This Date in Pirates History: July 2

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, which includes two recent players, the father of another former Pirates player and two guys who were members of the first Pittsburgh team in NL history. We also have one transaction involving a player of note and in his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps an extra-innings battle between cross-state rivals.

The Transaction

On this date in 1892, the Pirates signed Joe Kelley,a twenty year old minor league outfielder with 12 games of major league experience, all coming during the previous season with the Boston Beaneaters(Braves). Pittsburgh put Kelley in center field, where he would play 56 games before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles for star outfielder George Van Haltren and cash. While they were getting the current star in the deal, the .239 hitter they gave up, turned into a .317 career hitter with a Hall of Fame plaque. Kelley had a top ten OPS every season from 1893-98, scoring an average of 127 runs and driving in an average of 108 runs per season, during that six year stretch.

The Players

Nyjer Morgan (1980) Outfielder for the 2007-09 Pirates. He was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 33rd round of the 2002 amateur draft. He worked his way through the Pirates system, hitting nearly .300 along the way while stealing 234 bases in 513 games. Morgan hit just six homers in 2287 plate appearances in the Pirates system. He was called up to the majors in September of 2007, starting 25 games for Pittsburgh, finishing with a .299 average and seven steals. He made the 2008 Opening Day roster and hit poorly through early May before being sent to the minors. He returned briefly in June, before coming back for good in mid-August. On August 19th, his batting average was .130 after an 0-4 day. By the end of the season, he had it up to .294, partially due to eight multi-hit games over a ten game stretch. Morgan was the Opening Day left fielder in 2009, hitting .277 in 72 games through the end of June. Nyjer was traded to the Washington Nationals on June 30,2009, along with Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. He played in Washington until the end of 2010, then moved on to Milwaukee, where he is currently hitting .235 with just five RBI’s in 68 games. Morgan led the NL in caught stealing in both 2009 and 2010, and has since cut down his attempts.

Sean Casey (1974) First baseman for the 2006 Pirates. He had a 12 season major league career, spent mostly with the Reds, that included a four month stop with the Pirates during the 2006 season. Pittsburgh acquired him on December 8,2005 in exchange for pitcher Dave Williams. Casey hit .312 for the Reds in 2005, although his power numbers dropped off from 24 homers in 2004, down to just nine the following season. Sean played 59 games for the Pirates, hitting .296 with three homers and 29 RBI’s, prior to being traded to the Detroit Tigers for minor league pitcher Brian Rogers.He missed 38 games while in Pittsburgh, due to a back injury caused by a collision at first base with the Cardinals’ John Mabry. Casey was a career .302 hitter in 1405 games, with 130 homers and 735 RBI’s. He batted over .300 six times and made three All-Star games during his career.

Tony Armas (1953) Outfielder for the 1976 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1971 out of Venezuela. Tony made it to AAA by age 21, hitting .300 in 128 games during that 1975 season. He repeated the level the next year and topped twenty homers(21) for the first time, though his average dropped down to .235 with 120 strikeouts.  Armas was called up by the Pirates in September, getting into four games before the year was over. He was then traded to the Oakland A’s on March 15,1977 in a nine player deal that brought Phil Garner back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates won the World Series two years later with Garner, but Armas had some big seasons, first in Oakland and then in Boston. Twice he led the league in homers and three times he drove in over 100 runs. Armas finished his career with 251 homers and 815 RBI’s over 14 seasons. His son Tony Armas Jr, also played for a Pirates.

Fred Carroll (1864) Catcher/outfielder for the 1885-89 Alleghenys and the 1891 Pirates. He was a strong hitting catcher during an era where most backstops weren’t expected to contribute with their bat, the ability to catcher day in and day out with inferior equipment was valued at the position. Fred began his career as a teenager with the 1884 Columbus Buckeyes of the American Association. He hit .278 with six homers and led all catchers in fielding percentage. Before the 1885 season, the Columbus franchise folded and most of the team, including Carroll joined the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Fred had a slow first season in Pittsburgh, then followed it up with a strong 1886 campaign, playing a career high 122 games. He hit .288 with 64 RBI’s and 92 runs scored. The Pittsburgh franchise moved from the AA to the National League in 1887 and Carroll was the top hitter on the team, batting .328 with a team leading six homers and 54 RBI’s. His numbers and playing time were both down in 1888, but the following season was a big offensive year for him. Carroll played about half of his games behind the plate, the team had a strong defensive catcher in Doggie Miller, so they moved Fred around to keep his bat in the lineup. During that 1889 season, he hit .330 with 85 walks and 80 runs scored. He had a league leading .486 OBP and .970 OPS. That OPS is easily the highest in team history for a catcher.

When the Player’s League formed in 1890, Carroll was one of numerous Alleghenys’ players to jump to the new league, playing for the Pittsburgh Burghers. The league folded after one season and most of the players returned to their old team. The newly-named Pirates became a stronger team than their 1889 version, by signing some star players after the PL folded. It also meant less time for Carroll, who saw his batting average drop down to .218, in what would be his last season in the majors. He played minor league baseball until 1895, briefly returning in 1898 for one last game. Fred was a .281 hitter in 574 games for the Pirates/Alleghenys, scoring 405 runs and driving in 295 runs. For nine years, he was the Pirates/Alleghenys career home run leader until passed in 1896 by Hall of Famer Jake Beckley.

Ed Beecher (1860) Outfielder for the 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He was in his fifth season of minor league ball in 1887, playing for Hartford of the Eastern League, when he was signed by the Alleghenys in late June. Beecher played all three outfield positions for Pittsburgh, hitting .243 with 22 RBI’s and eight stolen bases in 41 games. The following year he was back in the minors, next returning to the NL in 1889 with Washington. Beecher had a big 1890 season playing for the Buffalo Bisons of the Player’s League, hitting .297 with 90 RBI’s, although he was horrendous on defense, setting an all-time major league record for outfielders with 55 errors. When the PL folded, Beecher moved on to the AA, where he played his last season in the majors in 1891, splitting the year between two teams. In the minors in 1892, Ed played for three different teams in the Eastern League that year, then after two years out of pro ball, he played three more games before retiring.

Jolly Roger Rewind: July 2, 1976

Rescuing the Pirates from squandering a six-run lead, Bill Robinson led off the bottom of the tenth with a pinch-hit, walk-off home run off Gene Garber for a 10-9 victory over the first-place Phillies at Three Rivers Stadium.

Robinson batted for relief pitcher Ramon Hernandez, who had entered the game with two on and two out in the top of the ninth and allowed a run-scoring infield single to pinch-hitter Terry Harmon to cap the Phillies’ game-tying three-run inning. He drove Garber’s fastball over the center field fence to move the second-place Bucs within eight games of Philadelphia* and provide a perfect segue to a post-game fireworks show celebrating the opener of a four-game Bicentennial weekend series.

Throughout the slugfest, both teams generated plenty of fireworks of their own. Willie Stargell started the Pirate onslaught in the bottom of the first by answering a two-run Greg Luzinski home run with a three-run shot over the wall in left-center. After an inning’s lull, the Buccos extended their lead to 8-2 by battering Christenson for five more runs over the third and fourth frames.

Unbowed, the Phillies responded in their next at-bat with a Dick Allen grand slam off Jerry Reuss. The game then transitioned to a battle of the bullpens, with Kent Tekulve’s three scoreless innings—aided by a likely Mike Schmidt home run turning into a flyout when the ball’s cover seemed to loosen on contact with the bat**—and Richie Hebner’s eighth-inning home run allowing the Bucs to nurse a 9-6 advantage into the top of the ninth.

Danny Murtaugh, however, sent Tekulve out for a fourth inning of relief work, and the submariner quickly ran into trouble by allowing a single to pinch-hitter Jay Johnstone and a walk to former Bucco Dave Cash. Murtaugh finally replaced Tekulve with Bob Moose, but Moose, while recording two outs, gave up another walk and a two-run single to Luzinski to make the score 9-8. The Bucco skipper then turned to Hernandez to face lefthanded-hitting pinch hitter Tom Hutton, whom Phillies manager Danny Ozark promptly replaced with the righthanded-swinging Harmon. Hernandez yielded Harmon’s RBI single, necessitating Robinson’s extra-inning heroics.***

* Philadelphia entered the game with a 50-20 record, easily the best in baseball.

** Reported Russ Franke in The Pittsburgh Press: “Schmidt whacked a Kent Tekulve pitch to left that everyone in the house thought was the tying home run. For some reason, the ball took a crazy dip and Richie Zisk had to lunge to his right to catch it.” According to Franke, Pirates second baseman Rennie Stennett confirmed that the ball “felt funny” when he threw it to first upon fielding Allen’s subsequent ground ball.

*** Robinson’s home run provoked a series of article-opening rhetorical questions from Bob Smizik in The Press: “How many more miracles are forthcoming from this man’s bat? How many more games will he be the main reason for victory? How many more times will Bill Robinson respond to the challenge?”

Box score and play-by-play

The Pittsburgh Press game story