Pirates Spring Training: 75 Years Ago Today

The 1936 Pittsburgh Pirates finished the season with a record of 84-70, that put them in fourth place in the NL but just eight games behind the first place New York Giants. With the help of an old newspaper, I thought it would be interesting to see just what the talk was about the Pirates and their 1937 season as they got ready in San Bernandino, California on this date in 1937, exactly 75 years ago today.

The 1937 season didn’t begin until April 20th so at this point they were very early in spring training. The big news of the day was no news, as in star right fielder Paul Waner had still not signed his contract. At age 33 in 1936 he had led the NL for a third time in batting average, hitting .373 in 148 games. He scored 107 runs, drove in 94 runs and walked 74 times. His 1936 contract paid him $14,000.

Also not yet signed for 1937 was 30 year old all-star first baseman Gus Suhr, who had hit .312 with career high’s in runs(111) RBI’s(118) and walks with 95. Both he and Waner were holding out for more money but the newspaper seemed optimistic that at least Suhr would sign soon.

There was a bit of good news and that was the announcement that 26 year old third baseman Bill Brubaker had agreed to his contract. He had been with the Pirates since 1932, although during his first four partial seasons in the majors he played a total of just 18 games. He finally earned a spot at 3B for 1936 after Pie Traynor retired to become a full-time manager and Tommy Thevenow was sold to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1935-36 off-season. Brubaker hit .289 with 102 RBI’s in 1936 but he had an NL leading 96 strikeouts to go along with 22 errors, which led all NL third baseman. To put that strikeout number into historical perspective. Only four players in the 61 year history of the NL up to that point had ever reached 100 strikeouts in a season and only one other Pirates player in their 50 years in the NL had ever led the league in strikeouts. Remember that during that time period the NL had only eight teams most years(12 from 1892-1899) so that was quite a team feat they put together.

Pie Traynor was asked about his starting pitchers for the upcoming season and he had no definitive answer, saying he was open-minded to who would make the rotation. He wanted to watch the pitchers during spring training exhibition games and would know more after that. Traynor also commented on the Pirates chances being good to compete and finish the season strong because the team played a ton of games in late September at home. He was also the one who conducted the contract talks with Brubaker in California.

Veteran pitcher Waite Hoyt was very optimistic about the team they had put together but said because they had so many veterans, their window of opportunity wouldn’t be open for long( he was right on with that sentiment as it would turn out). He wasn’t too optimistic about himself though, he had appendicitis in 1936 and missed two months of the season but still pitched well when he was able to go. At age 37 he sounded like his age was starting to catch up to him. The day following the interview, the paper said that he was nursing a sore arm.

Hoyt was excited for the season and he thought the team had the players to compete for the next three seasons. In particular he talked highly of the addition of lefty pitcher Ed Brandt, who he thought could add five wins by himself to the team. Brandt, at age 32 had 105 career wins over nine seasons but he had won just 16 games the last two years combined. Hoyt blamed the record on the poor Brooklyn team Brandt played for in 1936, saying his 11-13 record was more indicative of the 67-87 team he played for rather than the talent that Brandt possessed.

With most of the regulars not in camp at the time and the fact it was still early in their spring training, the main training of the day was just the starting pitchers getting their arms in shape to start the exhibition schedule coming up shortly. The focus was on Hoyt, Brandt, Red Lucas and Cy Blanton. The latter three pitchers would end up forming 3/5 of the rotation while Hoyt would pitch out of the pen before he was sold to the Dodgers in June. Other players in camp already were pitchers Bill Swift, Jim Weaver(who reported overweight) along with a young pitcher named Bill Desmond, who was injured by a thrown ball(shin injury). He not only never made the team but there are no records of a Bill Desmond pitching pro ball anywhere.

That day would end with word that the Pirates and Suhr had come to an agreement on their contract but Waner had not and the difference between what he was asking and what the Pirates offered was just $500. He said he would retire if his demands were not met and the team said they wouldn’t cave in to his demands.

The team also put together the list of players they would pick up on their way from Pittsburgh to San Bernandino to officially get spring training underway. It was a train ride that included stops to pick up players in Chicago, Kansas and El Paso. That last stop was to pick up Paul Waner’s brother Lloyd.

  • Paul Waner eventually signed!

    • Ahh, you just ruined my April 9th look at the 1937 Spring Training. Yes he did sign, he was working out with the Red Sox during ST so right after he signed, he played his first game the next day and made three errors. They didn’t actually announce his contract amount and all he said about it was “I’m perfectly satisfied”

  • Paul Waner eventually signed!

    • Ahh, you just ruined my April 9th look at the 1937 Spring Training. Yes he did sign, he was working out with the Red Sox during ST so right after he signed, he played his first game the next day and made three errors. They didn’t actually announce his contract amount and all he said about it was “I’m perfectly satisfied”

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