Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date including one of the better pitchers from the franchise’s early years.
Jesse Tannehill, pitcher for the 1897-1902 Pirates. He made his pro debut for the Reds in 1894, going right from amateur ball in Cincinnati to the majors. After five games for the Reds, he went to the minor leagues, where he was a star pitcher for Richmond of the Virginia League. Tannehill won 49 games between the 1895-96 seasons, which drew the attention of the Pirates, who took him in the 1896 Rule 5 draft. His first year with the team was average, though the Pirates saw potential in the young lefty. In 1898 he became a regular in the rotation and had a great season, going 25-13, 2.95 in 326.2 innings. Tannehill was not a one-year wonder though, he would go 44-20 over the next two years combined. In 1901, Tannehill went 18-10 as the Pirates won their first NL pennant. He led the NL in ERA that year at 2.18, just .04 ahead of his teammate, Deacon Phillippe.
The 1902 Pirates had the best record in franchise history and Tannehill was part of a five-man rotation that went 99-32 on the year and pitched all but 65 of the team’s innings that season. He finished that year with a 20-6 record and a team best, 1.95 ERA. After the season, he jumped to the American League, signing with the New York Highlanders. Tannehill would pitch until 1911 in the majors, finishing with a 197-117 record. For the Pirates, he went 116-58, posting a 2.75 ERA in 1,508 innings pitched. He is 13th in team history in ERA, tied for 12th in wins and his win/loss percentage is the best among pitchers with at least 65 decisions. His brother Lee played ten seasons for the White Sox.
Jack Leathersich, lefty relief pitcher for the 2017 Pirates. He was a late season pickup off waivers from the Chicago Cubs. Leathersich pitched 11.2 innings over 17 appearances for the 2015 New York Mets, then made one appearance for the 2017 Cubs. With the Pirates, he made six September appearances in relief, throwing shutout ball over 4.1 innings. He was let go via waivers to the Cleveland Indians in Spring Training of 2018. Leathersich did not pitch during the 2019 season after being released by the Texas Rangers in late spring. He was originally a fifth round pick of the Mets in the 2011 draft.
Jose Hernandez, infielder for the 2003 and 2006 Pirates. The Pirates acquired the veteran infielder in the Aramis Ramirez trade with the Cubs at the 2003 trading deadline. Hernandez was in his 12th season in the majors, one year removed from his lone All-Star appearance. He began the 2003 season with the Rockies, getting traded to the Cubs in June. After the deal to the Pirates, he took over for Ramirez at third base and hit .223 with three homers and 21 RBIs in 58 games. Pittsburgh released him at the end of the season, though he came back to the team in January of 2006 as a free agent. Hernandez hit .267 in 67 games for 2006 Pittsburgh, prior to being sold to the Philadelphia Phillies in August. He played all four infield positions and both corner outfield spots for the Pirates that year. Hernandez re-signed with the Pirates again for 2007 and spent the entire year at Triple-A. He finished his career with two seasons in the Mexican League. In 1,587 major league games, he hit .252 with 168 homers and 603 RBIs
Earl Francis, pitcher for the 1960-64 Pirates. The Pirates signed him in 1954, but after one season in the minors, he spent the next four years serving in the Air Force. Returning to baseball in 1959, he went to Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League and posted a 3.33 ERA in 154 innings. Francis split the 1960 season between starting in Triple-A and pitching out of the Pirates bullpen. He was with Pittsburgh during the middle of the season, but was optioned to the minors in mid-August when the Pirates signed veteran reliever Clem Labine. Francis did not pitch again for the Pirates that year, as they went on to win their third World Series title in franchise history. In 1961, he began the year at Triple-A, joining Pittsburgh in early June for the rest of the season. He went 2-8, 4.21 in 15 starts and eight relief appearances, pitching a total of 102.2 innings. He had the best year of his career in 1962, going 9-8, 3.07 with 23 starting assignments and 13 relief outings. He was the Pirates Opening Day starter in 1963 and took the loss after giving up four runs in the first two innings. Francis pitched 12 more times as a starter that year and 20 times out of the bullpen, where he had more success. He spent the 1964 season in the minors, pitching twice with the Pirates as a September call-up. In December, he was part of a four-player trade between the Cardinals and Pirates. His last big league experience was two September games for the 1965 Cardinals. Francis played one more season of minor league ball before retiring. With the Pirates, he had a 16-23, 3.75 record in 101 games.
Bob Purkey, pitcher for the 1954-57 and 1966 Pirates. He was a Pittsburgh native, who the Pirates signed in 1948 out of South Hills, HS. As an 18-year-old, he was sent to the Alabama State League, class-D ball, to play for Greenville. Purkey went 19-8, 3.01 in 224 innings that rookie year in pro ball. He moved up two levels the next season and did even better, going 17-6, 2.94 in 31 games. Purkey again skipped over a level the next year, though he didn’t have quite the success he did his first two seasons, going 12-12, 4.78 for New Orleans of the Southern Association. His baseball career was put on hold for two seasons while he served in the military. Returning in 1953, he went back to New Orleans and pitched better despite the layoff. The Pirates kept him in the majors for the entire 1954 season, giving him 11 starts and 25 relief appearances. Purkey went 3-8, 5.07 in 131.1 innings, walking 62 with 38 strikeouts. He split the next two years between the minors and majors, making 14 total appearances for the Pirates. He was with the Pirates for all of 1957 and was used often. He made 21 starts and 27 relief appearances, going 11-14, 3.86 in 179.2 innings.
On December 9, 1957, Pittsburgh traded him to the Reds in exchange for pitcher Don Gross. It was a trade that did not work out well. Purkey went on to become a star pitcher for Cincinnati immediately, winning 17 games and making the All-Star team his first year with the team. He won 17 games in 1960, then another 16 in 1961 as he made the All-Star team again. In 1962, Purkey went 23-5, helping the Reds to the World Series, while finishing third in the Cy Young award voting. He won 103 games for the Reds over seven seasons, prior to moving on to the Cardinals for the 1965 season. After going 10-9, 5.79 in St Louis, the Pirates purchased his contract from the Cardinals in 1966 just before Opening Day. Purkey made ten relief outings for Pittsburgh, and while he pitched well (1.37 ERA in 19.2 innings), he was barely used after mid-May and was released in early August, ending his baseball career.
Jack Farmer, utility player for the 1916 Pirates. He is one of just two players from Cumberland University who made it to the majors, and it took nearly 100 years for the second player (Luis Martinez, 2011 Padres) to join him. Farmer played three years in the minors before making his Major League debut with the 1916 Pirates in early July. That year he was hitting .253 over 48 games for Louisville of the American Association, prior to joining Pittsburgh. Farmer played 55 of the team’s last 80 games, seeing starts at second base, both corner outfield spots and shortstop. He hit .271 with 14 RBIs and ten runs scored. While the average was decent, his fielding wasn’t that good at any position. He also drew just seven walks, without showing any power or speed. Farmer returned to the minors in 1917, briefly reappearing in the majors with the 1918 Cleveland Indians for seven games, before finishing out his career as a player in 1920 with Nashville of the Southern Association.
Joe Conzelman, pitcher for the 1913-15 Pirates. The Pirates signed him out of Brown University in the summer of 1912, though he didn’t make his pro debut until May of the following season. He made it known when he started playing pro baseball that he was only going to play a few years before moving on to “his real life work”. The Pirates thought he could be a good pitcher someday and worked with him as he continued post-graduate studies in the off-season after his rookie campaign. Conzelman had an impressive first full season in the majors in 1914, going 5-6, 2.94 in 101 innings, making nine starts and 24 relief appearances. After the season he moved to the Pittsburgh area and took up a job as a civil engineer. Conzelman returned to the Pirates in 1915 and was used out of the bullpen for most of the season. He went 1-1, 3.42 in 18 games (one start), pitching a total of 47.1 innings. The Pirates sold him to Indianapolis of the American Association in August, and after going 4-4, 2.04 over the final games of the season, he retired from baseball to pursue his career.