Going into the 1899 season the Pirates saw a chance to upgrade half of their double play combo of 2B Dick Padden and SS Bones Ely by acquiring a veteran star player from the lowly Washington Senators teams. The Senators never had a winning season in the eight year history of the franchise and they were coming off their first 100 loss season while also predictably drawing very poorly at the gates. They were always willing to sell or trade away a higher priced veteran in exchange for a profit by the end of the season.
The Senators prior to the 1898 season traded for star second baseman Heinie Reitz in a six-player deal. They were hoping he could provide a big improvement over the incumbent second baseman John O’Brien, whom they gave up a lot to acquire two years prior, but he provided them with very little in return. Reitz had played with the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles, winners of three straight pennants from 1894-1896. They had just finished 90-40 in 1897, yet lost the pennant by two games to the Boston Beaneaters. They were managed at the time by Ned Hanlon, former Pittsburgh player/manager and future Hall of Famer, elected in 1996.
Reitz had been in the minors since 1890 when he finally was purchased for just $300 by the Orioles prior to the 1893 season at age 26. He had a very good all-around rookie year hitting .286 with 65 walks and scoring 90 runs, all while playing a solid second base. In 1894 he helped the Orioles to their first pennant by hitting .303 with 105 RBIs and tying a major league record with 31 triples. That record stood until 1912 when it was surpassed by current record holder Owen “Chief” Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who hit 36 three-baggers. Reitz missed about half of the 1895 season, but once again drove in over 100 runs in 1896. Those Baltimore Orioles teams of that era had as many as six future Hall of Famers in their lineup and that wasn’t including Hanlon.
Following the six-player trade that brought him to Washington, Reitz played well for the Senators in his only season there. He hit .303 and was a standout at second base leading the league in assists and posting the second best fielding percentage at the position. On a side note, his occasional double play partner and also his backup at second base was Albert “Butts” Wagner, the older brother of Honus Wagner. That Senators team had an amazing seven guys bat over .300 that season, yet only finished with a combined team average of .271 on the year. Their pitching was extremely weak despite the fact they had guys like Gus Weyhing who won 264 career games, Frank Killen the former Pirates star who had two 30 wins season prior, and Bill Dinneen who won three games over the Pirates in the 1903 World Series.
The Pirates traded three players for Reitz on December 14, 1898. The deal included second baseman Dick Padden and minor leaguers Jack O’Brien and Jimmy Slagle, both of whom Pittsburgh signed and reserved for the upcoming 1899 season. The Senators franchise folded after the 1899 season and all three players were sold off for the 1900 campaign. Jimmy Slagle was the best of the group. He was a regular outfielder in the majors until 1908, including the 1906-08 seasons as the center fielder for the Chicago Cubs. Those teams won three straight pennants, and their last World Series still to this date in 1908.
Reitz’s time in Pittsburgh was a disappointment. He was only able to play 35 games and hit .263, but what little they saw of his defense had to impress them as his fielding percentage was well above league average. In an ironic twist, the second baseman that replaced Reitz when he was injured was John O’Brien. That’s who he replaced in Washington. The Pirates had to purchase O’Brien mid-season from the Baltimore Orioles, Reitz’s old team.
Just prior to the 1900 season, the Pirates traded Reitz to the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League,a minor league at the time, but that franchise eventually became the American League team that is now the Baltimore Orioles. That Brewers team was loaded with future and former Pirates including Connie Mack, Louis Bierbauer and HOF pitcher Rube Waddell. Just to show how far he had fallen from the previous off-season, all the Pirates got in return for Reitz was Harry Smith, a marginal catcher who hung around for six seasons, yet played just 178 games in a Pirates uniform.
Reitz played out the rest of his career in the minor leagues, mostly in California, last playing in 1908 at age 41. In 1914 he was tragically struck down in an automobile accident, the first major league player to pass away in such an incident.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.