Monday, February 4, 2019

2/4 Through the 1960s: Hans the Hooper; Hi Joe, Bye George; Roberto DD; HBD Sacman, Schoolboy, Possum & Lefty

  • 1875 - OF Alfonzo “Lefty” Davis was born in Nashville. Between 1901-02, he went to the plate 675 times for the Pirates and hit .300 w/.399 OBP, scoring 139 runs in 146 games played while swiping 41 bases. Despite that production, he would only play two more big league seasons, spending most of his career toiling in the minors as both a player and manager. Lefty passed away on his birthday in 1919. 
Possum 1921 Exhibits
  • 1890 - UT George “Possum” Whitted (he picked up his nicknamed because of his tales of backwoods possum hunting) was born in Durham, North Carolina. Possum played in Pittsburgh from 1919-21, hitting .286 while manning first, third and left field. He was at the back end of an 11-year career, and after one game for the Dodgers in 1922, his MLB days were done. His versatility was a big part of his longevity. Possum was the first rookie in history to start at every position except pitcher and catcher during a season, and over the course of his career started at least 39 times at every non-battery position. 
  • 1902 - The Hans Wagner basketball team made its debut, defeating a five from McDonald by a 9-5 score. It was common for players to work or tour in some fashion during the off-season to augment their meager pays, wrote Max Bultman of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (per Baseball Reference, The Flying Dutchman made just $138,500 during his 17-year career, topping out at $10K per season). Barnstorming was an especially popular practice for star players, who could trade in on their name for cash to carry them through the winter; the Pittsburgh Press of 2/5/1902 noted that pitcher Deacon Phillippe cancelled a trip to Virginia because he was too busy practicing for manager Fred Clarke’s hockey team. Wagner was an all-around athlete - Hans’ hoopsters were an off season tradition and Wagner himself helped coached basketball at Carnegie HS and Carnegie Tech during the off-season and his post-baseball years. 
  • 1916 - RHP “Schoolboy” (he was a high school whiz on the mound, once striking out 25 opponents) Johnny Taylor was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Schoolboy began his pro career in the Negro/Latin Leagues in 1935 and joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1938, going 11-2. Like many on the team, he jumped to Mexico the following year and played there until 1942 when he entered the Army during WW2. He played ball sporadically after the war, tossing his last game in 1948. 
  • 1927 - The Bucs claimed veteran 1B/OF Joe Harris for the waiver price from Washington, where he was made expendable by the acquisition of Tris Speaker even though Joe had hit .306. Harris, an Allegheny County native from Coulter on the Yough, was pleased with the deal, and the Bucs were, too. He started 116 games in Pittsburgh as a 36-year-old, hitting .326 in ‘27 and batting .391 in June of 1928 when he was flipped to the Brooklyn Robins for Charlie Hargreaves in what became the 37-year-old’s last of 10 MLB seasons.
Joe Harris 1927 (photo George Rinhart/Detroit Public Library)
  • 1932 - The Pirates sold 31-year-old 2B George Grantham to the Reds. Grantham was the Bucco second sacker for the 1925 and 1927 World Series clubs and put up seven straight .300+ seasons for Pittsburgh, with a BA of .315 between 1925-31. The FO must have had a glimmer that his tank was running low; his .300 streak ended at Cincinnati (.294) while his Pirates replacement Tony Piet hit .282 and then .323 the following campaign. George became a sub for the Reds in 1933 and left the game following the next campaign. 
  • 1962 - LHP Dan “Sacman” Plesac was born in Gary, Indiana. He tossed for Pittsburgh from 1995-96, somewhere in the middle of his 18-year career in the show, and slashed 10-9-14/3.86. He was part of the deal that brought Jose Silva, Craig Wilson and Abraham Nunez to the Pirates from Toronto after the 1996 campaign.
  • 1962 - Roberto Clemente was given the Dapper Dan Man of the Year Award after hitting .351 in 1961 to claim the NL batting title, his first of four crowns. Ex-Pittsburgh mayor and then Pennsylvania governor David Lawrence presented Clemente with his plaque to a standing ovation from the 2,000+ fans packed into the room. The Great One gave a humble acceptance speech, saying that “This award belongs to the fans and my teammates as much as it does to me." Dick Stuart also was presented with a DD award after hitting .301 with 35 HR’s and 117 RBI’s.

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