Wednesday, January 31, 2018

1/31 Happenings: Big Date for Big Poison; Pud Leads Parade Into the HoF; Bonds Big Deal; Suppan, Pettit, Ribant & Backman Sign

  • 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 lasted five more years with Brooklyn, the Boston Braves and New York Yankees, and hit .276 over that wartime span. Paul retired after the 1945 season and was a hitting coach for several clubs. He made it into the HoF in 1952 and the Pirates retired his #11 on July 21st, 2007, 55 years to the day of Waner's induction into the Hall. 
Paul Pettit (image by Thomas Paprocki/NY Times)
  • 1950 - The Pirates signed high school 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. Pettit did get a couple of bit parts in the movies, but show biz 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 NL 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 to enter the Hall, behind Harry and George Wright. 
  • 1965 - RHP Pud “Gentle Jeems” Galvin was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee and was the lone HOF selection that year. Galvin earned 20 victories ten times in 14 seasons. He tossed for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Pirates from 1885-1892. Pud won 138 games and notched four 20+ win years for Pittsburgh. He was inducted on July 26th. 
Dennis Ribant 1967 Topps
  • 1967 - RHP Dennis Ribant, who the Pirates had just gotten from the Mets in the offseason 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. Eh, a little off-target: he won nine 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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, and went on to manage the Indians and White Sox when his playing days ended. He was inducted on August 9th. 
Wally Backman 1990 Topps Wide
  • 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 second-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 Philly in the off-season and hit .243, finishing out his playing career after the 1993 campaign and beginning a stormy second life as manager. 
  • 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 money well spent. His next contract was with the SF Giants, and it was another record-breaker at seven years/$43M. 
  • 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. “Sup” went on to toss for eight more seasons, capping a 17-year MLB career in 2012. He’s a KC Royals minor-league pitching coach now.

1/31 Birthdays: HBD Uncle Al, Death to Flying Things, Ted, Jot, Stuffy, Don & Coral

  • 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, 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 managed for a couple of years after hanging up the spikes and then moved on to umpiring. 
Al Buckenberger Ars Longa
  • 1861 - Manager Al Buckenberger was born in Detroit. He managed the Pirates from 1892-94, coming in second 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. 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 $3,2000. He got into three games, was hit hard (0-1, 16.88 ERA) and in May was sold to Grand Rapids. He had another dominating year for Indianapolis in 1897, was purchased by the Reds and 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. Magic Moment: Jot is noted for giving up six hits in an inning (three triples, one double, and two singles) without allowing a run to score while pitching in the Indiana League in 1890. 
  • 1894 - 2B John “Stuffy” Stewart was born in Jasper, Florida. Stuffy was a good glove, good stick (five .300+ minor league years) and superb base stealer in the minors (he led the Southern Association in swipes five times), but unfortunately didn’t have much of a knack for reaching base on his own in the show. He played in parts for 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 trail, 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.
Don Songer 1926 (photo Conlon Collection/TSN/Getty)
  • 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, being off the playoff roster in his rookie year of 1925, then traded to the Giants before the 1927 year ended. 
  • 1919 - P Ken “Coral” Gables was born in Walnut Grove, Missouri. He pitched for the 1945-47 Pirates, spending his entire brief 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 is nickname is a nod to the Florida town.
  • 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 with a line of 1-3-7, 3.66, in 40 games. His career ended in 1994 after labrum surgery; since 2000, he’s been on the Reds farm staff and was promoted to bullpen coach in 2016 after a long run as Cincy’s AAA pitching coach with Louisville.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

1/30 From the 60s Forward: Pokey, Paul, Eric Inked; Nutting Says No; Joe Block Joins Up; HBD Hipolito

  • 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.  
Pokey Reese 2003 Topps Heritage
  • 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. 
  • 2009 - OF/UT Eric Hinske inked a one-year, $1.5M FA contract with Pittsburgh. Hinske was shipped to the NY Yankees before the deadline, hitting .255 with one HR for the Bucs. 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. 
Eric took his playoff streak to NY 2009 O-Pee-Chee
  • 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 a month earlier. 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.

1/30 Thru the 50s: Big Trade; Lights for FF; HBD Demon, Scat & Charlie

  • 1872 - RHP Charlie Heard was born in Philadelphia. His big league time consisted of 12 games for the 1890 Alleghenys. Charlie was perfect in reverse in his six starts - he went 0-6, 8.39 (add in unearned runs and he gave up 65 tallies in 44 innings - 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 committing four errors in 10 chances. We wouldn’t be too judgmental, though - 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. 
Demon Campbell 1910 Tip Top
  • 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 after he retired. 
  • 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. 
Let there be light...first FF night game (photo via MLB Cathedrals)
  • 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-run 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. 
  • 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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

1/29 From the 60s Forward: Roberto's Award Day; Max, Lloyd, Branch HoF; Vic & Nellie Deal; Jose Signed; HBD Jason; Name Game

  • 1961 - OF Max Carey was voted into the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee and inducted on July 24th. In 17 seasons with Pittsburgh, he collected 2,400+ hits, batted .287 and stole 688 bases. Carey joined the Bucs with the intention of becoming Pittsburgh’s everyday shortstop, but thanks to Honus Wagner, Max spent the entirety of his long Pirate career as an outfielder. 
Max Carey 1980 SSPC Hall of Fame
  • 1967 - GM Branch Rickey and OF Lloyd Waner were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote of the Special Veterans Committee and were inducted on July 24th. Rickey was GM from 1950-55; his teams were terrible but he began the process of building a farm system that paid dividends in 1960. “Little Poison” spent 17 years with the Pirates, mainly in CF, and batted .319 during that time. 
  • 1967 - Roberto Clemente was the Dapper Dan Man of the Year and was presented his award in front of a sellout crowd at the Hilton Hotel. He hit .319 with 29 HR, 119 RBI and 105 runs scored in 1966. Gene Alley was also recognized by the Dapper Dan for his strong play. 
  • 1971 - The Pirates traded OF Matty Alou and P George Brunet to the Cardinals for OF Vic Davalillo and RHP Nellie Briles. Davalillo spent 2-½ years in Pittsburgh as a role player, hitting .290 while Briles spent three full seasons as a Bucco, winning 36 games with a 2.98 ERA. At 33, Alou had three campaigns left in him and hit .294 over that time while Brunet, 36, would make seven appearances for the Cards to close out his MLB era. But he had a second act ready - he pitched in Mexico until he was 54 (he was called "El Viejo" or "The Old Man"), where he tossed a no-hitter, set the league record with 55 shutouts and was selected into the Mexican HoF to cap a 36-year career in pro ball. 
Nellie Briles 1972 Topps
  • 1971 - Roberto Clemente was in Houston to accept the Tris Speaker Award from the local BBWAA chapter. He told the writers and 800 fans gathered at Astroworld that "If you have an opportunity to accomplish something that will make things better for someone coming behind you, and you don't do that, you are wasting your time on this earth," which become perhaps his mostly widely cited, tho often paraphrased, quote. 
  • 1973 - RHP Jason Schmidt was born in Lewiston, Idaho. He was drafted by Atlanta and came to the Pirates in 1996 as part of the Denny Neagle deal. In 5-1/2 seasons with Pittsburgh, he went 44-47/4.39 before being traded to San Francisco, where he had three All-Star campaigns. After six years on the Bay, he signed a three-year/$47M deal with the Dodgers in 2007, but it was his last contract - a bad shoulder limited him to just 10 starts in those three seasons and ended his career. 
  • 2004 - The Bucs inked RHP Jose Mesa, 37, to a minor-league deal after a dismal season in Philly. The vet rediscovered his mojo and became the Buc closer, saving 43 games in 2004 and 27 more in 2005 before leaving for Colorado as a FA. The ninth inning slot was wide open for Jose after Mike Williams had been traded at the 2003 deadline and heir-apparent Julian Tavarez signed with the Cardinals earlier in the month after failing to reach a contract agreement with the Buccos. Silva saved 321 games over a 19-year big league career and proved to be a capable bridge to Mike Gonzalez & Salomon Torres. 
Jose Mesa 2006 Topps
  • 2004 - Pirates prospect and later starting pitcher Ian Snell, who had gone by the name Ian Oquendo (his wife’s surname) since 2000, returned to his original name per press wire reports. He would reshuffle that a bit in 2009 when he decided to go by Ian Davilo-Snell (Davilo was his stepfather) during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Ian brought an entirely new meaning to the term “player to be named later.”

1/29 Through the 50s: Hans HoF; Friends Big Deal; Rooks To Watch; Can Lloyd Repeat; Dickson, Swift On Board; HBD Denny & Frank

  • 1848 - Harmar Denny McKnight, son of local politico Robert McKnight, was born on Western Avenue in Allegheny City. He founded the Allegheny Baseball Club of Pittsburgh on October 15th, 1881, making him the father of the Pirates. McKnight managed the club during the 1884 season and was also the first president of the American Association. The Alleghenys bolted to the NL in 1887 following a flap over signing Sam Barkley, after which McKnight sold the club to William Nimick.
  • 1882 - OF Frank Delahanty was born in Cleveland to a baseball family - his brothers, Ed, Jim, Joe and Tom all played in the show. After a four-year run in MLB as a bench player, Frank jumped to the Federal League in 1914, starting briefly with Buffalo and closing out his big league time with the Rebels in 1914-15, batting .239. He went on to a life of turmoil after baseball, becoming a politician who retired after a bribery scandal and then turned to bootlegging. He saw the light at age 50, found a legit job and became a regular fan of his hometown nine, the Indians, before passing away after a serious fall at the age of 82. 
Flash in the Pan? (image Pgh Press 1-29-1928)
  • 1928 - The Pittsburgh Press’ sports page lede was “Lloyd Waner: Can He Continue Dazzling Pace?” A couple of column inches beneath the banner, the article continued “Fans Wonder if Youth Will Lose Luster After Year of Brilliance” following a rookie campaign that saw Little Poison finish third in batting with a .354 BA and lead the league in runs, plating 133 times. They needn’t have fretted during the winter - Lloyd patrolled center field for 17 seasons in Pittsburgh with a .319 BA while laying the groundwork for his later entry into the Hall of Fame.
  • 1932 - P Billy Swift was traded by Kansas City Blues of the American Association to the Pirates for P Bob Osborn and C Eddie Phillips. It was a good deal: Osborne never pitched in the majors again and Phillips played for three more seasons while Swift worked eight years for the Bucs and notched 91 wins. Swift was a pitch-to-contact guy; he walked few (1.9/9 innings), struck out almost no one (3.4/9 innings) and still put up a 3.57 ERA in Pittsburgh.
  • 1936 - Honus Wagner, along with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson, was selected by the BBWAA to become the first Hall of Fame class. They had to wait until July 12th, 1939, for the enshrinement, though, until the museum in Cooperstown was opened and the first four HoF classes were inducted en masse.
Bob Elliott 1939 Exhibits Salutation
  • 1939 - Before the Pirates headed for camp, UPI published an article on six rookies to watch. Three ended up pretty good ballplayers - Bob Elliott was a six-time All Star, Frankie Gustine played in the Midsummer Classic three times and Ken Heintzelman pitched for 13 years in the show. Alas, the other three players - Fern Bell, Mel Preibisch and Jack Juelich - managed parts of just five major league seasons among them, none lasting past 1940.
  • 1949 - The Pirates purchased RHP Murry “Dick” Dickson from the Cardinals for $125,000. During his five-year stay in Pittsburgh, he went 66-85 with a 3.83 ERA and had a 20-win season in 1951; the Pirates won only 64 games that year. Dickson was a soft thrower with a variety of pitches and a rubber arm. Beginning in 1947, when he turned 31, he worked more than 200 innings in each of the next ten seasons.
  • 1959 - RHP Bob Friend signed a contract for $30,000, making him the highest paid Pirates pitcher to date, surpassing Rip Sewell’s $21,500 salary during the forties. Friend certainly earned the deal, sparkling in 1958 with a 22-14/3.68 slash, his second All-Star bid and a third place finish in the Cy Young balloting.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Notes: Camp Invitees, Hot Prospects, Ol' Buccos New Addresses, More

We grind our way toward camp...

  • Camp is close - here are the non-roster invitees (everyone on the 40-man roster is in) to date - pitchers (10): Tyler Eppler, Yeudy Garcia, Tyler Jones, Damien Magnifico, Brett McKinney, Alex McRae, Richard Rodriguez, Casey Sadler, Bo Schultz & John Stilson; catchers (4): Jin-De Jhang, Christian Kelley, Ryan Lavarnway (a new NRI signing) & Jackson Williams; infielders (6): Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, Cole Tucker, Erich Weiss, Eric Wood & Pablo Reyes; outfielders (3): Bryan Reynolds, Jason Martin & Todd Cunningham. We'd be surprised if any broke camp with the team although a couple could pop up later in the season.
  • In the MLB Pipeline Top 100 Prospects: RHP Mitch Keller #16, OF Austin Meadows #45 & RHP Shane Baz #67, with IF Cole Tucker and 3B KeBryan Hayes just outside the centurions list. Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects is slim pickings for the Bucs this year as Keller is #12, Meadows #44 and that's it. Keller was rated as the #6 RHP prospect by MLB Pipeline and Kevin Kramer was listed by as the #10 2B Prospect
Mitch Keller (photo via MLB Pipeline)
  • Sheesh! Pirates LHP Nik Turley received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Ipamorelin, a PED (a growth hormone releasing peptide that promotes bulk). The Pirates claimed the 28-year-old reliever from the Twins in November.
  • Anderson Feliz, 25, who played all over the infield/outfield for Altoona/Indy last year, signed a minor league deal with the Orioles. RHP Chris Volstad, who had a cup o' joe here, was inked to a NRI agreement by the White Sox.
  • Antonio Bastardo singed on as a NRI with the D-Backs, w/$1.5M if he makes the club and another $4M in bonuses, mostly tied to closer-type stats. Neftali Feliz also snagged an NRI deal with the Diamondbacks.
Antonio joins Neftali on the D-Backs (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)
  • The SF Giants have traded IF Engelb Vielma, who was briefly a Buc property this offseason, to the Orioles. This Birds are poor Engelb's fifth organization since September; it ain't easy being the 41st guy on the 40-man roster.
  • LHP Wei-Chung Wang, 25, was released by the Brewers so he could join the NC Dinos in the KBO, where he'll become the first Taiwanese-born pitcher to suit up in Korea. Wang, 25, was signed by the Pirates in 2011 but was snagged two years later by Milwaukee via Rule 5 even though he had never pitched beyond the GCL.
  • Hat's off to Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman, who were elected to Hall of Fame.

1/28 From the 60s Forward: Deacon, Kiki & Highpockets to HoF; Cobra MoY; Snider Trade; HBD Chris & Lyle

  • 1962 - Local boy Bill “Deacon” (he was a quiet soul who even sang in his church choir) McKechnie was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Special Veterans Committee. He was inducted on July 22nd. The Wilkinsburg native played for and managed the Pirates, winning the 1925 World Series. McKechnie was the first manager to win World Series titles with two different teams (1925 Pirates and the 1940 Cincinnati Reds; he’s one of 15 to pull off that feat), and is one of only two managers (Dick Williams is the other) to win pennants with three teams, also capturing the NL title in 1928 with the St. Louis Cardinals. 
Bill McKechnie 1912 (photo Conlon Collection/TSN/Detroit Public Library)
  • 1968 - OF Kiki Cuyler was elected into the Hall of Fame by a unanimous vote of the Special Veterans Committee, and was inducted on July 22nd. Kiki spent his first seven MLB seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .336. Cuyler was traded for the equivalent of a bag of baseballs by the Bucs when he bumped heads with management over a new contract and with manager Donie Bush when he didn’t slide into second to break up a DP. 
  • 1972 - LHP Chris Peters was born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He graduated from Peters Township HS in McMurray, was drafted by the Pirates in 1993 and toiled five years (1996-2000) for the Bucs, going 17-21/4.57 as a long man/spot starter. His career was short circuited by shoulder surgery in 1999, and 2001 was his last season in MLB, with the Expos. Chris still lives and works in the area, coached at Point Park for a spell and has tossed BP for the Bucs at PNC. 
  • 1973 - The Hall of Fame Special Veterans Committee selected 1B George Kelly to the Hall of Fame. Highpockets had a very brief stint in Pittsburgh - as a young player in 1917, the NY Giants waived him because of a weak stick. The Bucs picked him up to back up Honus Wagner, who by that time was playing first, but in eight games, Kelly went 2-for-24 and was released; the Giants took him back. Highpockets was a slick fielder who played 16 MLB seasons - 11 with NY - who put up a lifetime .297 BA. He was inducted on August 6th. He got his nickname (he was also called Long George) because of his stork-legged 6’4” frame. 
Lyle Overbay 2011 (photo via Mainline Autographs)
  • 1977 - 1B Lyle Overbay was born in Centralia, Washington. Overbay, then a 34-year-old, 10-year vet, signed with the Pirates in late 2010 for $5M with the team hoping that it had added a little more punch to the lineup. It ended up a forlorn hope - after batting .227 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 103 games, he was DFA’ed in August. He played through 2014 before retiring. 
  • 1979 - Dave “The Cobra” Parker, a couple of days removed from signing his $5M contract, was feted as the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year at the Hilton ballroom. He was the first Pirate to take home the award since 1971 when Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and Danny Murtaugh were named co-winners, breaking a football awardee streak of six seasons. The Cobra had a monster year, with a .334/30/117 slash despite breaking his jaw.
  • 2015 - Fourth outfielder Travis “Lunchbox Hero” (he was renown for his team cook-outs) Snider, a former first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, was traded to Baltimore for a pair of minor league prospects, LHP Stephen Tarpley and a PTBNL (LHP Steven Brault); he returned later in the year for free, as the O’s released him in mid-August and the Bucs signed him a week later before releasing him in the off season. From 2012-15, Snider had a slash of .242/20/80 in 818 PAs for Pittsburgh. He’s a free agent after spending the last two seasons with the AAA clubs of three different squads. Brault has had a couple of short stays with the Pirates in 2016-17, splitting time between the pen and the rotation while Tarpley was sent to the NYY as part of the Ivan Nova deal.

1/28 Birthdays Thru the 20s: HBD Chief, Emil, Spittin' Bill, Alf, Bob & Comet

  • 1898 - RHP Moses “Chief” Yellowhorse, a full-blooded Pawnee, was born in (where else?) Pawnee, Oklahoma. His MLB years were 1921-22 and spent in Pittsburgh, where he went 8-4 with a 3.93 ERA, but suffered three different arm injuries that ended his career. He was one of the first, if not the pioneer, full-blooded Native American to play MLB ball. He could do little wrong in the Steel City and was a fan favorite during his stay. But he was all business on the diamond; he once drilled Ty Cobb between the eyes in an exhibition game for being too yappy at the dish. 
Chief Yellowhorse 1921 (photo Bain/Library of Congress)
  • 1900 - LHP Emil Yde was born in Great Lakes, Illinois. As a rookie in 1924, Yde led the NL in shutouts with four, in winning percentage (.842) with a record of 16–3 and he was a member of the Pirates 1925 World Series championship team, going 17-9 during the season. His career was brief; he pitched four years for the Pirates with a 44-22/3.84 line before the bottom fell out in 1927 (1-3/9.71). He spent 1928 in the minors and was out of MLB after a stint with the Tigers in 1929. Emil tossed in the minors briefly and in 1933 retired to Florida, where he and his family lived, and became a successful realtor. 
  • 1908 - P “Spittin’ Bill” (guess what his bread and butter pitch was) Doak was born in Pittsburgh. Even though he never pitched for the hometown nine, the Bucs and MLB can thank him for an innovation still in use, the first modern glove. He proposed to Rawlings that a web should be placed between the first finger and thumb to create a natural pocket, and his model was introduced when he pitched against the Pirates in 1920. The Bill Doak glove soon replaced all other mitts and is still considered a classic design. 
  • 1914 - SS Alf Anderson was born in Gainesville, Georgia, where he was an all-state HS baseball player and a two-sport (baseball/football) athlete for the Georgia Bulldogs. He saw some action in 1941-42 for the Bucs, but lost the next three years to wartime service. He returned for a cup of coffee in 1946, but that was it; he retired after the season. Alf hit .238 as a Bucco. After baseball, Anderson worked for Jefferson Mills HS in Georgia as athletic director and baseball coach. He was inducted in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. 
Alf Anderson 1941 (photo Mears Collection/TSN)
  • 1918 - RHP Bob Muncrief was born in Madill, Oklahoma. He tossed 288 games in the bigs over 12 years, mostly with the St. Louis Browns, with 13 of them tossed for the Pirates during the early part of the 1949 campaign when he went 1-5-2, 6.31, and was waived in June to the Cubs. He finished the year with them and ended his MLB stint with two appearances in 1951 with the NY Giants 
  • 1927 - OF Carlos “Comet” (he led his MiLB league in stolen bases three times) Bernier was born in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico. He only played one MLB season, hitting .213 for the Pirates in 1953, but he was a minor league dynamo. Carlos played for 16 MiLB seasons, appearing in 2,200 games (mostly in AAA and the PCL, then independent), batting .298 with 2,291 hits and 200 home runs in the bushes with a great eye, whiffing and walking at the same pace. Carlos is de facto the first Pirates black player, beating Curt Roberts to the show by a season. Oddly, he’s not recognized as such by MLB, likely because he was Puerto Rican rather than American. His tale has a sad ending: In 1989, at age 62 and homeless, Bernier committed suicide.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

1/27: St Mary's Joe & Jose Sign; Maz Statue; HBD Zags, Otis & Al

  • 1876 - OF Otis Clymer was born in Pine Grove (Schuylkill County) Pennsylvania. Clymer started his career in Pittsburgh, playing from 1905-07, when the often injured OF was traded to Washington after hitting .285 during his Pirate days. He was a feisty guy, once getting into a fight with Reds 1B Cliff Blankenship during a 2-1 win at Expo Park in 1905. It started when Clymer spiked Blankenship as a payback for an event a few days prior when the Reds infielder ran into Honus Wagner. Blankenship won the battle but not the war as he was pelted with bottles (even a knife was tossed from the stands) by heated Bucco fans after the pair were ejected, per The Baseball Library. A more memorable moment career highlight came in 1908 when Otis hit for the cycle while a Cub. 
Otis Clymer 1905 (photo Chicago Daily News/Chicago History Museum)
  • 1888 - OF Al Wickland was born in Chicago. Wickland got his start with the Reds in 1913, then jumped to the Federal League the next year, playing for the hometown Feds/Whales. He suited up the Rebels, where he appeared in 100 games and hit pretty well with a .301 BA in 1915. When the league folded, he joined the American Association’s Indianapolis Indians for a couple of seasons to earn a ticket back to the bigs. He did return, but hit just .249 for the Boston Braves and NY Yankees over two campaigns (1918-19). Al finished out his career with a three-year stay with the AA’s Toledo Mud Hens before leaving the game in 1922 at age 34. 
  • 1983 - Jumbo reliever LHP Mike Zagurski was born in Omaha. The Bucs signed the 6’, 240 lb southpaw to a minor league deal for 2013, and it looked like they found a gem as he dominated in camp and struck out 37 batters in 21 IP at Indy. He earned a call to the show, but in six innings surrendered 10 runs on 10 hits with eight walks, becoming a poster boy for AAAA pitchers. Zags was released to make room for Brandon Cumpton, and the Yankees picked him up. Mike was hit hard there, too. He spent two seasons pitching in Japan, then joined the Tigers system; he’s now in the Brewers organization. 
  • 2006 - The Pirates signed IF Jose Hernandez, who had played for the Bucs in 2003, to a $150 K minor league deal (which would jump to $850 K in the majors) with a camp invite. Hernandez did make the team and hit .267 before the 36-year-old was sold to Philadelphia in late August. He came back to Pittsburgh for 2007 as a free agent, but father time caught up to him. He spent the season at Indy and then ended his career with a two-year Mexican League stint.
Jose Hernandez 2005 Upper Deck
  • 2010 - Dejan Kovacevic of the Post Gazette leaked the news that the Bucs were going to build a Maz statue, confirmed by the team two days later during the Fan Fest. Maz joined Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and former teammate Roberto Clemente as Bucco greats honored with a statue outside of PNC Park. The 12-foot bronze, designed by local sculptor Susan Wagner, showed the Hall of Fame infielder rounding second base after his legendary homer and was dedicated in September during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Pirates 1960 World Championship season. 
  • 2011 - St. Marys (it’s in Elk county) native Joe Beimel signed a minor league deal with the Bucs, reuniting him with both the Pirates (he began his career in Pittsburgh from 2001-03) and his former manager Clint Hurdle (he was with the Rox in 2009). The lefty reliever started the year on the DL with forearm stiffness, pitched six weeks to a 5.33 ERA, went back on the DL and was DFA’ed in August. He had TJ surgery in 2012 and returned as a Mariner in 2014-15. He signed several minor league deals since with no success, played indie ball briefly in 2017 and announced his retirement from baseball in June of that year. He had 13 big league seasons under his belt, yet never signed a contract that was for longer than one year.

Friday, January 26, 2018

1/26: Cobra Gets $1M; Ad Trade; Year of the Pitcher; HBD Jeff, Josh & Kaiser

  • 1874 - RHP Irvin “Kaiser” Wilhelm was born in Wooster, Ohio. Kaiser tossed one year in Pittsburgh (1903), going 5-3/3.24 before bouncing around between the big leagues and the farm. He was quite the minor league arm, tho. While in the bushes, he authored a perfect game for Birmingham in 1906 and put together the minor league record (still standing) for consecutive shutout innings with 59 the following year, also as a Baron. And yes, his nickname was thanks to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. 
Kaiser in post-Pirates days 1909-11 T206
  • 1895 - RHP Addison “Ad” Gumbert was traded to the Brooklyn Grooms for C Tom Kinslow. The deal stirred some controversy as the Reds protested, saying they had a prior handshake deal for Gumbert with manager Connie Mack that was denied by the league. Ad, only 26, had gone 26-21, 5.71 for the Bucs in 1893-94 and Kinslow was a back-up catcher. Neither team got much use out of the deal as both retired after the 1896 season. Ad was a local boy who was elected County Sheriff in 1906 & County Commissioner in 1915. He headed a variety of benevolent efforts - in fact, Pittsburgh Mayor William Magee once appointed him an Assistant Director of Charities - and belonged to many service groups, including the Masons, Shriners and Odd Fellows. Ad is buried in Homewood Cemetery. 
  • 1963 - A brief pitcher’s era began when the MLB Rules Committee opened up the strike zone to between the top of the batter's shoulders and the bottom of his knees. The hurlers began to dominate, and after the run drought of 1968 (the “Year of the Pitcher”), the league reversed course, lowering the mound by five inches (from 15” to 10”) and tightening the strike zone from the bottom of the armpit to the top of the knee for the next campaign. Later changes restored most of the pre-1963 strike zone, though the mound remained unaltered. 
  • 1967 - Pirate hitting coach Jeff Branson was born in Waynesboro, Massachusetts. A second round draft pick of the Reds in 1988, he spent nine seasons in the show as a utility infielder, mostly with Cincinnati. After his playing days, Branson joined the Bucco minor league staff in 2003, working his way up from short-season ball to AAA. In late 2012, he was called up to the home club to serve as an assistant hitting coach under Jay Bell; when Bell left after the following year, Jeff was promoted to his position. 
Cobra's big deal (photo Robert Pavuchak/Post Gazette)
  • 1979 - Dave Parker of the Pirates became the first $1M per year player in sports when he signed a five-year/$5M contract after winning consecutive batting crowns and being named MVP. He didn’t get to enjoy it long - he had three straight All-Star seasons, but missed half of the 1981 and 1982 campaigns with injuries before having a full-time but poor, by his standards, 1983. Fans behaved even more poorly when they tossed batteries, nuts, bolts, cups and other assorted trash at him in the field. He signed with Cincinnati when the deal expired. As Lennon and McCartney so aptly observed, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.” (Note: the contract payout was worth at least $7.75M but was spread out over 30 years, so he never received $1M in any single campaign. How it turned out finally is unknown; the Pirates took him to court to void the deal due to Cobra’s coke use, and an undisclosed settlement was reached in 1988 before trial. In 1980, Nolan Ryan became the first $1M/season player when he signed a four-year free agent contract with the Houston Astros.) 
  • 1981 - RHP Josh Sharpless was born in Beaver. Josh went to Freedom Area HS and was drafted in the 24th round of the 2003 draft out of Allegheny College, where he still ranks in the top five in several career pitching categories. He blew through the Pirates minor league system in three years, even pitching in the Futures game, and tossed briefly for the Bucs, going 0-1 with a 4.41 ERA between 2006-07 cups of coffee in the show. Sharpless still lives in the area and gives pitching lessons while helping coach the LaRoche College Redhawks nine.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

1/25: Bobby Big Bucks; Joe & Hank HoF; RIP Mooney; HBD Gregg, Buddy & Dan

  • 1936 - IF Harold “Buddy” Pritchard was born in South Gate, California. The Pirates signed him out of Southern Cal in 1957 for a $30,000 bonus w/$6,000 salary for each of the next three seasons, and as a bonus baby he had to spend his first year with the Buccos. He went 1-for-11 in 23 games and played just 34 innings in the field. Pritchard was sent to minors after the campaign and played eight seasons in the Pirate farm system with a .256 BA. Buddy went on to manage and later scout for Pittsburgh, closing out his career as a scout for the Cubs and the Major League Scouting Bureau. 
Buddy Pritchard 1958 Topps
  • 1956 - SS Joe Cronin and OF Hank Greenberg were elected to the Hall of Fame. Both were considered to be among the top RH hitters of their era and had brief stops in Pittsburgh. Cronin started as a Pirate in 1926-27 and played sparingly before breaking out for Washington and Boston, while Greenberg spent 1947, his last MLB season, as a Bucco, hitting 25 HR and serving as a mentor to up-and-coming slugger Ralph Kiner. They were inducted on July 23rd. 
  • 1964 - Former Pirate coach Gregg Ritchie was born in Washington DC. Ritchie played in the Giant system, reaching AAA, and then went on to coach in the White Sox organization for a decade before joining Pittsburgh. In 2006, Ritchie became the Bucs roving minor league hitting coordinator and later the hitting coach for the big club during the 2011-12 seasons. He left to take George Washington University’s baseball manager job. 
  • 1967 - Roberto Clemente signed a $100,000 contract, then the highest in Pirate history, topping Ralph Kiner’s $90,000 deal of 1952. He joined the MLB’s top shelf of players with a six-figure deal; the others paid at that rate were Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. His salary helped boost the total Pirates payroll for 1967 to an estimated but unverifiable $800,000, considered by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette to be an “elite” amount for a third place club. It was certainly a different era - the combined total payroll of MLB in 1967 was about $9.5M, with at least 10 of the 20 clubs topping out at $375,00 or less (Kansas City’s entire roster came in at $190,700!)
Roberto 1967 Contract Signing (photo Associated Press)
  • 1967 - Catcher and manager George "Mooney" Gibson passed away in his hometown of London at the age of 86. Mooney played for the Bucs from 1905-16 and was considered one of the top defensive catchers of the deadball era , making up for his .238 BA as a Pirate. He was a workhorse with Pittsburgh, leading NL catchers in games played for four consecutive seasons between 1907-10. His final two season were with the NY Giants, spent as a player/coach, and the time served him well as he had two stints as the Pirates skipper, from 1920-22 and again from 1932-34. The clubs went 401-330 (.549 winning %), finishing under .500 just once with three second-place finishes. George, who hailed from Ontario, was celebrated north of the border - he was named Canada's baseball player of the half century in 1958, the first baseball player elected to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in 1987.
  • 1974 - LHP Dan Serafini was born in San Francisco. Though he got just 104 appearances in parts of seven big league seasons (he was a Pirate in 2000, going 2-5, 4.91, in 11 starts), he deserves a tip o’ the cap for perseverance. Drafted out of HS, he pitched from 1992-2013 professionally from the age of 18 until he was 39, with nine AAA seasons, 10 years in foreign (Mexico, Japan, Venezuela) leagues and even a couple of years of indie ball; that’s one dedicated ball tosser.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Benny Distefano - Last of Three LH Bucco Catchers.

There have been 30 LH catchers in MLB; the Bucs had three. Yesterday's birthday boy Benny Distefano was the last big league lefty thrower to squat behind the dish, calling three games for six innings in 1989. Old timey players Homer Hillebrand (1905, 3 games/14 IP) & Jiggs Donahue (1900-01, 3 games/18 IP) preceded him on the all-time Pirates southpaw catcher corps. (People also remember Dale Long for the feat, but he caught his two games as a Cubby in 1958, a year after he left Pittsburgh).

Benny Distefano 1989 (photo NY Times)
Benny didn't exactly light it up behind the dish, but he didn't embarrass himself either, allowing one stolen base, one passed ball and one wild pitch in his six frames. The team gave up seven runs while he was wagging his fingers at Bill Landrum, Neal Heaton, Miguel Garcia, Mike Smith, Randy Kramer and Doug Bair. Benny went through an arm an inning, but we're inclined to believe the run totals had more to do the men on the mound than their batterymate.

Jimmy Leyland used him behind the dish for a variety of reasons. In the first outing, pinch hitters for Junior Ortiz and Tom Prince left him as the sole option. He was inserted at catcher as part of a double switch in the second outing and in his final bout, Ortiz was again lifted and replaced by Benny rather than Dann Bilardello. (It should be noted that Benny got his chance because the regular catcher, Spanky LaValliere, was on the DL with a bum knee for all but 28 games during the campaign, leaving the Pirates backstopping crew in choppy waters.)

All three of the Bucco oppo-ball snaggers were, not surprisingly, multi-positional. Distefano was a 1B/OF under normal circumstances. Hillebrand not only caught, he also pitched and manned first base. Jiggs actually was a competent catcher early in his career. He ended up a 1B by trade, but not until he caught 45 games for three teams from 1900-02.

It's been a long time since a lefty caught a game; the book is that it's too hard for them on stolen base tries when RH batters are in the box and that they have to go across their bodies to slap a tag at home; our feeling is that there just aren't any southpaw catchers mitts available in little league, so kids are shunted away from the position from the get-go.

But we know somewhere out there lurks a lefty with a yen to catch...

(sources Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers and Baseball Reference)

1/24: Mack & Ben Sign; HBD Josh, Ugly Johnny, Tim, Dave, Stu, Wally & Ross

  • 1879 - IF Dave Brain was born in Hereford, England. Brain was a jack-of-all-trades player who spent a bit of his seven big league years (three months of 1905) in Pittsburgh. He hit .257, about his career average, and was a player with a rep for some power & speed (his versatility in the field was probably more a matter of finding a spot to hide him; he booted 22 balls in 82 games as a Pirates IF). He’s noteworthy in two aspects: after the season, he was part of the package that brought Hall-of-Fame P Vic Willis to town, and he was one of the earliest native-born Englishmen to play in the majors for Pittsburgh. 
Dave Brain 1909-11 American Tobacco Company
  • 1906 - IF William “Stu” (for middle name Stuart) Clarke was born in San Francisco. He spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, albeit one that lasted just from 1929-30. The backup infielder hit fairly well, putting up a .273 BA over his 61 big league games, but finished out his time in the bushes, where he compiled a more telling lifetime .238 average before retiring after the 1933 season. 
  • 1910 - OF “Ugly Johnny” (he gave himself the moniker as the self-proclaimed “ugliest man in baseball”) Dickshot, whose given name was John Oscar Dicksus, was born in Waukegan, Illinois. He played for the Bucs from 1936-38. Ugly was a feared hitter in the minors, putting up a .318 BA in 14 seasons, but was just a .250 batter with Pittsburgh, although his career MLB average was .276 after six seasons. When he retired after the 1945 campaign, he opened a bar in his hometown. John Ducey, an actor who appeared quite often in TV sitcoms, is his grandson. 
  • 1913 - C Josh Johnson was born in Evergreen, Alabama. Raised in the Pittsburgh area, he caught for the Homestead Grays in 1934-35 (he was taught “the book” on hitters by pitching great Smokey Joe Williams as a rookie) and then returned in 1939-42, taking over the starting catcher’s job during the 1940 season when Josh Gibson and several other stars jumped to the Mexican League, and responded with his best campaign, batting .429 in league play. He was drafted during WW2 and returned to become a teacher and coach with a degree from Cheyney State and a masters from Penn State. 
Josh Johnson 1991 Ron Lewis Post Card
  • 1917 - OF Wally/Walt Judnich was born in San Francisco. Wally was a touted HS player with speed and some power, and started his MLB career with three strong seasons with the St. Louis Browns, batting .299 as a starting center fielder. But WW2 took three years from him and like many others, he had lost his edge after he was discharged. He spent four more seasons in the league, but hit .259 over that span and finished his career with a 10-game swan song with Pittsburgh in 1949, batting .229. He was sent to the PCL, and closed out his pro days with six seasons on the coast. There his stroke was much improved (his MiLB lifetime average was .288) and he retired in 1955 at age 39. 
  • 1954 - RHP Tim Jones was born in Sacramento. He only tossed three games in his MLB career, all during a September call up from the Bucs in 1977, but at least he left the league on a high note. After a pair of mop-up details, Chuck Tanner let the 1972 fourth-round pick start on the last day of the season. Jones tossed seven shutout innings against the Cubs, surrendering just four hits, to win his one and only MLB start and finishing his cup of coffee with a 1-0/0.00 slash in 10 IP. He’s the only player in MLB history to have pitched at least 10 career innings and not allow a run. Tim was traded to Montreal for Will McEnaney as camp broke in 1978, had a terrible year at AAA Denver and called it a career at the tender age of 24. 
  • 1968 - LHP Ross Powell was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Powell spent 48 games spread over three years in the show, closing out his MLB stand with Pittsburgh in 1995 when he was sold to the club by the Astros in late July. Jim Leyland worked him mostly from the pen, though he did give him three of his four major league starts. He didn’t impress in either role (0-2, 5.23) and was released after the year. 
Ben Grieve 2005 (photo Ezra Shaw/Getty)
  • 2005 - OF Rob Mackowiak became the last arb-eligible Buc to settle, signing a one-year/$1.5M deal w/$90K in potential bonuses; he and the FO had a 2/10 deadline to beat before his salary hearing. Mack went on to hit .272 w/nine HR before being dealt to the White Sox in the off season. Veteran OF Ben Grieve also agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates but was among the late cuts of camp.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

1/23: Ralph HoF; Billy for Rabbit; One That Got Away; HBD Benny, Kurt, Alphoso, Ed, Cy, Bill, Jack & Victor

  • 1890 - March 23, 1890 - OF Ed Barney was born in Amery, Wisconsin. Ed played for the 1915-16 Buccos, hitting .229 after being claimed on waivers from the NY Yankees at mid-season. Following a promising start in Pittsburgh, he hit just .197 in 1916 and was released in July, ending his MLB career. He took a three year baseball hiatus after that, and then closed out his career with six minor-league campaigns and a one-year stint as a farm club manager for Elmira. 
  • 1891 - C Orie “Cy” Kerlin was born in Summerfield, Louisiana. Not much is known about his baseball life; he was a well-thought-of 24-year-old catcher out of LSU when the Pittsburgh Rebels called him in 1915. He didn’t play until June with a finger injury and then got just one at-bat in three games before ending his only big-league season, playing behind 35-year-old veterans Claude Berry and Paddy O’Connor. The Rebels folded, Orie served during WW1 and then returned home to begin a business career. 
Bill Regan from Pre-Pirates days (image via Find-A-Grave)
  • 1899 - 2B Bill Regan was born in Oakland, a self-described stone’s throw from Forbes Field, which rose a decade after his arrival on the planet. He went to Fifth Avenue School and sold peanuts at FF until he joined the service during WW1. Bill came home, played semi-pro locally, then joined the Red Sox in 1926, starting for Boston over the next five years. He spent his last season at Forbes Field with the Bucs, but hit the wall at age 32 and batted just .202 for the home club, altho he did have a day dedicated to him, planned by his local buds. He played minor league ball until 1935, worked as a landscaper and then once again joined the service during WW2. He became an Allegheny County cop on his return and now lies buried at Hazelwood’s Calvary Cemetery.
  • 1903 - IF Otto “Jack” Saltzgaver was born in Croton, Iowa. He played for the Yankees for five years and then spent the next eight seasons in their farm system (Jack spent all or parts of 19 seasons in the minors) before the Bucs sent OF Bill Rodgers and cash to Kansas City for him in 1945. At that time, the last season of the WW2 manpower shortage, the 42-year-old Saltzgaver was the oldest active major league player. He showed well, batting .325 in 52 games before spending another year in the bushes, then hanging up his spikes as a player and managing on the farm through 1950. 
  • 1921 - SS Rabbit Maranville was traded to the Bucs by the Boston Braves for IF Walter Barbare, OF Fred Nicholson, OF Billy Southworth and $15,000. Rabbit and Billy were the keys to the deal. Hall of Famer Maranville played four seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .283. Southworth played another eight years in the league and entered the Hall of Fame with a career slash of .297/52/561 and a stellar coaching record, winning four league titles and a pair of World Series. 
Rabbit Maranville 1924 (Conlon Collection/Detroit Public Library)
  • 1940 - In a harbinger of future free agency, which was still 36 years away from being an official thing, former Detroit 2B Benny McCoy, 22, who had been declared a free agent by Commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis for violations by the Tigers, announced the Bucs offered him a signing bonus of $35,000, which was later raised to $40K, to go along with a two-year contract worth $10,000 per year. He had hit .394 in a 55-game audition in the Motor City in 1939 and passed on both Bucco bids, inking a deal a week later with Philadelphia for $45,000 after sorting through proposals from 10 clubs. Whether he was worth it or not is debateable - he hit .264 as the A’s starer in 1940-41, but ended up in the service for four years after those two campaigns and lost his touch over that time, never playing MLB again. 
  • 1947 - IF Kurt Bevacqua was born in Miami Beach. The Bucs called on him twice, in 1974 and then again from 1980-81 despite a .171 lifetime BA in a Pirate uniform. He spent 15 years in MLB (six with SD) and had his moment in the sun when he hit two homers in the Padres’ World Series win against the Detroit Tigers in 1984. Kurt has bounced around in the baseball media world since retirement. 
  • 1957 - LHP Alfonso Pulido was born in Tierra Blanco, Mexico. His Pirates career is easy to miss; he pitched two innings in 1983 and two more in 1984, giving up seven hits and four earned runs before being traded to NY. He did pitch a bit more credibly with the Yankees in 1986, but that would mark the end of his big league time. Even if El Norte was a step too far for a guy considered a hot prospect, Alfonso did carve out a stellar 14-year career in the Mexican Leagues. The Pirates had originally purchased his contract from the Mexico City Reds in 1983 (he stayed w/the Reds on option until after their playoffs) where Pulido had gone 17-3, with Chuck Tanner commenting that he had “Valenzuela-type stuff.” 
Benny Distefano 1990 Fleer
  • 1962 - 1B/OF Benny Distefano was born in Brooklyn. He played for the Bucs in 1984, 1986, and 1988-89, hitting .227 in 300 PA. Distefano was the last lefty to catch a major league game, going behind the dish three times for the Pirates in 1989. He played some in Venezuela since his last MLB game in 1992 and has been a Mets farm coach since 2010. 
  • 1968 - RHP Victor Cole was born in Leningrad, Russia (his student father married a Russian girl). Cole’s MLB/Pirates resume consists of eight games with an 0-2, 5.48 slash in 1992, but that was enough to make him the first Soviet-born major leaguer since the thirties. He later went on to play in Korea and part-time for the Russian national team (he suited up when they played in the US) in 2003 and 2007. 
  • 1975 - OF Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame and was inducted on August 18th. Kiner played only 10 years in MLB, but led the NL in home runs for seven consecutive seasons. He received 273 votes on the 362 ballots cast by the writers, exactly enough to be selected. There are a pair of often cited quotes that follow Kiner. One, attributed to Kiner himself was "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords." The other was a quote by Bucco GM Branch Rickey when he told Kiner that he had traded him to the Cubs: "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."

Monday, January 22, 2018

1/22: Sixto Signed; Who, Moi?; HBD Diomedes, Jimmy, Fred, Huck & Warren

  • 1876 - LHP Warren McLaughlin was born in Plainfield, New Jersey. He had an 11-game MLB career over three seasons; the middle one (1902) spent briefly with the Pirates. The Bucs took him from New Haven in the Connecticut League, where he had tossed a no-hitter, for an audition as they were evaluating pitching to build a B List of arms during the days of inter-league raids. He did well, going 3-0/2.76 with three starts over 11 days, all complete games, and Pittsburgh inked him to a deal. The club did lose a couple of guys to American League marauders, but still had nine pitchers under contract for 1903 and so sold McLaughlin to Philadelphia. He had back woes there and fizzled, ending his big league days. He worked in the minors until 1908 and semi-pro leagues for a while longer before returning home to become a tin knocker.
Ad Gumbert in his pre-Pirates days Goodwin/Old Judge
  • 1895 - In a little blowback from the Red Ehret-Pink Hawley pitcher swap made the week before, Pirates hurler Ad Gumbert was said to be taking bets that Ehret would win two games for St. Louis to every one that Hawley won for Pittsburgh. Gumbert claimed that he wasn’t throwing shade at his club but was instead the victim of a frame-up. He contacted the Pittsburgh Press the next day and asked to “Kindly deny the statement...the story was originated by a mischief-maker to hurt me with all Pittsburgh people…” Still, he was traded to Brooklyn four days later for reserve C Tom Kinslow. Pink, btw, won 31 games in 1895; Red won six. 
  • 1917 - SS Eugene “Huck” Geary was born in Buffalo. His MLB career was spent as a Pirate reserve from 1942-43, as Huck could only muster a .160 BA in 55 games. A takeout slide may have had more to do with his short career than his stick, though. The Cubs’ Eddie Stanky made a hard slide at second and cut Geary down, breaking his leg. There was some doubt that Geary would ever play again, and that was the last season that he spent in the majors. Mike Buczkowski, Huck’s grandson & minor league executive, says Geary got his nickname as a kid because of his Huck Finn-like habit of hanging his glove from a bat propped on his shoulder as he walked to the Buffalo ball fields. 
  • 1919 - LHP Diomedes Olivo was born in Guayubin, Dominican Republic. He was the second oldest rookie to pitch MLB when in 1960 he got a September call-up at age 41 after being plucked from the Mexican League (Satchel Paige made his debut as a 42-year-old). He spent the following season in AAA, then all of 1962 in Pittsburgh, going 5-1-7/2.78 in his 66 big league games with Pittsburgh. He was traded to St. Louis in 1963 and retired after the season at age 44. He scouted for the Cardinals afterward and later held a position in the Dominican Ministry of Sports until his death from a heart attack at age 58. 
Ol' Man Olivo 1980 TCMA '60 Pirates series
  • 1948 - RHP Fred Cambria was born in Queens, New York. A Pirates third-round pick in 1969 out of St. Leo College, he tossed a perfect game for the AA York Pirates in 1969 and debuted with the Bucs in 1970. Fred was 1-2, 3.51 during his five-start audition, but that would be his only MLB line. Bursitis ended his career after the 1973 campaign; even an altered submarine delivery didn’t help. Since he’s retired, he’s coached for San Diego and college while also serving as the executive director of a couple of indie leagues. 
  • 1976 - LHP Jimmy Anderson was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. After being drafted in the ninth round of the 1994 draft, he pitched the first four years (1999-2002) of his six-season career in Pittsburgh, going 24-42 with a 5.17 ERA, working later for the Reds, Cubs and Red Sox. The southpaw then made minor league stops with the Twins, Astros, Cubs, Devil Rays and Marlins before he retired in 2006. Now he runs the Jimmy Anderson Baseball Training Academy and coaches a traveling team, the Mid Atlantic Pirates, that play out of his facility. 
  • 1984 - The Pirates signed free agent OF Sixto Lezcano to a two-year/$925K contract. Lezcano hit .207 in 1985 and was released at the start of the 1986 season, ending his MLB career after 12 seasons. The Bucs ate $500K of his deal, part of $3M in dead money spent that year for players no longer with the club. Lezcano then played a bit in Japan and in the Senior League before beginning a run as a Braves minor league coach.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

1/21: Schoolboy Signs; HoF Frankie; Bucs Broadcast in NYC; HBD Danny, Jimmy, Fern, Jeff, Wil & Chase; RIP Clyde

  • 1895 - RHP Jimmy Zinn was born in Benton, Arkansas. Zinn worked three years for the Bucs (1920-22; 8-7-4, 3.54), with the last year being his only full season with the club. But he was a minor league legend, tossing for nine different farm clubs over 25 campaigns (mostly San Francisco and Kansas City), collecting 279 wins and compiling a 3.49 ERA.
Fern Bell 1939-40 (photo by George Burke)
  • 1913 - OF Fernando “Fern” Bell was born in Ada, Oklahoma. He spent his brief MLB career in Pittsburgh from 1939-40, batting .283. Fern was a long-time minor leaguer (he started in organized ball as an 18-year-old) when he got the call to Pittsburgh, and after cooling off from a red-hot start in ‘39, he was sold early in the 1940 season to the minor league Toronto Maple Leafs club. After baseball, Fern continued swinging a stick at balls - he became a golf pro in California. 
  • 1927 - IF Danny O’Connell was born in Paterson, New Jersey. As a Buc rookie in 1950 he hit .292 and finished third in the NL ROY voting. He spent the next two years in the Army during the Korean War but came back strong for Pittsburgh in 1953, hitting .294. The Pirates traded him in the off season to the Milwaukee Braves in one of MLB’s biggest deals, netting six players (Sid Gordon, Sam Jethroe, Curt Raydon, Max Surkont, Fred Waters & Larry Lassalle) along with $100,000. O’Connell hit .279 for the Braves in ‘54, then never had an average above .266 during the rest of his career, finishing with a lifetime BA of .260 over 10 years. 
  • 1933 - Future Hall of Fame RHP Waite Hoyt was signed by the Pirates after being waived by the New York Giants. Working mostly out of the bullpen, he went 35-31-18/3.08 in his five-year Bucco career before being sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937. Hoyt was called “Schoolboy” because he signed with the Yankees as a 15-year-old. Waite was also known as "The Merry Mortician" because in the off season he was a funeral director by day and a vaudevillian by night, sharing the stage with the likes of Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, and George Burns. 
The Merry Mortician 1936 World Wide Gum
  • 1947 - The Baseball Writers selected Frankie Frisch to the Hall of Fame. Although the Fordham Flash spent his playing career with the Giants and Cardinals, he managed the Buccos from 1940-46. Five of his seven Pittsburgh clubs had winning records but finished higher than fourth just once when the team went 90-63 in 1944, coming in second to St. Louis, which won 105 games. 
  • 1958 - The Pirates agreed to broadcast games to New York City to provide a NL presence after the departure of the Giants and Dodgers to the west coast (it was the first time the NL didn’t have a NY team since 1876; the hole was filled by the Mets in 1962) when they played the two former New York Senior Circuit clubs. St Louis reached the same deal while the Phils one-upped both squads by airing 78 games in the Big Apple. 
  • 1970 - RHP Jeff McCurry was born in Tokyo. A Pirate draft pick in 1990, Jeff worked his 1995 rookie campaign in Pittsburgh, then returned for the 1998 season. McCurry was a big ‘un at 6’7”, but it didn’t help his hurling noticeably as the reliever was 2-2-1, 5.38 in 71 Bucco outings.
  • 1980 - 3B/OF Clyde Barnhart died in Hagerstown, Maryland at age 84. Clyde spent his entire nine-year career as a Pirate, starting out as a third baseman and then moving to the outfield thanks to Pie Traynor’s arrival at the hot corner. Clyde was a dependable rather than flashy hitter, with a lifetime BA of .295 and 12 hits in 11 World Series games played in 1925 and ‘27. His most famous feat was being the last player credited with hits in three games - on the same day! The 24-year-old rookie, 10 days past his debut, got a knock in each of the three contests played against the Reds in 1920 in the last MLB tripleheader. His son, Vic, also played for the Pirates from 1944-46. 
Clyde Barnhart 1925 (Photo George Bain/Library of Congress)
  • 1981 - LHP Wil Ledezma was born in Valle de la Pascua, Venezuela. Ledezma was entering his 11th campaign in organized ball with a spotty eight-year record in MLB when the Pirates signed him in the 2009-10 offseason. He looked like a steal when he tossed to a 0.94 ERA at Indianapolis w/1.017 WHIP, but the tables turned when he got the call back up - he went 0-3, 6.86, in 27 Bucco outings. He was DFA’ed and claimed by Toronto where he pitched five times in 2011 to end his MLB days. 
  • 1987 - IF Chase d’Arnaud was born in Torrance, California. A fourth round pick of the Pirates in 2008 out of Pepperdine, he debuted for the Bucs in 2011. He got a good look but hit just .217 with some questionable leatherwork, afterward being given a couple of courtesy calls in 2012 and ‘14 before being DFA’ed and claimed by the Phils. He’s bounced around as a depth guy since with them, Atlanta, Boston and San Diego; he’s now in the Giants organization.