This Date in Pirates History: December 21
Born on this date in 1960 was Andy Van Slyke, the all-star, gold glove defender who manned centerfield for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1987 to 1994. Van Slyke was a first round draft pick of the Cardinals in 1979 and he made his major league debut in mid-June 1983 after he hit .368 in 54 AAA games. In his four seasons in St Louis he hit .259 with 204 RBI’s, 205 runs scored and 104 stolen bases. He spent time at all outfield positions as well as 79 games at first base and 62 games at third base. Van Slyke along with catcher Mike Lavalliere and pitcher Mike Dunne were traded to the Pirates on April 1,1987 for all-star catcher Tony Pena.
Van Slyke had his best season up to that point, his first year in Pittsburgh, setting career highs in almost every major category with his .293 average, 21 homers, 82 RBI’s and 34 stolen bases. The following year he would top many of those numbers as he drove in 100 runs while scoring 101 times. He hit 25 homers and led the NL with 15 triples. He also would win his first gold glove, make his first all-star team and finish 4th in the NL in the MVP voting. In 1989 Van Slyke missed time early with a strained muscle in his rib cage and he never fully recovered, hitting just .237 with nine homers. Despite that injury, he was able to win his second straight gold glove award.
In 1990 the Pirates were a much better team and Andy helped lead the way towards their first pennant since 1979 by hitting .284 with 77 RBI’s and playing stellar defense in CF winning his 3rd straight gold glove, an award he would win again the next two seasons as well. Van Slyke helped the Pirates to a second straight title in 1991 by driving in 83 runs and scoring another 87. He struggled in the postseason, the fourth straight playoff series in which he slumped, the first two coming in 1985 for the Cardinals. At that point he was just 11 for 71 in his playoff career. The 1992 season would see the Pirates make the playoffs for a third straight time and Andy had his best overall season as he hit .324 with 103 runs scored and 89 RBI’s. He led the NL in hits and doubles and he made his second all-star team, won his fifth gold glove, won his second silver slugger award and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. He also had his best postseason series, hitting .276 with 4 RBI’s.
In 1993 Van Slyke crashed into an outfield wall trying to make a catch and broke his right collarbone, sidelining him for over two months. He hit .310 with 50 RBI’s but played just 83 games. He was elected to the all-star team for the third and final time of his career that year. In the strike shortened 1994 season Van Slyke struggled and he was allowed to leave via free agency following the season. He played for two teams in 1995, hitting .224 over 80 games before he retired. He was a career .274 hitter in 1658 games, finishing with 835 runs scored, 792 RBI’s, 164 homers and 245 stolen bases.
Also born on this date, in 1977, was Freddy Sanchez, the 2006 National League batting champ who played for the Pirates from 2004 to 2009. Freddy was originally an 11th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2000. He played briefly in the majors for the Sox in both 2003 and 2004, getting a total of 52 plate appearances over 32 games. He was traded to the Pirates along with relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez in exchange for pitchers Brandon Lyons and Jeff Suppan.
Sanchez played just one game at AAA for the Pirates in 2003 before he needed surgery on his right ankle. He missed most of the 2004 season getting into 44 minor league games and 9 games with the Pirates in which he hit .158 in 19 AB’s. Freddy made the 2005 Pirates out of spring and would play 132 games that year, finishing with a .291 average. He played 65 games at 3B, another 58 at 2B and even got some time in at shortstop. In 2006 he started the year on the bench, getting into almost every game at some point but he started just seven times through May 1st. When Joe Randa got hurt, Sanchez took over at 3B and went 3-5 his first game then went 2-19 the next four. He moved to SS while Jack Wilson missed a week and his batting took off and didn’t stop until the season did. He won the NL batting crown on the last day going 2-4 to finish with a .344 average. He also led the league in doubles with 53 and drove in 85 runs. In 2007 he became the everyday 2B and would make his second straight all-star appearance as he hit .304 with 42 doubles and 81 RBI’s. He struggled in 2008, hitting a career low .271 which came along with a .298 on base percentage. Back on his game in 2009, Sanchez made his third all-star appearance. He was traded to the Giants at the trading deadline that year for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson. Sanchez won a World Series title with the Giants in 2010 and he is a .297 career hitter although injuries have derailed his career a bit since moving on the San Francisco, as he has played just 192 games in 2 1/2 seasons there.
One trade to mention that happened on this date. On December 21, 1897 the Pirates traded pitcher Jim Hughey along with $1800 in cash to the St Louis Browns for pitcher Bill Hart. Hughey was a 28 year old righty who went 12-18 5.03 in two years with the Pirates. In was his first extended stint in the majors after pitching just two games in 1891 and another two in 1893. Hart played in the majors in 1886-87, then again in 1892 before joining the Pirates in 1895. He went 14-17 4.75 that season before he was traded to the Browns for shortstop Bones Ely. After the trade Hughey had the dubious distinction of playing for two of the worst teams ever, the 1898 Browns followed by the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. The two teams went a combined 59-245 and he personally went 11-54. Hart went 5-9 4.82 in 16 games for the Pirates before they released him. He played just one other season in the majors, in 1901 but he lasted until 1910 in the minors. Between the two pitchers they went a combined 95-200 in their major league careers.