This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 22nd, George Gibson and Ryan Vogelsong

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two trades of note.

The Trades

On this date in 2009, the Pirates traded Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for two minor leaguers, shortstop Argenis Diaz and pitcher Hunter Strickland. LaRoche played three years in Pittsburgh, hitting .265 with 58 homers and 213 RBIs in 375 games. Diaz played 22 games for the Pirates in 2010, hitting .242 in 33 at-bats, but never made the majors again. Strickland missed most of 2010 and all of 2011 with elbow and shoulder problems, then was lost on waivers in 2013 before making the majors. He has pitched in the majors in each of the last six seasons, posting a 3.16 ERA in 281 appearances and 250.1 innings pitched. LaRoche played just six games for Boston before they dealt him to the Braves for Casey Kotchman.

On this date in 1988, the Pirates traded outfielder Darnell Coles to the Mariners in exchange for outfielder Glenn Wilson. Coles had been acquired by the Pirates the previous August for third baseman Jim Morrison. The 26-year-old OF/3B hit .230 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs in 108 games for the Pirates. He played eight years in the majors after the deal, spending time with seven different teams, never approaching the numbers he put up in 1986 with the Tigers (.273 average, 20 homers, 86 RBIs). Wilson was a 29-year-old outfielder, who was in his seventh season in the majors. He was hitting .250 with three homers in 78 games for the Mariners at the time of the deal. In 1985 for the Phillies, he drove in 102 runs and made the NL All-Star team. For the Pirates, he hit .274 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs in 147 games before being traded to the Astros in August 1989 for Billy Hatcher.

The Players

George Gibson, catcher for the 1905-1916 Pirates. He was the Pirates leader in games caught for just over 90 years before being surpassed by Jason Kendall. Gibson was a workhorse during the 1909 season when catchers played with inferior equipment to today’s standards. He started 150 games, catching all but 66 of the team’s innings, including the World Series. Gibson set career highs in games, hits, doubles, triples and RBIs that season, finishing with a career best 4.7 WAR. He wasn’t much of a hitter, but his defense was great and he had a strong arm. Gibson led all catchers in fielding three times and he threw out 47.5% of runners during his career. In 1,174 games in Pittsburgh, he had a .238 average, with 15 homers and 341 RBIs. His only other big league experience was 39 games for the 1917-18 New York Giants. We had two articles here related to Gibson, the first being a talk with Martin Healy Jr,, co-author of a book on Gibson. The second article was also from Healy and it dealt with a memorabilia item related to Gibson.

Ryan Vogelsong, pitcher for the 2001, 2003-06 and 2016 Pirates. He was originally a fifth round draft pick in 1998 of the San Francisco Giants. The Pirates acquired Vogelsong on July 30, 2001, along with outfielder Armando Rios in exchange for Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal. At the time of the deal, he had pitched 13 games in relief for the Giants, with a 5.65 ERA in 28.2 innings. He had never pitched in relief in the minors, and when the Pirates got him, they sent him to Triple-A, putting him back in the starter role. Vogelsong made two September starts for the Pirates in 2001, failing to get past the third inning in each game. Worse than the two losses he picked up was the fact he needed elbow surgery that would cost him most of the following season. In 2003, he began the year in Triple-A as a starter, getting recalled by the Pirates three separate times during the season. Vogelsong made 26 minor league starts, going 12-8, 4.29 with 146 strikeouts in 149 innings. For Pittsburgh, he went 2-2, 6.55 in six games.

In 2004, Vogelsong made the Pirates out of Spring Training and would make 26 starts to go along with five relief appearances. He went 6-13, 6.50, throwing a total of 133 innings. By the next season, he was throwing strictly out of the bullpen, making 44 appearances, with a 4.43 ERA in 81.1 innings. He resumed the role the next year but after limited success, he went sent to Triple-A, then released at the end of the season. Vogelsong pitched three years in Japan, the returned to the states in 2010 with the Phillies organization. In January of 2011, he re-signed with the Giants and made an incredible turnaround, winning 27 games over his first two seasons, while making the 2011 NL All-Star team. He was a starter for five seasons in San Francisco before signing with the Pirates for the 2016 season. In what would be his last year in the majors, he went 3-7, 4.81 in 82.1 innings over 14 starts and ten relief appearances. For the Pirates, he went 13-26, 5.73 in 127 games (47 as a starter) and 362.2 innings pitched. He was 48-49, 3.93 in 827.1 innings with the Giants.

Denny Gonzalez, infielder for the 1984-85 and 1987-88 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1981 out of the Dominican Republic. He spent four seasons in the majors for the Pirates, although none of them were full seasons. He made just one Opening Day roster (1987), but that ended up being the year he played the least amount of games for Pittsburgh. All told, Gonzalez played 90 games for the Pirates, hitting an even .200 with four homers and 17 RBIs. With Pittsburgh, he played 34 games at third base, 25 at shortstop, 16 in left field and ten at second base. He was dealt to the Indians in November of 1988 along with a player to be named later, for a player to be named later. The rest of the deal turned out to be Felix Fermin going to the Indians, while Jay Bell returned to the Pirates. Gonzalez went to the minors for the Indians, coming up for eight September games, which would be the last Major League games of his career. He was far from finished as a player. He played until 1998, spending time in the minors, then Japan, then playing out his career in Mexico. He then went on to become a trainer down in the Dominican. We posted an in depth article on Gonzalez here in our Obscure Pittsburgh Pirates feature.

R.C. Stevens, first baseman for the 1958-60 Pirates. He was a big (6’5″, 220 lbs) first baseman the Pirates signed in 1952 out of high school in Georgia. He began showing big power numbers in 1954 as a 19-year-old in the Carolina League, where he hit 31 doubles and 25 homers. Pittsburgh moved him up the next year to the much tougher competition in the Pacific Coast League, where he struggled the first season, then came back with 27 homers and 72 RBIs the following year. Stevens split the 1957 season between the PCL and the Pirates Triple-A team in the International League, batting a combined .256 with 19 homers and 81 walks. He made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1958 as a backup at first base, getting into 59 games throughout the year, which also included a brief trip to the minors in July. Stevens started 19 games for the 1958 Pirates, hitting .267 with seven homers and 18 RBIs. He would see limited time in each of the next two seasons in the majors, playing a combined 12 games, before the Pirates dealt him to the Washington Senators on December 16, 1960 in exchange for pitcher Bobby Shantz. Stevens played one year with Washington, before returning to the minors for good, playing his last game in 1963.

Sheldon Lejeune, center fielder for the 1915 Pirates. He was a strong minor league hitter, whose success never carried over to the majors. Lejeune batted .328 or higher in five of six seasons from 1910-1915, and he also did it with a bit of power, hitting as many as 25 homers in a season. His Major League time was brief though, getting in six games for Brooklyn in 1911 and 18 games for the 1915 Pirates. His big league exploits weren’t much to talk about but he was well known at the time for one thing, Lejeune had the longest official recorded throw of a baseball at the time. In 1910, he threw a ball over 426 feet in the air, breaking the old record by at least ten feet. The official record was 400 feet, but many “unofficial” throws had been made between 400 and 416, including one by Honus Wagner in 1898. For the Pirates, he batted just .169 with two RBIs and four stolen bases. He recorded four outfield assists during his brief time, playing all 18 of his games with Pittsburgh as the center fielder. When the Pirates started the season slow, Lejeune was sent to the bench, and soon was back in the minors, where he would end his playing days the next season.

Jack Glasscock, shortstop for the 1893-94 Pirates. He was a star shortstop, who had a 17-year career in the majors that saw him hit .290 with over 2,000 hits to his credit. Glasscock began his pro career in Pittsburgh during the first year that minor league call existed (1877) and within two years he was in the majors. He was a strong hitter, fast base runner and an even better defensive player, leading the league in fielding six times during his career, with five more second place finishes. In 1889 he led the league in hits and repeated that feat the next year, while also winning the NL batting title.  When Pittsburgh acquired him in 1893, he was batting .287 in 48 games for the St Louis Browns.

Glasscock joined the Pirates on July 4, 1893 just in time for a holiday doubleheader. The Pittsburgh crowd that day at Exposition Park was very excited to get the star shortstop and gave him a thunderous applause. Glasscock earned that reception all season, finishing with a .341 average over his 66 games with the team, driving in 74 runs. The 36-year-old shortstop began to show his age the next season, batting .281 over 87 games, in a season that was at the top of the list for offense in baseball. The Pirates had a star filled lineup that year, one that hit .312 as a team. Glasscock played one more year in the majors, then hung around minor league ball for another six seasons before finally retiring.

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