This Date in Pirates History: September 4

     On a slow day for Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have two players born on this date and one very minor trade, though it involved a player with an interesting career. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps a strong major league debut for a Pirates pitcher from the 1982 season.

The Trade

On this date in 1954, the Pirates traded first baseman Jack Phillips to the Chicago White Sox, in exchange for infielder Jim Baumer and cash. While this trade was an insignificant one at the time, Baumer had an interesting major league career. In 1949, he came up to the majors with the White Sox as an 18 year old and hit .400 in eight games. That would be his only major league experience prior to the trade. After the trade, he played six seasons in the Pirates minor league system without playing a major league game. In November of 1960, the Reds took him in the Rule V draft, returning him to the majors for the first time in 12 years. He would play just ten early season games before being traded to the Tigers, never returning to the big leagues again. In 1963, he began a five year career in Japan, that ended with his retirement from baseball. Phillips, who will be featured here in two days, played 158 games over four seasons for the Pirates, last seeing the majors three years before this trade. He would go on to be dealt to the Tigers three months later without playing a game for the White Sox, spending parts of three seasons in Detroit before he retired.

The Players

Jack Gilbert (1875) Left fielder for the 1904 Pirates. He had a baseball career that lasted from 1894 until 1910, but for Gilbert, he played just 28 major league games. He began his major league career by playing three late season games in 1898, two for Washington and one for the New York Giants. It would be another six years until he made the majors again, coming back in 1904 with the Pirates. He spent that 1904 season in Little Rock, Arkansas, playing his fourth full season for the Travelers of the Southern Association. There he hit a team high .328 in 132 games. Jack joined the Pirates with 25 games left in the season and he started each and every game in left field. He replaced player/manager/Hall of Famer Fred Clarke, who missed the end of the season due to illness. Gilbert hit .241 with three RBI’s and 13 runs scored, drawing 12 walks. He did not play well in the field, committing five errors in 35 chances, with no assists. The next season Jack played for the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association, a team filled with former and future Pirates players. He returned to Little Rock in 1906 for another two seasons, then eventually finished his career in 1910 for the Wilkes-Barre Barons, a team that played in the New York State League, despite their location(a team from Scranton was also in the league). While his minor league records are incomplete at this time, it is known that he collected over 1500 hits.

Elmer Horton (1869) Pitcher for the 1896 Pirates. His first major league game, came on September 24,1896 for the Pirates and was called by the local paper, “a farce” due to the poor play by everyone involved. Horton was facing a St Louis Browns team that had a 38-89 record, with just three games left to the season. He did not pitch well, giving up 11 runs over eight innings, on 13 hits and five walks. The game featured a combined 12 errors between the two teams. Two days later, Elmer started the last game of the season, again facing the Browns. It was quoted in The Pittsburgh Press, that the Pirates “went into the game expecting to see Horton’s pitching get punished, with little hope of victory.”  The amazing part about that, was that the Pirates were facing their former pitcher Bill Hart, who already clinched the NL lead with his 29 losses. Hart finished his career with a 66-120 record, so he wasn’t a pitcher who should’ve struck fear in a team prior to the opening pitch of the game. The Pirates lost that day 7-3, with the game called in the seventh inning. Horton pitched his second complete game in three days.

Horton was said to have nerves of steel in the pitcher’s box. The paper also noted that a few players had seen him throw harder than he was during his two game trial. The Pirates at the time were playing with just two pitchers, Pink Hawley and Horton. In an emergency, they had former pitcher-turned-outfielder, Elmer “Mike” Smith, who had not pitched at all in two years and not pitched regularly in four seasons. After the regular season ended, the Pirates went on a barnstorming tour and Horton pitched a strong game against a top Independent League club from Cambridge, Ohio, winning 3-2 on a four-hitter. The Pirates then picked up a pitcher named “Collins” while on the trip, and gave him chances to show what he had. Horton was included in six player deal with the Baltimore Orioles in November of 1896, as the Pirates gave up their all-time batting leader Jake Stenzel, in return for center fielder Steve Brodie and third baseman Jim Donnelly(the link for Donnelly also contains the bio of Bill Hart, mentioned above). Baltimore had tried to sign Horton just months earlier, but the Pirates were able to beat them to the punch. He would spend the entire 1897 season in the minors, then open the 1898 season in the Brooklyn Bridegrooms rotation. It didn’t take long for them to give up on him, starting the second game of the season, Elmer allowed 13 runs in a complete game loss to the Phillies. That game ended up being the last of his major league career. He pitched in the minors until 1904 and served as a player/manager for parts of three seasons.

Jolly Roger Rewind: September 4, 1982

An unexpected substitute for an injured John Candelaria, Lee Tunnell enjoyed a stellar major-league debut, outdueling Fernando Valenzuela in a 1-0 Pirate triumph over Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium.

The twenty-one-year-old Tunnell, the Bucs’ second-round choice out of Baylor University in the previous June’s amateur draft, had spent the entire season with Portland of the AAA Pacific Coast League, before getting recalled with the September 1 roster expansion. About an hour before game time—after he had pitched ten minutes of batting practice—Tunnell learned that Bucco manager Chuck Tanner had selected him to start in place of Candelaria, who had experienced soreness in his left shoulder.

By the time that Tunnell took the mound in the bottom of the first, he already had a one-run lead: Lee Lacy had homered off Valenzuela, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner*, with one out in the top of the frame. Tunnell, undaunted by his opponent’s resume, the Saturday-night crowd of 49,541, or the implications of a game between two teams with playoff aspirations, proceeded to make that tally stand up for seven innings. He retired sixteen of seventeen Dodgers between the second and seventh innings, with the only batter to reach safely in that span—Dodgers’ Rookie of the Year hopeful Steve Sax, who singled with two outs in the sixth—promptly being erased by Tunnell’s pickoff throw.

Only the emergence of a blister on his throwing hand could halt Tunnell’s masterpiece; with pinch-hitter Ron Roenicke** leading off the eighth inning, Tanner replaced Tunnell with Rod Scurry. Scurry and Kent Tekulve would set down the Dodgers in the eighth and ninth frames to preserve the victory, allowing baserunners in scoring position in both innings but ultimately stranding the runners.

The victory kept the third-place Pirates around the fringes of the National League East pennant race: four and a half games behind first-place St. Louis with twenty-seven games to play.

Box score and play-by-play

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette game story

* Valenzuela was actually two days younger than Tunnell; the Los Angeles left hander would not celebrate his own twenty-second birthday until November 1.

** Thirty years later, in July 2012, Roenicke and Tunnell would cross paths again. In Roenicke’s second season as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Tunnell would become Milwaukee’s interim bullpen coach.

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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.
  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Wow, Lee Tunnell is still in baseball? I never would have guessed him as a lifer, he was super religious.