Today in Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have two transactions of note, including one that brought the franchise its all-time winningest pitcher. We also have three players born on this date from three different eras.
On this date in 1959, the Chicago White Sox traded minor league third baseman Bob Sagers and veteran outfielder Harry Simpson to the Pirates for slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski. The Pirates traded for Kluszewski two years earlier after he had a down year for the Cincinnati Reds. The one time prodigious home run hitter was bothered by a bad back, which sapped his ability to hit the long ball. After topping 40 homers in three straight seasons (1953-55), Big Klu managed just six in 160 games for the Pirates. Simpson was a 33-year-old journeyman outfielder, who played some first base as well. The White Sox were his second team in 1959 and he was seeing limited action. He was an All-Star in 1956, driving in 105 runs, but had been in decline since that season. Sagers was a 25-year-old infielder, with a solid bat and no Major League experience. After the deal, the Pirates received very little return, getting nine games from Simpson and one minor league season from Sagers. The White Sox got a nice batting average (.294) from Kluszewski, who had 318 at-bats for them between 1959-60. He never regained his power, hitting just seven homers total in Chicago. The White Sox lost him after the 1960 season to the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft. He played his last season in Los Angeles, hitting 15 homers in 107 games.
On this date in 1912, the Pirates acquired their all-time leader in wins, pitcher Wilbur Cooper. He began the year playing for Columbus of the American Association, where he had a 16-9 record and threw 218.2 innings. Cooper was just 20 years old at the time, with no previous Major League experience. He debuted on August 29th and he went 3-0, 1.66 in four starts and two relief appearances. He threw a total of 38 innings and pitched two shutouts. Cooper ended up playing 13 years for the Pirates. Over his last eight seasons, he won at least 17 games every year. He had four seasons with 20+ wins, on his way to 202 wins in a Pittsburgh uniform.
Gary Matthews Jr, center fielder for the 2001 Pirates. Before he had his one standout season with the Rangers in 2006, Matthews Jr was a disappointing high-ranked prospect, who jumped around the majors. He played for five teams his first five seasons, including two stops in San Diego. Matthews Jr played 106 games for the Chicago Cubs in 2001, hitting .217 with a .684 OPS. The Pirates picked him up off waivers on August 10th, giving him a chance as their everyday center field for the rest of the year. He hit .245, with five homers and 14 RBIs in 46 games. The New York Mets purchased his contract from Pittsburgh just after Christmas and he continued his journey around MLB, which eventually led to a big contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Matthews Jr played just two games for the Mets before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles. From there he went back to San Diego. The Padres lost him on waivers to the Atlanta Braves, who released him at the end of 2004 Spring Training. Matthews signed with Texas, where he hit well playing in the high-offense park. A big 2006 season, highlighted by an All-Star appearance and an amazing catch to rob a home run that I’m sure you’ve seen before, led to a 5 year/$50 M contract with the Angels. It turned out to be a disastrous deal for Anaheim, who got one good year and two down years from him, before dealing Matthews Jr back to the Mets. While the Angels paid most of his contract, Mets got a .190 average and one RBI in 36 games from him before he was released. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds and played a month in Triple-A before being released again, ending his playing career. In 12 seasons, he was a .257 hitter in 1,281 games, with 108 homers and 484 RBIs.
Jim Suchecki, pitcher for the 1952 Pirates. He was originally signed as a 15-year-old in 1943 by the Boston Red Sox. It took seven years before he made his debut in Boston, throwing four games in relief during the 1950 season. He would be traded early in the 1951 season to St Louis Browns, where he had a rough season. In 29 games for the Browns, Suchecki went 0-6, 5.42, making six starts and 23 relief appearances. During Spring Training in 1952, the Pirates bought his contract from St Louis. He made the Opening Day roster and would pitch five times through early May, all in relief. After a scoreless Pittsburgh debut, Suchecki gave up runs in each of his next four appearances. On May 5th, he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox off waivers, ending his brief time with the Pirates. Suchecki never made it back to the majors, finishing his career in 1954, playing in the Giants organization.
Tony Boeckel, third baseman for the 1917 and 1919 Pirates. He played five years of minor league ball, the last four in the Northwestern League, before the Pirates brought him to the majors for the first time. He joined Pittsburgh on July 23, 1917, making his debut at third base. His first game didn’t last long. After one at-bat he was overcome by the extreme heat that day and had to be pulled from the game. Things got better for Boeckel, as he took over the hot corner for the rest of the season, hitting .265 with 23 RBIs in 64 games. He didn’t play in 1918 due to WWI, but he returned to the Pirates as their starting third baseman the next season. Boeckel played everyday through the middle of June of 1919, hitting .250, with 16 RBIs in 45 games. The team put him on waivers, despite the fact they had won seven straight games at that point. Seldom-used Walter Barbare took over at third base and Boeckel was picked up by the Boston Braves, who were coming into town.
The Pittsburgh front office said they didn’t think Boeckel was giving full effort on the field. It sure seemed that they were right by the way he played in Boston, where he hit .286 with 27 homers and 298 RBIs in 668 games, after batting .259 with no homers for the Pirates. Unfortunately for Boeckel, he died at age 30 after the 1923 season, from injuries he received in a car accident. Also involved in the accident was Bob Meusel, a star outfielder for the Yankees, who escaped uninjured. Boeckel was the first active Major League player to die in an automobile accident.