On this date in 1920, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Wally Westlake was born. He played for the Pirates from 1947-51. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Dodgers in 1940 and spent his first three seasons in the minors. He missed the 1943-45 seasons due to military service, returning in 1946 when he played AAA ball in Oakland and hit .315 in 136 games. The Pirates traded for him in late 1946 and put him in right field to start the 1947 season. He would hit 17 homers and drove in 69 runs that rookie season. Those numbers both placed him 3rd on the Pirates behind two future Hall of Famers, Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner.
In 1948 Westlake hit .285 with 65 RBI’s and his 17 homers ranked him 2nd on the team behind Kiner. He played in a career high 147 games in 1949 and drove in 104 runs, 2nd to Kiner on the team and the only time he reached the century mark in RBI’s during his career. He ranked 8th in the National League in both homers with 23 and with those 104 runs driven home. In 1950 he set a career high with 24 homers while also hitting .285 and driving in 95 runs. Wally moved to 3B for the 1951 season and got off to a hot start. In his first 50 games he was hitting .282 with 16 homers and 45 RBI’s, putting him on pace to set new career highs in both categories. He was the second best, and only other power hitter on the Pirates behind Kiner so what happened next was a bit of a surprise.
On June 15, 1951 the Pirates traded Westlake and pitcher Cliff Chambers to the Cardinals for five players, the best among them being infielder Dick Cole and catcher Joe Garagiola. Chambers had just thrown a no-hitter weeks earlier, the first one in Pirates history since 1907. Westlake would make the all-star team that year but his star faded quickly outside of Pittsburgh. He had a nice half season in 1953 with the Indians but by 1956 he was out of baseball and he spent most of his last two seasons in the minors. He hit .281 for the Pirates over his 580 games, driving in 378 runs, hitting 97 homers and scoring 311 runs. He turns 93 today and is the 3rd oldest living Pirates player.
Also born on this date in 1937 was Rex Johnston, who played for the 1964 Pirates and the 1960 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1959, sending him to the minors where he spent five entire seasons before getting a chance in the majors at the age of twenty-six. The outfielder had a strong all around season in A ball in 1961 when he hit .283 with 61 walks, 18 homers and 13 stolen bases. He spent the next three season for the Pirates in AAA Columbus. His major league career was very brief, lasting just under one month. He made his major league debut on April 15, 1964 during a 12 inning game and he was intentionally walked his first time up in the majors. He batted just once more during the month of April, while also making five appearances as a late inning defensive replacement in left field.
On May 2nd, Johnston started his only career game, going 0-for-4 with a walk during a 5-4 win over the St Louis Cardinals. He never recorded a major league hit, but on May 10,1964 during a doubleheader, he pinch hit for Elroy Face, drew a walk and then scored his only major league run on a single by Roberto Clemente. All told, he appeared in 14 games, went to bat ten times going 0-for-7 with three walks. He returned to the minors to finish the year then spent two more seasons at AAA in the San Francisco Giants system. During the 1960 season the Steelers invited Johnston to a tryout, he had played football at USC. The Pirates granted him permission and following the minor league season he joined the Steelers for that one year, doing mostly punt and kick returns. He is the only man to play for both the Steelers and Pirates and he celebrates his 74th birthday today.
Finally, Bill Hoffer (1870), who pitched for the 1898-99 Pirates, was also born on this date. He has a career .667 winning percentage, going 92-46 in his six seasons. Hoffer began his career with the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles in 1895 and went 31-6, 3.21 in a high offense year for the National League. He then won 25 games in 1896, playing for a team that finished 90-39 on the season. Just two years later, the Orioles thought he was finished after a slow start and released him. Hoffer signed with the Pirates later that 1898 season and went 3-0 in three starts. The next season, he was 8-10, 3.63 and by Spring Training in 1900, he was released. Hoffer played one more season in the majors, but continued to pitch in the minors until 1909. More on Hoffer can be read here.
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.