This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 20th, Al Lopez, John Milner Trade

We have four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including one who went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There are also two trades of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1913, the Pirates traded pitcher Howie Camnitz and third baseman Bobby Byrne to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for third baseman Cozy Dolan, and cash. Almost four years to the day, the Pirates had traded for Byrne to help them with their 1909 pennant run. Up until 1912, Camnitz had gone 110-67 with the Pirates, but that 1913 season was a disaster for his overall record, as he was 6-17 at the time of the trade. At 31 years old, he was one year removed from his third 20-win season, so it was a huge drop-off in performance. Camnitz went 3-3 for the Phillies after the deal, then jumped to the Federal League, where he went 14-19 in 1914. He pitched just four more big league games after 1914. Byrne was 28 years old and still doing well offensively and defensively, while the younger Dolan (23 years old) was never a full-time player during his four seasons in the majors. Dolan filled in for the Pirates at third base for the rest of the year, then was traded in the off-season. Byrne ended up playing another four years with the Phillies as a steady third baseman, though his hitting fell off from his Pirates days. The big part of the deal from the Pirates side seems to be the money part, being not only the amount the Pirates cut, but also what they got back in the deal, while the second place Phillies were trying to catch the Giants in the standings at the time.

On this date in 1981, the Pirates traded first baseman John Milner to the Montreal Expos for first baseman Willie Montanez. Milner was 31 years old at the time, in his fourth season with the Pirates. He was a big part of the 1979 World Series winning club, hitting .276 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs in 326 at-bats. His saw a slight drop in his playing time in 1980, then by 1981, he was a seldom used bench player. Montanez was basically playing the same role in Montreal, except he was two years older and he didn’t see the occasional outfield time that Milner saw. The two clubs were exchanging veteran left-handed hitting first baseman, who were filling pinch-hitting roles with similar results. The basic reason for the deal was that Montreal wanted more power off the bench, while Montanez provided better defense at first base. In the end, the trade did little of anything for either club. Milner stuck around until the middle of 1982, hitting three homers in 104 at-bats, while Montanez barely played in Pittsburgh over parts of two seasons. He started four games at first base and came in as a defensive replacement in nine others. The Pirates released Montanez during the 1982 season, then re-signed Milner after he was released by the Expos.

The Players

Al Lopez, catcher for the Pirates from 1940 until 1946. He was in pro ball by the age of 16, playing in 1925 for Tampa of the Florida State League. Lopez made his Major League debut three years later for the Dodgers, the start of a 19-year big league career that often gets overlooked due to his 17-year career as a manager that got him elected into the Hall of Fame. Between the minors and majors, he caught over 2,400 games. Up until 1987, his 1,918 games caught was a Major League record. On June 14, 1940, the Pirates traded catcher Ray Berres and cash to the Boston Bees (Braves) for Lopez.  From 1942-44, he led the league in caught stealing percentage all three seasons. In 1940, then again from 1942-44, he led the NL in fielding percentage each season. He wasn’t just a glove man though, he could contribute a little with the bat. With the Pirates, he hit .254 in 656 games, with 214 walks, against 128 strikeouts.

Lopez was an All-Star in 1941 for the Pirates, his second (1934) time making the AS team in his career. As a 37-year-old in 1946, he batted .307 in 56 games. On December 7, 1946, the Pirates traded Lopez to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for outfielder Gene Woodling. He played one season in Cleveland, then began to manage in the minors in 1948 (player/manager) before getting a Major League job in 1951 with the Indians. Over 17 seasons with Cleveland and the White Sox, he went 1,410-1,004, with an AL pennant title while with each team. As a player, Lopez hit .261 with 652 RBIs in 1,950 games. He has the fourth highest caught stealing percentage (52.2) of all-time. He received MVP votes in seven different seasons during his career.

Matt Hague, first baseman for the 2012 and 2014 Pirates. He was originally an 11th round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2007, but he signed as a ninth round pick in 2008 with the Pirates. Hague made the majors in 2012, debuting in early April. After a brief stint, he was in the minors until late May. He returned to Pittsburgh for almost two full months before being sent down again. Hague played 30 games during that rookie season, batting .229 with no homers and seven RBIs in 70 at-bats. He spent all of 2013 in Triple-A, and nearly all of 2014, except for a week in July that he spent with the Pirates. He pinch-hit three times without a hit. The Pirates lost him on waivers to the Toronto Blue Jays, which led to a ten-game stint in the majors in 2015, which turned out to be his final big league time. He played in Japan in 2016 and spent the 2017-18 seasons in the minors before retiring.

Bull Smith, outfielder for the 1904 Pirates. He began getting playing time with the Pirates in early September after they tried out another rookie in the outfield named Harry Cassady. The Pirates were having injury problems in late August and they have dropped well back in the standings to the Giants, so they were trying out new players at the time. On August 29, 1904, Pittsburgh purchased Smith’s contract for $1,000 from Wheeling of the Central League. He played baseball and football (fullback) at West Virginia University prior to starting his pro career. Bull (first name was Lew) was put into the lineup right away and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts to start his career. His second game was much better, a single and a triple, while showing off a good arm in the outfield. The Pirates played a string of three straight doubleheaders from Sept. 5-7, and Smith played every game. During his 13th game of the year, he became ill, and was replaced in the field. It was an unlucky number for Bull, who didn’t play in any of the last 31 games left in the season. Pittsburgh departed on a long road trip after that game and he didn’t accompany the team. He would end up playing just two more Major League games, one for the Cubs in 1906 and one for the Senators in 1911.

Robert Gibson, pitcher for the 1890 Alleghenys. He was a local kid and a student at Penn State. His time with the Alleghenys was rough to say the least. With a 23-113 record, they were the worst team in franchise history. Gibson made his Major League debut with the Chicago Colts that year on June 4th and won a complete game, giving up just one unearned run. That would be his only game for Chicago and it just happened to be in Pittsburgh and against the Alleghenys, who must’ve liked what they saw from the young right-hander. Nearly two months later, Pittsburgh took Gibson with them on a trip to Brooklyn, then Cincinnati. They intended to give him a shot to see what he had, and it was not a good sight. He pitched the second game of a doubleheader on August 1st, after the Alleghenys lost the opener 7-3 to Brooklyn. He did not last long on the mound, as Pittsburgh was down 11-1 after just one inning. Undeterred, they went back to Gibson just three days later, and again he faced Brooklyn. He threw a complete game and gave up 16 runs, but that comes with the huge asterisk in the boxscore that shows 11 fielding errors by Pittsburgh that day. He still deserves most of the blame, as he allowed 13 hits and nine walks.

Pittsburgh gave him one more chance, possibly feeling sorry for the lack of defense behind him three days earlier and more likely due to the fact that he was there and they were already 18-67, how much worse could things get? The Alleghenys put 17 runs on the board that day against Cincinnati, but it wasn’t enough. They lost 23-17 and for the second time, Gibson finished the game in right field, while outfielder Fred Osborne came in and pitched the rest of the game. That was it for the Major League career of Robert Gibson. His ERA with Chicago stood at 0.00, while three games with Pittsburgh shows an 0-3, 17.25 record, with 24 hits and 23 walks allowed in 12 innings of work. He pitched in the minors during the 1890-92 seasons.