Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a key member of two World Series teams, an MVP and the oldest living former Pirates player.
Tommy Leach, third baseman/center fielder for the Pirates from 1900 until 1912, then again in 1918. He helped the Pirates to three straight pennants from 1901-03, then helped them to the 1909 World Series by leading the league with 126 runs scored. Leach played 1,574 games with the Pirates, scoring 1,009 runs, collecting 1,603 hits, 139 triples and 271 stolen bases. He ranks ninth in games played, at-bats and runs scored in Pirates history. He’s seventh in triples and fifth in stolen bases.
The Pirates acquired Leach as part of the 16-player deal made in December of 1899 with the Louisville Colonels that also brought Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Rube Waddell and Deacon Phillippe back to Pittsburgh. He had just turned 22 years old at the time and had only 109 games of big league experience. He was a role player during the 1900 season, seeing time at five different positions, while playing 51 games total. In 1901, Leach made 92 starts at third base and he hit .305, with 64 runs scored in 98 games. He played full-time in 1902 and ended up leading the league in both triples (22) and homers (six). In 135 games, he scored 97 runs and picked up 85 RBIs. The Pirates had their best season ever that year, going 103-36 for their second straight NL title.
When the Pirates played the first World Series in 1903, Leach hit .298 that season with 97 runs scored and 87 RBIs. He hit .273 in the series with four triples and seven RBIs. Over the next five seasons, he would be a steady presence in the lineup, sometimes at third base, other times in center field, occasionally playing elsewhere if needed. In 1907, Leach batted .303 and scored 102 runs. In 1909, the Pirates won their first title and Leach hit .360 in the seven-game series.
On May 30, 1912, Leach was traded to the Chicago Cubs, along with Lefty Leifield, in a deal that wasn’t popular among fans and did not work out for the Pirates. He played three years in Chicago, leading the league in runs scored in 1913 and at-bats in 1914. Leach played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1915, spent 1916-17 in the minors, then returned to the Pirates for 30 games during the 1918 season. He finished his career in the minors four years later at 44 years old. From 1911 until 1913, Leach led all NL outfielders in fielding percentage. Earlier in his career, he twice led all third baseman in assists, once in putouts, and three times he had the best range among NL players at the hot corner. He finished his 19-year big league career with 2,143 hits and 1,355 runs scored. Leach managed for nine seasons in the minors, including four years as a player/manager. He put up a career 47.1 WAR, which put him one spot above Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler at 47.0.
Dick Groat, shortstop for the Pirates in 1952, then again from 1955 until 1962. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in June of 1952 out of Duke University and brought him right to the majors. He also played in the NBA that year as a first round draft pick. He hit .284 in 95 games that rookie season, finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He missed all of the 1953-54 seasons to military service, and when he returned he focused just on baseball. From 1955-57 the Pirates were very bad teams and Groat was a decent everyday player, although his .315 average in 1957 earned him a 15th place finish in the NL MVP voting, so that’s a little better than decent. He hit .300 again in 1958 then followed that up with his first All-Star selection in 1959.
The 1960 season would be a career year for Groat. Not only did he win an MVP award and make his second All-Star appearance (technically his third and fourth appearances since they played two All-Star games), he also led the NL in hitting with a career high .325 average. As most of you know, the Pirates also won a World Series title that year. Groat would win a second title in 1964 as well with the St Louis Cardinals, who also beat the New York Yankees that year. After a down year in 1961, Groat made his third All-Star appearance while with the 1962 Pirates(he had five total/eight if you include the years with two games) and again he got some MVP attention, this time finishing 16th in the voting. Shortly after the season ended, the Pirates traded him and pitcher Diomedes Olivo to the Cardinals for pitcher Don Cardwell and infielder Julio Gotay. He first season in St Louis was a big year, with a second place finish in the MVP voting, thanks to a .319 average, 85 runs scored and a league leader 43 doubles.
Groat hit .290 over his nine seasons in Pittsburgh, scoring 554 runs in 1,258 games. In his 14-year career, which also included stops with the 1966-67 Philadelphia Phillies and 1967 San Francisco Giants, he was a .286 hitter in 1,929 games. After his playing days, he announced college basketball for the University of Pitt for 40 years. He turns 90 years old today.
Eddie Basinski, second baseman for the 1946 Pirates. He batted .199 with four homers in 56 games during his last of three seasons in the majors. Basinski spent a total of 16 seasons in pro ball and played over 2,100 games total, with 203 of those games coming in the majors. At age 98 today, he’s the oldest living former Pirates player and he’s the third oldest MLB player. He played his first two seasons in the majors (1944-45) with the Brooklyn Dodgers, hitting .261 in 147 games. After spending the entire 1946 season in Triple-A, he was traded to the Pirates in December of 1946 for pitcher Al Gerheauser. He was the everyday second baseman for the Pirates for 2 1/2 months, then spent the next week on the bench. On July 10th, the Pirates acquired pitcher Mel Queen from the New York Yankees and agreed to send Basinski to Newark of the International League, which was considered the farm team for the Yankees. Despite playing his final big league game with the Pirates on July 4, 1947 at 24 years old, his pro career was far from over. He played his final game in 1959, spending 12 1/2 seasons in the Pacific Coast League. His highest batting average in a season was .277 until he managed to hit .301 at age 38 in 1958.
Spook Jacobs, second baseman for the 1956 Pirates. He got his nickname from his ability to hit weak bloopers just over infielders heads, which people called spooky because of how often he did it. He signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, but didn’t make his Major League debut until 1954 with the Philadelphia Athletics. His baseball career got a bit of a late start due to service in the Army during WWII. He was taken by the A’s in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 1954 season, after spending eight years with the Dodgers. That would end up being his only full season in the majors. He hit .258 in 132 games, with 60 walks and 17 stolen bases. Those were decent stats for a second baseman at the time. and he made a lot of contact at the plate, striking out just 22 times in 575 plate appearances. On the flip side, a lot of that contact was soft, collecting just 12 extra-base hits that season, with no homers. The next season the team moved to Kansas City and Jacobs played just 13 Major League games, spending the rest of the season in Triple-A, where he put up a .316 average.
Jacobs made the Opening Day roster in 1956, but was he sent to the minors in late May. On June 23, 1956 the Pirates traded pitcher Jack McMahan and second baseman Curt Roberts to the A’s to acquire Jacobs. He lasted just 11 days before being sent to the minors, where he spent the next 3 1/2 seasons in the Pirates system. His replacement at second base was a 19-year-old named Bill Mazeroski. He played a total of 188 Major League games over three season, but got into over 1,700 minor league games, hitting .300 with just nine homers as a pro (all in the minors). While he wasn’t much of a big league player, but how could you not like a player named Spook Jacobs, especially when you find out his real name is Forrest Vandergrift Jacobs.
Logan Easley, pitcher for the 1987 and 1989 Pirates. In his only two seasons in the majors, he had a 5.12 ERA in 38.2 innings over 27 appearances. The Pirates acquired him in the Doug Drabek trade with the New York Yankees after the 1986 season. He was originally a 20th round draft pick of the Yankees in 1981. Easley spent 11 seasons in pro ball, including a brief stint in Mexico during his final season (1991). He actually made the Opening Day roster in 1987, making his big league debut in the second game of the season. He was with the Pirates until the end of May. He was bothered by an elbow injury for much of 1987 and pitched sparingly after being sent to the minors. He had an off-season operation and then only pitched 28 times in relief in Triple-A during the 1988 season. Easley rejoined the Pirates shortly after the 1989 season started and he made his final ten big league appearances. His last two outings consisted of two shutout innings and three no-hit frames. He was released in November of 1989 and never made it back to the majors.
John Grabow, pitcher for the 2003-09 Pirates. He made 390 relief appearances while with the Pirates, posting a 20-15, 4.09 ERA in 363.1 innings. He topped 60 appearances each year from 2004 until 2009. Grabow was a third round draft pick by the Pirates in 1997 out of high school. He made 133 starts in the minors, including nine in 2003, before transitioning to a relief role before his first trip to the majors. He did not have a lot of success during his first four full seasons, with his lowest season ERA being 4.13 in 2006. In 2008, he had his best year in the majors, posting a 2.84 ERA in 76 innings over 74 appearances. That year he picked up four of his six career saves. He was doing well in the middle of 2009 when the Pirates sent him to the Chicago Cubs in a five-player deal that brought Josh Harrison back to Pittsburgh. Grabow put up solid numbers over the rest of 2009, then really struggled in 2010 and he played his final big league season in 2011. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2012, but he was released during Spring Training. In his 2 1/2 seasons in Chicago, he had a 5.02 ERA in 113 innings.
Chris Resop, pitcher for the 2010-12 Pirates. He spent eight years in the majors as a reliever, including three in Pittsburgh, where he had a 3.88 ERA in 162.1 innings over 159 appearances. He had a career 4.62 ERA in 235 appearances, seeing action with five different teams. Resop was a fourth round draft pick out of high school by the Florida Marlins in 2001. It took him four years to make the majors, though his first full season didn’t come until 2011 with the Pirates. He threw 69.2 innings over 76 appearances and posted a 4.39 ERA. The Pirates acquired him off of waivers from the Atlanta Braves on August 4, 2010. On November 30, 2012, he was traded to the Oakland A’s for minor league pitcher Zach Thornton. Resop pitched in Japan for part of 2008 and all of 2009. His career ended in the minor leagues with the Boston Red Sox in 2014.