Pittsburgh Pirates: The First 25 Seasons

The current day Pittsburgh Pirates franchise started in 1882 as a member of the American Association, a rival league to the National League and one that existed for ten seasons. The Pittsburgh Alleghenys were one of the teams that played in the leagues first season and they remained as a member of the AA until being invited to join the National League for the 1887 season. This is a follow up to the first ten seasons article I did back in April which can be read here. In this article I’m going to sum up the first 25 seasons of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, 1882 through the end of the 1906 season. If you have been following the Sunday history articles, this is just a summary of everything you have read in one easy place with links to many of the articles. If you’re new to the site, you have plenty of catching up to do. Below, you will also find the bio of Hall of Fame left fielder, Fred Clarke and we will also add other player bios that can’t be found other places on this site.

The Pirates won three league titles in their first 25 seasons, all as a member of the NL. They won their first title in 1901 then followed it up with their best win-loss record ever in 1902, a 103-36 mark. They won their third straight NL title in 1903 and made their first World Series appearance that year as well. Five teams from this era are among the top 10 single season win-loss percentages in franchise history:

1902: 103-36 .741 1st overall
1903: 91-49 .650 3rd
1901: 90-47 .647 4th
1893: 81-48 .628 6th
1905: 96-57 .627 7th

In the 130 year history of the franchise three teams from this era rank among the worst ten in franchise history including the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys who were the worst team by a wide margin in franchise history with their 23-113 record. They are also the third worst team ever since 1876(first year of NL)  surpassed only by the 1876 Reds who went 7-56 and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134. The three worst teams from this era are:

1890: 23-113 .169 130th overall
1884: 30-78 .278 128th
1883: 31-67 .367 127th

The team saw many future Hall of Famers during the 25 year period. Among them was Honus Wagner who came to the team in the most one-sided trade in baseball history. The players/managers who went on to be elected to the Hall of Fame by year are as follows:

1885: Pud Galvin, Hank O’Day
1886: Galvin
1887: Galvin
1888: Galvin, Jake Beckley
1889: Galvin,Beckley, Ned Hanlon, Deacon White
1891: Galvin, Beckley, Hanlon, Connie Mack
1892: Galvin, Beckley, Mack, Joe Kelley
1893: Beckley, Mack
1894: Beckley, Mack
1895: Beckley, Mack
1896: Beckley, Mack
1899: Jack Chesbro
1900: Chesbro, Rube Waddell, Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke
1901: Chesbro, Waddell, Wagner, Clarke
1902: Chesbro, Wagner, Clarke
1903: Wagner, Clarke
1904: Wagner, Clarke
1905: Wagner, Clarke
1906: Wagner, Clarke, Vic Willis

There were many single season marks on the offensive side during this era that still rank among the top ten in franchise history. The numbers along with season and all-time ranks are as follows:

Batting Average:
1900: Honus Wagner .381 2nd overall
1895: Jake Stenzel .371 5th
1905: Honus Wagner .363 9th
1896: Mike Smith .362 10th

Runs Scored:
1894: Jake Stenzel 150 1st
1894: Patsy Donovan 147 2nd
1903: Ginger Beaumont 137 6th
1893: George Van Haltren 129 10th

1899: Jimmy Williams 220 7th

1900: Honus Wagner 45 7th
1904: Honus Wagner 44 10th

1897: Harry Davis 28 2nd
1899: Jimmy Williams 27 3rd
1893: Mike Smith 23 5th
1900: Honus Wagner 22 7th
1902: Tommy Leach 22 7th

Runs Batted In:
1901: Honus Wagner 126 4th
1894: Jake Beckley 122 9th
1894: Jake Stenzel 121 10th

Stolen Bases:
1888: Billy Sunday 71 3rd
1894: Jake Stenzel 61 8th

There are also plenty of pitching records that were set during this era due to the durability of starting pitchers back then. They were expected to start as much as possible and finish what they started so lists such as the top ten for wins and innings pitched are all from this era. The franchise records that were set were as follows and they all have a common theme:

Wins: Ed Morris, 41 in 1886
Innings Pitched: Morris 581 in 1885
Strikeouts: Morris 326 in 1886
Games Started: Morris 63 in 1885 and 1886
Complete Games: Morris 63 in 1885 and 1886
Shutouts: Morris 12 in 1886

Many individual players of note from this era have already been covered here in their own articles which can be viewed in the links provided below:

Ginger Beaumont/ Jimmy Williams

Jake Beckley

Louis Bierbauer

Jack Chesbro

Patsy Donovan/ Mike Smith

Ed Doheny

Bones Ely

Ned Hanlon

Pink Hawley

Frank Killen

Sam Leever

Alex McKinnon

Deacon Phillippe

Heinie Reitz

Claude Ritchey

Jake Stenzel

Jesse Tannehill/ Bill Hoffer

George Van Haltren

Deacon White

Bio of Fred Clarke

When the Pittsburgh Pirates completed their one-sided deal with the Louisville Colonels in 1899, they not only brought over the best player in franchise history, Honus Wagner. They also brought over their everyday left fielder for the next 12 years and their manager for the next 16 years. Both of those roles were filled by Fred Clarke. If he didn’t make the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1945, he most certainly would have made it as a manager at some point.

Clarke began his career with the Louisville Colonels in 1894 and wasn’t exactly a star right away. His stats look fine for a rookie, hitting .274 with 48 RBIs, 55 runs scored and 26 stolen bases in 74 games, but that 1894 season was a huge year for offense in baseball, so his stats were below average compared to the rest of the league.

In 1895, he broke out, batting .347 in 132 games. He scored 96 times, drove in 82 runs and stole 40 bases. That RBI total was his career high, but he topped all of those other numbers during his career. In 1896, Clarke scored 96 runs again and hit .325 while finishing in the top five in the NL in both home runs and triples.

While those two seasons were big years for Clarke, his best career year may have been the 1897 season. That year he flirted with a .400 average, finishing at .390 and he put up a career-best .992 OPS. He also scored a career-high 122 runs, a mark he would equal two years later. Clarke set a career high with 59 stolen bases and his 205 hits were just one below his best effort in that category. The 1897 season also marked the first time he became a manager, a job he would hold for the next 19 seasons.

In 1898, Clarke batted .307 with 116 runs scored and led his team to a disappointing 9th place finish, finishing with a 70-81 record. His younger brother Josh Clarke got to play six games that year for Louisville, two of them in left field in place of Fred. The younger Clarke played parts of five seasons in the majors. One of the pitchers on their team was Chick Fraser, who also became Fred’s brother-in-law, when they married sisters.

Clarke put up big numbers in his last season in Louisville, hitting .340 with a career-high 206 hits and tying his best mark with 122 runs scored. He stole 49 bases and struck out just 18 times in 681 plate appearances. His first season in Pittsburgh was a disappointing one as far as stats are concerned, but as the manager he led them from their seventh place finish in 1899, to a second place finish in 1900 and the best was soon to come.

Before the World Series started in 1903, the best team was considered to be the National League team with the best record. The American League was considered a major league by 1901, but the NL was considered by most to be the superior league at the time. The 1901 Pirates were at the head of the senior circuit. Led by Clarke’s .324 average and 118 runs scored, Pittsburgh won their first NL title, finishing with a 90-49 record. It was their best season to that point, but they were far from their peak.

The 1902 Pirates are considered by many to be the best team in franchise history and they may have been better if not for a rash of late-season injuries that decimated the team and caused them to throw many inexperienced players into the fire. The Pirates ended with a 103-36 record. Clarke was one of the injured players that missed time on the field, getting into 113 games of 142 games(there were three ties), though he was healthy enough to hit .316 with 103 runs scored.

In 1903, the idea of the modern day World Series was formed and the Pirates were the first NL team to take part in the postseason classic. Finishing first for the third straight time, they took on the Boston Americans and lost the best-of-nine series, five games to three. The Pirates finished the season 91-49 and Clarke hit .351, finishing four points behind Honus Wagner, who led the league in batting. While he didn’t win the batting crown, Clarke led the league in slugging percentage with a career best .532 and he led the league with a .946 OPS.

The 1904 season was a tough one for Clarke. He played just 72 games and missed the end of the season due to a severe leg injury that happened while making a great catch in the outfield. While this era is known as the deadball era in baseball and batting averages dropped around the sport, this injury also cost Clarke the chance at some better career stats. He never approached that 1903 season on offense and seemed to have lost a step in the following years. He was still one of the better players in the game and due to his managing skills, was considered one of the most valuable players in baseball.

In 1906, Clarke hit .309, which was good enough for the seventh best average in the NL. He dropped down to .289 in 1907, though that still placed him eighth overall in the league. Clarke scored 97 runs in 1907, fourth best total in the league. In 1908, at the age of thirty-five, he set a career-high with 151 games played. The next season, he topped that total by one and helped the Pirates to their first World Series title.

Clarke hit .287 in 1909 and led the league with 80 walks. He scored 97 runs and had 68 RBIs. The Pirates finished with a 110-42 record, setting a franchise high for wins in a season. In the World Series, the Pirates knocked off the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Clarke belted two homers, drove in seven runs and scored seven times.

He would go on to play two more full seasons, retiring as a player after hitting .324 in 1911 at the age of thirty-eight. Clarke did see the field a handful of times between 1913 and 1915, getting into 12 games total over that stretch. During that time, the Pirates were falling back in the standings and he eventually moved on from managing after the 1915 season. Clarke came back to the Pirates in 1925, taking on tasks such as working in the front office, helping with scouting and even went to the bench as a coach during the year. That season, they won their second of five World Series titles.

With the Pirates, Clarke batted .299 over 1479 games. On the team’s all-time batting lists, he ranks 10th in games played and at-bats. He is eighth with 1015 runs scored, tenth with 1638 hits, fifth with 156 triples, eighth with 630 walks, fifth with 261 stolen bases. Among managers in team history, his 1422 wins are over 300 more than the second highest total in team history, 1115 by Danny Murtaugh. His .595 winning percentage is also the best in team history, higher than Bill McKechnie, who led the Pirates to their 1925 World Series title and he is in the Hall of Fame as a manager.

Including his stats with Louisville, Clarke was a .312 career hitter, with 1622 runs scored, 1015 RBIs, 509 stolen bases, 2678 hits and 220 triples. Only two other players in baseball history have reached those numbers in each of those six categories, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

Other Bios From The Early Year

Chief Zimmer (1860) Catcher for the 1900-02 Pirates. By the time he reached Pittsburgh in 1900, Zimmer had already played 15 seasons in the majors and he was 39-years-old. During the 1899 season, Zimmer became one of the first catchers to surpass 1,000 games caught, a monumental feat during the time when the equipment was substandard and catchers took even more punishment than they do today. Zimmer was an above average hitter for a catcher and in 1899, he hit .307 in 95 games. He came to the Pirates in the famous Honus Wagner Trade, one of 12 players they received from the Louisville Colonels. During his first season with the Pirates, he hit .295 in 82 games, 78 spent behind the plate. The Pirates had three regular catchers that season, all long-time veterans. Jack O’Connor and Pop Schriver shared the catching duties and both were 34-years-old that season.

Zimmer slumped down to .220 in 1901, but the Pirates still won their first National League title that season. In 1902, his playing time was limited, hitting .268 over 42 games. The 1902 Pirates finished with a 103-36 record, posting the best winning percentage in team history. After the season, the Pirates placed Zimmer on waivers, where he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. He played one more season in the majors, then finished his career three years later in the minors. He was a career .269 hitter in 1280 games, driving in 625 runs and scoring 617 times. Zimmer batted over .300 four times. He has the fifth most career assists as a catcher and is second in caught stealing, throwing out 1208 runners in his career. Three times he led the league in fielding percentage.

Jack Kading (1884) First baseman for the 1910 Pirates. Kading came to the Pirates in early September 1910 out of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, where he played for the Eau Claire Puffs(great team name!). Kading was in his second season of pro ball and showed some improvements, so the Pirates gave him a chance despite the fact that the level he played at was Class D, four steps below the majors. Kading was a strong fielding first baseman, something that was considered more important back then with small ball being the popular way to play. He was inserted right into the Pirates lineup after arriving from Eau Claire and he hit .304 in eight games, with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs. He also fielded flawlessly at 1B, accepting all 77 chances. Those numbers weren’t enough to keep him around and he returned to Eau Claire the following season. In 1914, he got a second brief chance at major league ball, getting into three early season games for Chicago of the Federal League as a pinch-hitter. Kading returned to the minors and finished out the 1914 season, his last known season in pro ball, though there is a player named “Kading” that played briefly in the Central League in 1916 that could be him.

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.

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