Ten former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.
Phil Coke, pitcher for the 2016 Pirates. The Pirates needed pitching at the end of 2016 and they picked up Coke from the New York Yankees in a purchase deal for $1. The cost was that low because his season ended a week earlier in the minors and the Yankees had no intentions of calling him up to the majors. Since there has to be an actual transaction to switch teams, the deal was for the lowest amount allowed by MLB. Coke joined the Pirates on September 22, 2016 and pitched three games in relief, tossing four shutout innings. It ended up being his last big league experience. He pitched in Japan in 2017 and Mexico in 2018. Coke spent parts of nine seasons in the majors, going 22-27, 4.19 in 421 innings, with 15 starts and 392 relief appearances.
Ernesto Frieri, pitcher for the 2014 Pirates. He was acquired mid-season 2014 by the Pirates in exchange for reliever Jason Grilli. Both pitchers were struggling with their old teams. Grilli did better with the Angels, while Frieri did much worse with the Pirates and was gone after 14 games. He posted a 10.13 ERA in 10.2 innings. After being released by the Pirates, he spent time with six different clubs, though most of the time was spent in the minors. He pitched just 28 games total in the majors over his last three years, with his last appearance coming in 2017. In 2012, he had 23 saves and a 2.32 ERA. He compiled 37 saves during the 2013 season, so his fall from the top was very quick. In his career, Frieri had a 3.59 ERA in 303.1 innings over 304 appearances, with 73 saves.
Brian Smith, pitcher for the 2000 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of college by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1994, taken in the 27th round. The Pirates picked Smith up as a Rule 5 draft in December of 1999 but he was soon diagnosed with a torn rotator and torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. After surgery and an impressively quick recovery time, Smith was back on the mound in Double-A in the middle of the 2000 season. After posting an 0.81 ERA in 27 minor league appearances, the Pirates made him a September call-up. He was strong in his first outing, throwing a shutout inning with two strikeouts. In his other two games, he ran into trouble, giving up five earned runs over 3.1 innings of work. Smith was released after the season, re-signing with the team on a minor league deal. He spent two seasons in the Pirates farm system, before finishing his career with the Rockies in 2003, never making it back to the big leagues.
Vicente Palacios, pitcher for the 1987-88 and 1990-92 Pirates. He was originally signed out of the Mexican League by the White Sox in 1984, spending two seasons in their minor league system before being released. The Pirates quickly signed him, then lost him in the 1986 Rule 5 draft to the Brewers four days later, only to get him back at the end of Spring Training. During his first five years with the Pirates, he bounced between Triple-A and the majors, twice missing significant time due to shoulder surgery. After pitching twenty total games for the Pirates from 1987 until 1990, Palacios found a bigger role with the 1991 team, although he was still sent back to the minors at one point. He pitched well for the team in late September that year and was expected to be a key piece for the 1992 team. That year he made eight starts at 12 relief appearances, going 3-2, 4.25 in 53 innings. He was released following the season, returning to Mexico to pitch. Palacios would go on to pitch in the majors for parts of three more season, 1994-95 for the Cardinals and 2000 for the Padres. He pitched 76 games for the Pirates, 22 as a starter, going 12-8, 4.03 with six saves in 203.1 innings. Despite pitching for three straight playoff teams with the Pirates, he did not appear in a single postseason game.
Nick Koback, catcher for the Pirates from 1953 until 1955. He was a highly sought after player out of high school in 1953, deciding to sign with the Pirates, who gave him the highest bonus and a chance to play right away in the majors. At the time, if a player signed over a certain amount ($4,000), they had to stay on the Major League roster for two full seasons before being sent to the minors, a stipulation known as the “Bonus Baby” rule. He signed with the Pirates on July 9, 1953 and almost exactly two years to the day, they sold him to the minor leagues. In between that time, Koback played just 16 Major League games, with 36 total plate appearances. He had four hits (one triple) and he scored one run without collecting an RBI during his three seasons. He started eight games behind the plate and caught another four off the bench. Koback ended up playing minor league ball until 1960 without a return trip to the majors. Most of his time with the Pirates was spent as the bullpen catcher.
Earl Hamilton, lefty pitcher for the 1918-23 Pirates. He began playing minor league ball at age 17 and was in the majors with the St Louis Browns two years later. Hamilton spent five full seasons in St Louis before being sold to the Tigers after one start in the 1916 season. The Browns got him back a short time later, and prior to the Pirates purchasing him in 1918, Hamilton went 0-9 for St Louis during the 1917 season. In his first year in Pittsburgh, he turned that record around, going from a winless season to a 6-0 record in 1918, posting an 0.83 ERA in 54 innings. For the next five years with the Pirates, he was used in both a starting and relief role, getting 101 starts and 62 appearances out of the bullpen. Hamilton was a consistent pitcher, keeping his ERA between 3.24 and 3.99 each season during that span, throwing a minimum of 141 inning each year. The Pirates were over .500 all five years and the last three they placed among the top of the division, but Hamilton had just one winning season. In 1922 he went 11-7, despite his highest ERA (3.99) while with the Pirates. He finished his 14-year career with the 1924 Phillies, after they picked him up off waivers from the Pirates the previous December. Hamilton’s career record was 115-147 and he had just three winning seasons. For the Pirates, he went 55-55, 3.35, throwing 970.2 innings. After his Major League career ended, he pitched five more years in the minors.
Jeff Sweeney, catcher for the 1919 Pirates. He spent eight years catching for the New York Yankees/Highlanders from 1908 until 1915, playing 627 games with a .235 average and 151 RBIs. Twice he led AL catchers in errors and two times he threw out more runners than any other AL catcher. That was his only Major League experience prior to joining the 1919 Pirates. Sweeney had spent 1916-17 in the minors and 1918 out of baseball, serving in the military during WWI. He was the backup catcher to Walter Schmidt in 1919, seeing very little time until Schmidt got hurt in May and missed three weeks. Sweeney became the everyday catcher for a short time, playing a total of 17 games for the Pirates. His hitting was poor, batting .095 with no RBIs, but his defense kept him in the lineup until just before Schmidt returned. The Pirates began using rookie catcher Cliff Lee, and then had their backup since 1917 (Fred Blackwell) rejoin the team, leaving no spot for Sweeney once Schmidt came back. Sweeney went to play in the minors, where he finished his career after the 1920 season.
Harry Davis, first baseman for the 1896-98 Pirates. The Pirates acquired him from the New York Giants on July 25, 1896, along with cash, in exchange for Hall of Fame first baseman, Jake Beckley. Davis had 71 games worth of Major League experience at the time, batting .276 with 56 RBIs. He did not hit well during his first half season with the Pirates, batting .190 with no homers and a .548 OPS, but the Pirates stuck with him and the move paid off the following season. In 1897, Davis hit .305 in 111 games, with 63 RBIs and a league leading 28 triples. He played 64 games at first base, 32 at third base and also played 14 games in the outfield. He hit .293 in 58 games for the 1898 Pirates before being sold to the Louisville Colonels in July. In 1899 he barely played in the majors, then spent all of 1900 in the minors. In 1901, he reappeared with the Philadelphia A’s as their regular first baseman, a position he would hold for 11 seasons. Davis led the AL in homers for four straight years (1904-07), three times he led the league in doubles, twice in RBIs and he batted over .300 three times. He managed the Indians in 1912, then returned to the A’s in 1913 as a coach. Davis played in the majors every season from 1912-17, though he got into only 21 games over those six seasons, giving him a total of 22 seasons in the majors. He was a career .277 hitter, with 951 RBIs and 1,001 runs scored in 1,755 games.
Bill Hart, pitcher for the Pirates in 1895 and 1898. He had a long career in pro baseball, spanning 26 years and four different decades. While he won over 300 games in his career, his major league record wasn’t one to write home about. Some sources credit him with 251 minor league wins between 1885 and 1910, but his major league record over eight seasons stood at just 66-120 when he was done, with a below .500 winning percentage each year. Hart pitched in the majors in 1886-87, then went to the minors until 1892, when he went 9-12, 3.28 for the Brooklyn Grooms of the National League. After two seasons in the minors, he joined the 1895 Pirates, and pitched regularly throughout the year, making 29 starts and seven relief appearances. Hart went 14-17, 4.75 in 261.2 innings.
Following the season, he was traded to the St Louis Browns, along with a cash payment and shortstop Monte Cross for shortstop Bones Ely. Hart pitched often for St Louis with almost no success, going 21-56 in his two seasons. He returned to the Pirates in 1898 in exchange for pitcher Jim Hughey and cash. For as bad as Hart was in the majors, Hughey was even worse, going 29-80 over seven seasons. Hart went 5-9, 4.82 in 16 games (15 starts) for the 1898 Pirates, with 12 of those starts coming from the middle of August until the end of the season. He was then traded to Milwaukee of the Western League in exchange for Ginger Beaumont, who went on to become a star center fielder for the Pirates for eight seasons. Hart finished his Major League career with the Cleveland Blues in 1901, during the first season of the American League being recognized as a Major League. We wrote a full article on Hart here, which also include plenty on the aforementioned Jim Hughey as well.
Jim Donnelly, third baseman for the 1897 Pirates. He was a light-hitting third baseman for eight years in the majors (1884-91) before spending four straight years in the minors. Donnelly was a .213 career hitter in the majors at that time, with two homers in 480 games. He came back in 1896 and suddenly found his hitting stroke, batting .328 in 106 games for the Baltimore Orioles. Shortly after the season ended, the Pirates acquired Donnelly, along with Steve Brodie, a defensive star in center field. Pittsburgh gave up their all-time leader in batting average, Jake Stenzel, along with three minor league players, to get the two Baltimore players. While he played great defensively in Pittsburgh, Donnelly resorted back to his old ways on offense, batting .193 over 44 games. The Pirates let him go, and he finished the season with the New York Giants, where he hit .188 in 23 games. His Major League career was nearly over at that point, playing one game in May of 1898 for the St Louis Browns before finishing his playing days in the minors two years later.