On a busy date for former Pittsburgh Pirates birthdays, we have eight players to cover, two of them born on the same exact day, 147 years ago. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland takes a look at a rare Pirates victory over one of the greatest pitchers ever.
Brian Smith (1972) Pitcher for the 2000 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of college by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1994, taken in the 27th round. The Pirates picked Brian up as a Rule V draft in December of 1999 but he was soon diagnosed with a torn rotator and torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. After surgery and an impressively quick recovery time, Smith was back on the mound in AA in the middle of the 2000 season. After posting an 0.81 ERA in 27 minor league appearances, the Pirates made him a September call-up. Brian was strong in his first outing, throwing a shutout inning with two strikeouts. In his other two games, he ran into trouble, giving up five earned runs over 3.1 innings of work. Smith was released after the season, resigning with the team on a minor league deal. He spent two seasons in the Pirates farm system, before finishing his career with the Rockies in 2003, never making it back to the big leagues.
Vicente Palacios (1963) Pitcher for the 1987-88 Pirates and then again from 1990 until 1992. He was originally signed out of the Mexican League by the White Sox in 1984, spending two seasons in their minor league system before being released. The Pirates quickly signed him, then lost him in the 1986 Rule V draft to the Brewers four days later, only to get him back at the end of Spring Training. During his first five years with the Pirates, he bounced between AAA and the majors, twice missing significant time due to shoulder surgery. After pitching twenty total games for the Pirates from 1987 until 1990, Vicente found a bigger role with the 1991 team, although he was still sent back to the minors at one point. He pitched well for the team in late September that year and was expected to be a key piece for the 1992 team. That year he made eight starts at 12 relief appearances, going 3-2 4.25 in 53 innings. He was released following the season, returning to Mexico to pitch. Palacios would go on to pitch in the majors for parts of three more season, 1994-95 for the Cardinals and 200 for the Padres. He pitched 76 games for the Pirates, 22 as a starter, going 12-8 4.03 with six saves in 203.1 innings.
Nick Koback (1935) Catcher for the Pirates from 1953 until 1955. He was a highly sought after player out of high school in 1953, deciding to sign with the Pirates, who gave him the highest bonus and a chance to play right away in the majors. At the time, if a player signed over a certain amount($4,000), they had to stay on the major league roster for two full seasons before being sent to the minors, a stipulation known as the “Bonus Baby” rule. He signed with the Pirates on July 9,1953 and almost exactly two years to the day, they sold him to the minor leagues. In between that time, he played just 16 major league games, with 36 total plate appearances. Nick had four hits, one was a triple, and he scored one run without collecting an RBI during his three seasons. He started eight games behind the plate and caught another four off the bench. Koback ended up playing minor league ball until 1960 without a return trip to the majors. Most of his time with the Pirates was spent as the bullpen catcher.
Earl Hamilton (1891) Lefty pitcher for the Pirates from 1918 until 1923. He began playing minor league ball at age 17 and was in the majors with the St Louis Browns two years later. Hamilton spent five full seasons in St Louis before being sold to the Tigers after one start in the 1916 season. The Browns got him back a short time later and prior to the Pirates purchasing him in 1918, Earl went 0-9 for St Louis during the 1917 season. In his first year in Pittsburgh, he turned that record around, going from a winless season to a 6-0 record in 1918, posting an 0.83 ERA in 54 innings. For the next five years with the Pirates, he was used in both a starting and relief role, getting 101 starts and 62 appearances out of the bullpen. Hamilton was a consistent pitcher, keeping his ERA between 3.24 and 3.99 each season during that span, throwing a minimum of 141 inning each year. The Pirates were over .500 all five years, the last three they placed among the top of the division, but Earl had just one winning season, 1922 when he went 11-7, the season in which he had his highest ERA while with the Pirates. He finished his 14 year career with the 1924 Phillies, after they picked him up off waivers from the Pirates the previous December. Hamilton’s career record was 115-147 and he had just three winning seasons, two with Pittsburgh. For the Pirates, he went 55-55 3.35, throwing 970.2 innings. After his major league career ended, he pitched five more years in the minors.
Jeff Sweeney (1888) Catcher for the 1919 Pirates. He spent eight years catching for the New York Yankees/Highlanders from 1908 until 1915, playing 627 games with a .235 average and 151 RBI’s. Twice he led AL catchers in errors and two times he threw out more runners than any other AL catcher. That was his only major league experience prior to joining the 1919 Pirates. Sweeney had spent 1916-17 in the minors and 1918 out of baseball, serving in the military during WWI. He was the backup catcher to Walter Schmidt in 1919, seeing very little time until Schmidt got hurt in May and missed three weeks. Sweeney became the everyday catcher for a short time, playing a total of 17 games for the Pirates. His hitting was poor, batting .095 with no RBI’s but his defense kept him in the lineup until just before Schmidt returned. The Pirates began using a rookie catcher named Cliff Lee and then had their backup since 1917, Fred Blackwell, rejoin the team, leaving no spot for Sweeney once Schmidt came back. Jeff went to play in the minors, where he finished his career after the 1920 season.
Harry Davis (1873) First baseman for the 1896-98 Pirates. The Pirates acquired him from the New York Giants on July 25,1896, along with cash, in exchange for Hall of Fame first baseman, Jake Beckley. Davis had 71 games worth of major league experience at the time, batting .276 with 56 RBI’s. He did not hit well during his first half season with the Pirates, batting .190 with no homers and a .548 OPS, but the Pirates stuck with him and the move paid off the following season. In 1897, Davis hit .305 in 111 games, with 63 RBI’s and a league leading 28 triples. He played 64 games at first base, 32 at third base and also played 14 games in the outfield. Harry hit .293 in 58 games for the 1898 Pirates before being sold to the Louisville Colonels in July. In 1899 he barely played in the majors, then spent all of 1900 in the minors. In 1901, he reappeared with the Philadelphia A’s as their regular first baseman, a position he would hold for 11 seasons. Davis led the AL in homers for four straight years(1904-07), three times he led the league in doubles, twice in RBI’s and he batted over .300 three times. Harry managed the Indians in 1912, then returned to the A’s in 1913 as a coach. He played in the majors every season from 1912-17, though he got into only 21 games over those six seasons, giving him a total of 22 seasons in the majors. Davis was a career .277 hitter, with 951 RBI’s and 1001 runs scored in 1755 games.
Bill Hart (1865) Pitcher for the Pirates in 1895 and 1898. He had a long career in pro baseball, spanning 26 years and four different decades. While he won over 300 games in his career, his major league record wasn’t one to write home about. Some sources credit him with 251 minor league wins between 1885 and 1910, but his major league record over eight seasons stood at just 66-120 when he was done, with a below .500 winning percentage each year. Hart pitched in the majors in 1886-87, then went to the minors until 1892, when he went 9-12 3.28 for the Brooklyn Grooms of the National League. After two seasons in the minors, he joined the 1895 Pirates, and pitched regularly throughout the year, making 29 starts and seven relief appearances. Bill went 14-17 4.75 in 261.2 innings.
Following the season, he was traded to the St Louis Browns, along with a cash payment and shortstop Monte Cross for shortstop Bones Ely. Hart pitched often for St Louis with almost no success, going 21-56 in his two seasons. He returned to the Pirates in 1898 in exchange for pitcher Jim Hughey and cash. For as bad as Hart was in the majors, Hughey was even worse, going 29-80 over seven seasons. Hart went 5-9 4.82 in 16 games(15 starts) for the 1898 Pirates, with 12 of those starts coming from the middle of August until the end of the season. Bill was then traded to Milwaukee of the Western League in exchange for Ginger Beaumont, who went on to become a star center fielder for the Pirates for eight seasons. He finished his major league career with the Cleveland Blues in 1901, during the first season of the American League being recognized as a major league.
Jim Donnelly (1865) Third baseman for the 1897 Pirates. He was a light-hitting third baseman for eight years in the majors(1884-91) before spending four straight years in the minors. Jim was a .213 career hitter in the majors at that time, with two homers in 480 games. He came back in 1896 and suddenly found his hitting stroke, batting .328 in 106 games for the Baltimore Orioles. Shortly after the season ended, the Pirates acquired Donnelly, along with Steve Brodie, a defensive star in center field. Pittsburgh gave up their all-time leader in batting average, Jake Stenzel, along with three minor league players, to get the two Baltimore players. While he played great defensively in Pittsburgh, Jim resorted back to his old ways on offense, batting .193 over 44 games. The Pirates let him go, and he finished the season with the New York Giants, hitting .188 in 23 games there. His major league career was nearly over at that point, playing one game in May of 1898 for the St Louis Browns before finishing his playing days in the minors two years later.
Jolly Roger Rewind: July 19, 1904
Claude Ritchey’s single off Christy Mathewson scored Jimmy Sebring to cap a two-run, bottom-of-the ninth rally, giving the Pirates a 2-1 victory over the first-place New York Giants at Exposition Park.
Nursing a five-hit shutout and 1-0 lead over the three-time defending National League champions into the ninth, Mathewson immediately worked into trouble when Honus Wagner—who would join him as an inagural-class Hall of Famer thirty-two years later—led off with a triple to left field. The twenty-three-year-old righthander recovered to retire Kitty Bransfield for the first out, but Sebring, Mathewson’s teammate at Bucknell University, followed by hitting the ball off first base and down the right-field line for a game-tying triple. Ritchey then came through with his walkoff single, provoking an enthusiastic response from the crowd.*
Rookie Bucco starter Mike Lynch more than equaled the performance of his heralded mound opponent. Facing a Giants’ lineup that would lead the National League in most offensive categories that season, Lynch limited the visitors to four hits; The Pittsburg Press opined that Lynch “pitched the game of his life” and “was a puzzle all the way.”
The previous day’s Press had detailed post-game vocal confrontations between thirty-one-year-old New York manager John McGraw—with an assist from Mathewson—and various Pittsburgh fans.** After this game, the newspaper struck a note of glee: “McGraw didn’t do any yelling after the game yesterday. He was probably engaged in choking back sobs of rage.”
The Pittsburg Press game story
* Observed the Press, “[t]he crowd went wild when the Champs spurted. Everybody in the stands stood and waved hats and handkerchiefs, while the cheering was deafening.”
** The key paragraphs from the Press’s account: “As the New York team was leaving the grounds yesterday after the game, a man in a box yelled down, ‘So long, Muggsy.’ Perhaps McGaw didn’t like the deserved title ‘Muggsy.’ Be that as it may, he opened up a storm of vituperation and abuse that fairly made the air blue for a moment. He was joined in this tirade by the sarcastic Mathewson, whom the fans have dubbed ‘Sis,’ on account of his girl-like voice. Matty, who has to buy a cap a size larger after every victory, took the cue from his leader, and hurled a few saucy sayings at the inoffensive spectator. . . . On the way over to the hotel from the grounds, this line of talk from ‘Muggs’ to the people walking along the streets was kept up. McGraw is not liked here, but he has made more enemies in the past three days than he ever had before. Some day he will carry things too far, and some husky Pittsburger will thump him.”