First Pitch: The All-Pittsburgh All-Star Team

Baseball-Reference has a feature that allows you to search for players by birthplace. They break players down by states/countries, then you can search by U.S. cities within those states. Using their site, they have 131 players listed who were born in Pittsburgh, PA. I decided today to use that group of players to make an All-Star team of players who were born in Pittsburgh. Here’s a breakdown by position:

Catcher – This is a very weak position and the top spot will probably change soon. Current catcher Kevan Smith makes a great case, but he hasn’t even caught 200 big league games. So I went with Tom Satriano, who caught 321 games from 1961 until 1970. He also played all around the infield, and catching makes up less than 50% of his career playing time.

First Base – Here’s another spot that is weak, though it’s still a lot better than the catcher spot. I went with Willie Clark here. He played five seasons in the majors, spending the last two (1898-99) with the Pirates, where he batted .293/.377/.393 in 138 games. Ryan Garko provided the best competition here. I considered Neil Walker because he wasn’t a good choice for second base and has played first base somewhat regularly the last two years.

Second BaseBobby Lowe gets the nod here. He played from 1890 until 1907 and was considered a star player during his time. If the Hall of Fame existed during his career, he probably would have been elected by the writers, because he was held in high regard. Lowe was the first player in history to homer four times in a game. He had one pinch-hit at-bat for the 1904 Pirates, but wasn’t signed to a contract at the time. Second base has a lot of competition, with Neil Walker, Glenn Beckert and the original Bill Hallman, all seeing significant time at the spot.

Shortstop – The lone Hall of Famer here makes it an easy choice. Bobby Wallace was called “Mr Shortstop” during his career for a good reason. He has the tenth highest dWAR total in baseball history. He would have made the Hall of Fame as a mediocre fielder, as he finished with 57.2 offensive WAR as well. Lowe and Wallace as a double play combo would be an exciting pairing.

Third Base – The infield is very strong thanks to the third baseman joining that double play duo. Buddy Bell put up a 66.3 WAR during his 18-year career. He was a six-time Gold Glove winner and a five-time All-Star. Baseball-Reference has a similarity score rating for each player and the most similar player to Bell from age 25 to age 37 was Brooks Robinson at every age. Bell lasted one year on the Hall of Fame ballot (1.7% of the votes), Robinson received 92% of the votes in his first year on the ballot. I’m not saying Bell was as good as Robinson, but they weren’t “90.3% of the votes” different either.

Outfield: For the outfield, I just used three spots and didn’t worry about what position they played during their career. The original Frank Thomas is the first player here, and he was a actually an All-Star player with the Pirates as well. He hit 286 homers and drove in 962 runs during a 16-year career. He was a three-time All-Star.

Elmer “Mike” Smith had a strong 14-year career in the majors that began as a pitcher and ended as an outfield. He has the name “Mike” on most sources, but in reading up on the Pirates extensively during his career, I saw just one instance of him being referred to as Mike, which could have just been a mistake. He should be known as Elmer Smith, and he should be more famous for his time in Pittsburgh. In seven seasons, he was a .325 hitter with his hometown team, with 99 triples and 174 stolen bases. He ranks sixth in team history in average, third in OBP and 11th in OPS, just two points behind Barry Bonds, six points behind Arky Vaughan and eight points behind Willie Stargell. One more thing, he was born on March 23rd…see below

The third outfielder is Hank Sauer, who played 15 years in the majors, all in the National League. He was a two-time All-Star and the 1952 MVP. He hit 288 homers and drove in 876 runs, giving him similar career stats to Frank Thomas.

Pitchers: I struggled a bit with how many players to use here. There are seven pitchers who really stand out from the rest and it might surprise Pittsburgh natives to hear that they all won 120+ games in the majors. They are rather bunched up as well, as none of them reached 170 wins. I decided to put two on the All-Star team, but I’ll mention all seven anyway. Sam McDowell was one of the hardest throwers of his day, which led him to five strikeout crowns and 2,453 strikeouts in 2,492 innings. He was a six-time All-Star during his 15-year career, which wrapped up with the 1975 Pirates.

Frank Killen had to be here because of his connection with the Pirates. He won 36 games for the Pirates in 1893 and then three years later he became the last 30-game winner in franchise history. He won 112 games for the Pirates and 164 games in his ten-year career.

The other five pitchers, with their win totals are: Bill Doak (169), Mark Baldwin (154), Frank Smith (139), Bob Purkey (129) and Ad Gumbert (123). Smith had a 2.59 career ERA, though his entire career came during the deadball era and he never finished higher than eighth in ERA during a season.

SONG OF THE DAY

DAILY QUIZ


THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY

By John Dreker

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date.

Ray Kremer, pitcher for the 1924-33 Pirates. He spent his entire ten-year big league career with the Pirates, twice helping them to the World Series. Kremer had two 20-win seasons and twice led the league in ERA. In 1925 when they won their second World Series title, he had a 17-8 record and won two more games in the series. In 1927, he went 19-8 and led the league with a 2.47 ERA. In between those two years as NL champs, he went 20-8, 2.61, leading the league in both wins and ERA, while finishing third in the MVP voting. Kremer finished his big league career with a 143-85 record and a 3.76 ERA in 307 games, 247 as a starter. His 143 wins ranks him tied for seventh all-time in Pirates franchise history with Rip Sewell. Ray also ranks tenth on the team’s all-time list with 1,954.2 innings pitched. For more on Kremer, check out this feature article.

Johnny Logan, third baseman/shortstop for the 1961-63 Pirates. He spent 11 years with the Braves prior to joining the Pirates during the 1961 season in a trade for outfielder Gino Cimoli. Logan was a four-time All-Star with a .270 average in 1,351 games for the Braves. While with the Pirates he was mostly used as a backup, playing 152 games over his 2 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh. In 1962 he hit .300 in 44 games, but still received just 90 plate appearances. In 1963 he hit .232 in 81 games, then moved on to Japan for one unsuccessful season in 1964 before retiring as a player. He twice led the NL in games played, once led in doubles and six straight seasons from 1952-57 he received MVP votes.

Cy Slapnicka, pitcher for the 1918 Pirates. He pitched 15 seasons in the minors, winning a total of 167 games, yet got just two brief trials in the majors. In 1911, after going 26-7 for the Rockford Wolverines of the Wisconsin-Illinois League, he got two late season starts for the Chicago Cubs. It was then another seven seasons before the Pirates came calling in 1918. He made six starts and finished with a 1-4, 4.74 record in 49.1 innings. That was the end of his Major League career. Slapnicka pitched two more seasons in the minors and later managed one year before taking over various front office/scouting roles throughout the years, which he did until retiring for good in 1961.

Danny Moeller, outfielder for the 1907-08 Pirates. After hitting .333 in 77 games for Troy of the New York State League, the Pirates brought the 22-year-old outfielder to the majors for the first time, giving him an 11-game trial at the end of the year. He hit .286 in 42 at-bats and earned a spot on the 1908 team. Moeller had great speed, but he also struck out a lot, especially during a time when the 100-strikeout mark in a season was an almost unheard of feat. With the Pirates in 1908, he had trouble putting the bat on the ball and could not properly utilize his speed. He hit just .193 in 36 games that year. He would spend the next three seasons in the minors before returning to the big leagues in 1912 with the Washington Senators. Moeller would score at least 83 runs in each of his first three seasons in Washington and he stole a total of 118 bases, though he twice led the AL in strikeouts, topping the 100 mark both times. He hit .243 in 704 Major League games with 171 stolen bases. He played minor league ball until 1921.

Elmer “Mike” Smith, outfielder for the 1892-97 Pirates. He began his Major League career as an 18-year-old pitcher in 1886, then one year later he won 34 games and led the American Association (the second Major League at the time) with a 2.94 ERA. Just two years later his pitching career was nearly over and he returned to the minors for the 1890-91 seasons, where he began to play outfield. The Pirates signed him for 1892, and while he occasionally pitched that year with success, he became a star outfielder for the team by the 1893 season. He would hit over .300 each of the next five seasons and score a combined total of 558 runs. Smith also stole at least 22 bases and walked at least 55 times in all six full seasons in Pittsburgh. For more on Smith, check out this article about the star-studded Pirates outfield from 1893-96 and this article about his 1897 trade to the Reds. He rejoined the Pirates briefly as a free agent in 1901 and he retired with a .310 lifetime average and 75 wins as a pitcher.

Farmer Weaver, catcher/shortstop for the 1894 Pirates. He had spent seven seasons with the Louisville Colonels prior to joining the Pirates at the end of the 1894 season. He was mainly used as an outfielder during his career, occasionally catching, but prior to joining Pittsburgh he had played just two games at shortstop. He hit well in his 30 games for the Pirates, playing 14 games as a catcher and 12 as a shortstop, while batting .348 with 24 RBIs. Despite those numbers he was released during the next spring, which ended his Major League career. Weaver played in the minors until 1910, when he was 45 years old.

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