On a busy date for Pittsburgh Pirates birthdays, we have a Hall of Fame first baseman, one of the best sluggers of the 1950’s and a player from the 1909 World Series champs, plus a local kid who made good. Also, Chad Kuhl and Phillip Evans turn 28 today. They will be added to the bios below in the future.
Neil Walker, second baseman for the 2009-15 Pirates. He was a first round pick in 2004 out of Pine-Richland HS by the Pirates, drafted as a catcher. After a trial at third base, he eventually moved to second base, making the switch right before joining the Pirates in late May of 2010. Walker saw limited time with the Pirates as a September call-up in 2009, but once he returned to the team the following May, he became the starting second baseman. He hit .296 with 66 RBIs as a rookie in 2010, finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. In his first full season in 2011, Walker batted .273 with 36 doubles, 12 homers and 83 RBIs in 159 games. In 2012, he hit .280 with 14 homers, and 69 RBIs, while missing three weeks late in the year with a back injury.
In 2013, Walker batted .271 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs, while having his best season of his career on defense (0.3 WAR). However, he also missed time with a finger injury and an oblique strain. He had the best offensive year of his career in 2014 when he hit .271 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs in 137 games. That output earned him his only career Silver Slugger award. Walker had a typical Walker year in 2015, batting .269 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs. After the season, he was traded to the New York Mets for Jon Niese. Since then, he has played for the Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Miami Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies. Walker hit .272 with 93 homers and 418 RBIs in 836 games with the Pirates. At the time of this writing, he just played his 1,300th big league game and he has hit 149 homers. He is the son of Major League pitcher Tom Walker (1972-77) and the nephew of Chip Lang, pitcher for the 1975-76 Expos.
Chad Hermansen, outfielder for the 1999-2002 Pirates. He was a first round pick of the 1995 Pirates and five times he was ranked by Baseball America among their top 54 prospects. Coming up through the minors he was always young for the level, but he struck out a lot and never hit for a high average. Hermansen ended up playing five seasons at Triple-A Nashville, never living up to the hype that surrounded him. To be fair, the Pirates gave him three separate trials from 1999-2001, when he was ages 21-23, yet never gave him more than 33 games in a season. In 2002, he finally got an extended look, playing 65 games through the end of July, before he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Darren Lewis. Hermansen finished the season with the Cubs, then played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, before playing his last Major League season with the 2004 Toronto Blue Jays. He played in the minors until 2007, finishing with 192 minor league homers. For the Pirates, he hit .199 in 139 games, with 12 homers and 29 RBIs.
Bob Garber, pitcher for the 1956 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur in 1948, pitching well in the low levels of the minors for three years before serving in the military during the Korean War. Garber went 49-27 over his first three seasons, then missed all of 1951-52. He didn’t do much in 1953, then returned to form the next year, winning 19 games for Denver of the Western League. He was moved up to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League in 1955 and won 20 games, posting a 2.84 ERA in 291.2 innings, but didn’t pitch with the Pirates until the following season. Garber appeared in two game for the 1956 Pirates, both in relief and both games ended up being suspended and finished at a later date. The first was in May, when he threw one scoreless inning during a blowout loss to the Phillies. The other game came in September, when he pitched three innings against the Dodgers, allowing one run on a solo homer. He pitched at Hollywood in 1957, then split his final pro season (1958) between stops in the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs organizations, never making the majors again.
Brandy Davis, outfielder for the 1952-53 Pirates. The Pirates signed him out of Duke University in 1951, and it didn’t take long for Davis to make the majors. After spending all of 1951 in the minors, splitting his time between three different teams while batting .313 with 16 homers, Davis made the Pirates 1952 Opening Day roster. He would be sent to the minors in early June, returning two months later for the rest of the season. Brandy (real name was Robert Brandon Davis) started 21 of the 55 games he played that season for the Pirates, seeing time at all three outfield spots. He hit .179 with 14 runs scored and one RBI in 108 plate appearances. He spent 1953 with New Orleans of the Southern Association, where he hit .272 with four homers in 136 games. He came back to the Pirates as a September call-up and hit .205 in 12 games, which ended up being his last big league experience. Davis played in the Pirates farm system until 1956 and remained in the minors until 1960, finishing with a .292 average in 911 games.
Ted Kluszewski, first baseman for the 1958-59 Pirates. He started his Major League career in 1947 with the Cincinnati Reds, and 11 years later he had amassed a .302 average with 251 homers and 886 RBIs. Kluszewski was a four time All-Star from 1953-56, hitting at least 35 homers and driving in over 100 runs each season. Three times he hit at least 40 homers, including 1954 when he led the NL in homer (49) and RBIs (149) while hitting .326, which was the fifth highest average in the league. Before coming to Pittsburgh, he began to suffer back problems that really limited his power. The Pirates acquired Kluszewski from the Reds on December 28, 1957 in exchange for first baseman Dee Fondy. Pittsburgh didn’t get the power hitting first baseman they hoped to get. Kluszewski played 160 games for the Pirates, hitting .284 with just six homers and 54 RBIs. He was able to hit .292 during the 1958 season, but his .408 slugging percentage was well below his career mark. The Pirates traded him to the Chicago White Sox on August 25, 1959 in exchange for outfielder Harry Simpson and a minor leaguer. Kluszewski played with the White Sox until 1960, then finished with the 1961 Los Angeles Angels, an expansion team that year. He hit 15 homers in 1961, more than he had hit the previous three seasons combined. The amazing part of his 1953-56 streak of 35 home run seasons, was the fact he had more home runs than strikeouts in all four seasons.
George Kelly, first baseman for the 1917 Pirates. He saw limited time with the New York Giants for parts of three years before the Pirates purchased his contract in early August of 1917. Pittsburgh was having injury problems at the time and they needed Kelly to fill in for Honus Wagner at first base. Before joining the Pirates, he had barely played for the 1917 Giants, going 0-for-5 in nine games. For Pittsburgh in eight starts at first base, he went 2-for-23 with a triple and nine strikeouts. When Wagner was ready to play again, Kelly was sent back to the Giants. Despite returning him to New York right away, the Pirates had been high on Kelly for quite some time. The decision to return him ended up being a bad one, Kelly went on to have a Hall of Fame career. From 1920 until 1925, he averaged 108 RBIs per season, twice leading the league. From 1921 until 1926, he batted over .300 every season.
Kelly helped the Giants to four straight World Series appearances, picking up titles during the 1921-22 seasons. He was a career .297 hitter in 1,622 games, driving in 1,020 runs, while scoring 819 times. Kelly was also a fine fielding first baseman, leading the league in assists three times, putouts three times, range four times and fielding percentage twice. Late in that 1917 season, after being returned to the Giants, Kelly pitched for the only time in his career, throwing five shutout innings in a win over the Phillies. He came from a big baseball family with Major League ties. His uncle was Bill Lange, a .330 career hitter in seven seasons during the 1890’s. George’s brother Ren Kelly pitched for the 1923 Athletics and his cousin Rich Chiles played six years in the majors during the 1970’s. We posted a full article here on Kelly’s time with the Pirates.
Kid Durbin, pinch-runner for the Pirates on June 30, 1909. When the Pirates traded for Durbin on May 28, 1909, they sent pitcher Ward Miller to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that included the stipulation, that if Miller played good for the Reds, Cincinnati would send money back to the Pirates. As it turned out, all Pittsburgh received from the player part of the deal was one pinch-running appearance by Durbin. On June 30, 1909, during the first game ever at Forbes Field, the Pirates trailed 3-2 in the ninth inning. Catcher George Gibson walked to start the inning, he was replaced on the bases by Durbin, who was sacrificed to second base, then moved to third base on an infield error. That is where he would stay, as a shallow fly ball and ground out to shortstop ended the game. Not only did Durbin not play for the Pirates again, he never played in the majors again.
He came to the majors in 1907 after winning 32 games the previous year for Joplin of the Western Association. Kid (first name was Blaine) also hit .277 that season, occasionally playing outfield when he wasn’t on the mound. He played two years with the Chicago Cubs, seeing very limited playing time (25 games combined, five as a pitcher). In January of 1909 he was traded to the Reds, who used him six times as a pinch-hitter before the trade to the Pirates. Durbin played in the minors until 1912 before he retired. The Cubs won the World Series in each of his first two seasons and the Pirates won during his third year, though Durbin never played a postseason game.
On this date in 1934, the Pirates had a lineup with six future Hall of Famers. Lloyd Waner, Freddie Lindstrom, Paul Waner, Arky Vaughan and Pie Traynor were batting in the top five spots, while Waite Hoyt was on the mound. There was a seventh Hall of Famer who came into the game later for the Pirates, and he picked up a significant achievement for his career. Here’s the Game Rewind.