This Date in Pirates History: December 22
Born on this date in 1938 was all-star outfielder Matty Alou who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1966 to 1970. The Pirates acquired Alou from the San Francisco Giants on December 1, 1965 for Ozzie Virgil and Joe Gibbon in a trade that was covered here. Matty had been in the majors with the Giants since 1960 but he never received more than 351 plate appearances in a season and he was just a .260 hitter over 453 games. When he joined the Pirates, manager Harry Walker along with Roberto Clemente, convinced Alou to change his approach at the plate and the new style helped him win a batting crown his first season with a .342 average, 111 points higher than he hit in 1965. He finished ninth in the NL MVP voting, with his outfield partner Clemente winning the award.
In 1967 Alou hit .338, the 3rd highest average in the NL and Clemente led the league with his .357 mark. Matty reached career highs in runs, doubles, hits and RBI’s but before he left the Pirates he would top all of those numbers in a big way. The 1968 season saw Alou make his first all-star team, he finished 2nd to Pete Rose in batting(.335 to .332) and 11th in the NL MVP voting but his personal best season would be the 1969 season. Alou set a major league single season record for at-bats in a season with 698, topping the old mark set by the Pirates Woody Jensen back in 1936. He hit .331 by collecting 231 hits, the 3rd highest total in team history trailing Paul Waner’s record 237 in 1927 and his brother Lloyd’s 234 in 1929. Alou led the league with 41 doubles, he also scored 105 runs and added 22 stolen bases while making his second all-star appearance.
In 1970 Alou dropped down to a .297 average, easily his lowest total while with the Pirates but he still scored 97 runs and collected 201 hits thanks to a league leading 677 at-bats. After the season the Pirates traded Alou, along with veteran pitcher George Brunet to the Cardinals in exchange for Nelson Briles and Vic Davalillo. Alou lasted in the majors until June of 1974, playing for four different teams in his last four years. In 1667 career games he finished with a .307 average and 1777 hits. While with the Pirates though, he hit .327 in 743 games, the 5th highest average in team history.
Also born on this date, in 1862, was Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack who managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1894 to 1896 and also played for the team from 1891 to 1896. As a player Connie was a strong defensive catcher. He began his major league career with the Washington Nationals in 1886, spending four seasons there. Like most of the better players of the day, he went to play in the newly formed Player’s League in 1890. After the PL folded, most players returned to their original teams from the 1889 season as long as the team put them on a reserve list. For Mack though, the Nationals franchise no longer existed so he was free to sign with another team and the Pirates came calling.
Mack spent the remainder of his playing days in a Pirates uniform, sharing the catching duties for six seasons. His best season came in 1892 when he caught 92 games and threw out a league leading 47% of attempted base stealers. That number particularly stands out when you realize just how much running teams did back then. Opponents attempted 257 steals against him meaning he threw out an average of 1.32 runners per game. Mack hit .242 in 326 games with the Pirates, just two points below his career average. He took over the managerial duties in late 1894 and led the team to a winning record in each of his two full seasons. He moved on to manage a minor league team from Milwaukee for four years before the American League was formed in 1901 and he became the manager/owner of the Philadelphia Athletics club, guiding the team for 50 seasons, winning five World Series titles. His 3731 career wins as a manager will likely never be broken, the closest active manager is former Pirates skipper Jim Leyland, who is 2143 wins away from Mack.
On this date in 1982 the Pirates traded four players to the New York Yankees for outfielder Lee Mazzilli. He was just 28 at the time of the trade but he was two years removed from his last good season, 1980 when he hit .280 with 76 RBI’s and 41 stolen bases for the Mets. In 1982 he played for both the Yankees and Rangers, hitting .251 with 34 RBI’s in 95 games. The trade worked out well for the Pirates in the sense that three of the four players they gave up never reached the majors and the fourth, Tim Burke, was just a reliever and didn’t make the big leagues until 1985 after the Yankees had traded him to the Expos.
Mazzilli played 3 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh before he was released in the middle of the 1986 season. He was used quite often as a pinch hitter with the Pirates but he also got time in at 1B/LF/CF as well. The choice to keep him around as a pinch hitter after 1983 was an interesting one because he had just 6 hits in 49 pinch hit appearances that year. He was hardly any better in 1984 in the role, hitting just .188 in 38 games as a pinch hitter but the Pirates persistence to use him that way paid off finally in 1985. He started just 15 times all season but in 72 pinch hit appearances he hit .286 with 15 walks for a .437 OBP. He played 61 games for the Pirates in 1986 before his release, 48 of those games off the bench. All told, he hit .244 in 373 games with Pittsburgh. Lee played 1475 games in his 14 year career, 415 of them in the pinch hit role.