This Date in Pirates History: December 24
Born on this date in 1949 was shortstop Frank Taveras, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1971 to 1979. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates in 1968 and he spent four full seasons in the minors before he got a chance in the big leagues. He played just one game his rookie season, pinch running for Willie Stargell during a 15 inning game against the Mets on September 25,1971. He played just four September games with the Pirates in 1972 then spent the entire 1973 season at AAA. Despite not getting a late season call-up the prior season, Taveras made the 1974 Pirates opening day roster and started 107 games at shortstop that year. After hitting .246 his rookie season, Taveras slumped down to .212 in 1975 but he still started 122 games.
Frank received added playing time in 1976, getting nearly 150 more plate appearances despite playing just 10 more games than in 1975. He also displayed plus speed for the first time in his pro career, stealing 58 bases in 69 attempts. His previous stolen base high was just 20 back in the minors in 1971. In 1977 Frank led the NL in stolen bases with 70 while also reaching double figures in doubles and triples for the first time. He also hit his first major league homer, an inside-the-park grand slam on August 5, in his 510th major league game. Taveras set career highs in hits, doubles and RBI’s in 1978. He hit .278 and added 46 stolen bases but he was also caught stealing an NL leading 25 times. Just 11 games into the 1979 season the Pirates traded Taveras to the Mets for Tim Foli. Frank hit .255 in 1150 career games, stealing exactly 300 bases and hitting just two career homers.
Also born on this date, in 1957, was Victor Cruz who pitched for the 1981 Pirates. He was a reliever for three seasons in the majors when the Pirates acquired him on December 9, 1980 as part of the return for Bert Blyleven. In 1980 he went 6-7 3.45 in 55 games with 12 saves for the Cleveland Indians. With the Pirates he pitched just 22 games during the strike shortened 1981 season, going 1-1 2.65 with one save. He was traded to the Texas Rangers just prior to the start of the 1982 season in exchange for Nelson Norman. Cruz spent the entire 1982 season in the minors, then posted a 1.44 ERA in 17 games for the Rangers in 1983 before finishing his career in the minors.
Born on this date in 1910 was pitcher Lloyd Johnson who had his entire major league career consist of one inning pitched for the Pirates on Saturday, April 21, 1934. He played four seasons in the minors prior to his big league game. He was with the Pirates in their bullpen when they came to Cincinnati for the fourth game of the year. With the Reds up 8-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning, manager George Gibson called upon Johnson to pitch to the bottom of the order. He allowed just one hit but still retired the side facing just three hitters. The last batter that Johnson faced in the majors was former Pirate Adam Comorosky, who we covered here. The Pirates lineup that game had five future Hall of Famers at the top of the batting order, Lloyd Waner, Freddie Lindstrom, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor and Arky Vaughan. They also got two innings of relief work from another future HOF player that day named Waite Hoyt. Johnson returned to the minors shortly after that, returning to his team in Mission,Ca that he had played for since 1930. He played 12 minor league seasons, going 97-121 total.
Finally, born on this date in 1877 was first baseman Del Howard who played just one season in Pittsburgh but was involved in two fairly big trades. He was a 26 year old minor league star when the Phillies purchased him from Omaha of the Western League. Just four months after they bought him and before he could play a single major league game for the Phillies, they traded him to the Pirates in exchange for three players in a trade that was covered here. He had a strong rookie season in 1905 for the Pirates, hitting .292 with 63 RBI’s and 19 stolen bases. Almost a year to the date of acquiring Howard, the Pirates packaged him in a deal with two other players to acquire star pitcher Vic Willis. Del was a .263 hitter over five seasons in the majors before he returned to the minors where he played for six more full seasons and parts of two others. He also managed for 11 years in the minors.