Seven Pittsburgh Pirates have been born on this date, including one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history. There’s also a major trade of note.
Ralph Kiner, outfielder for the 1946-53 Pirates. The Pirates signed Kiner as an amateur free agent in 1941, but partly due to the war (he missed the 1944-45 seasons), he did not make his Major League debut until the 1946 season. As a rookie, Kiner led the NL with 23 homers, which also tied the Pirates single season record. The Pirates helped out their newest attraction by moving in the left field fences, which led to some huge home run totals for the young slugger. Despite being severely limited by a bad back later in his ten-year career, he hit a total of 369 homers. Kiner led the NL in homers for seven straight seasons with the Pirates, setting the franchise record with 54 homers in 1949. He broke his own record (51) he set two years earlier when he put up the only other 50 home run season in club history. He also topped the 40 home run mark three other times in Pittsburgh. Kiner did all of that while also averaging 110 walks per season. His 301 homers with the Pirates ranks second all-time to Willie Stargell.
Kiner was an All-Star each season from 1948 until 1953. He received MVP votes during all seven of his full seasons in Pittsburgh, with five straight finishes in the top ten. His best finish was fourth place in 1949. For the Pirates, he ranks second in OPS in a season (1.089 in 1949) and he holds the second/third spots in both total bases (361 in 1947/49) and RBIs (127 in 1947/49). His .567 slugging percentage and .971 OPS both rank second to Brian Giles in team history, with Kiner compiling 1,600 more plate appearances to reach his marks. Kiner also ranks fifth in walks and seventh in RBIs.
The Pirates sent Kiner to the Chicago Cubs in a ten-player/cash deal during the 1953 season. Their return ended up being very poor, but Kiner was limited by his back injury and he ended up retiring after the 1955 season. Despite the offensive dominance during his peak, he didn’t make the Hall of Fame until 1975. Kiner went on to have a long career in broadcasting for the New York Mets.
Charlie Kuhns, third baseman for the Pirates on June 7, 1897. He had a nine-year minor league career, but his Major League career consisted of seven games with the 1899 Boston Beaneaters and his big league debut (and only game) with the 1897 Pirates. Just 20 years old at the time, Kuhns made his pro debut with the Pirates on June 7th, which ended up being less than a week prior to his first minor league game. He actually got into a Major League game three days earlier, but the stats don’t reflect that. On June 4th, the Pirates were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. After a bad call by the umpire in the top of the fourth inning, Pirates manager Patsy Donovan came to argue and was ejected. Donovan was also the right fielder that day and he argued the call prior to his scheduled at-bat. Kuhns came in to replace him and grounded out to end the inning. Before the bottom of the fourth inning, the umpire called the game a forfeit, declaring that the Pirates players were still arguing the call and not taking their position. Since they didn’t play long enough for it to be an official game, the stats were erased from the record books. Kuhns got his official game in three days later, going 0-for-3, with a walk and two errors in six fielding chances at third base. In his seven games for Boston, he hit .278 with three RBIs, splitting his starts between third base and shortstop.
The Pirates announced that they would give Kuhns a chance to tryout in March in 1897. He made the team out of Spring Training by performing well and was with the team the entire time before his unofficial debut on June 4th in the 34th game of the season. By June 13th, he was already in the lineup of the Fall River Indians of the New England League. Two days earlier, Patsy Donovan said that he wasn’t fast enough for the league, which was the early baseball way of saying that a player belonged in the minors.
Ed Albosta, pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He went 0-6, 6.13 in six starts and 11 relief appearances with the Pirates. His only other big league experience was two starts for the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers. Albosta missed the 1943-45 seasons due to WWII. The Pirates actually acquired him in the Rule 5 draft after the 1942 season, so he was part of their organization during his time in the war. He threw hard and piled up 192 strikeouts in the minors in 1940. His strikeout total dropped to 79 in 130 innings in 1942, though he was still considered by some to be the top player taken in the 1942 Rule 5 draft. Just two months after his selection, he was drafted into the Army. He was released from the Army in late October of 1945 and joined the Pirates for Spring Training in 1946. Despite the limited usage in 1946 (39.2 innings), he was with the Pirates for the entire season. He sprained his ankle in Spring Training of 1947, hurting his chances of making the team. The Pirates sent him to Indianapolis, then he was moved on the Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. Albosta remained in the minors until retiring after the 1954 season.
U.L. Washington, infielder for the 1986-87 Pirates. He hit .207 over 82 games with the Pirates, with most of that time coming in 1986 when he played 51 games at shortstop and 72 games total. Washington hit .251 with 132 steals in 907 games over 11 seasons in the majors. He was signed as an amateur free agent out of college in 1972 by the Kansas City Royals and debuted five years later in the majors. He spent his first eight seasons with the Royals, then moved on to the Montreal Expos in 1985. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent in November of 1985 and he spent the first two months of the 1986 season in the minors. The Pirates released him in November of 1986, but he returned to the club on January 20, 1987 on a minor league deal. Washington was released after the 1987 season and he managed one season in the minors for the Pirates in 1989. He played senior professional ball for two years, then took up coaching for the Royals and later the Boston Red Sox. In 1992, he played one game in Double-A for the Memphis Chicks, where he was coaching.
Mike Dunne, pitcher for the 1987-89 Pirates. The April 1, 1987 Tony Pena trade brought over long-term pieces in Andy Van Slyke and Mike Lavalliere, but Dunne looked like a strong third piece in the deal when it happened. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1987, going 13-6, 3.03 in 163.1 innings. He dropped down to 7-11, 3.92 in 170 innings in 1988, then lasted just three starts (7.53 ERA) in 1989 before he was traded to the Seattle Mariners. Dunne went 2-9, 5.27 in 15 starts for the Mariners, then 0-3, 5.65 in six starts and four relief appearances for the 1990 San Diego Padres. His last big league experience was 12.2 innings for the 1992 Chicago White Sox. Dunne was a first round draft pick (seventh overall) in 1984 by the St Louis Cardinals. He spent the entire 1986 season in Triple-A, then made nine more starts at the level with the Pirates before making his big league debut on June 5, 1987. His .684 winning percentage was tops in the NL during his rookie season.
Jason Johnson, pitcher for the 1997 Pirates. He gave up four runs over six innings in his only three games with the Pirates. He was lost in the November 1997 expansion draft to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Johnson would pitched 11 years in the majors, posting a 56-100, 4.99 record, seeing time with eight different teams. The Pirates signed him out of college in 1992 as a non-drafted free agent. He worked his way slowly through the minors while proving that win/loss records don’t mean much. He went 2-9 in 1993, 2-12 in 1994, 4-9 in 1995 and 5-8 in 1996. Johnson made his Major League debut with the Pirates in August of 1997 without playing a single game in Triple-A. He had a 4.08 ERA in nine Double-A starts prior to his call-up. He was a starter in the majors from 1998 until 2006, then spent 2007 in Japan, before returning as a reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008. Johnson pitched in the minors in 2009 and independent ball in 2011 and 2013.
Jon Niese, pitcher for the 2016 Pirates. He had an 8-6, 4.91 record in 18 starts and five relief appearances before being traded late in the season back to the New York Mets, where he spent the first eight years of his career. Niese was a seventh round draft pick of the Mets out of high school in 2005. It took him just three seasons to reach the majors, though he didn’t earn a full-time job until 2010. From 2010 until 2015, he started at least 24 games each season, topping out at 30 three times. The Pirates acquired him in an even up deal for Neil Walker, with both players having one season remaining before free agency. Niese went 3-0 during his first month with the Pirates, though it came with a 5.08 ERA. He lowered his ERA to 3.82 in May, then had a rough June, before being moved to the bullpen in July. After his trade to the Mets, he allowed 14 runs in 11 innings, in what ended up being his final big league time. Niese signed minor league free agent deals with the New York Yankees (2017), Texas Rangers (2018) and Seattle Mariners (2019), but his actual minor league mound time during that stretch amounted to 70.1 innings.
On this date in 1924, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs completed a six-player trade with three players from each team involved. The Pirates received pitcher Vic Aldridge, infielder George Grantham and first baseman Al Niehaus in exchange for pitcher Wilbur Cooper, shortstop Rabbit Maranville and first baseman Charlie Grimm. The Pirates gave up the three most well-known players in this deal, but they ended up with the better end of the deal, which helped them go on to win the 1925 World Series and 1927 NL pennant. Grantham in particular is one of the most under-appreciated players in team history. He posted a .901 OPS in seven seasons with the Pirates, which is the fifth best OPS in franchise history. In fact, the only player with at least 3,500 plate appearances and a better OPS for the Pirates is the aforementioned Ralph Kiner. Aldridge won 15 games during the 1925 and 1927 seasons. Niehaus was traded early in 1925 for Tom Sheehan, who was a solid bullpen piece for the World Champs.