This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 2nd, the Original Home Run Champ

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one transaction of note.

The Transaction

On this date in 1892, the Pirates signed Joe Kelley, a 20-year-old minor league outfielder with 12 games of big league experience, all coming during the previous season with the Boston Beaneaters (Braves). Pittsburgh put Kelley in center field, where he would play 56 games before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles for star outfielder George Van Haltren and cash. While they were getting the current star in the deal, the .239 hitter they gave up, turned into a .317 career hitter with a Hall of Fame plaque. Kelley had a top ten OPS every season from 1893-98, scoring an average of 127 runs and driving in an average of 108 runs per season during that six-year stretch.

The Players

Nyjer Morgan, outfielder for the 2007-09 Pirates. He was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 33rd round of the 2002 amateur draft. He worked his way through the Pirates system, hitting nearly .300 along the way while stealing 234 bases in 513 games. Morgan hit just six homers in 2,287 plate appearances in the Pirates system. He was called up to the majors in September of 2007, starting 25 games for Pittsburgh, finishing with a .299 average and seven steals. He made the 2008 Opening Day roster and hit poorly through early May before being sent to the minors. He returned briefly in June, before coming back for good in mid-August. On August 19th, his batting average was .130 after an 0-for-4 day. By the end of the season, he had it up to .294, partially due to eight multi-hit games over a ten-game stretch.

Morgan was the Opening Day left fielder in 2009, hitting .277 in 72 games through the end of June. He was traded to the Washington Nationals on June 30, 2009, along with Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. He played in Washington until the end of 2010, then moved on to Milwaukee, where he had a strong 2011 season, followed by a very poor 2012 season in which he had 16 RBIs in 122 games. He played briefly for the 2014 Cleveland Indians. Morgan led the NL in caught stealing in both 2009 and 2010, then cut down his running, attempting just 37 steals over his final three seasons. He finished as a .282 hitter in 598 big league games, with 12 homers and 120 steals.

Sean Casey, first baseman for the 2006 Pirates. He had a 12-season Major League career, spent mostly with the Reds, that included a four-month stop with the Pirates during the 2006 season. Pittsburgh acquired him on December 8, 2005 in exchange for pitcher Dave Williams. Casey hit .312 for the Reds in 2005, although his power numbers dropped off from 24 homers in 2004, down to just nine the following season. He played 59 games for the Pirates, hitting .296 with three homers and 29 RBIs, prior to being traded to the Detroit Tigers for minor league pitcher Brian Rogers. Casey missed 38 games while in Pittsburgh due to a back injury caused by a collision at first base with the Cardinals’ John Mabry. Casey was a career .302 hitter in 1,405 games, with 130 homers and 735 RBIs. He batted over .300 six times and made three All-Star games during his career.

Tony Armas, outfielder for the 1976 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1971 out of Venezuela. Armas made it to Triple-A by age 21, hitting .300 in 128 games during that 1975 season. He repeated the level the next year and topped twenty homers, (21) for the first time, though his average dropped down to .235 with 120 strikeouts.  Armas was called up by the Pirates in September, getting into four games before the year was over. He was then traded to the Oakland A’s on March 15, 1977 in a nine-player deal that brought Phil Garner back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates won the World Series two years later with Garner, but Armas had some big seasons in his career, first in Oakland and then in Boston. Twice he led the league in homers and three times he drove in over 100 runs. Armas finished his career with 251 homers and 815 RBIs over 14 seasons. His son Tony Armas Jr also played for a Pirates.

Fred Carroll, catcher/outfielder for the 1885-89 Alleghenys and the 1891 Pirates. He was a strong hitting catcher during an era where most backstops weren’t expected to contribute with their bat. The ability to catch day in and day out with inferior equipment was valued at the position. Carroll began his big league career as a teenager with the 1884 Columbus Buckeyes of the American Association. He hit .278 with six homers and led all catchers in fielding percentage. Before the 1885 season, the Columbus franchise folded and most of the team, including Carroll joined the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He had a slow first season in Pittsburgh, then followed it up with a strong 1886 campaign, playing a career high 122 games. He hit .288 with 64 RBIs and 92 runs scored.

The Pittsburgh franchise moved from the AA to the National League in 1887 and Carroll was the top hitter on the team, batting .328 with a team leading six homers and 54 RBIs. His numbers and playing time were both down in 1888, but the following season was a big offensive year for him. He only played about half of his games behind the plate because the team had a strong defensive catcher in Doggie Miller, so they moved Carroll around to keep his bat in the lineup. During that 1889 season, he hit .330 with 85 walks and 80 runs scored. He had a league leading .486 OBP and .970 OPS. That OPS is the highest in team history for a catcher and it ranks 25th in team history.

When the Player’s League formed in 1890, Carroll was one of numerous Alleghenys’ players to jump to the new league, playing for the Pittsburgh Burghers. The league folded after one season and most of the players returned to their old team. The Pirates became a stronger team than their 1889 version by signing some star players after the PL folded. It also meant less time for Carroll, who saw his batting average drop down to .218, in what would be his last season in the majors. He played minor league baseball until 1895, briefly returning in 1898 for one last game. He was a .281 hitter in 574 games for the Pirates/Alleghenys, scoring 405 runs and driving in 295 runs. For nine years, he was the franchise’s career home run leader, until passed in 1896 by Hall of Famer Jake Beckley.

Ed Beecher, outfielder for the 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He was in his fifth season of minor league ball in 1887, playing for Hartford of the Eastern League, when he was signed by the Alleghenys in late June. Beecher played all three outfield positions for Pittsburgh, hitting .243 with 22 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 41 games. The following year he was back in the minors, next returning to the National League in 1889 with Washington. Beecher had a big 1890 season playing for the Buffalo Bisons of the Player’s League, hitting .297 with 90 RBIs, although he was horrendous on defense, setting an all-time Major League record for outfielders with 55 errors. When the PL folded, Beecher moved on to the American Association, where he played his last season in the majors in 1891, splitting the year between two teams. In the minors in 1892, he played for three different teams in the Eastern League that year. After two years out of pro ball, he played three more games in 1895 before retiring.