Thursday, January 31, 2019

1/31 Through the 1950's: Big Poison Gone & HoF; Wiz of Whiff; HBD Death, Al, Jot, Stuffy, Don, Coral & Ted

  • 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 $3,200. He got into three games, was hit hard (0-1/16.88) 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 after a freak hunting accident - he shot himself in the arm! 
  • 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.
  • 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. 
Coral in his post-Pirates days 1948 Sommer & Kaufmann
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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 (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 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. 
Ted Power 1991 Fleer
  • 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.

1/31 From 1960: Jackie-Ryan, Zamora-Smoker Deals; Pud, Jake, Joe, Al HoF; Bonds, Supe, Backman, Ribant, Mahomes Signed

  • 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 15 seasons and in his career took home 365 wins. 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 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. 
  • 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 with a couple of seasons 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. 
Al Lopez 1942 Play Ball
  • 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. 
  • 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. “Supe” 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. The Pirates also inked RHP Pat Mahomes 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 last MLB outings. 
Jeff Suppan 2003 Upper Deck 40-Man
  • 2018 - The Pirates sent minor league lefty Daniel Zamora to the New York Mets for LHP Josh Smoker. They might have been better off to let things be - Zamora went 2-1-1/3.99 for NY with 31 K in 30 IP while Smoker was waived after giving up seven runs in 5-2/3 IP while striking out two, walking five and giving up a pair of homers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

1/30: Tiger, Kitten, Smoky Deal; Pokey, Paul, Eric Inked; Lights On; Block Hired; Bucs For Sale - Not; HBD Hipolito, Demon, Charlie & Scat

  • 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 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. 
  • 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. 
Vin Campbell 1910 Tip Top Bread
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Fleer Platinum
  • 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 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. 
Erik Hinske 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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

1/29 Through the 1950’s: Hans HoF; Waner, Simon, Rooks; Friend Signed, Dickson Bought, Swift Deal; 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. 
Denny McKnight 1909 (photo via National Baseball HoF)
  • 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. 
  • 1914 - C Mike Simon jumped from the Pirates to the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League. He was a light-hitting (.244 BA), backup catcher for five years during the Bucs’ Mooney Gibson era behind the dish and joined the “grass is greener” exodus to the upstart league in search of PT. He spent two seasons in the FL, moving to the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in 1915, and hit just .196 over that three-year span to end his major league career. 
  • 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. 
Bill Smith 1934 Goudey
  • 1932 - RHP Billy Swift was traded by Kansas City Blues of the American Association to the Pirates for RHP 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, posting 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 posted 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. 
  • 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 while the Pirates won only 64 games that year. In fact, during his Pittsburgh years, he accounted for nearly 25% of the Pirates wins (66-of-274) before being traded to the Phillies. Known as a soft thrower with a variety of pitches and a rubber arm, he worked more than 200 innings in 10 straight seasons, beginning when he turned 31 in 1947. 
Murry Dickson 1953 Redman
  • 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.

1/29 From 1960: Mesa, Clark Sign; Rickey, Waner, Carey HoF; Clemente Day; Alou-Davalillo; Name Game; RIP Specs; HBD Jason

  • 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 1989 Perez-Steele Great Moments
  • 1963 - RHP Lee Meadows passed away in Daytona Beach, Florida, of heart disease at the age of 68. “Specs” (he was said to be the first ballplayer to wear glasses in MLB) spent the last seven campaigns of his 15-year career as a Pirate, slashing 88-52-1/3.50 after 157 starts (183 outings) with 58 wins from 1925-27 (19-20-19) and tossing for two Bucco WS clubs. A bad arm and other injuries bit him beginning in 1928, and he retired in 1932 after serving time in the minors, did a little coaching and then settled into the life of an IRS clerk.
  • 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.
Roberto Clemente 2018 Topps Allen & Ginter
  • 1971 - The Pirates traded OF Matty Alou and LHP 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 Hall of Fame to cap a 36-year career in pro ball.
  • 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 became perhaps his mostly widely cited, tho often misphrased, 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. 
  • 1992 - OF Dave Clark joined the Bucs as a free agent after being released by Kansas City in the off season, agreeing to a minor league contract. Clark was called up from AAA Buffalo in June and stayed on the big team’s roster until the 1996 deadline when he was traded to the Dodgers. He hit .278 with a 111 OPS+ over that five-year span as a corner OF’er and bench stick. 
Dave Clark 1995 Upper Deck
  • 2004 - The Bucs inked 15-year vet RHP Jose Mesa, 37, to a one-year contract with an option (he would earn $2.8M in two seasons, per Baseball Reference) after a dismal season in Philly. The vet rediscovered his mojo and went 5-2 with 43 saves and a 3.25 ERA in 70 appearances during the 2004 campaign, falling three saves shy of Mike Williams' club record. He faded badly in 2005 (2-8-23/4.76) and was released after the season, catching on with Colorado. He expressed a desire to close (he wanted to reach 300 career saves and his Pittsburgh stint put him over the top; he finished his career with 321 saves), and the ninth inning slot was wide open for him 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. Mesa hung on until he was 41, toeing the rubber for the last time in 2007 with the Phils. 
  • 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 again 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 phrase “player to be named later.”

Monday, January 28, 2019

Weekend Notes: Fest News, Random Stuff

Over the weekend:

  • At Pirates Fest, Neal Huntington said the Bucs feel that they have a young Freddy Galvis in Erik Gonzalez and a young Jordy Mercer in Kevin Newman, the FO's cover story if they don't land a SS from the market. He added that as of now, Jordan Lyles is penciled in as the fifth starter, with Steven Brault/Nick Kingham as Plan B. Hope it pans out better than the 2016 Juan Nicasio conversion did.
  • As far as payroll, one reason for the low outlay, per prez Frank Coonelly, is that better than half of the Pirates’ 25-man roster isn't arb eligible this season, with eight of those players (Jung-Ho Kang, Fraze, Big Joe, J-Bell, Jamo, Elias Diaz, Willy & Chad Kuhl) becoming eligible next year. He'll also have four guys who will be FA's in 2020 (Cervy, Corey D, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jordan Lyles), and it'll be interesting to see who gets signed and who walks. Still, sounds to us like a better opportunity to ink a rental FA while the salary window is open rather than pile it up in anticipation of next year's possible boost.
  • Chad Kuhl told the press gang that he had a partial tear of his UCL during the past season but thought he could get through the year with it. He aggravated the injury in June, and that led to TJ surgery. He expects to start his rehab throwing program when he gets to camp.
  • Conor Byrne of MLB Trade Rumors has collected some Pirates tidbits that may interest you.
  • And Top 100 Prospects season rolls on - MLB Pipeline announced theirs, with Bucco pups Mitch Keller (19), Ke'Bryan Hayes (46), Travis Swaggerty (87), and Oneil Cruz (96) making the list.
  • Seems like the Pirates, at one time or another, held the contract of every reliever in the league. The Cubs have agreed to a minor-league deal with fairly recent Bucco RHP George Kontos, per Bruce Levine of The deal comes with a camp invite. He tossed a bit for Cleveland and the Yankees after the Bucs cut him loose last May.
  • Our fave PNC Park promo is back... 

1/28 Through the 1920’s: 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, 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 (photo Bains/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. 
  • 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. 
Carlos the Comet 1954 Bowman
  • 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.

1/28 From 1960: Deacon, Kiki, Highpockets to HoF; Tavarez, D'Amico Sign; Cobra DD MoY; 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 October 1925 Baseball Magazine
  • 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 a couple of journeymen by the Bucs when he bumped heads with management over a new contract and ticked off manager Donie Bush when he didn’t slide into second to break up a DP. Kiki went on to play 11 more seasons, batting .315 with a 121 OPS+. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
Lyle Overbay (photo Jared Wickenham/Getty)
  • 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. 
  • 2003 - The Pirates began addressing their pitching by signing RHP’s Jeff D'Amico and Julian Tavarez as a free agents. D’Amico’s MLB deal was for $750K when he broke camp as the Bucs #5 starter, slashing 9-16/4.77 in 29 starts, leading the NL in losses. He moved on to Cleveland in 2004, got into seven more games and that dropped the curtain on his MLB career. Tavarez was a mirror image. He signed a minor league deal after shoulder issues as a Marlin. Converted to bullpen duty, he posted a streak of 14-1/3 consecutive scoreless innings and rang up a career-high 11 saves, with a line of 3-3-11/3.66 for the big club. Julian made $750K in the show, and the Pirates hoped to hang on to him for the following campaign. They didn’t - he signed with the Cards and made $4.2M over the next two years. Despite a boatload of antics, he pitched well and St. Louis won back-to-back flags, with a World Series appearance.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

1/27 Through the 1980’s: Ray's 5-Year Deal; Lamabe, Perez Signed; HBD Otis, Al & Mike

  • 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. 
  • 1957 - RHP Jack Lamabe joined the Pirates with the signing credited to scout Ed McCarrick. It was a non-bonus deal so that the Pirates could start him in the minors instead of the big club as the rules of the day would have dictated. Jack became a Buc in a round-about way. Originally drafted by the Phils, he was declared a free agent over a college kerfuffle. The clubs weren’t supposed to sign college players during that era, and though Lamabe said he had left the University of Vermont, the league disagreed. That made Jack a FA, and he inked his Bucco deal two months later. He had a strong Pirates rookie campaign in 1962, going 3-1/2.88 in 46 outings, and Pittsburgh leveraged that into a deal with Boston, sending Lamabe and 1B Dick Stuart to the BoSox after the season for RHP Don Schwall and C Jim Pagliaroni. 
  • 1976 - The Bucs’ Latino scout Neftali Cruz signed 19-year-old amateur RHP Pascual Perez of the Dominican Republic. He rose quickly through the system, reaching AAA in 1978 and debuting with the Bucs in 1980. In 80-81, he slashed 2-8/3.94 and was traded for Larry McWilliams. In 1983, he had an All-Star season with the Bravos and won 29 games over two years. It was the best back-to-back string he put together although he did spend 11 years tossing in the show. Perez may have been best known for his trademark quirks - notably, he shot a finger pistol at strikeout victims and eyeballed the runner at first through his legs when holding him. The peek-a-boo technique worked pretty well - his catchers had a career 35% throw-out rate against wanna-be base stealers.
Mike Zagurski 2013 (photo J Meric/Getty)
  • 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, and since tossed in the Tigers, Brewers and now Rangers systems. 
  • 1984 - The day after his DP partner Dale Berra inked a five-year deal, 2B Johnny Ray got a five-year agreement, too (the media called it “Operation Twin Killing”). His contract was worth $3.75M, including signing bonus and incentives. He, like Berra, had been rumored as trade bait, with the chatter involving a swap with the SF Giants for Will Clark. Ray was a hot property; he had been runner-up to Steve Sax in 1982 for Rookie of the Year and followed that up by batting .283 in ‘83. He lasted into the 1987 season when he was sent to the Angels for Miguel Garcia and Bill Merrifield in late August to clear a spot for Jose Lind.

1/27 From 1990: Lunchbox Dealt; Dessens, Mateo, Hernandez & Beimel Inked; Maz Statue

  • 1993 - The Pirates signed RHP Elmer Dessens. After some minor league seasoning, he debuted in 1996 and went 2-8/6.12 in parts of three campaigns. The Bucs released him and he tossed for a year in Japan. That seemed to turn the trick; he came back to the states and worked 11 more years as a back-ender and bullpen guy, retiring after the 2010 season as a 39-year-old. He’s now a pitching coach in the Reds system. 
Elmer Dessens 1997 Pacific Prizms
  • 2004 - The Bucs inked OF Ruben Mateo to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. He started the year on the farm and got a call up after tearing up it up in Nashville (.311, 11 HR) to replace the AWOL Raul Mondesi. He did OK, hitting .242 with three homers in 39 PA’s before being sold in July to KC. He faded there, and it was his last MLB go-around. He played a year in Korea after that and then went to the Latin leagues, finishing out his days after the 2015 campaign. 
  • 2006 - The Pirates signed jack-of-all-trades Jose Hernandez, who had played for the Bucs in 2003, to a $150K 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. 
  • 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. 
Maz statue dedication 2010 (photo UPI)
  • 2011 - St. Marys (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. 
  • 2015 - Fourth outfielder Travis “Lunchbox Hero” (he was renown for his team cookouts) 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. Snider has bumped around in the minors (he even spent a year playing indie ball) since the Pirates let him go, and is now with the D-Back organization. Brault took over a bullpen role after failing to claim a rotation spot. The Pirates flipped Tarpley to the Yankees in 2016 along with minor league OF Tito Polo to land Ivan Nova. He made his debut in the majors as a 2018 September call up.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

1/26: Cobra's Big Deal; First Fest; Ad for Tom; LL Strike Zone; HBD Kaiser, Jeff & Josh

  • 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.
  • 1895 - RHP Addison “Ad” Gumbert was traded to the Brooklyn Grooms for C Tom Kinslow. The deal stirred some controversy on a couple of fronts. First, it happened four days after a newspaper report (which he denied) claimed he bad mouthed the Pirates’ Pink Hawley trade. Additionally, the Reds protested, saying they had a prior handshake deal for Gumbert with manager Connie Mack, but that argument was rejected 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 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 for the City - and belonged to many service groups, including the Masons, Shriners and Odd Fellows. Ad is buried in Homewood Cemetery. 
Tom Kinslow 1895 Mayo Cut Plug Tobacco
  • 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 to between the bottom of the armpit and the top of the knee for the next campaign. Later changes yo-yo’ed the strike zone, though the mound remained unaltered. 
  • 1967 - Former Pirates 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. He held the job until after the 2018 campaign when he was replaced by Rick Eckstein. 
  • 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, year in 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 spread out over 30 years, so he never received $1M in any single campaign; he took home $775K/year during the term of the agreement. 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 actual $1M/season player when he signed a four-year free agent contract with the Houston Astros.) 
Pgh Press 1-26-1979
  • 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, pitched in the Futures game, and tossed briefly for the Bucs, going 0-1/4.41 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. 
  • 1990 - The Buccos held their first Pirates Fest at the Monroeville Expo Mart. It lasted two days and featured GM Larry Doughty, skipper Jimmy Leyland, Bobby Bonilla, Jay Bell, RJ Reynolds and Billy Maz among others, along with an exhibit of Buc memorabilia.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Wintry Notes: Pirates Potpourri

When's knit cap night again...?

  • Adam Berry of looks at how ready Adam Frazier is to take the 2B job and the current depth at the spot.
  • Craig Edwards of Fangraphs wonders whassup with the quiet Pirates offseason and wonders how that lack of improvement will affect the product - and the fan base.
  • The Bucs have five farm guys in Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 - RHP Mitch Keller (18), 3B KeBryan Hayes (55), CF Travis Swaggerty (82), SS Oneil Cruz (91) and OF Calvin Mitchell (97). Baseball America, behind their paywall, agreed on three - Keller (26), Hayes (49), & Cruz (72). John Dreker of Pirates Prospects recaps the BA selections.
  • Another day, another bit of love: Ke'Bryan Hayes was picked as the #4 3B Prospect by Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline in his Top Ten list, and was rated with the best glove and included on the short list of best arms at the hot corner.
Cutch 2005 Topps Draft Update
  • MLB Pipeline selected each team's best prospect of the past 15 years; not too surprisingly, they picked Cutch for the Pirates. They also have a list of all the #1 picks during that span if you feel like a deeper dive. 
  • In that vein, Anthony Castrovince of thinks that two Bucco prospects of yore, Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, have better days ahead of them.
  • LHP Justin Wilson signed a two-year/$10M deal with the Mets, pending his physical. 
  • Another ol' Bucco lefty, Ollie Perez, inked a one-year deal with the Tribe for $2.5M with an option based on appearances.
  • OF Travis Snider is back - after playing indie ball last year, the D-Backs inked the 30-year-old Lunchbox to a minor league deal for this season.
  • C Tony Sanchez, the Pirates 2009 first-rounder, signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, the team he was traded to last year by the Braves. Since his release in early 2016, the 30-year-old been with six organizations and gotten into one MLB game.
Tony Sanchez 2009 TriStar Prospect
  • RHP Hunter Strickland, non-tendered by the Giants, has signed w/the Mariners per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Strickland, 30, was a Bucco prospect from 2009-13,when he was waived at the end of camp and claimed by SF. He got into 253 games with the G-men since, posting a 14-14-19/2.91 slash.
  • BTW, the Dodgers landed a center fielder and it wasn't Starling - they signed AJ Pollock.
  • PiratesFest at PNC Park is Saturday from noon-5; admission is free.
  • Click on the blue line for a preview of the shirt giveaways for the Free Tee Fridays this year.

1/25: Hammerin' Hank, Cronin to HoF; Roberto's Big Deal; Dann Signed; RIP Mooney; HBD Dan, Gregg & Buddy

  • 1936 - IF Harold “Buddy” Pritchard was born in South Gate, California. The Pirates signed him in 1957 out of Southern Cal 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 bird dog for the Cubs and the Major League Scouting Bureau. 
Hank Greenberg 1947 Playboy Press Promo
  • 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 the year 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 estimated to be at 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!). The average player’s salary was $19,000 for the ‘67 campaign, with the minimum set at $6,000. 
George Gibson 1909 Silks
  • 1967 - Catcher and manager George "Mooney" Gibson passed away in his hometown of London (Ontario) 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. 
  • 1989 - The Pirates signed C Dann Bilardello to a minor league contract. Dann hung around for two seasons, hitting .171 in 51 games and spending most of his Buc career in AAA Buffalo, not an uncommon occurrence during his career - he spent all or part of 16 seasons in the minors as a depth backstop.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

1/24: Sid, Bo & Mack Sign; HBD Enny, Ross, Tim, Walt, Josh, Ugly Johnny, Stu & Dave

  • 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 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. 
Stu Clarke 1929 (photo Charles Conlon/Getty)
  • 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 & 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. 
  • 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. 
Tim Jones with his classmates Topps 1978.
  • 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. 
  • 1990 - 1B Sid Bream settled for the midpoint of his arbitration request and the Pirates offer, signing a one-year deal for $520K to avoid a showdown hearing in February. He was the second player of 11 who had filed for arb to settle. 
  • 1991 - LHP Enny Romero was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After three years at Tampa Bay and another with the Nationals, the Bucs picked up Romero when he was DFA’ed by Washington in mid-April of 2018. The mid reliever fit into the Pirates profile of a big-armed, flame-throwing wild child, but only got two outings as a Pirate before being released. The Royals picked him up, gave him four calls and cut him three weeks later. Enny tossed winter ball in the Dominican and then signed on with Chunichi of the Japanese League. 
Brian Boehringer 2002 Upper Deck 40-Man
  • 2002 - The Pirates signed RHP Brian Boehringer to a minor league contract, and he made the club during the spring, leading to a two-year deal worth $2.175M. Bo spent the final three seasons of his 10-year career in Pittsburgh, slashing 10-9-1/4.36 in 153 outings between 2002-04. 
  • 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 during the following off season. Veteran OF Ben Grieve also agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates but was among the late cuts of camp.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

1/23 Through the 1940’s: Rabbit Deal; Benny Big Bucks; HBD Kurt, Jack, Bill, Cy & Ed

  • 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 (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 had 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 (photo 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 Kenesaw 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 debatable - he hit .264 as the A’s starter 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.

1/23 From 1950: Kiner HoF; Milner Signs; TRS Lease; '99 Fest; HBD Victor, Benny & Alfonso

  • 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 as part of the Steve Kemp deal. 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 solid 14-year career in the Mexican Leagues, winning 104 games. 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.” 
Alfonso Pulido 1985 Donruss Rookie
  • 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 after 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. Good thing, too - it was his 15th and final year on the ballot; his name would have been kicked to the Veterans Committee if he hadn’t gotten in. Kiner Quotes: One, attributed to Kiner himself was "Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords." The other was some shade thrown by Bucco GM Branch Rickey, who told Kiner after he had traded him to the Cubs: "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you."
  • 1981- The Pirates officially announced a multi-year deal (terms not disclosed) with 1B/OF John Milner, who was testing free agency after four Bucco campaigns. He signed the contract on January 15th, the last day that he could rejoin the Pirates per the FA rules of the day. Milner was expected to platoon in left field and help ease Willie Stargell’s load, but that plan was foiled by the acquisition of Jason Thompson when camp broke. Milner hit just .237 in the strike-shortened year and was traded in a deadline deal to the Expos for Willie Montanez. In turn, he was released by Montreal in the middle of 1982 and was re-signed by Pittsburgh to close out his final season. 
John Milner 1981 Fleer
  • 1992 - In a seemingly never-ending battle, the Pirates sued the City to break the lease at Three Rivers Stadium. They cited general lack of maintenance, but the issue went deeper - the City had promised the team $25M back in 1986 to capitalize the Pirates, based on the premise that TRS would be sold to a private investor. That never happened, and a consequent City bond fell $4.3M short of meeting the promised sum, leading to an exchange of slings and arrows between the two parties. The ballclub also chafed at the TRS rental fee and amusement tax. It was a perilous time for the Pirates and Pittsburgh; the team was skating on thin ice financially and the City was reeling from the loss of the steel industry and was in no position to bankroll the Bucs, as it was on a slope leading to the state finally declaring it “financially distressed” and taking over the municipal pursestrings. Spoiler alert: both were bloodied and battered but survived. 
  • 1999 - The two-day Piratefest ‘99 featured 11 current Buccos at the Carnegie Science Center to draw the fans, but the team had a pretty sturdy fallback by showcasing 10 members of the 1979 World Series club, who were signing autographs and cheesin’ with the WS trophy. The Pirates doubled down by having Sister Sledge perform a concert. Maybe they had an inkling even back then that the ballclub was going to have to live on its past glories for a spell...