Born on this date in 1960 was Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Lee Tunnell, who played for the team from 1982-85. He was a 2nd round draft pick by the Pirates out of Baylor University in 1981 and he signed quickly. After a brief stay in the GCL, the Pirates moved him all the way up to AA where he started 12 games, going 5-5 4.44 in 71 innings. He was in AAA the next year going 12-9 3.46 in 27 starts before being called up by the Pirates in early September, just 15 months after being drafted. He won his major league debut, throwing seven shutout innings against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. He got bombed his second outing but came back with another shutout performance, this time six innings against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
In 1983 Tunnell made the team out of spring training and was used mainly in the starting role although he sometimes was used in long relief. He had his best season that year going 11-6 3.65 in 177 innings, finishing 9th in Rookie of the Year voting, two spots behind teammate Jose DeLeon. Despite pitching so well, the Pirates moved him to the bullpen for the start of the 1984 season and he struggled, posting a 6.75 ERA through the end of May. He got his first start on June 2nd and allowed just one run over 7 innings for the win. He missed most of July with shoulder stiffness and was sent to the bullpen when he came back. He finished the year just 1-7 and only pitched 68 innings.
Lee came back in 1985 and struggled, was sent to the minors after an 0-5 start, returned in late June and went 4-5 3.84 the rest of the way. He played all of 1986 in AAA posting a 6.01 ERA as a starter and was released that December. He played two more seasons in the majors(’87 Cardinals, ’89 Twins). He pitched two more years in the minors then three in Japan before returning to the minors for two more season, retiring in 1995. He finished his Pirates career with a 17-24 4.06 record in 57 starts and 33 relief appearances.
Also born on this date in 1917 was Pirates manager Bobby Bragan, who was at the helm prior to the hiring of Danny Murtaugh. Bragan took over after the 1955 season for Fred Haney, who had endured three seasons with Pittsburgh in which the Pirates lost a total of 299 games. The 1956 Pirates were slightly better than before but they still lost 88 games and finished poorly. After a July 12th doubleheader sweep over the Cubs, the Pirates had a 37-38 record. The rest of the way they went just 29-50. The beginning of the 1957 season wasn’t any better for Bragan and the Pirates. They went just 36-67 before he was replaced with Murtaugh, who led them to a winning record the rest of the way. Bragan would go on to manage three straight winning teams with the Braves that won an average of 86 games per year but his time in Pittsburgh resulted in just a .397 winning percentage.
Finally, on this date in 1866, pitcher Pete Conway was born. He was bought from the Detroit Wolverines(NL) on October 16, 1888 and played for the 1889 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Unfortunately his time in Pittsburgh was one of the biggest fall-offs in baseball history. The previous season he was 30-14 for Detroit as a 21-year-old. He was also a good hitter, batting .275 with three homers. The 1889 Pirates had a great pitching staff, future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin, who was the majors all-time wins leader prior to Cy Young. They had Ed “Cannonball” Morris, winner of 157 games in his first five seasons and he was just 26 years old. They also had a young pitcher named Harry Staley, who posted a 2.69 ERA as a 21-year-old in 1888 and in Conway, they added a 30 game winner to that during a time when some teams went with just two pitchers all season.
The unfortunate part regarding Conway was in his third start( he won his first two games), he injured his arm and only lasted four innings. Despite the fact he was just 22 at the time, and coming off a great season, the Alleghenys released him later that year and surprisingly he never pitched again. It is likely if they had the same medical procedures back then as they do now, he may have missed a year and came back with a full career ahead of him at just 23 years of age. You may ask, what kind of salary would a player get coming off a 30-14 season? Pittsburgh signed Conway for two years and $7,000, although when he couldn’t pitch, he was suspended without pay due to poor conditioning, which was not really the problem.