor-leaguer Butch Edge in April of the following campaign. Ernie was a guy the Bucs had wanted; they drafted him as a 14th round pick back in 1975 out of Hartnell College, but he bet on himself, didn’t sign with them and instead went to the Athletics in the first round the next year. 
Ernie Camacho - photo via Sports Memorabilia
  • 1960 - RHP Cecilio Guante was born in Villa Malla, Dominican Republic. The righty was a bridge guy for Pittsburgh for five seasons (1982-86) and slashed 13-17-20/3.06 before being traded to the Yankees as part of the Doug Drabek deal. Cecilio was a tough guy to miss on the mound - he had a big “G” (for Guante) covering the web of his glove. It was fitting, though - guante, in Spanish, translates as “glove,” even if Cecilio was a bit below average with his. 
  • 1961 - Pitching wizard Jim Benedict was born in Burbank, California. After tossing in the KC system, he managed and coached in the college ranks. In 1990, he joined the Rangers, then from 1994-2000 was the minor league pitching coordinator for the Expos and Dodgers. Jim became a scout and Special Assistant to the GM for the Yankees for five years. In 2007-2008, he scouted for the Indians. In late 2008, he joined the Pirates as Special Assistant to the GM. He helped turn around the pitching and in 2015 was hired away by the Miami Marlins as the VP of pitching. Now he’s with the Cubs; Chicago hired him as a special assistant to baseball operations in 2017. 
  • 1965 - The Pirates traded IF Julio Gotay to the California Angels for CF Bob Perry. Gotay couldn’t beat out Ducky Schofield for Dick Groat’s old shortstop spot, and Gene Alley’s emergence made Julio expendable. He would go on to play for five more years as a backup infielder, mainly with Houston, batting .263, while Perry spent the next six years in the minors, suiting up for four organizations before hangin’ ’em up after the 1970 campaign at age 35. 
  • 1990 - RHP Stolmy Pimentel was born in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. He was a Buc from 2013-14, coming over from the Red Sox with a line of 2-1/4.50. The old Sox Prospects scouting report on him held true: “Excellent overall stuff, but struggles with the consistency...” He was released, tossed briefly for Texas in 2015, and was out of MLB after a season in the Mets farm system/Mexico. He tossed a bit in the Latino leagues and was out of baseball after 2017. 
Stolmy Pimento - photo via Pirates/MLB.com
  • 2007 - The Pirates signed free agent RHP Tony Armas Jr., 28, for $3.5M, with a 2008 option for the same amount w/$500K buyout. He was the first MLB free agent deal of the off-season for the Bucs. The suits hoped Tony would be a solid veteran back-ender and mentor for a young staff, but he instead started the season 0–3/8.92 and was dropped from the rotation. The Pirates got a 4-5/6.03 line from him with just 97 IP and bought him out after the year. Tony tossed three times for the Mets in 2008, and that ended his MLB career after 10 seasons. 
  • 2012 - 33-year-old RHP Juan Cruz agreed to a $1.25M contract with the Pirates, earned a spot on the team as a non-roster invitee and finished the campaign with a solid 1-1-3/2.78 line with 14 holds. But his 4.19 FIP, 1.626 WHIP and five walks per nine painted a clearer picture of his performance and he was released in late August to end his last season in the majors.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

1/31 Through the 1960s: Ribant, Pettit Sign; Pud, Poison HoF; Big Poison To Brooklyn; Coach Crunch, HBD Ted, Coral, Don, Jimmy, Stuffy, Jot, Al & Bob

  • 1845 - IF Bob Ferguson was born in Brooklyn. In a 14-year career with eight teams, he closed out his playing days in 1884 with the Alleghenys, getting into 10 games and hitting .146. But he did leave a legacy; he was the first recognized switch hitter in baseball, and also had one of the all-time great nicknames, “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson. In orthodox baseball circles, he earned the title because of his ability to run pops and flares down, although a more prosaic theory holds that he got the name because of his skill at swatting flies in hotel lobbies. He later managed for a couple of years and then moved on to umpiring. 
Al Buckenberger - 1889 Old Judge
  • 1861 - Manager Al Buckenberger was born in Detroit. He managed the Pirates from 1892-94, coming in second place in 1893 and posting an overall 187-144 slate while also serving as club president. He then tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the old American Association, earning himself a brief league suspension during the 1894 off-season for his efforts. Buckenberger carved out a 25-year career as a manager at different levels, taking the helm for four big league clubs while winning four minor league championships. 
  • 1870 - RHP Joshua “Jot” Goar was born in New Lisbon, Indiana. The Terre Haute ace of the Western League was purchased by the Pirates in 1896 for $3,200. He got into three games and was hit hard (0-1/16.88), although per John Decker of Pirates Prospects, one game was an intentional throwaway, trying to waste time in hopes of a rainout. Nevertheless, Jot was sold to Grand Rapids in mid-season. He had another dominating year for Indianapolis in 1897, was purchased by the Reds, got bombed in a mop-up role (ironically against Pittsburgh), claimed a sore arm and on that note ended his MLB career. He finished his playing days in the Western League and semi-pro ball, retiring in 1906 after a freak hunting accident - he shot himself in the arm! 
  • 1894 - 2B John “Stuffy” Stewart was born in Jasper, Florida. Stuffy was a stud hitting (five .300+ minor league years) and superb base stealer in the minors (he led the Southern Association in swipes five times), but couldn't buy a base in the show. He played in parts of eight MLB seasons but only got more than 17 at-bats twice in that time, entering 64 of his 176 big league games as a pinch runner. He got into three games for the Pirates in a 1922 trial, going 2-for-13. He was an early version of a AAAA player, lasting for 17 pro seasons and managing a little after that with a year off as an artilleryman during WW1. 
Jimmy Zinn -1920 photo via tnphoto Out of the Ball Park Developments
  • 1895 - RHP Jimmy Zinn was born in Benton, Arkansas. A Texas League star, the Pirates purchased him from Wichita of the Western League in 1920, and he worked from then through 1922 in Pittsburgh, slashing 8-7-4/3.54. He also tossed briefly for Philadelphia and Cleveland. Though his MLB career just lasted for just five years and 49 games, he was a baseball lifer as a pro player, suiting up from 1915-39. Jimmy also was an outfielder in the minors and had a streak of seven .300+ seasons with 13-.300 campaigns in all to go with his 288 farm wins. He closed out his book by managing five seasons. 
  • 1899 - LHP Don Songer was born in Walnut, Kansas. He tossed three of his four MLB years with the Bucs between 1925-27, going 7-9-3/3.55. Songer was part of two World Series teams, but never got to participate, as he wasn’t included on the playoff roster in his rookie year of 1925 and then was traded to the Giants before the 1927 regular season ended. 
  • 1919 - P Ken “Coral” Gables was born in Walnut Grove, Missouri. He pitched for the 1945-47 Pirates, spending his entire MLB career as a Bucco. Gables had a 13-11/4.69 slate before being traded to the San Francisco Seals and spent the last seven seasons of his career in the PCL. We can’t confirm it, but we’d guess his nickname is a nod to the Florida town. 
  • 1941 - A Pittsburgh era ended when Paul “Big Poison” Waner, 37, who was released by the Pirates in December, signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers after a 15-year run in the Steel City. He spent his final five campaigns with Brooklyn, the Boston Braves and New York Yankees, hitting .276 over that wartime span. Paul retired after the 1945 season and was a hitting coach for several clubs although he preferred to hunt, fish and golf. He made it into the Hall of Fame in 1952 and the Pirates retired #11, his number, on July 21st, 2007, exactly 55 years to the day of Waner's induction into the Hall. 
Paul Pettit - 1951 World Wide Photo
  • 1950 - The Pirates signed high school phenom LHP Paul Pettit (“The Wizard of Whiff” pitched six prep no-hitters) for a record $100‚000 after buying his rights from film producer Fred Stephani, who had signed him to an exclusive contract as an athlete/actor. The lefty went 1-2/7.43 for the Pirates (1951, 1953) and after eight minor league seasons, he retired in 1961 with arm problems that had first surfaced a decade earlier and forced him to become an OF/1B (he actually turned into a good hitter and replaced Dick Stuart at 1B for Hollywood of the PCL). Pettit did get a couple of bit parts in movies, but his show biz plans never panned out and he became a high school coach. 
  • 1952 - RF Paul “Big Poison” Waner was elected to the Hall of Fame and inducted on July 21st. In a 20 year career, he led the National League in hitting three times and put up a slash of .330/.404/.473. His 2,868 hits as a Pirate are third on the team, behind Roberto Clemente (3,000) and Honus Wagner (2,970). 15 years later, he and younger sib Lloyd became the second brother combo enshrined in the Hall, following Harry and George Wright. 
  • 1955 - RHP Ted Power was born in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Ted tossed for 13 MLB campaigns, stopping in Pittsburgh as a 35-year-old in 1990 and posted a line of 1-3-7/3.66 in 40 games. He famously was used as a Jim Leyland ploy in the 1990 NLCS; although he hadn’t started a game all year, he was called on to open against the Reds. His purpose was to turn around the lineup for lefty Zane Smith, who took over in the third frame. The scheme was effective but fruitless as the Bucs lost, 2-1. His career ended in 1994 after labrum surgery. He became the Reds’ bullpen coach in 2016 after a long run as Cincy’s AAA pitching coach with Louisville; that stint lasted through 2018. 
  • 1963 - The Press’ opening line was “The Pirates will lead the major leagues in one department this season - number of coaches in uniform." Danny Murtaugh added Gene Baker and Virgil Trucks to his staff, bringing the number of Bucco aides up to seven. His other helpers were base coaches Frank Oceak & Ron Northey, pitching coach Don Osborn, Sam Narron and Len Levy.
Virgil Trucks - 1963 AP photo
  • 1965 - RHP Pud “Gentle Jeems” Galvin was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee as the lone selection. Galvin was MLB’s first 300 game winner while tossing 6,003 innings and 646 complete games, both marks behind only Cy Young. Gentleman James earned 20 victories or more 10 times in 15 seasons and won 365 times in his career. He tossed for both the Alleghenys and Pirates from 1885-1892, winning 138 games and notching four 20+ win years for Pittsburgh. He was inducted into the Hall on July 26th. 
  • 1967 - RHP Dennis Ribant, who the Pirates had just gotten from the Mets in the off-season for Don Cardwell, signed his contract for $20,000. The Pirates had high hopes for the 25-year-old after he went 11-9/3.20, for NY, and Ribant said at the signing that “I hope I can win 15 games” in the coming season. He fell short, winning nine times with a 4.08 ERA and was sent to Detroit for Dave Wickersham after the year. Ribant was switched to full-time reliever there, but lasted just two more seasons in the show, spending the last four years of his career in AAA.

1/31 From 1970: Riddle, Supe, Mahomes, Darwin, Bonds, Heredia, Backman, Smiley Sign; Minor Deals; Al, Jake, Joe HoF; Booth Moves; TV-11

  • 1971 - The Hall of Fame Special Veterans Committee selected two Bucs from the early days to the Hall, 1B Jake Beckley and OF Joe Kelley. Beckley played for the Alleghenys, Burghers and Pirates from 1888-96, hitting .300. He banged a modest 43 HR, but legged out 113 triples in that span. Kelley got a cup of coffee with Pittsburgh in 1892, hitting just .239. The Pirates dumped him, and he went on to have a dozen consecutive .300+ seasons beginning the following year, playing mostly for the Baltimore Orioles. They were inducted on August 9th. 
Jake Beckley - photo via Baseball Hall of Fame
  • 1974 - The Pirates traded SS Jackie Hernandez to the Phils for C Mike Ryan. Hernandez was released by Philadelphia in April and was re-signed by the Bucs, spending a year in the minors before closing out his career in the Mexican League. Ryan was little used, going 3-for-30 in Pittsburgh, then spending two seasons on the farm before tossing the mask for the last time. Mike (not to be mistaken for the Altoona manager of the same name, who was an OF’er) managed a little for the Bucs and then went on to a two-decade coaching run with Philadelphia. 
  • 1977 - The Special Veterans Committee selected C Al Lopez for the Hall of Fame. Lopez caught for Pittsburgh from 1940-46, hitting a modest .254. But he was best known for his glove and ability to handle a staff, going on to manage the Indians and White Sox when his playing days ended. He was inducted on August 9th. 
  • 1986 - The Pirates announced a couple of changes in their KDKA-TV coverage: John Sanders remained as the play-by-play man while Alan Cutler took over the analyst job and Steve Blass, who was also on the radio side with Lanny Frattare and Jim Rooker, was added as a part-time color commentator. 
  • 1990 - The Pirates signed 30-year-old IF Wally Backman to a $600K free agent deal (they also had to compensate the Twins, his former club, with a #78 third-round draft pick) to help ease Jeff King’s load at third base. He filled the bill, starting 68 times at the hot corner and hitting .292 during the campaign in his last solid MLB season; he even started with a bang when he collected six hits during a nine-inning game in late April. Wally went to Philadelphia in the off-season and hit .243, finishing out his playing career after the 1993 campaign and beginning a stormy second life as manager. 
Wally Backman - 1990 Topps
  • 1991 - LHP John Smiley agreed to a $1.05M deal with the Bucs, getting a bump from his 1990 $840K salary. He had a rough ‘90 campaign, with shoulder surgery in the off season, followed by a broken finger in May, leading to a 9-10/4.64 slash line. But he recovered from his battle scars and roared back to make his '91 campaign the best of his career, going 20-8/3.08. 
  • 1991 - OF Guillermo Heredia was born in Matanzas, Cuba. Guillermo jump-started his MLB career the hard way; he defected from Cuba in 2015. The Pirates signed the FA to a major league contract early in 2020, presumably to serve as a depth outfielder, as he did for Seattle and Tampa Bay. In parts of four seasons, he scored high marks as a defensive corner outfielder while batting .240 with an 82 OPS+. Seldom used in Pittsburgh, he hit .188 and was released, to be claimed by the Mets. He took his game to Korea.
  • 1992 - The Pirates signed OF Barry Bonds to a one-year contract worth $4.7M, the largest one-year deal in baseball history at the time. Bonds won his second MVP trophy and the Bucs won their division, so it was top shelf money spent on top shelf talent. His next contract was with the SF Giants, and it was another record-breaker at seven years/$43M. 
  • 1995 - The Bucs ended their 40-year affiliation with KDKA Channel 2 and switched to WPXI Channel 11. The drivers behind the flip were thought to be that KD switched networks to CBS, causing preemption issues on the weekend, and to boot, was losing money airing the Buccos on the TV side. The deal didn’t affect their long-time radio agreement, though. WPXI agreed to broadcast 16 weekend games, so long as they didn’t involve replacement players, and the main TV distributor, cable station KBL, held the rights for 75 other contests. 
Danny Darwin - 1996 photo Mitchell Layton/Getty
  • 1996 - With camp around the corner, 40-year-old RHP Danny Darwin agreed to ink a minor-league deal worth $550K (MLB rate) with the Pirates rather than retire after suffering through a horrendous 3-10/7.45 season w/Texas and Toronto in ‘95. Lo and behold, he was 7-9 with the Bucs but posted a sterling 3.02 ERA and was sent to the Astros before the deadline. He then tossed two more campaigns before hangin’ ‘em up after the 1998 season as a 42-year-old. 
  • 2003 - Free agent RHP Jeff Suppan was signed to a $500K deal. After a solid summer (10-7/3.57), he was flipped to the Red Sox at the deadline as part of the Freddy Sanchez/Mike Gonzalez deal. Steady Freddy was a Pirate All-Star while Gonzo eventually became the closer, so Jeff ended up as one of the Pirates better rental signings. “Sup” went on to toss for eight more seasons, capping a 17-year MLB career in 2012 at age 37. He’s a Kansas City Royals minor-league pitching coach now. The Pirates also inked RHP Pat Mahomes (the pappy, not the QB) to a minor-league contract. He was called up twice from AAA Nashville during the season, got into nine games (one start) and slashed 0-1/4.88 in his final MLB visits to the bump. Pat continued tossing in the minors and indie leagues through 2009. 
  • 2018 - The Pirates sent minor league lefty Daniel Zamora, a late-round 2015 draft pick, to the New York Mets for LHP Josh Smoker. Zamora went 1-1/4.08 for NY in 2018-19 while averaging 12K per nine innings, albeit while spending most of his time in AAA. He was DFA’ed in 2021 after sitting out ‘20, then went to Seattle, Mexico and the Dodgers before signing up with the Pirates once again on a minor league deal for this campaign. Smoker was waived by Pittsburgh and then Detroit after giving up seven runs in 5-2/3 IP while striking out two, walking five and giving up a pair of homers. He closed out 2019 pitching in the indie leagues for York and that was his last pro outing. 
Josh Smoker - 2018 MLB.com photo
  • 2020 - Pittsburgh signed utilityman JT Riddle, 28, to a one-year, $850K MLB contract. He played for parts of three seasons (2017-19) for the Marlins, with a slash of .229/.269/.368, mainly as a shortstop but with some time in center field, too. He came to Pittsburgh with no remaining options, so it was a sink-or-swim deal. He tread water through the season, but hit just .149 and was DFA’ed in October, later signing a minor league deal with the Twins. He opted for free agency after getting six at-bats and being DFA’ed/outrighted by Minnesota after the ‘21 campaign. JT worked in the Reds system in 2022 and is still looking for a landing spot for this campaign.

Monday, January 30, 2023

1/30: '59 Reds Big Deal; Hinske, Maholm, Pokey Signed; Joe Block Hired; Team of the Year; Meyers Honored; Lights On; No Sale; HBD Hipolito; Scat, Demon & Charlie

  • 1872 - RHP Charlie Heard was born in Philadelphia. His big league time consisted of 12 games for the 1890 Alleghenys. Charlie had a rough go in his six starts - he went 0-6/8.39 (add in unearned runs and he gave up 65 tallies in 44 frames - over 13 runs per nine innings - and put on 109 runners via hits/walks), although he did go the distance for five of the outings. Charlie also got six games in the outfield, not doing much better with a .186 BA and committed four errors in 10 chances. In his defense, he was just 18-years-old during the campaign, and the team around him was the baseball version of the Keystone Kops, losing 113 games after mass defections to the Players League Pittsburgh Burghers. 
  • 1888 - OF Vin “Demon” Campbell was born in St Louis. Vin joined the Bucs in 1910; he had been a two-sport star at Vanderbilt and was dubbed “Demon” for the way he smashed into football opponents (he was named All-Southern Conference with a guy named John Heisman, for whom the college Heisman Trophy is named). Campbell hit .326 in 1910 and looked like a future star in the making. He then stunned the Bucs by retiring to join a brokerage firm. Vin rejoined the team in July - his sweetie and future wife was a Pittsburgh girl - and batted .312. Demon held out for a bigger contract and the Pirates traded him to the Braves for Mike “Turkey” Donlin. Vin played ball for three more seasons, then joined the in-laws to run a chain of tire stores in Pittsburgh and New York City. 
Demon Campbell - 1910 Sporting Life
  • 1940 - Club President Bill Benswanger announced that the Pirates would become the sixth NL team to install lights, putting up eight towers in Forbes Field designed by Westinghouse, fabricated by American Bridge and erected by Morganstern Electric for $125,000. The standards weighed 160 tons to support 864 floodlights which used 1.5M watts, and was claimed to provide enough light to illuminate the homes in a city of 25,000. The Pirates expected the lights to be up by June and in anticipation had seven night games backdated into their 1940 home schedule, one against each league rival. Construction ran smoothly and the first night game was played on June 4th with the Bucs thumping the Boston Bees 14-2. 
  • 1947 - Pinch-runner Matt “The Scat” Alexander was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. He spent the last four years of his career (1978-81) with the Pirates, and though he only got 27 at-bats during that time, he stole 30 bases out of 37 tries and scored 36 runs. During his nine-year MLB career, he pinch-ran 271 times in the 374 games he appeared in, which explains how he scored 111 runs and swiped 103 bases during that time while banging out just 36 hits. 
  • 1949 - Pirates skipper Billy Meyers was selected as the Dapper Dan Outstanding Sports Figure Of the Year after leading the Buccos into the first division (83-71, good for fourth place) in 1948. He got more than a plaque; he also got the good news that the middle of the Buc infield was signed - SS Stan Rojek settled for $15,000, 2B Danny Murtaugh for $12,000, and the day before saw backup Pete Castiglione agree to an undisclosed deal. 
  • 1959 - 3B Don Hoak, LHP Harvey Haddix and C Smoky Burgess went from the Reds to the Pirates in exchange for 3B Frank Thomas, OF Jim Pendleton, OF John Powers and RHP Whammy Douglas, providing three major pieces of the 1960 championship club. Slugger Thomas, the key figure in the deal, was the last to know - he was touring military bases in Germany when the deal was made, and the press had to get trade reaction quotes from his wife Dolores. The deal had been simmering since the December league meetings, evolving from the rumored opening offer by the Pirates of Thomas and RHP Curt Raydon for Hoak, Haddix, Burgess and RHP Tom Acker. 
The Team of the Year - 1960 Topps
  • 1961 - The Pittsburgh Pirates were the runaway winners of the Associated Press 1960 “Team of the Year” vote after their see-saw seven-game victory over the New York Yankees in the World Series. Left in the dust were the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles and the US Hockey Team, the Olympic Gold Medalists at Squaw Valley after victories over Russia and Canada. 
  • 1964 - LHP Hipolito Pena was born in Fantino, Dominican Republic. He tossed the first two of his three MLB campaigns with the Pirates in 1986-87, going 0-6-2/5.56 in 26 outings while spending most of ‘86 in AA Nashua and the following season in AAA Vancouver. He finished his big league career with the Yankees in 1988 after being swapped for Orestes Destrade. Pena remained in the NYY system through 1991, then played for the Tigers and Mets AAA clubs in 1992 before closing it down with two years of indie ball. 
  • 2002 - The Pirates signed FA 2B Pokey Reese to a two year/$4.25M contract with a 2004 club option. Pittsburgh was the fourth team for Reese since the end of the 2001 season. He finished the year with Cincinnati, and then was traded to the Colorado Rockies and the Boston Red Sox in a span of three days in December. Boston didn’t offer him a deal, making him a free agent. Pokey stuck with the Bucs for both seasons, although he lost all but 37 games to injury in 2003. His nickname dates back to his infancy. Reese was a chubby baby and also had a hernia (it wasn’t repaired until he was six) that caused his navel to poke out, so his grandma called young Calvin "Pokey."
  • 2009 - The Pirates avoided arbitration by signing former first round pick LHP Paul Maholm to a three-year/$14.5M contract that included a team option for 2012. He was released after the 2011 season, playing for three different teams afterwards. The lefty reinvented himself in 2014, switching to a bullpen role, but a late-year torn ACL (and 4.84 ERA) made that his last MLB campaign. 
Paul Maholm - 2008 Topps Heritage
  • 2009 - Free agent OF/UT Eric Hinske inked a one-year/$1.5M contract with Pittsburgh. Hinske hit .255 with one HR for the Bucs before being shipped to the NY Yankees before the deadline. That kept his streak alive of being a member of a playoff team for four straight years (2007-2010, for four different clubs). He retired after the 2013 season, having played 12 years for seven teams. 
  • 2010 - Another deal that fell through… Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette broke a front-page story that claimed Penguin owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Buerkle had made an offer to buy the Pirates from Bob Nutting after the 2009 season. The hockey duo had turned around the fortunes of the Pens and Buerkle in particular had the deep pockets that the small-revenue Bucs lacked, but the team stated that there was no “concrete” offer, it was not for sale and that Nutting was committed to bringing a championship to Pittsburgh. The rumor mill added that sports attorney Chuck Greenberg had made an earlier bid and was told the same thing before teaming up with Nolan Ryan to buy the Texas Rangers. 
  • 2016 - Joe Block was hired as a Root Sports play-by-play announcer to replace Tim Neverett, who left to work in the Boston booth. Block spent the prior four years with the Milwaukee Brewers and the 2011 season hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers radio post-game show on KABC. Joe also called nine seasons of minor league baseball, rising up through the ranks by working for five different teams.