Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. We also recap a game from the 1979 season as well as a doubleheader from 1974 in John Fredland’s Jolly Roger Rewind
Jacob Brumfield (1965) Center fielder for the 1995-96 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Cubs as a seventh round pick in the 1983 draft. Jacob missed all of the 1984 season, then was released in April of 1985. It wasn’t until August of 1986, that he signed with another team when he was picked up by the Royals. Brumfield spent six seasons in Kansas City’s system before becoming a free agent in October of 1991. He signed with the Reds a month later and made their Opening Day roster, making his major league debut on April 6,1992. Jacob played three seasons in Cincinnati, playing a total of 195 major league games. On October 13,1994, the Reds traded Brumfield to the Pirates in exchange for minor league outfielder Danny Clyburn. He would step in and take over the center field job during that 1995 season, playing 116 games, with a .271 average, 22 stolen bases and 64 runs scored. Jacob held that spot at the beginning of 1996, but in mid-May, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for minor league prospects, D.J. Boston. Brumfield was with Toronto through 1997, then spent 1998 in AAA for the Marlins, where he hit just .167 in 95 games. He spent the 1999 season in the majors, split between the Dodgers and Blue Jays, before returning to the minors to finish his career in 2001. Jacob was a .257 career hitter in 568 major league games.
Ross Baumgarten (1955) Pitcher for the 1982 Pirates. He was originally a 20th round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox during the 1977 draft. Despite the late draft status, it took him just over a year to make the majors. Ross started that 1978 season in A-ball, going 9-1 1.82 in ten starts. He was moved to AA and it took just 25 innings before the White Sox moved him up another level. Ross made nine starts before getting his third promotion of the season, this time to the majors. He went 2-2 5.87 in four starts and three relief appearances for the White Sox. The next year he was a regular in their starting rotation, going 13-8 3.54 in 28 starts, finishing fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. His ERA dropped to 3.44 the next year but his record suffered due to the poor play of Chicago. Baumgarten had a 2-12 record, and that was despite winning his first start of the year. The White Sox scored three runs or less in an amazing 21 of his 23 starts on the year. After going 5-9 4.07 in 19 starts in 1981, the Pirates acquired Ross on March 21,1982, along with pitcher Butch Edge, in exchange for pitcher Ernie Camacho and infielder Vance Law. For the Pirates, he made ten starts and two relief appearance, going 0-5 6.55 in 44 innings. He missed part of the early season with two fractured fingers on his throwing hard. At the end of Spring Training in 1983, the Pirates released Ross. He signed with Oakland, then Detroit, spending the entire 1983 season in the minors, his last year of pro ball.
George O’Donnell (1929) Pitcher for the 1954 Pirates. He spent five seasons in the minors before having his contract purchased by the Pirates in October of 1953. He was originally a member of the St Louis Browns organization, signing in 1949, before moving on to the Pirates two years later. George went 20-12 3.61 in 281.1 innings in 1953 for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. It was his second twenty win season in the minors, in 1951 he won 22 games for Waco. George’s big league career lasted just three months of the 1954 season, but he saw plenty of action for the Pirates over that time, making ten starts and eleven relief appearances. He went 3-9 4.53 in 87.1 innings. George was sent to Hollywood at the end of July, where he finished the season. He would end up pitching another seven seasons in the minors before retiring, finishing with a 127-93 record in 530 games. George is the only pitcher in Pirates history, who has lost more than four games and had more career losses than strikeouts(9 to 8). He turns 83 years old today.
The 1979 Pirates won the World Series for the fifth time in team history, but early in the season it sure didn’t look like they were a possible World Series winning team. Going into their game on May 27th against the New York Mets, Pittsburgh had a record of 18-21, they were losers of three straight games and sitting in fifth place, seven games back in the standings. On this day, the Pirates got on the board just three batters in to the game, as Dave Parker singled home Omar Moreno. Jim Bibby started the game and went 3.1 IP before leaving with a strained rib cage muscle.
Bruce Kison came in for Bibby and protected the one run lead, keeping the Mets off the board until Lee Mazzilli led off the seventh inning with a homer to tie the game. On the Mets side, starter Kevin Kobel, owner of a 13-22 career record, kept the Pirates from scoring again through the end of the eighth inning. Dale Murray came in for the Mets in the ninth inning, facing Bill Robinson to lead-off. On the second pitch he threw, Robinson connected for a home run, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t lose. Grant Jackson closed out the game, retiring all five batters he faced, three by strikeout.
The Pirates would win their next five games to move over .500 into fourth place, five games back of the Expos. Bibby would miss just over two weeks, although when he returned he pitched in a relief role until June 28th, when he made a start against the Mets. Pittsburgh came into this game with that 18-21 record but the rest of the way, they went 80-41 and this is where their season turned around.
Jolly Roger Rewind: May 27, 1974
Depleted by injuries and saddled with worst record in the majors, the Pirates turned to pitcher Ken Brett in a Memorial Day doubleheader against San Diego, and Brett’s arm and bat—with a little late assistance from Richie Hebner— led the Bucs to a sweep by 6-0 and 8-7 scores.
Brett, obtained from Philadelphia in the previous offseason for Dave Cash, took the ball in the opener and compensated for the absence of Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Al Oliver and Gene Clines by shutting down the Padres. Through the first eight innings, he retired all 24 San Diego batters. Bob Smizik, writing for the Pittsburgh Press, noted that Brett’s eight innings of perfection occurred “with relative ease, there being only one out-of-the-ordinary fielding play.”
The 25-year-old lefthander’s best pitching efforts notwithstanding, the game still remained in doubt: going to the bottom of the eighth, San Diego’s Randy Jones had limited the Buccos’ makeshift lineup to two hits and a single run, on a second-inning Richie Zisk home run. It was now time for Brett’s bat to make a difference. After Paul Popovich led off with a double, the pitcher drove him in with a bloop single. Brett ultimately came around to score the third run of what would become a five-run inning, giving the Pirates a lead that settled all questions, save that of whether he could complete the perfect game.
Padres catcher Fred Kendall quickly answered that question in the negative. Kendall, who had known Brett since their days at rival Los Angeles-area high schools, led off the top of the ninth by lashing a 1-2 slider between third baseman Kurt Bevacqua and shortstop Frank Taveras for a single.* Brett allowed one more hit, but then closed out the visitors for a two-hit shutout.
In the nightcap, the Bucs trailed Dan Spillner and the Padres 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Manny Sanguillen and Popovich led off with singles. Danny Murtaugh called back Taveras and sent up Brett to pinch-hit. Brett responded with a two-run triple, tying the game.** Al Oliver followed with a pinch-hit double to drive in Brett with the go-ahead run, and the Pirates attained their second five-run frame of the doubleheader when Zisk doubled home two more runs for a 6-3 advantage.
Unlike the earlier game, the Brett-triggered five-run uprising would not be decisive: the Padres knotted the score with three eighth-inning runs off Ramon Hernandez and Kent Tekulve, and Johnny Grubb then gave San Diego a 7-6 lead with a ninth-inning home run off Tekulve, a 27-year-old rookie who had made his major-league debut just a week before.***
With the Pirates down to their last chance, Rennie Stennett picked up a one-out single. He remained on first one out later, as Hebner stepped to the plate. Murtaugh had kept Hebner out of the lineup in the opener; during the game, the manager had taken the opportunity to counsel Hebner on flaws in his hitting approach.**** The instruction did not pay off immediately: Hebner started off the nightcap going hitless in four at-bats. For the fifth at-bat, however, Murtaugh appeared to achieve the desired effect, as Hebner’s high fly ball off Jim McAndrew cleared the right field wall for a game-winning home run and doubleheader sweep.***** The Bucs no longer had the worst record in the game—San Diego now held that dubious distinction—but they remained in last place in the National League East.******
* Presumably, these were exciting times for Kendall: he was 30 days away from the birth of a son named Jason.
** Brett’s younger brother George did not possess a monopoly on the family’s hitting talent: in 372 career plate appearances, Ken had a BA/OBA/SLG of .262/.291/.406, good for a 95 OPS+, and ten home runs.
*** From the beginning, Tekulve’s looks drew the attention of observers: Charley Feeney’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story asserted that “Bruce Kison, yesterday’s second game starter, and Tekulve, the winner, look like a pen and pencil set.”
**** Afterwards, Murtaugh told the Press that, “I told him he was sweeping at the ball and, as a wrist hitter, that was bad. He was sweeping instead of swinging hard.”
***** The vultured win was Tekulve’s first of 94 career victories.
****** Feeney struck a pessimistic note in the Post-Gazette: “Unless the big guys become healthy in a hurry, the Bucs have no future. They certainly can’t live on their past.”
First game box score and play-by-play
Second game box score and play-by-play
Pittsburgh Press game story