A Look Back: First 10 Years in the NL
As mentioned here several times, the Pirates began play in the National League in 1887 after spending their first five seasons in the American Association. They compiled a record of 236-296 from 1882-1886 with their best season coming in 1886 when they went 80-57, good enough for 2nd in the AA that year. In this article I will recap the first ten years in the National League, as they went from the Alleghenys to the Innocents (unofficially in 1890) to becoming the Pirates, as well as who helped them go and where they ended up from 1887-1896. I’ve highlighted all the past stories for more information on each player or season for your convenience.
First I’ll start with the players they had who went on to the Hall of Fame.
Jake Beckley – Big power hitting 1b joined the team in 1888, left to join the Player’s League in 1890 but returned the next season and stayed with them through the middle of the 1896 season before being traded to the New York Giants.
James “Pud” Galvin – Until surpassed by Cy Young, he was the all-time winningest pitcher in baseball history. He was already with the franchise when it shifted to the National League. He left for the 1890 season like most players and returned to the team from 1891 until the middle of 1892. From 1885-1889, 91-92 he compiled a 124-110 record.
Ned Hanlon – Speedy centerfielder who played with the team in 1889 and 1891. He made the Hall of Fame as a manager which he also did while with Pittsburgh compiling a 57-65 record.
Connie Mack – Light hitting, strong defensive catcher who played with the team from 1891-1896. He managed the team for 2+ seasons finishing with a 149-134 record. He would go on to manage 50 more years in the majors winning more games than anyone in baseball history.
Joe Kelley – Unfortunately he only played part of the 1892 season with the Pirates. They bought him from a minor league team in July and traded him away in September. Just 20 at the time he had 2160 hits and over 1100 RBI’s ahead of him in his career which lasted until 1908.
Also the team had during this ten year stretch numerous players who have received Hall of Fame support through the years such as Pete Browning, George Van Haltren, Deacon White, Jim McCormick and Jack Glasscock. Perhaps the best player over this ten year period hasn’t even been mentioned and that is Jake Stenzel who is the team’s all-time leader in batting average and on base percentage. His career is considered too short to garner HOF consideration but his .360 average in a Pirates uniform is hard to just overlook. The guy who may have had the biggest impact was Louis Bierbauer. Not only was he an all-star 2B but without him fans in Pittsburgh may be rooting for the Alleghenys still instead of the Pirates.
The team had eight managers during this stretch, with Hanlon and Mack obviously the most famous due to their HOF status. Horace Phillips was their first manager in the NL, he actually led the team from 1885 until 1889 when 2B Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap took over for him. Dunlap would last just 17 games, the shortest managerial stint during this time frame, before Hanlon took over. Guy Hecker was in change the entire dreadful 1890 season when they won just 23 games all year. Al Buckenberger managed all of 1893 and parts of 1892 and 1894 and posted a 187-144 record. Bill McGunnigle (1891) and Tom Burns (1892) both managed partial seasons finishing with losing records.
The records from best to worst are as follows:
1893: 81-48 2nd place
1895: 71-61 7th place
1892: 80-73 6th place
1896: 66-63 6th place
1894: 65-65 7th place
1888: 66-68 6th place
1889: 61-71 5th place
1887: 55-69 6th place
1891: 55-80 8th place
1890: 23-113 8th place
Single season franchise player records set during this period:
Runs scored: Jake Stenzel 150 in 1894.
Wins(since 1887): Frank Killen 36 in 1893.
Innings pitched(since 1887): Ed Morris 480 in 1888. Morris also holds the franchise mark with 581 in 1885.
Games started(since 1887): Ed Morris 55 in 1888. Morris also holds the franchise mark with 63 in both 1885/1886.
Games completed(since 1887): Ed Morris 54 in 1888. Morris also holds the franchise mark with 63 in both 1885/1886.
Single season franchise team records set during this period:
Most runs scored 1893: 970
Most stolen bases 1888: 287
Highest batting average 1894: .312
Highest on base percentage 1894: .379
Additional Bios For Players From the First Ten Years
Scott Stratton, Pitcher for the 1891 Pirates. In 1890, the twenty year old Stratton was an emerging superstar. He won 34 games for the Louisville Colonels of the American Association, leading the league with a 2.36 ERA, pitching a total of 431 innings. He was considered a huge signing when he was picked up by the Pirates at the end of February 1891, but Stratton spent just over two months with the 1891 Pirates and made only two starts, losing them both. By July, he was back with Louisville, where he finished 6-13 in 20 starts. Despite those 34 wins at age twenty, and 13 previous wins as a teenager, Stratton won just 50 more games in his career and was out of the majors by age twenty-five. He was an excellent hitter for a pitcher, batting .274 with eight homers. His arm was shot by the time his major league career ended, but he spent another five seasons playing minor league ball as an outfielder.
Bobby Cargo, shortstop for the 1892 Pirates. Cargo joined the Pirates in October of 1892 after playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Pittsburgh team of the Pennsylvania State League. He played just two games and showed some rookie jitters that first start, making a total of four errors in 11 chances. He went 1-for-4 at the plate with a single. The ironic part about his fielding woes was that he was known for his strong glove. Despite being just 23-years-old, the Pittsburgh, Pa native never played in the majors again. He lasted until 1903 in the minors and was scheduled to play in Atlanta for the 1904 season, but shortly before Opening Day, he contracted pneumonia and passed away at the age of thirty-five.
Gene DeMontreville, shortstop for the 1894 Pirates. He joined Pittsburgh in August of 1894, making his major league debut as a 21-year-old on August 20th. DeMontreville had spent the earlier part of the season playing in the Eastern League, where he hit .308 in 36 games. He would play just two games over two days for the Pirates before being released. The young shortstop went 2-for-8 with a walk at the plate and he made one error in nine fielding chances. The Pirates gave up on DeMontreville too soon. By 1896 he was a star in the National League, reeling off three straight seasons of hitting at least .328 with 77 RBI’s. He played 11 years total in the majors, finishing with a .303 career average. DeMontreville had a successful minor league career as well, lasting in pro ball until 1910. Before he signed with the Pirates, it was said that they never saw him play, but he was known to be a heavy hitter, with great speed and he “covers shortstop to perfection”. It was also thought at the time he was 17 years old. When DeMontreville joined the Pirates, the roster had a big turnover, veteran shortstop Jack Glasscock was released, as well as backup catcher Bill Merritt. Farmer Weaver was signed to replace Merritt and DeMontreville was gone just two days after joining the club. Weaver ended up replacing DeMontreville short-term at shortstop.
Phil Knell, pitcher for the 1888 Pittsburgh Alleghenys and 1894 Pirates. He pitched just four games total for Pittsburgh, three during the 1888 season as a 23-year-old rookie, then one forgettable game during his 1894 return. Knell looked like a sure star, winning 50 games total between the 1890-91 seasons, but by 1895 his major league career was over with a 79-90 final record. He had a successful first start in the majors, winning 3-2 on July 6,1888 over the Washington Nationals and Grasshopper Jim Whitney, who won 191 career games. Despite that debut, the Alleghenys didn’t use him again until over two months later, when he would lose two starts, just two days apart. The left-hander returned to the minors in 1889, going 14-20 2.38 in 314 innings, with 225 strikeouts, pitching for two teams in the Weastern Association. After spending all of 1893 in the minors playing in his native California, Knell returned to the majors. He pitched seven innings in relief for the Pirates, allowing nine runs on 11 hits and six walks during a 17-6 loss, earning his immediate release. Knell finished the season going 7-21 for the Louisville Colonels, then played one more year in the majors. He was far from done with baseball at that point. He pitched on and off, mostly on the West coast until age 43 in 1908.
Jim Ritz, third baseman for the Pirates on July 20,1894. His entire big league career consisted of one game, a 7-6 ten inning loss to Cincinnati. Little is known about the third baseman from Altoona, who also played parts of three seasons in the minors. In his one major league game, he went 0-for-4, with run scored, a stolen base and he reached via hit-by-pitch. In the field, he made one error in four chances. He replaced regular third baseman Denny Lyons for one game, before being replace himself by Joe Sudgen the next day, which marked the end of Ritz’s major league career. Lyons was suspended for the rest of the season and heavily fined, after getting very drunk after the Pirates July 19th game. The sudden suspension opened up a spot for Ritz, who also played for Toledo of the Western League that 1894 season. The local paper covering the Pirates at the time, The Pittsburgh Press, failed to even make mention of Ritz, except in the boxscore. Other papers even spelled his name Reitz. His career may have gone on the better things, but Ritz died at the age of twenty-two(possibly 21 since his exact birth date isn’t known) from typhoid fever.
Gus Weyhing, pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. Weyhing pitched his only game with the Pirates on May 21,1895, beating the Washington Nationals that day. He had a tough time that 1895 season, pitching twice for Philadelphia, once for the Pirates, then 28 times for the Louisville Colonels, compiling an 8-21, 5.81 record. He had a 20.00 ERA in two starts for the Phillies prior to joining the Pirates and he allowed seven runs in his only game with Pittsburgh(though just one was earned) but his offense helped him with ten runs. Weyhing was released immediately after his start by manager Connie Mack, much to the displeasure of fans who thought he pitched well that day. He was one of the numerous pitchers who was hurt by the new rules for them that started in 1893, including the new pitching distance and the fact the pitchers now had to throw from one spot. Weyhing was a great pitcher prior to the change, posting a 200-140 3.34 record by age 26 through 1893. After the new rules went into effect, he had a 64-92 5.07 record, so they likely cost him 300 wins and a place in the Hall of Fame. Weyhing won at least 23 games in each of his first seven seasons, running off four straight 30 win seasons from 1889-92. He ranks 40th all-time in wins, 33rd in innings pitched, 12th in complete games and no one in baseball history has hit more batters. With 277 total hit batters, he is 58 higher than the next highest total and no active player has reached 150 yet.
Billy Clingman, third baseman for the 1895 Pirates. Prior to the start of the 1895 season, the Pirates picked up Clingman in the Rule V Draft from the Milwaukee Brewers of the Western League. He hit .332 in 1894 with Milwaukee, collecting 40 extra base hits, 32 stolen bases and he scored 128 runs in 126 games. For the 1895 Pirates, Clingman hit .256 in 107 games, with no homers, 45 RBI’s and 69 runs scored. His defense was slightly above average that year, though later in his career he was known for his strong glove. In 1897 he led all NL third baseman in fielding percentage and four years later, he led all AL shortstops in the same category, while also leading in assists as well. Clingman was dealt to the Louisville Colonels early in the 1896 season for catcher Eddie Boyle and outfielder Joe Wright. The trade did not work out well for the Pirates, who got limited contributions from both players, while Clingman had seven more seasons ahead of him. Prior to joining the Pirates, he had played seven games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1890 and one game for Cincinnati of the American Association in 1891.
Alex Beam, pitcher for the 1889 Alleghenys. His big league career started on May 25,1889 and ended four days later. Beam only pitched twice for the Alleghenys due to major control issues. In two complete game starts, he walked a total of 15 batters while recording just one strikeout. Beam was a strong pitcher from the area and the Alleghenys scooped him up so HOF manager Harry Wright couldn’t pick him up for his own Phillies team. His big league debut was a successful 3-1 win over Washington despite issuing nine walks. His second start was a double failure for the 19-year-old pitcher. He faced Harry Wright’s club and got battered, losing 15-4. Not only was that his last game with Pittsburgh, it also left a bad impression with Wright. Beam pitched minor league ball until 1892.
Henry Youngman, infielder for the 1890 Alleghenys. The 1890 Pittsburgh club was the worst in team history and it isn’t even close. They went 23-113 and during a time when teams regularly used 15-20 players over a full season, the Alleghenys used 46 players. Youngman had a decent minor league career, but his brief time in the majors was unsuccessful. In 13 games split between third base and second base, he hit .128 and made 16 errors. Not surprisingly, that was his only chance in the majors. Perhaps the most surprising part was his big league debut, in which he had two hits and his defense at third base was praised.
Gussie Gannon, lefty pitcher for the Pirates on June 15,1895. He had a six year minor league career in which he went 55-55(stats may be incomplete), but his major league career consisted of just one relief appearance. On June 15th, in the opening game of a series against the Phillies, Bill Hart started for the Pirates and got hit hard. The Pirates called upon Gannon to make his major league debut and the rookie ended up going the last five innings. He allowed four runs, though just one was earned, gave up seven hits, two walks and he failed to strikeout a batter. In his only two career AB’s, Gannon struck out both times. He was soon back in the minors, where he finished his career five seasons later. Gannon lived until 1966, making him one of the last surviving 19th century major league players.
Jim Gardner, pitcher for the Pirates in 1895, then again from 1897 until 1899. Gardner had an odd deal with the Pirates during his first season, at least by current day standards. He never traveled with the team during the 1895 season, making all ten starts and one relief appearance in Pittsburgh. Gardner pitched well, especially considering the high offense in the NL that season. He went 8-2, 2.64, completing eight of his ten starts. After not playing pro ball during the 1896 season, he returned to the Pirates in 1897, going 5-5, 5.19 in 14 games, all as a starter. He made his first appearance on the road in July of that season. He also occasionally took turns at third base and in both corner outfield spots. In 1898, Gardner was a regular with the team, going 10-13, 3.21 in 185.1 innings, his only full season in the majors. He was released after a few poor performances in the 1899 season, attributed partially to a severe beaning the previous season. Gardner made the majors one other time briefly, making three starts for the 1902 Chicago Orphans(Cubs). He was a lifelong native of Pittsburgh, though his life wasn’t that long. Gardner played minor league ball briefly in 1904, then in April of 1905, he passed away at age thirty from an ear abscess and subsequent brain infection from it. A teammate after his passing claimed that the severe beaning he took years earlier, resulted in a fractured skull and played a part in his untimely death.
Sam Moran, pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. He was a 24-year-old, lefty-throwing rookie when he joined the Pirates in August of 1895. Moran started his pro career in Altoona in 1893 and played the following two seasons for Nashville of the Southern Association. He struggled in his late-season trial with the Pirates, but they gave him plenty of chances to show his stuff over that last month of the season. His first start came two days after his debut in relief. On August 30th, during the second game of a doubleheader, Moran faced the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles team, winners of three straight NL pennants(1894-96) and he was defeated 10-0. Moran made six starts and four relief appearances that season, going 2-4, 7.47 in 62.2 innings, with 78 hits allowed and 51 walks. That turned out to be his only major league experience. He was back in the minors in 1896 and like his teammate Jim Gardner, he too passed away at an early age during the baseball season. Moran died in August 1897 from chronic nephritis(kidney failure) at age twenty-six.
John Corcoran, shortstop/third baseman for the 1895 Pirates. His time in the majors was very brief, over a five day span from September 17-21 in 1895, the Pirates played six games. Corcoran played shortstop four times and third base twice during that stretch. He went 3-for-20 at the plate, with three singles and an RBI. In the field, he made two errors at shortstop, but was clean in four chances at third base. When the team left for a six game road trip to finish the season, Corcoran remained home, ending his season. Pirates hitting star Jake Stenzel said prior to his debut, that Corcoran was a strong hitter and fielder, and while he did hit .318 in 118 minor league games that season, it should be noted that both Stenzel and Corcoran were from Cincinnati, Ohio. Corcoran played one more year of minor league ball and like the two other 1895 Pirates players above(Moran and Gardner), he too met an early demise. Corcoran died at the age of twenty-eight(possibly 27 since his exact birth date isn’t known) from consumption, which is currently referred to as tuberculosis.
Joe Wright, centerfielder for the 1896 Pirates. He began his major league career for the 1895 Louisville Colonels, where he hit .276 in 60 games, with 30 RBI’s and 30 runs scored. The lefty Wright was traded to the Pirates on May 1, 1896 for Billy Clingman. At the time, he was called a first class outfielder, though Connie Mack also said he was a good player to have in case of emergency and he was more enthused about the catcher named Eddie Boyle he was also getting back. Wright was immediately sent to the minors, where he played for Toronto until a late season recall. In 15 games for the Pirates, he hit .308 with six RBI’s and five runs scored. Wright played 12 games in center and one at third base for Pittsburgh. After a contract dispute in the off-season, the Pirates sold his rights to Milwaukee of the Western League, where Connie Mack was his manager. He ended up playing minor league ball until 1900 without a return trip to the majors.
Dick Padden, second baseman for the Pirates from 1896 until 1898. He didn’t start playing pro ball until age 24 with the Roanoke Magicians of the Virginia State League, but it didn’t take long for Padden to make it to the majors. After hitting .316 with 48 extra base hits and 104 runs scored in 122 games in 1895, Padden began the following season with Toronto of the Eastern League. By mid-June of 1896, he was in the majors with the Pirates and playing nearly everyday at second base. The rookie infielder hit .242 in 61 games, with 33 runs scored and eight triples. By 1897, he was the team’s everyday second baseman, a job he would hold for two full seasons. Padden had the best year of his career that 1897 season, setting career highs with his .282 average, 84 runs scored, ten triples and 134 games played. He also led all NL second baseman with 369 putouts. His numbers dropped a bit in 1898, hitting .257, with just 15 extra-base hits in 128 games. On December 14,1898, Padden was traded to the Washington Senators, along with two other players, in exchange for star second baseman Heinie Reitz. Padden ended up playing in the majors until 1905, the last four years with the St Louis Browns. He was known for putting the ball in play with the Pirates, in 1352 plate appearances, he had 87 walks and just 50 strikeouts.
Charlie Kuhns, third baseman for the Pirates on June 7,1897. He had a nine year minor league career, but his major league career consisted of seven games with the 1899 Boston Beaneaters and his major league debut(and only game) with the 1897 Pirates. Just twenty years old at the time, Kuhns made his pro debut with the Pirates that June 7th, which was less than a week prior than his first minor league game. He actually got into a major league game three days earlier, but the stats don’t reflect that. On June 4th, the Pirates were playing the Phillies. After a bad call by the umpire in the top of the fourth inning, Pirates manager Patsy Donovan came to argue and was ejected. Donovan was also the right fielder that day and he argued the call prior to his scheduled at-bat. Kuhns came in to replace him and grounded out to end the inning. Before the bottom of the fourth inning, the umpire called the game a forfeit, declaring that the Pirates players were still arguing the call and not taking their position. Since they didn’t play long enough for it to be an official game, the stats were erased from the record books. Kuhns got his official game in three days later, going 0-for-3, with a walk and two errors in six fielding chances at third base. In his seven games for Boston, he hit .278 with three RBI’s, splitting his starts between third base and shortstop.
Jesse Hoffmeister, third baseman for the 1897 Pirates. He joined the Pirates on July 24, 1897 and held the third base job through the end of the season. Hoffmeister made quite an impression on the 4,000 Pirates fans that witnessed his first game. He collected three hits, scored three times and drove home six runs. He continued his hot hitting the rest of the way, hitting .309 with 36 RBI’s in 48 games. Despite the strong hitting, Hoffmeister spent the rest of his ten year pro career in the minors. His fielding was likely the cause, 31 errors in those 48 games(including two in his first game) for a .792 fielding percentage, exactly 100 points below a league average that he no doubt brought down. In the off-season, the Pirates traded for third baseman Bill Gray, who was a much better fielder, but hit just .229 with no homers in 137 games during his only season for the Pirates. Hoffmeister returned to the minors in 1898, playing until 1906 and never spending a full season with one team.
Bill Watkins, manager of the 1898-99 Pirates. Before coming to the Pirates, Watkins had already managed seven years in the majors. He had led the Detroit Wolverines to the 1887 National League title, his only first place finish. For the Pirates, he guided them to a disappointing 72-76 finish in 1898, placing them eighth in the 12 team National League. Early in the next season, after a 7-15 start, he was replaced by outfielder Patsy Donovan, who managed the team during the 1897 season. For Watkins, that was his last season managing in the majors. He finished with a 452-444 career managerial record. In 1884, he played infield for the 1884 Indianapolis Hoosiers of the American Association, his only year in the majors as a player. He managed 17 seasons in the minors.