This Date in Pirates History: December 7
On this date in 1946 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded catcher Al Lopez to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Gene Woodling. Lopez had a Hall of Fame career as a manager but he was also a fine player for 19 seasons, including seven in Pittsburgh. Lopez caught 1,918 career games, the highest total in baseball at the time and a mark that stood nearly 40 years. He was strong on defense, four times leading the NL in fielding percentage for catchers while with the Pirates and he threw out 48.6 % of would be base stealers during his career. With the Pirates he played 656 games, hitting .254 with 196 RBIs. He received MVP consideration in seven seasons but at age 38 at the time of the trade, his playing time was starting to diminish. Woodling was at the opposite end of the spectrum, he had played just 69 career games at the time of the trade, 61 of them in 1946 with the Indians where he hit just .188 with nine RBIs.
Lopez would play just one season in Cleveland, hitting .262 in 61 games while also posting a 1.000 fielding percentage in 57 games caught. His true value to the Indians came as the manager starting in 1951 and continuing through the 1956 season. He went 570-354 there, leading them to the 1954 WS. He moved on to Chicago with the White Sox and led them to the 1959 WS. In fact, in his first nine seasons of managing, in an era dominated by the Yankees, he never finished below second place in any season. Woodling played just two games with the Pirates before they sent him to the minors. He returned in September to play another 20 games but as soon as the season ended they traded him to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League. He went on to have a strong major league career, just 25 at the time of the trade, he had 14 major league seasons ahead of him including playing for the Indians in 1956 where he was managed by Lopez. He hit .284 career with 147 homers and 830 RBIs in 1,796 games
Born on this date in 1915 was Pirates pitcher Johnny Gee, who at 6’9″ was the tallest major league baseball player ever until Randy Johnson made his major league debut in 1988. Gee played for the Pirates in 1939, 1941 and 1943-44. Gee spent three seasons in the minors with Syracuse, winning 20 games in 1939 before the Pirates purchased him on July 31st. He played just three games in the majors that first year, going 1-2, 4.12, which included eight innings in his debut in which he allowed seven runs, but none of them were earned. He missed the entire 1940 season with arm pain and barely pitched in 1941 and 1942, getting into a combined seven minor league and three major league games. He missed the first two months of the 1943 season as well but ended up pitching a career high 15 games, going 4-4, 4.28 in 82 innings. He pitched poorly for the Pirates in May of 1944, posting a 7.15 ERA in four games before they sold him to the New York Giants, where he went 2-4 in 19 games over three seasons
Also born on this date, in 1935, was pitcher Don Cardwell, who played for the Pirates from 1963 to 1966. The Pirates acquired him in the Dick Groat trade following the 1962 season. Cardwell won 15 games for a Cubs team in 1961 that went 64-90. The team was even worse the next season, losing 103 games and Cardwell didn’t help as he lost 16 games while posting a 4.92 ERA. The Cubs traded him to the Cardinals as part of a six player deal in October of 1962 but a month later the Groat trade went down so he never actually played for St Louis. The 27-year-old pitched well his first season in Pittsburgh with a 3.07 ERA in 32 starts but it didn’t show in his record as he went just 13-15 for the 8th place Pirates. Cardwell pitched once in relief in 1963, three innings in the 2nd game of a doubleheader after he started game one. It led to an arm injury that cost him nearly the entire 1964 season.
Back healthy for the 1965 season, Don had his best year in Pittsburgh. He pitched 240 innings, going 13-10, 3.18 in 34 starts and three relief appearances. He struggled in 1966 going 6-6 4.60, was moved to the bullpen in July and stayed there to finish the year. Following the season the Pirates traded him to the Mets. He went just 20-34 in New York in four seasons but his ERA there was just 3.31 compared to 3.38 in Pittsburgh, where he went 33-33 in his four seasons with the Pirates.
Two other players of note, who have been covered on this site were also born on this date. Born in 1906, Tony Piet was a second baseman who played three seasons for the Pirates, 1931-33. He was part of a four player trade made on November 17, 1933 that was written about here. In 305 games for the Pirates, Piet hit .298 with 151 RBIs and 41 stolen bases. After leaving Pittsburgh, his numbers fell off dramatically, finishing with a .277 average five years later. He also spent time in the majors with the Reds, White Sox and Tigers. Piet split his time between second base and third base after leaving Pittsburgh. In 1932, he led the league with 154 games played.
Also, way back in 1847, James “Deacon” White was born. He played just one season for Pittsburgh when they were still known as the Alleghenys back in 1889. He was such a significant player, and one that is very under-appreciated in baseball history, that I dedicated an article to his case for the Hall of Fame. That article can be read here
Briefly, I’ll mention the other four Pirates players born on this date:
Bo Belinsky (1936) Pitcher for the 1969 Pirates. Belinsky was originally signed by the Pirates in 1956, but didn’t play for the team until 13 years later. In three starts and five relief appearances, he went 0-3, 4.58 in 17.2 innings. Belinsky gained instant fame by throwing a no-hitter as a rookie in 1962, then built on that by dating famous actresses and appearing in TV roles. His baseball career was considered a disappointment though. After a 7-2 start to his career, he went 21-49 over eight seasons. The Pirates purchased Belinsky from the Angels in July of 1969 and trade him to the Reds six months later in exchange for Dennis Ribant, who was part of the 1966 Don Cardwell trade mentioned above.
Hal Smith (1930) Catcher for the 1960-61 Pirates. Smith came to the Pirates two days after his 29th birthday in a trade with the Kansas City A’s. He had a decent bat, but defensively he had his problems. He led the league in errors, passed balls and stolen bases allowed in 1957 alone. With the Pirates, Smith hit .264 with 14 homers and 71 RBIs in 144 games. In the 1960 World Series, he went 3-for-8 over three games and in game seven, he hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning, helping to set up Bill Mazeroski’s famous home run. Smith was lost to the Houston Colt. 45’s in the 1961 expansion draft. In ten seasons, he hit .267 with 58 homers and 323 RBIs. Smith should not be confused with the 1930’s Pirates pitcher Hal Smith or the 1965 catcher named Hal Smith.
Vinnie Smith (1915) Catcher for the 1941 and 1946 Pirates. Smith was one of the players from that era that had his career cut short due to service during WWII. He also missed significant time when he returned due to injuries. His big league career as a player consisted of two seasons, separated by four years. He played 16 games total in Pittsburgh, hitting .259 with five RBIs. Smith went on to become a major league umpire after his playing days ended in 1953 and he was part of a famous game in Pirates history. He was the home plate umpire during Harvey Haddix’s 12 inning perfect game.
Bobby Schang (1886) Catcher for the 1914-15 Pirates. He wasn’t much of a hitter during his time in Pittsburgh, batting .194 with five RBIs over 67 games during his two seasons with the team. Schang spent most of his 16 year pro career in the minors. He had a long stretch between major appearances that is worth noting. The Pirates sold him to the New York Giants near the end of the 1915 season. After appearing in a few games for the Giants that season, he went to the minors and didn’t return to the big leagues until a three game stint with the 1927 Cardinals. His brother Wally Schang was a catcher for 19 seasons in the majors and the starting catcher for six World Series teams.