This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 14th, All About First Basemen

A light day in Pittsburgh Pirates history for transactions and birth dates, and it’s all about first basemen. Before we get into the two transactions and two birthdays, current first baseman Josh Bell is celebrating his 28th birthday.

The Transaction

On this date in 1911, the Pirates sold first baseman John Flynn to St Paul of the American Association, the minor league team that they had purchased him from twenty months earlier. After winning the 1909 World Series, the Pirates parted ways with first baseman Bill Abstein, who was not well-liked in town by fans or management due to his occasional poor play and lack of baseball smarts (Abstein was often referred to as “bonehead”). They brought in two minor leaguers to compete for the open spot, Flynn and Bud Sharpe. Flynn was a strong bat with a passable glove, while Sharpe was a strong defender, who wasn’t much of a hitter. The Pirates ended up settling with Flynn as the starter due to his bat being much better, and the fact that his defense wasn’t so far behind Sharpe that his offensive contributions wouldn’t make up for it. Flynn hit .274 with 52 RBIs in 96 games during the 1910 season. The next year he was moved to a bench role, starting 13 of the 33 games he played before being sold back to St Paul. He would play just twenty more Major League games after the Pirates parted ways with him, all as a member of the 1912 Washington Senators.

On this date in 1917, the Pirates lost first baseman George “High Pockets” Kelly to the New York Giants on waivers.  He was 21 years old and played just eight games with the Pirates before the waiver loss. Kelly went on to help New York to four straight World Series appearances. We posted an article here on his time with the Pirates, which goes into great detail for his short time.

The Players

Dale Coogan, first baseman for the 1950 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1948 as an amateur free agent. Coogan played that first season for Keokuk of the Central Association as a 17-year-old, hitting .288 with three homers in 70 games. By the middle of his second season, the Pirates already had Coogan up to Triple-A, where he hit .265 with four homers in 64 games. He made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1950, though by July it was acknowledged that he could’ve used another season at Triple-A before he came up. Shortly before he was sent to the minors, he had a very bad game, making two errors and hitting into two double plays, with no hits. Coogan was a September recall in both 1950 and 1951, but he didn’t play any games after being sent down in July of 1950, leaving him with .240 career Major League average in 53 games. It was said during the 1951-52 off-season, that Coogan had a good chance to be the Pirates Opening Day first baseman in 1952, but he spent the next two years in the Army. He was given a chance to win the first base (or bench) job in 1954, though the time off took it’s toll on him and he ended up in Double-A ball, never playing above that level in his last five seasons of pro ball.

Alex McKinnon, first baseman for the 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He made his Major League debut at the age of 27 for the 1884 New York Gothams (Giants). Playing first base everyday, he hit .272 with 73 RBIs and a league leading 116 games played. The Gothams had tried their slugging first baseman Roger Connor in a utility role in 1884, with minimal success on offense and very poor defense. He moved back to first base in 1885 and McKinnon moved on to the St Louis Maroons of the National League. He hit .294 during his first year, then followed it up in 1886 with a .301 average and 74 RBIs. McKinnon was traded to Pittsburgh in December of 1886 in exchange for first baseman Otto Schomberg and cash. McKinnon batted sixth and played first base during the first National League game in franchise history. He had four hits that day in a 6-2 win, including a home run and a triple. It looked like the Alleghenys had found themselves a superstar with McKinnon, who was batting .340 through the first 48 games. He unfortunately came down with Typhoid Pneumonia in early July and while it initially looked like he would recover from it, he passed away twenty days after he left the team.  He was a .296 career hitter in 386 games, with 209 runs scored and 219 RBIs.