This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 7th, Bill McKechnie, Pops Signs with Pirates

This is probably the busiest day for birthdays and trades. Ten former players born on this date and five transactions of note.

The Players

Bill McKechnie, infielder for the Pirates in 1907, 1910-12, 1918 and 1920. Manager for the Pirates from 1922 until 1926. He began his big league career with a brief late season trial with the Pirates during the 1907 season. McKechnie was sent back to the minors for the next two years to refine his skills. In 1910, he returned to Pittsburgh, serving as the team’s backup infielder. The 23-year-old would see time at all four infield spots that first full year, hitting .217 with 12 RBIs and 23 runs scored in 71 games. In 1911, he saw most of his time at first base, platooning with 31-year-old rookie Newt Hunter. McKechnie hit a little better his second year, batting .227 with 17 extra-base hits, after collecting just three during his first season. He was strong at putting the ball in play, with just 18 strikeouts in 376 plate appearances. He also had 25 sacrifice hits. He saw limited time during the 1912 season, playing 24 games through August, when he was sent to the minors in exchange for infielder Art Butler.

McKechnie returned to the majors in 1913, jumping all around the next four years, with stops in Boston (1913 Braves) New York (1913 Yankees), the Federal League (Indianapolis,1914 and Newark, 1915), then back to New York (1916 Giants), before ending up with the 1916 Reds. He remained in Cincinnati for 1917, then was sold back to the Pirates in 1918 for $20,000 during Spring Training. McKechnie started at third base for the 1918 Pirates, hitting .255 with 43 RBIs and 34 runs scored in 126 games. Despite the regular playing time in 1918, he took a job outside of baseball the next year. The Pirates convinced him to come back in 1920, serving as a backup infielder/coach. That 1920 season was his last in the majors. The next year he played his last year in the minors, hitting .321 for Minneapolis of the American Association.

McKechnie had managed in the majors in 1915 while with Newark of the Federal League. He returned to the Pirates as a coach in 1922, although he initially tried to comeback with the team is his backup infielder role. When the Pirates got off to a bad start, they got rid of manager George Gibson and hired McKechnie for the role. He took them from a 32-33 start, to a 53-36 record over the final 89 games. The next year the team was just as good, finishing in third place with 87 wins. They improved slightly in 1924, going 90-63, but it was still just good enough for a third place spot.

The 1925 season ended up being a championship year for the Pirates, as McKechnie led them to a 95-58 finish and a World Series win over the Washington Senators. It was the second WS title for the Pirates, who won in 1909, when McKechnie was in the minors. In 1926, they had a disappointing third place finish and McKechnie was allowed to leave. He would go on to win an NL pennant with the 1928 Cardinals, then another pennant with the 1939 Reds, before winning his second WS title with the 1940 Reds. He finished with 1,896 major league wins over 25 seasons. With the Pirates, he had a 409-293 record. He was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1962. McKechnie was a resident of Bradenton, Florida in his later years and the Pirates Spring Training home was named after him (McKechnie Field) until recently, when they made an unwise name change. Most fans still refer to it by the rightful name.

Ryan Lavarnway, catcher for the 2018 Pirates. He was signed as a minor league free agent prior to the 2018 season and was added to the active roster in September, after spending the rest of the season as a platoon catcher in Triple-A. Lavarnway played six games and batted six times for the Pirates, collecting four hits and an RBI. He left via free agency after the season and appeared in the majors briefly with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019. Over eight seasons from 2011 to 2019 (he spent all of 2016 in the minors), he is a .211 hitter, with nine homers and 50 RBIs in 151 games. He was originally a sixth round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2008 out of Yale University.

Wade LeBlanc, pitcher for the 2016-17 Pirates. He was acquired by the Pirates in mid-September of 2016 from the Seattle Mariners. He made eight appearances for the Pirates over the final three weeks and allowed just one earned run in 12 innings. In 2017, LeBlanc made 50 relief appearances and he went 5-2, 4.50 in 68 innings. He was left go via free agency at the end of the season. He has pitched 11 seasons in the majors, seeing time with Pittsburgh, Seattle, the Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins and Houston Astros. He has a 45-47, 4.46 record in 860 innings. He’s started 114 games and pitched in relief 120 times.

Tyler Yates, relief pitcher for the 2008-09 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Oakland A’s in 1998 as a 23rd round draft pick. It took him six years to make the majors, doing it as a member of the Opening Day roster of the 2004 New York Mets. Yates went 2-4, 6.36 in seven starts and 14 relief appearances for the Mets in 2004, spending half the season back in the minors. He then missed all of 2005 with rotator cuff surgery. It was his second major operation, also missing most of 2002 after Tommy John surgery. Yates was released by the Mets after the 2005 season, signed with the Orioles, who released him before the end of 2006 Spring Training. He then signed with the Braves and made it back to the majors after just seven Triple-A outings. Yates made 56 appearances for Atlanta that year, going 2-5, 3.96 in 50 innings. The next year, he was used often, but his numbers regressed. In 75 outings, he had a 5.18 ERA, throwing a total of 66 innings. Near the end of Spring Training in 2008, the Pirates traded minor league pitcher Todd Redmond to the Braves to acquire Yates. He made 72 appearances in 2008 for Pittsburgh, throwing a total of 73.1 innings, with a 6-3, 4.66 record. In 2009, he pitched 15 times before he required a second Tommy John surgery. Yates attempted a comeback in 2010, but never pitched again.

Steve Kemp, left fielder for the 1985-86 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the Tigers in 1976, making it to the majors after just 125 minor league games. Kemp was a regular in the Detroit lineup for five seasons, hitting .284 with 82 homers and 422 RBIs in 684 games over that time. He made his only career All-Star appearance during the 1979 season, when he hit .318 with 105 RBIs. He was traded to the White Sox in November of 1981, playing one season in Chicago prior to signing with the Yankees for five years in December of 1982. His time in New York did not go well, lasting just two years and 203 games. The Pirates acquired Kemp from the Yankees, along with Tim Foli, on December 20, 1984 in exchange for Dale Berra, Al Pulido and minor league outfielder Jay Buhner. By 1985, he was a shell of his former self and all power was gone from his offensive game. Kemp hit .250 with two homers and 21 RBIs in 92 games during the disastrous 1985 season, when the Pirates went 57-104, finishing 43.5 games out in the standings. He would make the 1986 Pirates team out of Spring Training, but he was released a month into the season after hitting .188 in 13 games. Kemp spent the better part of the 1986-88 seasons in the minors, briefly reappearing with the 1988 Texas Rangers for 16 games before retiring.

Jim Sadowski, pitcher for the 1974 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1970 as an amateur free agent. Sadowski was a starting pitcher during his first two seasons in the minors, moving into a spot starter/long man role in 1972, when he repeated High-A ball in the Carolina League. In 1973, he moved up to Double-A, going 11-5, 3.34 in 124 innings, making seven starts and 32 relief appearances. He began 1974 in Triple-A, but was quickly up with the big club. Sadowski pitched four early season games for the Pirates that year. He gave up six runs on seven hits and nine walks in nine innings. It would end up being his only Major League experience. He pitched in the Pirates system until 1977, then finished his career with one year in the Royals system. Three of his uncles (all named Sadowski) played in the majors. Bob won twenty games over four seasons with the Braves and Red Sox. Ted pitched 43 games over three years with the Senators/Twins. Ed was a catcher for the Red Sox, Angels and Braves, hitting .202 in 217 games.

Jerry McNertney, catcher for the 1973 Pirates. He was originally signed by the White Sox in 1958, and made his Major League debut with Chicago six seasons later. After missing most of the 1965 season, McNertney returned to the majors in 1966 for eight more years. He spent three years (1966-68) as the backup catcher for the White Sox, prior to his selection in the 1968 expansion draft by the Seattle Pilots. McNertney got his most playing time there, catching 122 games in 1969, then 94 games the next year (plus some time at first base) as the team became the Milwaukee Brewers after one year. He was traded to St Louis just after the 1970 season ended, serving as the backup catcher for the Cardinals for two seasons. After being released following the 1972 season, he was signed by the A’s, where he played back in the minors for the first time in eight years. Less than a month into the season, the Pirates purchased his contract. McNertney served as the backup to Milt May, as Manny Sanguillen attempted to play right field, following the tragic death of Roberto Clemente. In July, Sanguillen moved back to catching full-time and McNertney was released. He played nine games for the Pirates, one as the starting catcher, the rest off the bench. His release by the Pirates would mark the end of his baseball playing career. He hit .237 with 27 homers and 163 RBIs in 590 big league games.

Les Fleming, first baseman for the 1949 Pirates. He had a 16-year minor league career that saw him bat over .300 with 280 homers. Fleming didn’t have as much success in the majors, playing a total of 434 games, including 156 in 1942 with the Indians, when he led the AL in games played. Immediately following that season, he missed all of the 1943-44 seasons, plus most of 1945 while serving in the military during WWII. Fleming returned to Cleveland in August of 1945 and hit .329 over the last 42 games. He spent the next two years serving as a platoon player at first base, playing a total of 202 games. The Pirates acquired Fleming on December 4, 1947 in exchange for first baseman Elbie Fletcher. He spent the entire 1948 season playing at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he hit .323 with 26 homers and 143 RBIs in 151 games. Fleming made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1949, and was used mainly as a pinch-hitter, making three starts over the first two months of the season, which ended up being his last time in the big leagues. In 24 games, he hit .258 with seven RBIs and six walks in 38 plate appearances. He was returned to the minors, where he played until 1956, serving as a player/manager during the 1954 season in the Chicago Cubs system.

Adonis Terry, pitcher for the 1892-94 Pirates. He burst onto the minor league scene as an 18-year-old in 1883, going 16-9, 1.38 for the Brooklyn Greys of the Interstate League. By 1884, he was a big league starter, spending the next 14 years in the majors, winning a total of 197 games. Terry remained in Brooklyn, playing for the Atlantics/Grays of the American Association for six years, then following the team in 1890 as it shifted to the National League. He did not have a good rookie season, as Brooklyn was a ninth place team and Adonis (real name was William) was thrown into the fire often, going 19-35, while pitching 476 innings. He finished his eight years in Brooklyn with a 126-139 record, twice winning over twenty games. He was released by Brooklyn in June of 1892, after not pitching during the first two months of the season. He signed quickly with Baltimore and lost the only game he pitched there, giving up seven runs in a complete game. The Pirates acquired Terry on June 17, 1892, for second baseman Cub Stricker, who they acquired three days earlier for Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin.

Terry pitched great for the Pirates, going 18-7, 2.51 in 240 innings over the last four months of the 1892 season. He struggled a bit in 1893, going 12-8, 4.45 in 19 starts and seven relief outings. On April 28, 1894, he made his first start of the season in the seventh game of the year for the Pirates. It was also his last start for the team. He allowed five runs in the first inning, unable to record three outs before he was removed from the game. A month later, he was a regular member of the Chicago Colts (Cubs) rotation, finishing his big league career there three years later. Terry played his last two seasons in the minors for Milwaukee of the Western League, where his manager was Connie Mack, his regular catcher in Pittsburgh. After retiring as a player, he briefly took up umpiring in the majors, though that didn’t last long.

Jim Gray, infielder for the 1884 and 1890 Alleghenys, and 1893 Pirates. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who kept popping up with the local teams every so often. His minor league records are spotty at best, showing parts of three (1887-88, 1898) seasons. He mostly played semi-pro ball in the Pittsburgh area. His entire Major League career consisted of six games, and included three stints with the Pirates franchise and two games for the Pittsburgh Burghers in 1890, a team from the Player’s League. In 1893, he was called up to substitute for Jack Glasscock for two days and collected two hits in each game. Gray was able to hold his own at the plate, batting .304 with a homer in his 23 career at-bats, but he had his share of problems in the field, making nine errors in his six games. He was referred to in The Pittsburgh Press as the “local County League boy” whenever he showed up in a Major League game. In his six game career, he played third base, second base and shortstop.

The Trades

On this date in 1904, the Pirates, Giants and Reds got together on a three-player trade. Pittsburgh sends young right fielder Jimmy Sebring to the Reds, while the Reds send veteran Mike Donlin to the Giants and New York sends Moose McCormick to the Pirates. This trade is an odd one in that all three of these players had no problems walking away from their baseball careers, right in the middle of them. Donlin was by far the best player of the group, but he also had a successful career outside of baseball, performing in vaudeville with his wife, who was a famous actress at the time. Sebring also left baseball to be with his wife, who was sick for a brief time. Instead of returning, he began playing for a local team and was blacklisted from the majors. He returned to the majors in 1909, but passed away the following off-season. McCormick retired from baseball for three years, before going back to the Giants, where he was used mostly off the bench. The Pirates got just 66 games out of Moose, but they later acquired Donlin for outfielder Vin Campbell, another players that had no qualms over leaving baseball for more money elsewhere.

On this date in 1930, the Pirates traded outfielder Fred Brickell to the Phillies for outfielder Denny Sothern. The Pirates were giving up a 23-year-old outfielder with a .312 average over 265 games, spread out over five seasons. In return, they got a 26-year-old center fielder, with a .287 average in 321 games, and a knack of picking up outfield assists, twice leading NL center fielders. The trade quickly went down south for the Pirates. Sothern would play just 17 games for Pittsburgh, and only 19 other games in his big league career. He hit .176 with the Pirates and never picked up another assist after leaving Philadelphia. It wasn’t a huge loss for the Pirates, as Brickell also saw a quick drop in his production. He played parts of four seasons in Philadelphia, hitting .258 with one homer in 236 games.

On this date in 1958, the Pirates signed the great Willie Stargell as an amateur free agent. Just 18 years old at the time, and fresh out of Encinal HS in Alameda, California, Stargell went on to have a 21-year Major League career, spent all with the Pirates, which ended with him gaining election into the Hall of Fame. Stargell reportedly received a $1,500 bonus to sign.

On this date in 1987, the Pirates traded third baseman Jim Morrison to the Detroit Tigers for third baseman/outfielder Darnell Coles. Five days later, the Tigers also sent pitcher Morris Madden to the Pirates as the player to be named later in this deal. The Pirates got 14 appearances, three as a starter, out of Madden. He pitched 19.2 innings, with a 5.03 ERA over parts of two years. Coles lasted nearly a full year with the Pirates before he was dealt for outfielder Glenn Wilson. In 108 games with the Pirates, he hit .230 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs. Morrison was in his 11th season in the majors, nearing his 35th birthday at the time of the deal. He hit .274, with 57 homers and 241 RBIs in 552 games for the Pirates over five seasons. He was nearly done as a player at the time, batting .209 in 58 with the Tigers, then .152 with two homers in 51 games for the 1988 Braves.

On this date in 2000, the Pirates trade utility fielder Luis Sojo to the Yankees for pitcher Chris Spurling. Sojo had been with New York up until the 2000 season, signing with the Pirates as a free agent. To get the veteran back, the Yankees gave up a 23-year-old minor league reliever that they took in the 41st round of the 1997 draft. Spurling was in high-A ball, where he remained and pitched extremely well after the trade. The next year he tried out starting in Double-A with mild success, but returning to the level the next year, he moved into the closing role and pitched strong in 51 outings. The Pirates lost him in the 2002 Rule 5 draft and he eventually pitched 187 games in the majors over four seasons. Sojo had signed a one-year deal with the Pirates and was not playing full-time. He moved to a bench role with the Yankees, playing parts of three years there before retiring.