Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade that brought over a key part to the 1979 World Series run. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps the last game played at Forbes Field. The first game at Forbes was covered here.
On this date in 1979, the Pirates completed a six player deal with the San Francisco Giants that saw pitchers Fred Breining, Ed Whitson and Al Holland go to the Giants in exchange for pitcher Dave Roberts, infielder Lenny Randle and third baseman Bill Madlock. The key to the deal ended up being Madlock, a 28 year old, two-time batting champ, who was hitting just .261 with the Giants prior to the deal. He exploded with the Pirates, batting .328 with 44 RBI’s and 21 stolen bases in 85 games. In the World Series he batted .350 with three RBI’s as the Pirates defeated the Orioles in seven games. Madlock remained with the Pirates into the 1985 season before being traded. For more on his Pirates career, check the link here.
Roberts was a 34 year old starter-turned-reliever, who pitched 21 games, 38.2 innings for the 1979 Pirates. He was with the team early in 1980 before being sold to the Mariners. Randall never played in the majors for the Pirates, being sold to the Yankees after five weeks. Breining was a minor leaguer at the time, making his MLB debut with the 1980 Giants. He spent four seasons in San Francisco, going 27-20 3.37 in 136 games, 42 as a starter. Whitson was 24 years old, with parts of three seasons in the majors with the Pirates. He was 8-9 3.73 in 67 with Pittsburgh, nine of those games as a starter. The Giants put him into their rotation, where he went 22-30 over 2 1/2 seasons, before being traded to Cleveland. Whitson ended up winning 126 major league games. Holland was 26 years old, with just two games of major league experience at the time of the deal, both coming with the 1977 Pirates. He pitched four seasons for the Giants, but his real success came as a reliever for the 1983-84 Phillies, when he saved a combined 54 games. The Pirates reacquired him from Philadelphia early in the 1985 season for Kent Tekulve, although he was gone before the end of the year, traded to the Angels in a six player deal in August.
Kevin Polcovich (1970) Shortstop for the 1997-98 Pirates. He was a 30th round pick of the Pirates in the 1992 amateur draft. Despite the fact that Kevin played AA ball in 1992, he didn’t make his major league debut until five seasons later. He earned his first promotion to AAA in 1995 after hitting .317 over 64 games for AA Carolina. In May of 1997, Pirates shortstop Kevin Elster fractured his wrist, landing him on the 60 day DL, opening a spot for Polcovich to make his debut. He would play 84 games that first season, hitting .273 with four homers and 21 RBI’s. Kevin injured his ankle at the end of August and the Pirates acquired Shawon Dunston to take his place. He would make the Pirates 1998 Opening Day roster and get plenty of time at shortstop, but as the season wore on and his batting average remained near .200, he saw his time diminish. He ended up batting .189 with no homers and 14 RBI’s, committing twenty errors in 54 games at shortstop, although his fielding was perfect in limited time as both second and third base. Polcovich spent 1999 in the minors for the Pirates, didn’t play in 2000, then played three more years of minor league ball before retiring.
Orlando McFarlane (1938) Catcher for the 1962 and 1964 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1958 as a free agent out of Cuba. The Pirates started the twenty year old catcher off in the low levels of the minors, where he hit .311 in 68 games. The next year he added power to his game as he moved a level up, batting .299 with 19 homers. In 1960, the Pirates had him in Class-B ball, three levels from the majors. He was playing third base/shortstop and occasionally catching. Orlando’s numbers weren’t great, but he moved up to Class-A in 1961 and batted .301 with 21 homers and 27 stolen bases as a catcher. That earned him an early season stint with the Pirates in 1962, catching eight games with an .087 average before being sent back to the minors. McFarlane spent all of 1963 in AAA, getting more time at third base after only catching the previous two seasons. He hit .257 with 21 homers in 122 games for Columbus. In 1964, he was with the Pirates for the entire season as a backup catcher. In 37 games, 17 as a starter, Orlando hit .244 with one RBI in 78 AB’s.
After spending all of 1965 in the minors, Pittsburgh lost McFarlane in the 1965 Rule V draft to the Detroit Tigers. He spent all of the 1966 season with the Tigers, then was sold to the California Angels just as the 1967 season began. Orlando spent parts of two seasons with the Angels, before finishing his career in the minors in 1970 with the Mets.
Mike Lynch (1880) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1904 until 1907. He was a star pitcher at Brown University, going undefeated, before he signed with the Pirates. He came to Pittsburgh two months into the 1904 season as the team tried to find pitching help in their quest to repeat as NL champs. Lynch provided that help, going 15-11 2.71 as a rookie, completing all 24 of his starts. His record improved in 1905 to 17-8, although he had the worst ERA(3.79) on the entire staff. For comparison, Patsy Flaherty had the second worst ERA at 3.50 and he finished with a 10-10 record. After the Pirates acquired Vic Willis and Lefty Leifield began to emerge as a star in 1906, Lynch saw less time on the mound. He posted a strong 2.42 ERA, but only saw 119 innings of work. In 1907, his use was even more limited and the Pirates released him in June after just 36 innings. He signed with the Giants and finished the year, and his career in New York that season. Mike went into business for himself after the 1907 season, but still followed the Pirates closely despite being out of baseball. On June 8,1910, Lynch visited the Pirates manager Fred Clarke between games of a doubleheader in Boston. The team was struggling and Clarke was trying to make out a lineup to kick-start the offense. Lynch saw the manager having trouble and suggested that Clarke let him fill out the lineup, which he did and the Pirates won that game 3-2.
Frank Scheibeck (1865) Shortstop for the 1894 Pirates. He had a major league career that spanned over twenty seasons, yet he got into just 390 games. Frank first played in the majors in 1887, then after one game for the Detroit Wolverines in 1888, he spent the next year in the minors. In 1890, there were three major leagues all in operation at the same time and Frank played for the Toledo Maumees of the American Association. He was the team’s starting shortstop all season in the only year the franchise existed as a major league team. It was the only time he played over 100 games in a season, hitting .241 with 57 stolen bases and 72 runs scored in 134 games. He led all AA shortstops in putouts, assists and errors. Scheibeck then spent the next three full seasons in the minors before reappearing with the 1894 Pirates. He hit well(.353) during that high-offense season but the Pirates had a star-studded lineup that year so playing time was scarce for Frank, who played five different positions during his 28 games with the team. Without room for him in the lineup, he was moved on to Washington to finish the season. Frank remained with the Senators in 1895, hitting .180 in 49 games, prior to returning to the minors. He also played major league ball in 1899 for Washington, 1901 for Cleveland and 1906 for the Tigers, his last season in pro ball. Frank collected over 1500 minor league hits during his long career.
**One other player of note in Pirates history was born on this date. He never actually played for the Pirates, but Rafael Vasquez was part of two big trades for the team. The first one was a six player deal with the Mariners on December 5,1978, which was almost exactly three years to the day he signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent. He came back to the Pittsburgh organization from Cleveland in another six player deal on December 9,1980, that saw Manny Sanguillen and Bert Blyleven go to the Indians. Vasquez’s big league career consisted of nine relief appearances for the 1979 Mariners.
Jolly Roger Rewind: June 28, 1970
Concluding sixty-one years of play at Forbes Field before a standing-room-only audience, the Pirates moved into a virtual tie for first place in the National League East by sweeping the Cubs in a doubleheader, 3-2 and 4-1.
With Three Rivers Stadium set to open in eighteen days, 40,198 paying customers—the second-largest audience for a game at Forbes Field*—came out to Oakland to say farewell.** They saw the Pirates stretch their winning streak to seven games and move within two percentage points of the Mets in the NL East chase. They also saw the Cubs, who had held a four-and-a-half game lead in the NL East just eight days earlier, extend their losing skid to ten games and drop two-and-a-half games behind the division’s front-runners.***
A pair of dramatic bases-loaded moments decided the first game. In the bottom of the eighth, Jerry May broke a 2-2 tie by drawing ball four on a full-count pitch from Chicago reliever Phil Regan**** to score Roberto Clemente from third. Chicago responded by loading the bases with one out against Dave Giusti in the ninth, but Danny Murtaugh summoned Luke Walker, who closed out the visitors by striking out pinch-hitter Ernie Banks on a 2-2 fastball and getting Cleo Jones to bounce into a force out.
The nightcap was less suspenseful. Al Oliver answered a top-of-the-first Cubs run with the ballpark’s final home run, a solo shot into the lower deck in right field against Milt Pappas in the bottom of the first. The Bucs went ahead to stay with two unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth: after Jim Hickman dropped Ron Santo’s two-out throw to first to load the bases, Matty Alou drove in Bob Robertson and Bill Mazeroski with a single to right. Robertson’s sacrifice fly an inning later knocked in Oliver with the final run in Forbes Field history.
Rookie Jim Nelson benefitted from three double plays to hold down the Cubs over the first eight innings*****, and Giusti returned in the ninth for the save. When Mazeroski fielded Don Kessinger’s two-out ground ball and stepped on second to retire Willie Smith, the era of the venue dubbed the “largest and finest amusement stadium in the world” upon its opening in 1909 had ended.
In the aftermath of that final out, the team’s attempt to give away mementos in an orderly fashion devolved into a looting of anything that spectators could carry. The Pittsburgh Press’s Phil Musick summarized the scene: “Kids ripping and hacking and tearing while old Dad stood there and smiled at the ravage. If you had any class you were wondering how long it would be before you lost your lunch. People who had felt comfortable in the place, who would miss it, looked at each other and shook their heads. Some cursed Dr. Spock. One guy said it made him ashamed he’d ever been young.”
First game box score and play-by-play
Second game box score and play-by-play
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story:
* The only larger crowd was the 44,932 that witnessed the Pirates-Brooklyn Dodgers game on September 23, 1956, a contest featuring a Prize Day promotion and pennant implications for the Dodgers.
** Opined Bob Smizik in The Pittsburgh Press, “[t]he need for a new stadium was never better demonstrated than yesterday. Although Forbes Field seats 35,000, its ramps, aisles and rest rooms aren’t able to handle nearly that many.”
*** The Press noted that one Bucco fan mocked the Cubs’ manager with a sign reading, “Mickey Mouse Wears A Leo Durocher Watch.”
**** Adding to the drama of the bases-loaded two-out situation were allegations that Regan sought to enhance his pitches with a foreign substance. Reported Bill Christine in the Press: “Regan’s second pitch to May was heavily coated with grease, leaving Al Barlick, the home plate umpire, with no choice but to throw the ball out of the game. Barlick proceeded to the mound, preparing to make a citizen’s arrest, but after thoroughly frisking Regan he was unable to find the place where the pitcher stores the stuff.”
***** With the win, Nelson had started his major league career with three consecutive victories.