Ten former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one major game of note. Before we get into the retired players, there is one current player born on this date. Reliever Edgar Santana turns 29 years old today.
Matt Ruebel, pitcher for the 1996-97 Pirates. He had a 5.49 ERA in 121.1 innings over 63 relief appearances and seven starts in his two years in Pittsburgh. His only other big league time consisted of 8.2 innings for the 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Ruebel was a third round draft pick of the Pirates in 1991 out of the University of Oklahoma. He had considerable trouble in his first four seasons of pro ball until a breakout year in Double-A in 1995, when he went 13-5, 2.76 in 169.1 innings over 27 starts. Despite a 4.60 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP in Triple-A in 1996, he saw considerable time with the Pirates during the season, pitching for a month in mid-May to mid-June, then rejoining the club in late July for the rest of the season. Ruebel matched his Triple-A numbers with a 4.60 ERA. He made seven starts and 19 relief appearances, throwing a total of 58.2 innings. He was with the Pirates for the entire 1997 and things didn’t go well, which led to somewhat limited usage. Ruebel had a 6.32 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP in 44 appearances (all relief). He was released after the season and signed with the Devil Rays. His big league career was over by July of 1998, but he played another two years, spending time with three others MLB clubs in the minors, as well as a short stint in independent ball. Since retiring as a player, he has become a scout for the Pirates.
Josias Manzanillo, pitcher for the 2000-02 Pirates. He had a 3.75 ERA in 151.1 innings over 127 relief appearances with the Pirates. Manzanillo played a total of 11 seasons in the majors, seeing time with eight big league clubs. His brother Ravelo Manzanillo pitched for the 1994-95 Pirates. The Pirates signed Josias as a free agent after he posted a 5.79 ERA in 12 appearances for the 1999 New York Mets. He spent most of 2000 in the majors, putting up a 3.38 ERA in 58.2 innings over 43 appearances. He spent the entire 2000 season in the majors, making 71 appearances. In 79.2 innings, he had a 3.39 ERA and he recorded two saves. Despite the success and usage in 2001, it didn’t carry over into the next season. He spent half of the year in the minors and he was released on August 15th after posting a 7.62 ERA in 13 innings over 13 appearances. Manzanillo pitched parts of two more seasons in the majors with the Cincinnati Reds and Florida Marlins, then finished his career with a season in Mexico. He pitched 267 games in the majors, and had a 4.71 ERA in 342 innings.
Billy Taylor, pitcher for 2001 Pirates. He didn’t make the majors until he was 32 years old in 1994, then ended up playing seven years in the big leagues. He only appearance with the Pirates was his last big league game, when he gave up one run over two innings on April 8, 2001. The Pirates signed him as a minor league free agent in February of 2001 and he remained with the club in Triple-A until the end of the season, which ended up being his last season of pro ball. Taylor originally signed out of high school as a second round draft pick in 1980 of the Texas Rangers. In the majors, he went 16-28, 4.21 in 317 appearances. During the 1996-99 seasons, he was the closer for the Oakland A’s, compiling exactly 100 saves in his career. Taylor pitched 536 games in the minors, making 132 starts and saving 107 games. He played 14 seasons before his first shot at the majors, and dealt with a heartbreaking decision 12 years into his career when the Atlanta Braves made him a Rule 5 pick, then cut him right before Opening Day. He also had to deal with missing the entire 1995 due to injury after finally making the majors a year earlier.
Brian Harper, outfielder/catcher for the 1982-84 Pirates. As the backup to Tony Pena, he mostly played outfield and hit .243 with 11 homers in 127 games. He was a .295 hitter over 1,001 games during a 16-year career, with the majority of his time after Pittsburgh spent behind the plate. Harper was a fourth round draft pick of the California Angels in 1977. The Pirates acquired him five years later in a trade for Tim Foli. At the time, he had five games of big league experience, one game in 1979 and four in 1981. Harper spent most of 1982 in Triple-A, seeing 20 games with the Pirates. He was with the club all season in both 1983 and 1984, though he played just 107 games total, topping out at 140 plate appearances in 1983, when he hit .221 with seven homers. After the 1984 season, he was part of a four-player deal with the St Louis Cardinals that saw the Pirates give up John Tudor and get George Hendrick in return. Harper’s big break came with the Minnesota Twins years later, when he became the starting catcher, helping them to two World Series titles over his five full seasons.
Len Yochim, pitcher for the 1951 and 1954 Pirates. He signed with Pittsburgh as an 18-year-old in 1947 and won 20 games in the minors his first season. The following year the young lefty went 14-4 between two levels. He made his Major League debut in late 1951 and won his first start despite giving up five runs and eight walks. He made one more start ten days later and couldn’t get out of the second inning, getting his first loss. He spent all of the next two seasons in the minors before making the 1954 team out of spring. He was used sparingly and posted a 7.32 ERA in ten games before being sent to the minors for good. He had a 109-68 record in ten minor league seasons. After his playing days he scouted for the Pirates before eventually moving to a front office job in 1994 with the team. He remained in baseball until 2002. His brother Ray Yochim pitched two seasons for the St Louis Cardinals (1948-49).
Walter “Boom-Boom” Beck, pitcher for the 1945 Pirates. He finished his 12-year career in the majors in Pittsburgh, going 6-1, 2.14 in 63 innings. During the rest of his career, he had a 32-68 record. Despite the poor overall big league record, he won 199 minor league games over 17 seasons. He played pro ball for 26 years total, beginning at 19 years old in the majors with the St Louis Browns. After his big league career ended, he was a player-manager for four seasons in the minors, then played his final pro season at 45 years old for Toledo of the American Association. Beck pitched one inning in 1924 (with the Browns). He then spent the next two full seasons in the minors before returning to the big leagues in 1927 for three games and then 16 games in 1928, all with the Browns. Beck then went five years before his next big league appearance. In 1933, he led the NL with 35 starts for the Brooklyn Dodgers. After struggling in 1934, he then had another five-year stretch between appearances. He was a regular during the war years (1941-45), though he spent most of 1943 in the minors.
Bill Skiff, catcher for the 1921 Pirates. As a rookie in 1921, he hit .289 in 16 games for the Pirates. All of his games came between May 17th and June 27th. His only other big league experience was six games for the 1926 New York Yankees, when he saw action in May, July and September. Skiff played minor league ball from 1916 until 1935. He was a player-manager for those final three years, then went on to manage another 11 years. The Pirates signed Skiff after he hit .292 in 108 games for Bridgeport of the Eastern League. He was mostly a singles hitter at the time, collecting just 14 extra-base hits all season in 1920. Skiff belonged to Little Rock of the Southern Association at the time, but he was a holdout. The Pirates had to compensate Little Rock to acquire him on May 27, 1921. The plan was to have him backup starting catcher Walter Schmidt. On July 4th, Skiff was sold to Kansas City of the American Association, ending his time with the Pirates.
Jake Kafora, catcher for the 1913-14 Pirates. He spent just two seasons in the majors, both with Pittsburgh, and in 1913 he played just one game. He had one of the latest in the year debuts in big league history. Kafora made his debut on October 5, 1913 going 1-for-2 with a run scored and a hit-by-pitch. He joined the Pirates just one day earlier. The next season, he was a seldom used back-up, mostly finishing games on defense behind the plate. In 21 games, he went to the plate just 25 times, going 3-for-23 with two hit-by-pitches. He was supposed to be the third-string catcher, but Sam Brenegan had one of the worst debuts in big league history, quitting in the middle of an inning due to a finger injury. He never played again and Kafora moved up to the backup spot. Kafora spent the first two seasons of his pro career with the Butte Miners of the Union Association. The Pirates signed him after he hit .313 over 105 games during the 1913 season. He was sold to Omaha of the Western League prior to the 1915 season. Kafora finished his career back where he started in 1917. He joined the Marines during WWI. He had the nickname Tomatoes, which supposedly came from the fact he ate tomatoes before every game.
Fred Lake, first baseman for the 1898 Pirates. Lake played five years in the majors between 1891 and 1910. His stay in Pittsburgh was short. He went 1-for-13 with two walks and a run scored in five games. In his three starts at first base, he handled all 34 chances without an error, which was not a small feat during the 19th century. He was there in late July when the Pirates were dealing with multiple injuries. Three of his seasons in the majors were spent with Boston (NL) though none were consecutive years. The interesting part about Lake’s big league career was that after the Pirates released the 31-year-old first baseman, he went 12 seasons before he appeared in the majors again. There is an asterisk to his story, in 1910 Lake was the manager of the Boston Doves and he used himself twice as a pinch-hitter and once as a pinch-runner. His last Major League appearance came 19 years after he made his big league debut for that same Boston club. He also played for them in 1897 before being traded to the minors even up (with cash) for future Hall of Famer, and one-time Pirates pitcher, Vic Willis.
George Strief, second baseman for the 1882 Alleghenys. He batted just .199 in 79 games during his one year in Pittsburgh, but he is forever written in team history. Leading off the top of the third inning on May 3, 1882, Strief hit the first home run in franchise history. He played five years in the majors and hit a total of five home runs. He has a bigger claim to fame than his Pittsburgh home run. On June 25, 1885, he set a Major League record that was tied once, but will never be broken, when he collected four triples in one game. He also set a record for most extra-base hits in a game with five. Just 2 1/2 months later, he played his final big league game. Strief began his pro career in the minors in 1877 in the International Association, which is considered to be the first minor league. The next season he was with the Pittsburgh Allegheny (no S at the end) of the International Association. During the 1884 season when the National League and American Association were joined by the Union Association, making three Major Leagues all operating in the same year, Strief managed to play briefly in all three leagues. He played his final pro game in 1890.
On this date in 1909 the Pirates won their first World Series Championship, defeating the Detroit Tigers at Bennett Park by a score of 8-0 in game seven of the series. Babe Adams started the game and won for the third time in the series. The Pirates were led by Honus Wagner who batted .333 in the series with six stolen bases. Detroit had Ty Cobb on their side and this first meeting between the two hitting stars was a big deal back in the day. Cobb was considered by some as the better hitter, he had won three straight batting titles and RBI titles but he failed to live up to the hype, hitting just .231 in the series.
Adams allowed just six hits and a walk during his shutout win in game seven and Wagner came through with the big hit of the game, a two run triple in the 6th inning that he also scored on when the throw got away at third base. Rookie second baseman Dots Miller had two hits and 2 RBI’s in the game and Tommy Leach went 2-for-3 giving him a .360 average for the series. Adams, who went 12-3 1.11 in 1909, also won games one and five in the series.