Five former Pittsburgh Pirates birthdays on this date, plus a trade of pitchers from 51 years ago. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps a tough loss in extra innings during the 1988 season.
On this date in 1961, the Pirates traded pitcher Tom Cheney to the Washington Senators in exchange for pitcher Tom Sturdivant. Cheney was a 26-year-old righty, in his fourth major league season, second with the Pirates. He had gone 2-2 3.98 in 11 games, eight as a starter, for the 1960 Pirates. He made just one appearance in 1961 for Pittsburgh, allowing five runs without recording an out. Sturdivant was a 31-year-old righty, who spent time as a starter and reliever in the majors. He was 2-6 4.61 for the Senators in 1961, making ten starts and five relief appearances.
After the deal, Cheney pitched five seasons for Washington, going 17-25 3.52 in 88 games, 58 as a starter. Not many people realize that he is the single game strikeout king in major league history, striking out 21 Orioles batters on September 12,1962. In one of the truly great pitching performances, he allowed just one run over 16 innings for the complete game win. Sturdivant played with the Pirates until May of 1963, when he was sold to the Tigers. He went 14-7 3.49 for the Pirates in 65 games, 23 as a starter. In 1961, he was 5-2 2.84 in 11 starts and two relief appearances.
Tony McKnight (1977) Pitcher for the 2001 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick in 1995 by the Astros out of High School. Tony spent his first two years in the GCL, then a year at each full-season A-ball level, posting a combined 4.67 ERA in 48 starts. His breakout season was 1999 in AA, where he went 9-9 2.75 in 24 starts for Jackson of the Texas League. He spent 2000 in AAA until August, when he made his major league debut for Houston. The next season he was back in AAA until mid-June, getting three starts, in which he went 1-0 4.00 in 18 innings. At the trading deadline, the Pirates sent closer Mike Williams to the Astros in exchange for McKnight, who went right into the rotation. In 12 starts for Pittsburgh, he went 2-6 5.19 in 69.1 innings. Tony spent all of 2002 at AAA Nashville for the Pirates, then finished his career with the Dodgers AAA team the next season.
John Wehner (1967) Utility player for the 1991-1996 and 1999-2001 Pirates. He was taken by the Pirates in the seventh round of the 1988 draft. Wehner was up in the big leagues by mid-July of 1991, helping the Pirates to the NL East pennant with a .340 average in 37 games. John played 14 seasons in pro ball, spending only one full season(1996) in the majors. In ten of those other 13 seasons, he split the year between the majors and minors. Besides 1991, two other times with Pittsburgh he batted .300 in limited time, 1995 when he hit .308 and 2000 when he hit .300 exactly. Pittsburgh put him on waivers after the 1996 season, where he was picked up by the Dodgers. Los Angeles released him in Spring Training, so he signed with the Marlins for the 1997 season, picking up a World Series ring that year with Florida. John returned to the Pirates as a free agent in June of 1999 and stayed with the team until the 2001 season. For the Pirates, he hit .250 with 47 RBI’s in 364 games. Wehner coached three seasons in the minors for Pittsburgh, then became a broadcaster for the team, holding that spot since 2005. He holds the record for consecutive errorless games at third base(99), tied for the honor with Jeff Cirillo.
Burgess Whitehead (1910) Second baseman for the 1946 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1942, but due to serving in the Army during WWII, Burgess didn’t play with Pittsburgh until the 1946 season. That year, the 36 year old infielder hit .220 in 55 games with five RBI’s. It would be his last season in the majors. Pittsburgh released him prior to the 1947, after which he played two seasons in the minors before retiring. Whitehead was a two-time All-Star(1935,37) with the Giants. After that 1937 season, he had an appendectomy which did not go well, causing him to suffer a nervous breakdown, forcing him out of baseball for one season. When Burgess returned in 1939, he had a sub-par season, but followed it up with a .282 average in 133 games during the 1940 campaign. He was a .266 career hitter with 415 runs scored in 924 games. Whitehead led all NL second baseman in fielding percentage and putouts in 1937, when he played 152 games at the position. All 17 home runs he hit in his career came at the Polo Grounds, one while he was with the Cardinals in 1934, coming off longtime Pirates pitcher Joe Bowman.
Patsy Flaherty (1876) Pitcher for the 1900 and 1904-05 Pirates. He began his big league career in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels, as a teammate of Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, Fred Clarke and nine other players that would be traded to Pittsburgh in the off-season. The Louisville franchise folded before the 1900 season and Flaherty joined his teammates in Pittsburgh, pitching 22 innings with a 6.14 ERA in 1900. His next major league experience came with the 1903 White Sox, when he went 11-25, leading the AL in losses. He pitched well in five starts for Chicago in 1904 before he was sold to the Pirates, who were in desperate need for pitching. The move paid off big time that first year, as he went 19-9 2.05 from the beginning of June until the end of the season. Not only did he lead the team in wins, he also had the best ERA. It turned out to be just one magical year for Patsy, who went 10-10 3.50 in 1905 for a Pirates team that went 96-57 on the season. After spending all of 1906 in the minors, he was traded to the Boston Doves as part of the deal for Ed Abbaticchio. Patsy went 24-33 over the next two years for two bad Boston teams. He spent 1909 in the minors, returning briefly for one game with the 1910 Phillies and four games for Boston again in 1911. Flaherty pitched in the minors off and on until 1917, while also managing down on the farm and scouting into the 1930’s.
Heinie Reitz (1867) Second baseman for the 1899 Pirates. He was the second baseman for the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles team of the National League, that won three straight pennants from 1894-96. Twice Reitz drove in over 100 runs and his 31 triples in 1894 was a major league record at the time. Before the Pirates acquired him for three players in December of 1898, Heinie hit .303 in 132 games for the Senators that season. With Pittsburgh, his time was cut short due to injury. Reitz played just 35 games for the Pirates, hitting .263 with 16 RBI’s. He would be traded to the minors before the 1900 season and never appeared in the majors again. He finished with a .292 average in 724 games, with 447 runs scored and 463 RBI’s. For a full bio on Reitz, check out this link here.
Jolly Roger Rewind: June 29, 1988
One strike from clinching a series victory over the division-leading Mets, Pirates closer Jim Gott surrendered a game-tying home run to Howard Johnson, and New York rallied for an 8-7 win in eleven innings at Three Rivers Stadium.
Trailing the visitors by four and a half games in the National League East race, the second-place Bucs had taken a 7-6 lead on Jose Lind’s two-run single in the bottom of the sixth, and Jeff Robinson had pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings to preserve the advantage. As an enthusiastic crowd of 41,217 cheered him on, Gott started the ninth frame by retiring Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds on fly balls. He then went ahead of Johnson 1-2 and, after a meeting at the mound with Mike LaValliere, threw a low fastball that the Met third baseman hit into the right-field bleachers to tie the game.
At that point, New York reliever Roger McDowell stepped into the limelight. Replacing Gene Walter in the bottom of the ninth after back-to-back walks to Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla, McDowell allowed a one-out single to Sid Bream to load the bases, but retired LaValliere and Rafael Belliard on ground balls to send the game to extra innings. He followed the ninth-inning escape by holding the Pirates hitless over the tenth and eleventh innings, while in the meantime doubling in the top of the eleventh and coming around to score the go-ahead run on McReynolds’ single.
Johnson and McDowell’s heroics eclipsed an inspired mid-game rally by the upstart Bucs. With rookie shortstop Kevin Elster’s two-run homer and RBI double off Bob Walk leading the way, the Mets had overcome a second-inning Bonilla home run and rolled to a 4-1 lead heading to the bottom of the fifth. The Pirates, however, regained the lead in the fifth with four two-out runs of New York ace David Cone, highlighted by Lind’s two-RBI single and Van Slyke’s two-run homer.
Unbowed, the Mets responded in the next half inning by loading the bases with none out against Bucco reliever Barry Jones and taking back the lead on sacrifice flies by a once-and-future Pirate (Mackey Sasser) and a future Pirate (Wally Backman). The Pirates promptly surged back ahead in their half of the sixth when Lind singled home two more runs with two outs, yielding a 7-6 edge that the Bucs appeared, until Johnson’s ninth-inning intervention, set on taking to the clubhouse.
Rather than winning two of three from the Mets and moving three and a half games from first, the Pirates lost the series and left for a California trip five and a half games back.*
Box score and play-by-play
Beaver County Times game story
* While John Perrotto’s postgame column in the Beaver County Times seemed to strike a resigned and elegiac tone towards the Pirates’ three-month challenge to the Mets—“Deep down they seem to know this won’t be the year they can overtake New York. In the Mets clubhouse, the sense is they know in the long run they’ll handle the Bucs”—the race would tighten further before the New York pulled away for the division title. By July 22, twelve wins in thirteen games would pull the Pirates to within a half game of the lead, and the Bucs would be as close as three and a half games back on August 22.+ posts
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.