This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 16th, Pirates Sign Kent Tekulve

On a slow day for Pittsburgh Pirates birthdays and transactions, we have just one player to talk about, one minor trade and one significant signing. The transaction and the player have a nice tie-in to each other though, so at least that worked out well.

The Player

Howdy Caton, shortstop for the Pirates from 1917 until 1920. He played three years in the minor leagues before the Pirates called him up in September of 1917 to make his Major League debut. During that 1917 season, Caton played for Birmingham of the Southern Association, where he hit .256 in 148 games as the team’s everyday shortstop. When the season ended, Howdy (real name was James) and three of his teammates joined the Pirates. On September 17, 1917, the Pirates put Caton at shortstop, batting in the lead-off spot for his Major League debut. His teammates from the minors, Bill Webb and Red Smith also made their Major League debut that day. Caton didn’t do so well that first game, going 0-for-6 at the plate, while handling all three plays in the field hit his way. It was not an envious position for him to be in at that time, as he was trying to fill the hole at shortstop left by Honus Wagner moving to first base during his final season in the majors.

Caton played 14 games that first September, hitting .211 with four RBIs and six runs scored. In 1918, he was the team’s everyday shortstop until the end of July. Caton hit .234 with 12 stolen bases, 17 RBIs and 37 runs scored in 80 games. The Pirates acquired light-hitting minor league veteran shortstop Roy Ellam in the middle of July and he took over as the regular shortstop to finish the season, which was shortened due to the ongoing war. Howdy started the first four games of the season at shortstop in 1919, before becoming a bench player the rest of the year. He saw very limited time, except for a stretch of 13 straight starts at third base in July. He hit .176 with five RBIs in 39 games that year. In 1920, he was the starting shortstop for most of the year and responded with his best season at the plate. However, at the end of the year, the Pirates tried out a new shortstop named Pie Traynor, who played everyday from mid-September on. It marked the end of the career for Caton, who played all 231 of his Major League games in a Pirates uniform, finishing with .226 average with 56 RBIs and no home runs.

The Trade

On this date in 1918, the Pirates traded seldom-used third baseman Gus Getz to the minor leagues for shortstop Roy Ellam. Getz was a major league veteran of seven seasons and a native of Pittsburgh, who had played just seven games for the Pirates since coming over two months earlier in a waiver claim from the Indians. Ellam was a minor league veteran, having played just ten Major League games up to that point, all with the 1909 Reds. At age 32, he had spent the last ten years playing in the Southern Association (seven years with Birmingham, three with Nashville) before moving on to Indianapolis to end the year. The minor league schedule was completed early that season due to the war, so when this deal was made, Getz never actually got a chance to play for Indianapolis. It not only marked the end of his season, it was also the end of his Major League career. Ellam took over shortstop in Pittsburgh from Howdy Caton and hit just .130 over 26 games. When the 1919 season started, Ellam was back in the minors, never returning to the big leagues.

The Transaction

On this date in 1969, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed 22-year-old pitcher Kent Tekulve as an amateur free agent out of Marietta College. As a senior, he posted an 0.94 ERA, but still needed to compete at a tryout at Forbes Field to earn his first pro contract. It took Tekulve just under five years to make it to the majors. Despite debuting after his 27th birthday, he pitched 16 seasons in the majors and threw in 1,050 games.