This Date in Pirates History: April 17

With just one former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date, and no significant transactions, we will focus on Opening Days that occurred on this date in Pirates History. First the one player.

Bob Osborn(1903) Pitcher for the 1931 Pirates. He was born the day after Pirates all-time great, and his teammate for one season, Paul Waner. Osborn began his pro baseball career in the majors, making one September appearance for the 1925 Cubs. The next season he saw plenty of time on the mound, both as a starter and as a reliever. He went 6-5 3.63 in 136.1 innings that season, making 15 starts and 16 relief appearances. In 1927 he had the same role, although he didn’t pitch as well and saw less time. He made 12 starts and 12 relief appearances, going 5-5 4.18 in 107.2 innings. Bob spent all of the 1928 season and most of 1929 in the minors. He returned to the Cubs pitching ranks in 1930, getting 13 starts and 22 relief appearances. Osborn went 10-6 4.97 in 126.2 innings that season. The ERA sounds high but it was actually one of the best years for offense in baseball history. The Cubs team ERA was 4.80, which ranked fourth in the NL.

The Pirates lost pitcher Steve Swetonic in Spring Training with an arm injury in 1931 and they purchased Osborn from the Cubs in late April to replace him. Bob was seldom used by the Pirates, appearing in eight games in relief during his first two months. In the middle of July he made two starts, then became a mop up man out of the pen. He pitched in nine straight losses, seven times coming during doubleheaders. On September 3rd, he took over for a struggling Larry French in the second inning. Osborn threw 7.1 innings of shutout ball and the Pirates made a comeback to get him the victory. That game was the only Pirates victory he pitched in during the last two months of the season. After five more relief appearances in losing efforts, his baseball career was over. Bob would be traded, along with catcher Eddie Phillips, to the minor leagues for pitcher Billy Swift on January 29, 1932 but he never pitched again.


The Openers

The first time the Pirates opened the season on April 17th was in 1902, in what turned out to be the best season in team history. The Pirates shut out the Cardinals that day, 1-0 behind the pitching of Deacon Phillippe. He pitched a seven hit shutout and the only run of the game was scored by Tommy Leach, who collected three hits including Pittsburgh’s only extra base hit. The Pirates went 103-36 that year, winning their second straight NL pennant.

The next April 17th opener was in 1923, when the Pirates took on the Chicago Cubs. Pittsburgh walked away with a 3-2 win courtesy of a fine pitching performance from Johnny Morrison. He pitched a complete game and both runs scored off him were unearned. The Pirates lineup that day included three future Hall of Fame players. Rabbit Maranville and Max Carey batted 1-2 in the lineup, while Pie Traynor hit sixth.

In 1934 the Pirates opened up in St Louis and dropped their opener by a 7-1 score. The opposing pitcher that day was the great Dizzy Dean. He shutdown a Pittsburgh team that had five future Hall of Famers at the top of the lineup. Lloyd Waner, Freddie Lindstrom, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor and Arky Vaughan hit one through five that day. The Pirates also used Waite Hoyt in relief, another HOF player. The Cardinals lineup, besides Dean, also had Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick and Leo Durocher in it, making it an even ten Hall of Famers who participated in that game.

The 1939 Pirates opened their season in Cincinnati with a 7-5 victory. Cy Blanton of the Pirates faced off against Johnny Vander Meer that day. Lloyd Waner batted leadoff for the Pirates, Arky Vaughan batted cleanup and Paul Waner got a pinch hit in his only at bat. Another Pirates Hall of Famer joined the fun that day as Heinie Manush got to pinch hit for catcher Ray Mueller in the 8th inning. Manush spent two seasons with the Pirates, but accumulated just 28 plate appearances.

Another April 17th opener in Cincinnati occurred during the 1945 season. The game didn’t have the firepower of previous openers, with many good players serving in the military during WWII. The managers for each team went on to make the Hall of Fame and so did one of the players, as a manager. Frankie Frisch was at the helm for Pittsburgh, a HOF second baseman. His catcher that day was Al Lopez, who was still six seasons away from beginning his HOF managerial career. The opposing manager,and third HOF’er, was a former Pirates infielder named Bill McKechnie. The Pirates lost the game 7-6 in 11 innings. Reds leadoff hitter Dain Clay drove in five runs, four of which came on a fifth inning grand slam of Pirates starter, Fritz Ostermueller. In was the first home run of Clay’s career.

The last time the Pirates opened up their season on April 17th was in 1956, when the Giants defeated the Bucs 4-3 at the Polo Grounds. Hitting third that day and playing right field for the Pirates was Roberto Clemente, who made his major league debut exactly one year earlier. He went 0-4 with a strikeout. Dale Long hit a two-run homer for the Pirates and Bob Friend pitched a complete game, taking the loss. Batting third for the Giants that day was Willie Mays, but the hitting star was pitcher Johnny Antonelli, who tied the game up in the seventh inning with a solo homer.

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[Warning: this This Date in Pirates History flashback may provoke high levels of displeasure among Bucco fans.  Read at your own risk.]

On this date in 2002…

Adrian Brown’s fifth inning home run snapped a 2-2 tie and lifted the Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Brewers and a sweep of a three-game series at Miller Park.  The victory raised the Bucs’ record to 9-5 and allowed them to maintain a half-game lead in the NL Central.  (The Pirates went on to beat Milwaukee 15 times in 19 games that season.)

Unfortunately, those happy facts did not represent the lasting impact of this game.  With the Pirates leading 2-0 in the top of the third inning, Ben Sheets of the Brewers hit Aramis Ramirez with a pitch, apparently in retaliation for Bucco starter Dave Williams hitting Geoff Jenkins in the previous inning.  Ramirez charged the mound and threw his helmet at Sheets.  What the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described as a “brief shoving match” ensued.

In the process, Ramirez sprained his right ankle and missed the next thirteen games.  He wound up slumping from 34 home runs an an .885 OPS as a 23-year-old in 2001 (and a .907 OPS the early going in ’02) to 18 home runs and the OPS Of The Beast (.666) in 2002.  While Paul Meyer’s PPG account of the night in Milwaukee started “[i]f the Pirates continue their surprisingly good start and stretch it into midsummer–and beyond?–do not underestimate the significance of their victory yesterday,” the ultimate impact of the game was less salutary, and the team finished 17 games under .500 and 24.5 games out of first place.

Here’s the box score and play-by-play:

Here’s the Post-Gazette’s account:


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