Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one who played for the team with the best record in franchise history. John Fredland takes us back to the WWII era Pirates in his Jolly Roger Rewind.
Chance Sanford (1972) Infielder for the 1998 Pirates. He was a 27th round pick of the Pirates in the 1992 draft, signing with the team two days after his 20th birthday. Pittsburgh had originally taken him 17 rounds earlier in the 1991 draft. Chance worked his way slowly through the minors, spending three seasons at High-A ball, while also missing most of the 1995 season. In 1997 he was in AA, his third season there, when he began to hit his stride, batting .262 with nine homers and 36 RBI’s in 44 games, earning a promotion to AAA. He hit even better a level up, hitting .292 with 60 RBI’s in 89 games for Calgary. In 1998, Sanford started the year in AAA, earning a promotion at the end of April. He batted just .120 in 11 games before returning to the minors, but he was quickly back in Pittsburgh when Lou Collier got hurt at the end of May. After being sent down two weeks later, Sanford played until late June, when a shoulder injury landed him on the DL. It was described as shoulder soreness but he never returned that year. After the season ended, Chance was released by the Pirates. He signed with the Dodgers for 1999, playing five major league games in June, before finishing his playing career in 2000, playing in Independent ball.
Darnell Coles (1962) Right fielder for the 1987-88 Pirates. He was a first round pick by the Mariners in 1980, taken sixth overall. Coles made the majors in September of 1983, playing parts of three seasons with Seattle before being traded to the Tigers. He had a breakout season in 1986, hitting .273 with 20 homers and 86 RBI’s but his success didn’t carry over into the next season. In 1987 for the Tigers, he hit .181 through 53 games, even spending a short stint in the minors in June. He was playing mostly third base at that time and having troubles there as well, making 17 errors in 36 games. Detroit dealt him to the Pirates on August 7,1987 in exchange for veteran third baseman Jim Morrison, who was upset about losing playing time, mostly due to the emergence of Bobby Bonilla. Coles hit .227 with six homers and 24 RBI’s in 40 games for Pittsburgh in 1987, spending most of his time in right field. In 1988, he was the Pirates regular right fielder until July, when he was traded to the Mariners for outfielder Glenn Wilson. At the time, Darnell was hitting .232 with five homers and 36 RBI’s through 68 games. Two years after the Mariners reacquired him, they would again trade him to Detroit. Coles played in the majors until 1997 and has recently begun managing in the minors, currently at the helm of the Huntsville Stars of the Southern League. In 957 major league games, he hit .245 with 75 homers and 368 RBI’s.
Jeff Schulz (1961) Pinch hitter for the 1991 Pirates. He was a 23rd round draft pick in 1983 by the Kansas City Royals. Jeff spent seven seasons in their system before making his major league debut in September of 1989. He was a solid yet unspectacular performer in the minors, average hitter, made good contact but didn’t take many walks, hit for power or steal bases. Jeff was rewarded with that September call-up for playing four full seasons at AAA for the Royals, with his best season there being his first in 1986, when he hit .303 with 61 RBI’s. In 1990, he had three different stints with Kansas City, hitting .258 with six RBI’s in 30 games. Schulz was released by the Royals that December and signed with the Pirates in January. He spent most of 1991 in AAA Buffalo, where he batted .300 with 54 RBI’s and 55 runs scored in 122 games. His big league time that seasons consisted of three pinch hit appearances over a two week stretch in May. Jeff went 0-3 with two strikeouts before returning to the minors. He became a free agent after 1991, signing with the Reds. He finished his career in the minors in 1992, ending up in the Cubs organization before the year was over.
Gene Michael (1938) Infielder for the 1966 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1959. His minor league career started off real slow, batting .227 then .203 in his first two seasons. Gene hit well in 1962, but he was playing Class D ball(low minors) and when he was promoted two levels higher the next year, his average dropped to .215 in 138 games with one homer and 92 strikeouts. The next season the Pirates moved their shortstop to the mound, but it was a failed experiment. He went 1-3 6.79 in 16 games. The position change was also a temporary move because his bat started to come alive. Michael was now in A ball, where he hit .304 in 125 games. He was promoted to AAA Columbus in 1964, spending three seasons there as the team’s shortstop. Gene hit .221 the first year, then .217 before breaking out with a .289 average during the 1966 season. The Pirates called him up for his major league debut in July of 1966, letting him start three time his first week, then just once more the rest of the year. In 30 games, some as a pinch runner,Michael hit .152 with nine runs scored. On December 1,1966, the Pirates traded him, along with Bob Bailey to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for All-Star shortstop Maury Wills. Michael played one season in L.A. before being sold to the Yankees, where he spent seven seasons. He finished his playing career in 1975 with the Detroit Tigers. Following his playing career, he has held many positions with the Yankees, including manager and general manager.
Tom Leahy (1869) Outfielder for the 1897 Pirates. He spent four seasons in the minors, playing for the Springfield Ponies of the Eastern League, before getting his first big league chance with the 1897 Pirates. Tom played his first game in the majors off the bench on May 18, 1897, behind the plate. It was said of his first game, that his throws to second base were weak and that he showed great patience at the plate. For Pittsburgh, he was used in a utility role, getting six games at catcher, another six at third base and 13 in the outfield, spread out between all three positions. Leahy hit .261 in 24 games for the Pirates, with 12 RBI’s and ten runs scored. In late August, he was sent to the Washington Senators, where he finished the season hitting .385 in 19 games. Leahy started off slow the following season, returning to the minors until 1901, when the American League became a second major league. He played for two AL teams that year, then after another three seasons in the minors, returned for one last big league season, playing catcher for the 1906 St Louis Cardinals. Tom played in the minor leagues until 1908, when he ended his 15 year pro career.
Jack O’Connor (1866) Catcher for the Pirates from 1900 until 1902. He had a 21 year major league career that began in 1887, spending time with seven different teams in three different leagues. The Pirates purchased his contract in May of 1900 from the St Louis Cardinals. During that 1900 season when Jack was 34 years old, Pittsburgh used a three man platoon behind the plate of veteran catchers during a time when not many catchers lasted past 32 years of age. They also had 39 year old Chief Zimmer and 34 year old Pop Schriver. O’Connor’s best season in Pittsburgh was 1902, when he hit .294 with 28 RBI’s in 49 games. His time in Pittsburgh though is marred by the fact it ended with his release near the end of the 1902 season after the Pirates learned that he was trying to convince teammates to jump to the American League. Jack played 1452 major league games, hitting .263 with 738 RBI’s and 718 runs scored. Mostly known as a singles hitter, his only home run during the last nine seasons of his career was an inside-the-park homer. There have been two played named Jack O’Connor in major league history. The other was a pitcher in the 1980’s for three different teams and he was also born on this date, 96 years after the original Jack.
Jolly Roger Rewind: June 2, 1943
Blanked through eighth innings, the Pirates rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Boston Braves 3-2 at Forbes Field.
Braves starter Nate Andrews took a seven-hit shutout into the ninth inning, but Johnny Barrett led off by drawing a walk. Elbie Fletcher, better known for getting on-base than hitting for power,* then pulled an Andrews pitch over the screen in right field for his first home run of the season, tying the game.**
Aging catcher—and future Hall of Fame manager—Al Lopez followed Fletcher’s blast by driving a triple to the wall in left center. First-year Boston manager Bob Coleman replaced Andrews with Red Barrett, and ordered intentional walks of Vince DiMaggio and Pete Coscarart to load the bases.
Having reached the pitcher’s spot in the lineup, Pirates manager—and future Hall of Fame player—Frankie Frisch called back rookie reliever Xavier Rescigno and sent up Frank Colman to pinch-hit. Colman dropped a looping single into short centerfield to drive in pitcher Dutch Dietz, running for Lopez, with the winning run. A crowd of 10,162 cheered approvingly; “The customers were so happy, their cheers must have been heard for miles,” reported Edward F. Balinger in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.
The late rally saved Bucco lefthander Wally Hebert, returning to the major leagues in 1943 after ten years in the minors, from seeing a solid seven-inning start result in defeat. The only Boston runs off Hebert came on a second-inning bases-loaded walk—after two botched bunt defenses had allowed the Braves to load the bases—and a seventh-inning DiMaggio throwing error.
* Bucco first baseman Fletcher entered the game with a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage line of .277/.421/.330. He finished either first or second in the National League in walks each year from 1940-43.
** Balinger’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article colorfully described Fletcher as “[tying] hostilities into a knot by soaking the sphere into the lower deck of the extension.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.