This Date in Pirates History: May 25

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one from the pre-NL days of the franchise. We also have a trade from the 1950’s as well as a game recap from John Fredland. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John covers a big day at Forbes Field by baseball’s greatest hitter.

Before I get started on the former Pittsburgh Pirates stuff, we have a current player celebrating a birthday. Brad Lincoln turns 27 today. He was the fourth overall pick in the first round of the 2006 amateur draft by the Pirates. His career was temporarily sidetracked by Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of the 2007 season. He made his big league debut on June 9, 2010, going 1-4 6.66 in nine starts and two relief appearances during that rookie season. He split 2011 between AAA and the majors, going 2-3 4.72 in 47.2 innings for the Pirates. Brad began this season in AAA, before getting recalled and sent to the Pirates bullpen. He has pitched a total of 23 innings, racking up 24 strikeouts, a 3-0 record and a 1.17 ERA.

Randall Simon (1975) First baseman for the 2003-04 Pirates. He is one of just ten players born in Curacao to make it to the majors. The Braves signed him out of his home country in 1992. Five years later, at the age of twenty-two, Randall made his major league debut. He saw limited time during his first two major league trials until the Braves gave him a chance to play regularly 1999, when he got into 90 games and hit .317 with five homers and 25 RBI’s. He also stole two bases that year, the only stolen bases of his eight year major league career. Despite the strong average, he spent the entire 2000 season in the minors. That calendar year, Simon was a member of four different organizations, starting the year with the Braves, who released him at the end of Spring Training. He signed with the Marlins for a month, then the Yankees, then in the off-season, signed with the Tigers. Simon batted over .300 in both of his seasons in Detroit. His 2002 season was the best of his career, as he hit .301 with 19 homers and 82 RBI’s.

The Pirates acquired him in November of 2002 in exchange for two minor league pitchers. In 2003, Randall hit .274 with ten homers and 54 RBI’s through 91 games for the Pirates before they traded him to the Cubs in August for Ray Sadler. Simon became a free agent at the end of the season and signed with the Pirates in February of 2004. He started the season off slow before missing a month with hamstring strain, then came back and hovered around .200 until the Pirates sent him to AAA. He was released in August, signing with the Devil Rays to finish the season. After 2004, his only major league experience came with the 2006 Phillies, where he was used strictly as a pinch-hitter in 23 games. He played in the minors until 2010.

Will Pennyfeather (1968) Pirates outfielder from 1992 until 1994. He had a 19 year career in pro ball despite going undrafted. Will signed with the Pirates in 1988, playing 33 games in rookie ball that year. He looked to be a long shot at ever reaching the majors after his second season in the minors, hitting .190 in 75 games of short-season A-ball. Even in his first year of full-season ball, his overall numbers were not impressive, led by a .635 OPS in 122 games. Pennyfeather was moved to high-A in 1991, and although his stats were better, they were still far from strong, due to a very low walk rate and limited power. He seemed to put everything together out of nowhere in AA in 1992, hitting .337 through 51 games, earning a brief promotion to the majors at the end of June. In his first big league AB, he collected a bunt single off of John Wetteland. Will was soon sent to AAA, coming back again for a short stay in early August, then as a September call-up. He began to show a little power in AAA in 1993, although the walks were still low and he had trouble stealing bases when he did get on, getting thrown out 12 times in 22 attempts. He came up for a month, beginning in mid-June and played a career high 21 games, hitting .206 with two RBI’s. Will made the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1994 but was used just three times as a pinch hitter and once as a pinch runner, before being sent to the minors, ending his major league career. He was picked up off waivers by the Reds in May of 1994, then spent the next twelve years playing both affiliated and independent ball before retiring in 2006.

Jim Marshall (1931) First baseman for the 1962 Pirates. He signed with the White Sox as a nineteen year old in 1950 and it took him eight seasons to make it to the majors, finally getting there for Opening Day with the 1958 Orioles. Jim hit .215 through 85 games with the Orioles before they put him on waivers, where he was picked up by the Cubs. He had his best major league season in 1959 for Chicago, hitting .252 with 11 homers and 40 RBI’s in 108 games. Marshall was traded to the Giants in 1960, where he hit .234 with three homers and 20 RBI’s over limited time during his two seasons there. He was sold to the expansion Mets, shortly after the end of the 1961 season. With New York, Jim had an amazing stretch at the plate, especially compared to the rest of his career. Through 17 games, he hit .344 with three homers. The Pirates acquired Jim on May 7,1962 in exchange for pitcher Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, in a deal covered here. He played 55 games for Pittsburgh, getting twenty starts at first base. Marshall hit .220 with 12 RBI’s in 100 AB’s. After being released by the Pirates that October, he signed to play in Japan, spending three years overseas before retiring.

John Hofford (1863) Pitcher for the 1885-86 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his pro career in 1884 and by 1885 he was a well sought after pitcher, after posting a 38-13 record with 389 strikeouts for Augusta of the Southern League. John completed all 50 starts he made that year, throwing eight shutouts. He joined the Alleghenys during the last week of that 1885 season, starting three of the last five games. He lost all three, although two of the games came against Bobby Mathews, a 297 game winner in the majors. In 1886, he was with Pittsburgh for most of the season but made just nine starts all year. He went 3-6 with 4.33 ERA, playing his last major league game on July 24th. He stuck around minor league baseball for another ten years before retiring, playing regularly at almost every position at some point in his career. His career minor league stats are far from being completely researched at this point but the known stats show, that after winning 38 games in 1885, he won just eight games over five more seasons of pitching.

The Trade

On this date in 1954, the Pirates traded outfielder Cal Abrams to the Baltimore Orioles for pitcher Dick Littlefield. The lefty throwing Littlefield was 28 years old at the time of the trade, in his fifth season in the majors and the Orioles were his fourth major league team already, all American League clubs. He got off to a poor start in 1954, allowing seven runs and 14 baserunners over just six innings in his three relief outings. In 1953, he had a 7-12 5.08 record in 36 games, 22 as a starter. Abrams was thirty years old, in his sixth season in the majors. His first year with the Pirates in 1953, was his best season up to that point. He batted .286 with 15 homers and 66 runs scored in 119 games. In 1954, Cal was batting just .143 through 17 games with the Pirates.

After the deal, Abrams had a strong season in Baltimore, hitting .293 with 73 walks and 66 runs scored in 115 games. He maintained a strong walk rate the following year but his average was down to .243 and he hit just six homers in 118 games. He was traded to the White Sox for 1955, playing four games there before finishing his career in the minors. Littlefield pitched well for a Pirates team that lost 101 games in 1954. He went 10-11 3.60 in 21 starts and two relief appearances. The Pirates were nearly as bad the next season and Littlefield struggled on the mound, going 5-12 5.12 in 130 innings. A month into the 1956 seasons, he was dealt to the Cardinals in a trade covered here, one that brought Bill Virdon to Pittsburgh.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 25, 1935

The Pirates used a fourteen-hit attack to overcome a three-home-run performance by Babe Ruth and rally past the Boston Braves 11-7 at Forbes Field.

Spotting the visitors a 4-0 lead after three and a half innings, the Buccos roared back against a historically bad Boston squad.* Light-hitting third baseman Tommy Thevenow,** subbing for player-manager Pie Traynor, finally finished off the Braves with a bases-loaded double in the eighth inning, capping a five-RBI day and turning a 7-7 tie into a 10-7 advantage.

But what made this game memorable for the approximately 10,000 fans at Forbes Field—and many other fans over the years—were the efforts of a 40-year-old man who came into the game lugging around a 250-pound-physique and .153 batting average. Eight years after he and the 1927 Yankees’ “Murderers’ Row” had swept the Pirates in the World Series to conclude one of the most dominant seasons in major league history, Ruth offered a power-hitting demonstration commensurate with his legend.

In the first inning, with Billy Urbanski on first, Ruth hit a Red Lucas pitch over the screen in right field for a 2-0 Braves lead. Traynor replaced Lucas with Guy Bush two batters later, and Bush was on the mound when Ruth batted in the third inning. This time, Ruth homered into the second deck in right field, driving in Les Mallon for a 4-0 advantage.

After the Pirates tied it up with a four-run fourth, highlighted by Thevenow’s two-run triple, Ruth struck again: his single in the top of the fifth scored Mallon and gave Boston a 5-4 lead. The Braves’ pitching staff, however, again proved unable to hold the lead, as Pep Young’s three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth surged the home team ahead, 7-5.

When Ruth came to bat in the top of the seventh, Bush continued to protect the two-run lead. The fans cheered appreciatively for the aging slugger. With the count three balls and one strike, Bush threw Ruth a curveball, and Ruth crushed it. The ball sailed over the 86-foot-high stands in right and left the ballpark. As reported in the Pittsburgh Press, the crowd responded with a “mighty roar.” It was the first ball ever to clear the right field stands.***

That would be all for Ruth that day; when the Braves took the field in the bottom of the seventh, a defensive replacement patrolled right field. Coincidentally, Ruth’s Yankee teammate Waite Hoyt replaced Bush after Wally Berger and Randy Moore followed the seventh-inning blast with singles. Hoyt allowed the tying run to score on a Hal Lee out, but picked up the victory through the Braves’ pitchers subsequent inability to stop or contain the Bucco batters.

The three home runs—leading to a box-score line of “Ruth RF 4 3 4 6”—gave Ruth 714 on his career, more than twice as much as anyone else who had played major league baseball at that point.****

* The Braves would finish the season with a 38-115 record, for the worst winning percentage of any twentieth-century National League team and the fourth worst winning percentage in major league history.

** Thevenow was in the middle of a league-record drought of 3,347 at-bats without a home run. For the 1935 season, he posted a 50 OPS+ in 425 plate appearances.

*** In Forbes Field’s history, seventeen home runs would surmount those stands, including seven by Willie Stargell.

**** As has been well documented, Ruth’s spree at Forbes Field would be the final hurrah of his career. Hanging on to play in every National League city, Ruth made five more appearances in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, recording no hits in nine at-bats, before retiring on June 2.

Box score

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette feature on the 75th anniversary of this game