This Date in Pirates History: February 20

There have been six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, but one stands out above the rest. Elroy Face(1928) played 15 seasons in a Pirates uniform, starting in 1953 and remaining until he was sold to the Detroit Tigers in late 1968. Face joined the Pirates in December 1952 after he was taken in the rule 5 draft. He had played four seasons in the minors with the Phillies and Dodgers prior to that, winning at least 14 games every season. In his rookie season he pitched 40 games, getting 13 starts from June 17 until the end of the year. He was clearly not ready for the majors but as a rule 5 pick he had to stay and in 119 innings he posted a 6.58 ERA. He spent the entire 1954 season in the minors where he developed his famous forkball and also worked on a slider. Prior to that he threw just a fastball and curveball and major league hitters were hitting him much harder than he got hit in the minors. Face returned to the majors for 1955 and cut his ERA to 3.58, down exactly three runs.

By 1956 he was being used strictly out of the pen. After making 23 starts his first two seasons, he started just four more games his entire career and none after 1957. In 1956 he threw 135.1 innings and led the league with 68 games pitched. In 1958 he recorded 20 saves, although it wasn’t official stat at the time, and he also posted a 2.89 ERA. In 1959 Face compiled an amazing 18-1 record in his 57 appearances. He made his first of three straight all-star appearances and also finished 7th in the MVP voting. During the 1960 season, the Pirates won the World Series and Face contributed with 10 wins, 24 saves and a league leading 68 appearances. He also pitched 10.1 innings of relief in the series.

Roy had perhaps his best season in 1962 yet didn’t make the all-star team. He posted a career low 1.88 ERA and career high 28 saves. His numbers dropped down to a 5.20 ERA in 1964 at the age of 36 but surprisingly he rebounded for four more strong seasons with an ERA between 2.42 and 2.70 each year. Before his sale to the Tigers in late August 1968, the Pirates kept him long enough so that he could tie Walter Johnson’s record for most games pitched with one team, getting his 802nd appearance before being shipped to first place Detroit. Among the Pirates all-time leaders he still ranks first in games pitched and also in saves with 186. Face finished his major league career with the Expos in 1969 and even pitched briefly in the minors in 1970 before retiring.

Other Pirates players born on this date include:

Frankie Gustine(1920) infielder for the Pirates from 1939 until 1948. On most days Gustine would be the top player of the day, he played 1176 games over ten seasons with the Pirates, the 20th highest total of games played in franchise history. The Pirates signed him as a 17 year old amateur and sent him to the low minors in 1937. He hit well in 1938 after moving up a level then even better in 1939 in class B ball, where he hit .300 in 137 games, earning a September call-up for the Pirates. By 1940 he was the everyday 2B, hitting .281 in 133 games as a rookie that year, although he did lead all NL 2B in errors. Frankie had a poor 1942 season, hitting just .229 but turned it around the next year batting .290, and for the first time, he played more shortstop than 2B.

By 1944 Frankie was the regular shortstop, a move that lasted two seasons and he hit .280 with 66 RBI’s the second year. Back to 2B for 1946, he made his first all-star team but that position change lasted just one year. He moved to 3B for 1947 and made the all-star team again while leading the league in games played with 156. That year he set career highs in batting average at .297, runs scored with 102 and also with 67 RBI’s. He made his third straight all-star appearance in 1948 before the Pirates shipped him to the Cubs in a December trade that was covered here. Gustine has the dubious distinction of leading the league in errors at three different positions, 2B in 1940, SS in 1945 and 3B in 1947. While with the Pirates he hit .268 with 1152 hits, 523 runs scored and 451 RBI’s.

Tony Menendez(1965) pitcher for the 1993 Pirates. He was originally a first round pick of the White Sox in the 1984 draft. It took him eight years and four organizations before he finally made the majors in 1992, pitching three games for the Reds that year. That November the Pirates signed him as a free agent and sent him to AAA where he worked as the team’s closer. He was briefly called up in July, making his Pirates debut in long relief against the Reds. After two games he was sent back to the minors where he compiled a 2.42 ERA and 24 saves in 54 games. The Pirates recalled Menendez in September and used him often out of the pen, getting 12 appearances in the final month of the season. He left via free agency when the season ended, signing with the Giants where he played two seasons, mainly in AAA, before retiring.

Jack Rafter(1875) catcher for the Pirates on September 24,1904. He played 13 seasons in the minors beginning in 1894 but managed to get into just one major league game. Rafter had played for the Troy Trojans of the New York State League for four seasons prior to playing for the Pirates and all four seasons he was the catcher for Chick Robitaille, who also made his major league debut in September 1904 for the Pirates. Not surprisingly, when Rafter played his only game in the majors, Robitaille was on the mound. During a 3-1 loss in New York to the Giants, Jack went 0-3 at the plate and was flawless in the field while throwing out one of the two runners who attempted to steal off him. He returned to the minors in 1905 and played three more seasons before retiring. Rafter is one of 56 players who attended Fordham University to make the majors, only six have started their career since 1950.

Tom O’Brien(1873) infielder for the Pirates in 1898 and 1900. He was a member of the Pirates three different times although he was traded before he played his first game for the team. In that trade the Pirates also gave up Jake Stenzel, their all time batting leader in exchange for star outfielder Steve Brodie, a deal that can be read about here. O’Brien played one full season and part of 1898 before the Pirates purchased his contract back in June. He would hit .259 in 107 games with 45 RBI’s and 53 runs scored to finish out the year. In 1899 the Pirates loaned him to the New York Giants, a move that seems crazy to do now but happened a couple times a year back in the day. Tom would actually have his best season in the majors with the Giants, hitting .296 with 101 runs scored. When the season ended he was returned to the Pirates. In 1900 he would hit .290 with 61 runs scored and 61 RBI’s in 102 games. O’Brien would’ve likely played a big role on the 1901 Pirates, the first team to win a pennant in franchise history, but in early February that year he died of pnuemonia at the age of 27.

Harry Raymond(1862) third baseman for the 1892 Pirates. He began his major league career as a September call-up for the Louisville Colonels of the American Association in 1888 but between the 1887-88 seasons prior to joining them, he played on six different minor league teams. He wasn’t much of a hitter in his four seasons in Louisville, he hit .243 with two homers in 299 games there and his best season came when the talent in the league was watered down in 1890 due to the fact three major leagues were running at the time. He was a strong fielder at third base during an era when defense at the position was much more important than it is today. When the American Association folded after the 1891 season it left the NL as the only major league and the talent level in the league became much better. Raymond would play just 12 games for the Pirates that season, hitting .082 in 49 AB’s before they released him. He signed with the Washington Senators who gave up on him after just four games and an .067 batting average. He finished the year in the minors, then would go on to play another seven seasons of minor league ball before retiring.