First Pitch: What’s in a Name?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have used a total of 1,989 players since 1882. While trying to find something to write up, I started thinking about players with the same last name who played for the Pirates. I believe it started when I couldn’t think of the first name of a 19th century player, but named 4-5 other old players with the same last name before I finally remembered. Great story, I know, I’ll get on with the article.

I took some guesses at the most common surname for the Pirates and then realized it had to be Smith. I checked just to make sure, but the Smiths have it. A total of 27 players with the last name Smith have played with the Pirates. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, none of them have been with the team since 2000. No other name comes close, with a few other common ones in the 8-14 range. So why not take a look at some Smith facts.

The one that made me 99% certain Smith was correct is the fact that the Pirates have had all three players named Hal Smith in baseball history. The first one was a pitcher from 1932 until 1935, who played his entire career with the Pirates. The second was a catcher for the 1960 World Series champs. The third was also a catcher at that same time, though he played for the 1965 Pirates.

The first Smith in team history was Frank Smith, a catcher during the 1884 season, who spent his entire ten-game big league career with Pittsburgh. He’s one of three Frank Smiths in baseball history, but the only one to play with the Pirates (technically the Alleghenys).

The second one was later that 1884 season, John “Phenomenal” Smith. Rarely do you see old players referred to by their nickname more often than their real name back in old newspapers, but Phenomenal Smith was one who fits the bill. He would later rejoin the Alleghenys in 1890 to finish out the season.

Charles “Pop” Smith, who was in the lineup during the first National League game in Pirates history was the third Smith in team history. He stuck around for five seasons.

He was followed by pitcher-turned-outfielder “Mike” Smith. I put the nickname here because if you read modern references, he’s called Mike. I have done a lot of research during his career and I’ve seen “Mike” once out of hundreds of mentions. He was actually a great player for a time, but anyone from that era would have known him as Elmer Smith.

Third baseman Jud Smith, who really was named Jud (short for Judson), played for the 1896 and 1901 Pirates. He played four years in the majors over a nine-year time span.

Heinie Smith played 15 games of infield for the 1899 Pirates. Heinie used to be such a popular nickname, 23 players in big league history had it (none since 1944), many of them named Henry. This particular one was named George Henry.

The 1900s saw catcher Harry Smith and outfielder Bull Smith, who played 14 games and was named Lewis by his parents. Harry was with the Pirates for six years, though he played just 178 games.

The 1910’s added the following Smiths: Sherry, Syd, Jimmy and Red. They played a total of 72 games with the Pirates, exactly half coming from Jimmy. There have been four Red Smiths in big league history, all of them playing their entire careers between 1911 and 1927. I feel bad for all of the little Smith kids born in the late 20’s given the actual name Red, whose parents tried to increase their odds of having a little slugger. The Pirates Red Smith was actually named Willard Jehu Smith, the only MLB player with the middle name “Jehu”.

The 1920’s brought along Earl Smith, a heavy-hitting catcher for the 1925 World Champs and 1927 NL champs. He’s one of three Earl Smiths in big league history. The third one played outfield for the 1955 Pirates.

Besides the aforementioned Hal Smith part 1, the 1930’s were a quiet Smith decade for the Pirates. It was just Hal.

The 1940’s also had just one Smith. Vinnie Smith was introduced to the Pirates in 1941, then reintroduced as a war hero in 1946 when he came back for a final big league season. He has the same birthday (December 7) as Hal Smith 2.0, just 15 years earlier on the date for Vinnie.

The 1950’s had Earl Smith 3.0 (mentioned above), along with Bob, Paul and Dick Smith. Paul was a 1B/OF for the 1953 and 1957-58 teams. Dick Smith was an infielder for the 1951-55 teams. Bob was one of six Bob Smiths in MLB history, the only for the Pirates. He pitched for three seasons (1957-59).

The 1960’s gave the Pirates Hal 2.0 and Hal 3.0 and that’s it.

The 1970s were the first Smithless decade…the Pirates won two World Series titles in the 70s. Coincidence?

Infielder Jim Smith spent his entire career with the 1982 Pirates. Pirates Mike Smith (actually was named Mike) finished his career with the 1989 Bucs.

Lonnie, Mark and Zane ushered in the final decade of the 20th century. Zane was a member of three playoff teams and spent six seasons in Pittsburgh. Lonnie Smith had his better days elsewhere and was only around for 94 games in 1993. Mark Smith was in Pittsburgh for the 1997-98 seasons.

The final Smith (for now) in team history was none other than Brian Smith. I’m sure you remember his three late season relief appearances for the 2000 Pirates, which was his entire big league career.

Feel free to make your 26-man roster from the 27th Smiths above. You’ll be hurting for pitching, but you have plenty of catching options.


Another pick from my father.



Willie Stargell’s Hall of Fame speech


By John Dreker

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date.

Brian Burres, pitcher for the 2010-11 Pirates. He started his career as a 31st round selection in the 2000 amateur draft by the San Francisco Giants. After five seasons in the minors, he was put on waivers, where he was picked up by the Orioles. That first season with Baltimore, he went 10-6, 3.76 in 26 Triple-A starts, then had a successful Major League debut in 11 games as a September call-up. Burres spent most of the 2007-08 seasons in the majors with the Orioles, pitching 250.2 innings over that time, with a 13-18, 6.00 record. The Blue Jays picked him up off waivers in February 2009 and he made just two big league starts for Toronto, losing both. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent on December 31, 2009 and would end up making 13 starts and seven relief appearances with Pittsburgh in 2010. He went 4-5, 4.99 in 79.1 innings that first season with the Pirates. He re-signed for 2011 and went 5-9, 4.66 in 129.1 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis before getting a September call-up. Burres made two starts and three relief appearances that September, going 1-0, 3.86 in 14 innings. He signed with the Giants for 2012 and pitched until 2016 without making it back to the majors.

Tom Butters, pitcher for the 1962-65 Pirates. It took him six full seasons after signing with the Pirates before he reached the majors in September of 1962. During the 1961 season, he was loaned to the Twins organization for the entire year. Butters returned to the Pirates in 1962 and pitched well in the minors, posting a 2.04 ERA in 97 innings. Pittsburgh called him up in September and he pitched well in four games, but he still spent most of the season at Triple-A in 1963 before getting his second September trial. The Pirates used him six times in 1963, giving him his first big league start with just four games left in the season. He made the Opening Day roster in 1964, getting four starts and 24 relief appearances during the year. He spent most of the season with the Pirates, although he was sent to Triple-A in mid-July for a short time. In 64.1 big league innings, he had a 2-2, 2.38 record with 58 strikeouts. During Spring Training of 1965, he got into a car accident that left him with severe whiplash and basically ended his career. Butters pitched five times for the 1965 Pirates before being released, then tried to make comeback in  Spring Training of 1966 with the Pirates before retiring.

Kirby Higbe, pitcher for the 1947-49 Pirates. He was in his ninth season in the majors when the Pirates acquired him on May 3, 1947 in a six-player deal with the Dodgers. Higbe missed all of the 1944-45 seasons while he was serving in the military during WWII. He won 22 games for Brooklyn in 1941, and his first year back from the war, he went 17-8, 3.03 in 210.2 innings, making the NL All-Star team for the second time in his career. He started off the 1947 season 2-0 with the Dodgers, but he had a 5.17 ERA and couldn’t make it through six innings in any of his three starts. For the 1947 Pirates, Higbe went 11-17, 3.72 in 225 innings. He lost five of his first seven starts and ended up leading the league in walks issued. He returned for 1948 in a relief role, pitching 56 games (eight starts) and finishing with an 8-7, 3.36 record in 158 innings. He got off to a slow start in 1949 and would be dealt to the Giants on June 6th for Ray Poat and Bobby Rhawn. Higbe would finish his career in 1950 with a 118-101, 3.69 record in 12 seasons. He had control issues during his entire career, four times leading the league in walks. He ended up with 979 career base on balls, while recording 971 strikeouts.

Reddy Grey, left fielder for the Pirates on May 28, 1903. On a trip to Boston on May 26, 1903, Pittsburgh found themselves short on players and in need of an outfielder. They used star pitcher Deacon Phillippe in left field on May 27th in place of a sick Fred Clarke. They also didn’t have third baseman Tommy Leach, who returned home to be with his ill son. On May 28th, the Pirates got Reddy Grey on loan from the Worcester Riddlers, a local minor league team from the Boston area. Grey played left field during the Pirates 7-6 win. He collected a single, a walk, an RBI and he scored a run. When the Pirates left to go to Pittsburgh the next day, Grey returned to his minor league team, ending his big league career. The 1903 season was his last year in pro ball, ending his nine-year baseball career. He was a .300 hitter in the minors and spent seven seasons in the Eastern League, a top minor league at the time, but his Major League career lasted just one day.

Pete Daniels, pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He went by the nickname “Smiling Pete”, but he probably wasn’t smiling much while pitching for the Alleghenys in 1890, a team that finished 23-113 on the season. He spent 14 seasons in the minors, winning 20 games at least five times and collecting at least 176 wins. Minor league records from that era are incomplete (he has two full seasons missing all stats) so his totals in both categories could be higher. The 1890 season was his first shot at the majors after three seasons of minor league ball. Daniels got the ball on Opening Day and led the Alleghenys to a 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Spiders. He then started the last game of the four-game series with Cleveland and got pulled early after pitching poorly, but the Alleghenys walked away with a 20-12 victory. After losing his next two games, his Pittsburgh career was over. Daniels spent the next seven seasons in the minors before being purchased by the St Louis Browns (Cardinals) for the 1898 season. He went 1-6, 3.62 through the end of May before being released. Daniels finished his minor league career four seasons later.

John Peters, shortstop for the 1882-84 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his Major League career in the National Association in 1874, the only major league that predates the National League. Peters played two years for the Chicago White Stockings in the NA. When the NL was formed in 1876, he played two seasons for a team by the same name, which is the current day Cubs franchise. From 1876-78 he batted over .300 each season, finishing in the top ten in batting all three years. Peters batting skills quickly went downhill, batting under .250 each of the next three years, but his defense at shortstop was still above average. When Pittsburgh joined the American Association in 1882, Peters signed as their everyday shortstop. He hit .288 with 46 runs scored in 78 games (the team played 79 games that year). His batting average ranked him seventh in the league and third highest on the Alleghenys. Over the next two seasons (his last two in baseball) he played just nine games with Pittsburgh, going 3-for-32 at the plate. Peters also played minor league ball for the first time during those two seasons. He was a .278 career hitter in 615 games over 11 seasons.

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.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

join the discussion

Share article

Pirates Prospects Daily

Latest articles

Pirates Prospects Weekly

MONDAY: First Pitch

TUESDAY: Article Drop


THURSDAY: Roundtable

FRIDAY: Discussion

SATURDAY: Pirates Winter Report

SUNDAY: Pirates Business

Latest comments