First Pitch: A Look Back at a Wild Ending From the 1994 Season

Since it’s Sunday, I wanted to give Pittsburgh Pirates fans a game to watch from the past, but one that wouldn’t immediately have you saying “oh yeah, I remember that game”. It’s like watching a new game, except the players here haven’t been in the majors for quite some time.

On Wednesday night, June 22, 1994, the Philadelphia Phillies were visiting Three Rivers Stadium to take on the Pirates. The Phillies were trying to get over the .500 mark, while the Pirates were trying to get to the even point. At the time they had a 32-36 record. Jon Lieber was on the mound, while the lineup included such memorable names as Don Slaught, Jeff King, Al Martin, Orlando Merced, Jay Bell, Lloyd McClendon and Carlos Garcia. Kevin Young was on the bench behind Brian Hunter, though he eventually got into the game.

I was trying to find a game that moved quickly and the entire game is available, so it would be an enjoyable watch. What I didn’t know when I first clicked on this is that Jerry Meals is the home plate umpire and he had a big hand in the outcome. This game also has an added bonus, with Kent Tekulve announcing for the Phillies. It was posted by YouTube user gibomber.

Here’s the boxscore, which is an obvious spoiler, so you may want to hold off on clicking that link.





By John Dreker

On a very busy day of birthdays for former Pittsburgh Pirates players, we have ten players, plus two trades of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1956, the Pirates traded outfielder Bobby Del Greco and pitcher Dick Littlefield to the St Louis Cardinals for outfielder Bill Virdon. As a 24-year-old in 1955, Virdon won the NL Rookie of the Year award with his .281 average and 17 homers with 68 RBIs. He was hitting .211 in 24 games at the time of the trade. Del Greco was just 23 years old at the time, hitting .200 in 14 games for the Pirates. He played 99 games for Pittsburgh in 1952, but he had spent the next three years in the minors. At 30 years old, Littlefield was the veteran of the group. He had been with the Pirates since 1954, and in the majors since 1950. He had no record and a 4.26 ERA in two starts and four relief appearances with the 1956 Pirates. The year before he went 5-12, 5.12, splitting his time between starting and relieving.

After the trade, Littlefield pitched three games for the Cardinals before being included in a nine-player deal St Louis made with the Giants. He pitched until 1958, getting into 86 total games, 11 as a starter. Del Greco hit .215 in 102 games for the Cardinals. He was traded to the Cubs early in the 1957 season and spent parts of seven seasons in the majors after that deal. He was a .229 hitter in 731 games. Virdon became a star for the Pirates immediately, hitting .334 in 1956. He would play center field for ten seasons in Pittsburgh, helping them to the 1960 World Series along the way. He hit .266 with 667 runs scored in 1,415 games for the Pirates. In 1962, he led the NL in triples and won the Gold Glove award. Virdon also managed the Pirates during the 1972-73 seasons.

Exactly five years earlier, the Pirates and Cardinals hooked up on another deal. Pittsburgh sent shortstop Stan Rojek to St Louis in exchange for outfielder Erv Dusak and first baseman Rocky Nelson. Rojek was 32 years old at the time of the time, coming off a season in which he hit .257 in 76 games. Two years earlier, he finished tenth in the NL MVP voting after hitting .290 with 51 RBIs and 24 steals for the Pirates. He led the league in games played, at-bats and plate appearances. Dusak was 30 years old at the time and had played just 29 games in the majors since 1948. Nelson was 26 years old, with a career .233 average and 61 RBIs in 205 games with the Cardinals.

Many people remember Nelson’s heroics in the 1960 World Series, but that was actually during his second stint with the team. He was put on waivers and taken by the White Sox before the 1951 season ended. Dusak played only 41 games for the Pirates, spread out over the 1951-52 seasons, his last years in the majors. Rojek would play just 51 games for the Cardinals before he was put on waivers. His Major League career was done by the 1952 season.

The Players

Jose Guillen, Pirates outfielder from 1997 until 1999. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 in 1992. It took him four years to reach High-A ball in 1996, where he hit .322 with 21 homers and 24 stolen bases for Lynchburg. Without ever playing Double-A or Triple-A, the Pirates put him in right field for Opening Day in 1997. Guillen played 143 games as a rookie that year, hitting .267 with 14 homers and 70 RBIs. He had a very similar season the next year, in which he played a career high of 153 games. Guillen had the same batting average as the year before, and his .712 OPS was exactly the same as well. He also hit 14 homers again, this time driving in 84 runs. After hitting just one home run through the end of June in 1999, Guillen was sent to Triple-A. One month later he was dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, along with pitcher Jeff Sparks in exchange for two catchers, Joe Oliver and Humberto Cota.

Guillen finally reached his potential four years after the deal, playing for his fourth organization, the Reds. He hit .337 with 23 homers for Cincinnati before they traded him mid-season to the A’s. He then went on to play for the Angels (2004), Nationals (05-06), Mariners (07), Royals (08-2010) before finishing his career with the 2010 Giants. Guillen played a total of 1,650 major league games, hitting .270 with 214 homers and 887 RBIs. Despite stealing 24 bases in the minors in 1996, he stole a total of just 31 bases over his entire Major League career.

Guillen had a strong throwing arm, one of the best in baseball, and a throw he made with the Pirates was recently rated the best of all-time by MLB Network. On July 27, 1998, Neifi Perez of the Rockies hit a ball to the right field wall that Guillen couldn’t catch. He picked up the ball near the warning track, and on the fly, threw out Perez, who was going for a triple.

Pascual Perez, pitcher for the 1980-81 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent prior to the 1976 season. Perez began his career in the Gulf Coast League, then moved up to A-ball in 1977, going 10-5, 3.98 in 25 starts for Charleston. He moved up another level in 1978 and pitched well, going 11-7, 2.61 in 24 starts, earning a late season promotion to Triple-A. In 1979, he struggled in his first full season of Triple-A, but showed enough improvement the next season to earn an early season spot start for the Pirates, followed by a late season recall. Perez began 1981 in the minors, joining Pittsburgh in mid-May after five starts. In that strike-shortened season, he went 2-7, 3.96 in 13 starts and four relief appearances. Perez was back in Triple-A in 1982 until a June trade sent him to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Larry McWilliams. He pitched in Atlanta until he released just prior to the 1986 season. After not pitching at all that year, he had to work his way back to the majors, pitching at Triple-A for the 1987 Expos. Perez was called up in August and finished the season with a 7-0 record. He pitched a rain-shortened no-hitter in 1988 against the Phillies. Perez lasted in the majors until 1991, finishing with a 67-68 record. He was an All-Star in 1983 when he won 15 games for the Braves. He had two brothers, Carlos and Melido, who also pitched in the majors.

Ozzie Virgil, catcher for the 1965 Pirates. He originally signed with the New York Giants as an amateur free agent in 1953, and he made his big league debut three years later. In 1958, he was traded to the Tigers, who in turn dealt him to the Kansas City Athletics three years later. Virgil played one game for the Baltimore Orioles in 1962, then spent the next two years in the minors. The Pirates acquired him in the 1964 minor league draft from the Washington Senators. In 1965, Virgil played 39 games for the Pirates. He started just seven games, despite being with the team for the entire season. It was the first full year he spent in the majors since 1961 and just the third time (1957 as well) overall that he spent the entire year in the big leagues. On December 1, 1965, the Pirates traded Virgil, along with Joe Gibbon, to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Matty Alou, in what turned out to be a one-sided deal for Pittsburgh. Virgil got 89 at-bats for the Giants in 1966, then after two years in the minors, he played one final Major League game in 1969. He played a total of 324 games in the majors, with a .231 batting average and 73 RBIs.

Harry Riconda, shortstop for the 1929 Pirates. He began his pro career in 1916, but when the Pirates acquired him 13 years later, he had just 234 games in at the Major League level spread out over four seasons. On December 11, 1928, the Pirates traded star shortstop Glenn Wright to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Riconda and pitcher Jesse Petty. Riconda had hit .224 in 92 games for the Dodgers in 1928, seeing time at SS/2B/3B. With the 1929 Pirates, he spent two months with the team, but rarely saw the field. He got into eight of the first 51 games, four off the bench. Harry went 7-for-15 at the plate in his limited time, but that couldn’t keep him from being sent to the minors to finish the year. He played two more seasons before retiring from baseball, and his only other big league experience was one early season at-bat for the Reds in 1930.

Hal Carlson, pitcher for the 1917-23 Pirates. He spent three years in the minors prior to his Major League debut with the 1917 Pirates. Hal won 23 games in 1916, pitching for Rockford of the Three-I League. He had a strong rookie season pitching for a Pirates team that had 103 losses in 1917. Carlson went 7-11, 2.90 in 161.1 inning. The next year he pitched just three games before taking up active military duty in WWI. He returned in 1919 to go 8-10 with a career best, 2.23 ERA. He had his best season in a Pirates uniform in 1920, going 14-13, 3.36 in 246.1 innings. His numbers began to drop off the next season, and after a 5.70 ERA in 1922, Carlson was sent to the minors just weeks into the 1923 season. It was said that his numbers dropped because he was a spitball pitcher and wasn’t allowed to throw the pitch after 1920, due to the rule baseball implemented making the pitch illegal. Carlson was drafted by the Phillies for the 1924 season. He pitched in Philadelphia until a 1927 trade sent him to the Chicago Cubs. He was pitching for the Cubs in 1930 when his health began to decline. On May 28, 1930 he complained of feeling ill and died suddenly in his hotel room with teammates by his side. He was 38 years old. Carlson finished with 114 career wins, 42 coming while he was with the Pirates.

Elmer Steele, pitcher for the Pirates during the 1910-11 seasons. He began his pro career in 1906 in the minors before making his pro debut in September of 1907. Steele pitched parts of three years for the Boston Red Sox, making 36 appearances, 22 as a starter. He spent the 1910 season pitching for Providence of the Eastern League before the Pirates picked him up in the middle of September. Steele made three starts for Pittsburgh that season, losing all three, although he pitched well. He had a 2.25 ERA and allowed 22 base runners in 24 innings. In 1911, he switched between the starting and bullpen role, making 16 starts and 15 relief outings. Steele went 9-9 with a 2.60 ERA in 166 innings. In the middle of September, he was sold to Brooklyn, where he made five appearances before the season ended. He never returned to the majors and only pitched one more season in the minors. His pro career finished in 1917, although it was said he played baseball into his 50’s and was active among the sport in his hometown for many years.

Fred Woodcock, pitcher for the 1892 Pirates. On May 14, 1892 Woodcock was to make his major league debut against the Cleveland Spiders, just one day after Cy Young shut the Pirates down. That game was rained out, so three days later against the Chicago Colts he finally made his debut, and made a little history along the way. He became the first pitcher to make his debut as a starter on his birthday, something that didn’t happen again in the majors for another 67 years. He was a highly touted prospect, who pitched at Brown University and then Dartmouth University prior to signing with the Pirates. In his debut the Pirates lost 7-5, although it was said that he pitched a remarkably good game, but he was hurt by five Pittsburgh errors. It seemed as if he had a bright future, but it quickly dimmed. His second start was said to be fair, although he was hit hard at times. There was poor fielding behind him again with five errors committed. Woodcock didn’t start again for two weeks, losing his third start by a 6-2 score. Two weeks later he made his last start in the majors. He gave up five first innings runs to Cleveland before he was replaced. He would pitch just one minor league game in 1893, then finish his career playing for the Fort Worth Panthers of the Texas Southern League in 1895.

Frank Mountain, pitcher/first baseman for the 1885-86 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. When he joined Pittsburgh prior to the 1885 season, he was coming off a 23-17, 2.45 season for the Columbus Buckeyes. It was by far his best season. Prior to that year he played for five teams over four seasons, compiling a 34-60, 3.80 record. In 1883 he pitched 503 innings for Columbus, starting 59 of the team’s 97 games. He led the league in losses, hits allowed, earned runs allowed and walks. Columbus folded after the 1884 season when the American Association went from twelve to eight teams. The Alleghenys purchased ten of their players for the 1885 season, among them was Mountain. He was joining a Pittsburgh team that used nine different starting pitchers during that 1884 season. Mountain was used as an extra pitcher, making just five starts over the entire season. The next year he made one start early in the season and one late in the year, but was used as a first baseman 16 times. He hit just .145, although he drew 13 walks. Frank went 1-6 on the mound between his two seasons in Pittsburgh. His Major League career ended that 1886 season and he went on to manage in the minors in 1888.

Henry Oberbeck, first baseman for the 1883 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He spent two seasons in the majors, playing for four different teams in two different leagues and got into just 66 games. Oberbeck spent time at six different positions in the majors, seeing time at all three outfield spots, first base, third base and as a pitcher. He began his career with the Alleghenys on May 7, 1883, the team’s third game of the season. He lasted only two games in Pittsburgh, going 2-for-9 at the plate and handling all 25 chances in the field flawlessly, a somewhat impressive feat in the pre-glove era. He would play four games for the St Louis Browns of the American Association later that season, going 0-for-14 at the plate. The next year, a third major league was formed, the Union Association. Oberbeck played 33 games at the start of the year for the Baltimore Monumentals, hitting .184 and spending most of his time in the outfield. He then moved on to the Kansas City Cowboys to finish the year. Oberbeck hit .189 in 27 games there while also going 0-5 as a pitcher. He also umpired three October 1884 games in the Union Association at the end of his career.

Billy Reid, left fielder for the 1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his big league career in 1883, playing for the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association. Reid played 23 games at second base and made 23 errors. He also played one other game at shortstop and made one error there. In 24 games for the Orioles, he hit .278 with 14 runs scored. Reid finished the year in the minors playing for a team from Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Northwestern League. He remained in that league to start the next year, this time playing for the Minneapolis Millers. He hit .279 with 66 runs scored in 80 games. Reid joined the Alleghenys late in the year and played mostly in left field, starting 17 of his 19 games out there. He hit .243 with 11 runs scored and two doubles. He also played one game at second base and one at third base, making one error at each position, keeping up his error per game pace at all three infield positions. That 1884 season was his last season in the majors. He bounced around the minors in 1885, playing for three different teams, then went back to the Northwestern League for 1886, joining the Duluth Jayhawks. His last known stop in pro ball was for the Sandusky Fish Eaters in 1888.

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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