There have been five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a player that did not endear himself to the team in his only big league inning. We also have one transaction of note and a crazy day from long ago.
On this date in 1981, the Pittsburgh Pirates sold pitcher Grant Jackson to the Montreal Expos for the reported sum of $50,000. At the time of the deal, he had a 2.51 ERA in 32.1 innings over 35 appearances. He was in his fifth season with the Pirates. With the Expos over the final month of the season, the 38-year-old Jackson posted a 7.59 ERA in 10.2 innings and ten appearances. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the off-season, but returned to the Pirates in September of 1982 to pitch one final big league game.
Dave Rucker, lefty reliever for the 1988 Pirates. He was originally a 16th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1978, who went on to play seven years in the majors split between four different teams. Rucker made his big league debut at the start of the 1981 season with the Tigers, but Detroit sent him down after just two games, the second being a rocky two-inning outing. Over the next two seasons, he split his time fairly evenly between the minors and majors, moving on to the St Louis Cardinals in a July 1983 trade. His 1984 season was the only year that he spent the entire campaign in the majors and he earned it. In 50 games for the Cardinals, he posted a 2.10 ERA, throwing a total of 73 innings. Rucker was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies just prior to the start of the 1985 season, and he struggled with his new team. In two seasons, he posted a 4.66 ERA in 58 games, with a 1.64 WHIP. He was released following the 1986 season, then spent all of 1987 in the minors, before signing with the Pirates in February of 1988. He began the year at Triple-A and posted an 0.88 ERA in his first 16 outings. The Pirates called him up in early June, using him 31 times out of the bullpen over the rest of the season. In 28.1 innings, he was 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA. Rucker spent the 1989 season in Triple-A for the Pirates before retiring. The Pirates had an 85-75 record during his only season with the team, but in appearances by Rucker, they went 6-25.
Vic Barnhart, shortstop for the 1944-46 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1940, sending him to play for the London Pirates of the Penn-Ontario-NY League (PONY League) for his first two seasons. He moved up to Class C ball in 1942, hitting .311 in 128 games for Hutchinson of the Western Association. Barnhart was then called into service during WWII. He missed the entire 1943 season before returning. He reported to Albany of the Eastern League in 1944, and picked up right where he left off, batting .310 in 138 games, with 40 extra-base hits. The Pirates called him up late in the year and got him into one game, the last game of the season. He started at shortstop and went 1-for-2 with a walk. In 1945, Barnhart was with the team for the entire season. He didn’t see much time until taking over the shortstop job on June 1st, holding that spot down for three months, before losing it in early September. He hit .269 with 19 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 71 games, His .928 fielding percentage at shortstop was well below league average.
Barnhart made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1946, but he was soon returned to Albany after just two games off the bench. He never played in the majors again. On December 3, 1947, the Pirates traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in return for second baseman Monty Basgall. Barnhart played four more seasons in the minors after the trade before he retired. He is the son of Clyde Barnhart, who played nine seasons for the Pirates (1920-28) as an outfielder and third baseman.
Jim Hopper, pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He pitched semi-pro ball until 1942 prior to signing his first pro deal with the Landis Senators of the North Carolina State League. He pitched well there, and when the league disbanded, his contract was purchased by the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. Hopper went 15-9, 2.63 in 1943 and was purchased by the Pirates, who left him with his minor league team. The manager was Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes, who called Hopper the best recruit the Pirates had. Unfortunately for the Pirates, before they were able to bring him to the majors, he was lost to the war effort. The Pirates didn’t think they would lose him to the draft, being that he had two young kids at home. He returned in 1946 after missing two full seasons and went right to the majors, starting the fifth game of the season. In three innings, he allowed five runs on five hits and two walks, taking the loss against the Cincinnati Reds. He didn’t pitch again for nearly a month, only then appearing in a game that the Pirates were already losing 15-6 in the sixth inning. Hopper threw 1.1 scoreless innings, in what ended up being his last Major League appearance. He returned to the minors and played until 1949. He finished his pro career right back where it started, in Landis of the NCSL, after the league returned following a two-year hiatus during the war.
Fred Nicholson, outfielder for the 1919-20 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1913, and before joining the Pirates in June of 1919, he got a brief trial for the 1917 Detroit Tigers. He then served during the war, returning to the Tigers in 1919, although they had no playing time for him. He was sold to the Pirates for $2,500 on June 30, 1919 and joined the team right away. In 30 games, he hit .273 with a homer and six RBIs. He got 14 starts, ten in left field and four in right field. He also played center fielder and first base off of the bench. The next year Nicholson saw almost no playing time during the first month, then started from mid-May until early June, raising his average to .351, before returning to the bench. For over a month, he served as a pinch-hitter, and was unsuccessful in the role, seeing his average drop to .307 by the 21st of July. He then began to start again and went on a tear, raising his average to .390 in early September. Although he fell short of qualifying for the batting title, it was still the highest average in the NL at the time. A late season slump eventually landed his average at .360 in 99 games.
On January 23, 1921, the Pirates traded Nicholson, along with future Hall of Famer Billy Southworth, to the Boston Braves for Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville. Nicholson hit .327 in his first year in Boston, with an .860 OPS. He was still a platoon player, even with the strong offense. The next year that offense went downhill quick and his defense was well below average. He hit .252 in 78 games, with 12 errors. Nicholson returned to the minors in 1923, playing another 13 years without a return trip to the big leagues. He collected nearly 2,500 hits during his 18-year minor league career. As a Major Leaguer, he hit .311 in 303 games.
Sam Brenegan, catcher for the Pirates on April 24, 1914. He played just one inning of one Major League game for a very good reason, he dogged it on the field. After the Pirates went down in the score early to the St Louis Cardinals at home, manager Fred Clarke pulled starting catcher George Gibson for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, he sent Brenegan in for his Major League debut. The Cardinals got a runner on base, which was followed by a passed ball from Sam (his real name was Olaf Selmar Brenegan). He walked after the ball behind him as the runner moved up, irritating him manager. In the next inning after already being charged with a passed ball, a wild pitch hit his finger and split it open. After slowly retrieving the ball again, he walked over to the bench and left the game. He was replaced by backup catcher Jake Kafora. Some game recaps said that he had one passed ball and two were wild pitches. One noted that he couldn’t catch the sinker of pitcher Joe Conzelman.
The Pirates left the next day for a road trip in Chicago and Brenegan was left behind. The local paper said that the rookie showed an “undeniable inclination to quit” and guessed that he didn’t know base runners could move up on passed balls. Brenegan had already played two years of minor league ball as a catcher, so his lack of interest during his Major League debut was hard to explain. He returned to the minors less than a month after his only game, where he remained until 1919, before he retired from baseball. The Pirates sold his contract to Portland of the Pacific Coast League in mid-May.
On this date in 1890, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys lost all three games of a tripleheader to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The first game was played in the morning and Brooklyn carried a 10-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth (road team was batting last in this game). The Alleghenys put together nine runs, all scoring with two outs, before George “Doggie” Miller was thrown out at home plate to end the game as he was trying for an inside-the-park grand slam. The two teams then played an afternoon doubleheader and Brooklyn squeaked out a 3-2 win, this time the Alleghenys had the tying run thrown out at home in the ninth for the second out. In the third game, Brooklyn won 8-4, scoring seven runs early. Pitcher Dave Anderson threw both afternoon games for the Alleghenys.