Born on this date in 1930 was long-time Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Dick Groat, who won the 1960 NL MVP. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in June of 1952 out of Duke University and brought him right to the majors. He also played in the NBA that year as a first round draft pick. He hit .284 in 95 games that rookie season, finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He missed all of the 1953-54 seasons to military service and when he returned he focused just on baseball. From 1955-57 the Pirates were very bad teams and Groat was a decent everyday player for a bad team, although his .315 average in 1957 earned him a 15th place finish in the NL MVP voting. He hit .300 again in 1958 then followed that up with his first all-star selection in 1959.
The 1960 season would be a career year for Groat. Not only did he win an MVP award and make his second all-star appearance but he led the NL in hitting with a career high .325 average. As most of you know, he also won a World Series title that year. He would win a second one in 1964 as well with the Cardinals, who also beat the Yankees. After a down year in 1961, Groat made his third all-star appearance while with the Pirates(he had five total) and again he got some MVP attention finishing 16th. Shortly after the season ended, the Pirates traded him and pitcher Diomedes Olivo to the Cardinals for pitcher Don Cardwell and infielder Julio Gotay. Groat hit .290 over his nine seasons in Pittsburgh, scoring 554 runs in 1258 games. He turns 85 today.
Also born on this date in 1925 was Spook Jacobs, a Pirates second baseman in 1956. He got his nickname from his ability to hit weak bloopers just over infielders heads, which people called spooky because of how often he did it. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers way back in 1946 but didn’t make his major league debut until 1954 with the Philadelphia Athletics. That was his only full season in the majors and he hit .258 with 60 walks and 17 stolen bases. Decent stats for a 2B and while he struck out just 22 times in 575 plate appearances, he also added just 12 extra base hits with no homers. The next season the team moved to Kansas City and he played just 13 major league games. He made the opening day roster in 1956 but was sent to the minors in late May.
On June 23,1956 the Pirates traded pitcher Jack McMahan and second baseman Curt Roberts to the A’s to acquire Jacobs. He lasted just 11 days before being sent to the minors where he spent 3 1/2 seasons in the Pirates system. He played just 188 major league games but got into over 1700 minor league games, hitting .300 with just 9 homers. So while he wasn’t much of a major league player, how could you not like a player named Spook Jacobs, especially when you find out his real name is Forrest Vandergrift Jacobs.
Finally, born on this date in 1877 was Tommy Leach, who came to the Pirates in the Honus Wagner deal and lasted 14 seasons in a Pittsburgh uniform. When you look at a Pirates top ten list for offensive stats you can find Leach’s name in many categories including games played, at-bats, runs, triples and stolen bases. Leach spent most of his time at 3B while in a Pirates uniform but over his career he played more games in center field. In 1902 Leach not only became the first Pirates player to lead the league in home runs, he also did it while leading the NL in triples with 22. Eight times during his career, he finished in the top ten in the league in runs scored. He finished in the top ten in triples, home runs and walks, six times apiece. Tommy hit over .300 twice in his career, .305 in 1901 and .303 during the 1907 season. He stole a career high 43 bases in 1907, finishing fourth in the NL. His 172 triples ranks him 23rd all-time.
When the Pirates played the first World Series in 1903, Leach hit .298 that season with 97 runs scored and 87 RBI’s. He hit .273 in the series with 4 triples and 7 RBI’s. In 1909, the Pirates won their first title and Leach led the NL in runs scored with 126 and then hit .360 in the 7 game series. During his 14 seasons in Pittsburgh he hit .271 with 139 triples, 626 RBI’s, 1009 runs scored and 271 stolen bases in 1574 games. On May 30,1912, Leach was traded to the Cubs, along with Lefty Leifield, in a deal that wasn’t popular among fans and did not work out for the Pirates. He played three years in Chicago, leading the league in runs scored in 1913, and he had the most AB’s in the NL the following year. Leach played for the Reds in 1915, then returned to the Pirates for 30 games during the 1918 season, before finishing his career in the minors four years later at the age of forty-four. From 1911 until 1913, Leach led all NL outfielders in fielding percentage. Earlier in his career, he twice led all third baseman in assists, once in putouts, and three times he had the best range among NL players at the hot corner. Tommy finished his career with 2143 hits and 1355 runs scored.
I should also mention a couple recent former Pirates relievers who both celebrate birthdays today. Chris Resop turns 32 and John Grabow turns 36. Other birthdays including, pitcher Logan Easley(1961), who played for the Pirates in 1987 and 1989, going 2-1, 5.12 in 27 relief appearances, picking up two saves. Also, Eddie Basinski, second baseman for the 1947 Pirates, turns 92 today. He hit .199 in 56 games.
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.