When looking for the best hitting team in Pirates history one place to start that search would be with the first powerhouse team they fielded in the National League. The Pittsburgh Pirates scored more runs in 1893 than any other year in franchise history and they played just 131 games that season. The team wasn’t built on home runs as you would expect from a team that scored 7.4 runs per game for a total of 970 runs. They hit just 37 of them all year. More than any other team in franchise history they had two things working for them to accomplish that feat, an All-Star caliber lineup, and a new rule moving the pitchers distance from the batter back to the current distance of 60 feet 6 inches. Prior to 1893 the pitcher threw from inside a box, the front of which was 50 feet from the plate. The rule change led to a surge in offense across the league, but they still outscored their opponents that year by 204 runs.
Although it didn’t happen many times that year, when the club had Jake Stenzel behind the plate they had one of the deepest lineups in team history. Even when he wasn’t catching they had Doggie Miller and Connie Mack taking turns behind the plate. Miller at one point was known as one of the better all-around catchers in baseball. However, in 1893 he hit just .182, but played strong defense. Mack, the famous manager, was known as a strong defensive catcher with a good arm and in 1893 he actually hit .286, forty-two points over his career average.
The infield was as deep as any other in team history. They had Hall of Famer Jake Beckley over at 1B, Louis Bierbauer at 2B, Jack Glasscock at SS and Denny Lyons at 3B. All four of those men at one time in their career were considered among the best at their positions. Combined they hit over .300 with 379 RBI’s in 1893. Glasscock actually started the year in St. Louis but the Pirates traded Frank Shugart and cash for him in June to complete their All-Star caliber infield. Jack has actually got some support for his Hall of Fame case based on the fact he was a strong hitter (.290 avg with over 2000 hits) and one of the best defensive shortstops in the 19th century. His career fielding percentage was 31 points higher than the league average during his career, and he also had excellent range. Glasscock would hit .341 in his 66 games with the Pirates in 1893 and he drove in 74 runs in that limited time.
Denny Lyons was in his first year with the team in 1893. He had previously batted as high as .354 in 1890 and .367 in his first full season in 1887 as a 21 year old, but in 1892 he dropped down to .257 while with the New York Giants. The move to get Lyons hoping that his struggles were just a one year illusion paid off as he would play 3B everyday hitting .306 with 105 RBI’s and 97 walks, which helped him to score 103 runs. The careers of Beckley and Bierbauer can be read in the links above but for the 1893 season specifically they combined for 200 RBI’s with Beckley leading the team with 106.
The outfield for 1893 was one of the best in team history. Between the three starters, George Van Haltren, Mike Smith, Patsy Donovan and the 4th outfielder Jake Stenzel, who got into 60 total games that year, they would score 421 runs that season. All four hit between .317 and .362 and they stole a combined 125 bases. One other big part of that team in 1893 was their top starting pitcher Frank Killen who started 48 games, not only did he win 36 games that season, but batting at the bottom of the lineup he hit .275 with 30 RBI’s.
In team history, their 970 runs scored is five more than they scored in the 2nd highest season, not surprisingly done by many of the same players the following season. In 1894 they did play two extra games as well, so the runs per game is slightly higher in 1893. Two of the things that helped them score all those runs were the 127 triples they had and the 210 bases they stole as a team. The triples total is the 2nd highest in team history to the 1912 club which had 129 led by Chief Wilson who had a still standing major league record 36 that season.
Finally for the offense, I’ll mention a player that you may never hear about again, Sam Gillen. He was a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, toiling in the minors prior to 1893. He broke out in 1893 while playing for Macon and got the chance to play for his hometown team late in the season. He went 0-6 at the plate which is why I brought him up. If he got just one hit in those six plate appearances the team would’ve hit .300 on the season, instead they fell just short. Now obviously I’m not blaming him for that, but it just shows you how close the team was to batting .300 as a group. Gillen would play a few more years in the minors, getting another major league chance with the 10th place 1897 Philadelphia Phillies before finishing up his playing days in the minors in 1899.
So how did the 1893 Pirates do with all of those runs scored you ask? They finished 2nd overall, five games behind the Boston Beaneaters (current day Atlanta Braves). Their downfall was an 8-18 month of June which was a mirage compared to the 73-30 they went the rest of the season. Despite the 81-48 record they actually had a losing record on the road going 27-29 so they were obviously helped out by the fact they played 17 more games at home that year. They scored in double figures an amazing 37 times including 25 runs scored versus the Cardinals on August 1st in the first game of a doubleheader, with both games being started by Frank Killen.