Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, four of them pitchers and two of them teammates in 2002. Starting with the youngest one first.
Mike Lincoln(1975) Pitcher for the Pirates from 2001 until 2003. He was drafted four times before he finally signed with the Twins in 1996. Lincoln made the 1999 Twins roster out of Spring Training as a starting pitcher. He went 3-10 6.84 in 15 starts and three relief appearances. In 2000, he joined the Twins in mid-June, making four starts and four relief appearances. In all four of his starts, he failed to make it through five innings. Minnesota released him in December of 2000 and he signed with the Pirates just over a month later. Lincoln pitched well his first two seasons in Pittsburgh being used strictly as a reliever. In 2001 he posted a 2.68 ERA in 31 outings, then followed it up with a 3.11 mark in 55 appearances and 72.1 innings. Mike began the 2003 season on the 60 day DL and never got going once he returned to Pittsburgh, finishing with a 5.20 ERA in 36 games. He left via free agency and signed with the St Louis Cardinals, where he pitched one season. Lincoln missed all of 2005-07 due to two Tommy John surgeries. He returned in 2008 with the Reds and pitched well that season, but in limited time during the 2009-10 seasons he struggled badly each year. He has since retired from baseball, finishing with a 17-30 5.33 record in 263 games, 122 of those games while with the Pirates.
Al Reyes(1971) Pitcher for the Pirates in 2002. He signed with the Pirates in January 2002 as a free agent after spending parts of seven seasons in the majors, split between the Brewers, Orioles and Dodgers. He spent most of the season at AAA Nashville where he was 7-3 2.70 in 43 relief appearances. Reyes was called up by the Pirates in mid-August and in 15 games, he had a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings. He was released by Pittsburgh during the 2003 Spring Training and signed with the Yankees two weeks later. He last pitched in the majors in 2008 and in 384 games over 13 seasons, Reyes had a 23-16 3.82 record with 32 saves.
Lee Lacy(1948) Outfielder for the Pirates from 1979 until 1984. The Pirates signed him as a free agent in January 1979 after he hit .261 with 13 homers and 40 RBI’s in 103 games for the Dodgers. Lacy saw limited time in LF and off the bench in 1979, hitting .247 in 182 AB’s. In the World Series, he went 1-4 in four games. In 1980, the righty hitting Lee, platooned in LF with lefty Mike Easler and both had strong seasons at the plate. Lacy hit .335 with 33 RBI’s and 18 stolen bases in 278 AB’s. He would have a down year during the strike-shortened 1981 season but from 1982-84 he reeled off three straight .300 seasons, with a high of .321 in 520 plate appearances in 1984. From 1981-84, he topped 20 stolen bases every season with a high of 40 in 1982. Following the 1984 season, Lacy signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent, spending three seasons there before retiring. With the Pirates, Lee had a .304 average, with 172 RBI’s, 140 steals and 265 runs scored in 638 games. He was a career .289 hitter in 1523 games during his 16 year career. Lacy ranks 18th on the Pirates all-time list for batting average.
Joe Gibbon(1935) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1960 until 1965, then again in 1969-70. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1957 by the Pirates and spent three years in the minors as a starting pitcher before making the 1960 Opening Day roster. Gibbon went 16-9 2.60 in 201 innings at AAA in 1959. He pitched mostly in relief during his rookie season, going 4-2 4.03 in 80.1 innings. During the World Series, he made two appearances, allowing three runs in three innings. In 1961, he moved to the starting role and went 13-10 3.32 in 195.1 innings, throwing three shutouts. Joe missed some time in 1962 with arm problems and in 1963 he pitched well with a 3.30 ERA but his record suffered from lack of support, as the Pirates finished in 8th place(74-88) and he had a 5-12 record.
Gibbon had a 10-7 3.68 record in 1964, then followed it with a down year in which his ERA rose to 4.51 and his record was just 4-9. The Pirates were able to trade him in December, along with Ozzie Virgil, to the Giants for Matty Alou. The Pirates reacquired Gibbon for Ron Kline in June of 1969. Joe pitched great his first season back with a 1.93 ERA in 51.1 innings but was much worse in 1970, with an ERA almost three runs higher in 41 outings. He was released following the 1970 season and signed with the Reds for 1971. He had one good season left in him, then got hit hard with the Reds and Astros in 1972 before retiring. Gibbon had a career record of 61-65 3.52 in 419 games, 127 as a starter. With Pittsburgh, he went 44-46 3.61 in 248 games.
Roger Wolff(1911) Pitcher for the 1947 Pirates. He pitched 12 seasons in the minors before finally getting his first chance at the big league level as a September call-up for the 1941 Philadelphia Athletics. He would then spend the next six seasons in the majors without a return trip to the minors. Wolff had a 141-108 minor league record in 2244 innings pitched. During his first full season in 1942 he posted a team low 3.32 ERA, but the A’s were so bad that year(55-99) that he finished with a 12-15 record. The A’s were even worse the next year, losing 105 games and again Wolff’s record suffered. He went 10-15 with a 3.54 ERA. He was traded to the Senators in the off-season and pitched poorly his first year in Washington. Roger’s career was helped by the fact many baseball players at this time were serving in the military, it allowed him to stay around despite a 4-15 4.99 record that 1944 season. It was a good thing for the Senators they didn’t give up on him, as in 1945 he had a career year. Wolff went 20-10 2.12 in 250 innings, with the lowest WHIP(1.01) in the AL. It helped Washington go from a last place finish in 1944 to second place.
It was a fleeting moment for Wollf, who saw his pitching time diminish as players returned from the war. He still had a 2.58 ERA in 1946 but pitched just 122 innings and saw very limited action after June. The Senators traded him to the Indians for 1947 and Cleveland used him for just 16 innings during the first two months of the season. On June 14, the Pirates purchased his contract, putting him in the bullpen, where he had two bad outings right away. That led to just one inning pitched over the next 17 days before the Pirates needed him to make a start during a doubleheader. That didn’t go well and neither did a follow up start six days later. Wolff would make four more relief appearances and four more starts the rest of the way. He was unscored upon during the relief outings but three of the four starts he combined for 15 runs allowed in 8.1 innings. The fourth start was a gem. On August 6,1947 Roger pitched a complete game over the Chicago Cubs, winning 7-2 and one of the runs was unearned. It was the 199th and last win of his pro career as he retired following the 1947 season.
Howdy Groskloss(1906) Infielder for the 1930-32 Pirates. He came to the Pirates right out of Amherst College, where he is one of 14 players from that school to ever make the majors (seven of them played six or less games in the majors). Howard, known as Howdy, was a Pittsburgh native playing for his home team in 1930, when he played just two games during the entire season. He was a substitute at shortstop during the late innings of a 19-6 loss on June 23rd and he pinch hit on August 8th during a 9-1 loss. Groskloss saw more time in 1931, getting 39 starts at second base throughout the year. He played 53 games total, hitting .280 with 20 RBI’s. In 1932 he was used strictly as a pinch hitter, getting 16 AB’s during the first 153 games of the season. On the last day of the year, second game of a doubleheader, he put on his fielding glove for the first time all season, getting the start at shortstop and batting leadoff. Howdy went 0-4 with an error in what would be his last major league game. In 1933, he played 56 minor league games, split between three different teams, before he retired from pro ball. He became a doctor after his playing days were over. At one time, Howdy was the oldest living former baseball player. He passed away at the age of 100 in 2006.
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.
On this date in 1987…
Nine days after their respective front offices dramatically altered the NL East’s future trajectory by exchanging Tony Pena for Andy Van Slyke, Mike LaValliere and Mike Dunne, the on-field operations of the Pirates and Cardinals squared off in the Bucs’ home opener at Three Rivers.
Before a then-stadium-record baseball crowd of 52,119 (“[t]his crowd was lured by a fireworks display but they were not fireworks fans . . . they were baseball fans,” observed Bob Hertzel in the Pittsburgh Press), the Pirates parlayed two Jim Morrison home runs into a 3-1 lead after eight innings.
The smooth ride to victory soon became turbulent. Brian Fisher, acquired from the Yankees in the offseason in what is now known as the “Doug Drabek trade” started the ninth inning by hitting Pena on the left thumb with a pitch. The resulting broken thumb sidelined Pena for the next 34 games. Three batters later, Curt Ford’s two-run double off Don Robinson tied the game 3-3. The Bucs reached the bottom of the ninth tied only because of Morrison’s alert play to catch Ford in a rundown after an Ozzie Smith infield single. (“So Morrison held the ball. He had heard third-base coach Nick Leyva shouting, ‘C’mon, c’mon, c’mon’ to Ford,” reported Hertzel.)
With one out in the ninth, Morrison drew a walk. One out later, Sid Bream drove a double off the right field wall to drive in Morrison and give the Bucs a 4-3 victory.
Random Aftermath Yinzer Observation: The game story featured a picture of a gaggle of Pirates, including Bream and Jim Leyland, celebrating the game-winning hit. A week later, the Press’ letters to the sports editor section included a letter from a Mt. Washington man who asserted that “[t]he pictures of Pirates hugging and embracing like French generals is disgusting, to say the least. Ty Cobb would sharpen his spikes so they would cut a hapless infielder who had the temerity to try and tag him out. Now players use pantyhose and women’s sprays. And our national game has suffered in proportion.”
Here’s the box score and play-by-play:
Here’s the Pittsburgh Press article:
Lee Lacy – one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to meet.
He does PR work for the Dodgers (or at least did a few years ago), and came out for Opening Day ceremonies at the Little League where I used to coach in L.A. I wore my ’79 Pirates’ black pillbox hat that day, and he made a point of coming up to me and remarking on it. We talked for about 10-15 minutes about his time with the Bucs, and he autographed some baseballs for the kids on my team (the Pirates, of course – so it was EXTRA cool to have a World Series Champ from the Pirates address them).
I would’ve written more about Lacy, because I liked him a lot as I was growing up but he was actually the sixth player I wrote about in the article and it was already over 1200 words before I started his bio. I got caught up in reading about Groskloss. He was the son of a good friend of Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss. The Pirates signed him knowing that he wasn’t going to play baseball too long, medicine was his choice of career. According to a couple of articles, Howdy played baseball for the Pirates because his dad, who had passed away, was a huge fan of the team and he wanted to see his son play for the hometown team. Good stuff