On a busy day for Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have three trades and six former players born on this date. John Fredland covers a well-pitched game by Jon Lieber from 15 years ago, in his Jolly Roger Rewind. Before we start with all that, we have one current Pirates player celebrating a birthday and he hasn’t even been with the team for a week. Drew Sutton turns 29 today.
On this date in 1982, the Pirates acquired Larry McWilliams from the Atlanta Braves for Pascual Perez and a player to be named later. McWilliams was a tall, lanky, 28 year old lefty, that was moved to the bullpen after struggling for two seasons as a starter. He had a strong rookie season in 1978, but four years later, he was 2-3 6.21 in 27 appearances for the 1982 Braves. Perez had spent half of the 1981 season with the Pirates, going 2-7 3.96 in 13 starts and four relief appearances. In 1982, the 25 year old was back in AAA, where he remained until the trade.
After the deal, Perez became an All-Star for the Braves, although that star quickly faded. He won 29 games between the 1983-84 seasons, then dropped to 1-13 in 1985 and didn’t pitch the following season. He returned in 1987 for five more seasons, winning as many as 12 games(1988) in a year. In September, the Pirates threw into the deal, minor league infielder Carlos Rios, who never made the majors. McWilliams had success with the Pirates after the trade, winning 43 games over his 4 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh, before returning to Atlanta as a free agent in 1987. Larry won 15 games in 1983 and finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting.
Also on this date in 2009, the Pirates completed two trades. The first sent Eric Hinske to the Yankees for minor leaguers Eric Fryer and Casey Erickson. The second sent Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan. Both trades were covered here on Pirates Prospects at the time. Hinske deal here and Hanrahan here.
Delwyn Young (1982) Utility player for the 2009-10 Pirates. He spent eight seasons in the Dodgers system, hitting for average and power in the minors, although those numbers never translated to big league success. Delwyn played 110 games for Los Angeles from 2006 to 2008, hitting .267 with three homers. In mid-April of 2009, the Pirates acquired him in exchange for two minor league pitchers. Young played second base, right field and he pinch hit that first season in Pittsburgh, batting .266 with seven homers and 43 RBI’s in 124 games. In 2010, he was used more off the bench, also adding third base to his resume temporarily. He hit .236 with seven homers and 28 RBI’s in 110 games(72 as a PH), getting 207 plate appearances. Delwyn spent the 2011 season playing AAA for the Phillies and has yet to play this year after having hernia surgery.
Chan Ho Park (1973) Pitcher for the 2010 Pirates. He was a successful starting pitcher for the Dodgers, winning 13 or more games five years straight, before signing a large free agent deal with the Rangers in 2002. He went 84-58 in eight seasons for the Dodgers(two partial years, one other as a reliever), but after leaving, he went just 40-40 over the next nine seasons, finishing his career as a reliever for the 2010 Pirates. From 2005 until 2010, Park played for seven different teams, including a return trip to the Dodgers. Pittsburgh took him off waivers from the Yankees in August of 2010 and he was used often over the final two months of the season. Park went 2-2 3.49 in 26 appearances, throwing a total of 28.1 innings for the Pirates. Chan Ho pitched in Japan in 2011 and is currently pitching in Korea this season.
Dave Roberts (1933) First baseman for the 1966 Pirates. He had a pro career that lasted 22 seasons, spanning from 1952 until 1973, but Roberts played only 91 games in the majors, spread out over three seasons. Ten years after his first minor league game, he made his big league debut with a new expansion team, the 1962 Houston Colt .45’s. Roberts was a September call-up, hitting .245 with ten RBI’s in 16 games. Two years later, he again played for Houston, getting into 61 games that year. For most of June, he was the starting first baseman, assuming a bench role at the end of month that lasted for the rest of the season. Dave batted .184 with seven RBI’s in 143 plate appearances that year. Pittsburgh took him in the November 1965 Rule V draft. He lasted a month with the team, going 2-16 at the plate with seven strikeouts, starting just two of his 14 games in Pittsburgh. In September, he was sold to the Baltimore Orioles. Roberts went to Japan in 1967, where he played the last six seasons of his career. The Pirates also had a pitcher named Dave Roberts for the 1979 World Series team. He came over in the Bill Madlock trade.
Don Gross (1931) Left-handed pitcher for the Pirates from 1958 until 1960. He was originally signed by the Reds in 1950, making his debut in the majors with Cincinnati five seasons later. Gross pitched three seasons for the Reds, going 14-14 3.69 in 79 games, 34 as a starter. The Pirates acquired him on December 9, 1957 in exchange for pitcher Bob Purkey. Don went 5-7 3.98 for the 1958 Pirates, making 40 appearances(three starts) and picking up seven saves. In 1959, he pitched strictly out of the bullpen, getting into 21 games with a 1-1 3.55 record and two saves. After being used only in a mop-up role through the end of May in 1960, he was sent to the minors, where he finished his career three years later. Don had a 68-39 record in 11 minor league seasons and was 20-22 during his six seasons in the majors. He is the uncle of long-time major league first baseman, Todd Benzinger.
Hal Smith (1902) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1932 until 1935. He didn’t make the big leagues until age thirty, playing all four years of his major league career with Pittsburgh. During the 1932 season, he went 17-8 in 205 innings for Kansas City of the American Association. The Pirates acquired him in August for two players and cash. On September 22,1932, Hal made his first major league start, throwing a complete game shutout over the Cubs. The Pirates expected big things from him in 1933 and he didn’t disappoint, going 8-7 with a 2.86 ERA in 145 innings. He threw two more shutouts that season. Hal did not pitch well in 1934, missing nearly two months of the season with an illness. He started his first game back and got hit hard in a loss, forcing the Pirates to move him to the pen where he was used sparingly the rest of the way. Smith pitched just one early season game for the 1935 Pirates before being sent back to Kansas City, where he remained until his retirement at the end of the 1936 season. He went 12-11 3.77 in 51 major league games, 25 as a starter. The Pirates also had two other players named Hal Smith, one was a catcher for the 1965 team(covered in the link) and the other caught for the 1960-61 team.
Johnny Miljus (1895) Pitcher for the 1927-28 Pirates. He made his major league debut in 1915, playing for his hometown Pittsburgh Rebels of the short-lived Federal League. His debut(which was also his first pro game) came on the next-to-last day of the season and when the league folded in the off-season, he went to the minors for the first time. Two seasons later he had a brief trial with the Brooklyn Robins. After serving in the military during WWI, he returned to baseball in 1919, making it back to Brooklyn the following year. Miljus went 6-3 in 28 games, nine as a starter, for the Robins in 1921, before spending the next 5 1/2 seasons in the minors. He was a successful pitcher in the Pacific Coast League, winning 47 games for Seattle from 1925 until July of 1927, when he joined the Pirates. Johnny made six starts and 13 relief appearances for the National League champs that year, going 8-3 1.90 in 75.2 innings. He pitched 6.2 innings in the World Series against the powerhouse Yankees team, allowing just one run. In 1928, Miljus struggled with the Pirates, going 5-7 5.30 in ten starts and 11 relief outings. In July, Pittsburgh put him on waivers, where he was picked up by the Cleveland Indians. Johnny spent two seasons there, before returning to the PCL, where he finished his career.
Jolly Roger Rewind: June 30, 1997
Jon Lieber dazzled the Chicago White Sox with a five-hit, ten-strikeout complete game, leading the Pirates to a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game interleague series at Three Rivers Stadium.
Four of Lieber’s strikeouts came against Chicago slugger Albert Belle, to the undisguised delight of the crowd of 28,070.* Belle, whose $11 million per year free-agent contract from the previous winter exceeded the aggregate pay of the entire Pirates roster, fanned swinging in the first and sixth innings and went down looking in the fourth and ninth innings. Lieber also held dangerous Frank Thomas hitless in two at-bats, although the White Sox first baseman did drive in the visitors’ sole run with a first-inning sacrifice fly.
Forty-one-year-old Danny Darwin, traded by the Pirates to the Astros nearly a year earlier and signed by Chicago during the offseason to considerably less hullaballoo than Belle’s signing, turned in a solid seven-inning outing opposite Lieber’s gem. His return to Three Rivers, however, broke down upon the bats of two Buccos whose hot hitting had recently warranted increased playing time: Kevin Young and Dale Sveum. Young, who had seized the starting first base job from a faltering Mark Johnson about two weeks earlier, tied the game 1-1 with a second-inning home run, his fourth homer in six games. Sveum, thrust into the starting lineup three days earlier when regular third baseman Joe Randa went down with a broken finger, singled and scored the go-ahead run on Lou Collier’s single in the fourth and gave Lieber some breathing room with a solo home run in the sixth.
The victory left the Pirates six games under .500 at 37-43, but only two games behind first place St. Louis and Houston—both of whom also had losing records.
* Bob Smizik chronicled the fans’ venom in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “So when Belle’s name was announced in the starting lineup last night there was booing to rival the introduction of Bonds, the Pittsburgh turncoat whose unpopularity in this town was thought to be unmatched. That booing was repeated when Belle came to bat with two out in the first inning. People in the left-field bleachers were on their feet angrily shaking their fists at Belle, who was about 400 feet away. When Pirates pitcher Jon Lieber got a strike on Belle, there was more jubilation and even an attempt to get a chorus of “Al-bert,” going. When Belle struck out swinging, two guys in Cleveland Indians shirts leaped out of their seats and exchanged high fives.”
Box score and play-by-play
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 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.