First Pitch: Vern Law vs Hall of Fame Hitters

Over the last three days, we have looked at Hall of Famers for the Pittsburgh Pirates and how they fared against Hall of Fame pitchers during their career. Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski all spent their entire careers with the Pirates. With the help of Baseball-Reference, I was able to easily see how they did when matched up with the best pitchers of their day. All of those results obvious happened while in a Pirates uniform. That goes without saying, but I mentioned it because it’s a lot tougher to do on the pitching side.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have had numerous Hall of Fame pitchers over the years. None of those pitchers were with the club during their entire career though. In fact, all of them spent a majority of their career elsewhere. Also, the “batter vs pitcher” feature is incomplete, so the earlier you look into team history, the harder it becomes to find complete data. If I wanted to feature a pitcher here, I had to use a non-Hall of Famer. I decided on Vern Law, who spent his entire 16-year career with the Pirates and had some impressive seasons, including 1960, when he was named as the NL Cy Young award winner. He was also teammates with all three of the previously covered players, so it seemed like the best fit.

Law faced 38 batters who went on to get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Some of them were pitchers (11 total), which I won’t cover here. Another two were elected as managers (Sparky Anderson and Joe Torre), which still leaves 25 players. Two happened in the 1960 World Series, Yogi Berra (1-for-8) and Mickey Mantle (1-for-6, two walks). That leaves the 23 players below, each with a quick recap of their match-ups with the Deacon.

For reference, the average batter hit .273/.312/.409 against Law during his career. The players here are listed in order of most plate appearances first.

Richie Ashburn – The Phillies outfielder had a .651 OPS in 151 plate appearances against Law. Ashburn posted a .778 OPS during his career.

Eddie Mathews – In 137 plate appearances, Mathews had an .870 OPS and nine homers. The Braves third baseman had an .887 OPS during his career.

Willie Mays – Mays punished Law with a 1.092 OPS in 136 plate appearances, including 14 homers and just eight strikeouts. Mays had a .941 OPS in his career.

Hank Aaron – Compared to the rest of baseball, Law owned Hammerin’ Hank. He held him to a .793 OPS in 133 plate appearances. Aaron had a career .928 OPS. Law gave up eight of his 755 homers.

Duke Snider – Snider faced Law 111 times and compiled an .869 OPS. That’s a high number, well above Law’s average OPS vs batters, but it’s also 50 points below Snider’s career OPS.

Stan Musial – In 108 plate appearances, Musial had an .843 OPS. It’s a similar story to Snider, in fact, it’s very similar. Both of them went 29-for-98 against Law, with 49 total bases, giving them the same BA and slugging. Snider drew four more walks, accounting for the OPS difference. Musial had a .976 OPS career.

Ernie Banks – Banks had an .830 career OPS, but in 101 plate appearances versus Law, Mr Cub had a .758 OPS.

Frank Robinson – Robinson had his way with Law over the years. In 99 plate appearances, he had a 1.045 OPS and seven homers. Robinson had a .943 career OPS while Law was still active.

Orlando Cepeda – In 73 plate appearances, Cepeda notched a 1.069 OPS and five homers, while only striking out three times. Cepeda was a great hitter, but that mark versus Law was well over his career .849 mark.

Red Schoendienst – Law held Schoendienst in check during their battles, with a .613 OPS in 64 plate appearances. He must have felt comfortable pitching to him because Law never walked him.

Willie McCovey – McCovey faced Law 60 times and compiled a .932 OPS with four homers. That was better than his .889 career mark, though he was right in line with his career HR per AB mark (15.7).

Ron Santo – Santo did well in this match-up, posting a .945 OPS in 58 plate appearances. He had a career .826 OPS.

Billy Williams – Law did a nice job against Williams, holding him to a .729 OPS and one homer in 50 plate appearances. Williams had a career .853 OPS.

Lou Brock – Brock had his issues in 45 plate appearances, putting up a .614 OPS. Brock was by no means a slugger, but he had a career .753 OPS.

Pee Wee Reese – Reese certainly liked facing Law. With a career .743 OPS, Reese stepped it up against the Pirates hurler, batting .342 with a .906 OPS in 44 plate appearances.

Roy Campanella – In 34 meetings, Campy batted .273 with four doubles and three homers. The OBP was low for Campanella, but he made up for it with the slugging.

Jackie Robinson – Robinson went 12-for-28 against Law, with the only saving grace being that all of the hits were singles. That resulted in a .912 OPS, slightly above Robinson’s career .883 mark.

Nellie Fox – Fox fought the Law 25 times and the Law won almost every time. Fox went 3-for-25 with three singles. There wasn’t a single walk or strikeout during their battles.

Joe Morgan –  Morgan had an .867 OPS in 23 plate appearances, with a double, triple, two walks and no strikeouts.

Monte Irvin – Irvin had 21 plate appearances against  Law and he did well, going 7-for-20 with two homers, a double and a walk.

Enos Slaughter – Slaughter had his troubles during their few meetings. He went 1-for-13 with three walks.

Tony Perez – Perez faced Law just six times because his career was starting as Law’s was ending. He went 1-for-5, with a single and a walk.

Ralph Kiner – Law actually got to face Kiner after the Pirates traded him to the Cubs in 1953. Kiner went 2-for-4 with two singles and a walk.

For the record, Law’s favorite batter (non-pitcher) to face was Jim Pendleton, who went 1-for-19 against him. They would have played each other more, but Pendleton was traded to the Pirates in 1957 and spent two years as Law’s teammate.

His least favorite to face? Bill Sarni, with a 1.619 OPS in 26 plate appearances. Sarni was a catcher for the Cardinals, who only played 390 big league games.





By John Dreker

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one major trade from 1940.

The Trade

On this date in 1940, the Pirates traded left fielder Johnny Rizzo to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for outfielder Vince DiMaggio. The headlines of the Pittsburgh Press that day declared “Straight swap of players brings strikeout king of majors here.” DiMaggio was the brother of Joe and Dom, star players of their time. but Vince was a fine ballplayer as well. He was a defensive wizard with a strong arm, which is why the Pirates acquired him. He played two years with the Boston Braves, leading the league in strikeouts each season, before being traded to the Yankees in 1939. They sent him to the minors until a trade in August brought the 26-year-old back to the NL with the Reds. He had hit just .111 in ten games with Cincinnati, split between the end of 1939 and the beginning of the 1940 season. Rizzo, as a 25-year-old rookie in 1938 hit .301 with 111 RBIs, while setting the Pirates single season home run mark with 23 round trippers. His numbers took a huge dip in 1939 and he had started off the 1940 season slow, hitting .179 in nine games.

After the trade, Rizzo lasted just over a month with the Reds before they dealt him to the Phillies. In Philadelphia he hit twenty homers in 103 games, but that was followed by two down years, three years serving in the military during WWII and four seasons in the minors when he returned. DiMaggio became an All-Star player for the Pirates, spending five seasons in Pittsburgh and making two All-Star teams. The strikeouts were still there (three times he led the NL), but he played strong defense in center field and he hit 79 homers in 670 games. He also drove in 100 runs during the 1941 season.

The Players

Jason Davis, pitcher for the 2008 Pirates. He was originally a 21st round pick of the Cleveland Indians in the 1999 draft. Davis made the majors in 2002, then spent all or part of six seasons in the big leagues before they traded him in May of 2007 to the Mariners. Davis became a free agent following that season and he signed with Texas, who ended up releasing him at the end of Spring Training. He signed with the Pirates the next day and began the year in the minors. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, he had a big league record of 20-22 with a 4.78 ERA in 130 games, 52 were as a starter. Davis joined the Pirates in late July as a reliever. He eventually got four starts among his 14 total appearances. He went 2-4, 5.29 in 34 innings. The Pirates re-signed him to a minor league contract and he pitched in Triple-A during the 2009 season. He was released following the season, ending his playing career.

Orestes Destrade, first baseman for the 1988 Pirates. He originally signed with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1981. It took until 1987 before he made his MLB debut and he was blocked at first base during that time by All-Star Don Mattingly. Destrade had a good walk rate and showed power in the minors, hitting 122 homers before reaching the big leagues. In 1987, he hit .263 in nine September games for the Yankees. The Pirates were able to acquire Destrade at the end of Spring Training in 1988 in exchange for pitcher Hipolito Pena. He began the season in Triple-A, hitting .271 with 12 homers through 77 games when the Pirates called him up to the majors. He was used mostly in a pinch-hitting role, batting .149 in 36 games. After getting off to a poor start in Triple-A in 1989, the Pirates sold him to Japan. After four seasons overseas, he returned as the starting first baseman for the 1993 Florida Marlins in their first year of existence. He hit .255 with twenty homers and 87 RBIs that year. Destrade played for the Marlins in 1994, then finished his career in Japan.

Bill Powell, pitcher for the 1909-10 Pirates. After going 20-8 in 1908 for the Springfield Ponies of the Connecticut State League, Powell joined the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1909 season. He was with the Pirates during the 1909 World Series but never got into a game. In fact, he pitched just three games all year and one was as the starter in game three of the regular season. Powell was very wild during that first game, taking the loss to the Reds by giving up three hits in five innings, with five walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch. In an outing nearly a month later it was said that he had nothing on the mound. He walked a batter in relief, forcing home a run before serving up a pitch that was hit hard, but right at a field. Powell must’ve shown great improvements during the next season because he made nine starts and three relief appearances before he was sold to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in late July. It was said at the time that he was very inconsistent on the mound, and wasn’t noted for the effort he put forth, but more for his carelessness in the way he played. The paper also noted “his disposition was always against him.” Powell ended up pitching two more games in the majors, one for the 1912 Cubs and one for the 1913 Reds. His pro career began in 1903 in East Liverpool, Ohio, which is where he ended up living after his playing days.

Eddie Boyle, catcher for the 1896 Pirates. He last caught for the Pirates on September 16, 1896 during the first game of a doubleheader. Connie Mack was the manager and he replaced starting catcher Bill Merritt with Boyle late in a blowout loss. The amazing part about that game was the fact that Mack pinch-hit for Boyle in the ninth inning of an 11-0 loss. It was not only his last game for the Pirates, it was his last Major League game. It was noted years later that he couldn’t play anymore in 1896 due to an ankle injury. He played in the minors during 1897 but there is no record of him playing after that season. He was taken by the Pirates after the 1897 season in the Rule 5 draft, but refused to sign for 1898, forcing him to sit out the entire year. He decided to return with the Pirates in 1899 and actually made the Opening Day roster, but never got into a game. He was released on May 12th, after sitting for 21 games. Platoon catchers Frank Bowerman and Pop Shriver were both doing so well that the Pirates decided that they didn’t need a third catcher, so they released Boyle.

Boyle began the 1896 season with the Louisville Colonels, getting into three games before he was traded to the Pirates on May 1st, along with Joe Wright (the guy who pinch-hit for him) in exchange for infielder Billy Clingman. Boyle went to the Eastern League for the majority of the year, returning to the Pirates in September. In his first game, he batted ninth and failed to get a hit, but he did throw out the legendary Cap Anson, who tested his arm early. In Boyle’s five game Major League career, he went 0-for-14 at the plate, reaching base twice via walks. His brother Jack Boyle was a catcher in the majors for thirteen seasons.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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