Seven Pittsburgh Pirates players and one manager born on this date, plus a plethora of recent trades.
Mickey Mahler, lefty pitcher for the 1980 Pirates. He had a forgettable career with the Pirates, two games, one inning, seven runs allowed, resulting in a 63.00 ERA. Prior to his brief time in Pittsburgh, Mahler pitched three year for the Braves, the team that drafted him in 1974. Over those three seasons (1977-79), he went 10-24, 5.27 in 65 games, 44 as a starter. The Pirates signed him as a free agent on April 10, 1980, just twelve days after he was released by the Braves. His two appearances for Pittsburgh both came during blowout losses in September, and they happened 24 days apart. Just before Opening Day the next year, the Pirates shipped him to the Angels, along with Ed Ott, in exchange for Jason Thompson. Mahler pitched 12 games for the Angels over two seasons, then after spending 1983-84 in the minors, he returned for two more years in the majors. Between the 1985-86 seasons, he pitched 43 games, playing for four different teams during that span. Mahler spent his last year of pro ball in the minors. His brother Rick Mahler pitched 13 years in the majors, mostly with the Braves, winning 96 career games.
Bill Hall, catcher for the Pirates in 1954, 1956 and 1958. Originally signed by the Pirates in 1947 as an amateur free agent, Hall played over 1,200 minor league games during his 13-year pro career, spent entirely in the Pittsburgh organization. His career included three stints with the Pirates, two of them very brief. In 1954, he made the team out of Spring Training, going 0-for-7 in five games before being returned to the minors in early May. Two years later, he was again around at the beginning of the year, but his playing time that year was even less. His only game in 1956 was on April 27th, when he came in during the second inning to replace catcher Danny Kravitz, who was having trouble catching pitcher Ron Kline. Hall finished the game, going 0-for-3 at the plate. In 1958, he was in the minors to begin the year, but after hitting .344 during the first two months of the season while playing for Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League, the Pirates called him up and gave him plenty of playing time. He stuck around until the end of the season, playing a total of 51 games, with a .285 average, with 15 runs scored, 15 RBIs and 15 walks. Hall played two more years in the minors before retiring.
Johnny Rizzo, outfielder for the 1938-40 Pirates. The Pirates acquired Rizzo after the 1937 season, in a three-for-one deal with the Cardinals, who received backup outfielder Bud Hafey from Pittsburgh. It turned out to be a one-sided trade for the Pirates, who also received cash in the deal. Rizzo spent 1937 in the minors, where he hit .358 with 21 homers playing for Columbus of the American Association. It was his seventh season in the minors without a trip to the big leagues. The Pirates made the 25-year-old Rizzo their starting left fielder in 1938 and he had one of the best rookie seasons in team history. He hit .301 with 23 homers and 111 RBIs. That home run total was a team record that stood until surpassed by Ralph Kiner nine years later. Rizzo finished sixth in the NL MVP voting that year. His stats fell off in 1939, hitting .261 with six homers in 94 games. He was with the Pirates to start the 1940 season, but on May 8, 1940, the Pirates traded him to the Reds in exchange for outfielder Vince DiMaggio. Rizzo was in the majors through the end of the 1942 season, seeing time with the Phillies and Dodgers. In 1943, he joined the Navy, missing three seasons of baseball, before returning in 1946 to play out his career in the minors. Rizzo ended up hitting 24 homers during the 1940 season, with the last twenty coming after the Reds traded him to Philadelphia.
Hal Finney, catcher for the 1931-34 and 1936 Pirates. He caught during five seasons for the Pirates, though he played just 123 Major League games, 54 as a starter. Finney was a .203 big league hitter, with one homer and 27 RBIs. Most of his damage came during the 1933 season, when he hit .233 with his only homer (as a PH) and 18 RBIs, playing a career high 56 games. He was with the Pirates for all of the 1932 season, but through the end of August, he had no official at-bats. His only time up to the plate prior to September, he was hit by a pitch. From mid-June until the end of August he was used twenty times, all as a pinch-runner, and that’s despite stealing just one base during his Major League career. In 1936, Finney played 21 games for the Pirates, going 0-for-35 at the plate, without reaching base once, leaving him with a .000 OPS. It was the most at-bats in a season without a hit (by a position player), until broken in 2011 by Eugenio Velez of the Giants. Hal’s brother Lou Finney played 15 years in the majors.
Chuck Ward, shortstop for the 1917 Pirates. He had the unenviable task of replacing the great Honus Wagner at shortstop for the Pirates. For the 1917 season, Wagner shifted over to first base for most of the year, his last year in the majors. Ward hit .236 with 43 RBIs in 125 games that season. He was a big difference from Wagner both in the lineup and in the field, hitting no homers and committing 50 errors. The Pirates traded Ward to Brooklyn in the off-season (see Casey Stengel below). There he played a total of 111 games over five seasons, 14 fewer games than he played in his one year with the Pirates, and that was despite being with Brooklyn the entire time (meaning no trips to the minors during that time). Ward returned to the minors in 1923 to play two more years before retiring. He went to the plate 847 times during his career and did not hit a single home run.
Casey Stengel, outfielder for the 1918-19 Pirates. Known more for being the Hall of Fame manager who won 1,905 games and led the Yankees to seven World Series titles, he was also a fine ballplayer during his day. Stengel spent the first six years of his career (1912-17) playing outfield for the Brooklyn Robins. In 1914, he hit .316 and led the NL with a .404 OBP. On January 9, 1918, the Pirates acquired Stengel, along with second baseman George Cutshaw, in exchange for pitchers Burleigh Grimes, Al Mamaux and infielder Chuck Ward. Both Grimes and Stengel would go on to make the Hall of Fame. Stengel’s time in Pittsburgh was rough. He was always asking for more money to play during his career, and during the 1918 season he took a job doing wartime work until the war ended. He returned to the Pirates in 1919, but he didn’t last the entire year. On August 9, 1919, the Pirates traded him to the Phillies in exchange for outfielder Possum Whitted. Stengel lasted in the majors until 1925, having success as a part-time player with the Giants during the 1921-23 seasons, when he hit .349 in 177 total games. With Pittsburgh, he hit .280 with 55 RBIs and 56 runs scored in 128 games.
Bill Merritt, catcher for the 1894-97 Pirates. He was a backup catcher to Connie Mack with the 1894 Pirates before being released near the end of the year. Mack took over the managerial spot in Pittsburgh a short time later and brought Merritt back in 1895 to be his platoon catcher with Joe Sudgen. Merritt was a good hitting catcher, who could be used at other positions of the field when he needed to be given a rest from catching duties. He was also league average in throwing out base runners. In his four years in Pittsburgh, he hit .280 with 113 RBIs in 280 games. He played a total of 401 Major League games over eight seasons, hitting .272 with 196 RBIs. Merritt played just one Major League game after 1897, but his pro career lasted until 1905 in the minors.
Clint Hurdle, manager for the 2011-19 Pirates. Hurdle managed the Colorado Rockies for eight seasons. He had just one year over a .500 record, but he led the Rockies to their only World Series appearance in 2007. Hurdle took over a poor Pittsburgh team in 2011 and had them in the playoffs just two years later, their first postseason appearance in 21 years. They returned to the playoffs in each of the next two seasons as well. Hurdle was around until the 161st game of the 2019 season. He compiled a 735-720 record for the Pirates. He ranks fourth in team history in wins and his 1,269 career wins is 38th all-time.
Due to the number of trades and most of them being recent, I’ll keep these brief. Some have been expanded on already in our Pittsburgh Pirates Trade History section.
2016: Pirates trade Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals for Felipe Vasquez (technically for Felipe Rivero) and Taylor Hearn. This trade was paying off huge, as Melancon was becoming a free agent at the end of the season and the Pirates weren’t in the pennant chase. We all know about the rise and tremendous fall of the pitcher formerly known as Felipe Rivero, while Hearn was used to acquire Keone Kela. Hearn got injured in his big league debut last year, but was healthy by November.
2015: Pirates trade JaCoby Jones to the Detroit Tigers for Joakim Soria. The Pirates were giving up a prospect here for a rental and Soria did as well as you could hope. He had a 2.03 ERA in 26.2 innings over 29 appearances, then threw a scoreless inning in the playoffs, striking out three batters. Jones has spent parts of four seasons with the Tigers, hitting .211 with 25 homers and 26 stolen bases in 286 games.
2012: Pirates traded Brad Lincoln to the Toronto Blue Jays for Travis Snider. Lincoln was a former first round pick who never reached his peak, partially due to injury. He was a starter, who struggled as a reliever after the deal, lasting just 62.2 innings in the majors after the trade. Snider struggled for the 2012-13 Pirates, but he had a hot streak during the 2014 season, which led to the Pirates trading him for Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley in a deal that worked out much better for the Pirates.
2011: Pirates trade minor league first baseman Aaron Baker to the Orioles for Derrek Lee. Another deal where the Pirates gave up a prospect for a veteran on an expiring contract. Lee hit well for the Pirates before getting injured, batting .337 in 28 games, with seven homers and 18 RBIs. Baker never made the majors.
2009: Pirates send pitchers Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Cubs in exchange for Josh Harrison and pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio. Harrison was the key piece here, outperforming everyone else combined after the deal. Hart and Ascanio provided very little for the Pirates, while Harrison spent eight seasons in Pittsburgh, compiling a 14.5 WAR during that time. Grabow pitched well during the rest of the 2009 season, but they re-signed him as a free agent and he had a rough time during the 2010-11 seasons. He posted a 5.02 ERA in Chicago. Gorzelanny had a 4.43 ERA in 174.1 innings in Chicago before being traded for three minor league players.
2004: Pirates trade pitcher Kris Benson and infielder Jeff Keppinger to the Mets in exchange for Ty Wigginton, Jose Bautista and minor league pitcher Matt Peterson. None of these players worked out for their new team, but Keppinger, Bautista and Wigginton went on to have varying levels of success with other teams. Benson went 14-12, 4.23 in 39 starts for the Mets, which was the closest thing to success in this deal.
2001: Pirates deal pitcher Jason Schmidt and outfielder John Vander Wal to the Giants in exchange for Ryan Vogelsong and outfielder Armando Rios. This deal didn’t work out at all for the Pirates. Both players they got back were injured shortly afterwards, while Schmidt went on to win 78 games for the Giants. Vogelsong had two stints with the Giants and put up decent overall stats. He had two stints with the Pirates and struggled both times. Rios had a .655 OPS in 78 games for the Pirates over two seasons.