Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including two Hall of Famers, one of them being the great Roberto Clemente. I couldn’t write a bio here in one of these articles to do him justice, so I will include a short bio below covering the main points, then I’m going to throw together an extra Card of the Day article for my favorite Clemente card, which I will post later today.
On this date in 1989, the Pirates traded outfielder Glenn Wilson to the Houston Astros for outfielder Billy Hatcher. Wilson had been with the Pirates just over one year, coming over the previous July from the Mariners in exchange for Darnell Coles. Wilson was hitting .282 with nine homers and 49 RBIs in 100 games at the time of the deal. After the trade, he batted just .216 for the Astros, then ended up coming back to Pittsburgh in 1993, after being out of the majors for two seasons. Hatcher played just 27 games for the Pirates before getting traded in the off-season to the Cincinnati Reds, where he won a World Series ring, hitting .333 against Pittsburgh in the NLCS. Prior to the trade, he was hitting .228 in 108 games for the Astros, with 22 steals.
On this date in 1952, the Pirates traded infielder George Strickland and pitcher Ted Wilks to the Cleveland Indians for veteran infielder Johnny Berardino, minor league pitcher Charles Sipple and cash. It was an odd move for the Pirates, who released Berardino two years earlier. They were in a rebuilding mode and neither player they received fit the mode, though the cash in return had to help as they struggled near the bottom of the league in attendance. Berardino finished the year with the Pirates, then never played again, while Sipple, at age 32 already, never played in the majors. Wilks was a steady 36-year-old reliever, nearing the end of his career and pitching well for Pittsburgh at the time. Strickland was just 26 and ended up playing eight years in Cleveland, leading the AL in fielding in 1955 at shortstop and 1959 at third base.
Roberto Clemente, Hall of Fame outfielder for the 1955-72 Pirates. The Pirates picked up Clemente in the 1954 Rule 5 draft, just nine months after he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Pirates were a bad team in 1955, which gave them a chance to play Clemente regularly. He hit just .255 with five homers during his rookie season. While he batted .311 in his second season, he didn’t really break out until the 1960 season, which coincided with the success of the Pirates. In their World Series winning season, he hit .314 with 16 homers and 94 RBIs, then batted .310 during the World Series. Clemente was an All-Star for the first time in 1960, and he would go on to make the All-Star team in 11 of his final 12 seasons.
Clemente won his first of four batting titles in 1961 by hitting .351, while scoring 100 runs for the first time and reaching 200 hits (201) for the first time as well. He won the batting title again in 1964 with a .339 average and led the league with 211 hits, which ended up being his single season high. He made it back-to-back batting titles in 1965 with a .329 average. The next year he hit 29 homers and drove in 119 runs, while scoring 105 runs. All three were career bests and it led to him winning the 1966 NL MVP award. In 1967, Clemente had perhaps his best season. He won his fourth batting title with a .357 average, while leading the league with 209 hits. He hit 23 homers, picked up 110 RBIs and scored 103 runs. While he failed to win another batting title, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. From 1969 until 1971, he hit .345, .352 and .341 during those three seasons.
After batting .341 during the 1971 season, Clemente continued to hit in the postseason. He batted .333 during the NLCS, then hit .414 with two homers in the World Series. The Pirates won their fourth title and Clemente was named as the World Series MVP. In his final season before his tragic passing, Clemente had a .312 average in 102 games. He collected his 3,000th hit in his final at-bat of the season, though it’s a common misconception that it happened during his final game. He was a defensive replacement three days later, after sitting out during the previous game. That game tied him with Honus Wagner for first on the Pirates all-time list, though at the time it was thought that he tied Wagner in his previous game due to a statistical error for Wagner.
Clemente put up tremendous stats on offense, but his defense was just as much of a highlight producer. He led all right fielders in assists six times, which was tough to do when people knew not to test him. He has the 17th most outfield assists all-time, but ranks first among all outfielders in the last 100 years.
Among Pirates all-time stats, he ranks tied for first in games, first hit hits, first in total bases, third in homers, third in doubles, third in runs scored, third in triples, third RBIs, third in times on base and fourth in extra-base hits. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, as they waived the standard five-year waiting period due to the circumstances of his death. Clemente was a 15-time All-Star (they played two AS games during the 1960-62 seasons) and he won 12 Gold Glove awards. The Roberto Clemente award is given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team”.
Burleigh Grimes, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Pirates in 1916-17, 1928-29 and 1934. His career did not start off well his first time around with the Pirates, going a combined 5-19 over two season, though it should be pointed out that the 1917 Pirates were one of the worst teams in franchise history. On January 9, 1918, the Pirates traded Grimes in a five-player deal with Brooklyn that brought outfielder Casey Stengel back to Pittsburgh. The move worked out well for Brooklyn and Grimes, who went 158-121 in nine seasons there, winning 21+ games during four of those years. He was traded to the New York Giants in 1927 and went 19-8 in his only season there. On February 11, 1928, the Pirates gave up pitcher Vic Aldridge to get Grimes back. His 1928 season turned out to be a spectacular one, leading the NL with 25 wins, 28 complete games and 330.2 innings pitched. He had a strong 1929 season as well, going 17-7, 3.13 in 232.2 innings. On April 9, 1930, the Pirates traded away Grimes to the Boston Braves for pitcher Percy Jones and cash, in a trade made necessary by a high salary demand from Grimes. He re-signed with the Pirates on August 8, 1934, in what ended up being his last season in the majors. Grimes won 270 games in the majors, and completed 314 games, both rank 33rd all-time in baseball history. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1964, one of six players (one manager) they put in that year.
Justin Wilson, pitcher for the 2012-14 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. Wilson worked his way through the minors as a starter, but he made it to the majors as a reliever and hasn’t started a single game in nine seasons. He was a late-season call-up in 2012 and managed to allow just one run in 4.2 innings, despite giving up ten hits and three walks. He made 58 appearances in 2013 and had a 2.08 ERA in 73.2 innings, with a 1.06 WHIP. Wilson struggled a bit in more of a short relief role in 2014, posting a 4.20 ERA, while throwing just 60 innings in 70 appearances. In the off-season, he was traded to the New York Yankees for Francisco Cervelli. He spent one season with the Yankees, 1 1/2 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs, and he now pitches for the New York Mets. He has a 30-22, 3.29 record in 413 innings over 462 appearances. Wilson saved 13 games for the 2017 Tigers. He has 18 career saves.
Mike Lavalliere, catcher for the 1987-93 Pirates. On April 1, 1987, the Pirates acquired Lavalliere, along with pitcher Mike Dunne and outfielder Andy Van Slyke, from the St Louis Cardinals for Tony Pena. Prior to the deal, Lavalliere had played 128 games with the Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies over parts of three seasons. With Pittsburgh, he immediately stepped in and did a nice job of replacing the All-Star Pena, batting .300 in 121 games, while winning the Gold Glove. Known as “Spanky”, the lefty hitting Lavalliere platooned with the righty batting Don Slaught behind the plate, and the combo helped the Pirates to three straight NL East titles from 1990 until 1992. In his seven season with Pittsburgh, he played 609 games, hitting .278 with 207 RB’s and 499 hits. A knee injury during the 1989 season limited him to 68 games, but he hit well when he played, batting .316 that year. Lavalliere had his share of problems during the Pirates three playoff appearances. He went 4-for-22 at the plate, with four singles and one RBI in his nine games. He was released by Pittsburgh after one game in 1993, leading him to sign with the Chicago White Sox for his last three seasons in the majors. In 1987, he led the NL with 45.2% of runners caught stealing and in 1991, he committed one error all season, giving him an NL leading .998 fielding percentage.
Paul Popovich, middle infielder for the 1974-75 Pirates. He was signed by the Cubs out of college in 1960 and before making it to the Pirates 14 years later, he played parts (or all) of nine seasons in the majors with Chicago and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Popovich made his debut in April of 1964, picking up a hit in his first at-bat. It would end of being his only game and at-bat of the season. He didn’t make it back to the majors until September of 1966, getting in just two games that season. He bounced around the infield his career, seeing most of his time at second base, but also getting in time at shortstop and third base. Popovich was a part-time player for eight of the nine full seasons he spent in the majors, with the lone exception being the 1968 season for the Dodgers, when he played 134 games. On April 1, 1974, the Pirates gave up pitcher Tom Dettore and cash to acquire Popovich. He would be the backup at shortstop and second base for a year and a half, seeing most of his time as a pinch-hitter, an odd usage of a career .233 hitter, who didn’t take many walks or hit for any power. He was released at the end of July in 1975, ending his playing career. He hit .211 in 84 games for the Pirates, getting 14 starts and 134 plate appearances. We wrote a full article on his time with the Pirates here.
Roger Bowman, pitcher for the 1953 and 1955 Pirates. He was signed by the New York Giants as a free agent in 1946 out of high school. The lefty Bowman made the majors for the first time in September of 1949 after going 15-9, 3.39 for Jersey City of the International League. He made two starts for New York and lasted a combined 6.1 innings due to control problems. After spending all of 1950 back with Jersey City, Bowman made the 1951 Giants out of Spring Training. He was a starter early, but got hit hard and then moved to the bullpen. The Giants would send him down to the minors at the end of June, using him just twice during his last month with the team, both times as a starter during a doubleheader. Control problems got to him again that year, allowing 22 walks in 26.1 innings, en route to a 2-4, 6.15 record. Bowman pitched just two games for the 1952 Giants, not faring well in his three innings of work. He was picked up on waivers by the Pirates early in the 1953 season. He was put in the Pirates bullpen, where he cut his walk rate in half. In 30 games (two as a starter) he went 0-4, 4.82 in 65.1 innings. After winning 22 games for Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League in 1954, he was back with Pittsburgh for Opening Day in 1955, where he had a rough time. In seven appearances, he went 0-3, 8.64 with a 2.10 WHIP. Bowman was back in the minors by June and there he stayed for the next six seasons. He finished with a 131-119 minor league record, but he picked up just two Major League wins in parts of five seasons.
Bernie Duffy, pitcher for the 1913 Pirates. He joined the Pirates shortly after his 20th birthday, making his debut on September 20th as a starter in game two of a doubleheader. In his first season of pro ball (1913), Bernie (referred to as Barney in the newspaper while with the Pirates) played for Great Falls of the Union Association, where he went 23-11 in 270.1 innings. It was said that he won 15 straight games before joining the Pirates. In that first game, Duffy went four innings, giving up nine hit and three runs, before being pulled from the game. In his only other start, which came exactly a week later, Duffy allowed three runs in 5.1 innings, leaving with the bases loaded. Marty O’Toole came in and was able to retire all 11 batters he faced to keep more damage off the board, and to also pick up the win in the 4-3 game. It was already planned out, that after the game, Duffy would return home for the winter while the Pirates left St Louis to head for Cincinnati. He never returned to the majors, finishing out his career a few years later in the minors. In between his two starts for the Pirates, he pitched two innings of relief in his only other Major League game, allowing one run.
Wally Gerber, shortstop for the 1914-15 Pirates. He is an unfortunate case for the Pirates, a young player they gave up too soon on, who went on to become a solid long-time Major League player. The part that made it worse for the Pirates was that Honus Wagner would move off shortstop for his last season in 1917 and the Pirates went through a revolving door of players trying to replace him. All they needed to do was hold on to Gerber. He did not do well in his limited time with the Pirates, so keeping him would’ve required some foresight. In 73 games over his two seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .207 with no homers, 12 RBIs and 13 runs scored. His defense also wasn’t the greatest, never finishing higher than third among his league’s shortstops in fielding any season, and that high of third happened just once. However, Gerber could hit better than most middle infielders of the era. After leaving the Pirates following the 1915 season, he spent two years in the minors, reappearing at the end of 1917 with the St Louis Browns. In 12 seasons with St Louis, he hit .264 in 1,284 games, drawing more walks than strikeouts and three times picking up MVP votes, finishing as high as fourth during the 1923 season. He finished his career with two seasons with the Boston Red Sox, ending up with over 1,500 games played in the majors.