Pittsburgh Pirates Farm System 1967: Building a Champion

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article covering the Pirates minor league system from 1962, going back fifty years to see where the Pirates stood with future major leaguers in their minor league system. This week, I’m going to fast forward five seasons and see where they stood in 1967. That season they had seven affiliates, just like they did five years earlier, but only one team was the same during both seasons, the AAA Columbus Jets. The teams for 1967 break down as follows:

AAA: Columbus Jets, International League
AA: Macon Peaches, Southern Association
A: Raleigh Pirates, Carolina League
A: Gastonia Pirates, Western Carolinas League
A: Clinton Pilots, Midwest League
R: Salem Rebels, Appalachian League
R: FIL Pirates, Florida Instructional League

The Columbus Jets, like many AAA teams, were loaded with former and future major leaguers. The team went 69-71 and was managed by former Pirates player, and future GM of the team, Hardy Peterson. This team provided some huge pieces for the 1971 World Series winning team. Among the players were Dock Ellis, Bob Robertson, Bob Moose, Manny Sanguillen, Luke Walker. It also included Freddie Patek, who had a 14 year major league career, mostly with the Royals, starting in 1968. A 24 year old pitcher named John Gelnar, had a 10-4 2.80 record in 148 innings. He would win just seven games over parts of five seasons in the big leagues. The best hitter was 27 year old Elvio Jimenez, who hit .340 in 133 games. His big league career consisted of one game for the 1964 Yankees.

At AA Macon, they had a rough season, going 55-85, finishing in fifth place. Bob Moose and Dock Ellis were with the team briefly but the top prospect was a 20 year old first baseman named Al Oliver. He hit just .222 in 38 games with one homer and four RBI’s. He also spent half of the year with Raleigh, where he also spent the entire 1966 season. Despite the poor introduction to the higher levels, Oliver was in the majors to stay by the end of the 1968 season. The team had six other future major leaguers, Carl Taylor, Jim Nelson, Johnny Jeter, Roy Foster, Dick Colpaert and Bruce Dal Canton. Bob Oliver played briefly for the 1965 Pirates and was also on this team. He hit .285 and led the team with 17 homers and 80 RBI’s. Foster ranked second on the team with nine homers. A 22 year old pitcher named Quint Willingham had a 3.04 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 136 innings pitched. He was out of baseball by the end of the next season.

Raleigh had a 77-65 record, best in their division. They were managed by Joe Morgan, the future manager of the Boston Red Sox from 1988-91. This team really had a lot of talent for an A ball team. Besides Al Oliver, they also had Gene Clines, Gene Garber, Richie Hebner and Don Money, and impressive list of future majors leaguers who were all 19-20 years old. They also had three other players who made the majors, the aforementioned Jim Nelson as well as Ron Slocumb and Angel Mangual. Hebner hit .336 in 78 games and Money led the team with 16 homers and 86 RBI’s. The pitching was dominated by a 21 year old named Harold Clem, who went 15-3 1.64 in 24 starts and 176 innings pitched. He would be sent to the Phillies that December in the trade for Jim Bunning and Clem never made the majors. Garber had a 1.89 ERA in 18 starts.

Gastonia was managed by former Pirates catcher Don Leppert, who led them to a 61-59 record. The team had six future major leaguers including Nelson(his first of three teams), Jeter and Slocumb, who all played at higher levels mentioned above. They also had Frank Brosseau, a first round draft pick in 1966 that played two seasons for the Pirates and Denny Riddleberger, who spent three years in the majors. One name stood out above the rest on this team and it was a 19 year old shortstop named Dave Cash. He hit .335 in 114 games and was up in the majors by the end of 1969. He played all seven games of the 1971 World Series and ended up playing 1422 major league games. The top five pitchers(innings total) for Gastonia were all between 19-22 years old, all had ERA’s of 3.47 or less and all five never made the majors.

Clinton was managed by Bob Clear, who had been in the Pirates system since 1957 as a manager. The team had a 51-69 record and they had just three future major leaguers on the roster, all of them pitchers. Bill Laxton pitched 121 major league games over parts of five seasons with five different teams. Lou Marone pitched thirty games for the Pirates, 29 in 1969 and one in 1970. John Lamb pitched 47 games with the Pirates between 1970-73. The highest batting average among regulars was .279 for 22 year old Wilbert Hammond and 19 year old Dave Arrington led the team with nine homers. Arrington made it to AAA with the Pirates in 1970. Lamb was by far the best pitcher with his 175 innings pitched, no one else topped 117 IP. He led the team with ten wins and had a 2.52 ERA.

The 1967 Salem Rebels were 28-38 and had three future major league players. Jim Minshall was a second round draft pick in 1966 that eventually pitched six games for the Pirates during the 1974-75 seasons. That was his entire major league career, he threw 5.1 innings without allowing an earned run but he picked up a loss in his third major league game, a 13-12 loss to the Cardinals in 11 innings. They also had Rimp Lanier, a 37th round draft pick in 1967 that made it to the majors long enough to play six games with the 1971 Pirates. Finally, they had one player who contributed a little more at the major league level than the other two just mentioned. Richie Zisk was an 18 year old third round draft pick in 1967 and he was the best hitter at Salem. He hit .307 with 16 homers, two more than the rest of the Rebels hit combined. He was in the majors by 1971, in the all-star game by 1977 and he played 1453 career major league games. A pitched named Alvin Sells led the team with five wins and 66 innings pitched. He was a second round pick in 1967 that spent six seasons in the Pirates system.

Last and certainly least is the Pirates team from the Florida Instructional League. They went 29-21, finishing in fourth place in the 12 team league. The manager was George Detore, who spent 13 of the 17 seasons that he managed, in the Pirates system. I said least with this team because no individual stats are available. It was a Fall League much like the current day Instructional Leagues are but back then they kept the records of the games while now they are more informal games and the league is shorter. The Pirates in 1967 led the league in runs scored but their pitching was next to last in the league in runs allowed.

The system from 1967 produced the following players of note:
Al Oliver
Richie Hebner
Gene Clines
Manny Sanguillen
Dave Cash
Bob Robertson
Bob Moose
Dock Ellis
Luke Walker

The common link between those nine were the fact they all played big parts during the 1971 season when the Pirates won their fourth WS title. Six other minor leaguers from 1967 also played for the 1971 Pirates. A solid farm system went a long way towards a title just four seasons down the road for the 1967 Pirates.

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About John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.
  • NorCalBuc

    John ~ Thanks for the look back to this era of my youth; muchly appreciated!