There have been five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a player that did not endear himself to the team in his only major league inning. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland takes a look at a 1965 doubleheader against the Dodgers, who went with their two future Hall of Fame pitchers.
Dave Rucker (1957) Lefty reliever for the 1988 Pirates. He was originally a 16th round draft pick of the Tigers in 1978, who went on to play seven years in the majors split between four different teams. Rucker made his big league debut at the start of the 1981 season with the Tigers, but Detroit sent him down after just two games, the second was a rocky two-inning outing. Over the next two seasons, Dave split his time fairly evenly between the minors and majors, moving on to the St Louis Cardinals in a July 1983 trade. His 1984 season was the only year that he spent the entire campaign in the majors and he earned it. In 50 games for the Cardinals, he posted a 2.10 ERA, throwing a total of 73 innings. Rucker was acquired by the Phillies just prior to the start of the 1985 season, and he struggled in Philadelphia. In two seasons, he posted a 4.66 ERA in 58 games, with a 1.64 WHIP. He was released following the 1986 season, spending all of 1987 in the minors, before signing in February of 1988 with the Pirates. Dave began the year at AAA and posted an 0.88 ERA in his first 16 outings. The Pirates called him up in early June, using him 31 times out of the bullpen over the rest of the season. In 28.1 innings, he was 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA. Rucker spent the 1989 season in AAA for the Pirates before retiring. The Pirates were 85-75 during his only season with the team, but in appearances by Dave, they went a combined 6-25
Vic Barnhart (1922) Shortstop for the 1944-46 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1940, sending him to play for the London Pirates of the Penn-Ontario-NY League(PONY League) for his first two seasons. He moved up to Class C ball in 1942, hitting .311 in 128 games for Hutchinson of the Western Association. Barnhart was then called into service during WWII, missing the entire 1943 season, before returning. He reported to Albany of the Eastern League in 1944, and picked up right where he left off, batting .310 in 138 games, with 40 extra base hits. The Pirates called him up late in the year and got him into one game, the last game of the season. He started at shortstop and went 1-for-2 with a walk. In 1945, Vic was with the team for the entire season. He didn’t see much time until taking over the shortstop job on June 1st, holding that spot down for three months, before losing it in early September. He hit .269 with 19 RBI’s and 21 runs scored in 71 games, His .928 fielding percentage at shortstop was well below league average.
Barnhart made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1946, but he was soon returned to Albany after just two games off the bench. He never played in the majors again. On December 3,1947, the Pirates traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in return for second baseman Monty Basgall. Vic played four more seasons in the minors after the trade, before he retired. He is the son of Clyde Barnhart, who played nine seasons for the Pirates(1920-28) as an outfielder and third baseman. Vic turns 90 years old today. He is the seventh oldest living former Pirates player and the only player alive, who played with the Pirates before the 1946 season.
Jim Hopper (1919) Pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He pitched semi-pro ball until 1942, when he signed with a team called the Landis Senators of the North Carolina State League. He pitched well there, and when the league disbanded, his contract was purchased by the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. Hopper went 15-9 2.63 in 1943 and was purchased by the Pirates, who left him with the team. The manager was Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes, who called Hopper the best recruit the Pirates had. Unfortunately, before he could come to the Pirates to pitch, he was lost to the war effort. The Pirates didn’t think they would lose him to the draft, being that he had two young kids at home. He returned in 1946 after missing two full seasons and went right to the majors, starting the fifth game of the season for Pittsburgh. In three innings, he allowed five runs on five hits and two walks, taking the loss against the Reds. He didn’t pitch again for nearly a month, only appearing in a game that the Pirates were already losing 15-6 in the sixth inning. Jim threw 1.1 scoreless innings, in what ended up being his last major league appearance. He returned to the minors and playing until 1949, when he finished his pro career right back where it started, in Landis of the NCSL, after the league returned following a two year hiatus during the war.
Fred Nicholson (1894) Outfielder for the 1919-20 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1913, and before joining the Pirates in June of 1919, he got a brief trial for the 1917 Tigers. He then served during the war, returning to the Tigers in 1919, although they had no playing time for him. He was sold to the Pirates for $2,500 on June 30,1919, joining the team right away. In 30 games, he hit .273 and got 14 starts, ten in left field. The next year Nicholson saw almost no playing time the first month, then started from mid-May until early June, raising his average to .351 before returning to the bench. For over a month, he served as a pinch-hitter, and was unsuccessful in the role, seeing his average drop to .307 by the 21st of July. He then began to start again and went on a tear, raising his average to .390 in early September. Although he fell short of qualifying for the batting title, it was still the highest average in the NL at the time. A late season slump eventually landed his average at .360 in 99 games.
On January 23,1921, the Pirates traded Nicholson, along with future Hall of Famer Billy Southworth, to the Boston Braves for Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville. Fred hit .327 in his first year in Boston, with an .860 OPS. He was still a platoon player, even with the strong offense. The next year that offense went downhill quick and his defense was well below average. He hit .252 in 78 games, with 12 errors. Nicholson returned to the minors in 1923, playing another 13 years without a return trip to the big leagues. He collected nearly 2500 hits during his 18 year minor league career. As a major leaguer, he hit .311 in 303 games.
Sam Brenegan (1890) Catcher for the Pirates on April 24,1914. He played just one inning of one major league game and for a very good reason, he dogged it on the field. After the Pirates went down in the score early to the St Louis Cardinals at home, manager Fred Clarke pulled starting catcher George Gibson for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, he sent Brenegan in for his major league debut. The Cardinals got a runner on base, which was followed by a passed ball from Sam(his real name was Olaf Selmar Brenegan). He walked after the ball behind him as the runner moved up, irritating him manager. A few pitches later, a wild pitch hit his finger, and after slowly retrieving the ball again, he walked over to the bench and left the game, replaced by backup catcher Jake Kafora. The Pirates left the next day for a road trip in Chicago and Brenegan was left behind. The local paper said that the rookie showed an “undeniable inclination to quit” and guessed that he didn’t know baserunners could move up on passed balls. Brenegan had already played two years of minor league ball as a catcher, so his lack of interest during his major league debut was hard to explain. He returned to the minors less than a month after his only game, where he remained until 1919, before he retired from baseball. The Pirates sold his contract to Portland of the Pacific Coast League in mid-May.
Jolly Roger Rewind: September 1, 1965
The Pirates made a five-way National League race even tighter by sweeping front-running Los Angeles in a doubleheader, 3-2 and 2-1, at Forbes Field.
The twin victories possessed strong similarities: the Bucs came from behind in both, scoring winning runs in their last at-bats, against superstar Dodgers’ starting pitchers. In the opener, the Pirates shrugged off an early 2-0 deficit against Sandy Koufax*, who had won seven consecutive decisions over the Buccos, including a ten-inning shutout eighteen days earlier. Koufax’s scoreless-inning stranglehold over the Pirates reached twenty-two innings before Bob Bailey doubled home Jim Pagliaroni in the fifth inning; an inning later, Willie Stargell’s triple drove in Bill Mazeroski to draw the Bucs even.
With Joe Gibbon blanking the Dodgers after relieving Tommie Sisk in the sixth inning, the game remained tied until the eleventh inning. Koufax appeared intent on prolonging matters even further when he retired Donn Clendenon and Mazeroski on groundouts to start the inning. But Stargell drew a two-out walk, and Jim Pagliaroni pulled an 0-2 fastball off the scoreboard in left, allowing Stargell to come home with the winning run.**
Vernon Law spotted the Dodgers a first-inning run in the nightcap, and then proceeded to match Don Drysdale scoreless inning for scoreless inning. Bill Virdon finally broke through against Drysdale, leading off the sixth inning by homering off the right-field foul pole.
In the eighth inning, Virdon blooped a one-out single to short left field. Roberto Clemente’s third single off Drysdale*** moved Virdon to third. Walter Alston replaced his starter with left hander Ron Perranoski; Harry Walker countered by pinch-hitting Manny Mota for Stargell. When a drawn-in Maury Willis bobbled Mota’s smash for an error, Virdon scored the go-ahead run.
Law closed out the Dodgers in the ninth to win his eighth consecutive decision, improving his season mark to 16-9. His ERA dropped to 2.07. “Law stalled [Los Angeles] at every turn and even the fans were wondering how the Dodgers manufactured enough runs to stay in first place,” observed The Pittsburgh Press.
In the sweep’s aftermath, Los Angeles’ hold on first place in the National League appeared increasingly tenuous. The Dodgers now stood in a virtual tie with the Reds, .001 behind Cincinnati. San Francisco trailed the leaders by a game and Milwaukee by two games. With ten wins in their last eleven games, the fifth-place Pirates were a mere two and a half games out of first.
Game One box score and play-by-play
Game Two box score and play-by-play
The Pittsburgh Press game story
* Koufax’s fourth-inning strikeout of Stargell gave him 307 on the season—breaking his own major-league record for most strikeouts by a left handed pitcher. He would strike out ten Pirates in this game.
** “I was prepared for Koufax’s fast ball,” Pagliaroni told the Press afterwards. “If you don’t, he throws it right past you. I hit the ball good but knew I didn’t hit it far enough. I was hoping it would find the scoreboard but I had one good thing going for me—a fast man like Stargell running for home.”
*** Lester J. Biederman noted in the Press that one of Clemente’s three hits had narrowly missed striking Drysdale: “Clemente stretched Don Drysdale in the nightcap with a line-drive single. Drysdale fortunately ducked in time.”