This Date in Pirates History: February 22

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date including a catcher for two World Series teams and one of the most unlikely all-stars ever.

Roy Spencer (1900) catcher for the Pirates from 1925-27. He was the third string catcher all three seasons in Pittsburgh, getting just 31 starts over those three years with 22 of them coming during the 1927 season. The Pirates had Earl Smith and Johnny Gooch ahead of him during his time in Pittsburgh, both were strong hitters who could throw out runners at a decent clip, although by 1927 Smith was beginning the downside of his career. Despite not playing much, Spencer still managed to hit .301 in his 80 games with the Pirates including a .395 average over 43 AB’s in 1926. The Pirates made the World Series in both 1925 and 1927, winning it all the first year. Spencer had one postseason AB, a groundout to end the top of the 8th inning of game three in 1927. Following that World Series, the Pirates traded him and pitcher Emil Yde to Indianapolis of the American Association. After spending all of 1928 in the minors, Spencer made in back to the majors in 1929 with the Washington Senators and played nine more seasons in the big leagues. In 636 major league games he was a .247 hitter with 203 RBI’s.

Frankie Zak (1922) shortstop for the 1944-46 Pirates. He began in the minors as a teenager in 1941, and by 1943 he was in the International League, where he hit .246 with 22 stolen bases, 101 runs scored and 104 walks. He made the Pirates opening day roster in 1944, but didn’t get his first at-bat of the season until the team’s 36th game. Up to that point he had either pinch-run or finished the game defensively at shortstop, which he did 11 times. In his first start he went 2-for-2 at the plate, then followed that up with four hits in six at-bats over the next two days. In fact, the first seven games he started he had at least one hit in each game. Then after his first hitless game, he went 4-for-4, giving him a .538 average nine starts into his career.

Zak kept starting, but his bat cooled off, and by August 9th he was back on the bench in his defensive replacement/pinch-runner role. In the last 50 games of the season he played just 16 times and batted just twice. Luckily for Zak, the all-star game was in early July and he was still batting .350 as late as July 2nd, so he made the team as the third shortstop, although the starting shortstop (Marty Marion) played the entire game. By June of 1945 Frankie was back in the minors, getting a September call-up that year followed by 21 more games with the Pirates in 1946 before returning to the minors for good, retiring after the 1949 season. Zak hit .269 in 123 games with the Pirates. He never homered in the majors and in 2,910 minor league AB’s he hit just two home runs.

Tom Griffin (1948) pitcher for the 1982 Pirates. He already had 13 seasons in at the major league level when the Pirates acquired him from the Giants on December 11, 1981 in exchange for first baseman Doe Boyland. Griffin had bounced between starter and relief his whole career but in 1981 for the Giants he was a starter the entire year, going 8-8 3.76 in 22 games. With the Pirates he started the third game of the season and allowed five runs in six innings. He then pitched out of the pen twice including a one inning outing in which he allowed eight hits and five runs. They moved him back to starter ten days later and got an eight inning performance out of him in a 10-4 win over the Braves. Griffin followed up his good start with back-to-back starts in which he pitched a total of seven innings, allowing 22 baserunners and nine runs. Four days later they released him and his career was over. He was originally a first round pick in 1966, fourth overall and in his 14 year career he went 77-94 4.07 in 401 games, 191 as a starter.

Bill Baker (1911) catcher for the 1941-43, and 1946 Pirates. He started his pro career in 1931 and despite the fact he was a catcher who hit over .290 in seven of those seasons he didn’t make his major league debut until 1940 with the Reds. Baker played 27 games that rookie season and just two games off the bench in the first month of the 1941 season when the Pirates purchased his contract from Cincinnati. After starting the first three games while with the Pirates, he took over the backup role and finished with 35 games played, 80 plate appearances with a .224 batting average and zero strikeouts. The last stat was an odd one considering the fact he struck out in his only official AB while with the Reds that season. In 1942 he was a seldom used third string catcher behind future Hall of Famer Al Lopez and veteran Babe Phelps. Baker played just 18 games all year, only one start and in 17 AB’s he had two hits and again, he didn’t strikeout once. With Phelps gone in 1943, Baker became the backup to Lopez and saw much more time, hitting .273 with 26 RBI’s in 63 games. After the season he joined the military and spent two years serving during WWII. Baker returned to the Pirates in 1946 and hit .239 in 53 games. He signed with the Cardinals in 1947 and played parts of two more seasons in the majors before finishing his career in 1952 at the age of 41 in the minors

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