On this date in 1931 former Pirates catcher and coach Don Leppert was born. He started his pro career in 1955 when he signed with the Milwaukee Braves organization. The Pirates acquired him in December 1960 in exchange for minor leaguer Tom Burgess. He made his major league debut on June 18, 1961 and in his first AB he homered off Cardinals pitcher, Curt Simmons. He played 22 total games that season batting .267 with 3 homers. The following season he was the backup catcher to Smoky Burgess and he hit .266 in 45 games. The team was 29-12 in games he started in 1962. After the season ended he was traded to the Washington Senators for a minor league pitcher and cash. He played two seasons for them in the majors and spent the 1965 season in the minor. The Pirates signed him for 1966 and he played in AAA for Columbus.
He retired from playing following the 1966 season, taking a job as the manager for the Pirates minor league affiliate in Gastonia for the 1967 season. The following year he joined the majors league team and coached from 1968-1976 with the Pirates, winning a World Series ring in 1971. He would later coach three years for the Blue Jays then six for the Astros before joining the Twins organization in a few different roles including managing for two years in the minors.
Also born on this date is recent Pirates starting pitcher, James McDonald. He was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round of the 2002 draft and spent five seasons in the minors before making his major league debut in September of 2008 when he threw a scoreless inning of relief against the Pirates. James didn’t pitch the entire 2004 seasons due to tendinitis so the Dodgers used him in the outfield where he hit just .224 in 46 games. He remained as an outfielder the next season but struggled again and decided to move back to the mound. By the end of the 2007 season he was in AA and pitching well, posting a 1.71 ERA over 10 starts.
James was a top prospect in the Dodgers system going into the 2009 season and they used him as a starter for the first month before moving him to the bullpen after he struggled through April with an 8.16 ERA. He lasted two weeks in that role before being shipped to the minors for six weeks. When he returned in late June it was in the relief role and by the end of the year he was able to lower his ERA to 4.00 over 63 total innings. He started the 2010 season in the minors, not making it back to the Dodgers until mid-July. At the trading deadline the Pirates were able to acquire him along with minor league outfielder Andrew Lambo in exchange for closer Octavio Dotel. After joining the Pirates, McDonald was used in the starting role, posting a 27-44 4.21 record in 77 starts. He was released in early September of 2013.
Finally, born on this date in 1874 was Pirates outfielder, Tom McCreery who batted over .300 in two of his three seasons with the club. He started his career in 1894 in the minors making it to the majors for the first time the following season when he got into 31 games. In 1896, his first full season, he batted .351 and led the NL in both strikeouts and triples. In 1897 he led the NL in games played, sacrifice hits and strikeouts again. He started the 1898 season with the Giants but hit just .198 in 35 games. The Pirates got him in the 2nd half of the season and he would hit .311 the rest of the way while playing mostly center field.
In his only full season with Pittsburgh in 1899 he played all three outfield positions during the year and hit .324 with 65 RBI’s. Despite playing well, the Pirates acquired Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke in the off-season back when Wagner was an outfielder before he moved to SS for good, so along with Ginger Beaumont the Pirates had three star outfielders and McCreery was moved to a bench role. He hit just .220 in 45 games and following the season he would move on to a new team. He finished his 9 year career in 1903 with a .289 average over 802 games. He then played until 1907 in the minor leagues.
Other former Pirates players born on this date include Jose Bautista, who hit .241 with 43 homers and 159 RBI’s in 400 games over five seasons from 2004 until 2008. Rajai Davis, who played 44 games for the 2006-07 Pirates and is currently teammates with Bautista in Toronto. Tom Lovelace, whose entire major league career consisted of one pinch hit AB for the Pirates on September 23, 1922, but he hit over .300 in nine minor league seasons. Rimp Lanier, a member of the World Series winning 1971 Pirates. He was used as a pinch hitter, going 0-for-4, with a HBP in six games, with one appearance as a pinch runner.
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.