Today is a busy day of birthdays for former Pittsburgh Pirates, seven in all. We start with a player who spent eight seasons in a Pirates uniform, playing more games with the team than the other six players combined. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland takes a look at a come-from-behind victory from the 1983 season.
Lee Handley (1913) Third baseman for the Pirates from 1937 until 1941 and then again from 1944 until 1946. He spent his first two seasons of pro ball playing for Toronto of the International League. He was a member of the Reds organization those first two years, that was declared a free agent by the commissioner of baseball, Judge Landis in what was called a violation of the major-minor league agreement. Lee, who had hit .308 in 24 games for the Reds in 1936, became the Pirates everyday second baseman his first year with the team. In 127 games, he hit .250 with 59 runs scored and 37 RBI’s. He also made 35 errors, the second most at the position in the NL. The Pirates moved him to third base the next year and he responded with a .268 average and 91 runs scored, getting some mild MVP support along the way. Handley led all NL third baseman in assists that year.
Over the next three seasons, Lee was the Pirates starting third baseman, batting between .281 and .288 each year. He missed the start of the 1939 season due to a serious beaning during Spring Training. Following the 1941 season, the Pirates were looking to deal Handley. He reported to Spring Training out of condition and was not only sent home with an “ailing arm”, he was suspended by the team for lack of off-season conditioning. The injured arm actually was hurt during an off-season automobile accident. Lee was sent to Toronto later that season and he was signed by the Giants but could not make their team due to the injury. He was resigned by the Pirates in September of 1943 and from 1944-46, he played another 254 games with the team. In 1945, he hit .298 in 312 AB’s. He was released by the Pirates at the start of the 1947 season and spent his last year in the majors with the Phillies, who signed him right after the Pirates released him. Lee ended up playing another three years in the minors before retiring. With the Pirates, he hit .269 with 247 RBI’s and 391 runs scored in 843 games. During his last season in the majors with the Phillies, he led all NL 3B in fielding percentage with a .975 mark.
Ryan Ludwick (1978) Outfielder for the 2011 Pirates. The Pirates acquired the nine year veteran outfielder at the trading deadline last year from the Padres. He was hitting .238 with 11 homers and 64 RBI’s in 101 games for San Diego. For Pittsburgh, he batted .232 with two homers and 11 RBI’s in 38 games, splitting his time between the corner outfield spots. Ryan became a free agent after the season and signed with the Reds. He was an All-Star for the Cardinals in 2008, hitting .299 with 37 homers and 113 RBI’s. He followed that up with a 22 homer, 97 RBI season for St Louis the next year.
Clint Sodowsky (1972) Relief pitcher for the 1997 Pirates. He was a ninth round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1991, making it to the majors for the first time four years later. In two partial seasons for the Tigers, he made 13 starts, going 3-5 with an 8.50 ERA. Clint was traded to the Pirates in November of 1996 in exchange for pitcher Dan Miceli. After spending the first month of the season in the minors, the Pirates called him up and put him in the bullpen. Sodowsky made 45 appearances for Pittsburgh, pitching a total of 52 innings with a 2-2 3.63 record and 51 strikeouts. Following the season, he was lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the expansion draft. He pitched in Arizona in 1998, then briefly for the Cardinals in 1999, before returning to the minors, where he pitched another seven seasons without a return trip to the big leagues.
Rich Aude (1971) First baseman for the 1993 and 1995-96 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in the second round of the 1989 draft. Rich made his major league debut four years later as a September call-up after batting .300 with 22 homers and 89 RBI’s during a 1993 season he split between AA and AAA. In 13 games for the Pirates, he hit .115 with four RBI’s. Rich spent the entire strike-shortened 1994 season in AAA, then made the Pirates Opening Day roster the next season. He was seeing limited playing time and was on an 0-13 streak when the Pirates sent him back to AAA in early July. Aude came back up in September that year, then in 1996 he was called up for a two week stretch during the month of May, in what would turn out to be his last big league season. He was a .225 hitter, with two homers and 24 RBI’s in 62 games for the Pirates. Rich played minor league ball until 1999, playing 1090 games on the farm, hitting .282 with 122 homers and 646 RBI’s.
Frank Bork (1940) Lefty pitcher for the 1964 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates in 1960 and spent his entire eight year pro career as a member of the Pirates organization. Frank went 9-10 3.50 in 28 starts in 1963 for AAA Columbus, earning a spot on the Pirates Opening Day roster the following season. He was sent back to AAA after one month, returning to the big leagues at the end of July. Bork pitched mostly out of the bullpen, making two starts and 31 relief appearances. He went 2-2 4.07 with two saves in 42 innings. Frank was fighting for a job during Spring Training in 1965 and didn’t make the team. One of his last outings during Spring was three innings against the Senators in which he was touched up for four runs, albeit with six strikeouts. After spending all of 1965 and 1966 in the minors, Frank was a late September call-up that second season, but never got into a game. His promotion to the majors was delayed due to AAA Columbus making the International League playoffs. Bork retired after the 1967 season, finishing his minor league career with a 64-58 3.46 record in 197 games.
Jiggs Donahue (1879) Catcher for the 1900-01 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in September of 1900 after catching full-time for Dayton of the Interstate League. It was his fourth season in the minors and first chance at the majors. The amazing thing about Jiggs being a full-time catcher is the fact he threw left-handed and was good enough at the spot to get a trial in the big leagues. His debut with the Pirates was in right field on September 10,1900, replacing an injured Honus Wagner in the lineup. Donahue made his debut behind the plate later in the season, playing just three of the final 26 games, including the last game of the season, one in which he hit a bases clearing triple during a five run rally that came up short in a game called due to darkness. Jiggs was a defensive substitute in two games for the 1901 Pirates, each time failing to get a plate appearance. By July he was let go and he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League. Donahue played for the St Louis Browns in 1902, then spent 1903 in the minors before returning with the 1904 Chicago White Sox. He would return as a first baseman, playing five full seasons with the team, helping them to a World Series win during the 1906 season. He is one of just four left-handed catchers in the history of the Pirates franchise
John O’Brien (1866) Second baseman for the 1899 Pirates. He bounced around the majors and minors before joining the Pirates during the 1899 season, playing six years in the majors with five different teams over a nine season(1891-99) time frame. The Pirates purchased the second baseman from the Baltimore Orioles in mid-June 1899, after he hit .193 with 17 RBI’s in 39 games over the first two months of the season. For Pittsburgh, he played 79 games, all at second base and batted .226 with 33 RBI’s and 26 runs scored. In December, John was sent to the Louisville Colonels, in the 16 player deal referred to as the Honus Wagner trade. When Louisville folded shortly after that deal was made, O’Brien was given back to the Pirates, who released him before he could play another game for the team, ending his big league career. He returned to the minors in 1900, in what ended up as his final season of pro ball. John was a career .254 hitter in 501 major league games.
Jolly Roger Rewind: July 13, 1983
With the Pirates down to their final out, back-to-back home runs by Johnny Ray and Mike Easler in the top of the ninth inning lifted the Bucs to a 7-6 win over the Giants at Candlestick Park.
Heading to the ninth, the Pirates appeared on the verge of falling short in their attempt to sweep a series at Candlestick for the first time since 1979: San Francisco had erased an early 5-0 Bucco lead, and the bullpen combination of Renie Martin, Jim Barr and Greg Minton had kept the Bucs off the scoreboard since the second inning. Chuck Tanner, seeking a last-minute reversal of these negative trend lines, turned to three consecutive pinch-hitters against Minton, who had held the Pirates scoreless over the previous two innings. The first two—Marvell Wynne (batting for Dale Berra) and Richie Hebner (batting for Manny Sarmiento)—went down quietly, leaving the final Bucco hope in the hands of Johnny Ray (batting for Lee Lacy).
A match-up between Minton (no home runs allowed in fifty-two and two-thirds innings pitched on the season) and Ray (one home run in 320 plate appearances) seemed unlikely to yield a game-tying home run. Nevertheless, the second-year second baseman narrowly missed the improbable on the third pitch of the at-bat, driving Minton’s 2-0 offering just about ten feet outside the foul pole in deep right. Two pitches later, Ray crushed Minton’s 3-1 pitch deep into the right field stands to tie the game.
Easler—who had won the first game of the series with a ninth-inning home run off Fred Breining—followed with an opposite-field drive to left field that tipped off the glove of a jumping Jeffrey Leonard and touched down on the other side of the fence for a 7-6 advantage. Kent Tekulve, afforded an eyewitness viewpoint from the Pirate bullpen, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “[t]he ball wouldn’t have gone over the fence if Leonard didn’t hit it with his glove.” Easler likewise noted his good fortune: “I had some angels in the outfield today,” he told the Post-Gazette.
Tekulve set the Giants down in order in the ninth to preserve Sarmiento’s victory. The sweep gave the Pirates a 5-1 record on their California swing, with a four-game series in San Diego ahead.
Box score and play-by-play
The Pittsburgh Press game story