This Date in Pirates History: June 16

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, starting with one of the best first baseman in team history. We also have a trade and a Jolly Roger Rewind from John Fredland.

The Players

Kevin Young (1969) First baseman for the Pirates from 1992 until 1995 and then again from 1997 until 2003. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Pirates in 1990 out of the University of Southern Mississippi. He made it to AA by the middle of 1991, hitting .342 in 75 games. Kevin hit .314 in 137 games at AAA in 1992, earning a ten game trial with the Pirates. He was the Opening Day first baseman in 1993, playing 141 games that year. He spent three years with the Pirates but was never able to hit well. His highest OPS during the 1993-95 seasons, was .649 that last year. He had over 800 plate appearances with only 13 homers to show for it. Pittsburgh released him at the end of Spring Training in 1996 and he signed on with the Royals six days later. Young hit .242 with eight homers in 55 games for Kansas City, then was released in the off-season.

Pittsburgh resigned Kevin at the end of Spring Training in 1997, almost one year to the day they released him. He started the year as a bench player, but began to see regular time in the middle of May. Kevin played first base mainly, although he also saw time at third base and the corner outfield spots. An early August injury cost him six weeks of the season. Young finished with a .300 average, hitting 18 homers and driving in 74 runs in 97 games. The next year he moved into the starting first base role, a spot he would hold for the next five years. Kevin had two strong back-to-back years in 1998-99, driving in a total of 214 runs, with 53 homers and 81 doubles. In 1999, he also scored 103 runs, while stealing 22 bases. Young led all NL first baseman in putouts during both of these seasons.

His numbers began to slowly decline in 2000, though he still drove in 88 runs in 132 games. He would hit .242 with 14 homers and 65 RBI’s in 2001, then down to 51 RBI’s over 146 games the next year. Young was batting .202 with seven RBI’s through the end of June in 2003, when the Pirates released him. He finished his career in Pittsburgh with a .259 average, 136 homers and 583 RBI’s in 1150 games. Kevin ranks 23rd in team history in games played, 16th with 229 doubles, tenth in homers and 17th in RBI’s.

Chris Gomez (1971) Infielder for the 2008 Pirates. He already had 15 seasons in at the major league level when the Pirates signed him as a free agent in December of 2007. Gomez had split the 2007 season between the Orioles and Indians, hitting .297 in 92 games, playing all four infield positions. With the Pirates, Chris played 90 games, getting multiple starts at all four infield spots. He hit .273 in 200 plate appearances, with a .655 OPS and 26 runs scored. After the season, he was granted free agency, signing with the Orioles. Baltimore cut him at the end of Spring Training, ending his 16 year major league career. Gomez was a .262 career hitter, with 487 RBI’s and 517 runs scored in 1515 games, spending time with eight different teams.

Max Surkont (1922) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1954 until 1956. He spent five years in the minors, then three years serving in the military during WWII, before returning for three more years in the minors. Eleven years after his pro debut, Surkont made the majors with the 1949 White Sox. Max returned to the minors to start 1950, getting his big break in August of 1950 when the Boston Braves purchased him from Chicago. He spent four years with the Braves, going 40-36 3.90 in 105 games, 92 as a starter. Surkont was acquired by the Pirates on December 26, 1953 as one of six players(and cash) they got in return for infielder Danny O’Connell. He went into the rotation of a team that would lose 195 games over the 1954-55 seasons. Surkont went 9-18 4.41 in 208.1 innings his first season in Pittsburgh, then followed it up with a 7-14 5.57 record over 166.1 innings the next year. On May 5, 1956, the Pirates traded him to the Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Luis Arroyo. Max had made just one relief appearance for the 1956 Pirates. He would go on to pitch five games for the Cardinals, who sold him to the Red Sox a month later. After spending two months in the minors, Surkont was purchased by the Giants. He pitched 13 games in New York between 1956-57, ending his major league career in May of that second season.

Pete Coscarart (1913) Shortstop/Second baseman for the 1942-46 Pirates. He spent four seasons in the minors before making his debut with the 1938 Brooklyn Dodgers, getting in 32 games with a .152 average that first year. Coscarart had a strong second season, finishing with a .277 average and 59 runs scored in 119 games, gaining some MVP votes along the way. In 1940, he made his only All-Star appearance, although his batting average was just .237 in 143 games played. The next year his batting really dropped off and he was forced to the bench, getting only nine starts all year. Pete was acquired from the Dodgers on December 12, 1941 as part of the return for Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan. He immediately became the starting shortstop, hitting .228 with 57 runs scored in 133 games. Coscarart moved to second base the next year, playing 133 games again. He batted .242, while driving in 48 runs and scoring 57 runs for a second straight year. The 1944 season was his best in Pittsburgh, scoring a career high 89 runs, with a .264 batting average. Coscarart hit .242 in 1945, posting a .699 OPS, his best while with the Pirates. After playing just three games over the first month of the 1946 season, Pete returned to the minors, where he finished his career in 1950. His brother Joe was a major league infielder for two seasons with the Boston Braves.

Fritz Mollwitz (1890) First baseman for the 1917-1919 Pirates. He began his pro career in 1910, playing for Green Bay of the Wisconsin-Illinois League until making his major league debut in September of 1913 with the Cubs. Early in 1914, he was traded to the Reds and in Cincinnati, he would have his best season. In 1915, Fritz played a career high 153 games, leading all NL first baseman in fielding percentage and in putouts. He drove in a career high 51 runs, but it was his glove that kept him around. In the middle of 1916, he was sold back to the Cubs, who sold him to Kansas City of the American Association during the next Spring. Pittsburgh picked him up from KC in August, after he hit .303 through 123 games. Mollwitz hit .257 in 36 games for the Pirates in 1917, driving in 12 runs. The 1918 season was his only full year in Pittsburgh. Fritz played 119 games, hitting .269 with 45 RBI’s and he finished third in the NL among first baseman in assists, putouts and fielding percentage. He was with the Pirates through the beginning of August in 1919, leading the league in fielding percentage that year, but having a horrible season at the plate. Fritz was hitting .173 through 56 games played, when the Pirates sold him to the St Louis Cardinals. He major league career ended that year, then he played seven more seasons in the minors, the last as a player/manager. Mollwitz was a .241 career hitter in 534 games. In 1907 major league plate appearances, he hit just one homer, which was an inside-the-park home run.

Ralph Capron (1889) Pinch-runner for the Pirates on April 25,1912. He was a star football and baseball player at the University of Minnesota, the first player from that school to make the majors. His one appearance for the Pirates was his major league debut, coming in with two outs in the ninth to pinch run for Alex McCarthy. Pittsburgh was down 1-0 at home, when McCarthy singled to keep the game alive. Ham Hyatt came in to hit for George Gibson, and Capron came in to run for McCarthy. Hyatt struck out and Ralph never left first base. It was said that the crowd was anxious to see him run because he was known for his great speed. Capron was sent to the minors for the rest of the year, returning in 1913 to the big leagues with the Phillies. He pinch ran once, scoring a run and played left field in the other game, going 0-1 at the plate, his only big league AB. Ralph played briefly in the minors in 1914 before retiring from baseball. He also played pro football briefly in 1920.

Marr Phillips (1857) Shortstop for the 1885 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He had a minor league career that spanned from the first year of organized minor league ball in 1877, until 1899. Over that 22 year stretch, Phillips played 198 major league games, with the majority of them coming in 1884 and 1890, the two seasons that three separate major leagues were all playing at the same time. He hit well for most of his time in the minors and he had a strong hands at shortstop(literally hands,fielders didn’t wear gloves during the early part of his career, except for catchers). Marr was a Pittsburgh native, born there and passed away there at age 70 in 1928. He played just four games though for his hometown team. He began the 1885 season with Detroit of the National League. After hitting .209 in 33 games, he was let go. Phillips hooked on with the Alleghenys(while they were still in the American Association) and started four games at shortstop, going 4-15 at the plate with two RBI’s. An arm injury, that was said to have left him nearly disabled, ended his time with Pittsburgh. His next, and last, major league time came with the 1890 Rochester Broncos of the American Association. In 64 games, he had a .206 average and 34 RBI’s, leading all AA shortstops in fielding percentage with a .918 mark, 33 points above the league average.

The Trade

On this date in 1888, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys acquired third baseman Elmer Cleveland from the New York Giants in exchange for third baseman Art Whitney. Cleveland had been in the minors for three seasons, after making his major league debut in the Union Association in 1884. The 25 year old had played just nine games with New York prior to the trade. Whitney was thirty years old at the time, a veteran of four seasons with Pittsburgh, dating back to the American Association days. He was holding out at the time, after batting .260 with 51 RBI’s in 1887. He also led all third baseman in fielding percentage for a second straight season. After the trade, Cleveland played just 30 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .222, with well below average fielding at third base. He would go back to the minors, returning briefly to the big leagues in 1891 with the Columbus Solons of the AA for one last season. The trade didn’t end up hurting the Alleghenys, who had no choice but to move the hold out. Whitney hit just .218 with New York over two seasons and his defense wasn’t up to the standards of his previous two seasons. In the four seasons Art played after the trade, his highest average was .220 in 1888.

Jolly Roger Rewind: June 16, 1998

In one of the most infamous collapses of Gene Lamont’s tenure as Pirates’ manager, Mike Lieberthal’s two-out, three-run, pinch-hit, walk-off home run completed a seven-run ninth inning rally for an 8-7 Phillies victory over the Bucs at Veterans Stadium.

Behind three-run homers by Al Martin and rookie Aramis Ramirez*, the Pirates had rolled to a 7-0 advantage by the fifth inning. The lead did not come cost-free: starting pitcher Jose Silva, who entered the game on a run of six quality starts in seven outings, had broken his wrist in the second inning when Tyler Green hit him with a pitch on a bunt attempt.** Still, Esteban Loaiza came out of the bullpen to pitch five innings of one-run ball, allowing the Buccos to maintain an apparent stranglehold on the contest. By the time they reached their final ups, the Phillies had lost third baseman Scott Rolen and manager Terry Francona to ejections and much of their home crowd to a seventh-inning rain delay.

With victory and a return to a .500 record seemingly mathematical certainties, Lamont sent in Ricardo Rincon, his most effective relief pitcher***, for the final three outs. Rincon, however, would not retire a batter that night; a single, triple and two walks later, a run had scored, Phillies occupied all bases, and Lamont was replacing Rincon with closer Rich Loiselle.

Loiselle induced three consecutive potential outs, but shortstop Lou Collier booted Alex Arias’ grounder for a two-run error, making Doug Glanville’s subsequent sacrifice fly only the first out and Kevin Sefcik’s fielder’s choice ground ball only the second out. Still alive and trailing by only 7-5, the Phillies put the tying run on first when Kevin Jordan drew a walk.

Philadelphia had reached the pitcher’s spot in the lineup, so the Phillies sent up their final remaining position player, Lieberthal. He worked the count to 2-2 before driving a Loiselle pitch over the leftfield wall to conclude the improbable comeback.

* The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that Ramirez’s third career home run, coming nine days before his twentieth birthday, made him the most prolific teenage home run hitter in franchise history.

** Silva missed almost three months with the injury; he never again returned to his pre-fracture level of effectiveness.

*** Rincon began the game with an 0.90 ERA.

Box score and play-by-play

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story

  • Ugh, forgot to mention Coscarat. When Terry Cashman did all those ‘talking baseballs’ for every team, he mentioned that Schlub, since he’d been a Dodger. Made me dislike him instantly.

  • Ugh, I remember that horrible game against the Phillies! Kevin Young’s homer just back from his broken hand? was one of the highlights of the 1997 team.