Today in Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have four former players born on this date, plus one transaction of note. Two of the players from today were members of the 1971 World Series winning team. In John Fredland’s Jolly Roger Rewind, he takes a look back at a game from the 1997 season, with a big day from a brand new player. Before I get into the former players there is a 2012 Pirates player with a birthday, current first baseman Gaby Sanchez turns 29 today. He was acquired by the Pirates at the trading deadline this year in exchange for Gorkys Hernandez. In five seasons in Florida/Miami, he hit .260 with 43 homers and 184 RBI’s in 391 games. He has hit .259 with a homer and two RBI’s since joining the Pirates.
Yamid Haad (1977) Pinch hitter for the Pirates on July 5,1999. He was signed by the Pirates in 1994 as an amateur free agent out of Colombia. He got his only chance with the Pirates when Jason Kendall suffered his season ending ankle injury. Haad was briefly called up and went in to pinch hit on July 5,1999 for relief pitcher Scott Sauerbeck. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, a man on first base and Pittsburgh down 5-2, Haad grounded out to third base to end the inning. He was sent down shortly after that game, then came back again to Pittsburgh two weeks later, after Keith Osik was injured. Haad never played in a game during that brief stint. Yamid wasn’t much of a prospect at the time, his big league experience came more due to need than earning the spot. During that 1999 season, he began the year at High-A Lynchburg, where he was a decent hitter in his second season with the team. When he went to AA though, he was over-matched, hitting .182 in 43 games. He would go on to make the majors again in 2005 with the Giants, and that time it was an earned trip to the majors. After spending nearly the entire season at AAA, where he hit .282 with ten homers, he was recalled in August. Haad played 17 games and had his share of troubles at the plate, hitting .071 in 28 AB’s. He had a 14 year career in pro ball, playing his last season in 2010 down in the Mexican League.
Sean Lawrence (1970) Lefty pitcher for the 1998 Pirates. He was taken by the Pirates in the sixth round of the 1992 draft. He was originally drafted out of High School by the Mets four years earlier. Lawrence never dominated in the minors, with his best pitching coming during his second stint in High-A ball in 1994, when he went 4-2 2.62 in 12 starts. The next year he switched to relief at the end of the season in AA, where he had a 5.48 ERA in 21.1 innings. He repeated the level the next season and showed a slight improvement, along with a strong strikeout rate, setting down 81 batters in 82 innings. After his fifth season, he moved up to AAA for the first time in 1997, switching back to a starting role. Sean went 8-9 4.21 in 26 starts. He repeated AAA in 1998 and went 12-9 5.08, again making 26 starts. The Pirates called him up for his major league debut in late August for a start against the Diamondbacks. He threw five innings, allowing two runs and he picked up the win. Five days later, he started against the Astros and got knocked out in the fourth inning. After a loss to the Cubs in his third start, Lawrence moved to the bullpen for the rest of the year, making four more appearances, allowing runs in three of them. He became a free agent after the season, and played another three years in the minors before retiring. He finished 2-1 7.32 in 19.2 major league innings.
Luke Walker (1943) Lefty pitcher for the Pirates in 1965-66 and then again from 1968 until 1973. Walker was originally signed by the Red Sox in 1963, but after one season, he was taken by the Pirates in the 1963 First Year draft. He racked up high strikeout totals his first couple seasons in the Pirates system, earning a trip to the majors in 1965 when he went 12-9 2.43 in 189 innings, with 203 strikeouts. He threw five scoreless innings for the 1965 Pirates, though he still spent most of the next year in AAA. In 1966, he went 11-11 2.77 in 25 starts at AAA, seeing a big dip in his strikeout rate. He began the year with the Pirates, getting sent down in early May after displaying control problems. He came back in September, finishing with ten innings pitched in ten appearances, allowing five runs and 15 walks. After making just 11 AAA starts in 1967, Walker made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1968 and stuck around for the next six seasons.
In 1968, Walker was being used effectively out of the bullpen, posting a 2.02 ERA in 62.1 innings over 39 outings(two were starts). He struck out 66 batters and picked up three saves. For the next two seasons, he split his time between starting and relieving, throwing 73 games, 34 as a starter. The 1970 season was the best of his career, winning a career high 15 games, while throwing 163 innings, with a 3.04 ERA. He finished tenth in the NL Cy Young voting and even received some MVP consideration. The Pirates won the 1971 World Series, and Luke started a career high 24 games that year. He was 10-8 3.55, pitching a total of 159.2 innings. He really struggled in the playoffs, pitching once in each series, with a total of five runs allowed over 1.2 innings. He gave up three runs in the first inning of game four of the WS, but Pittsburgh ended up winning the game 4-3, thanks to the brilliant relief work of Bruce Kison. Walker returned to the split role during his last two seasons in Pittsburgh, starting 12 of 26 games in 1972 and 18 of 37 games the next year. He was sold to the Tigers in December of 1973, finishing his career there the next season. With the Pirates, Walker went 40-42 3.47 in 215 games, 91 as a starter. He threw seven shutouts and saved nine games.
Ben Sankey (1907) Shortstop for the 1929-31 Pirates. He spent the first two years of his career playing for Selma of the Southeastern League, before joining the Pirates at the end of the 1929 season. Sankey played two games for the Pirates that year, starting both at shortstop, going 1-for-7 at the plate and making one error. The following Spring, starting shortstop Dick Bartell was a holdout, and Sankey was in a battle for the job, taking on Charlie Engle and Stu Clarke for the starting spot. Bartell ended up signing and starting Opening Day, while Sankey went to the minors. He was back by June, though his playing time was sporadic. He hit .167 in 13 games, with no RBI’s, making six starts at shortstop(with four errors) and two starts at second base. With Bartell gone in 1931, Sankey saw a lot more action, especially in September. He started 37 of his 57 games played that season at shortstop, where his fielding percentage was well below average for the time. Ben hit .227 with 14 RBI’s and 14 runs scored, in what ended up as his last season in the majors. His baseball playing career was far from over at that point. He played the next two seasons in the Pacific Coast League, then spent eight years in the International League, finishing with over 1500 minor league games played.
On this date in 1972, longtime Pirates pitcher Bob Veale, was sold to the Boston Red Sox, ending his 11 year career in Pittsburgh. From 1964 until 1970, Veale won in double digits every season, topping out at 18 in 1964. By 1971, he had become a reliever, going 6-0 6.99 in 37 appearances for the World Champs that year. In 1972, the big, hard-throwing, 36 year old lefty, had spent most of the season in AAA, where he was being used as a starter. Veale’s last appearance for the Pirates came in late April, when he allowed four runs in three innings of relief work. The Red Sox threw him right into the bullpen, using him six times for a total of eight innings and he didn’t allow a single run. He pitched two more years in Boston before he retired.
Jolly Roger Rewind: September 2, 1997
As August 1997 turned into September, the Pirates found themselves in a bind. Displaying more stamina in the National League Central race than anyone had anticipated, they suddenly faced a void at shortstop when Kevin Polcovich—himself an injury replacement for opening-day starter Kevin Elster—went down for the season with an ankle injury in an August 29 loss in Milwaukee. Internal options were limited: well-regarded prospect Abraham Nunez had scant experience above the AA level and veteran Dale Sveum stood at least half a decade removed from most of his major-league experience at shortstop.
Bucco general manager Cam Bonifay explored the trading market. After an unsuccessful attempt to land former Pirate Jay Bell from Kansas City, Bonfay made his move minutes before the midnight August 31 postseason deadline, acquiring Shawon Dunston from the Cubs for future considerations.
Two days after the trade, Dunston’s Pittsburgh debut seemed to validate Bonifay’s eye for talent, as his two home runs led the Bucs to a 6-4 victory over the American League Central-leading Indians at Three Rivers Stadium.
With the Pirates trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the second, Dunston celebrated his first plate appearance in black and gold by driving rookie Jaret Wright’s 1-0 pitch into the seats in left center to tie the game. Four innings later, the thirty-four-year-old veteran overturned a 3-2 Cleveland lead and put the Pirates ahead to stay with a three-run blast off Wright, his eleventh home run of the season. * Dunston then responded to a standing ovation from the crowd of 43,380 by stepping out of the dugout for a brief curtain call.
Pirates’ rookie starter Jose Silva, who had allowed four first-inning runs in each of his two previous starts, recovered from loading the bases with none out in the first—an unconventional 7-2 double play, with Keith Osik tagging Omar Vizquel near the Indians’ dugout after the Cleveland shortshop missed home plate on a would-be sacrifice fly, short-circuited the rally—to earn the victory. He limited the Indians to three runs in six and a third innings before turning the lead over to Chris Peters, Marc Wilkins and Rich Loiselle to close out the win.
Coupled with first-place Houston’s loss to the Brewers, the Pirates closed to a game and a half of the division lead.
Box score and play-by-play
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story
* “I’m waiting for Mark Grace to call me and tease me about waiting to get to Pittsburgh to become a home run hitter,” Dunston told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette afterwards. “I hope people don’t expect this all the time. I just want to go out and help the team win.”