The call-up of John Bormann by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday made me think of two things right away. The New York Mets adding Joe Hietpas as a backup catcher in September of 2004, and a 1902 Pirates catcher named Mike Hopkins. I assume no one else had the same thoughts.
Joe Hietpas was a 25-year-old catcher in 2004, who split the season between High-A and Double-A. He was not a good hitter. In fact, in his eight seasons in the minors, the 2001 16th round draft pick was a .208 hitter, with a .587 OPS. The Mets had injuries and they were short-handed behind the plate. Hietpas was done with his minor league season, which is how he got to the majors.
He ended up playing one inning for the Mets, catching the last inning for the season after Todd Zeile was lifted from the game. Zeile was retiring and wanted to go out as a catcher. It worked out well for the Mets because they needed catchers. Zeile came out for the ninth, was called back to the dugout, got a standing ovation and then Hietpas replaced him and caught his only MLB inning. To summarize, the Mets available catchers that day were a 39-year-old, who had not caught in 14 years, and a guy who had trouble hitting pitching in general, at all levels.
The 1902 Pirates catcher might even be a better story because it involves an amateur 29-year-old, who never played pro ball. He didn’t play it before August 24, 1902 and not after August 24, 1902. Just on that one date and it happened to be for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates had a doubleheader in Cincinnati on that day. It was a Sunday, so the Pirates traveled out of state due to Pennsylvania Blue Laws. They took Hopkins with them under the advice of Honus Wagner to manager Fred Clarke. He was a local amateur player and the Pirates needed a catcher to backup starter Chief Zimmer during the doubleheader. The reason they needed a catcher was because Jack O’Connor was suspended the day before by the Pirates for trying to get players to jump to the upstart American League for the 1903 season.
So Hopkins went on the trip to Cincinnati and hit a single and a double in his only two at-bats. He also threw out the only runner that tried to steal against him. The game was called after seven innings and the Pirates lost 9-4.
The fact that he got into the game had a similarity to Bormann’s at-bat yesterday. The Reds took a 9-1 lead in game two and the Pirates removed Chief Zimmer, giving him the rest of the day off. The only reason Bormann got into the game was because the Pirates were down 10-3 in the ninth. If they were up 10-3, it’s highly unlikely that Clint Hurdle would have went to him just to get him in the game. You don’t want to chance losing your backup with no one else behind him. The difference though is that the Pirates had a third catcher and this is where Hopkin’s one game takes a twist.
Back in the early days of baseball, occasionally a new pitcher teams wanted to try out would also come with a catcher who was his teammate in the minors. The starting pitcher that day for the Pirates was Harvey Cushman, a local semi-pro kid who was making his big league debut. He came along with catcher Lee Fohl, who was also with the Pirates in Cincinnati. If manager Fred Clarke followed the usual customs of the day, Fohl would have caught Cushman and probably played the entire game, regardless of the score. Clarke didn’t though, so Hopkins got his four full innings and two Major League at-bats (and a 1.000 batting average!). The next time Cushman started, Fohl made his Major League debut.
For Hopkins to get his one and only game, he needed a recommendation from Honus Wagner. He needed a catcher to be suspended. He needed a doubleheader that got out of hand early in the second game. He needed Fred Clarke to break from the customs of the time and not pair a new pitcher with his regular catcher who was right there.
John Bormann is a strong defensive catcher, who should stick around for awhile due to his defense. He’s sort of a poor man’s Jacob Stallings, who we thought could possibly make the majors back when he was in Bradenton because his defense was excellent and he could hit a little. Bormann doesn’t have the bat to give us that same confidence, so Sunday’s game will probably be his only career MLB game. It doesn’t really matter how you get into the baseball record books though, just as long as you get in there.
Bormann was in the right place at the right time and he was the right player on that Bradenton team. Christian Kelley is a prospect behind the plate, not a top 30 one yet, but he was in our top 50 and is hitting well. That’s the reason the Pirates likely didn’t want to add him though. If he makes the majors, we are talking about three (or more) years down the line and you don’t want to add a prospect to the 40-man roster that early for just one game. They also probably didn’t want the other backup catcher Kevin Krause, just in case they had to use him because he is far behind Bormann defensively.
Bormann fit perfectly and the timing made him the best choice. If the Pirates thought last night that Cervelli wouldn’t be able to go, then Elias Diaz is in Miami instead. In fact, this is the only trip to Miami for the Pirates (no trips to Tampa Bay either), so the stars had to align for Bormann to be the option. If the Pirates were in Atlanta for this game and the situation happened exactly the same, the West Virginia Power were in Rome, Ga and you probably hear about Chris Harvey getting the most unlikely call to the majors.
The great thing for Bormann regardless of how far his career goes from now is that he will always have that tag for life, Major Leaguer John Bormann.
PIRATES GAME GRAPH
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 10-3 to the Miami Marlins on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates now travel to Cincinnati for a four-game series. Gerrit Cole will get the start tonight, his sixth of the season. He faced the Chicago Cubs in his last outing and allowed one unearned run over seven innings of work. Cole has picked up eight strikeouts in each of his last two games. The Reds will counter with 24-year-old lefty Amir Garrett, who has a 5.09 ERA in four starts.
In the minors, Indianapolis and West Virginia both have off today. JT Brubaker will go for Altoona and Taylor Hearn gets the start for Bradenton. Hearn allowed one run over six innings in his last start. In his last three games combined, he has 17 strikeouts and just one walk.
MLB: Pittsburgh (11-13) @ Reds (11-13) 7:10 PM
Probable starter: Gerrit Cole (3.60 ERA, 6:27 BB/SO, 30.0 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (7-15) vs Toledo (12-10) 7:05 PM 5/2 (season preview)
Probable starter: TBD
AA: Altoona (13-9) vs Richmond (9-12) 6:00 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: JT Brubaker (5.09 ERA, 8:16 BB/SO, 23.0 IP)
High-A: Bradenton (13-11) vs St Lucie (10-14) 6:30 PM (season preview)
Probable starter: Taylor Hearn (4.12 ERA, 4:22 BB/SO, 19.2 IP)
Low-A: West Virginia (11-14) vs Hickory (9-15) 7:05 PM 5/2 (season preview)
Probable starter: Cam Vieaux (1.61 ERA, 4:10 BB/SO, 22.1 IP)
Here is the fifth strikeout from Saturday night by Yeudy Garcia
4/30: Pirates option Danny Ortiz to Indianapolis. John Bormann promoted to Pittsburgh.
4/30: Pirates release Trace Tam Sing.
4/29: Pirates place David Freese on disabled list. Danny Ortiz promoted to Pittsburgh.
4/29: Justin Maffei added to Indianapolis roster.
4/28: Luis Heredia assigned to Altoona. Pirates release John Kuchno
4/28: Jackson Williams added to Altoona roster. Zane Chavez assigned to Morgantown.
4/28: Brett McKinney added to Indianapolis roster.
4/27: Eury Perez added to Indianapolis roster.
4/27: Jess Amedee placed on the disabled list. Trace Tam Sing added to Bradenton roster.
4/26: Pirates recall Gift Ngoepe. Dovydas Neverauskas optioned to Indianapolis.
4/25: Hector Garcia placed on disabled list. Mike Wallace added to West Virginia roster.
4/25: Jerrick Suiter added to Bradenton roster. Trace Tam Sing assigned to Extended Spring Training.
4/25: Antonio Bastardo placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Johnny Barbato.
4/24: Adam Frazier placed on disabled list. Pirates recall Dovydas Neverauskas.
THIS DATE IN PIRATES HISTORY
Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note. The most recognizable player born on this date is second baseman Jose Lind, who was a member of the three NL East championship teams from 1990-92. He played 779 games over six seasons and won a Gold Glove in 1992. Lind hit homers during the 1990 and 1992 NLCS series, driving in a total of ten runs over the three years of playoffs.
One interesting set of players born on this date are Bill White and Tom Forster. They shared a birthday and a position during their only year with the team. Both played shortstop for Pittsburgh in 1884 when they were called the Alleghenys and they were still in the American Association, a rival Major League to the National League. Forster was born one year earlier.
Others born on this date include: Second baseman Johnny Berardino (1950,52), pitcher Heinie Meine (1929-34), catcher Billy Kelly (1911-13) and pitcher George McQuillan (1913-15). More on all of them in the link above.
On this date in 1957, the Pirates traded first baseman Dale Long and outfielder Lee Walls to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for first baseman Dee Fondy and infielder Gene Baker. By the end of the year, Fondy would be dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski. Baker was a backup during the 1960 season, when the Pirates won their third World Series title.