This Date in Pirates History: May 17- The Early Years.

On a very busy day of birthdays for former Pittsburgh Pirates players, we split up the usual “This Date” article into two articles today. The first covers the seven players, who were all born on this date, that started their career prior to 1930, with three of them playing for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association. Later today, in part two, we will have three other birthdays as well as two trades, one being an important one in team history. We will also cover one interesting game from that past that occurred on this date.

Harry Riconda (1897) Shortstop for the 1929 Pirates. He began his pro career in 1916, but when the Pirates acquired him 13 years later, he had just 234 games in at the major league level, spread out over four seasons. On December 11, 1928, the Pirates traded star shortstop Glenn Wright to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Riconda and pitcher Jesse Petty. Harry had hit .224 in 92 games for the Dodgers in 1928, seeing time at SS/2B/3B. With the 1929 Pirates, he spent two months with the team but rarely saw the field. He got into eight of the first 51 games, four off the bench. Harry went 7-15 at the plate in his limited time but that couldn’t keep him from being sent to the minors to finish the year. He played two more seasons before retiring from baseball, with all but one game spent in the minors, getting one early season AB for the Reds in 1930.

Hal Carlson (1892) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1917 until 1923. He spent three years in the minors prior to his major league debut with the 1917 Pirates. Hal won 23 games in 1916, pitching for Rockford of the Three-I League. He had a strong rookie season pitching for a Pirates team that had 103 losses in 1917. Carlson went 7-11 2.90 in 161.1 inning. The next year he pitched just three games before taking up active military duty in WWI. Hal returned in 1919 to go 8-10 with a career best, 2.23 ERA. He had his best season in a Pirates uniform in 1920, going 14-13 3.36 in 246.1 innings. His numbers began to drop off the next season and after a 5.70 ERA in 1922, Carlson was sent to the minors just weeks into the 1923 season. It was said that his numbers dropped because he was a spitball pitcher and wasn’t allowed to throw the pitch after 1920, due to the rule baseball implemented making the pitch illegal. Carlson was drafted by the Phillies for the 1924 season, pitching in Philadelphia until a 1927 trade sent him to the Chicago Cubs. He was pitching for the Cubs in 1930 when his health began to decline. On May 28, 1930 he complained of feeling ill and died suddenly in his hotel room with teammates by his side. He was 38 years old. Carlson finished with 114 career wins, 42 coming while he was with the Pirates.

Elmer Steele (1886) Pitcher for the Pirates during the 1910-11 seasons. He began his pro career in 1906 in the minors before making his pro debut in September of 1907. Steele pitched parts of three years for the Boston Red Sox, making 36 appearances, 22 as a starter. He spent the 1910 season pitching for Providence of the Eastern League before the Pirates picked him up in the middle of September. It was a pleasant surprise for the Pirates because a player of his caliber in the minors was usually picked up by a major league club on September 1st during those days in the Rule V draft. Elmer made three starts for Pittsburgh that season, losing all three, although he pitched well. He had a 2.25 ERA and allowed 22 baserunners in 24 innings. In 1911, he switched between the starting and bullpen role, making 16 starts and 15 relief outings. Steele went 9-9 with a 2.60 ERA in 166 innings. In the middle of September, he was sold to Brooklyn, where he made five appearances before the season ended. Steele never returned to the majors and only pitched one more season in the minors. His pro career finished in 1917, although it was said he played baseball into his 50′s and was active among the sport in his hometown for many years.

Fred Woodcock (1868) Pitcher for the 1892 Pirates. On May 14, 1892 Woodcock was to make his major league debut against the Cleveland Spiders, just one day after Cy Young shut the Pirates down. That game was rained out, so three days later against the Chicago Colts he finally made his debut, and made a little history along the way. He became the first pitcher to make his debut as a starter on his birthday, something that didn’t happen again in the majors for another 67 years. He was a highly touted prospect who pitched at Brown University and then Dartmouth University prior to signing with the Pirates. In his debut the Pirates lost 7-5, although it was said that he pitched a remarkably good game but he was hurt by five Pittsburgh errors. It seemed as if he had a bright future but it quickly dimmed. His second start was said to be fair, although he was hit hard at times. There was poor fielding behind him again with five errors committed. Woodcock didn’t start again for two weeks, losing his third start by a 6-2 score. Two weeks later he made, what would turn out to be, his last start in the majors. Fred gave up five first innings runs to Cleveland before he was replaced. He would pitch just one minor league game in 1893, then finish his career playing for the Fort Worth Panthers of the Texas Southern League in 1895.

Frank Mountain (1860) Pitcher/first baseman for the 1885-86 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. When Frank joined Pittsburgh prior to the 1885 season, he was coming off a 23-17 2.45 season for the Columbus Buckeyes. It was by far his best season, prior to that he played for five teams over four seasons, compiling a 34-60 3.80 record. In 1883 he pitched 503 innings for Columbus, starting 59 of the team’s 97 games. He led the league in losses, hits allowed, earned runs allowed and walks. Columbus folded after the 1884 season when the American Association went from twelve to eight teams. The Alleghenys purchased ten of their players for the 1885 season, among them was Mountain. He was joining a Pittsburgh team that used nine different starting pitchers during that 1884 season. Mountain was used as an extra pitcher, making just five starts over the entire season. The next year he made one start early in the season and one late in the year, but was used as a first baseman 16 times. He hit just .145, although he drew 13 walks. Frank went 1-6 on the mound between his two seasons in Pittsburgh. His major league career ended that 1886 season and he went on to manage in the minors in 1888.

Henry Oberbeck (1858) First baseman for the 1883 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He spent two seasons in the majors, playing for four different teams in two different leagues and got into just 66 games. Oberbeck spent time at six different positions in the majors, seeing time at all three outfield spots, first base, third base and as a pitcher. He began his career with the Alleghenys on May 7, 1883, the team’s third game of the season. Henry lasted only two games in Pittsburgh, going 2-9 at the plate and handling all 25 chances in the field flawlessly, an impressive feat in the pre-glove era. He would play four games for the St Louis Browns of the American Association later that season, going 0-14 at the plate. The next year, a third major league was formed, the Union Association. Henry played 33 games at the start of the year for the Baltimore Monumentals, hitting .184 and spending most of his time in the outfield. He then moved on to the Kansas City Cowboys to finish the year. Oberbeck hit .189 in 27 games there while also going 0-5 as a pitcher. He also umpired three October 1884 games in the Union Association at the end of his career.

Billy Reid (1857) Left fielder for the 1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his major league career in 1883, playing for the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association. Billy played 23 games at second base and made 23 errors. He also played one other game at shortstop and made one error there. In 24 games for the Orioles, he hit .278 with 14 runs scored. Reid finished the year in the minors playing for a team from Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Northwestern League. He remained in that league to start the next year, this time playing for the Minneapolis Millers. He hit .279 with 66 runs scored in 80 games. Reid joined the Alleghenys late in the year and played mostly in left field, starting 17 of his 19 games out there. He hit .243 with 11 runs scored and two doubles. Billy also played one game at second base and one at third base, making one error at each position, keeping up his error per game pace at all three infield positions. That 1884 season was his last season in the majors. He bounced around the minors in 1885, playing for three different teams, then went back to the Northwestern League for 1886, joining the Duluth Jayhawks. His last known stop in pro ball was for the Sandusky Fish Eaters in 1888.

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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.

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