This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 29th, John Wehner

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates birthdays on this date, plus a trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1961, the Pirates traded pitcher Tom Cheney to the Washington Senators in exchange for pitcher Tom Sturdivant. Cheney was a 26-year-old righty, in his fourth big league season, second with the Pirates. He went 2-2, 3.98 in 11 games, eight as a starter, for the 1960 Pirates. He made just one appearance in 1961 for Pittsburgh, allowing five runs without recording an out. Sturdivant was a 31-year-old righty, who spent time as a starter and reliever in the majors. He was 2-6, 4.61 for the Senators in 1961, making ten starts and five relief appearances.

After the deal, Cheney pitched five seasons for Washington, going 17-25, 3.52 in 88 games, 58 as a starter. Not many people realize that he is the single game strikeout king in Major League history, striking out 21 Orioles batters on September 12, 1962. In one of the truly great pitching performances, he allowed just one run over 16 innings for the complete game win. Sturdivant played with the Pirates until May of 1963, when he was sold to the Tigers. He went 14-7, 3.49 for the Pirates in 65 games, 23 as a starter. In 1961, he was 5-2, 2.84 in 11 starts and two relief appearances.

The Players

Tony McKnight, pitcher for the 2001 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick in 1995 by the Houston Astros out of High School. McKnight spent his first two years in the GCL, then a year at each full-season A-ball level, posting a combined 4.67 ERA in 48 starts. His breakout season was 1999 in Double-A, where he went 9-9, 2.75 in 24 starts for Jackson of the Texas League. He spent 2000 in Triple-A until August, when he made his Major League debut for Houston. The next season he was back in Triple-A until mid-June, getting three starts, in which he went 1-0 4.00 in 18 innings. At the trading deadline, the Pirates sent closer Mike Williams to the Astros for McKnight, who went right into the rotation. In 12 starts for Pittsburgh, he went 2-6, 5.19 in 69.1 innings. He spent all of 2002 at Triple-A Nashville for the Pirates, then finished his career with the Dodgers Triple-A team the next season.

John Wehner, utility player for the 1991-1996 and 1999-2001 Pirates. He was taken by the Pirates in the seventh round of the 1988 draft. He was a local kid, born in Pittsburgh, Pa. Wehner was up in the big leagues by mid-July of 1991, helping the Pirates to the NL East pennant with a .340 average in 37 games. He played 14 seasons in pro ball, spending only one full season (1996) in the majors. In ten of those other 13 seasons, Wehner split the year between the majors and minors. Besides 1991, he batted .300 in limited time twice with the Pirates, first in 1995 when he hit .308 and then in 2000 when he hit .300 exactly. Pittsburgh put him on waivers after the 1996 season, where he was picked up by the Dodgers. Los Angeles released him in Spring Training, so he signed with the Marlins for the 1997 season and picked up a World Series ring that year. Wehner returned to the Pirates as a free agent in June of 1999 and stayed with the team until the 2001 season. He hit the final home run at Three Rivers Stadium, one of four career homers. For the Pirates, he hit .250 with 47 RBIs in 364 games. Wehner coached three seasons in the minors for Pittsburgh, then became a broadcaster for the team, holding that spot since 2005. He holds the record for consecutive errorless games at third base (99), tied for the honor with Jeff Cirillo.

Burgess Whitehead, second baseman for the 1946 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1942, but due to serving in the Army during WWII, he didn’t play with Pittsburgh until the 1946 season. That year, the 36-year-old infielder hit .220 in 55 games with five RBIs. It would be his last season in the majors. Pittsburgh released him prior to the 1947, after which he played two seasons in the minors before retiring. Whitehead was a two-time All-Star (1935,37) with the Giants. After that 1937 season, he had an appendectomy which did not go well, causing him to suffer a nervous breakdown, forcing him out of baseball for one year. When he returned in 1939, he had a sub-par season, but followed it up with a .282 average in 133 games during the 1940 campaign. He was a .266 career hitter with 415 runs scored in 924 games. Whitehead led all NL second baseman in fielding percentage and  putouts in 1937, when he played 152 games at the position. All 17 home runs he hit in his career came at the Polo Grounds. Of those homers, 16 were hit as a member of the Giants, while one while he was with the Cardinals in 1934, coming off of longtime Pirates pitcher Joe Bowman, who was with the Giants at the time.

Patsy Flaherty, pitcher for the 1900 and 1904-05 Pirates. He began his big league career in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels, as a teammate of Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, Fred Clarke and nine other players who would be traded to Pittsburgh in the off-season. The Louisville franchise folded before the 1900 season and Flaherty joined his teammates in Pittsburgh, pitching 22 innings with a 6.14 ERA in 1900. His next Major League experience came with the 1903 White Sox, when he went 11-25, leading the AL in losses. He pitched well in five starts for Chicago in 1904 before he was sold to the Pirates, who were desperate for pitching. The move paid off big time that first year, as he went 19-9, 2.05 from the beginning of June until the end of the season. Not only did he lead the team in wins, he also had the best ERA. It turned out to be just one magical year for Flaherty, who went 10-10, 3.50 in 1905 for a Pirates team that went 96-57 on the season. After spending all of 1906 in the minors, he was traded to the Boston Doves as part of the deal for Ed Abbaticchio. Flaherty went 24-33 over the next two years for two bad Boston teams. He spent 1909 in the minors, returning briefly for one game with the 1910 Phillies and four games for Boston again in 1911. He pitched in the minors off and on until 1917, while also managing down on the farm and scouting into the 1930’s.

Heinie Reitz, second baseman for the 1899 Pirates. He was the second baseman for the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles team of the National League that won three straight pennants from 1894-96. Twice Reitz drove in over 100 runs, and his 31 triples in 1894 was a Major League record at the time. Before the Pirates acquired him for three players in December of 1898, He hit .303 in 132 games for the Senators that season. With Pittsburgh, his time was cut short due to injury. Reitz played just 35 games for the Pirates, hitting .263 with 16 RBIs. He would be traded to the minors before the 1900 season and never appeared in the majors again. He finished with a .292 average in 724 games, with 447 runs scored and 463 RBIs.