We have an interesting group of seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. Starting with the youngest, we have a player born during the last year the Pirates won the World Series. Then a stretch of 75 years without another player, before we get to a group of six players that includes two second baseman from the 1927 World Series Pirates team and an outfielder, who was a member of one of the best Pirates outfield groups, that most people have never heard about. Also on this date in 1969, the Pirates signed Omar Moreno as an amateur free agent. His bio can be read here.
Mike Johnston (1979) Pitcher for the 2004-05 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 20th round of the 1998 amateur draft. He began his minor league career as a reliever, switching to the starting role full-time in 2001 and part of 2002. In 2003, Mike made his AA debut and had a 2.12 ERA in 46 relief appearances. The Pirates skipped him over AAA, right to the majors to open up the 2004 season and he had a great start to his career. He didn’t allow a run in his first nine outings and had a 1.84 ERA through his first two months. Things went downhill from there as his ERA rose to 4.37 three weeks later and he returned to the minors, where he put up an 8.40 ERA in 19 appearances. In 2005 Johnston pitched well in AAA but during his only big league game, he gave up four hits, four runs and two home runs in one inning. He pitched in the minors all of 2006 before being released by the Pirates. He missed the entire 2007-08 seasons with a torn labrum and made one last brief comeback in the White Sox system in 2009 before retiring.
Ripper Collins (1904) First baseman for the 1941 Pirates. He played seven seasons in the minors before getting his first chance at the big league level. In 1930, playing for Rochester of the International League, Collins hit .376 with 40 homers. The Cardinals brought him to the majors for the first time in 1931 and while he hit .301, he didn’t show any of the power he had the previous two seasons in the minors. That changed in 1932 when Ripper hit 21 homers and drove in 91 runs. In 1934 he really broke out, hitting a league leading 35 homers, adding 40 doubles, 12 triples, 128 RBI’s and a .333 average. He also led the NL with a .615 slugging percentage. He hit .313 with 23 homers and 122 RBI’s in 1935, making the NL all-star team. His production slowly dropped off each of the next three seasons, although he did make the all-star team in 1936-37.
Collins returned to the minors in 1939, spending two seasons in the Pacific Coast League as a member of the Cubs organization. The Pirates purchased his contract in late March 1941 and he was used as a bat off the bench much of that season. He started just six games all year, two of them in right field during a doubleheader in May and then the last three games of the season, he was the starter at first base. He was released by Pittsburgh that November, returning to the minors for six more seasons. Ripper also managed ten seasons in the minors. He was a career .331 hitter in the minors in 1611 games and he had a combined 2958 hits between the minors and majors.
Hal Rhyne (1899) Infielder for the 1926-27 Pirates. He played four seasons for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League before the Pirates signed him for 1926, his first season in the majors. Rhyne hit .315 with 40 doubles in 1925, both career highs. For the Pirates, he played 66 games at second base and 44 at shortstop in 1926. That rookie season, he hit .251 with 39 RBI’s and 46 runs scored in 366 AB’s. In 1927 he was the Pirates starting second baseman the first three weeks of the year, then sat on the bench until Pie Traynor got injured, allowing Rhyne more playing time. He was the starting second baseman again for most of August but then he played only five of the last 39 games, getting just four plate appearances during that stretch. Hal started at 2B in game three of the World Series, going 0-4 at the plate. He played in the minors in 1928, returned for five more season in the majors with the Red Sox and White Sox, before spending his last seven seasons of his career in the minors. From 1938-40, Rhyne was a player/manager for Tacoma of the Western International League
Ed Sicking (1897) Second baseman for the 1927 Pirates. He was an accomplished minor league player, who was never able to put together a strong showing in the majors. Sicking had over 2500 minor league hits during a 16 year career but his major league career lasted just over 200 games. Ed played one game for the 1916 Cubs, spent all of 1917 in the minors, then spent the better part of three seasons in the majors playing for three different teams, including two stints with the Giants. He then spent all of 1921-26 in the minors playing for the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. Sicking hit between .285 and .320 each of those seasons but it took until 1927 with the Pirates for him to get another shot at the majors. The team went on to win the NL pennant that year but Ed was around for just the first three weeks, getting seven at bats in eight games before returning to the minors. Just like Rhyne, he played second base that season for the Pirates. From 1927 until 1931, he batted over .300 every season in the minors but never got another chance at the majors. Ed retired after 1933 with a .306 minor league batting average in 2189 games.
Dutch Meier (1879) Outfielder/shortstop for the 1906 Pirates. He was a well-known football and baseball player from Princeton, who never played pro ball until the Pirates convinced him to sign in November 1905. It was said in the newspaper on the day Meier signed, that he had already played for the Pirates “last Summer” under as assumed name. They were exhibition games(teams used to play those during the season) and he went by the name Koch. The local paper later surmised that “Koch” was believed to Meier. Dutch was with the team for the entire 1906 season, getting into 82 games, splitting his time between each of thee three outfield positions and some shortstop. That was his only pro experience, minors or majors. He had previously played amateur ball with a club called the Chicago Spaldings, a team named after Hall of Famer, Al Spalding. He also played college ball where he was heavily recruited by major league teams. He took up coaching at Princeton after leaving the Pirates. Dutch was very hesitant to play pro ball so it is no surprise that he only played one season and it took the persuasion of his college teammate, Homer Hillebrand, who was with the Pirates, to convince him to finally play.
George Van Haltren (1866) Outfielder for the 1892-93 Pirates. While with the Pirates, he was a member of one of the deepest, most talented outfields the team ever had. The 1893 Pirates had Jake Stenzel, Mike Smith and Patsy Donovan, all three were star players of the day, to go along with Van Haltren, who is the best of the bunch. For much more on Van Haltren, including the Pirates mishandling him twice in trades, please check out this article we posted here last year.
Tom Burns (1857) Third baseman for the 1892 Pirates. He played twelve seasons with the Chicago White Stockings(Cubs) before joining the Pirates for one last season in the majors. Burns hit .266 in 1239 games with Chicago, driving in 679 runs and scoring 715 times. In 1891 he hit .226 with 17 RBI’s in 59 games, his worst season in the majors up to that point. The Pirates purchased his contract in late May of 1892 and he played just 12 games for them over a two month span. Burns hit .205 in 39 AB’s with eight singles and four RBI’s. He played eight games at third base and made nine errors. The Pirates made him the team manager during his short stint with the team, taking over for Al Buckenberger, who started the year with a 15-14 record. After Burns went 27-32 and was done as a player, the team replaced him with Buckenberger, who worked in the front office when he wasn’t managing that season. Tom went to the minors in 1893 and was a player/manager for the Springfield Ponies for three seasons, before only managing during the 1897 season. He then managed the Chicago Colts(new name for the White Stockings/Cubs) for two seasons, before managing two more seasons(1900-01) in the minors. Burns passed away suddenly during the 1901-02 off-season from a heart attack and age 45.