This Date in Pirates History: May 5

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, plus the team has made one trade of note. In the Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland looks back on a game with a very unlikely home run.

The Players

Tommy Helms (1941) Infielder for the 1976-77 Pirates. He already had 12 seasons in at the major league level before joining the Pirates for the 1976 season. Tommy was the 1966 NL Rookie of the Year, a two time all-star and a two time Gold Glove winner.  Pittsburgh acquired Helms for a player to be named later in December of 1975. That played turned out to be Art Howe. In 1976, Helms was used as a pinch hitter and the backup at second and third base. He hit .276 with 13 RBI’s in 102 plate appearances. The Pirates sold him to the A’s on November 5, 1976, only to reacquire him on March 15,1977 before he played with his new team. He was with the Pirates through the middle of June in 1977 and was used strictly as a pinch hitter, getting 14 plate appearances, going 0-12 with two sacrifice hits. He was released by Pittsburgh on June 14th and signed quickly with the Red Sox. Helms went to Spring Training with Boston in 1978 but was released in late March, ending his career.

Jose Pagan (1935) Third baseman for the Pirates from 1965 until 1972. The Pirates acquired him in a one-for-one deal with the Giants in exchange for Dick Schofield. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, Pagan had played four full and three partial seasons with the Giants. He was a .242 hitter in 655 games, spending most of his playing time at shortstop. Jose didn’t see much playing time his first year in Pittsburgh, getting only 41 plate appearances in 42 games. His playing time increased greatly his first full years with the team, playing 109 games with most of his time spent at third base. He hit .264 with 54 RBI’s and 44 runs scored that season. His runs, RBI’s and games played were all season highs while with the Pirates for eight years.

In 1967, Jose started 15 or more games at third base, shortstop and left field. Before 1967, he had made just five starts in the outfield during his career. He ended up hitting a career high .289 that season, albeit in just 211 AB’s. After hitting .221 and seeing limited time in 1968, Pagan bounced back with a strong season in the utility role the next year. He hit .285 with 42 RBI’s and a career high nine homers. Jose hit .265 in 95 games, mostly at third base in 1970, helping the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 1960. The Pirates would win it all in 1971 and while Pagan saw limited time during the regular season(158 AB’s) and just one AB during the NLCS, he got four starts during the World Series, including game seven, in which he drove in what ended up being the game/series winning run. Jose played one more season in Pittsburgh before being released in October of 1972. He played one season for the Phillies before his playing career ended. While with the Pirates, Pagan hit .263 in 625 games with 189 RBI’s and 168 runs scored.

Gene Curtis (1883) Left fielder for the 1903 Pirates. The 1903 Pirates clinched their third straight National League pennant on September 19th, which was then followed by an off-day. With just six games left before the first World Series was to take place, the Pirates rested some regulars. One of those regulars rested was left fielder/manager Fred Clarke, who injured his leg late in the year. Gene Curtis was a 20 year old recruit up from the minors, his first season of pro ball. He went into left field for Clarke and played the last five games of the season. He batted .421 in 19 AB’s with two runs scored and three RBI’s. When the season ended, so did his major league career. Curtis played six more years in the minors, then managed for two seasons without ever getting another major league call. The local paper was impressed with his play on the first day, although they said he has “some superfluous flesh” which was a nice way of saying he needed to lose some weight. That first game he went 2-2 with a walk, batting sixth in a lineup that was also missing Honus Wagner, who was out with a badly hurt thumb.

The Trade

On this date in 1956, the Pirates traded pitcher Max Surkont to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Luis Arroyo. The Pirates had acquired Surkont two years earlier in a six for one deal with the Milwaukee Braves that was covered here. Max went 16-32 4.92 in 69 games, 51 as a starter while with the Pirates, playing for some really bad teams. Arroyo was 11-8 4.19 in 1955 for the Cardinals as a 28 year old rookie. He also made the all-star team that season. After the trade, the Pirates got two mediocre seasons out of Arroyo, using him mostly in relief. He pitched a total of 159.1 innings between 1956-57, going 6-14 4.69 with 11 of those losses coming in 1957 when he had an 0-6 record as a starter. Arroyo spent all of 1958 in the minors before the Pirates traded him to the Reds that December. He ended up pitching against the Pirates, while with the Yankees, during the 1960 WS. Surkont didn’t last long in St Louis. He pitched poorly in five relief outings before being sold to the Boston Red Sox less than a month after the Pirates trade. Before the end of the year, he would be sold again, this time to the New York Giants. He pitched briefly for NY in 1957 and made a total of just 18 major league appearances after leaving Pittsburgh.

Jolly Roger Rewind: May 5, 1987

The Pirates deployed a four-home-run attack to beat San Diego, 10-8, at Jack Murphy Stadium.

Three of the home runs—though uplifting to any fans staying up to follow the late-night west coast game—registered as relatively routine phenomena. One launched off the bat of the man who hit more home runs than any other in MLB history. Two others came from line-drive hitting outfielders who, while never prolific enough with the four-bagger to provoke popular scrutiny of their training habits, tended to sneak one over the wall from time to time: Andy Van Slyke and R.J. Reynolds.

The home run quartet’s other member, however, seemed to suggest some paranormal involvement. When Rafael Belliard approached the plate against the Padres’ Eric Show with two teammates on base and a 2-0 Pirate lead in the top of the second, the diminutive infielder embarked on his 431st trip to the batter’s box of his big league career. None of the previous 430 plate appearances had yielded a home run.

This time, Belliard brought his power bat. As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by eyewitness Paul Meyer, the shortstop “launched an up-and-in fastball over the left-field wall to the left of the 370-foot mark.” The three-run shot extended the lead to 5-0, and the Pirates never looked back.

However remarkable Belliard’s home run may have seemed that night, its noteworthiness grew as the years passed. When Belliard, now employed by the Braves, approached the plate against Brian Bohannon of the Mets in a September 1997 game at Shea Stadium, much had changed in the world since that Cinco de Mayo in San Diego. America had elected George H. W. Bush President once and Bill Clinton twice. The Pirates’ budding contender of ’87 had waxed and waned. Show himself was three years in the grave, sadly done in by a drug overdose. But Belliard’s home run line had stayed at one.

At that juncture, in career plate appearance #2498, Belliard’s power bat resurfaced. He drove Bohannon’s pitch down the left-field line and over the fence for home run #2. Belliard would hang up his spikes during the following season, with those two home runs (and a World Series ring) to show for his 17 seasons in the major leagues.

Here’s the box score and play-by-play

Here’s the Post-Gazette’s story

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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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