Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and we start with the one that was also traded on his birthday. John Smiley(1965) pitched for the Pirates from 1986 until 1991. He was a 12th round draft pick of Pittsburgh in the 1983 amateur draft, that made his major league debut in September 1986. John spent his first two seasons in the bullpen before moving to the starting role for 1988. He won 13 games with a 3.25 ERA in 205 innings then followed it up with a 12-8 2.81 record in 28 starts in 1989, completing eight of those starts. The Pirates won their first pennant in 11 seasons in 1990 but Smiley struggled on the mound. He went 9-10 4.64 and his innings dropped down to 149 that season after topping the 200 mark two straight years.
Luckily for the Pirates, that 1990 season was just a one year mirage. In 1991, Pittsburgh again won the NL East and this time John was a big part of it. He went 20-9, finishing third in the Cy Young voting and he made his first all-star appearance. Unfortunately, that incredible in-season pitching didn’t carry over to the postseason. Smiley got hit hard in both of his NLCS starts against the Braves, lasting a total of just 2.2 innings between both games. With one year left on his contract before free agency, the Pirates traded him on his 27th birthday to the Minnesota Twins for Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings. Smiley won 16 games for the Twins but the Pirates were still able to make the playoffs in what would’ve been his last season on the team. John signed with the Reds as a free agent and over the next five seasons he won 50 games before injuries ended his career. With the Pirates, he went 60-42 3.57 in 196 games.
Other former Pirates players born on this date include:
Raul Chavez(1973) Catcher for the 2008 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent after spending all of 2007 in AAA for the Yankees. Prior to that season, he had played 170 major league games spread out over nine seasons, dating back to 1996. Chavez was called to the majors when Ryan Doumit got hurt in early May, then he stayed there as Doumit’s backup in early June when a struggling Ronny Paulino was sent to AAA instead. Raul hit .259 with ten RBI’s in 42 games for the Pirates. He left via free agency and signed with the Blue Jays for 2009. He played 51 games for Toronto that year but has since spent the last two seasons in the minors.
Rod Scurry(1956) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1980 until 1985. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 11th round of the 1974 amateur draft and despite the fact he made it to AA to start the 1976 season, he didn’t make his major league debut until four years later. Scurry was a starter for most of his minor league career with the Pirates but once he made it to the majors, he was put in the bullpen. He made just seven starts in his six years in Pittsburgh, all in 1981. Rod had a big year in 1982, posting a 1.74 ERA in 76 appearances covering 103.2 innings and he picked up a career high 14 saves. As good as his 1982 season was, his 1983 season was a major disappointment. His ERA ballooned to 5.56 and he walked 53 batters in 68 innings. Scurry also picked up nine losses that season. He turned things around in 1984, getting his ERA down to 2.53 and his WHIP was a low 1.08 on the season. In September of 1985 the Pirates sold him to the Yankees. He played in New York in 1986 before finishing his major league career in Seattle in 1988. In 257 games for the Pirates, Rod went 17-28 3.15 in 257 games with 34 saves.
Cito Gaston(1944) Outfielder for the 1978 Pirates. He was in his 11th year in the majors when the Pirates purchased his contract from the Atlanta Braves on September 22, 1978. With ten games left in the season and the Pirates trailing the first place Phillies by just 1.5 games in the standings, the team acquired Gaston’s veteran bat to help off the bench. Pittsburgh ended up using him just twice as the Phillies took the division. He went 1-2 at the plate with a single and run scored. He played two years in the Mexican League following that 1978 season, which was the last year of his major league career. Gaston was a .256 hitter over 1026 major league games and while most of his career he was more of a fourth outfielder type performer, he had a big season in 1970. That year he made his only all-star appearance, hitting .318 with 29 homers and 93 RBI’s, all of those stats were easily the high marks of his career. Cito has managed the Blue Jays for 12 seasons(1989-97,2008-10) and he led them to two World Series titles in 1992-93.
Pete Reiser(1919) Outfielder for the 1951 Pirates. He was a young star for the Dodgers in 1942, already a two-time all-star when he enlisted in the military prior to the 1943 season. He missed three years in the prime of his career, returning in 1946 to make his third, and final, all-star appearance. Not only did he miss three years but he also had trouble staying healthy due to the hard-nosed play he showed on the field. By the time the Pirates signed him in November 1950, the injuries had begun to catch up to him. Reiser played 74 games for Pittsburgh, with 49 of those games coming off the bench. He hit .271 with 13 RBI’s in 140 AB’s. The Pirates released him following the season and he signed with the Indians, where he finished his career in 1952. Pete had a .295 career average in 862 major league games and twice led the NL in stolen bases.
Ralph Shafer(1894) Played for the 1914 Pirates. He played just one major league game, coming on July 25, 1914. In the 8th inning of a game against the New York Giants, the Pirates trailed 4-2. With no one on and one out, Ham Hyatt collected a single off Christy Mathewson. Shafer was called off the bench to run for the slow-footed first baseman, who was pinch hitting for pitcher Marty O’Toole. The next batter popped up the shortstop and then future Hall of Famer Max Carey struck out to end the inning. Shafer returned to the bench, having never left first base and little did he know at the time, but his major league career was over. The following day the Pirates traveled to Long Branch, NJ to play an exhibition game which was to be a tryout for a few young players who just joined the Pirates, among them being Shafer. The newspaper reported the next day that he played with a lot of energy during the exhibition game but he was unlikely to play in the rest of the Giants-Pirates series.
On July 28th, it was reported that another young outfielder named John Collins seemed to be the better of the two new outfielders during pre-game fielding and batting practice and if either saw any time it would be Collins. John did make his debut just days later and would play 49 games that season for the Pirates. On August 1st the Pirates played a doubleheader and it was said that if Shafer looked good in batting practice he would start one game. Two days later, after another exhibition game, Shafer and a pitcher were sent back to Pittsburgh while the rest of the team continued a road trip that had ten days left. Teams back in that era would leave lesser players at home to save on travel expenses but the Pirates were doing so poorly during this period that they were trying new players almost daily. They used 30 different position players that season, despite the fact five of their players ended up playing over 140 games that year. When the team returned home there was mention of a tryout for young players but no mention of Shafer. He played in the minors in 1915-16 and 1921-22 before retiring from baseball.
Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone!