Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, but we have two pretty good middle infielders. One of the players born on this date set a major league record, which just happened to be tied in a game that was played on this date, as you will see in John Fredland’s Jolly Roger Rewind.
Gene Alley (1940) Shortstop for the Pirates from 1963 until 1973. The Pirates signed him the Winter after he graduated high school and sent him to play for Dubuque of the Midwest League during the 1959 season. Gene wasn’t signed right out of HS because most scouts considered him too small, but he hit .287 that first season in the minors, with 15 homers in 120 games. He moved up a level to Class-C ball the next season, playing for Grand Forks of the Northern League, where he hit .280 with 14 homers in 115 games before getting promoted twice. He made it all the way to AAA for four games, hitting .357 with a homer. Alley played the 1961 season for Asheville of the South Atlantic League, just two steps from the majors as a twenty year old. He had a good season but repeated the level in 1962, at least for most of the year. In 36 games at AAA that year, he hit just .194 with 18 hits and 13 RBI’s. Gene spent the 1963 season at AAA, hitting a minor league high of 19 homers, although his average was just .244 with 129 strikeouts.
The Pirates made Alley a September call-up in 1963, giving him starts at three infield positions(2B/SS/3B) and he hit .216 with no RBI’s in 17 games. They decided he was ready for the majors at that point and in 1964, he split the shortstop position with Dick Schofield, although Schofield played almost twice as often. Alley hit .211 with 13 RBI’s and 30 runs scored in 81 games. In 1965, Schofield would be traded away near the end of May and the shortstop positioned belonged to Alley. Prior to the trade, Alley was subbing in at second base for an injured Bill Mazeroski. He had a decent season in 1965, but it was during the 1966 season that he really established himself. After hitting .252 with 47 RBI’s and 47 runs scored in 1965, Alley batted a career high .299 with 88 runs scored. His defense at shortstop was outstanding, giving the Pirates the best middle infield in baseball when he was teamed with Mazeroski. Gene set a team record for double plays turned(128) by a shortstop that season. He also won the Gold Glove award and finished 11th in the NL MVP voting.
Alley gained some more accolades in 1967, winning his second straight Gold Glove and making his first All-Star appearance. He played 152 games, hitting .287 with a career high 55 RBI’s. Gene led all NL shortstops with 500 assists and 257 putouts. After two strong seasons at the plate, his offense began to slip in 1968(a very low year for offense league-wide) and it never recovered. Over his last six seasons, he batted in the .240’s four times and never hit higher than the .248 he put up during the 1972 season. Despite hitting .245 with a .628 OPS in 1968, Alley still made his second straight All-Star game appearance. He was injured during part of 1969 and when he did play(82 games played), most of his time was spent at second base, where he replaced Mazeroski, who played just 67 games that year.
Gene played between 114-121 games each year from 1970-72 and was still strong enough defensively to overcome his lackluster hitting. He saw limited time in the postseason during 1970 and 1971, batting only 13 times between the NLCS in 1970 the the two rounds of playoffs in 1971, when the Pirates won their fourth title. In the 1972 NLCS against the Reds, Alley had some trouble at the plate, going 0-16 in the five game series. His overall playoff average was .037(1-27). Gene saw limited time in 1973, especially in the second half of the season. From July 21st on, he didn’t start a single game, getting 11 plate appearances off the bench during his 17 games played. He retired after the season with 1195 games played in a Pirates uniform, which ranks as the 19th highest total. Alley just missed a major milestone due to his benching at the end of that 1973 season, finishing his career with 999 hits. He was a .254 career hitter with 342 RBI’s and 442 runs scored.
Bobby Lowe (1865) Pinch-hitter for the Pirates on April 17,1904. Lowe spent 18 years in the majors, but most people who have heard of him, know him for just one game he played. On May 30,1894 Lowe became the first player in major league history to hit four home runs in one game. His Pirates career also lasted just one game and it wasn’t quite as exciting. Lowe pinch hit for pitcher Doc Scanlan in the ninth inning on April 17,1904 and struck out, as the Pirates lost 6-5 to the Cardinals in the third game of the season. Lowe was injured during the previous season and didn’t play the second half, instead finishing the year as a minor league manager. The Pirates let him train with the team during Spring Training and just before Opening Day declared he would be used as a utility fielder along with Otto Krueger. In a sign of the times, Lowe never actually signed with the Pirates, so when the team decided they had no spot for him on April 21st, he went home, free to sign with another club. Bobby ended up signing on with the Tigers and played 140 games that season for Detroit, all at second base. He would go on to play three more seasons in the majors with the Tigers before returning to the minors for one last season as a player/manager. Lowe was a star player in his prime, three times batting over .300, twice driving in over 100 runs, while playing solid defense at second base. He played 1821 career games, hitting .273 with 988 RBI’s, 1135 runs scored and 303 stolen bases.
Jolly Roger Rewind: July 10, 1936
Chuck Klein’s fourth home run of the afternoon, a solo shot off Bill Swift in the top of the tenth inning, put the Phillies ahead to stay in a 9-6 victory over the Pirates at Forbes Field.
After the Bucs tied the game 6-6 with two two-out runs in the bottom of the ninth, Klein, whom the Phillies had reacquired from the Cubs less than two months earlier, led off the tenth by driving Swift’s pitch through raindrops and lightning, over the right-field screen, and inside the foul pole to become only the fourth player in major league history to hit four home runs in a game.* The Phillies tacked on two more insurance runs against Swift, and winning pitcher Bucky Walters—who had walked Lloyd Waner in the Bucco ninth to force in the tying run but retired Paul Waner with the bases loaded to send the game to extra innings—set down the Pirates in the bottom of the tenth to clinch the win.
Klein’s slugging spree started with a three-run, first-inning homer off Bucco starter Jim Weaver, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead before the Bucs had recorded an out. His solo shot off Weaver in the fifth extended Philadelphia’s lead to 5-1, and his bases-empty blast off Mace Brown in the seventh answered a three-run Pirate rally in the previous inning and made the Phillies’ lead 6-4.** All four of Klein’s homers landed in the right field stands.
Besides losing the game, the Pirates also lost starting catcher Al Todd to a broken fourth finger on his right hand when he was hit by a foul tip in the sixth inning. Chester Smith of The Pittsburgh Press asserted that the Bucs “faced the dreary prospect of playing through the next three or four weeks with a badly crippled catching staff.”***
* The others were Bobby Lowe of the Boston Beaneaters in 1894, Ed Delahanty of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1896 and Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees in 1932. Twelve more players have accomplished the feat after Klein. The Press noted that “[b]ecause the game went an inning over the orthodox limit, the mark may not be recognized along with those of [Lowe, Delahanty and Gehrig], but that fact didn’t assuage the Corsairs’ grief one whit.”
** Observed Havey Boyle in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “[w]ith men on base on his last three trips to the plate, it might have developed Klein would have got just walks, but you couldn’t expect the Pirates to swallow their pride by walking Chuck with no one on and besides the Pirates were always figuring that the preceding homer Klein made would be his last one.”
*** Todd did not return to action until August 23; the Pirates went 19-24 in his absence to drop to three games over .500. After veteran backstop’s return to the field, the Bucs finished the year with 23 wins in their final 35 games.
Pittsburgh Press game story