Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one that played for a World Series winning club. We also have a trade of a big name player and John Fredland, in his Jolly Roger Rewind, takes a look back at a big day from one of the best offensive clubs in team history.
On this date in 1949, the Pirates sent pitcher Kirby Higbe to the New York Giants for infielder Bobby Rhawn and pitcher Ray Poat. Higbe came to the Pirates in 1947 from the Dodgers, owner at the time of a 97-72 career record. He was thirty-four years old at the time of this deal, being used in a limited role for Pittsburgh. Kirby had a 0-2 13.50 in six relief appearances and one start, throwing 15.1 innings with 37 baserunners allowed. Poat was thirty-one at time, in his sixth season in the majors. He didn’t have the track record Higbe had, winning just 22 games in his career. Ray had pitched only two games for the Giants in 1949, allowing six runs in 2.1 innings. Rhawn was thirty years old with 63 games of major league experience, spread out over three seasons with the Giants. He played three infielder positions, all but first base.
After the deal, Rhawn started two games at third base, then pinch hit once, then was put on waivers. His stay with Pittsburgh lasted nine days, ending when he was picked up by the White Sox. Bobby played 24 games with Chicago before finishing his career in the minors. Poat started his first two games with the Pirates before moving to the bullpen. He struggled in his 11 outings, posting a 6.25 ERA in 36 innings, with 67 baserunners allowed. He finished his career the next year in the minors. Higbe didn’t have to do much to make this deal a win for the Giants. He was put in their bullpen, making 37 appearances with a 3.47 ERA in 80.1 innings pitched. Kirby pitched with New York through July of 1950, making 18 more appearances before being sent to the minors. He pitched another 3 1/2 years down on the farm before retiring.
Doug Frobel (1959) Outfielder for the Pirates from 1982 until 1985. He was signed by the Pirates in late 1977 as an amateur free agent. Doug started off slow in the minors his first two years, then broke out in the 1980 season. That year, playing for Shelby of the South Atlantic League, he hit .325 with 13 homers in 67 games, earning a promotion to High-A ball. Frobel moved up to AA Buffalo in 1981, leading the team with 28 homers. In AAA the next year, he hit .261 with 23 homers and 21 stolen bases, playing in the Pacific Coast League. Doug got a September call-up that year, hitting .206 in 16 games for the Pirates. Frobel returned to the minors in 1983, where he hit .304 with 24 homers, 80 RBI’s and 23 stolen bases in 101 games, earning a promotion in mid-August. He would hit better during his second trial in the majors, batting .283 in 32 games.
Doug was with the Pirates on Opening Day in 1984 as their starting right fielder. He struggled mightily, with his average under .200 for more than four months of the season. For two months of the year his average was in the .130-.150 range, but the Pirates stuck with him at the major league level for the entire season. Frobel finished with a .203 average, 12 homers and 28 RBI’s in 126 games. He was with the Pirates for most of 1985 as a backup outfielder and pinch hitter, but after a .202 average and no homers through mid-August, Doug was sold to the Montreal Expos. He would play 12 games for the Expos in 1985, spend all of 1986 in the minors with the Mets, then make his last major league appearance with the 1987 Cleveland Indians. Doug played two more seasons in the minors before retiring.
Fresco Thompson (1902) Second baseman for the 1925 Pirates. He played three seasons in the minors before making his major league debut in September of 1925 with the Pirates. Pittsburgh was in first place,and had a comfortable lead with a month to go in the season. Regular second baseman Eddie Moore had moved to right field, being replaced at second base by Johnny Rawlings, who didn’t last there long. He broke his ankle after taking over the spot and Thompson moved into the second base role. He would hit .243 in 14 games with eight RBI’s that September, starting just a handful of those games before Moore moved back to his old position. The Pirates won the WS over the Washington Senators in seven games, although Thompson didn’t play in the series. Fresco spent 1926 in the minors playing for Buffalo of the American Association, where he hit .330 with 26 homers. He returned to the big leagues with the Giants in September, then was traded to the Phillies in the off-season. Thompson manned second base for Philadelphia for four seasons, hitting .300 with 219 RBI’s and 369 runs scored in 575 games. He played for Brooklyn in 1931, then played four games in the majors from 1932-34, spending the rest of his time in the minors, where he played until 1941, ending a 19 year career as a player. Fresco managed eight years in the minors, the first four as a player/manager.
Jake Hewitt (1870) Left-handed pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. He joined the Pirates after first pitching for West Virginia University for two years, then spending 1895 in the minors. He pitched for Rochester of the Eastern League and well as Warren of the Iron and Oil League, a local minor league in the Pittsburgh surrounding area. He made his major league debut in relief on August 6, then nine days later, after three more relief appearances, he made his first start against the Chicago Colts(Cubs). Hewitt pitched great in the first, then after thinking he struck out the first batter in the second on a full count pitch, he lost his composure. Jake hit the next batter, the failed to get an out on a bunt back to the mound, which was followed by a single, then an error, leading to his departure with no outs in the second inning. The local newspaper claimed that Hewitt “suffered stage fright” against the strong Chicago team. Wanting to see what they had in Jake, the Pirates ran him out there the very next day and he picked up a 5-2 complete game win. Despite the strong pitching performance the second day, he never played in the majors again, finishing his pro career with three more seasons in the minors.
Jolly Roger Rewind: June 6, 1894
Setting a club high for runs scored in a game that still stands, the Pirates parlayed a franchise-record-tying twelve-run third inning into a 27-11 victory over the Boston Beaneaters at the Congress Street Grounds* in Boston.
The Bucs broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the third—Boston, per a pre-1950 home-team prerogative, had elected to bat first—by sending fifteen men to the plate against starter Henry Lampe and posting the second twelve-run inning in team history. Aided, apparently, by a leftfield fence only 250 feet from home plate, the Buccos slugged four home runs in the frame. Centerfielder Jake Stenzel’s one-out solo homer commenced the offensive eruption; nine batters later, Stenzel became the first player in team history to hit two home runs in an inning.** Third baseman Denny Lyons and second baseman Lou Bierbauer also smashed home runs against Lampe, who was pitching in only his second major league game.***
Beaneaters manager Frank Selee called on Tom Smith**** to make his major league debut in relief of Lampe in the following inning, but the Bucco onslaught continued. Nine more runs crossed the plate, increasing the margin to 24-3.***** Bierbauer, who finished the day with four hits and five runs scored, contributed his second home run in as many innings. (The Pirates ultimately recorded seven homers that day; catcher Connie Mack—better known for his managerial career—and leftfielder Frank Sheibeck hit the other two.)
With a massive lead, it was up to Pirates pitcher Tom Colcolough to contain the powerful Boston offense.****** He yielded eleven runs and fourteen hits, but never let the Beaneaters back into the game. Following the standard practice of the day—the 1894 Pirates’ starting pitchers completed 106 of the team’s 133 games—Colcolough went the distance to earn the victory.
* The temporary home for the Beaneaters for about a month of the 1894 season while they rebuilt their regular park, which had been damaged in a fire.
** Stenzel stood for over a century as the sole Pirate to homer twice in an inning, until Jeff King matched his feat in August 1995. (Somewhat remarkably, King recorded another two-homer inning in April 1996, and Reggie Sanders also hit two home runs in an inning in August 2003.)
*** The Boston Globe was unsparing in its description of Lampe, who had been a recent addition from the amateur ranks: “the public at least are satisfied that Lampe is in a class by himself—one of the weakest men ever presented in a league game.”
**** Smith was likewise a recent addition from an amateur team. The team’s approach rendered the Globe apoplectic: “To put the story in a mild form, the Boson club were not only guilty of corkscrew judgment, but charged admission to a ball game, and then presented a farce. Untried amateurs in a pitcher’s box in one of the most important games of the season on the home grounds—what nerve!” The “Echoes of the Game” column poured on the vitriol: “It costs a little money to get ball players from the minor leagues, but it pays, and Boston never drew the people to the home games as they did when they put out a little of the yellow stuff for players. Amateurs are too risky for the national league.”
***** This deficit, unsurprisingly, triggered a spectator exodus: “Most of the crowd left before the game was half over,” noted the Globe.
****** The 1894 Beaneaters led the National League in runs scored with 1220. Their lineup featured Hugh Duffy, whose .440 batting average in 1894 represents a major league season record. The Pirates’ rout and accompanying unfavorable local press notwithstanding, Boston was actually a pretty good team, finishing the year in third place in the twelve-team league with an 83-49 record. (The Pirates finished in seventh place at 65-65.)