This Date in Pirates History: April 18

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, one stands out above the rest. Before I get to the players, one Opening Day mention of note. On this date in 1886, Pittsburgh played it’s fifth opener in franchise history. The team was called the Alleghenys and that season would be their last in the American Association, before the team moved to the National League. That Opening Day was like no other in franchise history, it was the only time Pittsburgh has ever played a doubleheader on Opening Day. The Alleghenys lost both games that day to the St Louis Browns, the eventual champions of the AA that season. They lost the opener 8-4 with Ed “Cannonball” Morris as the starter and then lost 10-5 in the second game with future Hall of Fame pitcher James “Pud” Galvin starting. The Alleghenys also opened up their season in 1885 on this date. It was the first time in team history that they played a regular season game in the month of April. That day, Ed Morris shutout the Browns by a 7-0 score.

Now on to the former players and as I mentioned, one stands out above the rest. Steve Blass(1942) pitched for the Pirates in 1964 and then from 1966 until 1974. The Pirates signed him right out of High School in 1960 for $4,000 and sent him to the low minors, where he compiled a 5-4 4.32 record in 73 innings, split between two teams. He broke out the next year as a 19 year old, going 13-6 3.32 in 160 innings for Batavia of the NYPL. Blass moved up to the Carolina league for 1962 and went 17-3 1.97 in 23 starts, earning a last season promotion to A ball for Asheville of the South Atlantic League. Although he didn’t pitch well in his brief trial for Asheville, he was still moved up to AAA to start in 1963. After going 11-8 4.44 in 24 starts, it took just two more AAA starts in 1964 to earn him a promotion to the big leagues.

Blass went 5-8 4.04 his rookie season, making 13 starts and 11 relief appearances. He returned to AAA for the entire 1965 season, then was a regular in the Pirates starting rotation the next season. He went 11-7 3.87 in 155.2 innings, then followed it up with a 3.55 ERA in 1967 but his record dropped down to 6-8 despite the lower ERA over the 1966 season. The 1968 season would be Steve’s breakout season in the majors. He won 18 games, posted a 2.12 ERA in 220.1 innings and led NL pitchers with a .750 winning percentage. Fortunately for Blass, the 1969 Pirates were a strong team, because his season wasn’t a good one compared to his other peak years. He had a 4.46 ERA, the worst on the team, but he was still able to go 16-10 thanks to great run support. Dock Ellis that season had an 11-17 record with an ERA almost a run lower.

The tables turned on Blass the next season when he had a 3.52 ERA but ended up with a losing record on a team that won the NL East with 89 wins. The 1971 season was a magical one for the Pirates and for Blass. He went 15-8 during the season, leading the NL in shutouts, and after struggling in two NLCS starts against the Giants, he won both of his World Series starts against the Orioles. Both were complete game victories, the second game being game seven of the series, a 2-1 victory. Blass had his best season in 1972, winning a career high 19 games, making the all-star team for the only time in his career and finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting.

When Steve came back for the 1973 season he control on his pitches was gone, without any injuries or explanation. He couldn’t throw strikes and his record that season was a dismal 3-9 9.85 with 84 walks in 88.2 innings.  Things got so bad the next season, that he spent the year in the minors, where he pitched just as poorly. Finally, in Spring of 1975, the Pirates released him as he never recovered from his poor command, ending his baseball career. Blass had a 103-76 record in ten seasons with the Pirates. He is currently in his 27th seasons as an announcer for the Pirates,

Other former Pirates players born on this date include:

Angelo Encarnacion(1969) Catcher for the 1995-96 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1990. In 1994, he hit .291 and threw out 43% of baserunners attempting to steal while at AA. Those numbers earned him an Opening Day spot on the 1995 Pirates. Angelo spent all but one month of the season in Pittsburgh, hitting .226 with 10 RBI’s in 58 games that year. He began the next season in AAA, hitting .319 in 75 games, playing for Calgary. The Pirates recalled him for a three week span beginning in mid-July and he hit .318 in seven games before being sent back down. Just prior to the start of the 1997 season, he was traded to the Angels in a four player deal along with Trey Beamon, that brought Mark Smith to Pittsburgh. Angelo played 11 games for the Angels that season, then spent the rest of his career in the minors, retiring in 2003.

Larry Foss(1936) Pitcher for the 1961 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1955, spending the first seven seasons of his career in the minors. The Pirates finally called him up to the majors in September of 1961 after he went 10-7 3.59 in 143 innings, splitting the year between A ball and AA. Larry made three starts for the Pirates, winning his major league debut over the St Louis Cardinals on September 18th by going seven innings and allowing two earned runs. Foss spent the 1962 season back in A ball where he pitched well but when he was in AAA briefly, he was hit very hard. In nine innings over three starts and two relief appearances, he allowed 19 earned runs. The Pirates put him on waivers in early September and he was picked up by the expansion New York Mets. Larry pitched five games for the Mets that 1962 season, posting a 4.63 ERA in 11.2 innings. Early in the 1963 season, the Mets trade him to the Milwaukee Braves, in what turned out to be his last season in the minors. He played in the Western Canada Baseball League in 1964.

Bob Linton(1902) Catcher for the 1929 Pirates. He spent the entire 1929 season with the Pirates but never started a single game.  Bob came off the bench 17 times that year, eight times to finish the game behind the plate and the other nine times he was used as a pinch hitter. Only one time that year did he bat more than once in a game, August 20th, when the Pirates sat their regular catcher after they went down 8-0 to the Phillies in the third inning. Linton spent the rest of his career in the minors, 14 more seasons, finally retiring after the 1945 season. He also managed for three years in the minor leagues. His pro career began in 1927 and he played for the Pirates  during Spring Training of 1928, before he got injured and returned to the minors. After he hit .305 in 109 games for the Decatur Commodores of the Three-I League in 1928, he won the third string catching job for the 1929 Pirates during his second Spring Training with the club. Linton beat out Roy Spencer, who caught for the Pirates from 1925-27 and John O’Connell, who caught three games over two(1928-29) seasons, to earn that third string position.

Jack Scott(1892) Pitcher for the Pirates on September 19,1916. He made his major league debut for the Pirates as a pinch hitter, before making his pitching debut in relief of starter Elmer Jacobs in the first game of a doubleheader. Scott pitched five innings, allowing six earned runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out four batters that day. In 1917, he pitched for two different minor league teams, compiling a 14-11 2.44 record in 221 innings. In mid-August, his contract was purchased by the Boston Braves. He ended up pitching four seasons for the Braves, one game for the Reds in 1922, then six years for the Giants. He pitched in 1927 for the Phillies and led the NL in losses with twenty-one. Scott had a 103-109 3.85 career record in 356 games. He was a lifetime .275 hitter and he pinch hit over 50 times during his career. He was traded twice for Hall of Fame pitchers, the first time was for Rube Marquard in 1922 and the other was for Burleigh Grimes during the 1926-27 off-season.

Jack Rothfuss(1872) First baseman for the 1897 Pirates. He spent his first two seasons of pro ball playing for his hometown team, the Newark Colts of the Atlantic League. Jack joined the Pirates in early August of 1897 after batting .323 in 89 games for Newark. He played well with the Pirates, hitting .313 with 18 RBI’s in 35 games during the last two months of the season. He was supposed to be the Pirates starting first baseman for 1898 but he contracted dysentery and was too sick to play the first three months of the season. The Pirates sold his contract to the Kansas City Blues of the Western League shortly after the 1898 season started. Jack ended up playing semi-pro ball in 1898 once he was better, then finished his career playing with another nine seasons in the minors, never returning to the majors again.

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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