This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: September 4th, Passing of a Prospect

On a slow day for Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have two players born on this date and one very minor trade. We also have a note on someone who played for the Pirates in the middle of the 1917 season. I’ll add a Game Rewind later from this date, plus add another in the near future, so next September 4th isn’t so slow for the history.

The Trade

On this date in 1954, the Pirates traded first baseman Jack Phillips to the Chicago White Sox, in exchange for infielder Jim Baumer and cash. While this trade was an insignificant one at the time, Baumer had an interesting Major League career. In 1949, he came up to the majors with the White Sox as an 18-year-old and hit .400 in eight games. That would be his only Major League experience prior to this trade five years later. After the trade, he played six seasons in the Pirates minor league system without playing a big league game. In November of 1960, the Cincinnati Reds took him in the Rule 5 draft, returning him to the majors for the first time in 12 years. He would play just ten early season games before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, never returning to the big leagues again. In 1963, he began a five-year career in Japan that ended with his retirement from baseball. Phillips, who will be featured here in two days (born on September 6th), played 158 games over four seasons for the Pirates, last seeing the majors in 1952 for one game. He would go on to be dealt to the Tigers three months later without playing a game for the White Sox, then spent parts of three seasons in Detroit before he retired.

The Players

Jack Gilbert, left fielder for the 1904 Pirates. He had a pro baseball career that lasted from 1894 until 1910, but he played just 28 Major League games. He began his big league career by playing three late season games in 1898, two for the Washington Senators and one for the New York Giants. It would be another six years until he made the majors again, coming back in 1904 with the Pirates. He spent that 1904 season in Little Rock, Arkansas, playing his fourth full season for the Travelers of the Southern Association. There he hit a team high .328 in 132 games. Gilbert joined the Pirates with 25 games left in the season and he started every game in left field. He replaced player/manager/Hall of Famer Fred Clarke, who missed the end of the season due to illness. Gilbert hit .241 with three RBIs and 13 runs scored, drawing 12 walks. He did not play well in the field, committing five errors in 35 chances, with no assists. The next season he played for the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association, a team filled with former and future Pirates players. He returned to Little Rock in 1906 for another two seasons, then eventually finished his career in 1910 for the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the New York State League. While his minor league records are incomplete at this time, it is known that he collected over 1,400 hits, and that’s with three full seasons missing.

Elmer Horton, pitcher for the 1896 Pirates. His first Major League game came on September 24, 1896 for the Pirates and was called by the local paper, “a farce” due to the poor play by everyone involved. Horton was facing a St Louis Browns team that had a 38-89 record, with just three games left to the season. He did not pitch well, giving up 11 runs over eight innings, on 13 hits and five walks. The game featured a combined 12 errors between the two teams. Two days later, Horton started the last game of the season, again facing the Browns. It was quoted in The Pittsburgh Press, that the Pirates “went into the game expecting to see Horton’s pitching get punished, with little hope of victory.”  The amazing part about that, was that the Pirates were facing their former pitcher Bill Hart, who already clinched the NL lead with his 29 losses. Hart finished his career with a 66-120 record, so he wasn’t a pitcher who should’ve struck fear in a team prior to the opening pitch of the game. The Pirates lost that day 7-3, with the game called in the seventh inning. Horton pitched his second complete game in three days.

Horton was said to have nerves of steel in the pitcher’s box. The paper also noted that a few players had previously seen him throw harder than he was during his two-game trial. The Pirates at the time were playing with just two pitchers, Pink Hawley and Horton. In an emergency, they had former pitcher-turned-outfielder, Elmer Smith, who had not pitched at all in two years and not pitched regularly in four seasons. After the regular season ended, the Pirates went on a barnstorming tour and Horton pitched a strong game against a top Independent League club from Cambridge, Ohio, winning 3-2 on a four-hitter. The Pirates then picked up a pitcher named “Collins” while on the trip, and gave him chances to show what he had. Horton was included in six-player deal with the Baltimore Orioles in November of 1896, as the Pirates gave up their all-time batting leader Jake Stenzel in return for center fielder Steve Brodie and third baseman Jim Donnelly. Baltimore had tried to sign Horton just months earlier, but the Pirates were able to beat them to the punch. He would spend the entire 1897 season in the minors, then open the 1898 season in the Brooklyn Bridegrooms rotation. It didn’t take long for them to give up on him. Horton started the second game of the season and allowed 13 runs in a complete game loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. That game ended up being the last of his Major League career. He pitched in the minors until 1904 and served as a player/manager for parts of three seasons.

The Event

On this date in 1918, 22-year-old Macus Milligan passed away from injuries suffered a day earlier in a plane crash while training as an aviator in the Army. He was signed by the Pirates in 1916 and played one exhibition game for the team during the 1917 season before being sent to the minors. He spent part of 1917 Spring Training with the Pirates, but he was in the Army a year later during Spring Training in 1918. Milligan tossed the final four innings of an exhibition game on June 3, 1917 against a semi-pro team from Ohio called the Bakos. The Pirates won 3-2 and both opposing runs came against Milligan. On August 9th with Birmingham, he tossed a no-hitter.