Big day for Pittsburgh Pirates trades and birthdays from the early part of the last century. We have one of the best hitters most people never heard of, as well as a pitcher with back-to-back twenty win seasons. In the trade department, we have a longtime star coming to the end of his days in Pittsburgh as well as a mid-season trade by a Pirates team that went on the win the World Series. John Fredland, in his Jolly Roger Rewind, keeps the old-school theme going with a doubleheader from that same WS winning team.
On this date in 1912, the Pirates traded longtime third baseman/outfielder Tommy Leach, and pitcher Lefty Leifield to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for pitcher King Cole and outfielder Solly Hofman. Leach had been with the Pirates since coming over in the Honus Wagner trade in 1899. He is among the Pirates top ten all-time in games played, at-bats, runs scored, triples and stolen bases. Leach was hitting .299 at the time of the trade but at age 34, he was thought to be near the end of his career. Leifield had been a mainstay in the Pirates rotation for the last six years, although in 1912, he was seeing very little time on the mound. At age 27, he was coming off a season in which he went 16-16 2.63 and pitched a career high 318 innings. Cole had won 38 games between the 1910-11 seasons but in 1912 he was struggling badly. The Pirates were hoping the 26 year old righty could regain his form. Hofman began his career with the 1903 Pirates as a twenty year old. He had spent the last ten years though with the Cubs. In 884 games, he hit .271 with 441 runs scored and 158 stolen bases. In 1912 he was hitting .272 in 36 games with 28 runs scored.
The trade was a clear win for the Cubs. After the trade, Hofman had leg problems and was used very seldom, getting into just 17 games. Early in the 1913 season he was sent to the minors, then jumped to the Federal League in 1914. Cole was also seldom used, pitching just 49 innings for the Pirates, posting a 6.43 ERA. He was sent to the minors in 1913, spent the next two seasons with the Yankees, then unfortunately passed away in 1916 from tuberculosis. Leifield and Leach were both holdouts during Spring and it was said to contribute to their departure. Leifield pitched well when he played but wasn’t used often. He went 7-2 2.42 in 70.2 innings. The next year he pitched just six games before spending five seasons in the minors. He returned to the majors for three more seasons(1918-20). Leach was a good role player for the Cubs in 1912, then had a strong 1913 season, leading the NL in runs scored with 99. He then played 153 games in 1914, hitting .263 with 79 walks, while leading the NL in at bats. He hit just .224 with 17 RBI’s in 107 games in 1915, then spent two years in the minors before returning to the Pirates in 1918 for one last season.
On this date in 1925, the Pirates traded first baseman Al Niehaus to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for pitcher Tom Sheehan. Niehaus was a minor league star, getting his first chance at the majors. He had batted over .330 in three straight seasons prior to joining the Pirates for the 1925 season. Al was signed by the Cubs, but before he played a game for them, he came to the Pirates on October 27,1924 in a six player deal that included some big name players(see link for details). He played 17 games for Pittsburgh before the trade, hitting .219 with seven RBI’s. Pittsburgh was able to trade him because they signed Stuffy McInnis one day earlier. Sheehan was in his fifth season in the majors, although they were spread out over an eleven year time frame. He was 9-10 3.24 for the Reds in 1924, pitching 166.2 innings over 39 appearances, 14 as a starter. In 1925, he was struggling, allowing 31 runs in 29 innings.
After the trade, Niehaus hit .299 in 51 games for the Reds. He returned to the minors, playing another four years down on the farm before retiring. Shortly after his career ended, he contracted pnuemonia, and died from it just two days later at 32 years old. Sheehan pitched 23 games, all in relief, for the Pirates. In 57.1 innings, he had a 2.67 ERA. He was with the team the first two months of 1926, but was returned to the minors in June. He played another nine seasons before retiring as a player, never making it back to the majors again. He wound up with 259 minor league wins, with another 17 victories during his time in the majors. The Pirates also had a third baseman during the 1906-07 seasons named Tom Sheehan, who was of no relation to the latter player
Before I get to the former players, one current player celebrates a birthday today. Relief pitcher Tony Watson turns 27 today. The 6″4 lefty was drafted in the ninth round in 2007 by the Pirates. He began as a starter, but was moved to a relief role in 2010 after missing most of the previous season. He started 2011 with Indianapolis, moving up after posting a 2.36 ERA in 34.1 innings with 35 strikeouts. Tony made 43 appearances for the Pirates as a rookie, pitching a total of 41 innings with a 3.95 ERA. This year he has made 22 appearances with a 3.94 ERA.
Al Mamaux (1894) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1913 until 1917. The Pirates signed the pitcher from Duquesne University and brought him to the majors at the end of the 1913 season. During that season, he went 18-16 in 39 games for the Huntington Blue Sox of the Ohio State League in his first year of pro ball. Mamaux pitched one game for the Pirates, going three innings in relief on September 23rd. In 1914, he made six starts and seven relief appearances, pitching a total of 63 innings, with five wins, two shutouts and a 1.71 ERA. The next year, Al would establish himself as one of the NL’s best pitchers. He went 21-8 with a 2.04 ERA and eight shutouts. Those eight shutouts are the highest total in franchise history since the team moved to the NL in 1887. He also struck out 152 batters in 1915, the fourth highest total in the NL. During the 1916 season, Al won 21 games again. He finished third in the NL with 163 strikeouts and his 310 innings pitched were the fourth highest total in the league.
In what should have been the start of a great career, Mamaux let conditioning and insubordination get in the way of his success. He was suspended during part of the 1917 season and almost all of the following year. Al pitched just 18 games between 1917-18, going 2-12, with 11 of those losses coming the first year while still with the Pirates. Pittsburgh included him in a five player deal with Brooklyn on January 9,1918 that included two future Hall of Famers, Casey Stengel and Burleigh Grimes. Mamaux pitched another seven seasons in the majors, going 27-30 in 139 games. His major league career ended in 1924 but his playing days were far from over. Al lasted in the minors until 1935, five of those years as a player/manager, before finishing his career as a manager in 1936. He won 150 minor league games, to go along with his 76 major league wins.
Mike Donlin (1878) Outfielder for the 1912 Pirates. He began his major league career in 1899, hitting .323 as a rookie in 66 games. The next year he raised his average to .326, then jumped to the American League in 1901, where he batted .340 with 107 runs scored for the Baltimore Orioles(Yankees franchise). Mike went to prison in 1902, missing most of the season, signing with the Reds when he came back. In 1903, Mike hit .351 with 18 triples, 67 RBI’s and 110 runs scored. Donlin had more off-season troubles, then while hitting .356 in the middle of the 1904 season, he was suspended for 30 days by the Reds. They ended up trading him to the Giants, where he had his best season. In 1905 he set career highs in runs scored(124), batting average(.356) and RBI’s with 80, all while playing 150 games. A broken ankle limited him to just 34 games in 1906, then he sat out the entire 1907 season demanding more money.
Mike had married a famous actress and he himself took up vaudeville acting during his time away from the sport. He returned to baseball for 1908, and hit .334 with 106 RBI’s but he sat out the next two years, deciding that he made much more money acting so he wouldn’t play baseball anymore. By 1911, the acting had begun to slow down and he changed his tune, returning to the Giants. Donlin was sold to the Boston Rustlers(Braves) in August of 1911 and finished the season hitting .316 in 68 games. The Pirates acquired him on February 17,1912 in exchange for outfielder Vin Campbell. He missed time in June to be with his wife, who was sick, then almost immediately after returning he injured his foot while batting. Mike hit .316 for the Pirates in 77 games, spending most of his time in right field. The Pirates put him on waivers in December, where he was picked up by the Phillies. Mike sat out the 1913 season, returning to a minor league team at the end of the year. He then played for the Giants in 1914 before finally calling it quits as a player, this time for good.
Jolly Roger Rewind: May 30, 1925
The Pirates battered St. Louis pitching for 32 hits in a Memorial Day* doubleheader—including a major-league record eight triples in the nightcap—and came away with 4-1 and 15-5 victories at Forbes Field.
In front of 45,000 onlookers, the Bucs supported Emil Yde’s complete-game pitching with a thirteen-hit attack in the opener. A two-run sixth inning proved decisive. George Grantham, who had three hits in the game, led off with a double. Johnny Gooch attempted to sacrifice, but reached on a bunt single while, according to the Pittsburgh Press, “several Cardinals waited for it to roll foul.” Max Carey and Eddie Moore followed with RBI singles for a 3-1 lead, giving the Bucs all the offense that Yde, who limited the visitors to a solo home run by superstar Rogers Hornsby, would need to earn the victory.
Mired in eighth place in an eight-team league, St. Louis reorganized their chain of command between games. Gone from the dugout was the man who had managed the Redbirds to an undistinguished .486 winning percentage over the previous six-and-a-quarter seasons, a 43-year-old Ohioan named Branch Rickey. ** Assuming the duties of player-manager in Rickey’s stead was Hornsby, whom the Press characterized as “batting star of the National League and one of the greatest players that ever donner a glove.”***
The change did not slow the Pirate offense. The Bucs racked up nineteen more hits in the second game, recording two doubles, a home run, and the sole eight-triple game in major league history. Clyde Barnhart had the biggest day, with two triples, two singles, four runs scored and five runs batted in. Both Pie Traynor and Glenn Wright added three hits, four more Buccos had two hits apiece, and Earl Smith, the only position player not to record multiple hits, cracked a “home run that struck the second tier in the new right field stands.”
Johnny Morrison survived a rough first two innings and another Hornsby home run to notch the complete-game triumph. The Pirates had their seventh consecutive victory and fourteenth in their last eighteen games.****
* Prior to 1971, the United States observed Memorial Day on May 30, regardless of the day of the week. In 1925, it fell on a Saturday.
** The Press provided an unsparing critique of Rickey’s tenure as St. Louis’ field manager, a period that saw “little success in the way of reaching high positions in National League races”: “Rickey’s managerial methods have always been purely theoretical. His system of strategy, as a result, caused him to become known as the ‘blackboard manager.’ However, with Hornsby at the head of the team, it may be that a new plan will be followed, perhaps with the approval of St. Louis fans, who have held for years that Rickey’s style would never get the club anywhere in the pennant race.” Not all was lost for Rickey; the Cardinals announced that he would “retain the vice presidency, a position he occupied in addition to that as pilot.” (Rickey would never manage another game, but moving to the Cardinals’ front office in May 1925 allowed him to focus on what turned out to be perhaps the most brilliant career of any executive in organized baseball.)
*** Hornsby was, after all, on his way to a staggering sixth consecutive season of leading the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He would win the Triple Crown and receive NL Most Valuable Player laurels that year.
**** Observed the Press’s “Baseball Gossip of the Major Leagues” column: “You can’t keep a real ball club down. If the coming of [Stuffy] McInnis [signed as a free agent that weekend] gives the Pirates a real first sacker, watch them go out in front. The pitchers are coming through now, and the hitters are walloping the sphere at a terrific clip. Just glimpse the 19 hits in the afternoon game yesterday.” The column also noted that the “Pirates have silenced the savij [sic] chorus.”
First game box score
Second game box score
Pittsburgh Press game stories