This Date in Pirates History: March 12

Born on this date in 1930 was pitcher Vern Law, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1950-51 and 1954 until 1967. His 16 seasons in a Pirates uniform have been topped by just eight players, seven of them Hall of Famers. His 162 wins have been topped by only five pitchers in team history. The Pirates signed Law as an amateur free agent in 1948 out of high school and that first year of pro ball didn’t look like anything special. He was in class D ball, a very low level of the minors, where he had a 4.65 ERA and 96 walks in 110 innings. It didn’t take long for him to start making a good impression though, the following season in class B, he posted a 2.94 ERA and cut his walks to 75 in 144 innings. He jumped up to AA to start the next year and pitched so well he was in the majors by early June. For 1950 and 1951 he switched between the bullpen and starting role, winning 13 games and throwing 242 innings over those two seasons. His baseball career would take a short break as he joined the military and missed all of the 1952-53 seasons.

When Law returned in 1954, he struggled. He again pitched as a starter and reliever, posting a 5.51 ERA in 39 total games. The following season, at age 25, he showed his first sign of being a top notch pitcher. He went 10-10 for a team that finished 60-94. He lowered his ERA to 3.83 and pitched 200 innings for the first time in his career. Law again made a high number of relief appearances but his 1955 success led to a steady job as a starter for the first time that would last up until his last season in the majors. The Pirates were again bad in 1956 and his record suffered, losing a career high 16 games. That next season would be when his career, and the Pirates would begin to turn around. He was just 40-57 through 1956, but over the next 11 seasons he went from a pitcher 17 games under .500 to a final record 15 games over the .500 mark.

In 1957 he went 10-8, dropping his ERA(2.87) below 3.00 for the first time. The next season would see him win a then career high 14 games, a total he would increase each of the two following seasons, going from 18 in 1959 to his only 20 win season  in 1960. That 1960 season was a magical one for Law and the Pirates. He would go 20-9 3.08 in 35 starts, with a league leading 18 complete games. The team would go on to the World Series and defeat the Yankees in seven games, with Law going 2-0 in his three starts. His regular season performance earned him the Cy Young Award. The high point was fleeting for Law though, the next season he suffered from a shoulder injury and all he could muster over the next three seasons combined was 17 wins and 42 starts. Vern still had one more great season left in his arm though, the 1965 campaign that saw him go 17-9 with a career low 2.15 ERA. He pitched 217 innings that year, the only season after 1960 he was able to top the 200 inning mark. He suffered injuries to his elbow and hip that would limit his success in his last two seasons and coax him into retirement after the 1967 season.

Other former Pirates born on this date include:

Greg Hansell(1971) pitcher for the 1999 Pirates. He was drafted by the Red Sox in 1989 and by the time he made it to the Pirates in 1999 he had pitched three seasons in the majors with three different teams. His best year was 1996 when he went 3-0 with 3 saves in 50 relief appearances for the Brewers. He had pitched a total of 73 major league games prior to 1999 and his career ERA was 6.22 up to that point. Hansell spent all of 1998 in AAA for the Royals and A’s, posting a 2.69 ERA in 59 games. Pittsburgh signed him as a free agent just as the 1999 season got under way, sending him to AAA where he had a 2.00 ERA in 22 games. He was called up in June and pitched 39.1 innings over 33 games with a 3.89 ERA. The Pirates sold Hansell to a Japanese team in December of 1999 and he pitched five more seasons,split between overseas and in the minors before retiring.

Raul Mondesi(1971) outfielder for the 2004 Pirates. He was a Rookie of the Year winner, an all-star, a two time Gold Glove winner and seven times in his career he drove in 84 or more runs but by the time he reached the Pirates at age 33 in 2004, his career was nearly over. In 2003 playing for the Yankees and Diamondbacks, he hit a combined .272 with 24 homers and 22 stolen bases in 143 games. It was his sixth 20/20 season, twice reaching the 30/30 mark. The Pirates signed him as a free agent in late February 2004. He played just 26 games before he asked to return to his home in the Dominican Republic due to a lawsuit and what he said was concerns over his family and their safety. When he didn’t return to the Pirates on time they put him on waivers, then released him when no one picked him up. Just days later, he signed with the Angels but got hurt within eight games of signing and after missing rehab assignments, he was cut. He played with the Braves in 2005 but they cut him after just two months, ending his career.

Reb Russell(1889) outfielder for the 1922-23 Pirates. He began his career as a successful pitcher, injured him arm, retired from baseball, then came back to the majors as a strong hitting outfielder for the Pirates. Russell pitched 316.2 innings as a rookie in 1913, winning 22 games and posting a 1.90 ERA. Six years later he faced just two batters in his only outing before being sent to the minors where he played outfield for Minneapolis of the American Association. He tried to pitch for the White Sox in 1920 but didn’t make the team and decided to retire. He had a record of 80-59 2.33 in 242 major league games and never had an ERA higher than 2.90 in any of his six full seasons. The Minneapolis team he played for in 1919 asked him to come back to play when they were short on players and he did, as a full-time outfielder. He hit .339 in 85 games in 1920 then followed it up with a .368 average and 33 homers in 1921.

In 1922 Russell was hitting .331 with 17 homers through 77 games when the Pirates signed him to play right field. He was not a good fielder but he could certainly hit. He played 60 games the rest of the way for Pittsburgh and drove in an amazing 75 runs while batting .368 in just 220 AB’s. Reb hit a team leading 12 homers that year, thanks in part to two big days at the plate. On August 25th and September 1st the Pirates played doubleheaders each day. Russell connected for three homers on each day, doubling his previous home run output during a seven day span. He actually didn’t hit a homer the last 23 games of the season so his team leading total came in just 37 games. In 1923 Russell wasn’t nearly the strong hitter he was the previous season and by the end of July, despite raising his batting average 33 points that month, the Pirates sent him to the bench and he received very little playing time the rest of the way. He returned to the minors in 1924, playing another seven seasons before retiring, finishing with a .329 minor league average in 1314 games

Denny Lyons(1876) third baseman for the Pirates in 1893-94 and 1896-97. He was a star in the American Association for five seasons before the league folded, forcing him to the NL. He played for the Giants in 1892 and did not hit well, batting .257 which was well below his .325 career average coming into the season. In 1890 he led the league with a .461 OBP and .531 slugging percentage. In 1887 he set a still standing record for putouts in a season by a third baseman with 255. He signed with the Pirates for 1893 and regained his form at the plate, hitting .306 with 97 walks, 105 RBI’s and 103 runs scored. He also led all 3B in putouts that year. He hit well in 1894 but missed nearly half the season then moved on to St Louis where he played just 34 games in 1895. Lyons returned to the Pirates in 1896 and hit .307 with 67 walks and 71 RBI’s in 118 games. That would be his last good season in the majors and by July of 1897 his time with the Pirates(and the majors) was done. He returned to the minors for three seasons, didn’t play for two years, then returned for one more year in 1903. Denny was a .310 hitter in the majors over 1123 games and he scored 933 runs while driving in 756 runners.