There is no doubt the Pirates franchise has had some great outfields over the years. If you check the members of the Hall of Fame you’ll see a long list of players enshrined who spent a lot of time with the Pirates including Paul and Lloyd Waner, Fred Clarke, Kiki Cuyler, Max Carey, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. Fans of the team since the 80′s will tell you that the outfield of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke was the best one they’ve seen in Pittsburgh. Fans who have been around longer can throw out combos that have included the names Al Oliver, Richie Zisk, Omar Moreno, Dave Parker, Matty Alou and Bill Virdon. The one I’ll be covering today though is one of the under appreciated ones in team history, possibly the most underrated one in the franchises history dating back to 1882.
Only twice in team history have the Pirates fielded three everyday outfielders for a season that went on to all make the Hall of Fame. Back in 1926, a season that would be book-ended by World Series appearances, the Pirates had Cuyler in LF, Carey in CF, and Paul Waner in RF. That is probably the best collection of talent at one time. Carey for many is the team’s all-time CF and Waner may not beat out Clemente, but a check of their stats shows he should make a good case to be the RF on an all-time team, but I’ll save that discussion for down the road. The problem with that year is Carey was at the end of his career and his star had faded by then while Waner was a rookie who had a real good season, but far from his best.
The other outfield that included three Hall of Famers was from 1933-34 and included the Waner brothers and Freddie Lindstrom. The thing that knocks some of the luster off this outfield is the fact that Lloyd Waner batted a combined .280 those two years, and that’s coming from a guy who finished his 17 year Pirates career as a .319 hitter. Lindstrom was a 3B by trade as well. He could handle the OF position, but there was a guy named Pie Traynor at 3B for the Pirates then, and he wasn’t moving. No offense meant towards Freddie but he is also one of the lower tier Hall of Famers currently inducted. He played just 11 full seasons and his career stats don’t measure up well when you realize his best season was 1930, a high offense season in the majors, and a year that he finished 5th in batting despite a .379 average.
That brings me to the outfield of the hour, the one I alluded to in the previous article, Jake Stenzel, Patsy Donovan and Mike Smith. As I mentioned prior, Stenzel was a great hitter still topping the Pirates all-time list with his .360 average and .429 OBP. From part of 1893 through the end of 1896 these three men roamed the Pirates outfield putting up outstanding numbers. The reasons no one ever mentions them is likely, how long ago they played, the fact the team did not win any titles those years and the mid-1890′s were also considered a hitters era. Also none of the three are Hall of Famers. It should be noted again that star outfielder George Van Haltren was also a member of the 1893 team which makes that four man outfield rotation even more amazing as you’ll see.
Mike Smith is an interesting player in baseball history. By the end of 1888 the 20 year old had already won 60 major league games and had an ERA title to his credit. By the start of the 1892 season he had 69 career wins and hadn’t played in the majors the past two seasons, despite the fact in 1890 there was three major leagues running at the same time and plenty of room for him on a roster somewhere. The lifelong Pittsburgh native had a good first year for the Pirates in 1892, he pitched once in a while that year with mixed results and as a batter his stats were just okay, nothing special. By 1893 though he had knocked off the rust and hit .346 with 77 walks as the everyday left fielder. He would score 121 runs that season while driving in a career high 103 runners. He also had 23 triples while finishing 4th in the majors in total bases.
In 1894 Smith set career highs in both average with a .357 mark and runs scored with 128 trips across the plate. His 1895 season looks poor compared to his other seasons, but he still managed to hit .302 while driving in 81 runs and drawing his share of walks. Combine that with stealing 34 bases and you’ll see he still had a good season, it was just below his standard. He rebounded in 1896 to set a new career high in average (.362), scored 121 runs, drove in 94, stole over 30 bases for a third straight season and took 74 walks. His .454 OBP in 1896 still ranks the 4th highest in franchise history. He would play one more season in Pittsburgh finishing up his Pirates career with a .325 batting average which ranks him 6th in team history and his .415 OBP ranks 3rd behind Brian Giles,
and of course, Stenzel.
The third outfielder from that 1893-1896 group was the right fielder Patsy Donovan who actually lasted with the team from 1892-1899. He may rank the lowest of the three during that time period but all he did from 1893-96 was hit .317, .303, .310 and .319 while stealing between 36 and 48 bases all four seasons. His lowest run total during that four year stretch was 113 and his 147 runs scored in 1894 ranks 2nd all-time in franchise history to Stenzel’s 150. Patsy’s final totals in 982 games with the Pirates included a .307 average, 312 stolen bases and 842 runs scored, an impressive total considering the amount of games he played. His stolen base total at the time was a team record he held until surpassed by Honus Wagner. He currently still ranks 4th all-time in steals.
As a group that means that in Stenzel, Donovan and Smith’s combined 12 seasons from 1893-1896 they did not bat below .300 once. They scored a combined 1373 runs for an average of just over 114 runs per season. Besides Stenzel’s 16 steals as the 4th outfielder in 1893 the lowest total was 26 between them with ten 30 steal seasons to their credit. Also all three of them were at least decent outfielders,they all had speed to cover ground out there and Donovan was very strong with the glove plus all three could throw out a runner. The main thing about this group and their run was that once Van Haltren was gone these guys were there in the lineup every single day combining with Hall of Famer Jake Beckley for a strong top of the order in the Pirates lineup during that era.