This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 18th, Ralph Kiner’s Big Game in Brooklyn

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a game of note

Windy McCall, lefty reliever for the 1950 Pirates. He originally signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, but joined the war effort before playing game. He came back in 1946 as a free agent. Windy (first name is John) signed with the Boston Red Sox and made his Major League debut at the beginning of the 1948 season. He made one start for Boston, lasting 1.1 IP, while allowing three runs before being pulled. After the game, he was sent back to the minors. In 1949, he was with the Red Sox at the beginning of the year, pitching five times before being demoted to the minors. He pitched a scoreless inning his first outing, then gave up multiple runs in each of his next four relief appearances. Shortly after the 1949 season ended, the Pirates purchased his contract from Boston. A Spring Training injury limited his use with the Pirates early on, and after two outings ( seven runs in 6.2 IP), he was sent to the minors. McCall was Pirates property through the beginning of 1952 when he was sold back to Boston. After two more years in the minors, he was able to turn his career around with the New York Giants, putting together a productive three year run (1954-56) as a reliever. After a few games in 1957, he was sent to the minors, where he finished his career two seasons later. He got his nickname because it was said he talked too much.

Al Lyons, pitcher for the 1947 Pirates. Although he was a great two-way player in the minors, he spent most of his Major League time as a pitcher, occasionally playing outfield. During a 14-year minor league career, Lyons hit .269 with 159 homers in 1,559 games. He also pitched 147 minor league games, going 47-33 with a career ERA right around 3.55 (he has a small number of games with stats unknown). He made his Major League debut with the 1944 Yankees, posting a 4.54 ERA in 11 relief appearances and he hit .346 in 26 at-bats. He pitched two games for New York again in 1946 and another six relief outings the following season before being purchased by the Pirates in early August. Lyons pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in his Pirates debut, then picked up a win with four scoreless innings just two days later. He made another 11 appearances for Pittsburgh over the course of the season, all of them coming during losses. The Pirates traded Lyons to the Boston Braves on November 18, 1947 in a deal that brought back Danny Murtaugh and Johnny Hopp (see below). He lasted just seven games with Boston before being sent to the minors, finishing his pro career eight years later without a return trip to the big leagues.

Johnny Hopp, outfielder for the 1948-50 Pirates. He had a 14-year career in the majors that saw him play 1,393 games, make one All-Star team and pick up MVP votes in four different seasons. Hopp had nine seasons in at the big league level when the Pirates acquired him in the Lyons/Murtaugh deal mentioned above. He batted .288 with 74 runs scored in 134 games during his last season with Boston, spending most of his time in center field. For the Pirates, he played outfield and saw some time at first base, hitting .278 his first year, with 64 runs scored in 120 games. He began the 1949 season with the Pirates, before getting traded to the Dodgers for outfielder Marv Rackley in May. When Rackley reported to the Pirates he had a sore arm, which didn’t get better. A few weeks later the trade was voided, sending Hopp back to Pittsburgh. After being returned, Hopp hit the ball well, batting .335 over 85 games, with 50 runs scored. He hit even better in 1950, batting .340 through 106 games played, when the Pirates decided to sell him to the Yankees in early September. Hopp ended up winning a World Series title with the Yankees that year and the next, adding to the two he won in 1942 and 1944 with the Cardinals. He was a .296 career hitter with 698 runs scored and five seasons of batting .300 or better. For the Pirates in 1948, he played 80 errorless games in the outfield. Hopp hit .310 in his 331 games for Pittsburgh.

Wilbur Fisher, pinch-hitter for the Pirates on June 13, 1916. He joined the Pirates in early June of 1916 after playing baseball at Marshall University. He was an outfielder, who was described as tall and rangy with power and good baseball smarts. Fisher never got much of a chance to show off those skills. His only Major League appearance resulted in an out when he pinch-hit for pitcher Frank Miller in the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Phillies on June 13, 1916, six days after he reported to the Pirates. When he joined the Pirates it was said that he would train with the team and if things worked out, he would get a start down the line, but in the meantime he would be used as a pinch-hitter. Fisher played 45 games of minor league ball in 1915 under the last name McCullough (his middle name), hitting .310 for Charleston of the Ohio State League. It was a common practice back in the day for college players to play games under assumed names so they were still eligible to play college ball. The Pirates in 1906 had a college star named Dutch Meier on their roster, who had played exhibition games with the team the previous season. He went by the name “Koch” in those games.  Fisher is one of three Majors Leaguers who were born on July 18, 1894. That list also includes Bill Haeffner…

Bill Haeffner, catcher for the 1920 Pirates. He began his pro career in the minors, playing in Canada in 1914. The next year he played three games for the Philadelphia A’s, as Connie Mack went through 56 players during a 43-109 season. Haeffner then played semi-pro ball until 1920 when Pittsburgh picked him up. He played just three of the first 52 games of year for the Pirates, then played in 51 of the final 103 games. He hit .194 for the Pirates with 14 RBIs in 175 at-bats, and threw out 46% of would-be base stealers. Haeffner got his chance to play when two Pirates catchers were hurt in the same game. The regular starter, Walter Schmidt, took a foul ball off his wrist and couldn’t continue. Second string catcher Cliff Lee tried to put down a bunt during his at-bat and he was hit on the hand and had to leave, forcing the Pirates to go to Haeffner for the rest of that game. He also played another six full games over a four-day span thanks to two doubleheaders. Just before players were due to report to Spring Training in 1921, Haeffner informed the team that he decided to retire after his salary demands weren’t met. He would return to pro baseball seven years later with the Pirates in Spring Training of 1928. He ended up being sold to the New York Giants, where he played just two games, both as a late inning replacement during blowout games. He then went on to Boston (Braves) where he played in in-season exhibition games, but never got in a real game.

The Game

On this date in 1951, Ralph Kiner hit three homers and drove in seven runs in a 13-12 road victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Kiner was the fourth batter of the game and he hit a grand slam in his first at-bat. He followed that up with a two-run homer in the fourth and a solo shot in the eighth. He had a chance for a fourth home run, but his deep fly to right field in the ninth wasn’t quite enough. Kiner had four games during his career with three homers, two in 1947 and one in 1948. Here’s the boxscore.