Pirates Prospects » Pirates History http://www.piratesprospects.com Your best source for news on the Pittsburgh Pirates and their minor league system. Tue, 09 Sep 2014 16:06:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 A Recent History of the 82nd Win – 1990 http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/03/a-recent-history-of-the-82nd-win-1990.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/03/a-recent-history-of-the-82nd-win-1990.html#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2012 23:45:53 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=25993 After climbing the hill in 1988, the Pirates slipped badly in 1989. The club fell below the .500 mark again and was never closer than 10 off the pace after the All-Star break. The Pirates re-tooled slightly heading into 1990. Bobby Bonilla was moved from third base into right field. Former first round pick Jeff King took over the hot corner. Ted Power was signed as a free agent to help out in the bullpen. The acquisition of Walt Terrell via free agency was supposed to shore up the starting rotation. Wally Backman was picked up as a free agent to provide some spark at the top of the lineup and to be a reliable utility guy. The key move was trading Jeff Robinson and Willie Smith to the Yankees for catcher Don Slaught. Mike LaValliere and Slaught would team up to become a formidable backstop presence in Pittsburgh.

Pirate starting pitching was problematic early on. Walt Terrell was dreadful. He was released in late July after posting an ERA near 6.00 in 16 starts. He left with a record of 2-7. John Smiley smashed his hand in a car door in mid-May. He would not return until late June. He finished the year with a 9-10 mark and an ERA over 4.50. Doug Drabek went 9-4 through the first half of the season. Neal Heaton was 10-4 at the break and was named to his first and only All-Star team. He would win just two times in the second half of the year.

Thankfully, the offense was busy setting the league on fire. Right around the time Smiley was crushing his hand, Barry Bonds was moved permanently out of the lead off spot. Bonds hit lead off on May 21st and then never again the rest of the year. The Bucco batters were second in the National League in runs scored and led the league in OPS. Bonds would be voted as the MVP following the season. He topped the league in OPS and hit 33 homers to go along with 52 steals. Bonilla finished second in runs, RBI, doubles and total bases while leading the league in extra base hits.

The bullpen was handled with a committee approach. Three righthanders (Stan Belinda, Bill Landrum and Power) along with three lefties (Bob Kipper, Bob Patterson and Scott Ruskin) all appeared in 40 or more games. Four different players earned at least five saves for the first and only time in team history.

By early August, it was a two team race. The Pirates were fighting with the Mets. About two weeks after Terrell was cut loose, GM Larry Doughty made a key pickup. He paid a steep price, but he got Zane Smith from the Montreal Expos in exchange for Willie Green and Moises Alou. Smith made 10 starts. He went 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA. He tossed three complete games, including two shutouts.

Doughty continued to add talent as the season wore along. Future manager Lloyd McClendon was acquired in early September from the Cubs for a career minor leaguer. The Pirates got Carmelo Martinez from the Phillies a few days before that in what turned out to be a gaffe by Doughty. Top prospect Wes Chamberlain was mistakenly put on irrevocable waivers and claimed by the Phillies. Doughty managed to arrange a trade that sent Chamberlain along with Julio Peguero and Tony Longmire to get Martinez.

The Pirates battled the Mets into September. Pittsburgh was in second place heading into Labor Day weekend. A six game winning streak that included a sweep of the Mets in Three Rivers put the Pirates in first place to stay. The final W in that streak was win #81. Randy Tomlin tossed a complete game three hitter and the Pirates scored five times in the first three innings off of Julio Valera to win 7-1. Two days later Drabek went 7-1/3 and gave up just one run to beat Montreal for the 82nd win. He was supported by long balls from Sid Bream and Any Van Slyke. Drabek picked up his 19th win on route to a total of 22. Rookie Howard Farmer made his third career start that game for Montreal.

But, the Mets were not done. In the middle of September the Mets swept three from Pittsburgh at Shea as the Pirates dropped six straight road games. That streak left Pittsburgh in first by only 1/2 game over the Mets. But the Pirates got hot at the right time. They won ten of next eleven to pull away from the New York menace. Drabek tossed the division clincher, a 2-0 shutout in St. Louis on September 30th. He would go on to win the Cy Young award, the first Pirate to do so since Vern Law in 1960.

The Pirates set a team attendance mark, cracking 2,000,000 fans. That number nearly tripled the number of attendees in 1985.

The 1990 NLCS would be the first of three straight disappointments for the Pirates. The Reds took four of six and went on to sweep the Oakland A’s in the series.

In what would be an on-going trend in the next couple of seasons, the Pirates had several key players who were free agents following the 1990 season. Pittsburgh re-inked Gary Redus, Don Slaught and Zane Smith, while Sid Bream (to Atlanta), Wally Backman (to Philly), Ted Power (to Cincy) and R.J. Reynolds (to Japan) departed.

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A Recent History of the 82nd Win – 1988 http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/02/a-recent-history-of-the-82nd-win-1988.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/02/a-recent-history-of-the-82nd-win-1988.html#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2012 02:39:27 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=23326 After being as close to a perpetual contender as any team in the National League East, the Pirates went through what was to my teenage eyes the worst three years imaginable. 1984, 1985 and 1986 saw the Pirates finish dead last each season. Back then, I thought that three year stretch of futility and hopelessness was the worst the team would ever experience. As Bob Seger once penned, ‘Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.’

Massive changes took place in those three years. Chuck Tanner was fired following 1985. The stench of drug scandal that played out in the clubhouse right under his nose hung heavy in the air. The team nearly moved. New Orleans and Portland were major suitors as the Galbreath family looked to sell the team after a nearly 40 year period of ownership. Mayor Richard Caliguiri helped rally local business (notably PPG and Westinghouse) into purchasing the team under an ownership group called ‘Pittsburgh Associates’. The Pirates new front office was headed by Mac Prine, who was Chairman and CEO of Ryan Homes. Former GM Joe Brown was temporarily brought out of retirement to replace the ousted Harding Peterson. Brown retired again shortly thereafter (but not before selecting Barry Bonds in the first round of the 1985 draft) and was replaced by Syd Thrift, who quickly put his stamp on the team with a couple of shrewd trades. Jim Leyland was hired to skipper the team and things began looking up.

The club returned to a respectable mediocrity in 1987 and certainly made the rest of baseball perk up and say ‘What’s up in Pittsburgh?’ The team won 27 of the last 38 games to finish 80-82. The 1988 team would breach the .500 mark. They were never in serious consideration for the playoffs. They finished second in the division behind the Mets but a distant 15 games off the pace. But for the first time since 1981, Pittsburgh sent three players to the All-Star game – Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke and Bob Walk.

The 1988 team had been built over the previous couple of seasons, with much of the talent being acquired in trades. A quick look at how players and pitchers who saw significant time in 1988 were acquired.

C Mike LaValliere – acquired in a trade on 4/1/87 along with Andy Van Slyke and Mike Dunne that saw Tony Pena move to St. Louis.
1B Sid Bream – acquired in a trade on 9/9/85 along with R.J. Reynolds and Cecil Espy. Bill Madlock was sent to Los Angeles.
2B Jose Lind – amateur free agent signing in 1982. Johnny Ray was traded to the Angels down the stretch in 1987 for minimal return (career minor leaguer Bill Merrifield and Miguel Garcia) to make way for the good glove/weak bat Lind.
SS Rafael Belliard – amateur free agent signing in 1980. One in a series of revolving shortstops between Dale Berra and Jay Bell.
3B Bobby Bonilla – originally signed by Pittsburgh as an amateur free agent in 1981, he was lost to the White Sox in the Rule 5 draft in 1985. But Thrift re-acquired him for Jose DeLeon in 1986.
LF Barry Bonds – sixth pick in the first round of the 1985 draft
CF Andy Van Slyke – acquired in the Pena deal
RF R.J. Reynolds – acquired in the Madlock deal
OF Darnell Coles – acquired down the stretch in 1987 along with pitcher Morris Madden from Detroit for Jim Morrison. Coles was then traded during the 1988 season to Seattle for Glenn Wilson
OF John Cangelosi – acquired in Spring Training 1987 from Chicago even up for reliever Jim Winn
SS Al Pedrique – acquired in May 1987 from the Mets along with Scott Little for utility player Bill Almon. Pedrique hit pretty well in 1987, but was awful in 1988 and never played regularly again
OF Glenn Wilson – see Darnell Coles
C Junior Ortiz – originally with the Pirates, but traded to the Mets for Marvell Wynne. He was reacquired by Pittsburgh in the 1984 Rule 5 Draft.
1B Randy Milligan – always seemed to be surly and was the Mets first round pick in 1981. The Pirate pried him (and a career minor leaguer) from NY during Spring Training in 1988 for catcher Mackey Sasser and pitcher Tim Drummond. Following the 1988 season, Milligan was traded to Baltimore for career minor leaguer Pete Blohm.
SS Felix Fermin – made up the catchy double play trio of Fermin to Lind to Bream. He was eventually traded to the Indians in March 1989 for Jay Bell. Originally signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1983.
OF Mike Diaz – ‘Rambo’ was acquired from the Phillies in 1985 for a minor leaguer. He was traded to the White Sox in August 1988 for Gary Redus. Diaz’ homer to beat the Mets on 4/20/87 (after having beaten them just once in 1986) was probably one of the top five most important homers of the decade for the club. It set the tone for the change.
OF Gary Redus – see Mike Diaz
C Tom Prince – fourth round pick of the Buccos in the January 1984 draft. Career back up who spent parts of 17 seasons in the Show with plenty of time in the minors.

P Doug Drabek – acquired during the offseason in November 1986 from the Yankees along with Brian Fisher and Logan Easley. Pittsburgh gave up Cecilio Guante, Rick Rhoden and Pat Clements
P Bob Walk – was released by Atlanta in Spring Training in 1984 and rescured off the scrap heap by Pittsburgh
P John Smiley – 12th round selection by the Pirates in 1983
P Mike Dunne – picked up in the Pena trade. He struggled in 1988 and was sent in early 1989 as the primary piece of a trade that landed SS Rey Quinones (another guy before Jay Bell)
P Brian Fisher – acquired with Drabek

RP Jim Gott – picked up off waivers down the stretch in 1987 after San Francisco jettisoned him
RP Jeff Robinson – acquired in a trade 8/21/87 from the Giants along with Scott Medvin. San Francisco got Rick Reuschel
RP Bob Kipper – part of the 1985 deal that saw Mike Brown and Pat Clements come to Pittsburgh from the Angels in exchange for George Hendrick, John Candelaria and Al Holland
RP Barry Jones – Centerville, IN native was the Pirates third round pick in 1984. Bucs traded him even up to the White Sox in August 1988 for Dave LaPoint
RP Dave Rucker – Sparky Anderson once said of him ‘If you don’t like Dave Rucker, you don’t like ice cream.’ Hmmm. After bouncing from Detroit to St. Louis to Philadelphia, the left handed Rucker was released by the Rangers following the 1987 season that he spent entirely in the minors.

SP Dave LaPoint – see Barry Jones. After a solid eight starts for the Pirates, he was lured to the Bombers as a free agent in 1989 and didn’t fare too well there.
RP Scott Medvin – acquired in the Reuschel deal. He was lost after the 1987 in the Rule 5 draft. But the Astros returned him. He was traded in 1990 to Seattle for Lee Hancock.
P Vicente Palacios – veteran of the Mexican League was picked up from the White Sox off of waivers in 1986 and developed a splitter. He spent parts of five seasons with Pittsburgh and was released following 1992.

If you do the math (which I did), less than 1/3 of all plate appearances from the position players were accumulated by hitters who spent the entirety of their career (to that point) with the Pirates organization. Less than 20% of all the innings pitched were tossed by players the Pirates had developed.

The 1988 team started the season with a 16-6 April. But the Mets took over in early May as Pittsburgh’s last day in first was May 2nd. A stretch of 12 wins in 13 games that surrounded the All-Star break left them only a half game out on July 21st. But the Pirates would fade quickly as they lost six of eight games against the Mets in late July and early August. By Labor Day weekend, the Pirates had fallen 10 games back.

Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke were the offensive stalwarts. All three hit 20 or more homers. Bonilla and Van Slyke each drove in 100 runs. Van Slyke scored 101 and led the league in triples with 15 and swiped 30 bases. The rotation was anchored by Drabek, Walk and Smiley. Each made 32 starts. Drabek led the club with 15 wins and almost 220 innings pitched. Walk topped the staff in ERA and Smiley led the club in whiffs. Jim Gott was the closer. He earned 34 saves in 1988 to set a new franchise record. Robinson and Jones were the primary right handed relievers, while Kipper and Rucker were the most often used lefty relievers.

The Pirates rolled into St. Louis on September 19th for a three game set, resting on 79 wins. On Friday R.J. Reynolds singled in Felix Fermin in the ninth for win #80. Reynolds was the hero again the next game. He poked a two run single in the 8th to put the Pirates up 2-1 in what would be a 5-1 victory.

On Wednesday September 21st, John Smiley gave up a one out single to Ozzie Smith in the first inning and then gave up just one more hit in firing a complete game two hitter. Benny Distefano bopped a three run homer in the eighth that sealed the loss for former Bucco Jose DeLeon. Pittsburgh’s 5-0 win capped a three game sweet of St. Louis and left the Pirates with 82 victories.

The Pirates would win just three of their final nine games to wind up at 85-75 (not a typo – the club apparently had two games rained out and not made up). The Pirates made a couple of off season moves to bolster the club. Jay Bell was acquired from Cleveland. Neal Heaton was picked up from Montreal. Bill Landrum was signed as a free agent. But the 1989 Pirates would take a step back. They fell below .500 on the season. But starting in 1990, the Pirates dominated the National League East for three straight wonderful, yet unfufilling seasons.

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The 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates: Season Recap http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/02/the-1908-pittsburgh-pirates-season-recap.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/02/the-1908-pittsburgh-pirates-season-recap.html#comments Sun, 12 Feb 2012 13:59:03 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=25612 Last week we covered the tight playoff race that lasted nearly the entire 1908 season between the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and New York Giants. This week we will take a look at who those players were that battled all season, won 98 games, yet still fell short of winning the National League title.

Wagner struck out just 22 times in 1908

We start off with the returning players from the previous season and no better place to start than at the top with the greatest Pirates player of all time. Honus Wagner was 34 years old in 1908, playing in his ninth season with the Pirates and 12th season overall in the majors. He led the league in hits for the first time in his career in 1908 with 201, the second time he topped the 200 mark. He led the league in batting average for the sixth time overall and third time in a row, hitting .354, which was the fourth highest total of his career. He led the league in RBI’s with 109, the third time he led the NL in runs batted in and the seventh time he topped the century mark. He led the league in doubles with 39 and just like with the batting average crown, it was the third straight year and sixth time overall the he led the league in that category. He also led the league in triples(19) and OBP(.415) for a third time and stolen bases(53) and slugging percentage(.542) for a fifth time. Wagner tied a career high with 151 games played and he scored 100 runs for the seventh time in his career. It was the 10th straight season he scored at least 97 runs. On the defensive side his led all NL shortstops in putouts and it was the first time in his career he played just one position throughout the entire season.

The team had two other future Hall of Famers during the 1908 season, the manager/left fielder Fred Clarke and starting pitcher Vic Willis. Clarke was starting to show his age at the plate, in his 15th season in the majors at age 35 he hit a career low .265 with a .712 OPS on the year. He was a .321 career hitter coming into that season. He was able to play a new career high of 151 games and he scored 83 runs while walking 65 times and stealing 24 bases but it was clearly a disappointing season at bat for Clarke. Willis was with the Pirates for his third season, having joined the team in a December 1905 trade with the Boston Beaneaters. He went 23-13 his first year followed by a 21-11 season in 1907 but he topped both of those years in 1908 by going 23-11 while pitching 304.2 innings. He also picked up his 200th career win in June.

Two longtime Pirates starting pitchers returned for the 1908 season. Sam Leever at age 36 was in his 11th season with the club. He was coming off a season in which he went 14-9 with a career low 1.66 ERA. Deacon Phillippe was also 36 years and had won 14 games for the Pirates in 1907. At one point these two were the staff aces, combining for ten 20 win seasons(Phillippe had six) but at this point in their career they had taken a backseat to Willis and a couple of young aces in Lefty Leifield and Nick Maddox. Leever would still have a strong 1908 season but his workload was much lower than he was used to in the past. He made 20 starts, his lowest total since 1901 and he was used in relief a career high 18 times. He still managed to put together a 15-7 record with a 2.10 ERA.Phillippe on the other hand, his pitching hand to be exact, had a thumb injury that prevented him from pitching most of the year. He pitched just five games total, all in relief and only accumulated 12 innings on the season.

As mentioned above, Leifield and Maddox were now considered top starters in the Pirates rotation. Maddox had started his career off with a 5-1 0.83 showing in 1907 while Leifield had won 38 games combined over the previous two seasons. Maddox would go on to win a career high 23 games, matching Willis for the team lead while Leifield would post a strong 2.10 ERA in 218.2 innings but his record was just 15-14. Both pitchers encountered healthy troubles during the year, Maddox contracted typhoid fever and made just two starts out of the first 30 games of the season while Leifield had elbow problems and could make only four starts during a two month stretch from early May until July.

The fifth starter that year was a 26 year old named Howie Camnitz, who had gone 13-8 2.15 in his first full season in the majors in 1907. He would win 16 games in 1908, giving the Pirates five pitchers who won at least 15 games that year. He posted a 1.56 ERA, lowest on the Pirates and only 0.13 behind the league leader, Christy Mathewson. Howie was the opening day starter and because of injuries he was forced to start nine out of the team’s first 26 games. The only other returning pitcher was Homer Hillebrand, who missed the entire 1907 trying to rest an injured arm. He had pitched well in limited time in 1905-06 but was said to be pitching through arm pain for a while. He made one relief appearance for the 1908 Pirates, pitching one inning before he decided he wouldn’t be able to pitch again, thus ending his career.

Along with Wagner and Clarke on the offensive side, the Pirates returned Tommy Leach, who came over with those two(and Phillippe) in the 1900 Honus Wagner trade. Leach had played centerfield in 1907 and the two prior seasons he split his time between outfield and his normal position at third base. For the 1908 season though, at least for one year, he was back as the team’s third baseman. He batted .303 in 1907 but dropped down to .259 in 1908 yet was still able to score 93 runs thanks in part to hitting 16 triples, drawing 54 walks and stealing 24 bases. He played a team leading 152 games, giving the Pirates three players(Wagner,Clarke) that played in at least 151 of the team’s 155 games played that season.

Second baseman Ed Abbaticchio returned for his second season for Pittsburgh. The Pirates paid a heavy price to acquire him prior to 1907 and he hit .262 with 82 RBI’s, 35 stolen bases and 63 runs scored that first year. In 1908 his numbers were down across the board, hitting .250 with 22 steals, just 43 runs scored in 146 games and 61 RBI’s. He was able to lead NL second baseman in fielding percentage but the numbers show that his range was well below average.

Behind the plate was George Gibson, playing in his fourth season. His hitting was very poor his first two years but his defense and his throwing arm were good enough to keep him in the lineup on an everyday basis. By 1908 his hitting was nearing a respectable level as he hit .228 with 45 RBI’s batting at the bottom of the order. Prior to 1908 he had a .198 career batting average. His defense seemed a little down in 1908 as he allowed the most stolen bases in the league and made the second most errors with 21 miscues. In actuality, he led the NL in games caught with 140 and was only one of four catchers to catch over 100 games, so those numbers were more a by-product of how much he played. He still threw out 43% of runners trying to steal and had the fourth best fielding percentage in the league.

Ed Phelps returned in the backup role but with Gibson catching 140 games, Phelps mostly just watched from the bench. It was his sixth and final season with the Pirates and he hit .234 in his 34 games. Alan Storke in his third season with the team, started about 1/3 of the team’s games at first base during the year. He was also used as a backup at the other infield positions. Storke had played 112 games in 1907 but was down to 64 in 1908 and he hit .252 with 12 RBI’s in 202 AB’s. Harry Swacina was another light hitting first baseman back for 1908. He played 26 games his rookie year in 1907 and had a .200 batting average. His glove was solid but he still wasn’t much of a hitter his second year, especially for a position like first base. He hit .216 in 53 games, drew just five walks all year and had only 13 RBI’s. It was his last season with the Pirates and he didn’t appear in the majors again until 1914. The only other returning player from 1907 was a backup outfielder named Danny Moeller. He played 11 late season games his rookie year, then followed it up with 36 games in 1908 but he hit just .193 and would be out of the majors until resurfacing again in 1912.

That group of 15 returning players made up nearly every game started for pitchers(142 of 155) and seven out of the top nine players in at bats. That seems like a large portion of the team but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a big addition to the team that put on a Pirates uniform for the first time during the 1908 season. Owen “Chief” Wilson was the Pirates right fielder as a rookie that year, having been recommended to the team by pitcher Babe Adams, a Pirates minor league pitcher who played against him in the Texas League the previous season. Wilson played 144 games, occasionally taking over in center field, and while he hit .227 that rookie season the team saw the potential in him and let him play everyday for experience. Chief played another five season in Pittsburgh after 1908 and was in the lineup nearly everyday, playing at least 146 games each season.

Roy Thomas was the everyday centerfielder after coming over from the Phillies in an early June deal. It was his only season with the Pirates and he hit .256 with 49 walks and 52 runs scored in 102 games. The Pirates picked up outfielder Spike Shannon from the Giants in late July and he played all three outfield positions but struggled with the bat, hitting .197 in 32 games. It was his only season with the team and his last year in the majors. The team had a rookie outfielder early in the year named Beals Becker, who they gave up too soon on as he went on to have a productive career in the majors until 1915. As a 21 year old he hit .154 in 20 games before his contract was sold to the Boston Doves in August. Becker had hit .310 in the Western Association in 1907, a top minor league at the time.

The Pirates tried a lot of players at first, especially when Swacina and Storke couldn’t help out on offense. In late August they called on 29 year old Warren Gill who had never played in the majors. He was purchased by the Pirates early in 1908 and had been in the minors all season playing for a team from Grand Rapids. He played 27 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .224 with 14 RBI’s in what would be his only season in the majors during his 12 year pro career. Jim Kane played 55 games for Pittsburgh in 1908 as a 26 year old rookie. He was with the team the entire year and hit .241 with 22 RBI’s. Just like Gill, it was his only season in the majors. He played eight years in the Western League, hitting .318 for his minor league career.

The backup infielder was Charlie Starr, a 29 year old with just 26 games of major league experience, all coming in 1905 for the St Louis Browns. He played 20 games and hit .186 with 13 walks and eight runs batted in during his only season with the team. Paddy O’Connor was the third string catcher, a role he had for three seasons with the Pirates. He was a 28 year old rookie who had spent seven seasons in the minors prior to 1908. Paddy played only 12 games all season, caught in four of them and hit .188 in his 17 plate appearances

On the pitching side the Pirates started the year with a pitcher named Harley Young, a rookie who made three starts and five relief appearances in the first two months. He had a 2.23 ERA in 48.1 innings. The wanted a more experienced pitcher so they traded Young for Young. Irv Young was a teammate of Vic Willis in the 1905 Boston rotation and he won 20 games that year while leading the league in innings pitched. The next season he again threw the most innings in the NL. He struggled a bit in 1907 but seemed to be back in form at age 30 for Boston in 1908 prior to the trade. For the Pirates he went 4-3 2.01 in 16 games, seven of them starts. The interesting thing about this trade is at the time if you were a pitcher with the last name Young, you had the unfortunate comparison put on you to Cy Young, no matter how good you were. Irv was known as Cy Young the second while Harley had the tag “Cy the Third.” Irv was a decent pitcher for a few seasons but Harley won exactly 511 less games in the majors than Cy Young.

The pitching staff was rounded out by Tom McCarthy, a pitcher they got from the Reds in May and who was included in the Young/Young trade. Bob Vail, a rookie who pitched in late August through mid-September and Chick Brandom, a September call-up also saw time on the mound. They combined for nine appearances, one start each and 48 innings. All three started their career this season and only Brandom pitched with the Pirates after 1908.

The Pirates had three players on offense play one game that year, John Sullivan, Cy Neighbors and Hunky Shaw. For Shaw and Neighbors it was their only game in the majors while Sullivan, who was 35 years old,  had previously played for the 1905 Tigers. It would be his last major league game. One player who was signed during the 1908 season but spent the entire season in the minors was John “Dots” Miller, who played for McKeesport of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League that season and hit .306 in 43 games. When we pick up next week, we will cover the career of Miller, who was a big part of the 1909 Pirates World Series run and who would spend five seasons in a Pittsburgh uniform.

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The 1908 Pittsburgh Pirates: Second Place With 98 Wins http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/02/the-1908-pittsburgh-pirates-second-place-with-98-wins.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/02/the-1908-pittsburgh-pirates-second-place-with-98-wins.html#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2012 14:07:48 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=23584 In the 130 season history of Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, they have finished in first place a total of 16 times and as many of you know it hasn’t happened in the last 19 years and it also didn’t happen once during their first 19 years either. The team has won their division or just the NL in general, with as many as 110 wins like they did in 1909 or as few as 88 wins like they did in 1974. Never have they done as well as they did in 1908 and still walked away with nothing more than second place. The Pirates that year won 98 games, a win total only surpassed by the 1909 club and the 1902 club that won 103 games. They had a .636 winning percentage that 1908 season, the fifth highest total behind the 1901-03 and 1909 clubs.

The 1908 season had an amazing amount of up and downs all season in the standings. The Pirates were never more than 4 games back the first two months of the season and by June 27 they were tied for first place with the Cubs with the Giants just two games back. They swept a doubleheader the next day over the Cardinals yet they still remained tied. After three off days due to weather/travel they split a doubleheader with the Cubs, who they now led by a half game, with the Giants still three games back. After they shutout the Cubs on July 3 behind the pitching of Vic Willis that put them up 1.5 games, they got swept by the Cubs in a doubleheader that left the Pirates again trailing in the standings. The two teams traveled to Chicago to play a Sunday game because the Pirates never played home games in Pittsburgh on Sundays during that era. The Pirates won 10-5 and again took the lead in the NL.

After splitting a six game series with the Cubs, the Pirates came back home to face the Philadelphia Phillies and lost three of four games, a crucial series when you look back on this season. The Phillies were just 28-34 coming into this series, yet they were able to take three games going against the Pittsburgh pitching staff which would end up with five starters with 15 or more wins and two 23 game winners, both of whom lost in this series, Willis and Nick Maddox. They also defeated Lefty Leifield, who posted a 2.10 ERA on the season. You would think with a 98 win season during the days of a 154 game schedule, the Pirates were probably great at home but they were actually much better on the road. They went just 42-35 at home, well behind the 56-21 pace they set on the road.

The back and forth in the standing continued as the Giants came into town for four games and lost the first two, leaving Pittsburgh and Chicago tied again. After the off-day on Sunday July 12, they played a Monday doubleheader and the Giants unleashed their big guns in the rotation as future Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity helped lead New York to a sweep that day. After another off-day, which saw the Cubs lose to again even up the NL, the Pirates took three of four from Boston. That put them ahead of the league on July 18 by one game over the Cubs and 1.5 over the Giants.

Brandom went 17-13 in the minors prior to joining the Pirates in 1908

Pittsburgh would hold that lead until August 19 when they again had a string of crucial losses at home. They lost the last game of a series against a Boston team that was just 47-60, then opened up a series against a Brooklyn team that was even worse, winners of only 38 games up to that point. On August 20 after a second straight loss at home to Brooklyn, the Pirates were now tied again up top in the NL but this time it was the Giants that they shared the lead with at 64-42 apiece. The Cubs had fell 3.5 games back at this point and the Phillies were making an unexpected run, closing within 5.5 games. The Pirates closed out the Brooklyn series strong, winning the last two but the offense at this point was very lackluster, scoring 12 total runs in their last nine games. That wasn’t a good sign with the Giants coming back into town for four games in three days.

The Giants would end up sweeping the Pirates but it was not a one-sided affair, all fairly close games. New York scored 18 runs in the series, a decent four game total but they scored four or five games in each game while the Pirates could only muster up eight runs all series continuing their dismal string of 20 runs in their last 13 games. It didn’t get much better, at least offensively, in the four game series that followed against the Phillies. The Pirates scored just seven runs against them, actually getting outscored in the series 8-7 but the shutout pitching of Maddox and Sam Leever allowed them to win three out of four and pull back with 1.5 games of the lead. They were in a tie for second at that point with the Cubs, with the only thing separating the three teams is the fact the Giants had played(and lost) three less games than the other two clubs.

On August 30 the Pirates trailed the first place Giants by one game and the second place Cubs by a half game. They were on their way to Cincinnati for five games to play a Reds team that had beat them six out of 12 times already. It was also a team that they had not played in over two months and last time they met, the Reds had a winning record. Since then they had gone 27-33 and dropped below the .500 mark. The Pirates would end up winning all five games against the Reds thanks in part to the offense breaking out with 35 runs scored. They also got great pitching, allowing seven total runs in the five games and the final game was a pleasant surprise for them. A 21 year old rookie named Chick Brandom in his major league debut threw a 3-1 complete game victory. Despite the five game sweep Pittsburgh picked up just a half game in the standings.

The Cubs then came back into town for the last time and the last two games of the four game series would be played in Chicago due to the fact they fell on a Sunday. The two teams split the series, one win/loss for the Pirates in each town and their second experiment with a rookie starter went much worse than the first time with Brandom. Bob Vail made his debut in late August as a reliever and on September 5 he got his first major league start. He wasn’t around to see the end of the 11-0 blowout loss and he never made another major league start again.

Following the Cubs series, the Pirates cruised through a three game sweep of the Cardinals, then beat up on the Reds in the first of five games. Four wins in a row and at the end of the day they trailed the Giants still by half a game. The Cubs were two games back of first at the time. Pittsburgh split the other four games with the Reds, then took three of four in Philadelphia on their way to a big series in New York. Both the Pirates and Cubs had dropped three games back to the Giants and there was just 17 days left in the season. New York knew this was a big series and they proved it by going to Christy Mathewson twice in the four game set. He won the opener in what turned out to be a doubleheader sweep but the Pirates took the last two games, leaving them no worse off in the overall standings but closer to the end of the season.

The Pirates schedule got very easy after playing the Giants and they needed every win they could get at that point. They had three games in Brooklyn versus the 7th place Superbas, three in Boston against the 6th place Doves, then six games against the last place St Louis Cardinals. While that was going on the Giants and Cubs had a four game series against each other in New York, then the Cubs had eight more road games while the Giants played the Phillies eight straight times. At this point the schedule, while nearing a close, definitely favored the Pirates.

Pittsburgh swept through Brooklyn putting them one game back on September 24, then lost the opener in Boston but took the series by winning the last two leaving them still one game back. A doubleheader sweep to start the Cardinals series left them a half game back, tied with the Giants for second place. The amazing thing about this back and forth race is the fact the same thing was happening in the American League. On the close of play on September 29, the Tigers led the Indians by a half game and the White Sox by one game, meaning six teams were within a game, or in first place, with a week to go in the season.

The end of the season was a nail biter for all three teams involved.

On September 30 the Pirates won 7-5 putting them even with the Giants and a half game ahead of the Cubs.

October 1 saw the Giants split a doubleheader, the Cubs win and the Pirates off due to travel to St Louis. This left all three teams tied with just a handful of games left.

On October 2 the Pirates won a doubleheader, Cubs and Giants both won giving the Pirates a half game lead.

October 3 was another win for the Pirates and Cubs but the Giants lost, meaning the Pirates and Cubs would now play a makeup game the next day, while the Giants still had four games left.

The two teams met in Chicago for the possible final game of the season. If the Pirates won they would wait to see if the Giants could win their last four and create a tie which would be decided by a one game playoff. If the Cubs won they would do the same except their one game playoff would actually just be a makeup game of an earlier tie. The Pirates went with 23 game winner Vic Willis while the Cubs countered with Mordecai Brown and his 28 wins. The Cubs controlled the game going into the 9th leading 5-2. Honus Wagner led off the 9th win a single and was followed by Ed Abbaticchio, who appeared to hit a ground rule double but the base umpire ruled it foul and set off a long dispute from the Pirates. The call stood and the Pirates went down in order, ending their season. The Cubs would go on to win on the last day over the Giants to take the NL crown and eventually win the World Series, their last title to this day.

Next week we will recap the players for the 1908 Pirates season, see what went right, what went wrong, who was new and what players left and give a sneak peek about a player they purchased in June who didn’t play in 1908 in the majors but would be a major part for the 1909 team.

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Pittsburgh Pirates One Game Wonders http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/pittsburgh-pirates-one-game-wonders.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/pittsburgh-pirates-one-game-wonders.html#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2012 18:53:27 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=23461 In the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, since they first set foot on the field of Bank Street Grounds in Cincinnati to play their first game as a member of the American Association on May 2,1882 until they played their last game this past September 28,2011, they have used 1814 different players. Of those players 96 of them took the field once for the team and then never appeared in a game for Pittsburgh again. Some you may have heard of because they were recent such as pitchers Chris Jakubauskas, Ty Taubenheim and Anthony Claggett. Some you may know because they had a long career in other places such as Miguel Batista or Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance. Others like Bobby Lowe and Gus Weyhing were great 19th century players who made a brief stop in the Steel City before continuing their career elsewhere and another that most people know would be current coach Jeff Banister, who got his one game in during the 1991 season and hasn’t left the organization since then.

The rest of the list are names that are lost to almost everyone. A few of them could have claimed to have been a member of a World Series champion such as Gary Hargis who got to pinch run one game for the 1979 Pirates or pitcher Harry Camnitz, the brother of Howie, who got a late season relief appearance with the 1909 Pirates. Another with that claim would be Kid Durbin who also appeared on the 1909 Pirates. He played 32 career games over three seasons and while he wasn’t very good it is a surprise he couldn’t get a major league job after 1909 because the other two seasons he played in the majors were with the 1907-08 Chicago Cubs, who also won the World Series. The guy was the ultimate good luck charm. Pitcher Charlie Wacker threw two innings on April 28, 1909 and then returned to the minors where he had a 78-59 record in six seasons

Some of the one game wonders could have claimed to play for the worst team ever in franchise history, the 1890 Alleghenys. As they went through players all seasons trying to find something to work, they compiled a 23-113 record. They gave an amazing total of six players their only game in major league history and a permanent spot in the baseball encyclopedia. The names of the players doomed to play their one major league game with one of the worst teams in baseball history were, in alphabetical order, Fred Clement, Fred Hayner, Frank McGinn, Phil Routcliffe, Fred Traux and George Ziegler, who has the claim to fame of the last name alphabetically in Pirates history.

Another three players can say they played for arguably the best team in the franchise history, the 1902 Pirates team that went 103-36 and won the NL title. Two of them were catchers, Mike Hopkins, who went 2-2 in his career and Lee Fohl who went 0-3 but drove in a run. Unlike Hopkins, who has no other baseball records listed besides his one Pirates game, Fohl played 11 seasons in the minors and also made the majors again in 1903 with the Reds. Bill Miller played his only major league game on August 23rd and got five at bats in while playing right field. The Pirates lost 9-8 but Miller drove in two runs and despite all the scoring he didn’t record a single fielding chance all game.

Four players could have claimed to have played for the first team in franchise history back in 1882. Morrie Critchley pitched for the Alleghenys during their first week in the majors and threw a shutout, then never played for them again. He in fact pitched just four more major league games and lost them all. Russ McKelvy at age 27 took his place in right field and played his last major league game in late August while a local 20 year old college kid named Ren Wylie played his only major league game earlier that month in center field. Another local player, a Pittsburgh native named Jake Seymour took the mound for his major league debut on the last day of the season, allowed 13 runs but pitched a complete game and was never heard from again in the majors.

The team has had numerous pitchers who pitched one inning and sometimes couldn’t even get out of that. Besides the two recent members of this club, Jakubauskas and Claggett, they had Lloyd Johnson, a 23 year old lefty who pitched the last inning of the fourth game of the 1934 season. He pitched 12 seasons in the minors winning 97 games but never made the majors again. Dennis Konuszewski pitched his one inning for the 1995 Pirates on August 4th and five batters into his outing he was pulled with just one out and a career 54.00 ERA. Hard to believe but there is a worse performance in this group. Clise Dudley, who retired just one of the eight batters he faced in his 1933 appearance for the Pirates and five of them would score, leaving him with the worst ERA in franchise history at 133.00 in 1/3 of an inning.

Bob Owchinko faced two batters in 1982, allowing a homer and double before being pulled and Jay Parker faced three batters in 1899, walking two and hitting the other. Both of them have an ERA listed as inf., which signifies runs allowed but no outs. Owchinko at least played in the majors prior to his outing and again afterwards but for Parker that was his career. Jack Mercer(1910),Dixie McArthur(1914) and Buckshot May(1924) each faced four batters in their career and all three struck out one and finished with 0.00 ERA’s while doing mop-up work in their only career game. McArthur however, did allow an unearned run in his outing. A teammate of May in 1924 named Freddy Sale also faced four batters in his only inning on June 30th but unlike the other three, he didn’t record a strikeout. His appearance was the same thing as the others, mop-up duty and his ERA also stands at 0.00 career.

Phil Morrison faced three batters, recorded two outs and struck out one batter in his only major league game on September 30, 1921, two days before the season ended. His claim to face was that he was the older brother of Johnny Morrison, who pitched for the Pirates from 1920-27 and won 89 games. Connie Walsh allowed one run in his one inning on September 16,1907 and on August 16,1930 in the first game of a doubleheader a 21 year old named Bernie Walter retired all three batters he faced in the 9th inning of a 7-5 loss. That wasn’t just his only major league game, it was his only professional baseball game.

Besides Hargis mentioned above, all of those position players got a major league AB but at least he can claim to be a member of the 1979 Pirates. Ralph Shafer was the original Gary Hargis. He pinch ran for the 1914 Pirates on July 25th, then returned to the minors to finish his career. At only 20 years old it was doubtful he expected that to be the end of his major league career.

Finally we have what I call the Moonlight Graham class. Most people have seen Field of Dreams but don’t realize there was a little stretching of the truth in that movie. Graham did play just one game and never got to bat but it wasn’t the last game of the season and he didn’t retire afterwards, he played in the minors for another three full seasons. The Pirates have had three such players in their history.

Arch Reilly played third base on June 1,1917 at the end of a 9-1 loss. He fielded his only chance cleanly and then never got to play again and like the fictional Moonlight Graham, he actually did retire from baseball that season.

Cy Neighbors played one game in left field for the Pirates on April 29,1908. Pittsburgh won the game over the Cubs 2-1, he never got a chance in the field and his major league career was done but he still had plenty of baseball left in him. He played in the minors until age 39 in 1920, playing a total of 1574 games.

Finally, Sam Brenegan got his only major league game in behind the plate on April 24,1914 but it was his own fault it was his only game in the majors. He came off the bench in the 6th inning to finish a game which was an 8-1 loss to the Cardinals at home. The unfortunate part for him was his only other mark on his stat sheet besides the one under games played was a passed ball. He supposedly got under the skin of manager Fred Clarke by not running hard after the passed ball plus a previous pitch that got away and despite the score, he was replaced in the field in the 7th inning and never played in the majors again. He played in the minors until 1919.

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Babe Adams and Nick Maddox http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/babe-adams-and-nick-maddox.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/babe-adams-and-nick-maddox.html#comments Sun, 22 Jan 2012 14:15:34 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=23311 At the end of the 1907 season the Pittsburgh Pirates brought in two new pitchers to help finish out the season. One of them was 25 years old who had pitched, albeit very poorly, in the majors already. The other was just 20 years old and had only 25 games of minor league experience to his credit. Both would go on to play big parts in the Pirates 1909 run to their first World Series title but after that their careers took very different paths.

Babe Adams

Charles “Babe” Adams began his professional baseball career in 1905 playing for the Parsons Preachers of the Missouri Valley League. He went 21-9 2.03 in 32 games and 276 innings that first year, earning a look from the St Louis Cardinals, who purchased his contract from Parsons. He would make his major league debut on April 18, 1906 and it was a very shaky one. Going up against the Chicago Cubs, a team that had gone 116-36 the previous season, Adams lasted just four innings during his team’s 11-1 loss, allowing eight runs on nine hits and two walks with no strikeouts. It was just the fourth game of the season for the Cardinals but his major league season was over. He was originally sent to the Louisville Colonels of the American Association but they shipped him to Denver of the Western League, a high level minor league of the time. He would go 9-10 3.01 in 21 games for Denver in 1906 and then return there as well the following season when no major league teams came calling.

In 1907 Adams had a terrific season, going 24-13 1.99 in 36 starts and three relief appearances, pitching a total of 325.2 innings. In September the Pirates came along and purchased his contract for $5,000, bringing him right to the majors to help with September innings as the team fell back in the standings to a Cubs team that would win 107 games. The Pirates decided to get looks at the young pitchers they had once they were eliminated from contention and Adams was one of the beneficiaries of this team experiment.

Nick Maddox on his T206 card

Nick Maddox began his minor league baseball career in 1907 as a member of the Wheeling Stogies of the Central League. He would go 13-10 in 25 games for a team that would produce just one other major league from it’s 1907 roster, outfielder Harl Maggert, who just like Maddox, was also already Pirates property. Both Maggert and Maddox were taken by the Pirates in the 1906 rule 5 draft and both were sent to nearby Wheeling to play together. Harl also made his major league debut in September 1907 with the Pirates. Maddox didn’t have an impressive winning percentage that season but he pitched two no-hitters for Wheeling, a sign that he was better than his record actually indicated.

Maddox was the first of these two new Pirates pitchers to get a start, going up against the last place St Louis Cardinals on September 13th at Pittsburgh. He would begin his major league career in a strong way in front of the home crowd, throwing a complete game shutout, winning by a 4-0 score. On the 16th of September the Pirates would travel to St Louis to play the Cardinals in a doubleheader and manager Fred Clarke would call on Maddox to start game one and Adams to start game two, his first start of the season. Maddox wasn’t able to dominate quite like he did just three days earlier against the Cardinals but he was still able to pick up his second win by a 4-2 score. It was the Pirates 80th win of the season against just 53 losses. Adams was pitching against the team that released him one season earlier and he wasn’t quite up to the task as the Cardinals took game two, winning 5-1.

The Pirates came back to Pittsburgh for a three season against Brooklyn on September 19th. Maddox got the start in the second game of the series, he was making his third start over an eight day time span. Facing a Superbas(one of seven monikers the Dodgers have gone by in their history) lineup that was crawling towards the finish line and would hit just .232 on the season, Maddox was able to keep them hitless in the Pirates 2-1 win. It was the first nine inning no-hitter in team history, Lefty Leifield had pitched a six inning no-hitter in a game called due to darkness just one year earlier. The Pirates themselves had just two hits during Maddox’s gem and the Brooklyn run scored due to back-to-back throwing errors from Honus Wagner and Maddox himself. The Pirates would go 44 more years before they had another complete game no-hitter when Cliff Chambers threw one in 1951.

Maddox made his fourth start on September 25th against a New York Giants team that had just shutout the down Pirates 2-0 behind the strong pitching of  future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. On the mound that day opposing Maddox was Mike Lynch, who began the season with the Pirates. Maddox was on his game, pitching for the first time against a team with a winning record, he allowed just one run and for Lynch his major league career would end on a sour note, the losing pitcher on the wrong end of a 14-1 game.

The following day, with the Boston Doves now in town, Adams would make his second Pirates start. Pittsburgh would end up winning the game 5-4 but Adams wasn’t around at the end to pick up his first major league victory. The Pirates also during this time tried out a third young pitcher named Bill Otey who was a 20 year old lefty who had won 41 games between the 1906-07 seasons in the minors. His first start ended in a tie and he would pitch just two more times for the Pirates, eventually making it back to the majors for two seasons with the Washington Senators in 1910-11.

Maddox started 4-0 but he ran into a Phillies team on the last day of September that outplayed the Pirates head-to-head all season. He allowed just three runs, pitching a complete game but still ended up losing by a 3-2 score. The Phillies would go on to sweep that four game series in Pittsburgh, also beating Leifield, Deacon Phillippe and Howie Camnitz, three pitchers that combined for 47 wins in 1907.

The 1907 season ended with three straight doubleheaders against the Cincinnati Reds, six games in a three day span. Maddox threw the first, winning 2-1 in his sixth straight complete game. The Pirates lost game two and then on day two had the same outcomes, winning game one and losing the second half of the twinbill with Otey on the mound. Maybe when they won game one on the third day Babe Adams should’ve had a bad feeling about pitching game two. If he didn’t before the game started, he definitely had a bad feeling after the game ended. Adams lost 13-1, ending the 1907 season for the Pirates.

With the season now over, the Pirates got two contrasting impressions from these two pitchers. Maddox went 5-1 with an 0.83 ERA in six complete games. Adams went 0-2 6.95 allowing 40 hits in just 22 innings. About the only good sign from his September look was the fact he walked only three batters, otherwise it showed no sign of improvements over his brief stay with the Cardinals in 1906.

I’m sure if you asked just about anyone associated with baseball back then which one these two would have the best career, the answer would be Maddox. He was 20 years old with an impressive major league debut and three no-hitters to his credit in his first season of pro ball while Adams was five years older with two failed trials in the majors already. The scales would weigh even heavier in the favor of Maddox after the 1908 season but anyone who has ever picked up a Pirates media guide and flipped to the pitching records would know otherwise as no one in Pirates history has thrown more shutouts while wearing a Pittsburgh uniform and no one has posted a lower single season ERA than Adams.

Just how their careers each took such significant turns will be covered in the upcoming weeks but as of the end of the 1907 season Maddox was considered a solid piece of the future while Adams would be no more than an afterthought going into the 1907-08 offseason.

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Pittsburgh Pirates 1907 Season http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/pittsburgh-pirates-1907-season.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/pittsburgh-pirates-1907-season.html#comments Sun, 15 Jan 2012 16:13:18 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=23140 The Pittsburgh Pirates had a fairly quiet 1906 off-season, making one major trade by giving up longtime second baseman Claude Ritchey, Ginger Beaumont who was their centerfielder and leadoff hitter since 1899 and pitcher Patsy Flaherty who spent the 1906 season in the minors. In return all they received was second baseman Ed Abbaticchio who seemed to be at best a slight upgrade over Ritchey. They still had to replace Beaumont, who had a down year in 1906 due to injury but prior to that was an all-star caliber player. The Pirates went with marginal major leaguers in William Hallman and Goat Anderson to play in the 1907 outfield alongside manager/ left fielder Fred Clarke and Tommy Leach, who moved from third base into the center field role.

Wagner won his 4th stolen base crown in 1907

The rest of the lineup was made up of catcher George Gibson, who was in his third year but it would be the first time he was the primary catcher. He was backed up by Ed Phelps who was a better hitter but not as good on defense and didn’t have the arm Gibson had while playing in an era where stolen bases were much more prevalent. Harry Smith was a 32 year old third string catcher in his sixth season with the Pirates. He had arm injuries that cost him almost all of the previous two seasons.

The infield along with Abbaticchio including the superstar shortstop Honus Wagner who led the National League in batting average, runs scored and doubles in 1906. First base was manned by Joe Nealon, the NL RBI leader in 1906 as a rookie. He also played every game at first base for the Pirates that season so they had high hopes for the 22 year old in his second season. At the hot corner they had 29 year old Tommy Sheehan who hit .241 with 34 RBI’s in 95 games in 1906, his first full season in the majors. Also at third base was Alan Storke, who could also play all three other infield positions. Storke played five late season games for the Pirates after he was taken in the September 1906 rule V draft.

The starting rotation to open up the season, along with their 1906 records, was Deacon Phillippe(15-10 2.47) getting the opening day nod, followed by the team leader in ERA and wins, Vic Willis(23-13 1.73). Lefty Leifield(18-13 1.87) who threw the team’s first no-hitter got the ball for game three and veteran Sam Leever(22-7 2.32) went in game four. The second time through the rotation, the 5th starter, Mike Lynch took the place of Leever, a temporary change as Lynch would make just four starts all season, three of them during a six game span. Howie Camnitz, who had been around since 1904 but made just 12 appearances, would play a big part of the 1907 rotation but he didn’t make a start until late June when they needed him for the second game of a doubleheader. The Pirates used ten different starters throughout the 1907 season but the group of Willis, Phillippe, Leever, Leifield and Camnitz all individually started more games than the other five pitchers used, combined.

The season started off slow, opening day was on April 11th and then because of weather and travel they didn’t get another game in until six days later. The Pirates started with a loss, then faced the 1906 NL champs, the Chicago Cubs and lost two out of three games.  Pittsburgh would give their fans some false hope after that 1-3 start as they won eight games in a row but they did it against the Reds and Cardinals, two of the worst teams in the league. They would quickly come back down to Earth against the two best teams following that streak. In consecutive two game sets against the Cubs and Giants, the Pirates got swept, leaving them at 9-7 after the first month.

They next played a three game set against a Boston Doves team that would win just 58 games that 1907 season. The Pirates won the first two games but in the third, Patsy Flaherty out-dueled Sam Leever to defeat his former team by a 2-1 score. Pittsburgh then took three out of four in Brooklyn (all of the Pirates wins were shutouts) to move to 14-9, well behind the Cubs and Giants who both got out to quick starts. They were also just ahead of the Phillies, a team that was 11 games under .500 in 1906 and one that they were about to face for three games in Philadelphia.

That three game series against the Phillies looked one-sided on paper. The Pirates were using Willis, Leifield and Phillippe, guys that combined for 56 wins in 1906 and they were playing for what was considered the much better team. The Phillies countered with Frank Corridon, Lew Moren and veteran Toggie Pittinger, guys who combined for eight major league wins in 1906. Moren was a member of the 1903-04 Pirates teams and a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh but he didn’t pitch well for the Pirates in his brief trials so they cut him. The Phillies surprisingly won all three games of the series and dropped the Pirates to fourth place in the standings as they took over the third spot. For the time being there was now a new team to deal with at the top of the NL.

The Pirates had no trouble with the lesser teams as five games with the Reds and Cardinals helped bring them back towards the pack. They went 4-1 in those games but ran into the powerhouse Chicago Cubs after that with their pitching staff that was as good as any from that era. All the good that came from the previous five game series was canceled out by going just 1-4 against the Cubs, who they now trailed by ten games on June 3rd. The back and forth records continued with six games at home against Boston and Brooklyn, with the Pirates taking five of those games. In a brief two game series against the Giants the Pirates actually defeated Pirates killer Christy Mathewson, then for good measure took the series with a win over another future Hall of Famer, Joe McGinnity.

Pittsburgh had won seven of eight on their homestand but they made up no ground to the Cubs in the standings and in came those pesky Phillies again for a four game series. With the same three pitchers as before, Philadelphia took the first three games and only a strong pitching performance by Phillippe in game four kept the Pirates from being swept again. If the Pirates weren’t already too far behind the Cubs, four losses in three days against the Reds pretty much sealed their fate for this season. There were noticeably smaller crowds in Pittsburgh and one of the reasons was because they were already 14 games out before June even ended.

The Pirates would make a run and it started with beating the top team. A six game series against the Cubs in Chicago ended with the Pirates winning four games and settling for a tie in another. The pitching held the Cubs to just two runs in the first three games. They followed that series with a five game series against the Cardinals which they swept. In came the Phillies and the Pirates won the first two games. Seven wins in a row and all they could do was move up to second place, the Giants fell back quickly after a great start, but the Cubs still had an 11 game lead with their amazing 54-17 record on July 8th.

The Pirates finished July 55-33 with a 12-7 record since July 8th. They won a doubleheader over Boston on the last day of the month, with both games by Boston being started by Irv Young, which turned out to be a bad idea as the Pirates won game two by a score of 15-1.  The beginning of August would see the official dagger in the Pirates season, losing four of five to the Giants which dropped Pittsburgh 14.5 games back. A week later they would lose three straight to the Boston Doves before what had to be one of the best highlights of the season. On August 22nd, at that point just playing for pride, they defeated the great Christy Mathewson 20-5 in New York.

The Pirates would take four of the seven meetings against the Cubs in the last two months but during that span they never got closer than 14.5 games back in the standings. The Cubs had won their second straight title with a 107-45 record, leaving the 91 win Pirates team 17 games back in second place. The surprising Phillies would win 83 games and go 14-8 against the Pirates, they only team besides the Cubs to outplay Pittsburgh head-to-head.

The new second baseman Ed Abbaticchio would hit .262 and tie Honus Wagner for the team lead in RBI’s with 82. He would also steal 35 bases which was only the fourth highest total on a team that liked to run. Wagner won his fifth batting title with a .350 mark and also led the league with 61 steals and 38 doubles, the fifth time he lead the league in that category as well. Joe Nealon had a disappointing sophomore season and it turned out to be his last year in the majors at age 22. Tommy Leach hit .303, the first time he batted over .300 since the 1901 season but next to him, Fred Clarke hit .289 which was his lowest batting average since 1900. The replacements for Ginger Beaumont, Goat Anderson and Bill Hallman, hit .206 and .222 respectively while Beaumont would lead the NL in hits.

George Gibson hit .220 which was 42 points higher than he hit in each of his first two seasons and he led NL catchers in putouts while also throwing out 50% of would-be basestealers. Third basemen Tommy Sheehan and Alan Storke each had respectable batting averages but combined in 583 AB’s they had just 17 extra base hits. In September a 20 year old rookie infielder made his major league debut by the name of Bill McKechnie. He would have an 11 year career in the majors, six with the Pirates before switching to the manager spot where he would win 1896 games and two World Series titles, one with the 1940 Reds and the other at the helm of the 1925 Pirates

Vic Willis would win a team leading 21 games in 1907 while Lefty Leifield would win 20 games for the first time in his career. Sam Leever pitched great, posting a career low 1.66 ERA but due to some shaky support, he went just 14-9. Deacon Phillippe went 14-11 with a 2.61 ERA, the highest among the five starters and Howie Camnitz went 13-8 2.15 in his first full season in the majors, a good sign of things to come with him. There was also two other names among starters that the Pirates and their fans saw for the first time in late 1907, Nick Maddox and Babe Adams, who will be the subjects of next week’s history article.

Finally, just because you may never read his name again, on September 16th during the second game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, the Pirates let a 25 year old righty finish out the 5-1 loss. His name was Connie Walsh and he pitched just that one inning in the majors, allowing one hit, one walk and one run. He pitched nine minor league seasons without another chance in the majors.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: The First 25 Seasons http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/pittsburgh-pirates-the-first-25-seasons.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/pittsburgh-pirates-the-first-25-seasons.html#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2012 13:50:55 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=23111 The current day Pittsburgh Pirates franchise started in 1882 as a member of the American Association, a rival league to the National League and one that existed for ten seasons. The Pittsburgh Alleghenys were one of the teams that played in the leagues first season and they remained as a member of the AA until being invited to join the National League for the 1887 season. This is a follow up to the first ten seasons article I did back in April which can be read here. In this article I’m going to sum up the first 25 seasons of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, 1882 through the end of the 1906 season. If you have been following the Sunday history articles, this is just a summary of everything you have read in one easy place with links to many of the articles. If you’re new to the site, you have plenty of catching up to do. Below, you will also find the bio of Hall of Fame left fielder, Fred Clarke and we will also add other player bios that can’t be found other places on this site.

The Pirates won three league titles in their first 25 seasons, all as a member of the NL. They won their first title in 1901 then followed it up with their best win-loss record ever in 1902, a 103-36 mark. They won their third straight NL title in 1903 and made their first World Series appearance that year as well. Five teams from this era are among the top 10 single season win-loss percentages in franchise history:

1902: 103-36 .741 1st overall
1903: 91-49 .650 3rd
1901: 90-47 .647 4th
1893: 81-48 .628 6th
1905: 96-57 .627 7th

In the 130 year history of the franchise three teams from this era rank among the worst ten in franchise history including the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys who were the worst team by a wide margin in franchise history with their 23-113 record. They are also the third worst team ever since 1876(first year of NL)  surpassed only by the 1876 Reds who went 7-56 and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134. The three worst teams from this era are:

1890: 23-113 .169 130th overall
1884: 30-78 .278 128th
1883: 31-67 .367 127th

The team saw many future Hall of Famers during the 25 year period. Among them was Honus Wagner who came to the team in the most one-sided trade in baseball history. The players/managers who went on to be elected to the Hall of Fame by year are as follows:

1885: Pud Galvin
1886: Galvin
1887: Galvin
1888: Galvin, Jake Beckley
1889: Galvin,Beckley, Ned Hanlon
1891: Galvin, Beckley, Hanlon, Connie Mack
1892: Galvin, Beckley, Mack, Joe Kelley
1893: Beckley, Mack
1894: Beckley, Mack
1895: Beckley, Mack
1896: Beckley, Mack
1899: Jack Chesbro
1900: Chesbro, Rube Waddell, Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke
1901: Chesbro, Waddell, Wagner, Clarke
1902: Chesbro, Wagner, Clarke
1903: Wagner, Clarke
1904: Wagner, Clarke
1905: Wagner, Clarke
1906: Wagner, Clarke, Vic Willis

There were many single season marks on the offensive side during this era that still rank among the top ten in franchise history. The numbers along with season and all-time ranks are as follows:

Batting Average:
1900: Honus Wagner .381 2nd overall
1895: Jake Stenzel .371 5th
1905: Honus Wagner .363 9th
1896: Mike Smith .362 10th

Runs Scored:
1894: Jake Stenzel 150 1st
1894: Patsy Donovan 147 2nd
1903: Ginger Beaumont 137 6th
1893: George Van Haltren 129 10th

Hits:
1899: Jimmy Williams 220 7th

Doubles:
1900: Honus Wagner 45 7th
1904: Honus Wagner 44 10th

Triples:
1897: Harry Davis 28 2nd
1899: Jimmy Williams 27 3rd
1893: Mike Smith 23 5th
1900: Honus Wagner 22 7th
1902: Tommy Leach 22 7th

Runs Batted In:
1901: Honus Wagner 126 4th
1894: Jake Beckley 122 9th
1894: Jake Stenzel 121 10th

Stolen Bases:
1888: Billy Sunday 71 3rd
1894: Jake Stenzel 61 8th

There are also plenty of pitching records that were set during this era due to the durability of starting pitchers back then. They were expected to start as much as possible and finish what they started so lists such as the top ten for wins and innings pitched are all from this era. The franchise records that were set were as follows and they all have a common theme:

Wins: Ed Morris, 41 in 1886
Innings Pitched: Morris 581 in 1885
Strikeouts: Morris 326 in 1886
Games Started: Morris 63 in 1885 and 1886
Complete Games: Morris 63 in 1885 and 1886
Shutouts: Morris 12 in 1886

Many individual players of note from this era have already been covered here in their own articles which can be viewed in the links provided below:

Ginger Beaumont/ Jimmy Williams

Jake Beckley

Louis Bierbauer

Jack Chesbro

Patsy Donovan/ Mike Smith

Ed Doheny

Bones Ely

Ned Hanlon

Pink Hawley

Frank Killen

Sam Leever

Alex McKinnon

Deacon Phillippe

Heinie Reitz

Claude Ritchey

Jake Stenzel

Jesse Tannehill/ Bill Hoffer

George Van Haltren

Deacon White

Bio of Fred Clarke

When the Pittsburgh Pirates completed their one-sided deal with the Louisville Colonels in 1899, they not only brought over the best player in franchise history, Honus Wagner. They also brought over their everyday left fielder for the next 12 years and their manager for the next 16 years. Both of those roles were filled by Fred Clarke. If he didn’t make the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1945, he most certainly would have made it as a manager at some point.

Clarke began his career with the Louisville Colonels in 1894 and wasn’t exactly a star right away. His stats look fine for a rookie, hitting .274 with 48 RBIs, 55 runs scored and 26 stolen bases in 74 games, but that 1894 season was a huge year for offense in baseball, so his stats were below average compared to the rest of the league.

In 1895, he broke out, batting .347 in 132 games. He scored 96 times, drove in 82 runs and stole 40 bases. That RBI total was his career high, but he topped all of those other numbers during his career. In 1896, Clarke scored 96 runs again and hit .325 while finishing in the top five in the NL in both home runs and triples.

While those two seasons were big years for Clarke, his best career year may have been the 1897 season. That year he flirted with a .400 average, finishing at .390 and he put up a career-best .992 OPS. He also scored a career-high 122 runs, a mark he would equal two years later. Clarke set a career high with 59 stolen bases and his 205 hits were just one below his best effort in that category. The 1897 season also marked the first time he became a manager, a job he would hold for the next 19 seasons.

In 1898, Clarke batted .307 with 116 runs scored and led his team to a disappointing 9th place finish, finishing with a 70-81 record. His younger brother Josh Clarke got to play six games that year for Louisville, two of them in left field in place of Fred. The younger Clarke played parts of five seasons in the majors. One of the pitchers on their team was Chick Fraser, who also became Fred’s brother-in-law, when they married sisters.

Clarke put up big numbers in his last season in Louisville, hitting .340 with a career-high 206 hits and tying his best mark with 122 runs scored. He stole 49 bases and struck out just 18 times in 681 plate appearances. His first season in Pittsburgh was a disappointing one as far as stats are concerned, but as the manager he led them from their seventh place finish in 1899, to a second place finish in 1900 and the best was soon to come.

Before the World Series started in 1903, the best team was considered to be the National League team with the best record. The American League was considered a major league by 1901, but the NL was considered by most to be the superior league at the time. The 1901 Pirates were at the head of the senior circuit. Led by Clarke’s .324 average and 118 runs scored, Pittsburgh won their first NL title, finishing with a 90-49 record. It was their best season to that point, but they were far from their peak.

The 1902 Pirates are considered by many to be the best team in franchise history and they may have been better if not for a rash of late-season injuries that decimated the team and caused them to throw many inexperienced players into the fire. The Pirates ended with a 103-36 record. Clarke was one of the injured players that missed time on the field, getting into 113 games of 142 games(there were three ties), though he was healthy enough to hit .316 with 103 runs scored.

In 1903, the idea of the modern day World Series was formed and the Pirates were the first NL team to take part in the postseason classic. Finishing first for the third straight time, they took on the Boston Americans and lost the best-of-nine series, five games to three. The Pirates finished the season 91-49 and Clarke hit .351, finishing four points behind Honus Wagner, who led the league in batting. While he didn’t win the batting crown, Clarke led the league in slugging percentage with a career best .532 and he led the league with a .946 OPS.

The 1904 season was a tough one for Clarke. He played just 72 games and missed the end of the season due to a severe leg injury that happened while making a great catch in the outfield. While this era is known as the deadball era in baseball and batting averages dropped around the sport, this injury also cost Clarke the chance at some better career stats. He never approached that 1903 season on offense and seemed to have lost a step in the following years. He was still one of the better players in the game and due to his managing skills, was considered one of the most valuable players in baseball.

In 1906, Clarke hit .309, which was good enough for the seventh best average in the NL. He dropped down to .289 in 1907, though that still placed him eighth overall in the league. Clarke scored 97 runs in 1907, fourth best total in the league. In 1908, at the age of thirty-five, he set a career-high with 151 games played. The next season, he topped that total by one and helped the Pirates to their first World Series title.

Clarke hit .287 in 1909 and led the league with 80 walks. He scored 97 runs and had 68 RBIs. The Pirates finished with a 110-42 record, setting a franchise high for wins in a season. In the World Series, the Pirates knocked off the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Clarke belted two homers, drove in seven runs and scored seven times.

He would go on to play two more full seasons, retiring as a player after hitting .324 in 1911 at the age of thirty-eight. Clarke did see the field a handful of times between 1913 and 1915, getting into 12 games total over that stretch. During that time, the Pirates were falling back in the standings and he eventually moved on from managing after the 1915 season. Clarke came back to the Pirates in 1925, taking on tasks such as working in the front office, helping with scouting and even went to the bench as a coach during the year. That season, they won their second of five World Series titles.

With the Pirates, Clarke batted .299 over 1479 games. On the team’s all-time batting lists, he ranks 10th in games played and at-bats. He is eighth with 1015 runs scored, tenth with 1638 hits, fifth with 156 triples, eighth with 630 walks, fifth with 261 stolen bases. Among managers in team history, his 1422 wins are over 300 more than the second highest total in team history, 1115 by Danny Murtaugh. His .595 winning percentage is also the best in team history, higher than Bill McKechnie, who led the Pirates to their 1925 World Series title and he is in the Hall of Fame as a manager.

Including his stats with Louisville, Clarke was a .312 career hitter, with 1622 runs scored, 1015 RBIs, 509 stolen bases, 2678 hits and 220 triples. Only two other players in baseball history have reached those numbers in each of those six categories, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner.

Other Bios From The Early Year

Chief Zimmer (1860) Catcher for the 1900-02 Pirates. By the time he reached Pittsburgh in 1900, Zimmer had already played 15 seasons in the majors and he was 39-years-old. During the 1899 season, Zimmer became one of the first catchers to surpass 1,000 games caught, a monumental feat during the time when the equipment was substandard and catchers took even more punishment than they do today. Zimmer was an above average hitter for a catcher and in 1899, he hit .307 in 95 games. He came to the Pirates in the famous Honus Wagner Trade, one of 12 players they received from the Louisville Colonels. During his first season with the Pirates, he hit .295 in 82 games, 78 spent behind the plate. The Pirates had three regular catchers that season, all long-time veterans. Jack O’Connor and Pop Schriver shared the catching duties and both were 34-years-old that season.

Zimmer slumped down to .220 in 1901, but the Pirates still won their first National League title that season. In 1902, his playing time was limited, hitting .268 over 42 games. The 1902 Pirates finished with a 103-36 record, posting the best winning percentage in team history. After the season, the Pirates placed Zimmer on waivers, where he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. He played one more season in the majors, then finished his career three years later in the minors. He was a career .269 hitter in 1280 games, driving in 625 runs and scoring 617 times. Zimmer batted over .300 four times. He has the fifth most career assists as a catcher and is second in caught stealing, throwing out 1208 runners in his career. Three times he led the league in fielding percentage.

Jack Kading (1884) First baseman for the 1910 Pirates. Kading came to the Pirates in early September 1910 out of the Minnesota-Wisconsin League, where he played for the Eau Claire Puffs(great team name!). Kading was in his second season of pro ball and showed some improvements, so the Pirates gave him a chance despite the fact that the level he played at was Class D, four steps below the majors. Kading was a strong fielding first baseman, something that was considered more important back then with small ball being the popular way to play. He was inserted right into the Pirates lineup after arriving from Eau Claire and he hit .304 in eight games, with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs. He also fielded flawlessly at 1B, accepting all 77 chances. Those numbers weren’t enough to keep him around and he returned to Eau Claire the following season. In 1914, he got a second brief chance at major league ball, getting into three early season games for Chicago of the Federal League as a pinch-hitter. Kading returned to the minors and finished out the 1914 season, his last known season in pro ball, though there is a player named “Kading” that played briefly in the Central League in 1916 that could be him.

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Claude Ritchey Bio http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/claude-ritchey-bio.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/claude-ritchey-bio.html#comments Sun, 08 Jan 2012 17:26:23 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=23001 Before I get into the 1907 Pittsburgh Pirates I wanted to cover the career of longtime Pirates second baseman Claude Ritchey, who was included in a trade with the Boston Doves in December of 1906, along with Ginger Beaumont(his career was covered here in an earlier article) and Patsy Flaherty. The Pirates received second baseman Ed Abbaticchio back in the trade and he replaced Ritchey at the position. Claude had spent the last seven seasons at the position for Pittsburgh, playing an average of 140 games per season, many of them as the double play partner of Honus Wagner.

Claude was born and raised in Emlenton,Pa., a town to the north of Pittsburgh so he could be considered a local kid. He played his first games as a pro for a team from Franklin, Pa in 1894 then in 1895 he played for a team from Warren, Pa in the Iron and Oil League, a Class C league at the time. His teammates on that team included Harry Smith, a longtime backup catcher for the Pirates in the early 1900′s, a pitcher named Elton “Icebox” Chamberlain who threw with both hands during a major league game, Jake Hewitt, who pitched for the 1895 Pirates and two brothers who both made the majors, Albert “Butts” Wagner who lasted one season and his brother Honus, who is one of the greatest players ever. Also that season, Ritchey and the Wagner brothers played on to a team from Ohio that was a member of the Interstate League. The team started the season in Steubenville, moved to Lima then finished the season in Akron.

Ritchey ranks 10th in Pirates history with 118 sacrifice hits

In 1896 Ritchey moved up to a high level in the minors playing for the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League. The team was loaded with future and former major leaguers, 14 in total and among them was Harry Smith again. Following that season, Ritchey played so well that he was taken in the major league rule 5 draft by the Brooklyn Bridegrooms(current day LA Dodgers). Before he could play a game for Brooklyn he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds for a reported amount of $500 which seems low but according to a couple sources the deal was made because Brooklyn had made a trade earlier with the Reds, giving up star shortstop Tommy Corcoran, who refused to report.

For the Reds that rookie season Ritchey got the majority of the time at shortstop despite the fact Corcoran didn’t sit out long. Claude hit .282 in 101 games with 42 walks and 41 runs batted in. The average sounds decent but of the 11 guys on the team who also got 200 plate appearances, ten of them batted higher than Ritchey. His double play partner that season was a 37 year old named Bid McPhee, who some consider the greatest fielder at any position ever, so it was a good mentor for Ritchey his first year in the majors.. That combo would be split up quickly though as prior to the 1898 season Ritchey was traded to the Louisville Colonels, a trade that would soon pay dividends for the Pirates.

Ritchey split his 1898 season between shortstop and second base, playing over 70 games at each spot. He showed the first sign of the durability that would follow him throughout his career as he played 151 games. His hitting wasn’t anything impressive, he hit .254 with 19 extra base hits and 46 walks but he did lead the league in sacrifice hits at a time both bunting and hit and run plays were much more prevalent. He was also much improved on defense over his rookie season. He was an average fielder at shortstop but he played above average second base, to the point he only played 17 more games at positions other than 2B during the rest of his career.

He would have perhaps his finest season at the plate in 1899 for the Colonels, although he had many seasons for the Pirates that were almost as good. He hit a career high .300 with 73 RBI’s and 66 runs scored in 148 games. He posted a .748 OPS which was also a career high and he stole 21 bases, the only time in his career he topped 20 steals. His fielding took a bit of a hit as he committed a career high 51 errors but better days were ahead in that category.

Following the season Ritchey was part of a major deal between the Pirates and Colonels, a 16 player trade that is covered in depth here. What the trade basically did was make the Pirates a powerhouse team by moving all of the best players from Louisville to Pittsburgh for almost nothing. The Pirates got Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach, Deacon Phillippe and Ritchey(plus seven others), all five key parts of their title runs from 1901-03 in exchange for what turned out to be just three backups who may not have made the 1900 Pirates team even if the trade wasn’t made.

Claude played well that first season as the Pirates went 79-60 on the year. He played superb defense, finishing second among 2B in fielding percentage and assists while hitting .292 with 67 RBI’s, 18 stolen bases and an amazing total of just eight strikeouts in 528 plate appearances. In 1901 the Pirates won their first NL title and Ritchey had another strong season, hitting .296 with a career high 74 RBI’s in 140 games. He led the NL in errors at 2B for the only time in his career with 46 but he also led all second baseman in games played with 139 and assists while finishing second in putouts so the number isn’t quite as bad as it seems, especially when compared to today’s standards. There were no playoffs back then and the American League was just in it’s first season and not considered by many as an equal to the NL so the Pirates were considered by those AL naysayers to be the champions of baseball. The World Series would not be played for the first time until after the 1903 season.

The 1902 Pirates are considered by some to be the best team in Pittsburgh Pirates history. They went 103-36, winning the NL crown by 27.5 games over second place Brooklyn. Ritchey played just 115 games that season, his lowest total with the Pirates. He hit .277 with 55 RBI’s, 54 runs scored and a 53 to 15 BB/K ratio. He also posted a .966 fielding percentage to lead the NL just one season after leading the league in errors.

In 1903, the Pirates won their third straight NL pennant and moved on to the first modern World Series to face the Boston Americans. Ritchey had his typical steady season at the plate hitting .287 with 59 RBI’s, 55 walks and 66 runs scored while batting in the bottom half of the Pirates lineup. He did set a career high in slugging percentage with a .381 mark despite not hitting a home run all season, thanks to a high batting average and a career high 38 extra base hits(28 doubles, 10 triples). In the field he led the league in games played at 2B while leading the position in both assists and fielding percentage for a second time. He did however struggle badly in the World Series against the strong pitching of Cy Young and Bill Dinneen for Boston. Ritchey hit .148 with seven strikeouts in the eight games as the Pirates lost the series.

Despite going 87-66, the 1904 Pirates broke the string of three straight NL pennants for the franchise. Ritchey played well that year and played often, leading the NL in games played with 156(Pirates had three ties, that’s why the team record doesn’t match his games played). He set career highs with 79 runs scored and 12 triples while his 59 walks ranked as the fourth highest total in the NL. He was second in the NL in assists and fielding percentage and fourth in putouts. The 1905 season would be his worst statistical season at the plate for the Pirates, hitting just .255 with a .656 OPS. He went homerless for a third straight season but he was able to collect a career high 29 doubles and he still played strong defense, getting into 153 games while leading 2B in fielding for a third time and finishing second in assists again.

During his final season in Pittsburgh, Ritchey again was in the lineup everyday playing over 150 games for the third straight season. He hit .269 but drove in 62 runs, his highest total since 1901 and he also walked a career high 68 times. His glove was still strong, posting a .966 fielding percentage, tying his high while with the Pirates and for the fourth time he led the NL in that category. He had however lost a step in his game at age 32 and it was evident by his declining range in the field and his career low six stolen bases. Following the season the Pirates pulled off the three for one trade with Boston, ending Ritchey’s time in Pittsburgh. In seven seasons in the Steel City he played 977 games, hitting .277 with 420 RBI’s, 420 runs scored and a 362 to 172 BB/K ratio. Claude had been ranked the best second baseman in team history well into the 1960′s when finally passed by Bill Mazeroski for that honor.

Ritchey went on to play three seasons in Boston. He set a career high with a .971 fielding percentage in 1907, leading the league for a fifth and final time in that category. He hit .273 in 1908, his highest average since the 1903 season but by 1909 he was done as a major leaguer. His hit just .172 through 30 games before Boston released him. He finished the season in the minors for Providence of the Eastern League. He would later play for the Louisville Colonels again, this time the minor league version in 1911 although he broke his arm in a collision very early in the season and missed the rest of the year. His last year in pro ball was for a minor league team out of Pittsburgh in 1912 called the Filipinos. Over 13 major league seasons he had 1619 career hits in 1672 games, finishing with 709 runs scored and 155 stolen bases.

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The Best Pittsburgh Pirates Infields Ever http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/the-best-pittsburgh-pirates-infields-ever.html http://www.piratesprospects.com/2012/01/the-best-pittsburgh-pirates-infields-ever.html#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2012 18:00:55 +0000 http://www.piratesprospects.com/?p=22463 SEE ALSO: The Best Pittsburgh Pirates Outfields Ever

Determining the best Pirate infield ever is mainly a matter of figuring out how to delineate the various infields that Honus Wagner was a part of.  He dominated the game in his day like few other players have dominated it.  Not only that, but during his prime, which lasted through 1912, the Pirates generally surrounded him with good players.

Still, the Pirates have had some other very good infields.  They’ve tended to be made up of a combination of outstanding defensive players and solid hitters.  The Pirates have never had a great first baseman to run up big hitting numbers, so their best infields have mostly been balanced affairs.

Who Didn’t Make It.  There were five Pirate infields that stood out from the others, but I was a little disappointed that none of them included Arky Vaughan, who played for the Pirates from 1932-41.  You can make a good case that Vaughan is the most underrated player in the game’s history.  He’s seldom remembered now, even by Pirate fans, yet it wasn’t long ago that Bill James rated him the second best shortstop ever, after Wagner.  Unfortunately, he never had any truly good infield mates until Elbie Fletcher became the first baseman in 1940.  Vaughan was around for Pie Traynor’s declining years and he played with a solid first baseman in Gus Suhr for most of his career.  Otherwise, he spent his career with a medley of more-or-less replacement level second and third basemen.  Vaughan’s huge 1935 season (385/491/607) was wasted on an infield with two negative WARs (2B Pep Young and 3B Tommy Thevenow) among the regulars and Suhr having one of his weakest seasons.  The two really good Vaughan infields were widely spaced:  15.4 WAR in 1933, with Traynor having his last decent season; and 15.3 in 1940, with Fletcher (an on-base machine who drew 119 walks) in his first full season and utilityman Debs Garms winning one of baseball’s flukier batting titles.

I was also disappointed that none of the Pirates’ 1920s infields qualified.  Those were good, but not outstanding, infields that centered around Traynor and a series of talented but erratic shortstops in Rabbit Maranville, Glenn Wright and Rowdy Richard Bartell.  Traynor himself is often regarded nowadays as having been overrated, a good but not great player who usually put up WAR totals between 4 and 5.  Those infields also featured one of the most under-appreciated players in Pirate history, George Grantham.  He alternated between first and second, shifting as needed while the Pirates brought in a series of veteran stopgaps to man one position or the other.  He was a better hitter than Traynor, consistently hitting .300 with OBPs over .400 and lots of extra base hits.  In seven seasons with the Pirates, he never had an OPS+ below 121.  Unfortunately, he’s mostly remembered now for his nickname, “Boots,” which was indeed a reference to his fielding.  The best of those 1920s infields was the 1925 world champions, which accumulated a 16.4 WAR thanks to good seasons from Traynor, Wright and Grantham, a solid season from veteran secondbaseman Eddie Moore, and a .368 average from the aging Stuffy McInnis, who platooned with Grantham at first.

Fifth Best:  Maz and Groat.  The Pirates spent most of the 1950s building the team that would win a World Series in 1960 and it started to come together when Bill Mazeroski and Dick Groat took over at second and short in 1956.  They both had their first good seasons the next year, but it took the Pirates a couple more years to find the corner players to go with them.  The team actually got good production out of a variety of part-time first and third basemen in 1957-58:  Dee Fondy and Ted Kluszewski at first, Gene Freese at third, and Frank Thomas at both spots.  In mid-1958, though, Dick Stuart came up with his light-tower power and leaden glove.  (His glove really was that bad; his error totals were right out of the deadball era, with its primitive gloves and lopsided baseballs.)  The following year, the Pirates added Don Hoak, a solid all-around player, to man third, and veteran Rocky Nelson to serve as a quasi-platoon partner with Stuart.  Over the four years from 1957-60, this group averaged 15.23 WAR, with a high of 19.0 in 1960.  They got a big assist that year from Dick Schofield, who had a huge September while subbing for the injured Groat.  A lot of the value that year came from defense, especially Groat, who was worth 16 fielding runs, according to Fangraphs.  Nobody had a big year at the plate, with only Hoak among the four regulars reaching an .800 OPS, barely.  But all four were solid, Groat won the batting title, and the bench was great.

Fourth Best:  The Early 1970s.  The Pirates’ farm system in the late 1960s and early 1970s was probably one of the most productive ever, and it was readily apparent from their infields early in the ‘70s.  They had a string of players reach the majors, eventually accumulating more talent than they had room for . . . well, except at shortstop.  Richie Hebner took over third in 1969, although he platooned with Jose Pagan for several years.  (Pagan also was needed because Hebner had to be away on reserve duty periodically.)  Al Oliver won the first base job from Bob Robertson in 1969, but Robertson returned in 1970 and had the team’s hottest bat during its division title run, so Oliver moved to the outfield.  Freddie Patek temporarily took the shortstop job from the injury-plagued Gene Alley, but the Pirates traded Patek to Kansas City after the 1970 season.  Dave Cash gradually replaced Maz at second in 1970-71, only to find himself battling to hold off Rennie Stennett.  Of course, the Pirates traded their best secondbase prospect, Willie Randolph, to the Yankees.

Despite all the comings and goings, the team’s primary infield from 1970-72 was Robertson, Cash, Hebner and Alley.  Partway through 1972, Willie Stargell moved to first, as Robertson began struggling with the back problems that would shorten his career.  Alley struggled with knee and shoulder problems, and shared his position in 1971-72 with Jackie Hernandez, who was basically Rafael Belliard without the glove.  This group averaged 16.47 WAR from 1970-72, getting solid or better offensive production from Robertson, Hebner and the two secondbasemen, Cash and Stennett.  It also got good defense from Robertson, Cash and, when he was healthy enough, Alley, as well as passable defense from Hebner, who became a serious defensive liability starting in 1973.  Their best year, 1972, generated a 20.2 WAR, the best ever by a Pirate infield that didn’t include Honus Wagner.  Stargell spent most of that year at first and accounted for 5.7 WAR (293/373/558, 33 HRs, 112 RBIs), but the biggest surprise is Hebner’s 6.4 WAR (300/378/508, 19 HRs and his best defensive year).

Third Best:  Maz and Alley.  The Pirates’ teams of the 1960s were built for their ballpark.  Forbes Field had massive acreage in left and center, and slow infield grass.  Except for Bob Veale, the Pirates had a low-walk, low-strikeout, high-groundball pitching staff.  They also had arguably the best double play combination ever.  In fact, Gene Alley was one of the more under-appreciated Pirates ever.  If you judge by WAR, from 1965-68 he was the team’s best player aside from Clemente.  In those years he averaged 5.15 WAR, with a high of 5.7 in 1966.  During that stretch he was probably the Pirates’ third-best shortstop ever, in fact probably their third-best infielder ever.  This was an unusually stable infield.  With Donn Clendenon at first throughout, the only change was at third.  Bob Bailey played there in 1965-66, then was included in a trade for Maury Wills, who took the job for two years.  Even then, super-sub Jose Pagan often played third throughout the period.

Although this infield’s strength was defense up the middle, it provided good offense.  Clendenon had good power in some years, Bailey and Maz had decent power, and Alley and Wills hit for average.  It’d be interesting to see what the group would have done in a neutral hitting park.  Few players in history have been handicapped by their home park as much as Maz and Clendenon, both right-handed flyball hitters, were by Forbes.  Maz hit 93 HRs on the road in his career and only 45 at home.  Clendenon during his Pirates career hit 71 HRs on the road and only 35 at home.  In 1966, when he hit a career-high 28, all but three came on the road.  At their peak, in 1966-68, this infield averaged 17.6 WAR, with a high of 19.0 in 1966.

Second Best:  The Later Wagner Infields.  During the first half of Honus Wagner’s prime years, the Pirates had a mostly stable infield, but after 1906, when they traded secondbaseman Claude Ritchey and moved Tommy Leach from third to the outfield, the unit changed frequently.  Still, Wagner was so dominant in those years that it really didn’t matter.  It’s tempting just to refer to this period’s infield as “Honus and Some Guys.”

Still, the Pirates generally had good players at second and third.  They traded Ritchey for another secondbaseman, Ed Abbaticchio, who played well in 1907-08.  In the championship year of 1909, rookie Dots Miller replaced him and had an outstanding season.  Miller wasn’t able to duplicate his success, though, and moved to first in 1912, which was Wagner’s last great year.  Leach returned to third for one outstanding season in 1908, then moved back to center.  After going with a lesser light, Jap Barbeau, for most of 1909, the Pirates replaced him just in time for the World Series with Bobby Byrne, who had several good seasons for them afterward.  First base was in constant flux for the Pirates.  Nine different players, none of them more than decent, filled the position for all or parts of the six seasons between 1907 and 1912.

Despite all the changes, these infields were able to average 18.75 WAR in those six years.  From 1907 through 1909, with Wagner well into double figures every year, they averaged 20.93, topped by 24.2 in 1908, the highest single-season total in team history.  Those years featured probably the weakest hitting in MLB history.  Players like Leach, Byrne and Miller were very productive relative to the league because they generally managed to hit in the .260-.290 range and post OBPs in the .330-.360 range in years when the league typically hit in the .240s and had an OBP barely above .300.  But their contributions paled in comparison to Wagner’s.  In 1908, the entire NL hit 239/299/306, yet Wagner hit 354/415/542, with an OPS+ of 205 and WAR of 12.9.  Leach’s 259/324/381 was good for another 6.0 WAR.  In 1909 he was nearly as dominant, hitting 339/420/489, good for a 176 OPS+.

The Best:  The Wagner/Ritchey/Leach Infields.  The Pirates’ best infield ever took shape in 1901, when Wagner first started spending a lot of his time at short instead of in right.  He played there roughly 60% of the time in 1901-02, with Bones Ely taking the rest of the time in 1901 and Wid Conroy in 1902.  For four years, the rest of the infield, first to third, was Kitty Bransfield, Ritchey and Leach.  Bransfield had a bad year in 1904, leading the Pirates to trade him.  They went with Del Howard in 1905 and Joe Nealon in 1906, and both played decently.  Bransfield was a solid but not outstanding firstbaseman from 1901-03.  Ritchey was one of the best secondbasemen of his day, a good hitter and very good defensive player.  Leach was a well above average offensive player for the majority of the decade.  He started replacing the fading Ginger Beaumont in center in 1905 and spent only about half of his time at third that year and the next, but his replacements, Dave Brain and Tommy Sheehan, were passable.  In the five years from 1902-06, this infield averaged 20.46 WAR, topping 20 in 1903 (20.8), 1905 (20.7) and 1906 (22.7).  For sheer production, and because this was the most stable infield the Pirates had until the mid-1960s, this was the best infield in team history.

The Worst.  Two infields deserve mention here, one for long-term and one for single-season ineptitude.  The worst single-season WAR ever compiled by a Pirate infield was 0.0 in 2000.  The names will all sound familiar.  First baseman Kevin Young collapsed from his career-best 1999 season and second baseman Warren Morris from a strong rookie season, posting WAR figures of -1.0 and 0.2, respectively.  Third baseman Aramis Ramirez spent his time being jerked around by rookie-phobic manager Gene Lamont and ended up with -0.5 WAR.  Pat Meares added a nail to Cam Bonifay’s coffin with a 0.0 figure.  What saved this unit from a negative WAR was defensive wizard Mike Benjamin’s 1.1 total, compiled mainly when Meares was mercifully relegated to the bench.

Truly the worst Pirate infield ever was the 1951-54 group, which somehow managed to average only 0.78 WAR over four years.  Their “best” showing was 2.4 in 1953, an amount that was attributable in its entirety to thirdbaseman Danny O’Connell.  This wasn’t really a “unit” or “group,” though, but instead was an ever-changing cast of random bodies brought in by Branch Rickey to mark time until Maz and Groat could take over.  In four years the team had seven different regulars or semi-regulars at first (five with negative WARs); seven at second, including Danny Murtaugh; three at third; and six at short.  None was a regular for more than a single season except Pete Castiglione, who manned third in 1951-52 and part of 1953.  There’s a reason somebody thought up the moniker “Rickey Dinks.”

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