Born on this date in 1960 was Andy Van Slyke, the All-Star, Gold Glove defender who manned center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1987 to 1994. Van Slyke was a first round draft pick of the Cardinals in 1979 and he made his major league debut in mid-June 1983 after he hit .368 in 54 AAA games. In his four seasons in St Louis he hit .259 with 204 RBIs, 205 runs scored and 104 stolen bases. He spent time at all outfield positions as well as 79 games at first base and 62 games at third base. Van Slyke along with catcher Mike Lavalliere and pitcher Mike Dunne were traded to the Pirates on April 1,1987 for all-star catcher Tony Pena.
Van Slyke had his best season up to that point, his first year in Pittsburgh, setting career highs in almost every major category with his .293 average, 21 homers, 82 RBIs and 34 stolen bases. The following year he would top many of those numbers as he drove in 100 runs while scoring 101 times. He hit 25 homers and led the NL with 15 triples. He also would win his first gold glove, make his first all-star team and finish fourth in the NL in the MVP voting. In 1989, Van Slyke missed time early with a strained muscle in his rib cage and he never fully recovered, hitting just .237 with nine homers. Despite that injury, he was able to win his second straight gold glove award.
In 1990, the Pirates were a much better team and Van Slyke helped lead the way towards their first pennant since 1979 by hitting .284 with 77 RBIs and playing stellar defense in CF winning his third straight Gold Glove, an award he would win again the next two seasons as well. Van Slyke helped the Pirates to a second straight title in 1991 by driving in 83 runs and scoring 87 times. He struggled in the postseason, the fourth straight playoff series in which he slumped, the first two coming in 1985 for the Cardinals. At that point he was just 11-for-71 in his playoff career. The 1992 season would see the Pirates make the playoffs for a third straight time and Van Slyke had his best overall season as he hit .324 with 103 runs scored and 89 RBIs. He led the NL in hits and doubles and he made his second All-Star team, won his fifth Gold Glove, won his second silver slugger award and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. He also had his best postseason series, hitting .276 with four RBIs.
In 1993, Van Slyke crashed into an outfield wall trying to make a catch and broke his right collarbone, sidelining him for over two months. He hit .310 with 50 RBIs, but played just 83 games. He was elected to the All-Star team for the third and final time of his career that year. In the strike shortened 1994 season Van Slyke struggled and he was allowed to leave via free agency following the season. He played for two teams in 1995, hitting .224 over 80 games before he retired. He was a career .274 hitter in 1658 games, finishing with 835 runs scored, 792 RBIs, 164 homers and 245 stolen bases.
Also born on this date, in 1977, was Freddy Sanchez, the 2006 National League batting champ who played for the Pirates from 2004 to 2009. Freddy was originally an 11th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2000. He played briefly in the majors for the Sox in both 2003 and 2004, getting a total of 52 plate appearances over 32 games. He was traded to the Pirates along with relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez in exchange for pitchers Brandon Lyons and Jeff Suppan.
Sanchez played just one game at AAA for the Pirates in 2003 before he needed surgery on his right ankle. He missed most of the 2004 season getting into 44 minor league games and nine games with the Pirates in which he hit .158 in 19 at-bats. Sanchez made the 2005 Pirates out of spring and would play 132 games that year, finishing with a .291 average. He played 65 games at third base, another 58 at second base and even got some time in at shortstop. In 2006 he started the year on the bench, getting into almost every game at some point but he started just seven times through May 1st. When Joe Randa got hurt, Sanchez took over at third base and went 3-for-5 his first game then went 2-for-19 the next four. He moved to shortstop while Jack Wilson missed a week and his batting took off and didn’t stop until the season did. He won the NL batting crown on the last day going 2-4 to finish with a .344 average. Sanchez also led the league in doubles with 53 and drove in 85 runs. In 2007 he became the everyday second baseman and would make his second straight All-Star appearance as he hit .304 with 42 doubles and 81 RBIs. He struggled in 2008, hitting a career low .271 which came along with a .298 on base percentage. Back on his game in 2009, Sanchez made his third All-Star appearance. He was traded to the Giants at the trading deadline that year for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson. Sanchez won a World Series title with the Giants in 2010 and he is a .297 career hitter. Injuries derailed his career after moving on the San Francisco, as he played just 196 games in 2 1/2 seasons there. He finished his career in 2012 after playing three rehab games in the minors.
One trade to mention that happened on this date. On December 21, 1897 the Pirates traded pitcher Jim Hughey along with $1800 in cash to the St Louis Browns for pitcher Bill Hart. Hughey was a 28-year-old righty who went 12-18, 5.03 in two years with the Pirates. In was his first extended stint in the majors after pitching just two games in 1891 and another two in 1893. Hart played in the majors in 1886-87, then again in 1892 before joining the Pirates in 1895. He went 14-17, 4.75 that season before he was traded to the Browns for shortstop Bones Ely. After the trade Hughey had the dubious distinction of playing for two of the worst teams ever, the 1898 Browns followed by the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. The two teams went a combined 59-245 and he personally went 11-54. Hart went 5-9, 4.82 in 16 games for the Pirates before they released him. He played just one other season in the majors, in 1901 but he lasted until 1910 in the minors. Between the two pitchers they went a combined 95-200 in their major league careers.
Other players born on this date include:
John Hope (1970) Pitcher for the 1993-96 Pirates. Hope was a second round draft pick of the Pirates in 1989 out of high school. He made it to the majors four years later, going 0-2, 4.03 in seven late season starts. During the next two seasons in Pittsburgh, he saw limited time out of the bullpen, pitching a total of 12 games and he did that with very little success. He allowed 20 runs over 14.1 innings between both seasons. In 1996, Hope was again used as a starter and struggled, going 1-3, 6.98 in four starts and one relief outing. That was the end of his major league career. The Pirates released him after the season and Hope spent three years in the minors, two in Independent ball, before retiring.
Danny Kravitz (1930) Catcher for the 1956-60 Pirates. Kravitz was a local kid, signed as an amateur by the Pirates in 1949. It took seven years before he made the majors. He had some poor timing with Pittsburgh, getting traded during the World Series winning 1960 season, after spending 11 years in the organization, though two full years were spent serving in the military. Over his five seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .236 with six homers and 40 RBIs in 156 games. His best season with the team came in 1959, when he hit .253 with 21 RBIs. On June 1, 1960, the Pirates traded Kravitz to the Kansas City A’s for Hank Foiles and cash. Kravitz would finish out that season with the A’s, then play the last three years of his pro career in the minors.
Bill Werle (1920) Lefty pitcher for the Pirates from 1949 until 1952. As a 28-year-old rookie in 1949, Werle went 12-13, 4.24 in 29 starts and six relief appearances for the Pirates. The next season, he went 8-16, 4.60, but proved to be a valuable asset, by making 22 starts and 26 relief appearances. In his first two seasons combined, he pitched a total of 436.1 innings. Werle spent five seasons in the minors with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, prior to getting his first shot at the big leagues. In 1951, he was able to put together an 8-6 record in nine starts and 50 relief appearances, despite playing for a team that went 64-90 and posting a 5.65 ERA. Werle got into five games for the 1952 Pirates before they sent him to the Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Red Munger. Werle pitched in the majors until 1954 and stuck around in the minors until 1963, finishing with a 29-39 big league record and 147 minor league wins.
Pete Scott (1897) Outfielder for 1928 Pirates. Scott was a great hitter, but he is remembered most for being one of the players returning to the Pirates in the lopsided Kiki Cuyler deal. While Kiki Cuyler went on to make the Hall of Fame, Scott played just 60 games for the Pirates. In two seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Scott hit .299 over 148 games, with 55 RBIs and an .802 OPS. After the trade, he hit .311 in 60 games for the Pirates, scoring 33 runs and driving in 33 runs. He was seldom used at the beginning of the year and missed all of August with an injury. Despite hitting well when he played, Scott returned to the minors in 1929 and never played in the majors again. He played a total of 14 years in pro ball, only batting under .300 twice, once as a rookie with the 1926 Cubs and the other time as a rookie in the minors, when he hit .291 in 1920. Scott finished with a .320 minor league average in 1073 games.
Warren Gill (1878) First baseman for the 1908 Pirates. Gill played a total of 12 seasons in the minors, as a light-hitting defensive-minded first baseman. Early in his career, he also pitched. His big league career consisted of just 27 late season games for the 1908 Pirates. He hit .224 with 11 walks and 14 RBIs, while playing flawless defense at first base. After the season, Gill was sold to Minneapolis of the American Association. The Pirates picked up Gill prior to the 1908 season and kept him around during Spring Training, but when he didn’t make the team, they sent him to Grand Rapids of the Central League, where he was said to be the best first baseman in the league. When regular first baseman Alan Storke struggled, the Pirates sent for Gill and kept him in the lineup for most of the remainder of the season. In a sign of the times, one of Gill’s strong points, as pointed out by the local press, was his constant chatter during games, encouraging his pitcher.
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.