This Date in Pirates History: June 4- Pena and Klinger

With five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, a major trade in team history occurring and a game recap to do, we have split up today’s This Date article into two separate posts. The first one will cover the careers of two significant players in team history, Tony Pena and Bob Klinger. Part two can be read here.

Tony Pena (1957) Catcher for the Pirates from 1980 until 1986. He was originally signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1975 out of the Dominican Republic. He began his career in rookie league ball the next year, then moved up to full season Class-A in 1977. Tony played 113 games, splitting his time between Salem and Charleston. He hit .267 with ten homers and 62 RBI’s but had two glaring problems with his season. He had a 21/81 walk to strikeout ratio, and he made 23 errors behind the plate to go along with 21 passed balls. Despite those weaknesses, he was promoted to AA, going to Shreveport of the Texas League. On a team that hit .249 with 84 homers on the year, Pena contributed a .230 average and eight home runs. His walk to strikeout rate actually got worse, dropping down to 15/96 and the errors were even more prevalent with 25 in just 93 games. 

Not surprisingly, Pena repeated AA in 1979, going with the team to Buffalo of the Eastern League as the Pirates switched affiliates. There was a huge difference between the two affiliates, as Buffalo was a haven for offense. Tony hit .313 with 34 homers and 97 RBI’s that season. To put those stats in perspective, Luis Salazar hit 27 homers, yet never hit more than 14 in any of his 13 big league seasons. Also Rick Lancellotti, who hit 41 homers at age 22, played just 36 big league games and only once topped thirty homers(31) in the minors again. Still, it was a big step forward for Pena on offense.

In 1980, he was moved up to Portland of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .327 with 46 extra base hits. Errors were still a problem(he had 97 in four seasons) but he was a September call-up for the Pirates in 1980 and there to stay for the next six seasons.

Pena was eased into the starting role in 1981, getting his name in the starting lineup just once during the first sixteen games of the season. He would then start 53 of the last 86 games of the strike-shortened season, ending up with a .300 average and a sixth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting.

In 1982, Pena established himself as an All-Star. He caught 137 games, while finishing second in both assists and caught stealing percentage. On the offensive side, he batted .296 with 11 homers and 63 RBI’s. He made, what would turn out to be, the first of four All-Star appearances while in Pittsburgh.

The 1983 season was his best while with the Pirates. Tony played a career high of 151 games, hitting .301 with 15 homers and 70 RBI’s. He won his first Gold Glove, thanks to leading the league in putouts and finishing second in fielding percentage(.992), which was quite a jump from the error prone minor league of just three seasons earlier. Pena finished 12th in the NL MVP voting, yet he didn’t make it to the All-Star game.

Tony hit .286 in 1984, with a career high 78 RBI’s. His defense was once again strong, leading the league in putouts, assists and runners caught stealing, en route to a second consecutive Gold Glove. He was also elected to his second All-Star team, starting a string of three straight appearances.

The Pirates in 1985 were a very poor team, going 57-104, but Pena was consistent with his achievements, winning the Gold Glove again to go along with his All-Star selection. His batting average fell to .249 but he was still in the lineup almost everyday and he was one of the few players Pittsburgh could count on that season.

Pena played in 144 games in 1986, making it five straight years he played at least 138 games, a strong accomplishment for someone behind the plate. He started at least 127 games in each of those seasons. Tony hit .288 with ten homers, the fifth straight season he reached double digits in round trippers. The Pirates traded Pena to the St Louis Cardinals on April 1,1987 for Andy Van Slyke, Mike Dunne and Mike Lavalliere. While with Pittsburgh, Tony hit .286 in 801 games, driving in 340 runs.

After leaving Pittsburgh, Pena still had a long career ahead of him on the field, playing another 11 seasons in the majors. He spent time with five different teams, made his fifth All-Star appearance while with the Cardinals in 1989 and won his fourth Gold Glove while with the 1991 Boston Red Sox.

Tony wasn’t quite the offensive player he was with Pittsburgh after he left. His career batting average finished at .260 in 1988 games and he only hit 44 more homers. His defense however, remained strong. He led the league in games caught for four straight seasons from 1988 until 1991 and for the first two years of that stretch, he led the league in fielding percentage. He also recorded the most putouts each year from 1990 until 1992, finishing his career with the fourth most(at the time) of all-time.

Since retiring as a player, Tony spent four years in the minors as a manager, then four more years as the manager of the Royals, winning the Manager of the Year award during the 2003 season. He then took a coaching spot with the Yankees, where he still is to this day, currently as their bench coach.

Bob Klinger (1908) Pitcher for the 1938-43 Pirates. He had a pro career that spanned 21 years, spending more than half of it in the minors, but for a six year stretch, he was a regular on the mound for the Pirates. Bob started his career in 1929 as a twenty year old with the Shawnee Robins of the Western Association. He went 14-8 2.79 in 184 innings for a team that had Cotton Tierney on it, a star second baseman for the Pirates in the early 1920’s.

In 1930, Klinger moved up a level to Class-B ball, playing for Danville of the Three-I League. He went 12-9 4.38 in 187 innings, showing control issues with 101 walks. The ERA sounds high but it was a high offense league and his mark was actually one of the better ones on the team. He returned to Danville in 1931 and put up slightly worse numbers and again had control issues. At the end of the year, he was in the St Louis Cardinals farm system, playing for Houston of the Texas League. Being born in Allenton, Missouri, the Cardinals were his hometown team.

Bob had an adventurous 1932 season, pitching at least five games for four different Cardinal affiliates. In 1933, he spent the entire season pitching for Elmira of the New York-Penn League, where he went 16-12 3.08 in 234 innings, lowering his walk total to 84 free passes, a major improvement over the last three seasons. Bob also earned a roster spot with the Cardinals but never got into a game before the season ended. He got so close to his dream of pitching in the majors after five seasons but his long ride to the big leagues was just half over.  

In 1934 he was moved to the Columbus Red Birds of the American Association, a team that had 20 guys make the majors, out of the 24 that played for the team that season. Among those players was Johnny Gooch, an eleven year major leaguer finishing up his career. Gooch was a catcher for eight seasons with the Pirates in the 1920’s and he would be a key player in bringing Klinger to the majors.

Bob was again with Columbus the following season, leading the league with 49 games pitched. At age 27, he was one of the older pitchers on the team, although he led the club with 255 innings pitched and 34 starts. Klinger had a 14-14 record, with a 4.27 ERA, which was middle of the pack on the team. His major league dreams seemed to get a little further away in 1936, as his ERA went up and his time went down, spending most of it in the bullpen.

Klinger was moved to the Pacific Coast League in 1937, which is where he caught his break. He pitched well out there, winning 19 games and throwing 279 innings, but the Cardinals had already made it known they had no intentions of keeping him. If someone wanted him in the October Rule V draft, Bob would be available. Johnny Gooch was a Pirates coach at the time and he urged the Pirates to take Klinger in the draft, which they did. At the same time they picked up Klinger, the Pirates made an even wiser decision picking up another longtime minor league pitcher. For the combined cost of $18,500 they also picked up Rip Sewell, winner of 143 games in a Pirates uniform.

As a thirty year old in 1938, Bob finally made his first appearance in the majors on Opening Day against the Cardinals. Coming in to begin the 8th inning with his team down 3-2, Klinger pitched two scoreless innings and the Pirates put two on the board in the 9th to give him the victory. After four more relief outings, Bob got his first start and it was a remarkable one using today’s standards. He pitched the first 12.1 innings of a 14 inning loss, allowing just one run. Just twelve days later, he may have had an even better outing in relief. He went the final 11.2 innings, getting the win in a 17 inning game. Klinger made a total of 21 starts his rookie season, among them was his first shutout on September 1st against the New York Giants. He finished the season with 12-5 record, helping the Pirates to a second place finish. Bob had a team leading 2.99 ERA, pitching 159.1 innings on the year.

In 1939, Klinger went 14-17 for a Pittsburgh team that went 68-85 on the year. He led the NL in losses, but he also led the Pirates in wins, games started and innings. He had a rough season in 1940, posting a record of 8-13 with a 5.39 ERA. Bob made 22 starts and 17 relief appearances that year and pitched nearly the same in both roles, 5.39 ERA as a starter, 5.40 in relief. The Pirates manager that year was Frankie Frisch, who didn’t mind using pitchers in both relief and as a starter. Pittsburgh had nine pitchers make at least eight starters that season, all nine of them pitched at least eight games in relief as well.

In 1941, Klinger was moved to a relief role after a rough start to the season. He pitched a total of 35 games, with all but nine coming out of the bullpen. Bob had a 9-4 record with a 3.93 ERA, quite an improvement over the previous season, although the Pirates as a team lowered their ERA by nearly a run over the 1940 season.

The 1942 Pirates were a second division team, finishing in fifth place with a 66-81 record. Klinger pitched well in his dual role, getting 19 starts and 18 relief outings. He had a 3.24 ERA but his record stood at just 8-11 when it was all said and done. Bob was actually much better the first half of the season, going 5-3 2.21 in nine starts and ten relief spots. The Pirates as a team were about the same both halves of the year.

His last season in Pittsburgh turned out to be his best. Klinger went 11-8 with a career low 2.72 ERA in 195 innings. He finished second on the team to Sewell in starts, innings and wins. Bob however, led the team with three shutouts, which included two in the month of May and one in his last start with the Pirates.

Before the 1944 season could start, Bob was called into active duty with the Navy, although his role was to entertain the troops by playing baseball like many other current major leaguers at the time. He missed all of the 1944 and 1945 seasons, returning to the Pirates for Spring Training in 1946. He made the team but never pitched before being released in early May. Klinger signed quickly with the Boston Red Sox, spending his last two seasons in the majors in their bullpen, throwing a total of 99 innings over 56 outings.

From 1948 until 1950, Bob pitched all around the minors, playing in four different leagues but never made it back to the majors. He retired from baseball after the 1950 season, finishing his career with 120 minor league wins and 66 majors league victories. While with the Pirates he was 62-58 3.74 in 209 games, 129 as a starter. His Pittsburgh career sure had two nice bookends, winning a relief appearance over the team that kept him in the minors so long, then finishing with his seventh career shutout.

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