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 1918 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 RBI’s. 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 9 RBI’s.
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 RBI’s in 1796 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 4 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. 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