Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.
Jason Kendall (1974) Catcher for the 1996-2004 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates out of High School in the first round of the 1992 amateur draft. After playing 33 games in the Gulf Coast League his first year, Kendall (pictured up top, photo credit: John Grieshop/Getty Images) moved up to Augusta of the South Atlantic League. In 1993, he hit .276 with 40 RBIs in 102 games. He showed great contact, with just 30 strikeouts but also walked only 22 times and hit one homer all year. In 1994, he moved up to Salem of the Carolina League and had a breakout season. Kendall batted .318 with an .843 OPS and 14 stolen bases, earning a late season promotion to Double-A. He would spend the entire 1995 season playing for Carolina in Double-A, batting .326 with 71 RBIs and 81 runs scored in 117 games. He had an impressive 56 walks with just 22 strikeouts.
The Pirates decided to keep Kendall in the majors in 1996, skipping him over Triple-A and making him their everyday starter. The move proved to be the right one as he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting and made the NL All-Star team. He batted .300 in 130 games, driving in 42 runs and scoring 54 times. Kendall caught 142 games in 1997, batting .294 with 36 doubles and 18 stolen bases. His 1998 season would be even better. He played 149 games, hitting .327 with 75 RBIs, 94 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. He made his second All-Star team and led all NL catchers in putouts. It looked like his 1999 season would be even better, but a freak ankle injury ended his season early.
On July 4, 1999 Kendall tried to bunt for a hit against the Brewers and in a close plate at first base, he hit the bag awkward, breaking his right ankle. It caused him to miss the rest of the year, but he returned healthy in 2000. He played 152 games that year, hitting .320 with a career high 14 homers and 112 runs scored. He made the All-Star team for the third time and led all NL catchers in games caught, assists and putouts.
The Pirates decided in 2001 to give their catcher a break, yet keep his bat in the lineup by playing him in the outfield on occasion. His hitting suffered that year, despite the breaks from catching. He batted .266 and his OPS dropped nearly 200 points from the previous season. The outfield experiment ended in 2002, but his hitting didn’t return to form until the following year.
In 2003, Kendall hit .325 with 191 hits and 84 runs scored in 150 games. He caught 146 games on the year, the fifth time he led the NL in games caught. He hit .319 with 86 runs scored in 147 games in 2004. After the 2000 season, Kendall signed a six-year $60M extension with the Pirates that would’ve kept him around until 2007. The contract by 2004 was a large portion of the Pirates payroll and they decided to move him.
On November 27, 2004, the Pirates traded Kendall to the Oakland A’s for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. He played 2 1/2 years for the A’s before getting traded to the Cubs during the middle of the 2007 season. Kendall then spent the 2008-09 seasons with the Brewers, before playing his last year in the majors in 2010 with the Royals. He was signed for 2011, but missed the entire season after shoulder surgery.
While with the Pirates, Kendall set the team record in games caught. He played 1,252 in a Pittsburgh uniform, batting .306 with 1,409 hits. He ranks 19th in team history in games, 15th in batting average, 17th in runs and hits, 14th in doubles and 19th in stolen bases. Kendall caught 2,025 games in his career, the fifth highest total ever. He led the league in games caught eight times, assists five times, putouts four times and runners thrown out five times. He collected 2,195 hits, scored 1,030 runs, stole 189 bases and finished with a .288 career average. Kendall’s father Fred Kendall was a catcher in the majors for 12 seasons.
Bill Robinson, infielder/outfielder for the 1975-82 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Milwaukee Braves as a free agent in 1961. Robinson had a slow start to his pro career, hitting .239 with two homers, while playing 67 games in Class-D ball. He repeated the level the next year and showed a huge improvement, batting .304 with eight homers, earning a late promotion to Class-C ball. Robinson worked his way slowly through the minors, playing two straight seasons of A-ball and doing well each year. He hit .316 with ten homers in 1963, then followed it with a .346 season in which he hit 18 homers.
Robinson spent the 1965 season in Triple-A, where he hit .268 with ten homers in 133 games. He would repeat the level the next year, earning himself a late season call-up with his .312 average and 20 homers. After the season, he was traded to the New York Yankees for Clete Boyer. The Yankees would put him in the lineup and let him play through his struggles for three seasons. From 1967-69, Robinson played 310 games in New York, hitting .206 with a .582 OPS.
In 1970, Robinson spent the entire year in the minors for the Yankees, then got traded to the White Sox. After spending all of 1971 in the minors, he was dealt to the Phillies, spending the first two months of the 1972 season at Triple-A. He was called up at the end of June and hit .239 in 82 games. Robinson had his first big season in 1973 when he hit .288 with 32 doubles and 25 homers. He played 14 games at third base and at least 15 games at all three outfield spots. His inconsistencies returned the next year, hitting .236 with 17 walks and five homers, resulting in a low .626 OPS.
Just before Opening Day in 1975, the Pirates gave up minor league pitcher Wayne Simpson in exchange for Robinson. Simpson won seven Major League games after the deal, while Robinson played eight seasons in a Pirates uniform. That first year in Pittsburgh, Robinson was a backup outfielder and he was used often as a pinch-hitter. He got 200 at-bats in 92 games and hit .280 with 33 RBIs.
In 1976, Robinson began to see more regular time and he would have his best season up to that point. He batted .303 with 21 homers and 64 RBIs, seeing playing time at five different positions, adding first base to his resume. Robinson was valuable enough to the team that NL MVP voters took notice, as he received votes for the first time. His 1977 season would be the best of his career. He set career highs with a .304 average, 26 homers, 104 RBIs and 74 runs scored. Robinson finished 11th in NL MVP voting, the second highest finish on the team to Dave Parker, who finished third.
Robinson’s average dropped to .246 in 1978, but he drove in 80 runs and scored 70 times, while also setting a career high with 36 doubles. The Pirates won the NL East in 1979 and Robinson contributed 24 homers and 75 RBIs. In the playoffs, he went 0-for-3 in the NLCS, but got more time in the World Series, where he batted .263 with two runs and two RBIs in 22 plate appearances. In 1980, Robinson moved to a bench role, getting 272 at-bats with a .287 average and 36 RBIs. He saw even less time during the strike-shortened 1981 season, playing 39 games. He missed time due to a heel injury that occurred just a week into the season. Robinson played 31 games for the Pirates in 1982, batting .239 with four homers and 12 RBIs.
On June 15, 1982, the Pirates traded Robinson to the Phillies for Wayne Nordhagen. He remained in Philly until June of 1983, when he was released, ending his career. He played a total of 1,472 games in the majors, hitting .258 with 166 homers and 641 RBIs. While with the Pirates, he hit .276 with 109 homers and 412 RBIs. Robinson worked in baseball, mostly as a coach, from 1984 until his untimely passing in 2007.
Howie Pollet, pitcher for the 1951-53 and 1956 Pirates. He was part of two big trades in Pirates history. He came to the Pirates in the seven-player deal on June 15, 1951 with the Cardinals, that saw Wally Westlake and Cliff Chambers go to St Louis for five players. Two years later, Pollet would be sent to the Cubs in the ten-player Ralph Kiner trade. While with St Louis, Pollet won 97 games over nine seasons, all while missing two years due to WWII service. With the Pirates in 1951, he went 6-10, 5.04 in 21 starts. The next year he got 30 starts, pitching 214 innings. He went 7-16 with a 4.12 ERA for a team that went 42-112 that year. Before the trade in 1953, Pollet was 1-1 with a 10.66 ERA in 12.2 innings. He would return to the Pirates in July of 1956 as a free agent, after being released by the White Sox. He went 0-4, 3.09 in 19 relief appearances, in what would be his last season in the majors. Pollet won 20 games in the minors in 1940 and 1941, and in the majors in 1946 and 1949.
Elmer Singleton, pitcher for the 1947-48 Pirates. He originally signed with the Yankees in 1940, but he didn’t make his Major League debut until 1945 with the Boston Braves. Singleton spent two seasons with Boston, going 1-5, 4.31 in 22 games, seven as a starter. The Pirates acquired him in a six-player deal with the Braves just as the 1946 season was ending. He was used mostly out of the pen in 1947 for the Pirates, making 36 appearances, three as a starter. He went 2-2, 6.31 in 67 innings. Singleton had a similar role in 1948, going 4-6, 4.97 in 38 outings, five as a starter, with 92.1 innings pitched. Just before the start of the 1949 season, the Pirates sold him to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League. He would pitch 21 games for the 1950 Washington Senators, then spend six seasons in the minors, before returning to the big leagues at the age of 39 in 1957 to pitch parts of three years with the Cubs. Singleton went 11-17 in 145 big league games and 184-186 in twenty minor league seasons.
Debs Garms, third baseman/outfielder for the 1940-41 Pirates. He played five seasons in the minors before making his Major League debut with the St Louis Browns in August of 1932. Garms spent four seasons with the Browns, hitting .298 with 63 RBIs in 213 games. Debs (which was his real first name) spent the 1936 season in the minors before being selected in the September Rule 5 draft by the Boston Bees. He played three years with Boston, hitting .290 in 374 games, including a .315 average during the 1938 season. The Pirates purchased his contract in March of 1940, just in time for him to have his best season. Garms would hit a league leading .355 that season, although the batting title came with some controversy.
Garms had just 385 plate appearances all year, which many people thought shouldn’t be enough to win the batting title. The NL President at the time (Ford Frick) declared that Garms just had to play 100 games to be considered the batting champ, and he played 103 games. He would see his playing time drop the next year as his average fell to .264 in 83 games. In December of 1941, the Pirates sold him to the Cardinals. Garms played in the minors in 1942, then reappeared with St Louis for three more seasons as a part-time player. His average went from .201 in 1944 up to .336 the following season. Garms was released in December of 1945 and finished his career in 1946 in the minors. In 1,010 Major League games, he was a .293 career hitter.
Babe Herman, outfielder for the 1935 Pirates. He started his Major League career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1926 and for seven seasons there, he was one of the best hitters the franchise has ever seen. Herman batted .339 overall in Brooklyn, with a .381 average in 1929 and a .393 mark the next year. Babe (real first name was Floyd) would be dealt to the Reds in 1932, then sent to the Cubs the next year. In 1934, while still with Chicago, he hit .304 with 14 homers and 84 RBIs in 125 games. He came to the Pirates in a November of 1934 trade that saw Pittsburgh give up future Hall of Famer Freddie Lindstrom. Herman’s stay in Pittsburgh didn’t last long. He would be sold to the Cincinnati Reds in June after playing just 26 games with a .235 average and seven RBIs. He began to hit as soon as he got to Cincinnati, batting .335 with 58 RBIs in 92 games with the Reds that year. Herman played one more year for the Reds, then part of 1937 for the Tigers, before going to the minors. From 1937 until 1944, he batted at least .307 every season. After an eight year absence from the majors, Herman returned with the Dodgers in 1945 as a pinch-hitter, playing 37 games off the bench, in what would be his last season as a player. He was a career .324 hitter in 1,552 games, with 997 RBIs and 882 runs scored.
Elmer Ponder, pitcher for the 1917 and 1919-21 Pirates. He spent five years in the minors before getting his first chance with the 1917 Pirates. Ponder went 19-16 in 266 innings for Birmingham of the Southern Association that season, then got the call in September from the Pirates along with numerous teammates. In his Major League debut on September 18th, he allowed just one run over eight innings, though he picked up the loss. Four days later he made sure he wouldn’t lose, throwing a two-hit shutout over the Giants. Ponder would miss the 1918 season serving in the military during WWI. He was an aviator during the war, earning a medal for bravery after being injured. He returned to baseball in July of 1919, pitching nine games over the second half of the season. Ponder made 23 starts and ten relief appearances during the 1920 season for the Pirates, going 11-15, 2.62 in 196 innings. He was seeing limited action through the first day of July in 1921, when the Pirates traded him to the Cubs for Dave Robertson. Ponder was with Chicago through January of 1922, before being dealt to Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League. He played in the minors until 1928 without appearing in the majors again.
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.