Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one game of note
Cy Blanton, pitcher for the 1934-39 Pirates. He spent five seasons in the minors before getting his first chance in a late season game for the 1934 Pirates. Blanton was with that team during Spring Training, labeled as the best rookie they had in camp before being sent to the International League, where he went 11-8, 3.86 in 26 games for Albany. In 1933, he went 21-7 while playing for St Joseph of the Western League, earning his long look during the following spring. In his debut, Blanton pitched well, giving up three runs over eight innings in the loss. He walked four batters in that game, a sign of the control problems that cost him a spot on the 1934 Opening Day roster. He would overcome the wildness the next year, making the team out of Spring Training. Blanton had a terrific rookie season despite missing time right in the middle of it with appendicitis. He went 18-13, throwing four shutouts and he led the league in ERA with a 2.58 mark. He walked just 55 batters in 254.1 innings, posting the lowest WHIP (not a recognized stat at the time) in the NL.
In 1936, Blanton pitched in some tough luck. The Pirates went 84-70 that year, but his record stood at just 13-15, despite a respectable 3.51 ERA. He made 32 starts and 12 relief appearances, pitching a total of 235.2 innings. He also threw four shutouts for a second season in a row, leading the league both years in that category. Blanton had a third straight solid season in 1937, this time making the NL All-Star team during a time in which the NL took only six pitchers to the game. He went 14-12, leading the NL with 34 games started. For the third straight year, he threw four shutouts.
During the 1938 season, Blanton had a rough start, posting just one win over the first two months of the season. After not pitching for nearly a month, the Pirates used him in the second game of a doubleheader on June 19th and he picked up the win. Blanton wasn’t used again for another 11 days, yet won again that day too. He would end up making another nine starts in a row without losing, picking up the win in six of those games. He faded as the season came to a close and in 1939, he was out most of the year due to a sore arm. Blanton missed three months of the season, making just six starts and four relief appearances. He was sent to the minors in 1940, where he got hit hard in three starts prior to his release in May. He signed with the Phillies and ended up making 25 starts for them, going 6-13, 4.51 in 163.2 innings.
After barely pitching in 1942, Blanton spent the next three seasons with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. In 1945 he was called into service during WWII but failed the physical. His health had become so bad at the time due to alcohol problems that he was sent to a hospital after the physical and he passed away a short time later at 35 years old. For the Pirates, he went 58-51, 3.28 in 155 games, 129 as a starter, with 13 shutouts to his credit. We posted an in depth article on Blanton here.
Omar Olivares, pitcher for the 2001 Pirates. Before joining Pittsburgh, Olivares had played 11 seasons in the majors, spending time with seven different teams. Just two years prior to his only season in Pittsburgh, Olivares won a career high 15 games and thew over 200 innings for the only time in his career. He struggled the next season (2000), posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 starts and five relief appearances. The Pirates acquired Olivares from the Oakland A’s at the end of Spring Training in 2001 in exchange for a player to be named later. For Pittsburgh, he went 6-9, 6.55 in 110 innings, making 12 starts and 33 relief appearances. He switched to the relief role after his June 8th start left him with a 2-7, 7.21 record. He became a free agent after the seasons, signing with the Indians, where he finished his career in 2002 after two minor league starts. Olivares had a career record of 77-86, 4.67 in 349 games, 229 as a starter.
Willie Randolph, second baseman for the 1975 Pirates.He was a seventh round draft pick of the Pirates in 1972 out of high school. Randolph spent that first season in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .317 in 44 games. He played well as an 18-year-old in full-season ball in 1973, batting .280 with eight homers in 121 games. His average dropped to .254 at Double-A in 1974, but he drew 110 walks and stole 38 bases, to go along with 46 extra-base hits. Randolph fully established himself as a prospect the next season in Triple-A, hitting .339 in 91 games, earning a promotion to the majors at the end of July. In 30 games for the Pirates, he batted .164 with three RBIs in 70 plate appearances. Randolph started 12 games at second base and one game at third base. His game at the hot corner would be a forgettable one, as he committed three errors. It turned out to be the only time in his 18-year career he played a position other than second base.
On December 11, 1975, the Pirates traded Randolph, along with Dock Ellis and Ken Brett, to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Doc Medich. The trade did not work out for the Pirates, as they gave up the 21-year-old second baseman, who would go on to make six All-Star appearances during his career. Randolph finished with .276 career average and a strong .373 OBP due in part to 1,243 walks. He stole 271 bases, collected 2,210 hits and scored 1,239 runs. He ended up playing another 2,138 games at second base after leaving Pittsburgh. We wrote an in depth article on Randolph’s time with the Pirates here.
Jason Thompson, first baseman for the 1981-85 Pirates. He was originally signed as a fourth round draft pick in 1975 by the Tigers and made it to the majors as a full-time player by the next season. In his second full year (1977), Thompson hit 31 homers and drove in 105 runs, making his first of two consecutive All-Star appearances. In 1978, he hit .287 with 74 walks, 26 homers and 96 RBIs. After a slight dip in his numbers during the 1979 season, and a slow start the following year, the Tigers traded him to the Angels. Despite the slow start, Thompson ended up hitting .288 with 21 homers, 90 RBIs and 83 walks that year.
On April 1, 1981, the Pirates traded catcher Ed Ott and pitcher Mickey Mahler to the Angels in order to acquire Thompson. His first year in Pittsburgh was shortened by the strike and he never got the bat going, but his second season would end up being his best with the team. Thompson made his third All-Star appearance and finished with a .284 average, 101 walks, 31 homers and 101 RBIs. He maintained a strong walk rate during the next three seasons, though his average never reached the .260 mark. He topped out at 18 homers and 76 RBIs during that stretch, both coming during the 1983 season. On April 4, 1986, the Pirates traded Thompson to the Expos for two minor league players. He would play just 30 games for Montreal before they released him, which ended his career. For the Pirates, he hit .259 with 93 homers and 354 RBIs in 671 games. He drove in the same exact number of runs during his five seasons in Detroit, albeit in 56 fewer games. He hit 208 career homers and drove in 782 runs.
On this date in 1980, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs played a 20-inning contest at Three Rivers Stadium. A crowd of 25,994 got their money’s worth, as the five hour and 31 minute contest ended with Omar Moreno driving in Ed Ott with the winning run. After the Cubs tied the game up 4-4 in the top of the ninth, neither team scored until the 20th inning walk-off hit for Moreno.
Bert Blyleven pitched the first ten innings for the Pirates, while Rick Reuschel was the starter for the Cubs. The Pirates at one point went 46 straight batters without collecting a hit. A John Milner hit in the sixth inning was their last hit until a Lee Lacy single in the 19th inning.