We have four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades made during the Pirates run of NL East pennants from the early 1990’s. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps an offensive battle between the 1951 Pirates and the team that went on to the World Series, the New York Giants. Later today, we will pay tribute to a Hall of Famer, who spent seven seasons in Pittsburgh.
On this date in 1991, the Pirates sent pitchers Kurt Miller and Hector Fajardo to the Texas Rangers for third baseman Steve Buechele. Miller was taken fifth overall in the amateur draft just one year earlier. He had just turned 19 prior to the trade, and was ranked 24th overall among all prospects in baseball. Fajardo was just twenty years old, with two games of major league experience. Buechele was in his seventh season in the majors, all spent with the Rangers. He was hitting .267 with 18 homers and 66 RBI’s, all three career highs. He played 31 games for Pittsburgh after the deal, hitting .246 while driving in 19 runs. Steve played all seven postseason games, collecting seven hits and four walks. He resigned with the Pirates in 1992, playing until July, when he was dealt to the Cubs for pitcher Danny Jackson. Miller never panned out in the majors, despite four times being ranked as one of the top 62 prospects in baseball. He pitched 44 big league games over five seasons, posting a 7.48 ERA and a 2-7 record. Fajardo did just slightly better, with a 6.95 ERA in 30 major league games over four seasons.
On this date in 1990, the Pirate sent three players to the Phillies for outfielder/first baseman Carmelo Martinez. The 29 year old Martinez was in his ninth season in 1990, hitting .242 with eight homers and 31 RBI’s in 71 games for the Phillies. His best season was 1987, when he hit .273 with 15 homers and 70 RBI’s for the Padres. For the Pirates, he hit .211 with two homers and four RBI’s in 12 games, then batted eight times in the NLCS, picking up two doubles and two RBI’s. He began the 1991 season with the Pirates, before getting traded to the Royals in early May for Victor Cole. The Pirates sent the Phillies Tony Longmire, their eighth round pick from 1986, Wes Chamberlain, a fourth round pick from 1987, and Julio Peguero, a 22 year old outfielder signed out of the Dominican, four years earlier. None of them had major league experience prior to the trade. After the deal, Peguero played just 14 major league games, while Longmire played 139 over three seasons. Chamberlain was the best of the group, playing six years in the majors. Wes got into 315 games for the Phillies and 70 for the Red Sox, hitting .255 with 43 homers and 167 RBI’s total. Longmire wasn’t sent to the Phillies until the end of September.
Luis Rivas (1979) Infielder for the 2008 Pirates. He played the first six years of his career(2000-05) with the Twins, three times playing over 100 games in a season. He played mostly second base there, hitting .262 with thirty homers and 78 stolen bases in 565 games. Luis became a free agent after the 2005 season, signing with the Devil Rays. He spent that entire year at AAA, then signed with the Indians for the 2007 season. Rivas spent almost that whole year at AAA as well, getting into just four games with the Indians. He signed with the Pirates in December of 2007 as a minor league free agent, making the 2008 Opening Day roster with a strong Spring Training. He served as the team’s backup middle infielder, getting 22 starts at shortstop and 19 at second base. Luis batted .218 with three homers and 20 RBI’s in 79 games for the Pirates, his last team in the majors. He left via free agency after the season, signing a minor league deal with the Cubs. Rivas spent that 2009 season at AAA, his last year of pro ball.
Johnny Lindell (1916) Pitcher for the 1953 Pirates. He went from being a pitcher early in his career, to an outfielder who played ten years in the majors, with some very good seasons mixed in, back to the mound as a knuckleball pitcher. Lindell began in the minors in 1936 as a pitcher, making it to the big leagues with the Yankees five years later. He spent the entire 1942 season in New York, pitching 23 games. The next year he moved to outfield and made the AL All-Star team. In 1944, he hit .300 with 103 RBI’s and led the league in triples for a second straight time. He played another six seasons in the majors as an outfielder and never quite approached those offensive numbers again. In 1951, he went to the minors and made the transition back to the mound. Johnny had gone 23-4 for Newark of the International League in 1941 and 11 years later, he went 24-9 for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, earning his way back to the majors. He made 23 starts and four relief appearances for the 1953 Pirates, going 5-16 4.71 in 175.2 innings pitched. Just one day after his 37th birthday, he was sold to the Phillies, where he had trouble due to the catchers being unable to handle his knuckleball. His personal catcher with the Pirates was Mike Sandlock, who didn’t join him in Philadelphia until the following Spring Training. Lindell was released by the Phillies in May of 1954, before he pitched a game that year. He finished as a .273 hitters in 854 games, with an 8-18 4.47 record in 55 games as a pitcher.
Charlie Starr (1878) Infielder for the 1908 Pirates. He played over 1100 minor league games, but his major league career consisted of 1/10 that amount, 110 games over three seasons, playing for four different teams. Starr made his major league debut with the St Louis Browns in 1905, hitting .206 in 26 games. He spent all of the 1906-07 seasons in the minors, returning to the big leagues with the 1908 Pirates, who acquired him in February of that year from the Youngstown Champs of the Ohio-Penn League. He was described as an excellent fielder, who played second base well, but wasn’t much of a hitter.He impressed the Pirates by showing up very early to Spring Training, but he received very little playing time during the season. Charlie played 12 games at second base, five at shortstop behind Honus Wagner and two games at third base. He hit just .186 in twenty games for Pittsburgh, though he did drive in eight runs, steal six bases and draw 13 walks. Starr played most of the 1909 season for the Boston Doves, finishing the year in August with three games for the Phillies, who acquired him in a five player deal with Boston in mid-July. Charlie returned to the minors in 1910, playing another six seasons before retiring as a player. He spent two years as a player/manager(1915-16) before ending his playing days and managing one last season.
Will Thompson (1870) Pitcher for the Pirates on July 9,1892. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who attended the University of Pennsylvania and pitched one major league game. On July 9,1892, he started against Brooklyn, going three innings before he was pulled. His new Pirates teammates gave him no support on the field, making numerous errors in a poorly played third inning. Thompson was wild(it was said that he was nervous), issuing five walks. He gave up three hits and five runs, although just one run was earned. Despite being a local kid in his first big league game, the hometown crowd was harsh on him as soon as he started to struggle. He was given a three run lead in the first(the Pirates batted in the top of the inning, a choice given to them per the rules of the time). Through two innings, he held Brooklyn to one run, then in the third, things fell apart. His control was off and his defense let him down, leading to four unearned runs. Mark Baldwin replaced Thompson in the fourth inning and finished the game, an eventual 7-5 loss for the Pirates. Before the game started, the local Pittsburgh paper said that Brooklyn was too good of a team for Thompson to face in his first game, and they should’ve gave him an easier first opponent. The paper’s opinion of the matter turned out to be right and the Pirates(or any other major league team) never gave him another chance to pitch.
Jolly Roger Rewind: August 30, 1951
Ralph Kiner’s tie-breaking ninth-inning home run off Larry Jansen lifted the Pirates to a 10-9 victory over the surging Giants at Polo Grounds.
Two days after the Bucs had stopped New York’s fifteen-game winning streak—a streak that had reduced first-place Brooklyn’s lead over Leo Durocher’s club from thirteen games to five—the Giants jumped to an 8-1 lead through five innings. Leading the charge was twenty-year-old rookie center fielder Willie Mays, who connected on two home runs off a pair of young Bucco pitchers, Bob Friend and Vernon Law.
But the Pirates stormed back with six runs in the top of the sixth. Frank Thomas started the rally with his first major-league home run, a two-run shot off George Spencer. Five batters and another Bucco run later, Gus Bell pinch-hit for Dick Cole and connected on a two-run homer to cut the deficit to 8-6. Before the Giants could retire the side, Law joined the hit parade by tripling off reliever Sheldon Jones and scoring on Pete Castiglione’s single. The Bucs had reduced the seven-run margin to a single run.
Two innings later, Castiglione, batting with Danny Murtaugh on first, appeared to have completed the comeback by hitting a Jansen pitch into the upper tier in left for a two-run home run. The lead, however, lasted only one batter into the bottom of the eighth: pinch-hitter Bill Rigney greeted reliever Murry Dickson with a game-tying home run.
Kiner’s rebuttal would be just as swift. Breaking a hitless streak of thirteen at-bats, Kiner led off the top of the ninth by driving Jansen’s pitch high into the stands in left for his thirty-seventh home run of the season.*
Dickson recovered from the Rigney homer to keep the Giants off the scoreboard in the ninth and earn his National League-leading eighteenth win of the season. With two wins in three games over New York, the Pirates jumped from eighth to sixth place in the league, while dropping the Giants seven games behind the Dodgers with twenty-five games remaining the season.**
Box score and play-by-play
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story
* Earlier in the game, Kiner had drawn his 122nd walk of the season, tying the franchise record.
** Observed Al Abrams in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “The embattled Buccos knocked off the Giants again yesterday to make it two of three in the series and put a big dent in Durocher’s hopes for a pennant.” New York would win twenty of its final twenty-five games, catching Brooklyn in the standings on the penultimate day of the season, to force a three-game playoff for the NL pennant.