This Date in Pirates History: May 17, Part Two

Part two of Pittsburgh Pirates history for this date. Part one, which can be found here, contains new bios for seven players born on this date. This article contains another three players, two trades and one Jolly Roger Rewind from John Fredland.

The Trades

On this date in 1956, the Pirates traded outfielder Bobby Del Greco and pitcher Dick Littlefield to the St Louis Cardinals for outfielder Bill Virdon. As a 24 year old in 1955, Virdon won the NL Rookie of the Year award with his .281 average and 17 homers with 68 RBI’s. He was hitting .211 in 24 games at the time of the trade. Del Greco was just 23 years old at the time, hitting .200 in 14 games for the Pirates. He played 99 games for Pittsburgh in 1952 but had spent the next three years in the minors. At 30 years old, Littlefield was the veteran of the group. He had been with the Pirates since 1954 and in the majors since 1950. He had no record and a 4.26 ERA in two starts and four relief appearances with the 1956 Pirates. The year before he went 5-12 5.12, splitting his time between starting and relieving.

After the trade, Littlefield pitched three games for the Cardinals before being included in a nine player deal made with the Giants. He pitched until 1958, getting into 86 total games, 11 as a starter. Del Greco hit .215 in 102 games for the Cardinals. He was traded to the Cubs early in the 1957 season and spent parts of seven seasons in the majors after that deal. He was a .229 hitter in 731 games. Virdon became a star for the Pirates immediately, hitting .334 in 1956. He would play center field for ten seasons in Pittsburgh, helping them to the 1960 World Series along the way. He hit .266 with 667 runs scored in 1415 games for the Pirates. In 1962, he led the NL in triples and won the Gold Glove award. Virdon also managed the Pirates during the 1972-73 seasons.

Exactly five years earlier, the Pirates and Cardinals hooked up on another deal. Pittsburgh sent shortstop Stan Rojek to St Louis in exchange for outfielder Erv Dusak and first baseman Rocky Nelson. Rojek was 32 at the time of the time, coming off a season in which he hit .257 in 76 games. Two years earlier, he finished tenth in the NL MVP voting after hitting .290 with 51 RBI’s and 24 steals for the Pirates. He led the league in games played, AB’s and plate appearances. Dusak was 30 years old at the time and had played just 29 games in the majors since 1948. Nelson was 26, with a career .233 average and 61 RBI’s in 205 games with the Cardinals. Many people remember Nelson’s heroics in the 1960 World Series but that was actually during his second stint with the team. He was put on waivers and taken by the White Sox before the 1951 season ended. Dusak played only 41 games for the Pirates, spread out over the 1951-52 seasons, his last years in the majors. Rojek would play just 51 games for the Cardinals before he was put on waivers and his major league career was done by the 1952 season.

The Players

Jose Guillen (1976) Pirates outfielder from 1997 until 1999. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 in 1992. It took him four years to reach High-A ball in 1996, where he hit .322 with 21 homers and 24 stolen bases for Lynchburg. Without ever playing AA or AAA, the Pirates put him in right field for Opening Day in 1997. Jose played 143 games as a rookie that year, hitting .267 with 14 homers and 70 RBI’s. He had a very similar season the next year, in which he played a career high of 153 games. Guillen had the same batting average as the year before, and his .712 OPS was exactly the same as well. He also hit 14 homers again, this time driving in 84 runs. Jose seemed to like to hit .267 while with the Pirates but he didn’t like the results it got him in 1999. After hitting just one home run through the end of June, Guillen was sent to AAA. One month later he was dealt to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, along with pitcher Jeff Sparks in exchange for two catchers, Joe Oliver and Humberto Cota.

Guillen finally reached his potential four years after the deal, playing for his fourth organization, the Reds. He hit .337 with 23 homers for Cincinnati before they traded him mid-season to the A’s. He then went on to play for the Angels(2004), Nationals(05-06) Mariners(07) Royals(08-2010) before finishing his career with the 2010 Giants. Jose played a total of 1650 major league games, hitting .270 with 214 homers and 887 RBI’s. Despite stealing 24 bases in the minors in 1996, he stole a total of just 31 bases over his entire major league career. Guillen had a strong throwing arm, one of the best in baseball and a throw he made with the Pirates was recently rated the best of all-time by MLB Network. On July 27,1998 Neifi Perez of the Rockies hit a ball to the right field wall that Guillen couldn’t catch. He picked up the ball near the warning track, and on the fly, threw out Perez, who was going for a triple.

Pascual Perez (1957) Pitcher for the Pirates during the 1980-81 seasons. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent prior to the 1976 season. Perez began his career in the Gulf Coast League, then moved up to A-ball in 1977, going 10-5 3.98 in 25 starts for Charleston. He moved up another level in 1978 and pitched well, going 11-7 2.61 in 24 starts and earning a late season promotion to AAA. In 1979, pitching for Portland, he struggled in his first full season of AAA but showed enough improvement the next season to earn an early season spot start for the Pirates, then a late season recall. Pascual began 1981 in the minors, joining Pittsburgh in mid-May after five starts. In that strike-shortened major league season, he went 2-7 3.96 in 13 starts and four relief appearances. Perez was back in AAA in 1982 until a June trade sent him to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Larry McWilliams. He pitched in Atlanta until he released just prior to the 1986 season. After not pitching at all that year, he had to work his way back to the majors, pitching at AAA for the 1987 Expos. Perez was called up in August and finished the season with a 7-0 record. He pitched a rain-shortened no-hitter in 1988 against the Phillies. Pascual lasted in the majors until 1991, finishing with a 67-68 record. He was an All-Star in 1983 when he won 15 games for the Braves. He had two brothers, Carlos and Melido, who also pitched in the majors.

Ozzie Virgil (1932) Catcher for the 1965 Pirates. He originally signed with the New York Giants as an amateur free agent in 1953, and he made his major league debut three years later.  In 1958, he was traded to the Tigers, who in turn dealt him to the Kansas City Athletics three years later. Virgil played one game for the Baltimore Orioles in 1962, then spent the next two years in the minors. The Pirates acquired him in the 1964 minor league draft from the Washington Senators. In 1965, Virgil played 39 games for the Pirates. He started just seven games despite being with the team the entire season. It was the first full year he spent in the majors since 1961 and just the third time(1957 as well) overall that he spent the entire year in the big leagues. On December 1,1965, the Pirates traded Virgil, along with Joe Gibbon, to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Matty Alou in what turned out to be a one-sided deal for Pittsburgh. Ozzie got 89 AB’s for the Giants in 1966, then after two years in the minors, he played one game in 1969, his last in the majors. He played a total of 324 games in the majors, with a .231 batting average and 73 RBI’s.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 17, 1971

Roberto Clemente ignited a late rally with an eighth-inning home run and completed the comeback one inning later with a walk-off triple as the Pirates beat the Expos 6-5 at Three Rivers Stadium.

With the Buccos trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Clemente led off with a home run off Montreal starter Carl Morton. Two outs later, Bob Robertson cut the margin to one run with another solo homer.

The Expos brought in relief ace Mike Marshall to close out the game in the ninth, but Gene Alley greeted him with a single. Playing for the tie, Danny Murtaugh had Gene Clines sacrifice Alley to second. Dave Cash beat out an infield single to move Alley to third, where he stayed when Vic Davalillo’s fly ball was not deep enough for a sacrifice fly.

Clemente, who earlier in the game had hit into a double play with two men on and struck out with the bases loaded, stepped to the plate as the Pirates’ last hope. This time, he came through with a line-drive triple off the centerfield wall, scoring Alley and Cash to end the game.

Setting the stage for Clemente’s heroics were a trio of Bucco relievers—Jim Nelson, Nelson Briles and Mudcat Grant—who combined for six scoreless innings in relief of starter Luke Walker.

Box score and play-by-play

Observer-Reporter game story

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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