Born on this date in 1952 was the starting center fielder for the last Pirates championship team, Omar Moreno, who played for Pittsburgh from 1975-1982. He signed as a 16-year-old with the Pirates in 1969 and would play 25 games in the Gulf Coast League that year. He spent seven seasons in the minors before making his debut in September 1975. He began the 1976 season in AAA getting some brief time in June and July before finally making it to stay in early August. In 1977 Omar became the regular center fielder and while he hit just .240 he showed his value with his speed, stealing 53 bases, the 4th highest total in the NL. In 1978 he again had a low average(.235) but his speed, along with 81 walks, helped him score 95 runs and steal a league leading 71 bases.
The Pirates won the NL East in 1979 and Moreno was a big part of that team. He set career highs with a .282 average and 110 runs scored. He also led the NL in plate appearances, at bats and for the 2nd year in a row, stolen bases with 77. In the World Series he hit .333 with 11 hits, helping the Pirates win in seven games over the Orioles. In 1980 Omar led the NL in triples with 13 and also set a career high with 96 steals. Moreno played with the Pirates through the 1982 season before leaving as a free agent to sign with the Astros. He played 944 games for the Pirates, scoring 530 runs, stealing 412 bases and hitting .255. He is the Pirates all-time single season leader in plate appearances with 757 in 1979 and his 1978-80 stolen base totals are the three highest in team history. Only Hall of Famers Max Carey and Honus Wagner have more steals in a Pittsburgh uniform.
On this date in 1961 long time Pirates middle infielder Rafael Belliard was born. He signed as an 18-year-old in 1980 and moved through the Pirates system quickly, making his major league debut in September 1982 after just 187 minor league games. However, he didn’t stick in the major leagues until the 1986 season. He missed most of the 1984 season due to fracturing his left fibula twice. Through the 1985 season he had played just 50 games for the Pirates with just 43 plate appearances but in 1986 he played 117 games between SS/2B. In 1988 Belliard played 122 games and amazingly he hit 4 triples and no doubles on the year. Never confused with a power hitter, Belliard hit just one home run in 484 games with the Pirates. On May 5, 1987 he homered off Eric Show for his only homer with the Pirates, ten years later, while with the Braves, he hit his only other career home run.
Junior Ortiz(1959) spent seven seasons as a catcher for the Pirates. Oritz was signed as an amateur free agent in 1977 and spent six seasons working his way through the Pirates system before making his major league debut on September 20, 1982. He played just seven games in 1982 and five games in the beginning of 1983 before the Pirates traded him to the Mets for Marvell Wynne. Following the 1984 season the Pirates took him in the rule V draft and for the next three years he would serve as Tony Pena’s backup. In 1986 Junior hit .336 in 49 games. When Pena was traded, Ortiz backed up Mike Lavalliere although in 1989 Ortiz got the majority of the time behind the plate. The Pirates traded Ortiz away just prior to the start of the 1990 season. In his seven years in Pittsburgh he hit .264 over 299 games.
One of the original Pirates was born on this date way back in 1858, third baseman Bill Kuehne. He was born in Germany and is the all-time leader in most categories among players born in that country. In fact, he played more than twice as many games as any of the other 26 major leaguers from Germany. Kuehne was a member of the 1883-84 Columbus Buckeyes of the American Association, a short-lived franchise that produced the manager and five players that would make up a large part of the 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Kuehne joined Pittsburgh in 1885 and stayed with the team through the rest of their time in the American Association. When the Alleghenys jumped to the NL for 1887 Kuehne remained with the team and although he wasn’t in the opening day starting lineup, he did play 102 games that season while posting a .299 batting average.
In 1888 Kuehne played in a National League leading 138 games and he was in the lineup everyday for the Alleghenys. The team is actually credited with 139 games that season but one game was forfeited and credited as a win for Pittsburgh. Kuehne was a regular again in 1889 but when the Player’s League was formed, like almost all of his teammates, he jumped to the PL and played with the Pittsburgh Burghers. When the Player’s League folded after one season he was returned to the Pirates(new name for 1891) but they cut him before opening day. Kuehne played two more seasons finishing his career with a .232 average in 1085 major league games, 684 of them while in the city of Pittsburgh.
Finally, Heinie Smith, a second baseman for the 1899 Pirates was born on this date in 1871. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who had played two seasons with the Louisville Colonels, prior to joining the Pirates at the end of the 1899 season. An injury to starting second baseman, Heinie Reitz, opened up a spot for Smith to play everyday. He hit .283 with 12 RBI’s and nine runs scored in the last 15 games of the season. The Pirates were actually six games under .500 when he joined the team and finished three games over the mark, with a late season 11-2(plus two ties) run with Smith in the lineup. He returned to the minors in 1900 and finished his major league career playing parts of three seasons with the 1901-02 New York Giants(he was a player/manager in 1902) and 1903 Detroit Tigers. Even though his major league career was over, he was far from done as a player, sticking around until age 42 in 1914 in the minors. He played 16 seasons total in the minors, over 2,000 career games(313 in the majors) and he even managed for nine seasons.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.