Born on this date in 1928 was Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Gus Bell, who played for them from 1950-52. Bell was signed as an amateur free agent in 1947 and by age 20 he already had two .300 seasons in the minors. He started the 1950 season in AAA playing for Indianapolis and played so well the first 38 games, hitting an even .400 (66 for 165), that the Pirates called him up on May 30th for a doubleheader. He went 2-5 in each game of the doubleheader although the Pirates lost both games. He would play 111 games that rookie season, hitting .282 with 11 triples, the second highest total in the NL. The next year as an everyday player all season, he played 149 games and led the NL in triples with 12 while adding 16 homers. He drove in 89 runs and scored 80 runs, both the second highest totals on the Pirates behind Ralph Kiner.
In 1952, Bell had a down year from the previous season, hitting just .250 while striking out 72 times. That strikeout total was the 10th highest in the NL, and he did it despite the fact he missed 23 games. Right after the season ended the Pirates traded Bell to the Cincinnati Reds for three players who provided very little, while Bell went on to have a nice career, including three straight 100 RBI seasons from 1953-55. He was a four-time all-star during his 13 full seasons in the majors, finishing with 206 homers and 962 RBI’s in 1741 games. He is the father of Buddy Bell and grandfather of both David Bell and Mike Bell, making them one of the few three generation families in baseball history.
Also born on this date was outfielder Maurice Von Robays, who played for the Pirates from 1939-43 and 1946. He played briefly in the minors in 1934 but missed two full seasons with injuries before he returned in 1937 when he would hit .368 with 43 homers in the low minors. In 1938 he moved up to A ball and hit .307 with 23 homers, earning a late season promotion to Montreal of the International League(AA). He returned to Montreal for 1939 and hit .320 in 136 games, earning a September call-up to Pittsburgh. He hit .314 in 27 games, earning the left field job for the 1940 Pirates. In his first full season that year he hit .273 and drove in a team leading 116 runs, the third highest RBI total in the NL.
Maurice hit .282 with 78 RBI’s in 1941, a big drop in RBI’s from the previous season but it was still the second highest total on the Pirates. His stats dropped way off in 1942, hitting just .232 in 100 games with his slugging percentage down to just .311 with just one home run. He was rebounding in 1943 after starting the year in the minors, hitting .288 through 69 games when he entered the Army for 32 months. He returned for the 1946 season but struggled, hitting just .212 in his last major league season. He played four more years in the minors before retiring. He had a career .267 average in 529 major league games with 303 RBI’s.
A couple other brief mentions for players born on this date. Craig Hansen, who pitched for the Pirates in 2008-09, turns 31 today. He came to the Pirates from the Red Sox in the Jason Bay trade and went 1-4 7.67 in 16 games that 2008 season. In 2009 he pitched just five games before being injured. He came back briefly in the minors in 2010, pitching 12 games. Also lefty reliever Jeff Niemann, who pitched for the Pirates from 1982-83, turns 59 today. He pitched 28 games total for the Pirates in those two seasons, spending part of each year as a starting pitcher in the minors. He went 1-2 6.24 in 49 innings for Pittsburgh. Niemann came to the Pirates from the Astros as the player to be named later in the Johnny Ray for Phil Garner trade. He was traded to the White Sox for Miguel Dilone in September of 1983.