This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 30th, Kiki Cuyler

We have six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a Hall of Fame outfielder. We also have two trades made during the Pirates run of NL East pennants in the early 1990’s.

The Transactions

On this date in 1991, the Pirates sent pitchers Kurt Miller and Hector Fajardo to the Texas Rangers for third baseman Steve Buechele. Miller was taken fifth overall in the amateur draft just one year earlier. He had just turned 19 years old prior to the trade, and was ranked 24th overall among all prospects in baseball. Fajardo was just 20 years old, with two games of Major League experience. Buechele was in his seventh season in the majors, all spent with the Rangers. He was hitting .267 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs, all three career highs. He played 31 games for Pittsburgh after the deal, hitting .246 while driving in 19 runs. Buechele played all seven postseason games, collecting seven hits and four walks. He re-signed with the Pirates in 1992, playing in Pittsburgh until July when he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Danny Jackson. Miller never panned out in the majors, despite four times being ranked as one of the top 62 prospects in baseball. He pitched 44 big league games over five seasons, posting a 7.48 ERA and a 2-7 record. Fajardo did just slightly better, with a 6.95 ERA in 30 Major League games over four seasons.

On this date in 1990, the Pirate sent three players to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder/first baseman Carmelo Martinez. The 29-year-old Martinez was in his ninth season in 1990, hitting .242 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 71 games for the Phillies. His best season was 1987, when he hit .273 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs for the San Diego Padres. For the Pirates, he hit .211 with two homers and four RBIs in 12 games, then batted eight times in the NLCS, picking up two doubles and two RBIs. He began the 1991 season with the Pirates, before getting traded to the Kansas City Royals in early May for Victor Cole. The Pirates sent the Phillies Tony Longmire (eighth round pick from 1986), Wes Chamberlain (fourth round pick from 1987) and Julio Peguero, a 22-year-old outfielder signed out of the Dominican four years earlier. None of them had Major League experience prior to the trade. After the deal, Peguero played just 14 big league games, while Longmire played 139 games over three seasons. Chamberlain was the best of the group, playing six years in the majors. He got into 315 games for the Phillies and 70 for the Red Sox, hitting .255 with 43 homers and 167 RBIs total. Longmire wasn’t sent to the Phillies in this deal until the end of September.

The Players

Kiki Cuyler, outfielder for the 1921-27 Pirates.  He played two years of minor league ball for the Bay City Wolves of the Michigan-Ontario League before the Pirates purchased his contract in late 1921. Cuyler debuted in the majors shortly after his 23rd birthday and went 0-for-3 in his only game for the Pirates that season. He played one game in 1922 as well, spending the full season at Charleston of the South Atlantic League, before returning to the Pirates in September. The 1923 season was very similar, though Cuyler returned to the Pirates in September with a much bigger reputation. He moved up to Nashville of the Southern Association and hit .340 with 65 extra-base hits in 149 games. The Pirates took a longer look at him that September, and he hit .250 in 11 games.

Cuyler won a role with the 1924 Pirates, though he had just one appearance (as a pinch-hitter) in the team’s first 19 games. After that point he was a regular in the outfield, seeing time at all three spots at first, before settling in as the left fielder. Cuyler batted .354 in 117 games, with 32 steals and 85 RBIs. That was good enough to get him some MVP support (he finished eighth in the voting).

Our first Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons article was about his 1925 season. I picked that year because it’s arguably the best in franchise history. Cuyler led the league in games played (153), runs (144), triples (26) and hit-by-pitches (13). He finished second in the MVP voting and posted a .357/.423/.598 slash line. Cuyler set the franchise record with 369 total bases, which still stands to this day. He also scored the most runs since 1894 for the Pirates, and set a team record with 220 hits, which has since been broken. His 1.021 OPS was also a team record at the time. The Pirates made the World Series that year and Cuyler drove in six runs in the seven-game series. In the ninth inning of game seven, he broke a 7-7 tie with a two-run double against Walter Johnson.

In 1926, Cuyler led the league with 157 games, 113 runs and 35 stolen bases. He batted .321 and drove in 92 runs. In 1927, he hit .309 in 85 games. He missed time with an early season injury, but he was benched later in the year, with a series of events leading to the issue. The ultimate reason was that he failed to slide into second base on August 6th and was fined, but the Pirates were running a tighter ship during the 1927 season after a disappointing finish to the previous year. Cuyler was upset about his spot in the batting order and being moved around in the outfield and all of those things contributed to his benching, even as the Pirates were getting swept in the World Series.

After the season, the Pirates traded their star outfielder and had little leverage in their negotiations because everyone knew they wanted to get rid of him. The deal turned out to be a disaster, as he was sent to the Chicago Cubs for Pete Scott and Sparky Adams, two role players who contributed very little to the Pirates (they combined for 1.6 WAR). Cuyler spent eight years in Chicago and hit .325 with 665 runs scored, 602 RBIs and 161 stolen bases. He also had a strong season for the Cincinnati Reds in 1936 and he was a solid semi-regular over his final two seasons in the majors.

Cuyler finished as a .321 hitter in 1,879 games, with 1,305 runs scored, 1,065 RBIs and 328 stolen bases. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968.

Marlon Byrd, outfielder for the 2013 Pirates. When he was acquired from the New York Mets on August 27, 2013, Byrd was batting .285 with 21 homers and 71 RBIs in 117 games. The Pirates were in the midst of their first winning season in 21 years and Byrd provided a big bat over the final month. He hit .318 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 30 games. He homered in the Wild Card game and batted .333 with three RBIs in the NLDS against the St Louis Cardinals. Byrd left via free agency at the end of the season. He ended up playing a total of 15 years in the majors, retiring after the 2016 season. He was a .275 hitting in 1,573 games, with 159 homers and 710 RBIs. He was an All-Star for the Chicago Cubs in 2010 and finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2003.

Luis Rivas, infielder for the 2008 Pirates. He played the first six years of his career (2000-05) with the MinnesotaTwins, three times playing over 100 games in a season. He played mostly second base, hitting .262 with 30 homers and 78 stolen bases in 565 games. Rivas became a free agent after the 2005 season and signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He spent that entire year at Triple-A, then signed with the Cleveland Indians for the 2007 season. Rivas spent almost that whole year at Triple-A as well, getting into just four games with the Indians. He signed with the Pirates in December of 2007 as a minor league free agent and made the 2008 Opening Day roster with a strong Spring Training. He served as the team’s backup middle infielder, getting 22 starts at shortstop and 19 at second base.Rivas batted .218 with three homers and 20 RBIs in 79 games for the Pirates, which ended up being his last team in the majors. He left via free agency after the season, signing a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. Rivas spent that 2009 season at Triple-A in his last year of pro ball.

Johnny Lindell, pitcher for the 1953 Pirates. He went from being a pitcher early in his career, to an outfielder who played ten years in the majors, with some very good seasons mixed in, back to the mound as a knuckleball pitcher. Lindell began in the minors in 1936 as a pitcher, making it to the big leagues with the New York Yankees five years later.  He spent the entire 1942 season in New York, pitching 23 games. The next year he moved to outfield and made the American League All-Star team. In 1944, he hit .300 with 103 RBIs and led the league in triples for a second straight time. He played another six seasons in the majors as an outfielder and never quite approached those offensive numbers again.

In 1951, Lindell went to the minors and made the transition back to the mound. He went 23-4 for Newark of the International League in 1941, and then 11 years later he went 24-9 for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, earning his way back to the majors. He made 23 starts and four relief appearances for the 1953 Pirates, going 5-16, 4.71 in 175.2 innings pitched. Just one day after his 37th birthday, he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he had trouble due to the catchers being unable to handle his knuckleball. His personal catcher with the Pirates was Mike Sandlock, who didn’t join him in Philadelphia until the following Spring Training. Lindell was released by the Phillies in May of 1954, before he pitched a game that year. He finished as a .273 hitters in 854 games, with an 8-18, 4.47 record in 55 games as a pitcher.

Charlie Starr, infielder for the 1908 Pirates. He played over 1,100 minor league games, but his Major League career consisted of exactly 1/10th of that amount, playing 110 games total over three seasons, while with four different teams. Starr made his Major League debut with the St Louis Browns in 1905, hitting .206 in 26 games. He spent all of the 1906-07 seasons in the minors, returning to the big leagues with the 1908 Pirates, who acquired him in February of that year from the Youngstown Champs of the Ohio-Penn League. Starr was described as an excellent fielder, who played second base well, but wasn’t much of a hitter. He impressed the Pirates by showing up very early to Spring Training, but he received very little playing time during the season. He played 12 games at second base, five at shortstop behind Honus Wagner, and two games at third base. He hit just .186 in twenty games for Pittsburgh, though he did drive in eight runs, steal six bases and draw 13 walks. Starr played most of the 1909 season for the Boston Doves, finishing the year in August with three games for the Philadelphia Phillies, who acquired him in a five-player deal with Boston in mid-July. He returned to the minors in 1910 for the final seven seasons of his pro career. He spent two of those years as a player/manager (1915-16), then only managed in 1917.

Will Thompson, pitcher for the Pirates on July 9, 1892. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who attended the University of Pennsylvania and pitched one Major League game. On July 9, 1892, he started against Brooklyn, going three innings before he was pulled. His new Pirates teammates gave him no support on the field, making numerous errors in a poorly played third inning. Thompson was wild (it was said that he was nervous), issuing five walks. He gave up three hits and five runs, although just one run was earned. Despite being a local kid in his first big league game, the hometown crowd was harsh on him as soon as he started to struggle. He was given a three-run lead in the first (the Pirates batted in the top of the inning, a choice given to them per the rules of the time). Through two innings, he held Brooklyn to one run, then in the third, things fell apart. His control was off and his defense let him down, leading to four unearned runs. Mark Baldwin replaced Thompson in the fourth inning and finished the game, which was an eventual 7-5 loss for the Pirates. Before the game started, the local Pittsburgh paper said that Brooklyn was too good of a team for Thompson to face in his first game, and they should’ve gave him an easier first opponent. The paper’s opinion of the matter turned out to be right and the Pirates (or any other big league team) never gave him another chance to pitch.