Born on this date in 1950 was Tim Foli, who played shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1979 to 1981, then returned in 1985 to finish his career. Foli was drafted first overall in the 1968 amateur draft by the Mets and he made his major league debut in late 1970 with them. He played just one full season there before being traded to the Montreal Expos, where he played until 1977 when he was traded to the Giants. The Giants sold him to the Mets, who would trade him to the Pirates in early April 1979 for shortstop Frank Taveras. Foli was a decent major leaguer at the time, he provided good defense and made contact at the plate well (he struck out just 399 times over 16 seasons) but he far from lived up to the standards of a first overall pick.
The 1979 season would be his best, not only because the Pirates won the World Series but because he hit a career high .288 with 65 RBI’s and 70 runs scored, both of those totals were also career highs. Foli hit .333 with 3 RBI’s in each series of the postseason as the Pirates defeated the Orioles for their 5th title. In 1980 Foli hit .265 with 61 runs scored in 127 games. He led all NL shortstops in fielding percentage that year with a .981 mark. He hit .247 in 86 games during the strike shortened 1981 season then in December he was traded to the Angels for catcher Brian Harper. The Pirates reacquired him in a December 1984 trade with the Yankees that had Steve Kemp joining him in Pittsburgh while Dale Berra and minor leaguer Jay Buhner went to New York. Foli was injured for a time and played just 19 games before being released in June of 1985. He was a career .251 hitter with 501 RBI’s and 576 runs scored in 1696 games played.
Also born on this date in 1971 was outfielder Adam Hyzdu, who played for the Pirates from 2000 to 2003. He was originally drafted in the 1st round by the San Francisco Giants back in 1990 but it took him 10 seasons to make his major league debut and he made quite an impression when he did. Hyzdu was in AA with Altoona in 2000 and put together a great season hitting .290 with 94 walks, 96 runs scored, 39 doubles, 31 homers and 106 RBI’s. The Pirates made him a September call-up and he hit .389 in 12 games. He started 2001 in AAA, again hit well and earned a mid-season promotion. He would hit four homers in his first 14 AB’s but go on to hit just one more in the next 45 games while finishing with a .208 average.
The 2002 season was much like the previous year. Hyzdu again started the year in the minors and again was called up midseason and again started off well. Ten games into his major league season that year he and the Pirates faced off against the Cardinals in Pittsburgh. Between July 19th and the 20th the Pirates would score 27 runs, winning both games and Adam would go a combined 7 for 10 with three homers and 11 RBI’s. He finished that year with a career high 155 AB’s while hitting 11 homers and driving in 34 runs. During his seven year career he never even reached half that many AB’s in any other season. He hit .206 in 51 games in 2003 for the Pirates before leaving via free agency. In 173 games with the Pirates he hit .231 with 18 homers and 55 RBI’s. He finished with a .229 career average and hit just one more major league homer. In the minors Hyzdu hit 280 homers and drove in 1024 runs in 1750 games
Going back to 1894, born on this date was outfielder Walter Mueller, who spent his entire major league career with the Pirates, from 1922-24 and 1926. Mueller started his major league career with a bang, hitting the first pitch he saw from star pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander (HOF pitcher with 373 career wins) for a three run inside the park homer making him the first known player to homer on the first major league pitcher he saw. He hit .273 in 43 games his first season. The following seasons the Pirates had plenty of depth in the outfield and as the fifth outfielder on the team, Mueller barely played until late in the year, getting into just 10 games through the end of July. He finished with a career high .306 average in 40 games. In 1924 the Pirates outfield got more crowded with Kiki Cuyer added to the mix and Mueller started just eight games all season. He hit .260 in 30 games.
Mueller played another 19 games in 1926 for the Pirates and 19 other minor league games in 1928 but that was the extent of his pro career. He did not play at all in 1925 or 1927, the two years the Pirates went to the World Series. Mueller would hit one other home run in his career, just four days after his debut and this one would come against Brooklyn pitcher Ray Gordinier, who won 372 less games than Alexander did. His brother Heinie Mueller played 11 seasons in the majors and Walter’s son Don played 12 seasons in the majors.
Fred Luce (1896) Outfielder for the 1923 Pirates. Luce was a power hitting outfielder in the minors, who got just one brief shot at the majors and performed well. In nine late-season games for the 1923 Pirates, he hit .500 and drove in three runs. He only got one start and it may have been due to his shaky debut. Luce had an infield single, but was picked off and struck out twice. All of his other eight games were off the bench. Prior to joining the Pirates, Luce spent the season with Flint of the Michigan-Ontario League, where he hit .382 with 19 triples and 15 homers in 117 games. He returned to Flint the following season, moved to Milwaukee of the American Association for five years and eventually retired from pro ball after the 1931 season.
Finally, born on this date in 1867 was John “Tun” Berger, who was a member of the worst team in franchise history, the 1890 Alleghenys and also one of the few holdovers from that team to stick around for the 1891 Pirates team. A lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Berger played seven different positions in his rookie year in 1890, everything but first base and pitcher. He had 104 hits in 104 games, both the third highest totals on the team that went just 23-113. His 40 RBI’s and 64 runs scored both ranked second on the team and he hit .266 which was 36 points higher than the team’s combined average. Berger again was versatile in the field for Pittsburgh in 1891 playing five different positions and he hit .239 with 14 RBI’s in 43 games. That year he hit his only major league home run off 328 game winner John Clarkson, who is in the Hall of Fame. Berger played one more season in the majors and another six in the minors.
There have been numerous trades and transactions of note. Below is a brief summary of each:
1990: Pirates sign Zane Smith as a free agent. During the middle of the 1990 season, the Pirates traded for Smith and he pitched well, going 6-2, 1.30 in 11 games. He ended up playing another four years in Pittsburgh, then moved to Boston for one season before finishing his career with the 1996 Pirates.
1989: Pirates sign Neal Heaton as a free agent. He spent three years in Pittsburgh, making 43 starts and 71 relief appearances. Heaton went 21-19, 3.46 for the Pirates before being dealt in early 1992 to the Royals for Kirk Gibson
1983: Pirates trade Mike Easler to the Boston Red Sox for John Tudor. Easler hit .313 with 27 homers and 91 RBIs in his first year with the Red Sox. The next season, both his average and power numbers dropped off. He moved on to the Yankees the following season. Tudor went 12-11 in 32 starts for the Pirates, then moved on to the Cardinals and helped them to the World Series in 1985, where he won two games over the Royals.
1966: Pirates trade outfielder Don Bosch and pitcher Don Cardwell to the New York Mets for pitcher Dennis Ribant and outfielder Gary Kolb. Cardwell was 33-33, 3.38 in four years with Pirates and 20-34, 3.31 in four years with Mets. Bosch played just three games for Pirates prior to the deal. He hit .157 in 94 games for Mets and finished with a .164 career average in 146 games. Ribant went 9-8, 4.08 in 22 starts and 16 relief appearances for the Pirates, then was traded to Detroit Tigers after the season. Kolb played two years in Pittsburgh, hitting .186 in 103 games.
1939: Pirates trade pitcher Jim Tobin to Boston Bees for pitcher Johnny Lanning. Tobin pitched three years in Pittsburgh, going 29-24, 3.71 in 60 starts and 25 relief appearances. After the deal, he lowered his ERA, but still went 76-88 over six seasons. Lanning played six years in Pittsburgh, though he missed two full years due to serving in WWII. He went 33-29, 3.44 in 49 starts and 97 relief appearances.
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.