Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one signing of note. On this date in 2003 the Pirates signed center fielder Kenny Lofton to a one year contract. He was coming off a season in which he hit .261 with 72 walks and 29 stolen bases, but the Pirates were able to sign the six time all-star and four time Gold Glove winner late in the offseason for just over one million dollars. Four days earlier, Pittsburgh also signed outfielder Reggie Sanders to a free agent contract. Lofton played 84 games for the Pirates, hitting .277 with 58 runs scored and 18 stolen bases before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in the Aramis Ramirez deal.
Former Pirates players born on this date include:
Matt Kata(1978) infielder for the 2007 Pirates. He was a 1999 draft pick of the Diamondbacks, who began his major league career with Arizona four years later. He played 160 major league games over his first three seasons before spending all of 2006 in the minors playing for the Reds organization. The Texas Rangers signed Kata as a free agent for the 2007 season but released him on June 13th after playing 31 games with a .186 batting average. The Pirates signed him two days later and after a brief stint at AAA they called him up to Pittsburgh. He played 47 games, getting 90 plate appearances with a .250 average and ten RBI’s, although he didn’t draw a single walk. The Pirates allowed him to leave via free agency at the end of the season and he signed with the Rockies. Just prior to the start of the regular season, Pittsburgh reacquired him, sending him to AAA where he spent the entire year. Kata played 40 games with the Astros in 2009 and has spent each of the last two seasons at AAA. He is a .239 career hitter in 278 major league games.
Earl Smith(1928) center fielder for the 1955 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in early 1949. That year in class C ball, he hit .324 in 69 games. Smith would hit .324 the following season at the same level, this time playing 139 games. After three straight seasons in which his batting average hovered around the .250 mark at higher levels, he was sent back to class C ball, where he hit .387 with 32 homers playing for Phoenix of the Texas-Arizona League. That season earned him a spot on the opening day roster for 1955. He would play six games over his two weeks with the team before being returned to the minors. Earl collected just one hit in his 16 career at bats, a leadoff single in his next to last game, coming off Don Liddle of the Giants. He was returned to the minors, where he finished out his career following the 1956 season. The Pirates had a catcher named Earl Smith, who played on the 1925 and 1927 World Series Pirates teams. There was also an outfielder in the majors from 1916-22 with the same name.
Billy Rhines(1869) pitcher for the 1898-99 Pirates. The Pirates acquired him from the Reds in a seven player trade on November 10,1897 that was covered here. In that deal they gave up 30 game winner Pink Hawley and star outfielder Mike Smith, who has the sixth highest overall batting average in team history. Rhines started his major league career in 1890, winning 28 games and leading the NL with a 1.95 ERA. He posted a 2.87 ERA in 372.1 innings the following season but the overwork got to him and his 1892 stats suffered. Rhines pitched poorly in 1893 then spent all of 1894 in the minors. Back in the majors in 1895, he won 19 games, then the next year, he led the NL again in ERA with a 2.45 mark. The season prior to joining the Pirates, he was 21-15 4.08 in 32 starts and nine relief appearances. For Pittsburgh in 1898, Billy went 12-16 3.52 in 288.2 innings. He went the entire season without allowing a home run. Rhines made just nine starts in 1899 before his time with the Pirates, and major league career, ended. He pitched briefly in the minors in 1901 before retiring from baseball, finishing his major league career with a 113-103 record.
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.