First Pitch: The Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame

The Pittsburgh Pirates are opening their own team Hall of Fame this season and Steve Blass was announced as part of the inaugural class. The Pirates have a lot of catching up to do with such a late start to their Hall of Fame. The team has been around since 1882, so there are a lot of options for the first group of players. I’ve had some thoughts about this since we heard the news months ago and the idea came up again with the National Baseball Hall of Fame announcing their class.

I’ll point out that a team Hall of Fame is generally much easier to get in than Cooperstown. Someone like Lloyd Waner has a questionable Hall of Fame resume, but when you’re talking about one just for the Pirates, there’s no doubt that he belongs. Someone like Al Oliver, who some feel has been snubbed by Cooperstown, would also be an obvious choice for the team honors.

I don’t have any inside info on how the team is handling their first group of players. I know that whatever they do, people will disagree with the process because there’s no right way to handle this large of a group. So here are my thoughts on what they should do in 2020 and an idea for beyond.

My initial group would be limited to ten people. I’m doing that for one major reason. To get the big names in right away, but leave plenty of interest for the upcoming years.

I think there are four players who have to go in during the first class, regardless of my idea to hold back significant players. I’m putting in Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Paul Waner. You can’t leave any of those players out of the initial class. Blass is already in, so that takes care of a fifth player.

The other five I’d go with this year are all of the older living players. Not to be brutally honest, but some players are really getting up there in years and they deserve the recognition. I want to see living players get to enjoy their honor. Roy Face turns 92 next month. The original Frank Thomas turns 90, Vern Law turns 90 in March, Dick Groat is 89 and Bill Mazeroski is the youngster at 83. They are all easy choices for a team Hall of Fame, so get them in there and hopefully they can enjoy it for many years.

In the future, I’d do the same thing. Without putting a lot of thought into a 2021 class when we don’t know the 2020 yet, I’d have something like Arky Vaughan, Max Carey, Pie Traynor, Danny Murtaugh, Lloyd Waner and then five more older living players who deserve to be in. For year three and beyond I’d go with smaller classes, but the same idea of living players mixed with other greats from team history.

My system doesn’t reward all of the best players/managers/etc first, but it makes future classes interesting and the plaque ceremonies are better when you have the actual player accepting the honor.

So that’s my idea. Now I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below. I want you to pick ten Pirates for your Hall of Fame. You can pick players, managers, announcers, owners, GM’s, just like the regular Hall of Fame, and Steve Blass is an option here even though we already know that he’s going in during the first class. I’ll give it time to get plenty of opinions, then in a day or so, I’ll have the list of your top vote-getters in an article.




The Pirates are unveiling 2020 uniforms on Friday afternoon. I have begged for 1981 Spring Training throwbacks, so I’m certain that these will be one of the alternate jerseys


By John Dreker

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a trade of note involving two future Hall of Famers.

On this date in 1921 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded infielder Walter Barbare, outfielders Billy Southworth and Fred Nicholson, along with $15,000 to the Boston Braves in exchange for shortstop Rabbit Maranville. It was a lot to give up for one player. Southworth was an everyday outfielder who hit .284, Nicholson batted .360 in 99 games, Barbare was a solid backup infielder and all three were in their mid-20’s. Maranville was a top-notch defensive shortstop though and he was a decent hitter with some speed. The trade ended up helping both teams, giving the Pirates a much needed defensive upgrade in the infield, plus Maranville had his best offensive seasons while in Pittsburgh.

For the Braves they replaced one regular player with two everyday players and Nicholson saw plenty of time off the bench (plus the team really needed the cash). They saw their team in one season go from 92 losses to a winning record, while the Pirates won 90 games in 1921 and finished in second place. Maranville would play four seasons with the Pirates before he was traded to the Cubs. He had a 23-year career and in 1954 the Baseball Writers of America would induct him into the Hall of Fame. Although he wasn’t inducted as a player, Billy Southworth also made the Hall of Fame in 2008, getting elected by the Veteran’s Committee as a manager

Victor Cole, pitcher for the 1992 Pirates. He was a 14th round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals, who came to the Pirates on May 3,1991 in exchange for OF/1B Carmelo Martinez. With the Pirates he split the 1991 season between Double-A and Triple-A. In 1992, they returned him to the starting role for the first time since 1989 and he went 11-6, 3.11 in 19 starts at Buffalo (Triple-A). In between those minor league starts the Pirates called him up in June. Over a five-week span he pitched four times in relief, made four starts, and finished with an 0-2, 5.48 record in 23 innings. Back in the minors for 1993, he struggled badly posting a 7.21 ERA and was cut before the end of the season.

Benny Distefano, 1B/OF for the Pirates in 1984, 1986 and 1988-89. Benny was drafted three times before he finally signed with the Pirates after they made him their second round pick in 1982. In 1983, he hit 25 homers and drove in 92 runs in Double-A. His success in 1983 helped lead to him getting called up just over a month into the 1984 season. The Pirates gave him 86 plate appearances over a three-month span, before sending him back to the minors in early August. He spent all of 1985 in Triple-A, hitting .238 in 136 games. Distefano would spend the majority of the 1986-88 seasons in Triple-A for the Pirates, getting just 82 plate appearances in the majors over that three-year span. His best season in the majors would be 1989 when he played 96 games, though 50 of those games were as a pinch-hitter. He hit .257 with 15 RBIs in 154 at-bats. That season he caught in three major league games, and to this day he is still the last left-handed throwing catcher in major league history. Distefano was released by the Pirates after that 1989 season, and his only other MLB experience was 52 games for the 1992 Astros.

Alfonso Pulido, pitcher for the 1983-84 Pirates. He was pitching in the Mexican League when the Pirates purchased his contract in September 1983 and brought him right to the majors. He pitched one game that year for Pittsburgh, allowing three runs in two innings as a starter. In 1984 he went 18-6, 2.54 in 216 innings at Triple-A. He got a September call-up and once again pitched just one game and two innings. He allowed two runs in relief during an 8-3 loss to the Cardinals. Following the season the Pirates traded him to the Yankees along with Dale Berra and Jay Buhner for Steve Kemp and Tim Foli. Pulido pitched ten games for the Yankees in 1986, his only other big league time.

Kurt Bevacqua, utility fielder for the 1974 and 1980-81 Pirates. He spent 15 seasons in the majors for six different teams, was drafted three times and traded six times, yet he played just 970 total games. In his three seasons with the Pirates he played a total of 69 games and hit .171 in 121 plate appearances. He was acquired by the Pirates in a 1973 trade from the Royals and was then traded back to the Royals seven months later. The Pirates got him from the Padres in 1980 in a four-player deal. When Pittsburgh released him after the 1981 season he signed back with the Padres. Bevacqua spent most of his late career as a pinch-hitter, but in the 1984 World Series he got 18 plate appearances and hit .412 with two homers. He was a career .236 hitter, though as a pinch-hitter he hit .258 in 376 games.

Sam Jethroe, outfielder for the 1954 Pirates. He began his career in the Negro Leagues, signing his first minor league contract when he was 31 in 1948 with the Dodgers. In 1949 he hit .326 with 154 runs scored, 70 extra base hits and 89 stolen bases for Montreal of the International League. Brooklyn traded him to the Braves in the off-season and at age 33 he would win the NL Rookie of the Year award. He would score 100 runs and lead the NL in stolen bases in each of his first two seasons before slumping down to a .232 average in 1952. Following the 1953 season that he spent in the minors, the Braves traded him and five other players, as well as $100,000 cash, to the Pirates in exchange for Danny O’Connell. Jethroe played just two games for the Pirates, getting into two early season contests in 1954. He went 0-for-1 at the plate and played two innings in the outfield. He was sent to the minors in mid-April and finished his playing career five seasons later, never making the majors again.

Jack Saltzgaver, second baseman for the 1945 Pirates. He began his pro career back in 1925 and when he finally made the majors in 1932, he was lucky to get another shot. That year for the Yankees in 20 games he hit just .128 in 47 at-bats. He spent all of 1933 back in the minors, where he never hit less than .288 in his first nine seasons. He had his most productive major league season in 1934, hitting .271 with 64 runs scored in 94 games for the Yankees. He played another three seasons in New York but got less playing time each year compared to the prior season. He was still Yankees property from 1938-1945, but spent the entire time in the minors until the Pirates acquired him in mid-May 1945 at age 42 to play second base. He remained with the team for the rest of the year, but played rarely after May 31, starting just nine games the rest of the way. Despite the lack of playing time, he hit .325 in his 117 at-bats. The Pirates released him following the season and he returned to the minors to manage until 1950. He finished with a .304 average in 2,036 minor league games.

Bill Regan, second baseman for the 1931 Pirates. He didn’t make the majors until age 27, when the Red Sox signed him after he hit .318 in 38 games for Columbus of the American Association. The lifelong native of Pittsburgh hit .263 in 108 games that rookie season. In 1927 and 1928 he would receive MVP support after playing a solid second base while driving in a combined 141 runs. He had his best hitting season in 1929, batting .288 with a .735 OPS in 104 games. The 1930 season was a very high offense year in the majors and Regan’s stats dropped off from the previous season, so an otherwise decent .266 average probably hid the fact his skills were in decline. The Red Sox, who had lost 102 games in 1930, put Regan on waivers where he was picked up by the Pirates in January of 1931. For the 1931 Pirates, he hit .202 in 28 games with nine errors, earning a trip back to the minors where he would finish his playing days in 1935.

Ed Barney, outfielder for the 1915-16 Pirates. He began his pro career in the minors in 1913, and by 1914 he was hitting .326 in 118 games for Hartford of the Eastern Association. In 1915 he moved up to Jersey City of the International League where he hit .335 in 62 games to earn a Major League job with the New York Yankees. He joined them in late July, but after hitting .194 in 11 games they put him on waivers, where he was picked up by the Pirates. He hit .273 in 32 games to finish the 1915 season and he earned a spot on the 1916 Pirates. He would play 45 games that season, drawing 23 walks and stealing eight bases, but he hit just .197 with only four extra base hits, all doubles. He was sent to the minors after playing his last Major League game on July 2, 1916. He played minor league ball until 1924, then managed for one season.

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