Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus we have one trade to cover. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps a classic battle from the 1916 season.
On this date in 1921, the Pirates traded pitcher Elmer Ponder to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Dave Robertson. Ponder was 28 years old at the time of the deal, in his fourth season with the Pirates. He pitched well for the team in 1920, posting a 2.62 ERA in 194 innings and was pitching well, albeit in limited time, in 1921 with a 2-0 2.19 record in 24.2 innings. Robertson was 31 years old, four years removed from his second straight NL home run title. After batting .500 in the 1917 World Series, he quit baseball for one season. Returning in 1919, Dave had regained his power in 1920, hitting .300 with 50 extra base hits and 75 RBI’s for the Cubs. In 1921 however, he was hitting .222 with no homers at the time of the deal.
After the trade, Robertson had a big second half of the season for the Pirates, batting .322 with 48 RBI’s in 60 games. He was a holdout during Spring Training the following year, which earned him his release. The Giants signed him in late April and that season would be his last in the majors. Ponder struggled with Chicago, who would end up trading him to the Pacific Coast League after the season. He went 3-6 4.74 in 89.1 innings for the Cubs, his last season in the majors.
Al Tate (1918) Pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He played three seasons for Salt Lake City of the Pioneer League before spending the next four seasons away from the game, serving in the military during WWII. Tate returned in 1946, going 5-12 3.94 in 121 innings in the minors, split between two levels. He was called up by the Pirates that September and made his debut on the 27th, pitching the eighth inning of an 8-0 loss in Cincinnati. Tate allowed three hits and two runs in his only inning of work. Two days later, Al made the start in the last game of the season, throwing a complete game against the Reds in a 3-2 loss. He spent the entire 1947 season with Albany of the Eastern League, where he went 12-10 3.61 in 177 innings. The next year, Al was in the Pacific Coast League, where his career came to an end after just three games. He was a good hitting pitcher, who occasionally pinch hit and played in the field, finishing with a .288 minor league average in 424 AB’s.
Frank Barrett (1913) Pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. He pitched one game for the 1939 Cardinals, then spent the next five seasons trying to work his way back to the majors. During the war years, many major league players served either in the military or had wartime jobs, leaving the quality of play from 1942-46 low. It opened jobs for players like Frank, who otherwise may have had only a few cups of coffee in the majors. Barrett returned to the majors in 1944 with the Red Sox and had two decent seasons, going 12-10 3.16 in 75 games, including his only two major league starts. He played for the Boston Braves in 1946 before returning to the minors. Frank was with the Pirates organization since the start of the 1947 season, though it took until 1950 for him to get his next(and last) big league chance. The Pirates called him up in September of 1950 after he went 11-7 3.38 in 144 innings with New Orleans of the Southern Association. Barrett made five appearances for the Pirates, allowing three runs in 3.2 innings. He won 141 minor league games over a 19 season pro career. He was a player/manager during his last two seasons(1951-52) in the Pirates farm system. Frank came back to pitch one minor league game in 1955
Fritz Scheeren (1891) Outfielder for the 1914-15 Pirates. He is one of 12 players from LaFayette College in Pennsylvania to make the majors, although only one of them(Jeff Mutis) has appeared in a game since the 1953 season. Fritz joined the Pirates in September of 1914, playing his first game as the starting right fielder on September 14, 1914. The Pirates were in fifth place with no chance of moving up in the standings so manager Fred Clarke decided to give playing time to a handful of young players. Scheeren performed well at the plate, hitting .290 with a homer in 11 games. He played four games in center field, as well as seven games in right. The next year Fritz made the team out of Spring Training, but as the backup outfielder, he played just four games with three AB’s over the first month of the seasons before being sent to the minors. Scheeren played two seasons in the minors, without returning to the majors, before retiring from baseball. In college he was known as one of the best power hitters in the collegiate ranks, plus he was a star football player.
Jolly Roger Rewind: July 1, 1916
Al Mamaux pitched a four-hit complete game and scored the winning run in the top of the ninth inning as the Pirates defeated the Reds 2-1 at Redland Field.*
With one out in the ninth and the score tied 1-1, Mamaux doubled to right field off Cincinnati starter Elmer Knetzer, a Pittsburgh native who had pitched for the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League during the previous two seasons. Max Carey sacrificed Mamaux to third, and rookie Ray O’Brien followed with a single to left field to break the deadlock.**
Mamaux, pitching on only two days rest, returned to the mound under the hot afternoon sun and retired the home team in the bottom of the ninth to earn his National League-leading twelfth victory against only three defeats.*** He surrendered a hit to Bob Fisher to start the ninth, but first baseman Bill Hinchman snagged a sacrifice bunt by future NFL and College Football Hall of Fame coach Greasy Neale and stepped on first for a double play, short-circuiting the rally.
Honus Wagner had knotted the game in the fourth inning with an inside-the-park home run to right field. The (Pittsburgh) Gazette Times observed that Wagner initially appeared destined for a triple, but as he “rounded third he noticed that [Reds first baseman Fritz] Mollwitz was slow in handing [right fielder Tommy] Griffith’s relay of the ball. Mollwitz has a rather weak throwing arm, and this thought shot through the German’s brain as he dashed for the plate. He beat the throw with the run needed to tie.” At four months past his forty-second birthday, Wagner became the oldest player in major-league history to hit an inside-the-park home run.****
Thanks to efficient outings by Mamaux***** and Knetzer—who pitched a five-hit complete game of his own—the game concluded in a mere 83 minutes.******
* Eighteen years later, the Reds would rename Redland Field as “Crosley Field,” in honor of new owner Powell Crosley.
** The Pirates had purchased the twenty-one-year-old O’Brien from Davenport of the Iowa-Indiana-Illinois (“Three-I”) League four days earlier. According to the Gazette Times, the veteran Hinchman had a favorable opinion of O’Brien’s potential: “Bill says he takes a good ‘cut’ at the ball and has other good attributes.” Unfortunately, the Bucs returned O’Brien to Davenport on July 16 and he never resurfaced in the major leagues.
*** The Gazette Times praised the twenty-two-year-old righthander for being able to pitch effectively after his ninth-inning trip around the bases and an earlier triple: “Many pitchers go to pieces in the box after making a long hit, but Mamaux showed his staying qualities by setting down the Reds after both ordeals.” The paper also reported that Mamaux was “completely fagged out and ready to take a rest [after his trip around the bases]. He was not keen for pitching the last half of the ninth. Instead of getting sympathy, Mamaux was subjected to a few taunting remarks from Costello, Baird and others while pushing wet sponges under his shirt. His teammates told Al there was no chance of his getting off without pitching the last inning.”
**** The legendary Buc shortstop also struggled with the heat. Observed the Gazette Times, “[a]nxious hands were waiting to swing the towels over that venerable brow as Honus staggered to the dugout.”
***** Mamaux had won twenty-one games in 1915 and would finish with another twenty-one win season in 1916. The Gazette Times had high hopes for his future: “Mamaux has pitched some wonderful ball this season and if he keeps his health he ought to make baseball history during the next few years. Al’s fast ball is a dandy and he is gaining valuable experience as he goes along. Right now, he is one of the most intelligent pitchers in the game.” Conditioning and disciplinary problems, however, would keep him off the mound for all of 1917 and most of 1918, and he would never be as effective in the major leagues.
****** The Gazette Times reported that the “contest was one of the fastest played in the league this season.”
The (Pittsburgh) Gazette Times game story