This Date in Pirates History: February 24

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players were born on this date. One of them being Honus Wagner, the greatest shortstop in baseball history and in my opinion, the greatest player in Pirates history. He got his own post last night that can be found here. One of the players from today gets overshadowed on this day but he was one of the best pitchers in franchise history. Wilbur Cooper (1892) pitched for the Pirates from 1912 until 1924 and in the process, he won more games than any other pitcher in Pirates history.

Cooper only began his pro career one year prior to joining the Pirates. In 1911 at the age of 19 he played for three different teams, winning a total of 20 games that season. He began 1912 with the Columbus Senators of the American Association where he went 16-9 2.76 in 31 games before being brought to Pittsburgh in late August to make his major league debut. He would not return to the minors until after his major league career ended in 1926, then he pitched another five years down on the farm before retiring. For the 1912 Pirates Cooper made quite an impression, going 3-0 1.66 in 38 innings.

Wilbur pitched mostly out of the pen in 1913, pitching a total of 30 games and 93 innings. He moved to a starting role in 1914 and never looked back during his next 11 seasons in Pittsburgh. He still pitched in relief occasionally(more often in 1915 when he struggled) but that was in addition to his regular starts. He won 16 games with a 2.13 ERA in 1914, then had a poor showing with a 5-16 record in 1915, albeit with a 3.30 ERA. The Pirates were not good in 1916, they finished with a 65-89 record, so when you see Cooper’s 12-11 record that season, realize that he had to post a 1.87 ERA and pitch 16 complete games just to finish barely above the .500 mark. The 1917 season was the beginning of the peak of his career. He would win 17 games that season, a total he would meet or exceed in each of the next seven seasons while in Pittsburgh.

Cooper won a career high 24 games in 1920 then followed that up with an NL leading 22 wins in 1921. He also led the league in games started with 38 and for the second straight season he finished with exactly 327 innings pitched. In 1922 he won 23 games and threw a league leading 27 complete games. After winning 20 games for a fourth time in 1924 the Pirates decided to ship the 32 year old pitcher to the Cubs in a six player deal detailed here. Despite the 20 win season that year the decision to trade him was a smart one. Cooper pitched just two more seasons in the majors, winning a total of 14 games over that time. He won 216 big league games and finished with a 2.89 ERA.

Among the Pirates all-time leaders he ranks first in both wins with 202 and complete games with 263. He’s second to Bob Friend in both innings pitched and games started, third in strikeouts and fourth in shutouts.

Other former Pirates players born on this date include:

Bronson Arroyo (1977) pitcher for the Pirates from 2000 until 2002. He was a third round draft pick of the Pirates in 1995. At age 20 in high-A ball he won 12 games and posted a 3.31 ERA in 24 starts. Arroyo struggled badly the next season in his first try at AA but then was able to win 15 games there and earn a promotion to AAA in 1999. He was pitching well through 13 starts in 2000 at AAA when the Pirates called him up and put him in the rotation. After pitching poorly, he was moved to the bullpen although he made ended up making three September starts. He opened up the 2001 season in the majors but after his ERA rose to 6.24 in June he was sent to the minors. Arroyo returned for a spot start in July then came back in August, eventually lowering his ERA to a 5.09 mark. He spent most of 2002 in the minors, getting called up three different times throughout the season, twice for just one game. Bronson was put on waivers just prior to spring training in 2003 and was picked up by the Red Sox. After spending most of 2003 in the minors he established himself as a reliable everyday starter in 2004 and has won 103 games over the last eight seasons.

Clarence “Steamboat” Struss (1909) pitcher for the Pirates on September 30,1934. His only major league game was a start in game two of a doubleheader against the Cubs. The Pirates lost the opener 8-2, to drop them a game below .500 at 74-75. Struss faced off against another rookie making his first start named Charlie Wiedemeyer. It is doubtful that either pitcher knew that would be their last game in the majors that day. Steamboat would pitch seven innings, allowing six runs on seven hits and six walks while picking up the loss that day. Five of the runs he allowed were earned and he struck out three batters. Struss pitched a total of ten seasons in the minors, retiring after the 1941 season. He had a 76-88 record in the minors, going 14-18 4.36 in 266 innings during that 1934 season before the Pirates called him up.

Earl Grace (1907) catcher for the Pirates from 1931 until 1935. He began his major league career in 1929 with the Cubs, playing 27 games that rookie season. After spending all of 1930 in the minors, he made the Cubs opening day roster in 1931. He played just seven games over the first month of the season, hitting .111 in nine at bats before Chicago sent him to the Pirates in exchange for catcher Rollie Hemsley. In was swap of 24 year old catchers, although Hemsley had much more major league experience, spending three full seasons in the Pirates roster prior to that 1931 season. Grace would hit .280 with the Pirates that year in 47 games, striking out just five times in 150 AB’s. The following season saw him catch a career high 114 games and lead the league with a .998 fielding percentage, a major league record for catchers at the time that would last until topped by Spud Davis in 1939, one year before Davis joined the Pirates. The next three seasons Grace split the catching duties, mostly with Tom Padden, getting about half the games behind the plate. Shortly after the 1935 season ended, he was traded to the Phillies along with rookie pitcher Claude Passeau in exchange for catcher Al Todd. Grace hit .275 with 172 RBI’s in 427 games for the Pirates. He would play two seasons for the Phillies before finishing his career in the minors three years later.