Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one that went on to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Five players are covered here, while later we will have a feature on Howie Camnitz, a three time twenty game winner for the Pirates, and a key to the 1909 World Series run. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps the longest game in team history.
Doug Bair (1949) Pitcher for the Pirates in 1976, then again in 1989-90. He was a second round draft pick of the Pirates in 1971 out of Bowling Green University. He reached AAA by 1972, but didn’t make it to the majors until September of 1976, making 79 starts and 45 relief appearances for the Pirates AAA team from Charleston before he played his first major league game. In four relief appearances for the 1976 Pirates, he allowed four runs in 6.1 innings. On March 15,1977, the Pirates and Oakland A’s hooked up on a nine player deal, with Bair and five other players going to Oakland, for a package that included Phil Garner. Doug would pitch for Oakland, and six other major league teams, before returning to the Pirates in June of 1989 at the age of thirty-nine. He was in AAA for the Blue Jays at the time, when the Pirates purchased him from Toronto. He pitched 44 games for Pittsburgh, going 2-3 2.27, with one save in 67.1 innings. Bair split the 1990 season between Pittsburgh and AAA, getting into 22 games for the Pirates spread throughout the season. He would pitch two more years in the minors before retiring, finishing his major league career with a 55-43 3.63 record in 584 games(he made five starts) and he recorded 81 saves.
Wally Hebert (1907) Pitcher for the 1943 Pirates. He made his pro debut in 1930, pitching for Springfield of the Western Association, where he won 15 games and pitched 241 innings. Wally then pitched for the St Louis Browns for three seasons(1931-33) before going to the minors for nine years, all spent in the Pacific Coast League. He went 11-25 5.65 in 91 games for the Browns, making 38 starts. Hebert threw 170 innings in the minors in 1934, then pitched at least 219 innings in each of the next eight seasons, throwing a high of 319 during the 1942 season. His minor league record stood at 162-139 after ten seasons, with three 20 win campaigns. In November of 1942, he was drafted by the Pirates in the Rule V draft. That 1943 season marked the end of a ten year absence from the majors. Wally went 10-11 2.98 in 184 innings, with 23 starts and 11 relief outings. He decided to retire from baseball after the season and take a wartime job, rather than return to the Pirates, who held his contract rights. There was talk of him returning two years later, but he never did.
Lyle Bigbee (1893) Pitcher for the 1921 Pirates. For 11 seasons, Carson Bigbee played outfield for the Pirates, playing 1147 games in a Pittsburgh uniform. In the middle of that stretch, the Pirates gave his older brother a shot at the end of the 1921 season. Lyle had pitched 12 games for the Philadelphia A’s in 1920, and he also played outfield and pinch hit. The problem was he didn’t have success anywhere that season, batting .187 with an 8.00 ERA. In between his stint with the A’s and his brief trial with the Pirates, Bigbee pitched for Newark of the International League, where he went 9-6 2.60 in 121 innings. He made five relief appearances for Pittsburgh in 1921, giving up one run on four hits and four walks in eight innings. Lyle returned to the minors in 1922, playing three more seasons before retiring.
Harry Swacina (1881) First baseman for the 1907-08 Pirates. He played seven years in the minors before getting his first chance at the big leagues with the 1907 Pirates. Harry hit over .300 three times in the minors, and in 1907, he hit .292 in 123 games for Peoria of the Three-I League. Swacina was purchased for a reported $3,000 price tag and was called Peoria’s best all around baseball player ever. He joined the Pirates in September and ended up playing the last 26 games at first base. Harry hit .200 with two extra base hits and ten RBI’s, showing a good glove at first base with just one error. He was with the Pirates for the early part of 1908, getting into 53 games, and while the defense was good at first base, his hitting remained weak. Swacina batted .216 with 13 RBI’s and just seven runs scored. Despite the low average and lack of power, the move to release Harry was not a popular one among fans and the press, who were getting tired of the revolving door of first baseman the Pirates had in recent years. Swacina as it was, didn’t play in the majors again until 1914, and even then it was in the Federal League, a new formed major league that year that lasted two seasons. When the Federal League folded it marked the end of Swacina’s major league career. He remained in baseball another eight years as a player, hitting .290 over 2126 minor league games.
Ned Hanlon (1857) Pirates outfielder/manager in 1889 and 1891. He was a speedy defensive center fielder, who racked up steals and was often among the league leaders in walks, during a 13 year career in the majors. Hanlon though, is more famous for his career as a manager, his ticket to the Hall of Fame nearly sixty years after he passed away. Back before the modern World Series began in 1903, the champion of baseball was the winner of the NL pennant, and Hanlon led the Baltimore Orioles to three straight titles(1894-96). Then after two straight strong, but disappointing second place finishes, he led the Brooklyn Superbas(1899-1900) to two straight NL titles, a string snapped by the Pirates, who would go on to win three straight times. He won 1313 games as a manager and batted .260 with 930 runs scored in 1267 major league games. For much more on Hanlon, check out his bio here.
Jolly Roger Rewind: August 22, 1917
Brooklyn left fielder Jim Hickman dashed home from second on an infield out to end the longest game in Pirates’ franchise history, a 6-5 loss to the Robins in twenty-two innings in the first game of a doubleheader at Ebbets Field.
With one out in the twenty-second inning, Hickman drew a walk from Bucco relief pitcher Elmer Jacobs, mound occupant ever since he replaced starter Wilbur Cooper to start the sixth frame. Frank O’Rourke singled Hickman to second, and Otto Miller followed with a ground ball to Pirates’ third baseman Tony Boeckel. Boeckel threw to second baseman Jake Pitler to get the force on O’Rourke, but the Robins’ third baseman slid in to break up the double play. Seizing the opportunity to score, Hickman kept going and beat Pitler’s relay throw home, ending the four hour and fifteen minute marathon.*
Hickman’s hustle broke a tie that had lasted since the top of the seventh inning, when the Pirates posted their second consecutive two-run inning to rally from an early 5-1 deficit. It overcame a “superfine”—per The Pittsburg Press—pitching performance by Jacobs, who allowed seventeen hits in sixteen and two thirds innings. The Robins countered with Larry Cheney’s thirteen scoreless innings of relief, a streak ended only when Cheney had to leave the game after injuring himself while running the bases in the twentieth inning. Rube Marquard recorded the victory by holding the Bucs scoreless over the final two innings.
In a game where the Pirates had nineteen hits and Brooklyn twenty-eight, several players finished with impressive totals. Bucco left fielder Carson Bigbee had six hits in eleven at bats. For the Robins, both Hickman and Hi Myers had five hits, and Miller and Casey Stengel—who would be traded to the Pirates five months later—had four hits.
Both teams could claim one significant accomplishment at the end: the twenty-two innings represented the longest game in National League history, one inning longer than the previous record-holder, a Pirates-Giants game from three seasons earlier.** It was also the Pirates’ fourth extra-inning contest in their last four games; the Press noted that the fifty-nine innings over that stretch established a new major-league record.***
The Pittsburg Press game story
* The Pittsburg Press reported afterwards that “[m]embers of the team say that had Jake Pitler not hesitated in making his throw to the plate in the twenty-second inning, the winning run would have score, and the teams might have played until darkness set in without reaching a definite decision.”
** This game would hold the top spot for a little less than three years, until the Robins and Braves played twenty-six innings in May 1920.
*** Following this game, the teams attempted to play the second game of the doubleheader, but umpire Bill Klem called it during the second inning, “evidently conscience-stricken with the realization that the teams had already put in a day’s work,” according to the New York Times.