Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including an infielder who played eight seasons for the Pirates and one who played just eight games. John Fredland, in his Jolly Roger Rewind, covers a memorable Pirates game from the 1955 season that saw Pittsburgh come up on the wrong end of history. Before I start in with the former players, I must mention a birthday of a current player. Evan Meek turns 29 today. He is currently pitching for Indianapolis at AAA. Meek has been with the Pirates since being selected in the Rule V draft in December of 2007, a common theme as you will see below. In five seasons in Pittsburgh, he has pitched 153 games, going 7-7 3.22 with four saves.
Josh Phelps (1978) First baseman for the 2007 Pirates. He was one of those rare Rule V draft picks that had major league experience before he was picked, and plenty of it. Phelps already had over 350 games in at the majors and six seasons of big league experience, when the Orioles signed him as a minor league free agent on November 10,2006. Less than a month later, the Yankees selected him in the Rule V draft and he would hit .263 in 36 games in New York through the end of June. He was put on waivers, where the Pirates picked him up. Playing mostly off the bench, in 58 games he hit .351 with five homers and 19 RBI’s for the Pirates. He was even used as a starting catcher when Ryan Doumit went down with an injury, getting two starts at the position, which were his first big league starts behind the plate in six years. Despite his versatility and his strong hitting, the Pirates dropped him from the roster in November of 2007 when they picked up Jimmy Barthmaier off waivers. Phelps has since played just 19 more major league games, all with the 2008 Cardinals. He is still currently active, playing pro ball in Italy.
Johnny Hetki (1922) Pitcher for the 1953-54 Pirates. He began pro ball in 1942, but missed the next two years due to military service. When he returned, Johnny pitched well for Birmingham of the Southern Association, earning a September call-up to the Cincinnati Reds. He went 6-6 2.99 in 32 games during his first full season in 1946 but really struggled the next two years. He spent most of 1948 and all of 1949 in the minors before coming back up to the majors with the 1950 Reds as a bullpen arm. Hetki then spent most of the 1951-52 seasons pitching for Toronto of the International League, where he won a combined 32 games. He also pitched three games for the 1952 St Louis Browns. The Pirates picked him up in the 1952 Rule V draft in December of 1952, paying $10,000 for his rights. Hetki would pitch two full seasons for Pittsburgh out of the bullpen, getting into a total of 112 games with 201.1 innings pitched. He went 7-10 4.38 with 12 saves. Johnny returned to Toronto in 1955 and pitched two years there before retiring as a player. At 90 years old today, he is the sixth oldest living Pirates player. One of his catchers during that 1953 season, Mike Sandlock, is the oldest.
Hank Borowy (1916) Pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. He was already in the middle of his ninth season in the majors when the Pirates picked him up off waivers in mid-June 1950 from the Phillies, paying the $10,000 fee for his rights. Borowy had a 104-76 career record at that point, winning in double digits his first five seasons. In 1945 he won 21 games, splitting the year between the Cubs and Yankees. In 1949, he made 28 starts for the Phillies, going 12-12 4.19 but in the first two months of 1950, he pitched just three times in relief and was being used as a batting practice pitcher. For the Pirates, he was put into the starting rotation and got hit hard in his two starts, including one against the Phillies just ten days after he was acquired. He got one more start and eight relief appearances before the Pirates sold him to the Detroit Tigers for more than they had paid to the Phillies. He would pitch 39 games for the Tigers over the next two years before retiring.
Alex McCarthy (1889) Infielder for the Pirates from 1910 until 1917. He was a teammate of Hall of Fame outfielder Max Carey, playing for South Bend of the Central League when both players had their contracts purchased. McCarthy was in his first season of pro ball at the time. Pittsburgh let him play the last three games of the season at shortstop, with Honus Wagner moving over to first base to give the kid a chance to play his normal position. On the final day of the season, he led off the game with a triple but made two errors in the field and didn’t collect another hit. In 1911, he made the team out of Spring Training and was the backup middle infielder, getting into 33 games at shortstop and 11 at second base. The following year, the Pirates moved Dots Miller over to first base and McCarthy became the regular second baseman. He played a career high 111 games that year, hitting .277 with 41 RBI’s and 53 runs scored.
In 1913, McCarthy struggled at the plate and 22 year old Jim Viox, who came up the previous season, took over the second base job. Viox hit .317 to lead the team, while Alex hit .203 in 31 games. The 1914 season was an even tougher one at the plate for McCarthy. He played strong defense in his 36 games at third base but hit just .150 in 173 AB’s. He was with the Pirates until September of 1915, when the team sold him to the Chicago Cubs. Alex was being used as the backup for all four infield positions for Pittsburgh but had played only 21 games all year. He was with the Cubs until July of 1916 when the Pirates reacquired him. He saw plenty of time at shortstop over the end of the season but hit just .199 in 50 games. After hitting .219 in 49 games the next year, he was traded to a minor league team in Kansas City. McCarthy never returned to the majors but played another ten seasons of pro ball before retiring. He would go on to manage in the minors after his playing days were over.
Harry Truby (1870) Second baseman for the 1896 Pirates. He began playing minor league ball as an 18 year old in 1888 but didn’t make his major league debut until seven seasons later with the 1895 Chicago Colts(Cubs). Harry made his major league debut in late August that year, playing 33 games at second base with a .336 average and 16 RBI’s. Truby began the 1896 season back with the Colts, hitting .257 with 31 RBI’s in 29 games. On July 4th, the Pirates purchased his contract from Chicago. He made his debut three days later batting seventh and playing second base. Truby was said to likely be there only until the starting second baseman, Louis Bierbauer, recovered from a minor injury. He played poorly in his eight games, hitting .156 with five singles to his credit and he made some poor plays in the field. When Bierbauer returned, Truby lost his spot in the lineup and as it turned out, he never played in the majors again. He was sent to Toronto, a team in the Eastern League that the Pirates used as a farm team, where he played out the year.
Truby would be part of a fairly big trade for the Pirates later that year. Pittsburgh gave up Jake Stenzel, the franchise leader with a .360 career average in Pittsburgh, along with three players from Toronto, to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Steve Brodie, a defensive star in center field and third baseman Jim Donnelly. Harry ended up playing another eight seasons in the minors before his playing career ended. He also managed for three seasons between 1899 and 1908.
Jolly Roger Rewind: May 12, 1955
Chicago righthander Sam Jones held the Pirates hitless in a 4-0 Cubs victory at Wrigley Field. Fifty-seven years later, Jones’ performance remains the most recent instance of the Buccos getting no-hit in a road game.*
Jones—known as “Toothpick Sam” and “Sad Sam”—required 136 pitches to complete the feat. The league leader in both strikeouts and walks that season, he wound up striking out six Pirates and walking seven in the course of the no-hitter.
This propensity for strikeouts and walks provided some ninth inning drama. Jones started the ninth by walking Ed Freese, pinch-hitter Preston Ward, and Tom Saffell. With the tying run at the plate, Cubs manager Stan Hack visited the mound and, according to the Associated Press account of the game, told his pitcher to “get the ball over, that’s all.” (Hack revealed afterwards that he did not inform Jones that he had decided to remove him if he walked another batter.)
Thus counseled, Jones went mano-a-mano with three young Pirate hitters—all of whom would play integral roles in the Pirates’ metamorphosis from 42-win catastrophe in 1952 to World Champions eight years later—and emerged with his no-hitter. First, he took three pitches to strike out 24-year-old shortstop Dick Groat (in his second major league season after missing two years for Army service). Next, he dispatched 20-year-old rookie rightfielder Roberto Clemente (batting third in just his 23rd major league game) with a four-pitch strikeout. Finally, he threw four more pitches to strike out 25-year-old leftfielder Frank Thomas (who would return three significant members of the 1960 team—Don Hoak, Harvey Haddix and Smokey Burgess—when traded to Cincinnati in 1959), ending the game. (Dale Long, unquestionably the best hitter on the 1955 Bucs, stood on the on-deck circle for the final out; Long drew walks against Jones in all three of his plate appearances that day.)
Jones became the first African-American pitcher to throw a no-hitter in major league history, eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
* St. Louis’ Bob Gibson no-hit the eventual World Champion Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium on August 14, 1971.
Box score and play-by-play
Associated Press game story