We have two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one trade from nine years ago to discuss. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland covers another game from the improbable 1997 season.
On this date in 2003, the Pirates traded closer Mike Williams to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league pitcher Frank Brooks. Williams was in his second tour with the Pirates as their closer. He had originally been with the Pirates from 1998 until the 2001 trading deadline, when they sent him to the Astros for pitcher Tony McKnight. He resigned with the Pirates after the season and had an All-Star season in 2002, saving 46 games, a still-standing team record. In 2003, Mike also made the All-Star team, although he was chosen solely because every team needed a representative. He had a 1-3 6.27 record in 40 games, with 25 saves at the time of the trade. Brooks was a 24 year old lefty reliever, who was taken in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft by the Phillies. At the time of the deal, he had a 2.30 ERA in 34 appearances, with 71 strikeouts in 58.2 innings, while playing at AA for the Phillies.
After the deal, Williams continued to struggle for the Phillies, going 0-4 5.96 in 28 games with three saves. He was let go via free agency after the season and never played in the majors again, thus ending his career with his only two All-Star appearances coming in his last two seasons. Brooks went to AA for one game, then went to AAA, where he had a 2.54 ERA in 16 outings. He was taken in the 2003 Rule V draft, but eventually came back to the Pirates after changing hands three times. Frank went to AAA until late August in 2004, when the Pirates called him up for his major league debut. Brooks pitched 11 games with Pittsburgh, going 0-1 4.67 in 17.1 innings. He was taken off waivers by the Dodgers after the season completed, and he ended up pitching just one more game in the big leagues, a May 2005 outing for the Braves in which he faced one batter(Dave Roberts), who got a hit, then got thrown out stealing.
Dick Smith (1927) Infielder for the Pirates from 1951 until 1955. The Pirates signed him in 1949 as an amateur free agent out of Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, one of just three players from that school to make the majors(Red Murray, a longtime NL outfielder from the 1900-10’s is one of the others). Smith moved quickly through the minors due to his bat, hitting .315 in 1949, then .321 the next year, followed by a .330 average in 1951 while playing for Charleston of the South Atlantic League. He was a September call-up that season, batting .174 in 12 games. Dick made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1952, although he was seldom used and ended up back in the minors by mid-June, getting recalled in September.
Smith must’ve felt déjà vu the next two years, as he was a September recall in 1953, then made the Opening Day roster again in 1954, only to be sent down after a short time. He had his fifth and final stint with the 1955 Pirates, making his third Opening Day roster, but this time Smith was barely given a chance to playing, walking in his only AB, while appearing another three times as a pinch runner. All told, in his five seasons, he hit .134 with 11 RBI’s in 70 games. That .174 average during his first chance in 1951, would be his highest average in a season with the Pirates. Smith played 37 games at 3B, 18 at shortstop and four at 2B, starting a total of 47 games in the majors. He played in the minors until 1960 without a return trip to the big leagues.
Irv Young (1877) Pitcher for the 1908 Pirates. He was a very good pitcher for a very bad Boston Beaneaters/Doves team from 1905 until the time the Pirates traded for him. Young led the NL in innings pitched as a rookie, then repeated the feat in 1906, throwing a combined total of 736.1 innings. Pittsburgh had tried to purchase Irv after his rookie season and they were willing to pay a high price but Boston would not sell it’s star hurler. It was unfortunate for Young, who finished his time in Boston with a 50-78 record despite a solid 3.15 ERA and 15 shutouts.
The Pirates acquired Young on June 18,1908 in exchange for two rookie pitchers named Tom McCarthy and Harley Young. A popular trend at the time was giving a nickname to a player just because they had the same last name as a previous player. Sometimes it worked out unfortunately, as in the case with Irv Young and then Harley Young. They gained the nicknames, “Cy the Second” for Irv and “Cy the Third” although neither were anywhere near the class of pitcher that the great Cy Young was in. Irv pitched well for the Pirates, going 4-3 2.01 in seven starts and nine relief outings. Prior to the 1909 season, Young would be sold to a minor league team and spend the whole season down on the farm. He pitched two more years in the majors for the Chicago White Sox(1910-11) before finishing his career with another five seasons in the minors.
Jolly Roger Rewind: July 21, 1997
In one of the signature moments of the 1997 “Freak Show” season, Kevin Polcovich’s tie-breaking seventh-inning home run of Curt Schilling lifted the Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Phillies at Veterans’ Stadium.
Philadelphia entered the four-game Friday-Monday series with the worst record by far in the major leagues, but took two of the first three games to drop the Bucs out of a tie for first in the National League Central. And chances looked good for the Phillies to win the series with their ace and NL strikeout leader, Schilling, on the mound for the Monday afternoon “getaway day” game.
Schilling lived up to expectations during the first five innings, striking out twelve Pirates while the home team took a 2-0 lead. Leading off the top of the sixth, however, Tony Womack drew the only Bucco walk of the game. With one out, Al Martin drove a hanging forkball over the right field wall, and the score was tied.
An inning later, Keith Osik led off with a double into the left field corner. Jose Guillen’s groundout moved him to third for Polcovich, a twenty-seven-year-old rookie and thirtieth-round draft choice who had become the Pirates’ starting shortstop two months earlier when Kevin Elster went out for the season with a broken wrist.
Bucs’ manager Gene Lamont called for the suicide squeeze* when the count reached 1-1, but Terry Francona, his Philadelphia counterpart, anticipated the strategy and called for a “semi-pitchout,” a fastball just off the outside corner. Polcovich failed to reach the ball and Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal tagged Osik out.
The scoring opportunity appeared to have passed. But Polcovich took two more balls to work the count to 3-2, and Schilling threw another fastball. To the great surprise of everyone—including Polcovich himself—the Bucco shortstop’s swing sent the ball sailing over the left field fence to put the Pirates in the lead.**
After Polcovich’s dramatic blast, the remainder of the game proved anti-climactic. Schilling’s eight innings netted an eye-popping fifteen-strikeouts-to-one-walk ratio, and Philadelphia reliever Billy Brewer’s two strikeouts in the top of the ninth gave the Pirates a team-record-tying seventeen for a nine-inning game. A trio of Bucco relievers—Matt Reubel, Marc Wilkins and Rich Loiselle—came out of the bullpen to record the final nine outs and preserve Esteban Loaiza’s win. Departing Philadelphia still within a game-and-a-half of first-place Houston, the “Freak Show” Bucs had a victory that would rank with the Francisco Cordova-Ricardo Rincon no-hitter as one of the most memorable moments of the campaign.
Box score and play-by-play
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story
* “Schilling had struck out so many guys I was afraid we might not get the run in,” Lamont told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette afterwards. “He was throwing as well as anybody we’ve seen this season.”
** “Schilling did most of the work,” Polcovich informed the Post-Gazette. “He was throwing so hard. I just got the bat head out.”
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.