Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. Earlier in the day, we covered Pirates pitching great, Babe Adams, which can be read here. John Fredland takes us back to a game early in the career of Ralph Kiner in his Jolly Roger Rewind and then we go even further back, this time to 1909, for a big hit by the best hitter in Pirates history.
Nelson Figueroa (1974) Pitcher for the Pirates during the 2003-04 seasons. He was originally drafted by the Mets in the 30th round of the 1995 draft. Nelson made his major league debut in 2000, pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He went on to play for the Phillies in 2001, then the Brewers the following season. Milwaukee released him in October of 2002 and he signed with the Pirates three months later. Figueroa spent most of the year at AAA Nashville, where he went 12-5 2.97 in 23 starts. He was called up by the Pirates in August and went 2-1 3.31 in 12 outings, the first three as a starter. His 2004 season was very similar to the previous one. He won 12 games for Nashville again, while making 23 starts. He was again called up by the Pirates in August and made three starts. The results were not as good in 2004 during his limited major league time, he went 0-3 5.72 in 28.1 innings. Nelson was released by the Pirates, then underwent off-season rotator cuff surgery, which caused him to miss all of the 2005 season. He has since pitched in the majors for the Mets, Phillies and Astros and is currently in AAA with the New York Yankees. Nelson has a 20-35 career record with a 4.55 ERA in 499 innings.
Ken Hamlin (1935) Shortstop for the 1957 and 1959 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in June of 1957 and went right to the majors. On June 17,1957, he made his major league debut as a pinch runner. Three days later he got his first AB as a pinch hitter. Hamlin was then sent to the minors, playing for Lincoln of the Western League, where he hit .254 in 84 games. Ken spent all of 1958 in the minors and didn’t return to the Pirates until September of 1959, after he hit .251 with ten homers and 69 RBI’s in 148 games for the Columbus Jets of the International League. Hamlin pinch ran in his first appearance, then started the last two games of the season at shortstop. He batted lead-off in his first start, collected a ninth inning single off of former Pirate Bob Purkey for his first base hit and he turned a double play with Bill Mazeroski. Hamlin was traded on December 9,1959 to the Kansas City A’s, along with two other players, in exchange for catcher Hal Smith. Ken would play five seasons in the majors after the deal, with his last year coming in 1966. He finished with a .241 average in 468 career games.
Bill Batsch (1892) Pinch hitter for the Pirates on September 9,1916. He was a graduate of Bethany College in West Virginia, one of just three major league players who attended that school. He reported to the Pirates in September of 1916, with no prior pro experience. In the first game of a doubleheader on September 9,1916, the Pirates were losing to the Cubs 2-0 in the 8th inning. The lead-off batter reached base, bringing up the pitcher’s spot in the order. The Pirates pulled Erv Kantlehner and sent up Bill Batsch(spelled Batch in the papers) to make his major league debut. Bill drew a walk off of Hippo Vaughn. He moved to second on a bunt play, with the out being recorded at third base. Hall of Fame center fielder Max Carey then came to the plate and hit one back to Vaughn, who bobbled the ball. His throw to first base was also bobbled and Batsch rounded third, then was sent home by the third base coach. He was out at the plate, keeping the Pirates off the board, in what ended as a 3-0 loss.
Those chain of events were the entire extent of Bill’s pro baseball career. He went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1917 and didn’t make the team. He signed with a team from Akron but when they tried to transfer his rights to the Joplin Miners of the Western League, he asked for his unconditional release. He declared he would rather play semi-pro ball than accept his transfer to the WL.
The Pirates faced the Brooklyn Superbas on this date, with Vic Willis on the mound. He had won over 20 games in all three seasons he was with the Pirates coming into 1909 and that year would be no different. On this date however, he wasn’t sharp against the sixth place Superbas. The score was even at five going into extra innings after Brooklyn tied the game with two ninth innings runs off of reliever, Sam Leever. In the top of the tenth, the Pirates put two men on with no outs on a hit by pitch and an infield error, bringing up Honus Wagner. He had yet to collect a hit on this day but that all changed with a long triple that brought home both runners. Bill Abstein was up next and he brought home Wagner with a sacrifice fly, giving the Pirates an 8-5 lead, which is where the game would end. It was their third straight win over Brooklyn and it put them 1.5 games up in the standings over the Chicago Cubs, winners of three straight NL pennants.
Jolly Roger Rewind: May 18, 1948
Ralph Kiner’s two-run, eighth-inning home run off Bill Voiselle lifted the Pirates to a 4-3 victory over the Boston Braves at Braves Field.
The Bucs trailed 3-2 entering the top of the eighth, but centerfielder Johnny Hopp started the inning by drawing a walk from Voiselle.* The 25-year-old Kiner, who would lead the National League in home runs that year for the third time in his three major league seasons,** then hit what an Associated Press account of the game described as a “lusty wallop which bounded off the new scoreboard beyond the fence in left field” to give the Pirates a lead that they would not relinquish.
Bucco reliever Vic Lombardi had replaced starter Elmer Singleton after Tommy Holmes led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run to give Boston a 3-2 advantage. After pitching into-and-out-of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, Lombardi finished the game with three scoreless innings to record the win.
* Voiselle was wearing uniform number “96”—a practice that he had stared the season before—in tribute to his hometown, Ninety-Six, SC. The eventual pennant-winning 1948 Braves would inspire a local newspaper to proclaim, ““First we’ll use Spahn, then we’ll use Sain, Then an off day, followed by rain,” but Voiselle finished ’48 with a respectable 107 ERA+ in 215.2 innings.
** Ultimately, Kiner led the NL in home runs in each of his first seven big league campaigns.
Box score and play-by-play
Associated Press 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.