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This Date in Pirates History: July 25


We have four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus on trade of note that involved a Hall of Fame player leaving Pittsburgh. Earlier this morning, we covered the Pirates career of Doug Drabek, the last Cy Young Award winner in team history. That article can be read here. John Fredland has his daily Jolly Roger Rewind today, and it covers an unusual ending with help from one of baseball’s all-time greats.

Before we get into the former players born on this date, there is a current Pittsburgh Pirates player celebrating a birthday today. Outfielder Alex Presley turns twenty-seven today. He was drafted by the Pirates in the eighth round of the 2006 amateur draft. After repeating High-A ball in 2009 and putting up similar numbers to the previous season, Presley had a breakout year in 2010, making it to the majors before the year was over. He hit .320 with 53 extra base hits in the minors between AA and AAA. Alex hit .261 in 19 September games for the Pirates, seeing time at all three outfield spots. Last year he hit .333 in 87 games at Indianapolis and .298 in 52 games with the Pirates. This season Presley is hitting .230 in 67 games and was briefly sent back to AAA before being recalled.

The Players

Ed Sprague (1967) Third baseman for the 1999 Pirates. He was signed as a first round pick of the Blue Jays during the 1988 draft. Sprague was in the majors by 1991, although it took two partial seasons before he was a regular in the Toronto lineup. Ed drove in 73 runs during the 1993 season, as the Blue Jays won their second straight World Series title that year. During the 1995 season, which was shortened by the strike that ran over from the previous season, Sprague played in all 144 games for Toronto, driving in 74 runs. He had a career year the next season, setting personal bests with 88 runs scored, 36 homers and 101 RBI’s in 159 games. His numbers fell off dramatically the next year and by the 1998 trading deadline he was dealt to the Oakland A’s, who chose to let him leave via free agency at the end of the season.

The Pirates signed Sprague on December 16,1998 and made him their starting third baseman. He responded with his only All-Star season, helping the Pirates to 78 wins and a third place finish in the NL Central. Ed batted .267, his highest full season average in the majors and he hit 22 homers, while driving in 81 runs. Both of those numbers were his highest totals before and after his big 1996 season. Sprague left as a free agent after the season, playing two more years in the majors, spending time with three different teams, before retiring. He has been the coach at Pacific University since 2003. Ed’s father, Ed Sprague Sr.,  pitched for eight seasons in the majors.

Jack McMahan (1932) Pitcher for the 1956 Pirates. The Yankees signed the left-handed McMahan in 1952, sending him to Class-D ball, where he switched between starting and relief. By 1955 he was up in AA ball, pitching well in the long man role out of the bullpen. In 46 games, he threw 111 innings, going 11-5 with a 2.62 ERA. The Pirates took Jack in the November 1955 Rule V draft. In the first two months of the season, he was being used strictly in a mop-up role, making 11 appearances, with all of them coming during Pirates losses. He had a 6.08 ERA in 13.1 innings for Pittsburgh. On June 23,1956 the Pirates traded McMahan, along with second baseman Curt Roberts, to the Philadelphia A’s in exchange for second baseman Spook Jacobs. The A’s tried Jack as a starter for awhile, though he didn’t pitch well, going 0-5 6.35 in nine starts. In February of 1957, he was dealt back to the Yankees as part of a 13 player deal. McMahan never made it back to the majors, finishing his career two years later in the minors.

Marv Rackley (1921) Outfielder for the 1949 Pirates.He originally signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941, but his baseball career was put on hold for three seasons while he served in the military during WWII. Marv made the Dodgers Opening Day roster in 1947, although he was used sparingly off the bench and by June he was back in the minors. Rackley was with the team during most of the 1948 season, and while he didn’t hit for power or take many walks, he did manage to bat .327 with 55 runs scored in 88 games. In 1949, he wasn’t seeing much playing time with Brooklyn, getting 11 plate appearances and two starts over the first month of the season. The Pirates acquired him in May, in exchange for outfielder Johnny Hopp. Within three weeks of the exchange, the deal was voided due to an arm injury to Rackley that the Pirates claimed he had before coming over in the trade. Marv was sent back to the Dodgers, where he hit .291 over the rest of the season.  Just as the 1949 season ended, the Dodgers sold Rackley to the Cincinnati Reds. He lasted just five early season games there in 1950 before he was shipped to the minors, where he played out the rest of his career, retiring after the 1955 season. Marv had a career .317 average over 185 major league games. He is the fourth oldest living former Pittsburgh Pirates player, one day older than Tom Saffell, who will be featured here tomorrow.

The Trade

On this date in 1896, the Pirates traded star first baseman Jake Beckley to the New York Giants in exchange for first baseman Harry Davis and cash, in a very unpopular deal at the time. Beckley had been in Pittsburgh since 1888, spending all but one of those years with the Pirates. In 1890, with most of his teammates, he jumped to the newly formed Player’s League, a league that lasted just one season. In his seven full seasons with the Pirates, Beckley drove in 96 or more runs in five of them, batting over .300 five times as well. From 1891 until 1895, Jake hit 19 triples every season and at the time of the deal, the 28 year old was the Pirates all-time home run leader. The Pirates thought Beckley was slowing down due to his .253 average and just 15 extra base hits after 59 games. Davis was six years younger, though he was unproven with only 71 games in the majors at that point.

After the deal, Davis really struggled as the everyday first baseman for Pittsburgh, while Beckley resorted to his old ways. Davis batted .190 over the rest of the year, while Jake hit .302 with 38 RBI’s in 46 games. The trade took a favorable turn for the Pirates the next season, with Beckley getting released by New York after a real slow start and Davis hitting well. Jake signed on with the Reds after two teams now thought he was done and he proved both of them wrong. He went on to hit .325 over seven seasons in Cincinnati, putting together a resume that eventually landed him in the Hall of Fame. Davis had a strong 1897 season for Pittsburgh, leading the NL with 28 triples and he had a .305 average. Like Beckley, his career took off after multiple teams gave up on him. The Pirates sold him in early 1898 to Louisville, who moved him quickly to the Washington Senators. Davis went to the minors for two years, returning to the majors in 1901, this time playing in the newly formed American League. There he had a great ten year stretch with the Philadelphia A’s, winning three home run titles, three times leading the league in doubles, twice in RBI’s and once in runs. Harry played his last major league game 21 years after this trade was made.

Jolly Roger Rewind: July 25, 1956

Roberto Clemente’s bottom-of-the-ninth, walk-off, inside-the-park grand slam off Jim Brosnan rallied the Pirates past the Cubs 9-8 at Forbes Field.

After starter Bob Friend and reliever Elroy Face combined to squander a 4-0 lead* to a seven-run Chicago seventh inning, the Cubs led 8-5 entering the home half of the ninth. But Hank Foiles, batting for winning pitcher Nellie King, drew a leadoff walk off Turk Lown. Bill Virdon followed with a single, his fourth hit of the night, and Dick Cole walked to load the bases with none out.

Cubs manager Stan Hack replaced Lown with Brosnan. Clemente swung at Brosnan’s high-and-inside first pitch and drove it against the light standard in left field. The ball “bounced off the slanted side of the fencing and rolled along the cinder path toward center field,” according to Jack Hernon in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Foiles, Virdon and Cole scored easily, “scurrying around the bases like teen-agers chasing (forgive the expression) Elvis Presley,”** in the words of Lester J. Biederman of The Pittsburgh Press. Clemente reached third around the time that Cubs’ shortstop Ernie Banks caught center fielder Solly Drake’s throw.

Bucco manager and third base coach Bobby Bragan threw up his hands—and, according to Biederman, yelled in both English and Spanish—to signal that the twenty-one-year-old second-year right fielder should stop at third, but Clemente kept on going. He slid home in front of Banks’ relay, missed the plate, and then reached back to touch it for the winning run. The crowd of 12,431 “went goofy with excitement,” according to Herndon. “It was one of the most dramatic endings to a game here in years,” opined Biederman.

Box score:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story

* One of the building blocks of that lead was Dale Long’s two-run homer in the fourth inning. With twenty home runs on the season, Long broke Arky Vaughan’s 1935 record of nineteen homer by a Bucco left-handed batter.

** Presley, only five months younger than Clemente, was enjoying his second Billboard number-one hit that week with “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” His RCA debut single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” had topped the charts for eight weeks between April and June.

John Dreker
John Dreker
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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