This Date in Pirates History: May 20

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, they were both teammates on the 1927-28 teams and they both played the same position. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland takes a look back at a memorable game, led by two Hall of Famers from the 1970’s.

George Grantham (1900) First baseman/second baseman for the Pirates from 1925 until 1931. The Pirates acquired him in a big trade on October 27, 1924, one that sent Pittsburgh’s all-time wins leader, Wilbur Cooper, along with Charlie Grimm and future Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Grantham, Vic Aldridge and Al Niehaus. On name power alone, the Cubs got the three most famous players in the deal but Grantham did a pretty good holding up his end of the deal.

When he came to the Pirates, he was coming off a season in which he hit .316 with 55 walks and 60 RBI’s in 127 games. He also stole 64 bases over the two full seasons he spent in Chicago but those numbers are a bit deceiving as he was caught stealing 49 times, including a league leading 28 times in 1923. He also led the NL in strikeouts in both 1923 and 1924. George had also led all second baseman in errors each of the last two seasons. For the Pirates, he moved to first base in 1925, batting a career high of .326 his first season in Pittsburgh. That team went to the World Series, winning in seven games. While Grantham helped them get there, in the series he all but disappeared. Going 2-15 at the plate, sitting out two games. In 1926, he hit .318 with 70 RBI’s and 60 walks, finishing sixth in the NL with an .890 OPS. George was moved back to his original position of second base, when Joe Harris(see below) joined the team in 1927. Grantham still occasionally played some first base that year after starting the first 19 games of the season there. He hit .305 with 66 RBI’s and 74 walks, while scoring 96 runs. Pittsburgh was back in the WS that year and he hit .364, although he didn’t score or drive in any runs.

Grantham moved back to first base in 1928 and had a big season at the plate, hitting .323 with 85 RBI’s and 93 runs scored, but it wasn’t his best year in Pittsburgh. His shuffling around the field continued in 1929, getting most of his time at second base but also seeing action in left field and first base. He posted a career high .987 OPS in 110 games, driving in 90 runs, scoring 85 times and drawing 93 walks. His best season at the bat however, may have been the 1930 season, which was a great year for offense in baseball. Grantham hit .324 with 81 walks and set career highs in RBI’s with 99, homers with 18, triples with 14 and runs scored with 120, the team high that season. He was at second base that year and for the third time, he led the NL in errors at that spot. He had a decent 1931 season but began to show a decline in his game. After hitting .305 with 91 runs scored in 127 games that year, Grantham was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. He still had one good season left in him, hitting .292 for the Reds in 1932.

He played two more seasons in the majors before finishing his career in the minors in 1935. Grantham was a .302 career hitter in 1444 games. With the Pirates he hit .315 in 913 games with a .410 OBP and .901 OPS. His OBP ranks sixth in team history and only Arky Vaughan, among the players ahead of him, had more plate appearances. His OPS ranks fifth in team history and only Ralph Kiner, among players ahead of him, had more plate appearances.

Joe Harris (1891) First baseman for the 1927-28 Pirates. Although he lost years in the majors to WWI and a suspension from baseball, Harris had a pro career that lasted 24 years. He began in 1908 playing for McKeesport of the Ohio-Penn League where he was teammates with former Pirates player Jock Menefee, who was 40 years old. The team also had Dots Miller, Ray Miller and Gus Getz, all future Pirates players. After playing semi-pro ball, Joe came back to pro ball in 1912. He made the majors for the first time in 1914, getting into two games with the Yankees. Three years later, he made it back to the big leagues with the Indians, as their regular first baseman. He hit .304 with 65 RBI’s that first full season in the majors. Joe then missed the entire 1918 season due to the war, returning to the Indians at the end of June, the following year. His baseball skills obviously did not suffer from the time off. In the last 62 games of that 1919 season, Harris hit .375 with 33 walks and 46 RBI’s.

In 1920, he decided to sign with a semi-pro team after they offered him a much better deal than the Indians did. That prompted the commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Landis, to give Harris a lifetime ban from baseball. The ban was lifted two years later by Landis, citing the service by Harris during WWI. Before he was reinstated, Joe was traded to the Red Sox. From 1922 until early in 1925, Harris manned either first base or a corner outfield spot for Boston, hitting .315 with 209 RBI’s in 402 games. He was traded to the Washington Senators in late April of 1925 and helped them to the World Series, where they faced the Pirates. Joe hit .440 in that series, collecting 11 hits, three homers and six RBI’s. After hitting .307 in 1926 at the age of 35, he was put on waivers. He made it through the entire AL, and the Pirates were able to pick him up. In 1927, Pittsburgh went back to the WS for the second time in three years and Harris was a big part, hitting .326 with 73 RBI’s. He had a much different post-season in Pittsburgh, going 3-15 with one RBI and no runs scored. In 1928, he saw limited action but hit well, batting .391 in 16 games through June. On June 8th, he was dealt to the Brooklyn Robins(Dodgers) along with catcher Johnny Gooch, in exchange for catcher Charles Hargreaves.  Harris played outfield for Brooklyn and did not hit well, batting .236 in 55 games. He returned to the minors the next year, playing three more seasons before retiring. In 970 major league games, he had a .317 career average, with 517 RBI’s and a .404 career on base percentage.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 20, 1978

Willie Stargell crushed two home runs and drove in five runs to lift the Pirates to a 6-0 victory over the Expos at Olympic Stadium.

Stargell started the scoring in the first inning by hitting a Wayne Twitchell curveball over the centerfield wall for a three-run homer. When the Pirate captain made his next trip to the plate, three innings later, John Milner had reached first. With the count 2-2, Twitchell threw another curveball, and Stargell took a swing for the history books. The ball finally touched down against a seat in the second tier, far from any paying spectators; the Pittsburgh Press reported that it was “the longest [home run] that has been hit at Olympic Stadium since it opened for baseball at the start of last season” and that “ushers said they never did find the ball.” The estimated distance of Stargell’s blast was 535 feet.*

Stargell’s power hitting gave his fellow future Hall of Famer, Bucco starter Bert Blyleven, all the offense that he required. Taking a one-hitter into the seventh inning, Blyleven finished with a three-hit complete game shutout, a welcome rebound from squandering a 6-1 lead in Los Angeles five days earlier.

* In the twenty-eight seasons that Montreal called Olympic Stadium home, Stargell’s home run—its destination commemorated by a yellow-painted seat—was the only fair ball to reach the second tier.

Box score and play-by-play

Pittsburgh Press game story

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