This Date in Pirates History: May 3

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates players and two trades for today, plus John Fredland recaps the day Bob Prince returned to the radio for the Pirates during that forgettable 1985 season, in his Jolly Roger Rewind.

The Players

Ivan Cruz (1968) First baseman for the 1999-2000 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1989 amateur draft. Ivan didn’t make his major league debut until eight years later while with the 1997 Yankees. After spending three seasons in the Yankees system and getting into just 11 major league games, Cruz signed with the Pirates on December 22, 1998. He began the year in AAA, hitting .338 with 23 homers and 77 RBI’s through 65 games when he was called up on June 24th to take the place of Jose Guillen, who was sent to the minors. Less than two weeks after being called up, Cruz strained his oblique during batting practice and was put on the DL. He returned to AAA briefly before going back on the DL. In 2000, he again began the year in AAA, getting recalled in mid-May. After going 1-11 at the plate, the Pirates designated him for assignment. He finished the year in the Mexican League, then signed to play in Japan in 2001. Cruz played for the Cardinals in 2002, spending the year in AAA until being recalled in September when the rosters expanded. He then spent his last season of pro ball(2003) in Japan. Cruz hit 254 homers in the minors and five times topped 90 RBI’s in a season.

Chris Cannizzaro (1938) Catcher for the 1968 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Cardinals in 1956 and he played in the majors every seasons from 1960 until 1965, before spending the next two years in the minors. The Pirates acquired Chris from the Tigers on November 29, 1967 in exchange for minor league player Mike Derrick. For Pittsburgh in 1968, he spent most of the year in the minors, getting called up to the Pirates in August after hitting .243 at AAA with 31 RBI’s in 88 games. Cannizzaro played 25 big league games that year, starting 18 of them behind the plate. In 58 AB’s, he hit .241 with seven RBI’s. In just his 11th AB after getting called up, he hit home run. It was significant in the fact he went 592 AB’s during his first six seasons in the majors without hitting a home run. On March 28, 1969, the Pirates traded Chris to the San Diego Padres in a four player deal covered here. He ended up playing in the all-star game in 1969 and lasted in the majors until 1974. In 13 seasons, Cannizzaro hit .235 with 169 RBI’s in 740 games. In his career, he attempted twenty stolen bases at the major league level, he was successful just three times.

The Trades

On this date in 1947, the Pirates traded outfielder Al Gionfriddo and $100,000 in cash(some sources say $125k), to the Brooklyn Dodgers for pitchers Cal McLish, Kirby Higbe, Hank Behrman, catcher Dixie Howell and infielder Gene Mauch. The deal was originally going to be a straight up purchase of the five players but the Pirates threw Gionfriddo into the deal. The day before the trade, the newspapers were reporting that the Pirates were going to purchase just two players. As for the players after the trade, Behrman was returned to the Dodgers after giving up 25 runs in 24.2 innings for the Pirates. With his return, the Pirates recouped as much as $50,000 from the original sale price. Mauch was just 21 at the time of the trade, with only five games of major league experience. He ended up hitting .300 in 16 games for the Pirates before being dealt back to the Dodgers in a six player trade covered here.

Dixie Howell was signed by the Dodgers in 1938 but never played a big league game for them. With the Pirates in 1947, as a 27 year old rookie, he hit .276 with 25 RBI’s in 76 games. Ten months after being acquired, he was one of the players the Pirates sent(along with plenty of cash) to the San Francisco Seals in exchange for highly touted pitcher Bob Chesnes. McLish was just 21 when the trade occurred, with 24 games of major league experience over two seasons. He pitched three games for the Pirates over two seasons before being traded to the Cubs. That trade was made exactly one year after the Mauch trade mentioned above and a recap can be found in the same link. Cal eventually became a very good major league pitcher, but not until age thirty-one, well after being dealt by the Pirates.

That left Higbe as the only player in the deal that was still with the team by the time 1949 rolled around. He was a serviceable pitcher for his two full seasons, pitching 102 games, 38 as a starter. He won 19 times and saved 15 games between 1947-48 but he quickly went downhill the next season and was traded to the Giants by the beginning of June. Before the deal, Kirby had a 70-38 record in five seasons in Brooklyn. Gionfriddo played 37 regular season games for the Dodgers in 1947 and hit .177 with six RBI’s. He also played four games in the World Series and made one of the most memorable catches of all-time, robbing Joe DiMaggio in game six to help the Dodgers send the series to a seventh game. That game ended up being his last game in the majors.

On this date in 1952, the Pirates traded pitcher Bil Werle to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for veteran pitcher Red Munger. Werle began his career in Pittsburgh and had been with the Pirates since 1949, going 28-35 4.76 in 147 games, sixty as a starter. Munger at age 33 was just two years old than Werle but he had nine seasons of major league experience at that point, all with the Cardinals. He had a 74-49 record in 233 games, 144 as a starter. Red was also a three time all-star. He made one start for St Louis, two weeks prior to the trade, and he did not pitch well, giving up six runs in 4.1 innings. Werle had pitched five games in 1952, all out of the bullpen and he too, did not pitch well. In four innings, he gave up ten baserunners and four runs.

After the trade Munger showed no signs of the all-star pitcher he once was, going 0-3 7.18 in four starts and a relief appearance.  He ended up going to the minors for the rest of 1952 and all of the next three seasons. The Pirates brought him back in 1956 after he went 23-8 1.85 in 1955 for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. He ended up making 13 starts and 22 relief appearances in 1956, posting a 3-4 4.04 record in 107 innings, in what would be his last season in the majors. Werle pitched 19 games for the Cardinals, all in relief, before being put on waivers in October, where he was picked up by the Red Sox. He pitched 19 games over two seasons in Boston(1953-54) before returning to the minors for good, although he was far from done. He last pitched at age 42 in 1963.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 3, 1985

The Pirates celebrated legendary broadcaster Bob Prince’s return to the airwaves by scoring nine runs in his first inning on the microphone and routing the Dodgers 16-2 at Three Rivers Stadium.

Prince, controversially sacked by KDKA-AM following the 1975 season, had returned to the Bucs’ flagship station shortly after undergoing surgery for throat cancer in April.

When he signed on in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Pirates had a 3-2 lead. The inning appeared as if it would pass without incident when George Hendrick grounded to veteran Dodger shortstop Bill Russell with two on and two out. Russell, however, threw the ball away for an error (his third of the game), bringing in a Bucco run.

The full-moon-illuminated night then seemed to fall under the spell of some combination of the Green Weenie, Babushka Power, and the countless other memes that Prince had created during his long tenure as Voice of the Pirates. The next seven Bucco batters reached base against three Dodger pitchers. By the time that Russell manage to turn another ground ball into the elusive third out, the Pirates had a 12-2 lead.

An inning later, Jason Thompson batted with one runner on. Listeners tuned to KDKA’s 50,000-watt signal heard Prince announce, “well, we’ve had everything else. Jason might as well ding one.” As if on cue, Thompson hit the next pitch over the fence for a home run. A Pirate team whose fundamental wretchedness had already revealed itself, just 20 games into the year, had a rare “we had ‘em all the way” victory and one of the few feel-good stories of a miserable season.

(Sadly, Prince became ill waiting out a rain delay later in the homestand, leading to his hospitalization in mid-May and death on June 10.)

Box score and play-by-play

Pittsburgh Press game story