On this date in 1856 one of the winningest pitchers to ever put on a Pittsburgh uniform was born. Jim McCormick only played one season in Pittsburgh, for the 1887 Alleghenys, but only three pitchers who have won more career games than him, have also put on a Pirates uniform. Those pitchers are Pud Galvin, Bert Blyleven and Burleigh Grimes. In fact, McCormick’s 265 career wins still ranks him 39th all-time despite the fact he played just 10 seasons in the majors. He is also one of just eight players born in Great Britian to ever play in the majors.
McCormick made his major league debut in 1878 for the Indianapolis Blues, a one year franchise in the NL that finished in 5th place(out of 6 teams) that year. He went just 5-8 that year making his final win total that much more impressive. The next year he was on a poor hitting team called the Cleveland Blues, a team that finished last in hitting. He started 60 of the teams 82 games, completing all but one start, and despite a 2.42 ERA, he had a 20-40 record. His 1880 season is one of the best pitching seasons ever, still on the Blues, he posted a 1.85 ERA and won an NL leading 45 games. He also made 74 starts, completing 72 and he led the NL with 657.2 innings pitched. His totals in each of those last three categories ranks him in the top 4 all-time for single seasons. He led his league in wins in 1883 and ERA in both 1883 and 84.
The year prior to joining the Pirates, he played for the Chicago White Stockings(Cubs) and went 31-11 with a 2.82 ERA. The White Stockings decided to trade him right before the start of the 1887 season to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, a team brand new to the NL that year. In exchange, they got cash and pitcher George Van Haltren, who Pittsburgh not only unloaded twice, but he turned out to be one of the best 19th century hitters not in the Hall of Fame yet. McCormick struggled his only season in Pittsburgh going 13-23 with what was easily his highest season ERA at 4.30. Despite the poor record he was offered a job for the 1888 season with Pittsburgh, albeit at a lesser salary. He refused, and walked away from baseball at age 30, just 35 wins short of the magical 300 mark that gets you into the Hall of Fame. Of course, he had no way of knowing that at the time and very little publicity went along with milestones back then.
Also on this date in 1866, another Pirates pitcher was born named Harry Staley, who has a direct connection to McCormick. Staley helped fill the opening in the rotation left by the retirement of McCormick. Harry played for the team from 1888-89 when they were the Alleghenys and 1891 when they took on the name Pirates. The Alleghenys bought him from a minor league team named the St Louis Whites in June of 1888 after he posted a 1.76 ERA in 20 starts. He made another 24 starts in the majors that year, completing all of them, with a 12-12 2.69 record. The following season he posted a 3.51 ERA during a higher offense year, finishing 6th in the NL in ERA. In 1890, almost the entire Alleghenys team, along with most of the better players around baseball, jumped to the newly formed Player’s League for the season. The league folded after one year and all players were put back on their original rosters from 1889 as long as the team reserved them. Staley pitched well upon his return but was released in May with a 4-5 record. He pitched in the majors until 1895 and finished with 136 career wins, 37 of them came with the Pirates.
Finally, one of my favorite baseball names was born on this date in 1898, Homer Summa who played for the 1920 Pirates. Homer was his given name but that didn’t make him a home run hitter in the majors, hitting just 18 round trippers in 3001 at-bats. Homer struggled his rookie year in the minors in 1919, hitting just .192 over 113 games. He had a complete turnaround the next season, hitting .351 for a team from Norfolk and earning himself a shot at the majors. He made his major league debut on September 13, 1920 for the Pirates, two days before Pie Traynor made his major league debut. Summa hit .318 in his 10 games with the Pirates, going 7-for-22 with three walks. He was returned to the minors for 1921 and then signed with the Cleveland Indians the next season. He played seven seasons in Cleveland, hitting .303 in 768 games. After two years spent with the Philadelphia A’s, he retired from the majors with a .302 average. He went on the play in the Pacific Coast League for four seasons and he had a .318 career minor league average.
Other Pirates players born on this date include, Fred Hayner(1871) who appeared in one game as an 18-year-old for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Len Gilmore(1917) pitched one game for the Pirates in 1944 and set two team records that game.