This Date in Pirates History: May 31

Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and no major transactions, so it is a light day for Pirates history. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps a special day on the mound for two Pirates pitchers, Wilbur Cooper and Al Mamaux.

Kenny Lofton (1967) Center fielder for the 2003 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Astros in 1988, taken in the 17th round. He made it to the majors by the end of 1991, then was dealt in a one-sided trade to the Indians that December. Lofton emerged as a star right away, leading the league in stolen bases four straight years and batting over .300 each season from 1993 until 1997. He made the All-Star team six straight years(1994-99) and won four straight Gold Glove Awards(1993-96). Lofton was a run scoring machine during his early years with the Cleveland Indians, averaging 106 runs scored per season during his nine full years with the team. Throughout his career, he was a constant in the post-season, reaching the playoffs in 11 of his 16 full seasons in the majors. Another constant in his career was the changing of teams. He played ten seasons in Cleveland but even that was over three different stints. He also played part or all of one season with ten other teams, among them being the 2003 Pirates.

After hitting .261 with 72 walks, 98 runs scored and 29 stolen bases in 2002, Lofton became a free agent. He went all Winter without signing a deal, finally settling for the Pirates at a discounted rate in March of 2003. Kenny hit .277 in 84 games for the Pirates, scoring 58 runs and stealing 18 bases. In late July he was included in the Aramis Ramirez deal to the Cubs in exchange for Bobby Hill, Jose Hernandez and Matt Brubaker. Lofton played until 2007, finishing his career with a .299 average, 2428 hits, 1528 runs scored, 622 stolen bases, 781 RBI’s and 945 walks in 2103 games.

Joe Orsulak (1962) Outfielder for the Pirates from 1983 until 1986. He was drafted by the Pirates out of Parsippany Hills HS in the sixth round of the 1980 draft. Joe began his pro career the next year with Greenwood of the South Atlantic League. As a 19 year old, he hit .315 with 80 runs scored and 70 RBI’s in 118 games. Moving up to the Carolina League the next year, Orsulak hit .289 with 14 homers, 28 stolen bases and 92 runs scored. He jumped to AAA for 1983 and continued the strong play, hitting .286 with ten homers and 38 stolen bases. Joe actually had more triples(13) than doubles(12) that season. In September, the Pirates called him up and he went 2-11 at the plate in seven games. He began 1984 back at AAA, but was recalled after just a week when Brian Harper was placed on the DL. The Pirates had a lot of injury problems early in the year and Orsulak bounced between AAA and the majors three times the first two months. After being sent down in early June, Joe returned in September when the rosters expanded, finishing the year with a .254 average in 32 games.

In 1985, Orsulak was with the Pirates the entire year, playing 72 games in center field, 41 in left and 16 in right field. He mostly batted leadoff, hitting .300 on the season, with 24 stolen bases and 54 runs scored. He had a huge home/road split, batting .370 at Three Rivers and just .239 during away games. In 1986, Joe played 138 games, seeing the majority of his playing time as a right fielder. He hit .249 with 60 runs scored and again stole 24 bases(he also had 11 times caught stealing in both seasons). The next year Orsulak was back in AAA and he had a rough season, twice missing time with foot injuries, which led him to play just 39 games all year. That December he was traded to the Orioles for Terry Crowley Jr and Rico Rossy. While neither of those players made it to the majors with the Pirates, Joe went on to play another ten seasons in the majors, a total of 1196 games played after leaving Pittsburgh. He was a .273 career hitter with 93 stolen bases and 559 runs scored.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 31, 1915

The Pirate offense rationed a pair of young starting pitchers a single run apiece in a doubleheader against the first-place Cubs, but Wilbur Cooper and Al Mamaux needed nothing more for two 1-0 victories at Forbes Field.

The 23-year-old Cooper, who had emerged the previous season as the best pitcher on a seventh-place Bucco team,* earned a complete-game victory in the morning game by striking out eight Cubs and limiting the visitors to three hits and two walks. In the third inning, the Pirates gave him all the offense they would muster by scoring without a hit: Chicago starter Jimmy Lavender walked three Bucs to load the bases and then hit Honus Wagner to force in George Gibson.

Taking the mound in the afternoon game was an even younger Pirate pitcher: Mamaux, who had celebrated his 21st birthday the day before and was in the midst of his own breakthrough season.** He held the Cubs off the scoreboard on five hits and two walks. The Buccos dented the scoreboard with a run just as humbly conceived as its predecessor: Bill Hinchman scored on a Larry Cheney wild pitch in the second inning.

Baseball in 1915 featured less offense than today’s game.*** Nevertheless, such a good-pitch-no-hit day was distinctive, even then. “It was lucky for Pittsburg that these breaks came, for the team did little hitting, and it required airtight pitching behind them and the addition of a little luck to allow them to win,” summarized the Pittsburg Press.****

* After recording a 16-15 record and 125 ERA+ on a 69-85 squad in 1914, Cooper’s totals fell to 5-16 and 84 in 1915. He would rebound in 1917, starting a streak of nine years with an ERA+ of at least 112.

** Mamaux finished 1915 with a 21-8 record and 138 ERA+. He would win another 21 games in 1916, but decline significantly in 1917 and get traded to Brooklyn in the offseason.

*** Average major league runs per game in 1915 was 3.81; in 2011, the average was 4.25. The average major league batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage line in 1915 was .250/.318/.332; in 2011, it was .255/.321/.399.

**** The Press also observed that, “The games were the most rapidly played of the season at Forbes field. Neither lasted an hour and three quarters. This was in part due to the fact that there was scarcely any scoring or base running, but it was also in part due to the fact that both teams hustled. The spectators enjoyed the contests more on this account.”

Pittsburg Press game story

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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