This Date in Pirates History: April 2

On a very light day for Pittsburgh Pirates events, we have one signing, one trade and one birthday to cover. On this date in 1975, the Pirates signed pitched Sam McDowell as a free agent. The 32 year old was a Pittsburgh native, signing with the Indians in 1960 right out of Central Catholic HS in Pittsburgh. He was one of the most intimidating pitchers of his time, possibly the hardest thrower of his day, who not only led the league in strikeouts five times, he also issued the most walks five times as well. In 11 seasons with Cleveland, he had a 122-109 record with 2159 strikeouts in 2109.2 innings pitched. Prior to 1972, Sam was traded to the Giants, where injuries and off-field issues began to take their toll on his career. He moved on to the Yankees in the middle of 1973 and was released by them after the 1974 season. McDowell went 1-6 4.69 in 1974, making seven starts and six relief appearances. He was a non-roster player in Spring Training for the Pirates in 1975, before he made the team as a reliever. Sam made 14 appearances, one as a starter, and he had a 2-1 2.86 record in 34.2 innings before he was released in late June. That was the end of his playing career. He finished with 141 wins, a 3.17 ERA and 2453 strikeouts.

On this date in 1973, the Pirates traded catcher Charlie Sands to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for pitcher Chris Zachary. Sands had been with the Pirates since October 1970, when he came over from the Yankees in a six player deal involving all minor leaguers. He played 28 games for the Pirates in 1971, all but three were as a pinch-hitter. The 25 year old spent nearly all of 1972 in AAA, where he hit .283 with 12 homers and 64 walks in 74 games. He was a September call-up but was used just once as a pinch-hitter the entire month. Zachary spent all of 1963 in the majors as a 19 year old with no minor league experience. From 1964 until 1972 though, he played in the minors every season. Chris also appeared in the majors at some point during every one of those seasons, except 1968 and 1970. He set a career high with 25 appearances in 1972 with the Tigers, going 1-1 1.41 in 38.1 innings.

Sands didn’t even get a chance to get comfortable in Detroit. He was traded to the Angels just 17 days after this trade. Charlie spent the year down in AAA, getting a September call-up. In 1974 he spent most of the season with the Angels, playing a career high 43 games. After three games with the A’s in 1975, he finished his career in the minors one year later. Zachary went 14-7 3.18 in 25 AAA starts for the Pirates in 1973. He was a September call-up and in six relief appearances, he pitched 12 innings with a 3.00 ERA. After the season, the Pirates traded him to the Phillies for Pete Koegel. Neither player appeared in the majors after the trade.

Jon Lieber(1970) is the only Pirates player born on this date, he was a pitcher for the Pirates from 1994 until 1998. He was originally a second round draft pick of the Royals in 1992. Jon came to the Pirates along with Dan Miceli in exchange for pitcher Stan Belinda at the 1993 trading deadline. After just six minor league starts in 1994, the Pirates called him up in mid-May and he went right into the starting rotation. In 17 starts, Lieber went 6-7 3.73 in 108.2 innings. In 1995 he pitched poorly through June 17th, posting a 7.48 ERA, which got him a demotion to AAA. Down in the minors he pitched almost as bad, with a 7.01 ERA in 14 starts. Despite the season long slump, he was a September call-up, making ten appearances, one as a starter.

Lieber made the 1996 Pirates out of Spring Training as a reliever. Through July 7th, he had a 2-2 4.21 record in 34 appearances. After that date, he switched to the starter role, going 7-2 3.91 in 15 starts to finish the year. In 1997 the Pirates went 79-83, staying in the pennant race until the last week of the season. Lieber was one of three pitchers(Esteban Loaiza and Francisco Cordova) to win 11 games that year for the Pirates. In 1998 he had a better ERA than the year before(4.11 vs 4.46) but he went just 8-14 in 28 starts. On December 14,1998 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Brant Brown in a deal that was covered here. Lieber ended up pitching four years for the Cubs, winning 20 games in 2001 when he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. He missed all of 2003 following Tommy John surgery, coming back the following year to pitch another five seasons in the majors. Jon finished his 14 year career with a 131-124 record, which included his 38-47 with the 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.
  • JohnDreker

    Does anyone remember the McDowell signing? Was there any buzz around him that maybe he wasn’t done as a player at age 32 and the local kid could make a comeback? From reading some quotes from that time, sounds like he was excited to play for the Pirates but not happy about the fact he had to fight for a job all Spring. Instead of getting into shape to play, he said he was pitching like every pitch was important from day one of ST