This Date in Pirates History: May 26

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a recap of the major league debut for one of the Pirates greatest pitchers of all-time. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps one of the most memorable games in franchise history.

Dann Bilardello (1959) Catcher for the 1989-90 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Dodgers as their first round draft pick in 1978, chosen seventh overall. Before making it to the majors with Los Angeles, Dann was taken in the 1982 Rule V draft by the Reds. He hit .238 with 38 RBI’s during his rookie season in 1983, playing in 109 games that year. It would end up being the best season of his eight year major league career. Bilardello spent two more years in Cincinnati, then one year in Montreal before spending all of the 1987-88 seasons in the minors. The Pirates purchased his contract from Montreal on March 22,1987. He would last four months with the team in AAA, before being sold to the Royals in July of 1987. Dann became a free agent after the 1988 season, choosing to sign with the Pirates in January of 1989. He began the year in AAA, getting called up by the Pirates for a month in early June, then again when the roster expanded in September. Bilardello started 25 games that year, hitting .225 with eight RBI’s. In 1990, he had three short stints with the Pirates, getting into 19 games total, with an .054 batting average. Dann played 32 games for the Padres between the 1991-92 seasons, before finishing his career in the minors in 1994.

Chuck Hartenstein (1942) Pitcher for the 1969-70 Pirates. He was signed originally by the Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1964 and it didn’t take long for him to make his strange major league debut. In 1965, he was a September call-up after going 12-7 2.18 in AA ball. Chuck played just one game that year for the Cubs, coming on September 11, when he came in as a pinch runner. It was the only time in his six year major league career that he wasn’t used as a pitcher in a game that he played. Hartenstein was a September call-up again in 1966, pitching well in five appearances. In 1967, he came up to the majors in June, pitching 45 games for the Cubs. He had a 3.08 ERA in 73 innings, winning nine games and saving another ten. His numbers weren’t as good in 1968, as he went 2-4 4.54, getting just 28 appearances and 35.2 innings. The Pirates acquired him from Chicago on January 15,1969, along with infielder Ron Campbell  in exchange for outfielder Manny Jimenez. His first season in Pittsburgh would end up being the only full season that Chuck spent in the majors. He went 5-4 3.95 in 56 appearances with 95.2 innings pitched and ten saves. In 1970, he made 17 appearances, with a 4.56 ERA for the Pirates before they put him on waivers in June, where he was picked up by the Cardinals. He finished that 1970 season with the Red Sox, then spent the next six years in the minors. In 1977, he made 13 appearances for the new expansion team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Chuck pitched 187 major league games over his 14 year pro career, all were as a reliever.

Jack Cronin (1874) Pitcher for the 1898 Pirates. He began his pro career in 1895 and by the end of the year, he was in the majors, pitching for the Brooklyn Grooms. He got hit hard in two relief appearances, allowing ten hits and eight runs in five innings. Jack then spent the next three years in the minors, getting his second chance at the big leagues with the 1898 Pirates, late in the season. His first appearances came on September 20th and it was in Brooklyn against his former team.  Cronin pitched shutout ball, as the Pirates won 15-0 that day. He allowed five singles, three walks and he struck out five batters. Part of the reason Cronin was able to start for the Pirates is because one of the regular starters, Billy Rhines, had been suspended for leaving the team. Jack ended up going 2-2 3.54 in four starts for the Pirates. In 1899, he opened the season in the minors for the Detroit Tigers of the Western League. The Reds gave him a late season trial before returning him to Detroit for the entire 1900 season. When the American League became a major league in 1901, a move that made Detroit a big league team, Cronin remained with the Tigers, winning 13 games. He was in the big leagues until 1904, then finished his career in the minors in 1912. During the 1905 season, while playing for Providence of the Eastern League, Jack won 29 games.

May 26,1898

Jack Cronin didn’t pitch this day, but one famous Pirates pitcher from that same 1898 team, did make his major league debut on this date. Sam Leever began a successful thirteen year career during an 11-7 Pittsburgh loss to the Washington Senators. Sam was the third pitcher of the day, coming in during the second inning with his team down 5-2. He finished off the game, allowing six more runs, four of them coming in the seventh inning with Pittsburgh down 7-6 at the time. The local newspaper at the time praised his speed and control, saying “if he listened to instructions he should become a winner”. Leever went on to win 194 major league games, all for the Pirates. In a post-game interview, he promised to become a better hitter. The loss was a tough one for the Pirates that day. Washington was a last place team, coming into the game with a 6-22 record. The Senators manager was Tom Brown, a player for the Pirates from 1885-1887. He lasted just nine more games at the helm before being replaced. The third baseman for Washington that day was Albert “Butts” Wagner, older brother of Honus Wagner.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 26, 1959

“May 26, 1959, in Milwaukee on the mound
Harvey Haddix of the Pirates was mowin’ ‘em down
Twenty-seven up, twenty-seven gone
Nine innings in the book and not a man had gotten on.”*

Pirate starter Harvey Haddix retired every Milwaukee Braves batter for the first twelve innings—thirty-six outs in a row—but lost 1-0 on a thirteenth-inning unearned run in County Stadium.

Taking on a Milwaukee lineup with two career-prime Hall of Famers (Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews) and another strong slugger (Joe Adcock), Haddix was flawless for longer than any other pitcher in major league history. The twice-defending National League champions mustered just one hard-hit ball through the first nine innings: Johnny Logan’s liner that shortstop Dick Schofield grabbed above his head. Haddix recorded eight strikeouts during regulation play, including mound foe Lew Burdette with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to make the 33-year-old lefthander just the seventh starting pitcher in major-league history to retire all 27 batters in nine innings.

“But after nine, the Pirates, well, they hadn’t scored
A perfect game and still old Harvey had to pitch some more.”

Unfortunately for Haddix, the six pitchers who had preceded him in perfection possessed something he lacked: run support. Burdette scattered eight hits over nine innings to keep the Pirates off the scoreboard, and the game continued into extra innings.

“Tenth inning down, eleventh inning down, he moved on to the twelfth
Three straight outs and the fans, they were pinching themselves
The best game ever pitched and, still, a scoreless tie
Poor Harvey had to carry on and give it one more try.”

Haddix’s fourth trip through Milwaukee’s lineup was less dominant than his first three: he recorded no strikeouts and allowed two warning-track fly balls and one hard liner to centerfield. Still, he set down all nine Braves, running the perfect inning streak to 12. Meanwhile, Burdette rationed the Bucs one single in each of the tenth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth innings, but stranded three of the runners and erased the other with a double play.

“Thirteen’s never lucky
So, you can guess the rest
Harv gave up a hit and then he lost the whole contest
I wonder how he slept that night
Knowing how close he came
To a most exclusive club that should include his name.”

The perfect game cracked in the bottom of the thirteenth. After Haddix narrowly missed a called third strike on Felix Mantilla (“We had him struck out,” catcher Smokey Burgess told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.), Don Hoak committed a throwing error on a Mantilla grounder, giving the Braves their first baserunner. Matthews sacrificed Mantilla to second, and Murtaugh, sensibly, called for Haddix to walk Aaron intentionally.**

Adcock followed by driving Haddix’s 115th pitch, a high 1-0 slider, over the fence in right center to give Milwaukee their only hit of the night and all of the scoring that they would need. The walk-off proved unexpectedly complicated: Aaron, unaware that the ball had cleared the fence, left the diamond after reaching second, thereby diminishing Adcock’s blast from a three-run homer to a one-run double.

Regardless, the damage was done: Haddix had lost the no-hitter, shutout and game. Thirty-two years later, major league baseball redefined the term “perfect game” in a manner that excluded Haddix’s gem. What remained, however, was a singular accomplishment, best captured in Lester J. Biederman’s lede in the next day’s Pittsburgh Press: “Harvey Haddix pitched the greatest game in the history of baseball last night—and lost.”

“But for twelve innings on that fateful day
Old Harvey was a god
A perfect game if nothing else because perfection’s always flawed.”

* All lyrics from the song “Harvey Haddix,” found on The Baseball Project’s 2008 album, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails. The Baseball Project, the brainchild of veteran underground singer-songwriters Steve Wynn (formerly with Dream Syndicate) and Scott McCaughey (leader of the Young Fresh Fellows and Minus 5, and a longtime utility musician for R.E.M., whose Peter Buck plays bass for The Baseball Project), have given the world two excellent—both as music and as baseball commentary—albums of songs with topics spanning the history of the game.

** Aaron, age 25, was in what would be his fourth consecutive season of finishing in the top three in the National League Most Valuable Player voting. Entering this game, his BA/OBA/SLG line in 174 plate appearances was .453/.483/.818.

Box score and play by play

Pittsburgh Press game story

YouTube clip of a live performance of The Baseball Project’s “Harvey Haddix”

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