Seven birthdays and three transactions of note, including one of the biggest controversies in Pirates history.
Jonah Bayliss, pitcher for the 2006-07 Pirates. He was originally a seventh round pick in 2002 by the Royals. Bayliss made it to the majors by June of 2005, staying in Kansas City for two weeks before returning to the minors. He came back in August, pitching a total of 11.2 innings in 11 appearances that season, posting a 4.63 ERA. On December 7, 2005, the Pirates traded Mark Redman to the Royals in exchange for Bayliss and minor league pitcher Chad Blackwell. His first season in Pittsburgh was extremely similar to his 2005 season. Bayliss came up in June for three games, then returned to the minors until late August, finishing with 11 games pitched again. He had a 4.30 ERA in 14.2 innings and he picked up his first career win during his last game of the season. Bayliss made the Opening Day roster in 2007 and was in the majors until late June. He was sent down after posting a 7.53 ERA in 34.2 innings over 38 outings. He went to Triple-A and didn’t fare well there either, with a 7.06 ERA in 16 outings. He was called up for one game in August, gave up six runs in three innings, and that turned out to be his last game in the majors. Bayliss was with the Pirates until June of 2008, before being sent to the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He also played in Japan and independent ball, finishing up his pro career in 2012.
Tom Prince, catcher for the 1987-93 Pirates. He played 17 years in the majors as a backup catcher, never topping the 66 games he played during his last season in Pittsburgh. Prince was selected by the Pirates in the fourth round of the 1984 amateur draft. It was the third time he was drafted. The first two times were by the Atlanta Braves. He made it to the Pirates within three years of being drafted, but that 1993 season was the only season with the team that he didn’t spend at least part of the year in the minors. Through his first six years in Pittsburgh, he played just 111 games and hit a combined .161 in 223 at-bats. In 1993, Mike Lavalliere was released early in the year and Prince became the backup to Don Slaught for the rest of the season. He hit .196 that year, with two homers and 24 RBIs in 179 at-bats. Prince became a free agent and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he spent five years as a backup. He also played with the Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins during his last five years in the majors. The Pirates hired him as a minor league manager in 2005 and he was around until 2019, when he got to manage the final game of the MLB season. He spent much of that time with the Pirates as the manager of their Gulf Coast League team. Despite playing on three pennant winners with the Pirates, Prince never played in the postseason.
Jeff Ballard, pitcher for the 1993-94 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles, and spent five seasons (1987-91) there in the majors, where he posted a 36-51 record. The amazing part about that record is that in 1989 he went 18-8, finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young award voting. It was the only season in Baltimore that he had over a .400 winning percentage. Ballard spent the entire 1992 season in the minors with the St Louis Cardinals and pitched well, going 12-4, 2.82 in 24 starts. He was then signed by the Oakland A’s as a free agent, but they released him during Spring Training. The Pirates signed Ballard at the end of April and sent him to Triple-A, where he went 6-1, 2.29 in 12 starts. He was called up in early July, and came within one out of pitching a complete game in his first start, a 10-3 victory over the Astros. Ballard went 4-1, 4.86 in 25 games (five starts) in 1993. He began the 1994 season with the Pirates, though he went sent to Triple-A in early July, after posting a 6.66 ERA in 28 appearances. That ended up being his last season in baseball. He wasn’t much of a strikeout guy during his career, compiling a total of 244 strikeouts in 773.1 innings, with a high of 62 K’s during his 18-win season.
Mudcat Grant, pitcher for the 1970-71 Pirates. By the time he reached the Pirates in 1970, he was already near the end of his 13th season in the majors. He was a two time All-Star, who once won 21 games in a season (1965) and eight times compiled double-digit win totals. He started 293 games in his career, with just 17 coming during his last four seasons (1968-71) and none during his last two years. Mudcat (whose real first name was James) made 72 appearances for the 1970 Oakland A’s, with a 6-2, 1.82 record and 24 saves in 123.1 innings. The Pirates acquired Grant from Oakland on September 14, 1970 in exchange for Angel Mangual, who wasn’t sent to the A’s until five weeks later. Mudcat pitched eight times for the Pirates that season, picking up two wins and finishing with a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings. In 1971, he would make 42 appearances for Pittsburgh before being shipped back to Oakland in August. Grant went 5-3, 3.60 with seven saves in 75 innings for Pittsburgh that year, and had a 1.98 ERA in 15 outings with the A’s. He retired after pitching the entire 1972 season in the minor leagues. Mudcat had a 145-119, 3.63 record in 2,442 innings. He also had an outstanding 75-33 minor league record, which included 21 wins as an 18-year-old in his first year of pro ball. He turns 85 today.
Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, pitcher for the 1960-62 Pirates. Lefty pitcher who got his nickname from his hometown of the same name in Alabama. Mizell played for the 1952-53 Cardinals to start his Major League career, going 23-19 in 63 starts, with 17 complete games. He then spent two full seasons serving in the military, before returning to the 1956 Cardinals on Opening Day. That season he went 14-14, 3.62 in 33 starts, with three shutouts. In his first five seasons in the majors, all spent in St Louis, he was an amazingly consistent pitcher, posting an ERA between 3.42 and 3.74 each year, while making between 29 and 33 starts. His stats began to slide a little the next year (though he still had a 13-10 record in 1959) and the Cardinals moved him to the Pirates on May 28, 1960 in a deal for two minor leaguers. Mizell immediately had a strong impact on the Pirates, going 13-5, 3.12 the rest of the way, helping the team to the World Series. His postseason did not go well, allowing four runs in 2.1 innings, but the Pirates still won their third WS title. The next season, Mizell went 7-10, 5.04 in 17 starts and eight relief appearances. He remained with the Pirates through the first month of the 1962 season, when they dealt him to the New York Mets for first baseman Jim Marshall. Wilmer was out of the majors within three months of the trade, retiring with a 90-88 record.
Sid Gordon, third baseman/outfielder for the 1954-55 Pirates. He was a two-time All-Star, who switched between third base and left field for most of his career. From 1948 until 1952, Gordon received NL MVP votes in every season, reaching a minimum of a .284 average with 25 homers and 75 RBIs in all five years. Three times he drove in over 100 runs in a season and in 1948 with the Giants, he reached a career high with 30 homers. In 1953 before joining the Pirates, he batted .274 with 19 homers and 75 RBIs in 140 games. He was acquired by the Pirates on December 26, 1953 from the Milwaukee Braves as part of a six-player (plus cash) deal, for second baseman Danny O’Connell. Gordon split his time with the Pirates in 1954 between right field (61 starts) and third base (35 starts), hitting a career high .306, with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in 131 games. The Pirates sold him to the New York Giants a month into the 1955 season, after he hit .170 in 16 games. Gordon played out the year in New York, then finished his career in the minors the following season. In 1,475 major league games, he hit .283 with 202 homers and 805 RBIs.
George Susce, catcher for the 1939 Pirates. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who played 146 Major League games over a 15-year time-frame. Susce began his pro career in the majors with the 1929 Phillies, playing 17 games and compiling 19 plate appearances, which were spread out throughout the entire season. He then went to the minors for two years, prior to making the 1932 Detroit Tigers roster. He ended up playing just two games for the Tigers as a late-inning defensive replacement behind the plate. Susce went back to the minors in May of 1932 and remained there through the end of the 1938 season, spending a majority of his time in the Texas League. He was an All-Star during his last four seasons in the minors, who was brought into the Pirates camp in February of 1939 to compete with Ray Berres and Ray Mueller for the starting spot.
The Pirates starting catcher from 1938 was Al Todd, who was traded to the Boston Bees in the off-season. Mueller ended up winning the starting spot and Berres was his regular backup (that switched during the year), leaving Susce as a third-string catcher at the end of the bench and that’s where he stayed. His first actual game that season was on August 9th, when he caught the last inning of a loss to the Cardinals. Susce only got into a game because Berres was out of action for a month with an illness. His first start didn’t come until a week later, in the second game of a doubleheader. He ended up starting half the games from mid-August until the end of the season, finishing with a .227 average and four RBIs in 89 plate appearances. He was released by the Pirates during Spring Training in 1940, but he signed quickly with the St Louis Browns, where he played a career high 61 games in his only season with the club. Susce was a player/coach during his last four seasons in the majors with the Cleveland Indians. He then moved on to coaching in the minors and majors, sticking around baseball into the early 1970’s. His full name was George Cyril Methodius Susce. His son George played five seasons in the majors for the Tigers and Boston Red Sox.
Steve Swetonic, pitcher for the 1929-33 Pirates. He was a local kid, who played college ball at the University of Pittsburgh, so it was only natural that he spent his entire Major League career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His minor league career consisted of two seasons pitching for the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. In 1928, he went 20-8, 3.00 in 40 games, pitching a total of 234 innings. In the off-season, his contract was purchased by the Pirates. Swetonic was used often during his rookie season in 1929, getting occasional starts among his 41 appearances. He went 8-10, 4.82 in his 143.2 innings of work. He pitched better in 1930, which was a huge year for offense around baseball. He was limited in his action after he came down with appendicitis and missed two months of action. The next year he missed plenty of time after elbow surgery put him out until late June. When he returned, he saw limited time in a mop-up role. Swetonic was healthy up until August of the 1932 season and had a strong year, going 11-6, 2.82 in 162.2 innings, leading the NL with four shutouts. In 1933, he set career highs with 12 wins and 164.2 innings. Over the 1933-34 off-season, he had hand surgery that left him unable to pitch. He was sold to the Boston Braves, then assigned to Albany of the International League, but never recovered enough to ever pitch again. On May 19, 1935, he was used as a pinch-runner by the Pirates, the only game of pro ball he played after the 1933 season. The Pirates signed him a month earlier as a pitcher, but he never got into a game on the mound.
On this date in 1926 the Pirates made the decision to release pitcher Babe Adams and outfielder Carson Bigbee, while putting outfielder Max Carey on waivers and suspending him until he was picked up by another team. Adams won 194 games in a Pirates uniform, second most all-time. Carey is a Hall of Famer, who is among the top ten in many all-time categories in Pirates history. Bigbee played his entire 11-year big league career with the Pirates. The story about their departure from the Pirates was so big, that it became front page news in town for the next four days as fans wanted an explanation of what happened.
At the time of their departure, the Pirates weren’t a tight-knit group despite being in first place. Many players thought the reason was that former manager Fred Clarke was on the bench coaching, and the team was being run by both Clarke and the current manager, Bill McKechnie. Players said they were getting conflicting signals from Clarke and McKechnie during games. Clarke had words with players and soon players were getting fined or suspended left and right. The last straw for the veteran group was when Bigbee overheard Clarke tell McKechnie to get the struggling Carey out of the lineup and he didn’t care who he replaced him with, even the batboy could do better.
The team then held a player’s meeting (that McKechnie knew about) to vote on whether to get Clarke off the bench, with Max Carey saying that they couldn’t continue to play with two managers. The vote came back 18-6 in favor of keeping Clarke, but word of the vote got to the front office and they found out the six players were led by Adams, Bigbee and Carey. The other three votes were supposedly young rookies that were thought to have been swayed by the veteran trio. The group of veteran players were cut and it became known as the “ABC Affair” (the first letters of each of their last names).
The move was unpopular from the start with the fans. It got even worse as the Pirates dropped out of first place and Max Carey quickly came back to bite the Pirates in his first game with the Brooklyn Robins, scoring two runs in the first game of a three-game series, in a game won by Brooklyn. Two days later, he drove home a run in a 2-1 Robins win over the Pirates, which was the game that knocked them out of first place. The Pirates finished that 1926 season in third place, going 23-24 the rest of the way. Carey stuck around for four seasons with Brooklyn, but neither Bigbee nor Adams, played in the majors again.
On this date in 1988, the Pirates traded pitcher Barry Jones to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for pitcher Dave LaPoint. Jones was a 25-year-old righty reliever, who had spent three seasons in Pittsburgh. In exactly 100 outings, all relief appearances, he went 6-9, 3.81 with six saves in 137 innings. LaPoint was a 29-year-old left-handed pitcher, in his ninth season at the Major League level. The 1988 White Sox were his sixth major league team, and he had a 10-11, 3.40 record in 25 starts at the time of the trade. He had won as many as 12 games in a season (twice), but that was during the 1983-84 seasons. After the trade, LaPoint went 4-2, 2.77 in eight starts. The Pirates finished in second place, 15 games back of the New York Mets, and LaPoint became a free agent after the season. Jones pitched for Chicago until the end of the 1990 season, when he was part of a trade with the Montreal Expos that saw Tim Raines go to the White Sox. Jones went 11-4, 2.31 in 65 appearances during the 1990 season.
On this date in 1894, the Pirates traded pitcher George Nicol and cash to the Louisville Colonels for pitcher Jock Menefee. Nicol was struggling in 1894, just like most pitchers during that time, due to the pitching distance recently being moved back ten feet to it’s current distance. He threw a slow curveball, that he had to adjust for the new distance and he wasn’t doing well, posting a 6.22 ERA, with 39 walks in 46.1 innings with the Pirates that year. After the trade, Nicol made just two starts for the Colonels and they were both disastrous, going the distance in each, he allowed 35 hits, 35 runs and 16 walks in 17 innings. He did however prove to be valuable as a hitter, playing right field for 26 games. He batted .339 with 19 RBIs during that time. Despite the hitting success, it still ended up being his last season in the majors. Menefee began his career with the Pirates in 1892, getting a one-game trial that didn’t go so well. He then pitched for Louisville in 1893-94, going a combined 16-24, 4.28 in 43 games. The 26-year-old righty would make 13 starts for the Pirates over the last two months of the 1894 season, going 5-8, 5.40 with 13 complete games. He made one start and one relief appearance for the 1895 Pirates before they got rid of him due to his eight runs and seven walks in 1.2 innings of work.