This Date in Pirates History: June 20

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including the man who had a big doubleheader in 2004 against the Cubs, that most Pirates fans won’t soon forget. We also have one trade of note, and John Fredland covers another memorable doubleheader against the Cubs from 21 years earlier, in his Jolly Roger Rewind.

The Trade

On this date in 1918, the Pirates traded pitcher Elmer Jacobs to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Erskine Mayer. Erskine was a 28 year old righty, in his seventh season in the majors, all spent with Philadelphia. He had a 76-61 2.81 career record with the Phillies, and in 1918 he was 7-4 3.12 in 13 starts. Jacobs had a 3.03 ERA in 403.2 innings with the Pirates, though his record stood at 12-30 at the time of the deal. The 25 year old righty began his major league career with the 1914 Phillies, pitching 14 games prior to being sold to the Pirates.

After the deal, Mayer pitched great for the 1918 Pirates, going 9-3 2.26 in 123.1 innings, but had his share of troubles in 1919, with a 4.48 ERA in 88.1 innings. The Pirates put him on waivers in August, where he was picked up by the White Sox, a team famously known as the Black Sox for throwing the 1919 World Series. Jacobs had a similar tale as Mayer after the deal, although he pitched in the majors off-and-on until 1927, eight years after Erskine was out of the majors. Elmer pitched well in 1918, then went 6-10 for the 1919 Phillies before they dealt him to the Cardinals, just weeks before the Pirates gave up on Mayer.

The Players

Rob Mackowiak (1976) Utility player for the Pirates from 2001 until 2005. He was signed by the Pirates as a 53rd round draft pick in 1996, one year after getting picked in the 30th round by the Reds, but not signing. Rob had a slow climb through the minors, spending time at all six levels, playing parts of two seasons at both High-A and AA. His best season was 2000, playing for Altoona, where he hit .297 with 13 homers, 87 RBI’s and 18 stolen bases. Mackowiak made his debut on May 19,2001. He played 83 games his rookie season, getting starts at both corner outfield spots and second base. He also played 3B/1B off the bench. In 2002, he started over twenty games at three different positions, RF/CF and 3B. Rob hit .244 with 16 homers, 48 RBI’s and 57 runs scored in 136 games that year. He was playing the super utility role in 2003 until June, where his average dropped to .183, earning him a demotion to AAA until late August.

Mackowiak bounced back in 2004 to have his best career season, setting highs with 17 homers, 75 RBI’s and 155 games played. He started 51 games at 3B, 40 games in RF and another 31 split between LF/CF. The 2005 season saw him hit .272 in 142 games, his high average while with Pittsburgh. He also added second base back into his playing time, getting 17 starts there. After the season, the Pirates traded him to the White Sox for pitcher Damaso Marte. Rob played another three seasons in the majors, spending time with three different teams, before finishing his career in 2009 in the minors. With the Pirates, he played 593 games, hitting .258 with 52 homers and 221 RBI’s.

Gary Varsho (1961) Outfielder for the Pirates in 1991-92 and 1994. He was originally a fifth round draft pick in 1982 by the Cubs. Gary spent 6 1/2 seasons in the minors before making his debut in in July of 1988. He would split each of his first three seasons in the majors jumping between AAA and Chicago. At the end of Spring Training in 1991, the Pirates acquired Varsho in exchange for outfielder Steve Carter. Gary would spend the entire 1991 season with the Pirates, getting the majority of his games in as a pinch-hitter, although he hit just .220 in that role. On the year, the left-handed hitting Varsho batted .273 with four homers, 23 runs scored and 23 RBI’s in 99 games.

In 1992, he started just 27 of the 103 games he played, again getting more pinch-hitting chances with limited success(.236) in the role. For the season, he batted .222, although his overall production (4 HR 22 runs, 22 RBI’s) was similar to the previous year in slightly less times to bat. Varsho was put on waivers after the season, where he was picked up by the Reds. After one season in Cincinnati, he was released, signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent. He played 67 games in 1994, nine as a starter, hitting .256 with five RBI’s. Gary became a free agent after the season and finished his playing career in Philadelphia the next year. He took up a managing position in the Phillies minor league system before moving up to the majors as a coach. In 2004, he managed the last two games of the season for the Phillies. He was then the Pirates bench coach from 2007 until 2010 and he is now a scout for the Angels.

Clem Koshorek (1925) Infielder for the 1952-53 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1946, spending six seasons in their minor league system before being picked up by the Pirates in the 1951 Rule V draft. Clem was a light-hitting shortstop, who spent three years playing for Flint of the Central League, before playing for Little Rock of the Southern Association in 1951, where he hit .261 with three homers in 153 games. Koshorek was the starting shortstop through the first day of June for the 1952 Pirates, until he missed the next three weeks out of action. When he returned, he went through stretches of starting at second base, then third base, then back to second. He finished the year batting .261 with no homers, 15 RBI’s and 27 runs scored in 98 games, 81 of them as a starter. Clem was the smallest major leaguer at the time, listed at 5″4 165lbs. His defense was considered to be above major league average at shortstop, with good range. In 1953, he would get just one AB for the Pirates before being sent to the minors, a strikeout as a pinch-hitter on Opening Day. On October 6,1953 he was sold to New Orleans of the Southern Association. He would go on to play the last six seasons of his career in the minors, the final year as a player/manager.

Bill Clemensen (1919) Pitcher for the Pirates in 1939, 1941 and 1946. He came without invitation to the Pirates Spring Training in 1937 and impressed the team enough that they signed him and sent him to the minors. Bill pitched two full seasons down on the farm before spending the 1939 season with the Pirates. He was a mop-up pitcher all year, making 12 appearances with the first 11 all being in relief during one-sided Pirates losses. Pittsburgh let him start game one of a doubleheader on the last day of the season. Clemensen picked up the loss that day, allowing seven runs in 6.1 innings. The Pirates sent him to Syracuse of the International League for 1940, where he pitched just 65 innings all season. In 1941, he pitched 101 innings in the minors, splitting the year between Albany of the Eastern League and St Paul of the American Association. Bill was a September call-up that year, getting into two games before the year ended. On the last day of the season, he threw a 3-2 complete game win over the Reds. Clemensen looked to be ready for a full-time spot in the majors in 1942 but he was inducted into the Army to serve during WWII. He missed four seasons of pro ball before returning to the Pirates in 1946. Bill pitched two scoreless innings early in the season for the Pirates in 1946, before returning to the minors, where he stayed until his retirement during the 1947 season.

Ed Warner (1889) Pitcher for the 1912 Pirates. He attended Brown University, a popular school for major leaguers prior to WWII, with 36 former big league players before the war, although only former Pirates player Bill Almon has made it to the majors since. The Pirates signed Warner right out of college with no minor league experience. He made his major league debut on July 2,1912, pitching the ninth inning of a 9-2 loss to the Cubs. He was described as having a wondrous fastball and a good change-up(then called a slowball), although he was wild at times. He threw from the left side with “free arm movement” and a “puzzling crossfire” delivery. The Pirates gave him three starts that year, two in July and one in early August. In his second start, Warner threw five scoreless innings before allowing six runs in the sixth inning. In his last start, he threw a 3-0 shutout against the Braves, allowing eleven baserunners in the game. He threw a total of 11 games, pitching 45 innings with a 1-1 3.60 record. In December of 1912, Pittsburgh sent him to the minors to play for Columbus of the American Association, but Warner decided to retire from baseball, rather than not play in the major leagues. He quickly became a successful business man and never returned to the game.

Jolly Roger Rewind: June 20, 1983

It took eight hours and twenty-three innings, but the Pirates earned a pair of destiny-altering extra-inning victories over the Cubs at Three Rivers Stadium, a 5-4 ten-inning triumph in the opener and a 6-5 thirteen-inning win in the nightcap.

The Bucs limped into the twinbill on a ten-week free-fall, with 18 wins in their last 54 games having relegated a promising 5-0 start into seemingly irrelevant nostalgia. One day earlier, an aged Phillies lineup and rookie pitcher Charlie Hudson had staged a Father’s Day parade on the basepaths of Three Rivers; “Struggling Bucs Endure Humiliation,” whimpered the Pittsburgh Press’s account of the 14-2 defeat.

Chicago’s streak ran in another direction: 13 wins in their last 17 games, including a four-game sweep of the Pirates two weeks earlier at Wrigley Field. And the trend lines showed little sign of deviation when the Cubs built a 4-0 lead off rookie starter Lee Tunnell heading to the bottom of the fifth inning of the opener.

The inning that would turn the game—and season—around started humbly. Gene Tenace, well on his way to proving himself an underwhelming free-agent acquisition*, led off with a single. Rookie centerfielder Marvell Wynne, obtained from the Mets in a trade six days earlier, followed with another single, but Johnny Ray rendered the budding rally near stillborn by grounding into a double play.

The middle of the Bucco order, however, picked up the slack: Bill Madlock drove in Tenace with an RBI single, and Jason Thompson cut the deficit to one with a two-run homer. Rejuvenated, the Pirates tied the game on Madlock’s eighth-inning RBI double, while Cecilio Guante and Kent Tekulve came out of the bullpen to hold the Cubs scoreless and send the game to extra innings.

Because of a double-switch, Tekulve, who had pitched three innings, was due to lead off the bottom of the tenth against Chicago reliever Bill Campbell. Chuck Tanner sent up Richie Hebner to pinch hit. Campbell threw Hebner a high screwball, and Hebner drove it over the right-field fence for the game-winning home run.

Jim Bibby, struggling with a 10.36 ERA in his attempt to come back from the rotator cuff surgery that cost him the entire 1982 season, battled gamely during the nightcap. Through four innings, he threw 101 pitches. When Bill Buckner’s RBI single on pitch #139 finally chased Bibby from the game with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, the Pirates had a 5-3 lead, backed by home runs by Dale Berra, Lee Lacy and Jim Morrison.

Tekulve maintained the lead through the eighth, but pitched into trouble to start the top of the ninth by allowing a single to Larry Bowa and walk to Tom Grant. At this point, the Bucco relief ace had thrown four and a third innings on the doubleheader, and Tanner replaced him with Don Robinson, the scheduled starting pitcher for the next night’s game. After a wild pitch, Robinson struck out Mell Hall and Ryne Sandberg to push the Cubs to their final out, but Buckner drew a walk and Ron Cey tied the game 5-5 with a two-run single.**

The contest now became a battle of the bullpens. Recovering from allowing the two inherited runners to score, Robinson finished with a box-score line of five scoreless innings; collectively, the Pirates’ relief corps allowed only two runs in eleven and a third innings over the doubleheader. For Chicago, Lee Smith followed Warren Brusstar’s two scoreless innings with four more scoreless frames, and Campbell returned to the mound to pitch a scoreless twelfth.

With Campbell still pitching in the bottom of the thirteenth, Berra led off with a single. Tony Pena attempted to bunt him into scoring position, but wound up reaching base on Campbell’s error. Lee Mazzilli sacrificed, and Cubs manager Lee Elia ordered an intentional walk to Lacy. The scoreboard clock read “2:04 am” and only approximately 500 fans—“mostly young people,” noted Russ Franke in the Press—remained when Wynne singled to center to drive in Berra and end the game.***

* Tenace entered the night with two hits in his first 29 at-bats.

** Robinson got out of the inning only by retrieving Wynne’s errant throw home and flipping the ball to catcher Steve Nicosia to cut down Buckner’s attempt to score the go-ahead run from first.

*** The doubleheader sweep started a nine-game winning streak that thrust the Pirates into a parity-ridden National League East pennant race; the Bucs remained contenders until the final week of the season.

First game play-by-play and box score

Second game play-by-play and box score

Pittsburgh Press game story

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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.

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John Lease

Saving the meltdown of Rod Scurry at the end of the season for another day? I remember this all too well, it was the first time the Pirates had had a lead in September and didn’t close it out in the division era.


Hopefully John will find a more pleasant game to recap on that date!

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