This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: October 23rd, Jim Bunning

Three former Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Fame pitcher. We also have one minor transaction of note.

Jim Bunning, pitcher for the 1968-69 Pirates. Pittsburgh gave up a lot to get the future Hall of Famer after he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting in 1967 with the Philadelphia Phillies. By the time he left via trade late in 1969, the Pirates were only able to get two marginal minor league players and cash in return. Bunning went 14-23, 3.84 in 316 innings with the Pirates. That looks like a decent ERA, though it came during a time of low offense in baseball, so it was actually a good deal higher than league average. Bunning pitched until 1971, finishing his 17-year career with 224 wins and 2,855 strikeouts. He had just one career 20-win season, but from 1962 until 1966, he finished with 19 wins four times. Bunning led the league in strikeouts three times, accomplishing that feat in both leagues (1959-60 with Detroit Tigers, 1967 with the Phillies). He’s only one of six players ever to throw no-hitters in two leagues. His second one on June 21, 1964 with the Phillies was a perfect game.

In his first season in Pittsburgh, Bunning went 4-14, 3.88 in 26 starts and one relief appearance, totaling 160 innings. His ERA was nearly the same in 1969, but he had a 10-9 record in 25 starts and 156 innings. With the Pirates lagging in the pennant race in August, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he made nine starts before being released after the season. Bunning cost the Pirates future All-Stars Don Money and Woody Fryman (plus two other players), who were both very early in their career. Their return exactly 20 months later from the Dodgers netted them a return of six games over two seasons from Chuck Goggins, with the other player in the deal (Ron Mitchell) failing to make the majors.

Billy Sullivan, catcher for the 1947 Pirates. Due to WWII, Sullivan had not played in the majors since 1942, prior to joining the 1947 Pirates. He hit .255 over 38 games in 1947, in what ended up as his last season in the majors. When he played in the 1940 World Series with the Detroit Tigers, he became part of the first father-son combo to play in the World Series. His father, also named Billy Sullivan, was a catcher for 16 years in the majors. He was the starter for the 1906 Chicago White Sox, a team that went on to win their first WS title that year. The younger Sullivan debuted in the majors with the White Sox in 1931. He played there three seasons, spent 1934 in the minors, then returned to the majors for the next eight seasons. From 1935-42, he played for five different big league clubs, spending two full seasons each with the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and St Louis Browns. He was with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942 and remained with them during his war years, but in 1947 after the war ended, he was released and signed shortly after with the Pirates. Sullivan retired following his one season in Pittsburgh. He was a career .289 hitter over 962 big league games. He led all AL catchers in fielding (.990) in 1938, while also being the toughest batter to strikeout in the league (ten strikeouts in 401 plate appearances).

Lave Winham, lefty pitcher for the 1903 Pirates. Winham pitched five late season games for the first World Series team in NL/Pirates history. He went 3-1, 2.25 in 36 innings. His only other big league experience was a three-inning relief appearance for Brooklyn in 1902. The Pirates purchased him from his minor league team in Montreal on August 5, 1903, though he was allowed to stay with the club for a short time. Winham joined the Pirates a week later and his first appearance was on August 16th in an in-season exhibition game against a minor league team from Troy. He allowed two homers, but won 6-3. His next appearance was his Pirates regular season debut five days later and he allowed three runs over four innings. Four days later, he started game two of a doubleheader and threw a six-inning shutout in  a game shortened due to excessive heat. He ended up making three more starts and won the first two, before allowing nine runs in his last game, which turned out to be his final big league game. He was let go in early 1904 after the Pirates failed to tender him a contract. Winham finished his pro career the next season in the minors.

Winham has a dubious Pirates team record that will likely never be broken. In his final big league game, he committed four errors. That’s a team record for errors by a pitcher and it has only been exceeded once in baseball history by a pitcher. That was Ed Doheny, who was a teammate of Winham’s in 1903. Doheny committed five errors with the New York Giants in an 1899 game. Winham’s real name was Lafayette Sharkey Winham.

The Transaction

On this date in 1981, the Pirates purchased minor league pitcher Manny Sarmiento from the Boston Red Sox. Sarmiento had previous MLB experience, but he spent the entire 1981 season in the minors and saw limited big league action in 1980. It turned out to be an excellent short-term signing, as he had a 9-4, 3.39 record in 164.2 innings during the 1982 season, making 17 starts and 18 relief appearances. Sarmiento did well as a full-time reliever in 1983, posting a 2.99 ERA in 84.1 innings over 52 appearances. That would be the end of his big league career though, as he was injured for all of 1984 and lasted just one season in the minors when he returned to action.