Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a pair of teammates from the 1949 team. We also have a recent trade of note.
On this date in 2008, the Pirates acquired outfielder Jose Tabata and pitchers, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf from the New York Yankees in exchange for relief pitcher Damaso Marte and outfielder Xavier Nady. The Pirates were giving up the two veterans in the deal, taking on four young players with minimal experience. Marte was a free agent at the end of the 2008 season and he did not pitch well after the deal, or in his final two seasons after re-signing with the Yankees. Nady saw his 2008 numbers drop after the deal, but he still did well in New York. However, he missed nearly the entire 2009 season with injury. With the performance of those two players, it wouldn’t take much for the Pirates to win this deal.
Jose Tabata had the biggest upside of this group, and while he never truly reached it, he stuck around for six seasons and finished with a 1.9 WAR. Ohlendorf made 64 starts with the Pirates and had a very quick peak in the middle, before falling off quickly. He had a 2.3 WAR with the Pirates. Karstens was similar to Ohlendorf, though he took a different route. He also had a brief peak at the end of his five years with the Pirates, which followed mediocre results. He had 3.9 WAR in Pittsburgh. McCutchen was the fourth wheel, who saw parts/all of four seasons with the Pirates before moving on to Baltimore. He had 0.4 WAR. This deal in 2011 appeared as if it had a chance to be a huge steal, but all four pieces fell off quickly around the same time.
Joaquin Benoit, pitcher for the 2017 Pirates. He finished his 16-year big league career with the 2017 Pirates after coming over in a July 31st trade deadline deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for minor league pitcher Seth McGarry. Benoit pitched eight games for the Pirates, posting a 7.56 ERA over 8.1 innings. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Washington Nationals, though he never pitched for them. Benoit debuted with the Texas Rangers in 2001 and was a starter with poor results until being switched to the bullpen in 2005. His best seasons happened between 2010 and 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres, He had a 1.34 ERA in 63 appearances for the 2010 Rays, a 2.01 ERA and 24 saves for the 2013 Tigers, and a 1.49 ERA in 53 outings for the 2014 Padres. In 1,068.2 innings over 764 appearances, Benoit went 58-49, 3.83, with 53 saves.
Jose Martinez, infielder for the 1969-70 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent out of Cuba in 1960, and it wasn’t until nine years later that he finally made his Major League debut. Martinez began as a shortstop, but by the time he made it to the majors, he was spending most of his time at third base. He had shown power during three stops in the minors, including 20 homers for Asheville in 1964. By the time he reached Triple-A in 1965, the power numbers were gone. Between the 1965-66 and 1968 seasons (he didn’t play in 1967), Martinez hit just 14 homers. In 1969, he went from a light-hitting third baseman, who was demoted to Double-A for the entire 1968 season, to the Pirates backup infielder. He played 77 games that year, getting 34 starts at second base in a season that Bill Mazeroski played just 67 games all year due to injury. Martinez hit .268 with one homer, 16 RBIs and twenty runs scored. His homer that year was a ninth inning grand slam that came during a 2-2 ballgame. In 1970, He made the Opening Day roster and was with the team through the end of May, playing 19 games, four as a starter. He went 1-for-20 at the plate before being sent back to Triple-A, where he spent the next two years for the Pirates. Pittsburgh sold him to the Royals in Spring Training of 1972 and he spent the next three years in their system at Triple-A, prior to his retirement from playing. Martinez went on to become a longtime coach with the Cubs and Royals after his playing days.
Tom Saffell, outfielder for the 1949-51 and 1955 Pirates. He played minor league ball in 1941, then missed the next four years. He was first out with a knee injury, but then he missed time while serving in the military during WWII. Saffell returned to the minors in 1946 and hit over .300 each of his first two seasons, earning a spot on the Pirates Triple-A team in Indianapolis for the 1948 season. The speedy lefty played center field and batted lead-off most of his minor league career. With Indianapolis in 1948, he hit .299 with 22 stolen bases and 119 runs scored. The Pirates called Saffell up midway through the 1949 season and he played well, hitting .322 in 73 games with 36 runs scored. He made the Opening Day roster the next year, but struggled to hit and was sent down at the end of May. Coming back up in mid-August, he finished the year batting .203 in 67 games. The next season was more of the same. Saffell was a seldom used bench player during the first month, then got sent down in May. He eventually came back up and finished with a .200 average in 49 games.
Saffell spent all of the next three seasons in the minors, then got one more shot with the Pirates as their 1955 Opening Day center fielder. He remained with the team until his release in mid-September, batting .168 in 73 games. He finished the season with the Kansas City A’s, his last Major League team. Saffell played four more seasons in the minors before retiring as a player. After his playing career ended, he was a longtime manager in the minors, a few of those seasons spent in the Pirates organization, He then spent even more time as the president of the Gulf Coast League, staying active in baseball into his late 80’s.
Eddie Bockman, third baseman for the 1948-49 Pirates. He originally signed as an 18-year-old in 1939, though he didn’t make the majors until seven years later, partly due to missing three full seasons while serving in the military during WWII. Bockman came back from the war in 1946 and hit .303 with 78 walks, 95 RBIs and 29 stolen bases for Kansas City of the American Association. He had a brief trial in September with the Yankees, then was traded to the Indians right after the season ended. For Cleveland in 1947, he hit .258 in 46 games, getting just 71 plate appearances all season. On January 16, 1948, the Pirates purchased Bockman from the Indians. In his two seasons with the Pirates, he started 100 games, all at third base. He was the team’s regular third baseman at the end of the 1948 season and the first two months of the 1949 season, but he didn’t hit much and lost the job to Pete Castiglione. Eddie hit .230, with ten homers and 42 RBIs in 149 games for Pittsburgh. He went to the minors in 1950 and ended up playing another nine seasons, the last four as a player/manager, before retiring.
Jimmy Bloodworth, second baseman for the 1947 Pirates. A common theme among the three players from today that played in the 1940’s is they all missed significant time in their prime while serving in the military during WWII. Bloodworth, unlike the previous two players, was already an established Major Leaguer when he missed his time. He was the everyday second baseman for the Detroit Tigers in 1942-43, and held the same spot with the Washington Senators over the three prior seasons. He missed all of 1944-45, returning during the next season and taking over his second base job in Detroit again. The Pirates purchased his contract in December of 1946, exactly five years after the Tigers traded to get him. For Pittsburgh in 1947, Bloodworth started 82 games at second base, playing 88 games total, and he hit .250 with seven homers and 48 RBIs. He began the year with the team, but was quickly sent down to the minors until returning on July 4th, so all of his 82 starts actually came over the last 88 games of the season. Almost a year after they acquired him, the Pirates traded Bloodworth to the Dodgers in exchange for Monty Basgall. He never played for the Dodgers in the majors, but returned to the big leagues in 1949 for three seasons, first with the Reds, then the Phillies. He played in the minors until 1955 and from 1952-54, he took up pitching, while also serving as a player/manager. He was a .248 hitter with 451 RBIs in 1002 major league games. In 1940, he had the best fielding percentage among AL second baseman, and in five other seasons, he finished in the top three in the same category.