Just one former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date and one transaction of note. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland takes a look at a doubleheader from 1970 with one very special pitching performance.

The Trade

On this date in 1946, the Pirates traded outfielder Johnny Barrett to the Boston Braves in exchange for outfielder Chuck Workman. Before joining the Braves in 1943, Workman played just nine games in the majors over his first six seasons in pro ball. In 1943, at age 28, he went from the minors to an everyday player, hitting .249 with 10 homers and 67 RBI’s in 153 games. With major league baseball nearly depleted by players serving in the war during this time, Workman was able to see full-time duty with the Braves for three seasons. In 1944, he hit just .208, but the team stuck with him and they were rewarded with a strong 1945 season that saw him hit .274 with 25 homers and 87 RBI’s. Barrett had a similar story, playing five seasons in the minors before coming up with the 1942 Pirates at age 26, moving into a full-time job throughout the war years. In 1944, Johnny led the NL in triples and stolen bases, while scoring 99 times and driving in 83 runs. The next season, he hit a career high 15 homers, with 97 runs scored, 79 walks, 25 stolen bases and 67 RBI’s. At the time of the deal, both outfielders were struggling, Workman hitting .167 in 25 games, Barrett batting .169 in 32 contests.

After the trade, the left-handed hitting Workman, was in a platoon role in right field with Bob Elliott, who batted righty. Chuck hit .221 in 58 games with 16 RBI’s. With the talent level back to normal in the majors by the start of 1947, Workman was back in the minors, where he finished his playing career five seasons later. Barrett played just 24 games for the Braves, missing nearly two months after tearing a muscle in his leg which required surgery. In 55 plate appearances, he hit .233 with 12 walks(just one strikeout) and six RBI’s. Just like Workman, he returned to the minors, playing until 1951, without ever making it back to the big leagues.

The Player

Otto Knabe (1884) Infielder for the 1905 and 1916 Pirates. Prior to playing his first pro game in 1905, Knabe had played and managed local amateur ball near Pittsburgh. He began his career in the Western League in Colorado Springs, hitting .287 in 93 games. The Pirates brought him to the majors late that year and got him into the starting lineup for three games at third base. After the 1905 season, Knabe was sent to Toledo, where he hit .282 in 149 games the following year. In late 1906, he was picked up by the Phillies in the Rule V draft. While in Philadelphia, he was their everyday second baseman for seven seasons. He was one of the best bunters in the game, four times leading the league in sacrifice hits. Otto was recognized as a valuable role player during the 1911-13 seasons, receiving MVP votes all three years.

When a third major league, named the Federal League, was formed for the 1914 season, Knabe jumped to the new league. He became the player/manager of the Baltimore Terrapins for two seasons, the entire existence of the league. Knabe hit .253 in 103 games in 1915, an average above his career mark, but his lowest full season game total in the majors. Going into the 1916 season, Otto was without a job. He came to the Pirates in April after getting no offers and worked out with the team to get fit. Injuries forced the Pirates hand, as they signed him and inserted him in the lineup at second base before he was in game playing shape. Pittsburgh ended up sending him home on June 1st after hitting just .191 in 28 games. They said at the time that he was too out of shape to play good baseball but didn’t blame him for the lack of effort. Knabe was traded to the Cubs in July and finished his big league career with 51 more games during that 1916 season. He was a .247 career hitter in 1278 games, scoring 572 runs and stealing 143 bases.

Jolly Roger Rewind: June 12, 1970

Dock Ellis pitched the fifth no-hitter in franchise history, leading the Pirates to a 2-0 victory over the Padres in game one of a doubleheader at San Diego Stadium.

Ellis hardly took the most direct path to the record books: he walked eight Padres and hit another and allowed the second-year franchise at least one baserunner in five of the first six innings. Bill Christine of the Pittsburgh Press estimated Ellis’ final pitch count at 150*; he noted that the 25-year-old righthander “got so dejected about his control problem that in the seventh inning he decided to just throw the ball down the middle and take his chances.” The altered approach appeared to have paid off, as Ellis retired nine of the last ten Padres to close out the no-hitter.**

Two future Hall of Fame Buccos provided Ellis with essential support. Bill Mazeroski quashed the Padres’ closest bid to a hit with a diving catch of pinch-hitter Ramon Webster’s liner in the seventh inning. ** And Willie Stargell generated all of the game’s scoring with a pair of solo home runs off San Diego starter Dave Roberts.

Postscript (Mundane Edition): despite nine strikeouts by Bob Veale, the Padres earned a split of the doubleheader by beating the Pirates 5-2 in the nightcap.

Postscript (Lore Of The Game Edition): The masterpiece acquired a mythical status fourteen years later when Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Press, reporting on Ellis’ post-baseball work as a California drug and alcohol counselor, wrote that Ellis had revealed to him that he pitched the no-hitter under the influence of LSD. Whether this was actually the case remains a matter of some dispute: a 2011 Deadspin.com article asserted that Christine, who crafted his game story around the theme of Ellis and his mother surviving the Watts Riots in 1965, does not believe that Ellis took the mound under a lysergic spell.

* Christine had to estimate the pitch count because the Pirates could not provide an official total. Bob Moose, as the Bucco starter from the previous day, was supposed to chart pitches, but he “left the clipboard in the second inning to have his sore foot treated in the clubhouse and forgot to remind pitching coach Gene Osborne to name somebody to pick up the pencil.”

** Ellis told the Press that “[w]hen the ball was hit, I wasn’t worried about it being caught. Maz is the master out there.”

First game box score and play-by-play:

Second game box score and play-by-play:

Pittsburgh Press game story:

Deadspin article on LSD (“Ellis, D.”) controversy:

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I remember that no-hitter. Dock was always an interesting guy. Unlike the current day, he got his first taste of the majors the old fashioned way, called up in September but didn’t play a game. The last player I can remember doing that was Rod Scurry. I think he was called up in September of 1979, or maybe 1980. That’s another thing, like 3rd string catchers, that just doesn’t happen anymore.

  2. Franz Otto Knabe (to use his full name) is my third cousin, twice removed. As far as I know, he is the only Pittsburg(h) Pirate on my family tree. Nice to see him getting some birthday recognition 100 years after his prime!

    • Very cool to hear about the family relation and I like to old time spelling of the city too. If this were a Phillies site the bio on him would’ve been much longer because he had a nice career there. Despite the fact he was hitting so poorly when the Pirates released him, the June 1,1916 Pittsburgh Press gave him the top billing in the sports section

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