This Date in Pirates History: May 23

Today we have one Pittsburgh Pirates trade to cover and four former players. Among the players is one of the best pitchers in team history and then a right fielder who had his one day in the sun over 100 years ago. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland takes a look at a rare bright spot from one of the worst seasons in team history.

The Trade

On this date in 1963, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielder Bob Skinner to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Jerry Lynch. Skinner, at thirty-one years of age, was in his ninth seasons with the Pirates at the time of this trade. He was originally signed by the club in 1951 but missed two years to military service. Bob was a two-time all-star, who spent most of his time with the Pirates in left field. In 1962, he hit .302 with a career high of twenty homers. He was hitting .270 with no homers in 34 games at the time of the trade. Lynch began his major league career in 1954 with the Pirates, playing three seasons in Pittsburgh before he was lost to the Reds in the 1956 Rule V draft. He hit .281 with 12 homers and 57 RBI’s in 114 games in 1962, but just like Skinner, his 1963 numbers were down from the norm. He was hitting .250 with two homers in 22 games at the time of the deal. Lynch was a year older than Skinner and like Bob, he spent a majority of his time playing in left field.

After the deal, Lynch hit .266 with ten homers in 88 games for the 1963 Pirates. He was the regular left fielder in 1964, hitting .273 with 16 homers and 66 RBI’s, then moved to a bench role with Pittsburgh for his last two seasons in the majors. The Pirates dealt Skinner at the right time despite the stats seeming to favor the Reds in this deal. In 1963 for the Reds, he hit .253 with three homers in 72 games. Through 25 games in 1964, he was hitting .220, when the Reds traded him to the Cardinals for a minor league player and cash. Skinner played parts of three seasons in St Louis, hitting .273 with 47 RBI’s in 184 games.

The Players

Deacon Phillippe (1872) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1900 until 1911. Phillippe got a later start on his pro career, with just two seasons in the minors prior to making his major league debut a month shy of his 27th birthday. He played that first season in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels, going 21-17 in a career high of 321 innings. He came to the Pirates, along with eleven other players including Honus Wagner, on December 8, 1899. Deacon continued his winning ways in Pittsburgh, amassing four straight twenty win seasons to start his time with the Pirates, with a better winning percentage each year. In 1903, he was 25-9, leading the Pirates to the first modern day World Series. He pitched five games during that series for a Pirates pitching staff that was short on able pitchers at the time. After a down year in 1904 due to injuries, Phillippe bounced back with his fifth 20 win season in 1905 for the Pirates. He would pitch twelve seasons in Pittsburgh without ever posting a losing record. He finished with a career record of 189-109 and among Pittsburgh’s franchise leaders, he ranks fifth in ERA(2.50), fifth in wins(168) fifth in complete games(209) sixth in innings(2286) and tenth in strikeouts with 861. For much more info on Phillippe, check out this bio of his career.

Mike Gonzalez (1978) Pitcher for the Pirates from 2003 until 2006. He was taken by the Pirates in the 30th round of the 1997 draft. They had drafted him  in the 16th round a year earlier but he did not sign. Shortly before his major league debut, he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, only to be traded back nine days later along with Freddy Sanchez. Gonzalez had trouble his rookie season, making 16 appearances for a total of 8.1 innings pitched with a 7.56 ERA and four homers allowed to show for his work. He began 2004 back in AAA, but after 35 strikeouts and a 0.90 ERA in his first 20 innings, he was back with the Pirates in late May. Mike started off with 13 straight scoreless appearances, pitching a total of 47 games(43.1 innings) with a 1.25 ERA. He had another strong season in 2005, pitching 50 innings in 51 appearances, finishing with a 2.70 ERA and three saves. The next year he would take over the closer role, saving a career high of 24 games. After the season, Gonzalez was dealt to the Braves along with Brent Lillibridge for Adam LaRoche and minor leaguer Jamie Romak. He is currently signed with the Washington Nationals, although he hasn’t pitched a game yet this year. Mike has pitched 397 games in his career, saving 56 and in 358.2 innings, he has struck out 412 batters. With the Pirates, he had 2.37 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 155.2 innings.

Nelson Norman (1958) Infielder for the 1982 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1975 but before he could play a game for Pittsburgh, he was part of a huge four team, eleven player deal. The trade occurred on December 8,1977 and it sent him to the Texas Rangers. Nelson played parts of four seasons in Texas, spending the entire 1979 season in the majors. He hit .222 that year in 147 games, with 36 runs scored and 21 RBI’s. His other three years with the Rangers, he played a total of 47 games. Norman would return to the Pirates in a trade for Victor Cruz, just prior to the 1982 season. He played for AAA Portland that year, hitting .270 with 52 RBI’s in 134 games. Nelson was a September call-up, getting into three games, including a start at shortstop on the last day of the season. He spent the next two years in the minors for the Pirates, before moving on to the Orioles for one year, then four years in the Expos organization. Norman made it back to the majors for one game in April of 1987. While in the Pirates minor league system from 1982 until 1984, he had an amazing 198 to 66, walks to strikeouts ratio.

Bill Miller (1879) Right fielder for the Pirates on August 23,1902. He was a 23 year old outfielder with no prior pro experience when he manned right field for the Pirates on August 23,1902 against the Brooklyn Superbas at Exposition Park. The Pirates had suffered numerous injuries, and were in need of a right fielder just to have enough position players on the team that were healthy, so they weren’t forced to use a pitcher in the outfield. Tommy Leach recommended Miller, who joined the team on very short notice. The Pittsburgh Press noted that he tried hard but had plenty of trouble in the field, including once coming in on a ball that was well over his head. At the plate, he collected a sixth inning single that put the Pirates on the board for the first time, driving in two runs to make the score 5-2 at that point. Three innings later, the Pirates had closed within one run, down 9-8 with two outs and a man on second base. Miller came up to bat only because no one else was on the bench that could hit for him. He would strike out, in what turned out to be a tough ending to his major league career. The paper claimed he was too nervous to show what he could do, the “large” crowd of 5,000 fans apparently unnerved him. The Pirates played a doubleheader the next day and pitcher Jesse Tannehill was in the outfield for both games. That day the Pirates used another player, a catcher named Mike Hopkins, who just like Miller the day before, played his only pro game.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 23, 1952

Johnny Merson’s thirteenth inning double scored Gus Bell with the winning run in a 6-5 Pirates victory over the Cubs at Forbes Field, snapping an eight-game Bucco losing streak.

With one out in the thirteenth, Bell doubled off the right-field screen off losing pitcher Warren Hacker. Merson followed by doubling off the left-center screen, just out of the reach of Cubs leftfielder Hank Sauer,* to send Bell home with the game-winner.

For much of the night, it appeared that 21-year-old Bucco righthander Bob Friend, pitching in his second major league season, would be the story of the game. Friend started off by surrendering two first inning runs, but then held the visitors to just one more baserunner through the seventh inning, while the Pirates rolled to a 5-2 advantage.

The Cubs, however, rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth off Friend and reliever Ted Wilks, capitalizing on an infield error and a potential double-play-grounder turned bad-hop-single, to tie the game. Wilks then settled in for 5.2 innings of scoreless relief to set the stage for Bell and Merson’s extra-inning dramatics.

The victory improved the Pirates’ record to a dreary 6-28,** leaving them 18.5 games behind first-place Brooklyn and 8.5 games behind the next closest team in the National League.***

* Sauer, who would be named the National League’s Most Valuable Player for the 1952 season, was a native of Bellvue, PA, a borough near Pittsburgh. According to his SABR biography, Sauer spent his youth, “wait[ing] outside [Forbes Field] for a glimpse of heroes like ‘Pie’ Traynor, Lloyd and Paul Waner, and Arky Vaughan.”

** This represents the worst record through 34 games of any team in franchise history. The next closest squad, the infamous 23-113 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenies, were 9-25 at that point in the season.

*** Lester J. Biederman’s lede in the Pittsburgh Press concisely summarized the Bucs’ dismal journey to date, while striking a note of optimism: “The Pirates, who have sprung losing streaks of 10, six and eight games already this season, hope they’ve reached the turning point of what already has been firmly established as a mighty disappointing year.” Unfortunately, the team never reached that turning point, finishing with a 42-112 record that stands as the second-worst mark in franchise history.

Box score

Pittsburgh Press game story