This Date in Pirates History: December 31

Before I get into the birthdays for today(there are no trades to mention) I have to mention the tragic passing of a legendary Pittsburgh Pirates player on this date in 1972 when the great Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua to deliver relief aid after the country was struck by an earthquake. He was just 38 years old.

Clemente passed away 39 years ago today

Born on this date in 1971 was pitcher Esteban Loaiza who signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1991. Loaiza went 5-1 2.26 in the GCL his first season then followed that up the next year with a 10-8 3.89 record in 143.1 innings in low-A ball with Augusta. In 1993 he pitched 152 innings, posting a 3.49 ERA and reaching AA at age 21. He was very consistent with his stats in the minors, again he posted a mid-three ERA in 1994 and he upped his innings again, slightly, to 154.1 while making 24 starts.

Despite never pitching in AAA he made the jump to the majors in 1995 and made a league leading 31 starts. He threw 172.2 innings, posting a 5.16 ERA and an 8-9 record, finishing second on the team in wins during that strike-shortened season. Esteban was back in the minors for part of 1996, making 11 starts in AAA and ten starts for the Pirates. He was back in the major league rotation for all of 1997 and his 11-11 4.13 record helped the Pirates to 79 wins and a second place finish. Loaiza started the 1998 season with the Pirates going 6-5 4.52 in 21 games before he was shipped to the Texas Rangers for minor league second baseman Warren Morris and pitcher Todd Van Poppel. Esteban pitched 14 seasons in the majors, ending his career in 2008 with a 126-114 4.25 record in 333 starts and 14 relief appearances. He won 23 games for the White Sox in 2003, finishing second in the Cy Young award voting that year.

Also born on this date, in 1884, was Bobby Byrne, a third baseman who played with the Pirates from 1909 to 1913. The Pirates acquired him in August of 1909 from the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for light hitting third baseman Jap Barbeau and backup infielder Alan Storke. At the time of the trade Byrne was batting .214 with 61 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. The Pirates won the NL title in 1909 and Byrne hit .256 with 31 runs scored in 43 games to finish the season. In the World Series he hit .250 with 5 runs scored as the Pirates beat the Tigers in seven games.

Byrne was a .227 hitter his first three seasons in the majors but in 1910 he broke out in a big way, having the best season of his 11 year career. He led the NL in hits with 178 and doubles with 43 while scoring 101 runs and stealing 36 bases. He also batted .296 with 66 walks and a career high 52 RBI’s. He nearly matched his runs total from the previous season in 1911 when he scored 96 runs and he did match his RBI total with 52 while playing a career high 153 games but the batting average was down to .259 and he led all NL third baseman in errors with 35. Byrne had a solid 1912 season batting .288 while scoring 99 runs in just 130 games. In 1913 Byrne was having a typical season of his years in Pittsburgh when in late August the Pirates traded him and star pitcher Howie Camnitz, who was struggling at the time, to the Philadelphia Phillies. In return the Pirates received third baseman Cozy Dolan and cash. Byrne was a career .254 hitter in 1283 games but with the Pirates he hit .277 in 590 games.

On this date in 1945, the Pirates released infielder Jack Saltzgaver and pitcher Walter “Boom-Boom” Beck. For both players, it was the end of their major league career. On this date in 1906, the Pirates sold outfielder Bob Ganley to the Washington Senators. You can read more about each player in the links under their names.

We here at Pirates Prospects would like to wish everyone a safe and healthy Happy New Year’s.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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