Today is a busy date in Pittsburgh Pirates history, eight former players born on this date and one transaction of note. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps a game from 1958 with a big performance from “The Great One”.
On this date in 1917, the Pirates made the unfortunate decision of letting George Kelly go, for just the price of the fee attached to a waiver wire pickup. The 21 year old first baseman had performed poorly in eight games with the Pirates, so it seemed like an easy decision at the time, but it was one made too hastily. By 1920, he was leading the league in RBI’s, starting a six year run in which he averaged 110 RBI’s per season. Over that time, he helped the Giants to four straight World Series appearances. By the time he wrapped up his career in 1932, he had put up numbers that would gain him election into the Hall of Fame.
Steve Bieser (1967) Outfielder for the 1998 Pirates. He was originally a 32nd round draft pick in 1989 of the Philadelphia Phillies. Eight years later, he made his major league debut with the 1997 Mets, hitting .246 in 47 games with four RBI’s. He played all three outfield spots and even went behind the plate for a couple games. The Pirates signed Bieser as a free agent that off-season, sending him to AAA, where he hit .257 in 84 games, spending most of his time behind the dish. He was called up in early July, playing 13 games that month, all off the bench. Steve went 3-11 at the plate, getting into two games in the outfield, before returning to the minors. He remained in the Pirates organization for part of 1999, seeing time at AA and AAA. Bieser played minor league ball for another two seasons with the Cardinals before retiring.
Ruben Rodriguez (1964) Catcher for the 1986 and 1988 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1981 as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He spent the first seven seasons of his pro career(1982-88) in the Pittsburgh system, twice getting called up to the majors in September. Ruben played two games for the Pirates in both 1986 and 1988, starting once each year and coming in as a defensive replacement in the others. During Spring Training of 1989, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Lou Thornton. Rodriguez remained in pro ball until 1995, never making it back to the majors. His only major league hit was an RBI triple off Scott Sanderson
Bill Schuster (1912) Shortstop for the 1937 Pirates. He had a five year major league career, with the large majority of his time coming during the war years(1943-45) with the Chicago Cubs. Schuster began his pro career in 1935, playing three season in the NY-Penn League with Scranton and Albany. He was a late September addition to the 1937 Pirates, making his major league debut on September 29th as a pinch runner, scoring a run. Bill got into both games of a doubleheader four days later as the starting shortstop, going 3-6 at the plate. He was back in the minors the next year, hitting .318 for Montreal of the International League, but he did not play in the majors again until September of 1939, this time as a member of the Boston Bees(Braves). After spending three years in the minors, then three years with the Cubs, Schuster returned to minor league ball from 1946 until 1952, ending his 18 year pro career with over 2250 games played.
Homer Blankenship (1902) Pitcher for the 1928 Pirates. He began his pro career with the 1922 White Sox, where he pitched for parts of two season alongside his older brother Ted. After eight appearances over two seasons with Chicago, Homer went three years before he played pro ball again, resurfacing in the Texas League, where he pitched three seasons for Shreveport, then Dallas at the end of his third year. Blankenship won 43 games over that time, leading to a September trial with the 1928 Pirates. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 25th from Dallas, but he was allowed to finish out the minor league season before reporting to Pittsburgh. In two starts and three relief outings for the Pirates, Homer went 0-2 5.82 in 21.2 innings, losing both of his starts. He returned to the minors for three more seasons without making it back to the big leagues. His brother Ted pitched nine years in the majors, winning 77 games for the White Sox.
Cliff Lee (1896) Catcher/outfielder for the 1919-20 Pirates. He spent five seasons in the minors, beginning his career as a 17 year old in 1914, before making his major league debut with the 1919 Pirates. For two years, he was a backup catcher, who occasionally played outfield in Pittsburgh, hitting .213 in 79 games, with ten RBI’s in exactly 200 plate appearances. Before he played a game for the 1921 Pirates, he was taken off waivers by the Phillies, spending four seasons there as a first baseman/outfielder. He played briefly for the Reds at the end of the 1924 season, then spent two years with the Indians, prior to returning to the minors for four more seasons. Lee was a .300 career hitter in 521 major league games, surpassing the .300 mark during all three full seasons he spent in Philadelphia. In 1921, he hit .322 with 17 homers and 77 RBI’s.
Lew Moren (1883) Pitcher for the 1903-04 Pirates. A lifelong native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Duquesne University, Moren made his major league debut with the Pirates on September 21,1903 as the starting pitcher. It was the second game of a doubleheader against Brooklyn, at home, with the Pirates already wrapping up the 1903 pennant days earlier. Moren gave up seven runs in six innings, but it was said that he still pitched well and looked like a good pitcher for the future. The local newspaper must’ve really liked him, because in an early season 1904 game, in which Moren came in to relieve for Deacon Phillippe, The Pittsburgh Press said “he pitched remarkably well” despite giving up six runs in four innings. The Pirates did not agree with the praise given to Lew and he never pitched again in Pittsburgh. Moren spent the next two years in the minors, coming back to the majors with the Phillies in 1907 for four seasons. He went 48-56 over those four years, posting a 2.88 ERA in 872 innings. Moren had arm troubles and never pitched again after 1910, although he attempted a comeback with the 1914 Phillies.
Paddy O’Connor (1879) Catcher for the Pirates from 1908 until 1910. He was a veteran of seven minor league seasons prior to joining the Pirates in 1908, spending the last six years playing for the Springfield Ponies of the Connecticut State League. O’Connor was taken by the Pirates in the September 1907 Rule V draft, playing his first game with Pittsburgh the next year. He was a backup catcher to George Gibson for three years, during a time when Gibson played 145 games per year, when the schedule was 154 games long. The team also carried a third catcher named Mike Simon, so playing time for O’Connor was few and far between. In his three seasons with the Pirates, he played 27 games, getting 38 plate appearances. Most of that limited time was as a pinch hitter, getting just eight games in behind the plate. Paddy batted once during the 1909 World Series, striking out in his only chance. He returned to the minors for three years, the came back to the majors with the 1914 St Louis Cardinals. O’Connor returned to Pittsburgh as a member of the Rebels, playing in the Federal League, considered a major league at the time. He hit .228 in 70 games during the 1915 season. Paddy played off and on in the minors until 1921, playing one more major league game, that one coming with the 1918 Yankees.
Jake Beckley (1867) First baseman for the 1888-89 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, and the 1891-96 Pirates. In his eight seasons with the Pirates franchise, Jake hit .300 in 930 games, with 664 RBI’s and 701 runs scored. Five times he drove in 96 or more runs and six times he scored over 90 runs. On July 25,1896, the Pirates traded him to the New York Giants in exchange for first baseman Harry Davis and cash, in what was a very unpopular . Beckley played in the majors until 1907, finishing his career with 2934 hits, 1602 runs, 1578 runs scored and a .308 average. Jake’s 244 career triples ranks fourth all-time and no first baseman in baseball history has recorded more putouts. He played five seasons in the minors after his major league career was over, adding more than 600 hits to his resume, which also includes a 234 hit season in 1887 prior to making the majors. Beckley was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971 by the Veteran’s Committee. For much more on Beckley, check out his bio from this site, which can be found here.
Jolly Roger Rewind: August 4, 1958
Roberto Clemente’s tie-breaking ninth-inning home run off Juan Pizarro lifted the surging Pirates to a 4-3 victory over the first-place Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium
With the score tied 3-3 entering the top of the ninth, Braves starter Pizarro recorded the first two outs by retiring Roman Mejias—who missed first base on an apparent double—and Bill Virdon. To that juncture, the 21-year-old lefthander had limited the Bucs to a mere five singles. But Clemente drove the offering of his fellow Puerto Rican over the fence in left-center for fourth home run of the season and third hit of the night*, breaking the deadlock. Elroy Face then relieved rookie starter Curt Raydon and set down the Braves in order in the bottom of the frame to record his thirteenth save.
The win, the Pirates’ fifth in a row and thirteenth in their last fifteen games, snapped the Braves’ six-game winning streak. Now in third place in the National League, the Bucs moved to within five games of Milwaukee’s league-leading pace.**
Box score and play-by-play
The Milwaukee Journal game story
* The Milwaukee Journal also credited Clemente with “two larcenous catches in right field.”
** The Journal provided an out-of-town perspective on the Pirates’ success: “The Pittsburgh Pirates, whose name used to be synonymous with futility in the National League, have suddenly acquired the rash ambition to become the first club ever to jump from last place to first in one season. Totally unimpressed by stories that the Braves were in the process of making a runaway of the race, the Pittsburghers came to town on Monday night and knocked off the champions in the first of four games at County Stadium.”