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This Date in Pirates History: August 20


We have three former Pittsburgh Pirates that were born on this date, including one that went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There are also two trades of note and John Fredland recaps a win over the Reds from the 1983 season, in his Jolly Roger Rewind. Before I get into the former players, we have one current player celebrating a birthday today, although he is currently in the minors. Matt Hague turns 27 today. He was a ninth round draft pick in 2008, who made his major league debut this season. Hague has hit .229 with seven RBI’s in 30 games with the Pirates. He has a career .300 average in five minor league seasons.

The Trades

On this date in 1913, the Pirates traded pitcher Howie Camnitz and third baseman Bobby Byrne, to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for third baseman Cozy Dolan, and cash. Almost four years to day, the Pirates had traded for Byrne to help them with their 1909 pennant run. Up until 1912, Camnitz had gone 110-67 with the Pirates, but that 1913 season was a disaster for his overall record, as he was 6-17 at the time of the trade. At 31 years old, he was one year removed from his third 20 win season, so it was a huge drop-off for Howie. Camnitz went 3-3 for the Phillies after the deal, then jumped to the Federal League, where he went 14-19 in 1914, then had no record in four games that next season, which turned out to be his last. Byrne was 28 years old and still doing well offensively and defensively, while the younger Dolan(23 years old) was never a full-time player during his four seasons in the majors. Dolan filled in for the Pirates at third base for the rest of the year, then was traded in the off-season. Byrne ended up playing another four years with the Phillies as a steady third baseman, though his hitting fell off from his Pirates days. The big part of the deal from the Pirates side seems to be the money part, being not only the amount the Pirates cut, but also what they got back in the deal, while the second place Phillies were trying to catch the Giants in the standings at the time.

On this date in 1981, the Pirates traded first baseman John Milner to the Expos for first baseman Willie Montanez. Milner was 31 years old at the time, in his fourth season with the Pirates. He was a big part of the 1979 World Series winning club, hitting .276 with 16 homers and 60 RBI’s in 326 AB’s. His saw a slight fall off in his playing time in 1980, then by the following season, he was a seldom used bench player. Montanez was basically playing the same role in Montreal, except he was two years older and he didn’t see the occasional outfield time that Milner saw. The two clubs were exchanging veteran left-handed hitting first baseman, who were filling pinch-hitting roles with similar results. The basic reason for the deal was that Montreal wanted more power off the bench, while Montanez provided better defense at first base. In the end, the trade did little of anything for either club. Milner stuck around until the middle of 1982, hitting three homers in 104 AB’s, while Montanez barely played in Pittsburgh over parts of two seas0ns. He started four games at first base and came in as a defensive replacement in nine others. The Pirates released Montanez during the 1982 season, then resigned Milner after he was released by the Expos.

The Players

Al Lopez (1908) Catcher for the Pirates from 1940 until 1946. He was in pro ball by the age of 16, playing in 1925 for Tampa of the Florida State League. Lopez made his major league debut three years later for the Dodgers, the start of a 19 year major league career that often gets overlooked due to his 17 year career as a manager that got him elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Between the minors and majors, he caught over 2400 games and up until 1987, his 1918 games caught was a major league record. On June 14,1940, the Pirates traded catcher Ray Berres and cash to the Boston Bees(Braves) for Lopez.  From 1942-44, Al led the league in caught stealing percentage all three seasons. In 1940, then again from 1942-44, he led the NL in fielding percentage each seasons. He wasn’t just a glove man, he could contribute a little with the bat. With the Pirates, he hit .254 in 656 games, with 214 walks, against just 128 strikeouts.

Al was an All-Star in 1941 for the Pirates, his second(1934) time making the AS team in his career. As a 37 year old in 1946, he batted .307 in 56 games. On December 7,1946, the Pirates traded Lopez to the Indians in exchange for outfielder Gene Woodling. He played one season in Cleveland, then began to manage in the minors in 1948(player/manager) before getting a major league job in 1951 with the Indians. Over 17 seasons with Cleveland and the White Sox, he went 1410-1004, with an AL pennant title while with each team. As a player, Lopez hit .261 with 652 RBI’s in 1950 games. He has the fourth highest caught stealing percentage(52.2) of all-time. He received MVP votes in seven different seasons during his career.

Bull Smith (1880) Outfielder for the 1904 Pirates. He began getting playing time with the Pirates in early September after they tried out another rookie in the outfield, named Harry Cassady. The Pirates were having injury problems in late August and they have dropped well back in the standings to the Giants, so they were trying out new players at the time. On August 29,1904, Pittsburgh purchased his contract for $1,000 from Wheeling of the Central League. He played baseball and football(fullback) at West Virginia University, just prior to starting his pro career. Bull(first name was Lew) was put into the lineup right away and went 0-3 with three strikeouts to start his career. His second game was much better, a single and a triple, while showing off a good arm in the outfield. The Pirates played a string of three straight doubleheaders from Sept. 5-7, and Smith played every game. During his 13th game of the year, he became ill, and was replaced in the field. It was an unlucky number for Bull, who didn’t play in any of the last 31 games left in the season. Pittsburgh departed on a long road trip after that game and he didn’t accompany the team. He would end up playing just two more major league games, one for the Cubs in 1906 and one for the Senators in 1911.

Robert Gibson (1869) Pitcher for the 1890 Alleghenys. He was a local kid and a student at Penn State. His time with the Alleghenys was not good, as it was for most players on that team. With a 23-113 record, they were the worst team in franchise history. Gibson made his major league debut with the Chicago Colts that year on June 4th and won a complete game, giving up just one unearned run. That would be his only game for Chicago and it just happened to be in Pittsburgh and against the Alleghenys, who must’ve liked what they saw from the young right-hander. Nearly two months later, Pittsburgh took Gibson with them on a trip to Brooklyn, then Cincinnati. They intended to give him a shot to see what he had, and it was not a good sight. Robert pitched the second game of a doubleheader on August 1st, after the Alleghenys lost the opener 7-3 to Brooklyn. He did not last long on the mound, as Pittsburgh was down 11-1 after just one inning. Undeterred, they went back to Gibson just three days later, and again he faced Brooklyn. He threw a complete game and gave up 16 runs, but that comes with the huge asterisk in the boxscore that shows 11 fielding errors by Pittsburgh that day. He still deserves most of the blame, as he allowed 13 hits and nine walks.

Pittsburgh gave him one more chance, possibly feeling sorry for the lack of defense behind him three days earlier and more likely due to the fact that he was there and they were already 18-67, how much worse could things get? The Alleghenys put 17 runs on the board that day against Cincinnati, but it wasn’t enough. They lost 23-17 and for the second time, Gibson finished the game in right field, while outfielder Fred Osborne came in and pitched the rest of the game. That was it for the major league career of Robert Gibson. His ERA with Chicago stood at 0.00, while three games with Pittsburgh shows an 0-3 17.25 record, with 24 hits and 23 walks allowed in 12 innings of work. He pitched in the minors during the 1890-92 seasons.

Jolly Roger Rewind: August 20, 1983

Rookie Jose DeLeon took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before settling for a two-hit, complete-game shutout in the Pirates’ 4-0 victory over the Reds at Three Rivers Stadium.

The twenty-three-year-old DeLeon, promoted for his first major-league start just four weeks earlier, held a foe hitless into the seventh frame for the third time in seven outings.* With one out in the seventh, however, Cincinnati first baseman Dan Driessen lined a 3-2 breaking ball into the right field gap for a double. Eddie Milner’s ninth-inning single was the only other hit against DeLeon, who struck out thirteen Reds**, faced only three batters over the minimum, and lowered his ERA to 1.92.

Before a crowd of 44,481—lured by a pennant race, postgame fireworks, and the Pirates’ tribute to retiring Cincinnati catcher Johnny Bench***—the Bucs gave DeLeon some breathing room by scoring twice on bases-loaded walks off losing pitcher Bruce Berenyi in the fifth inning, turning a 1-0 lead into a three-run margin.

DeLeon’s gem allowed the Pirates to break a two-game losing streak and move within a half game of first-place Philadelphia in the National League East race.

Box score and play-by-play

The Pittsburgh Press game story

* DeLeon had thrown six and a third hitless innings in his second start, against San Diego on July 27. Four days later, the Mets did not get their first hit against DeLeon until after one out in the ninth inning.

** To date, DeLeon’s thirteen strikeouts represented the highest total by any pitcher in the 1983 season. San Francisco’s Atlee Hammaker wound up striking out fourteen Astros in a September game to set the season mark.

*** The Pittsburgh Press reported that the Pirates gave Bench a “$2,500 red-and-white electric golf cart, adorned with the Reds’ symbol on front and Bench’s No. 5 on the back.”

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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