Obscure Pittsburgh Pirates: Alex McCarthy

In August of 1910, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired a large group of minor league players from across the country. Two future Hall of Famers were included, Red Faber and Max Carey, who came from the South Bend club of the Central League. Carey had a 21-year-old teammate on that team, shortstop Alex McCarthy, who was also secured at that same time. Both South Bend players would stick around Pittsburgh longer than anyone else picked up in that group, but Carey is well-known now for his Hall of Fame career, while McCarthy is as obscure as you can get for someone who spent eight seasons with one team.

McCarthy was acquired more for his defense, which is what kept him around the majors longer. He hit .243 with one homer in 141 games for South Bend. It was his first season of pro ball out of college. After Pittsburgh purchased his contract, McCarthy finished the season with South Bend, before joining the Pirates. He didn’t make his Major League debut until October 7th, starting at shortstop, while Honus Wagner slid over to first base so the Pirates could get a look at their new player. McCarthy played the final three games of the season and went 1-for-12 at the plate.

McCarthy made the team out of Spring Training in 1911 and was used sparingly until September. At that point, Honus Wagner once again moved over to first base, this time for a longer stretch in September. McCarthy batted .246/.288/.305 in 35 Sept/October games. Over the first five months of the season, he had just 40 plate appearances in 16 games.

The 1912 season saw McCarthy get more playing time than any other year in his career. He played second base, while the regular second baseman, Dots Miller, moved over to cover first base. McCarthy lost the starting job late in the season, but he still played a career high 111 games, batting .277/.332/.334, with 53 runs scored and 40 RBIs. He posted an 0.9 dWAR that season and his .962 fielding percentage at second base was the second best in the league.

McCarthy on his 1912 T207 baseball card


McCarthy was back to being a bench piece in 1913 and almost all of his action that season came in April and July, when the Pirates needed him to fill in as a starter for a short time at three different positions. He had a total of 90 plate appearances in 31 games, with 23 of those games and 82 of the plate appearances occurring during his two busy months. He played just three games over the final two months and one game in all of May.

Prior to the 1914 season, the Pirates made the unwise decision to trade away Dots Miller, which helped open up playing time for McCarthy, He was a fill-in all season for the three infield spots (not first base) and saw more time later in the year. McCarthy was still strong defensively, but this was an absolute awful showing at the plate. In 57 games, he batted .150/.192/.179, with 14 RBIs and 14 runs scored. His 0.6 dWAR that season was off-set by -1.2 WAR on offense. It was tough to be that much worse than average during the deadball era, when the league as a whole had a .651 OPS.

McCarthy was once again being sporadically used during the 1915, playing just 21 games through early September. The Pirates sold him to the Chicago Cubs late in the season, where he stayed until July of 1916, when he was purchased back by the Pirates. McCarthy actually did well in Chicago, putting up an 0.8 WAR on offense in 60 games over his two seasons. In his career he finished with 0.0 offensive WAR, so it was a clear turnaround from his time in Pittsburgh.

After returning from Chicago in late July of 1916, McCarthy saw regular playing time over the final two full months, hitting .199/.282/.219 in 50 games. Most of his time was spent at shortstop, with the aging Honus Wagner eventually becoming a full-time first baseman during the later part of his career.

McCarthy settled back into the utility role in 1917 with the Pirates, though he was starting regularly through late July. He hit .219/.276/.245 in 49 games, before getting sick late in the year, which caused him to miss the final two months. He had rheumatism, which affected his legs and feet to a point that he could not walk.

Prior to the 1918 season, McCarthy was sold to Kansas City of the American Association, ending his eight-year run with the Pirates. He recovered from the rheumatism and would end up playing ten seasons in the minors before retiring as a player. He was a player-manager during three of those seasons.

McCarthy played eight seasons with the Pirates, hitting .226/.288/.275 in 372 games. In his career, he played 100+ games at shortstop, second base and third base. The stats look poor, but he played his entire career during the deadball era and as I mentioned earlier, he was there for his glove and versatility.

Phtoto Credit: Alarmy stock photo