This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 5th, Pirates Get Chuck Tanner

This is a busy day with four Pittsburgh Pirates transaction and five former Pirates born on this date. Starting with the players first…

Harry Gumbert, pitcher for the 1949-50 Pirates. He came to Pittsburgh at the end of his 15-year career and posted a 5.83 ERA in 29.1 innings over 17 relief appearances. He won 143 games in his career, topping out at 18 during the 1939 season with the New York Giants. Gumbert debuted with the Giants in September of 1935 and remained with the team through early 1941. He got roughed up in the 1936-37 World Series, giving up a total of 12 runs over 3.1 innings in four appearances. Despite the postseason troubles, he was a solid rotation piece during his time in New York. He was traded to the St Louis Cardinals in May of 1941 and remained there until he was sold mid-1944 to the Cincinnati Reds. After being on the losing end of two World Series, he won a title with the Cardinals in 1942.

Gumbert missed the 1945 season due to serving during WWII. He returned to the Reds in 1946 and stayed there until he selected off waivers by the Pirates in late July of 1949. Gumbert pitched 16 games in relief over the rest of the season, posting a 5.86 ERA in 27.2 innings. His stint with the 1950 Pirates lasted one game. On April 29th, he allowed three runs (one earned) in 1.2 innings. He was released by the Pirates on May 7th and finished his career in the minors the next season. He played a total of 21 seasons in pro ball and won 244 games. He was an excellent fielding pitcher, leading the league three times in assists, five times in range and twice in fielding percentage. The Pirates had a great-nephew/great-uncle relationship recently with Al Luplow and Jordan Luplow, but Gumbert has that pair beat. His great-uncles Ad and Billy Gumbert both pitched for the Pirates back in the 1890’s.

Ralph Birkofer, pitcher for the 1933-36 Pirates. He split his time in Pittsburgh fairly evenly between starting (62 starts) and relieving (59 appearances). Birkofer had a 34-26, 4.04 record in 514.1 innings for the Pirates. He was originally signed by the New York Yankees in 1928, but got released after a brief trial and one spring with the team. The next year he played his first pro game, debuting at 20 years for two teams in the Mississippi Valley League. Birkofer worked his way to the Western League, one of the top minor leagues of the time, playing three seasons there before the Pirates acquired him from Tulsa in 1932. He led the league in strikeouts that season and won a total of 17 games. In 1933, the Pirates used him once in April, then got him back in August. In between, he won 16 games for Toronto of the American Association. Birkofer made eight starts for the Pirates and won four times. In 1934, he spent the entire season in Pittsburgh, making 23 starts and 18 relief appearances. He went 11-12, 4.10 in 204 innings.

In 1935, Birkofer went 9-7, 4.07 in 150.1 innings, making 18 starts and 19 relief appearances. In his last season in Pittsburgh, he made 13 starts and 21 relief appearances, throwing a total of 109.1 innings. Birkofer saw his ERA rise to 4.69, while managing to post a winning record again (7-5). His only other big league experience was 29.2 innings for the 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers. The Pirates sent him to Brooklyn in a deal for pitcher Ed Brandt. The trade worked out well on the pitching side of things, but Pittsburgh also included young infielder Cookie Lavagetto, who turned into an All-Star and made it a one-sided deal for the Dodgers. After his brief stint with the Dodgers, he finished his career in the minors, playing until 1940. His son (also named Ralph) was a minor league pitcher for eight seasons.

Jack Wisner, pitcher for the 1919-20 Pirates. He had a strong late season debut in the majors with the Pirates at 19 years old, posting an 0.96 ERA in 18.2 innings. Wisner had a bigger role in 1920, making two starts and 15 relief appearances, with a 3.43 ERA in 44.2 innings. His only other big league experience was 68.1 innings for the 1925-26 New York Giants. Wisner was huge for his time, standing in at 6’4″, 205 pounds according to the bio written up in the papers after his acquisition (he’s listed at 6’3″, 185 on Baseball-Reference). The Pirates acquired him from Saginaw of the Michigan-Ontario League on August 7, 1919, though he was allowed to stay with his minor league team for another month before reporting to the Pirates on September 7th. It was his first season of pro ball and he won 22 games, while throwing 263 innings. His big league debut was two shutout innings on September 12, 1919 against the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a strong debut, especially after his first big league pitch plunked a batter. Wisner spent the entire 1920 season with the Pirates, though he never pitched more than four times in any month. The Pirates optioned him to Rochester of the International League in 1921, then sold him to Rochester prior to the 1922 season for $4,000. He won 88 games over four seasons in Rochester before joining the New York Giants. After his big league career ended, he played another three full seasons in the minors.

Tom McNamara, pinch-hitter for the 1922 Pirates. His only big league game consisted of one pinch-hit at-bat. He batted for starter Hal Carlson in the fifth inning and grounded out to second base. His Pirates debut was also his pro debut out of Princeton University. His lone game came back on June 25th, but he remained with the team until July 5th before being assigned to a minor league team in Flint. His total time with the team was 13 days.  While he didn’t play in the field at all, he was tried out in right field by Pirates manager George Gibson. The Pirates changed managers in the middle of McNamara’s time, with Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie taking over the team on July 1st. The Pirates also had a scout named Tom McNamara back at this same time, but there was no relation between the player and scout. McNamara the player only spent 16 games with Flint and has no other known pro stats, though there are a few McNamara’s in the minors in 1923 without a known first name.

Tommy Sheehan, third baseman for the 1906-07 Pirates. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, he batted .255 with one homer and 59 RBIs in 170 games. Prior to joining the Pirates, his only other big league game came six years earlier for the New York Giants. After being sold to the Brooklyn Superbas in December of 1907, he played 146 games in 1908, then spent the next four seasons playing minor league ball in his home state of California. His pro career began in 1899 at 21 years old and he spent six of his first seven seasons playing for either Sacramento (his hometown) or Tacoma in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues. Sheehan batted just .229 in the minors in 1905 before joining the Pirates, but he was supposedly the best third baseman on the west coast at the time. He hit .241 in 95 games as a rookie in 1906. In 1907, he was the starting third baseman for three weeks in June and all of August, while playing sparingly the rest of the season. He batted .274 in 75 games and he struck out just six times all season. He hit just one big league home run and it was an inside-the-park homer. The reports about his defense were accurate. He was an above average defender in all three full seasons in the majors.

The Transactions

On this date in 1976 the Pirates traded catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000 to the Oakland A’s in exchange for Chuck Tanner. Tanner first managed in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, getting the job late in 1970, and he lasted there until the end of the 1975 season, posting a 401-414 overall mark. He took over the A’s job from Al Dark, who won the World Series in 1974 and recorded 98 wins in 1975. The 1976 A’s posted an 87-74 record for a second place finish. That’s not bad for most teams, but that season broke a run of five straight AL West titles.

Tanner would have plenty of success in Pittsburgh winning 96 games his first year. He had two straight second place finishes before leading the 1979 Pirates to the World Series title. He was the Pirates manager for another six seasons, posting three winning seasons during that time including a second place finish in 1983. He won 711 games in Pittsburgh, the fourth highest total in franchise history behind Fred Clarke, Danny Murtaugh and Jim Leyland. Sanguillen’s stay in Oakland would be brief. He lasted just one full season before the Pirates reacquired him for three players prior to the start of the 1978 season. Sanguillen would end up being a well used bat off the bench for Tanner during the 1979 season. He started just ten games all year, but played 56 total, with 43 coming as a pinch-hitter. He pinch-hit three more times in the playoffs and drove in the winning run in the ninth inning of game two of the World Series.

On that very same date as the Tanner/Sanguillen trade, the Pirates and Athletics also made another transaction. The Pirates sold infielder Tommy Helms to the A’s, setting off a strange chain of events. The Pirates traded to get Helms back before he even played a game with the A’s, and then after just 12 at-bats (without a hit) they released him. Helms had won the Rookie of the Year award, made two All-Star appearances and won two Gold Gloves, but he was nearing the end of his career when the Pirates traded Art Howe for him in January 1976. He was with the Pirates the entire 1976 season, although he made just 16 starts. He hit .276 with 13 RBIs in 87 at-bats. The second trade that sent him back to Pittsburgh on March 15, 1977 had many big names with Phil Garner, Tony Armas, Dave Giusti and Doc Medich among the nine total players involved.

Also on this date in 1922, the Pirates picked up 33-year-old righty pitcher Jim Bagby off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Bagby was just two years removed from a 31-win season in 1920, when he helped lead the Indians to their first World Series title. He was worked hard that season, setting career highs and leading the league in innings pitched and complete games. He had a career 106-70, 2.59 record going into 1921, but his last two years combined in Cleveland, he had an ERA over 5.00 and his inning totals dropped significantly. Bagby was with the Pirates the entire 1923 season, seeing limited innings and just six starts all year. He pitched 68.2 innings and had an ERA of 5.24, He played another seven seasons in the minors, retiring in 1930 with 151 minor league wins and 127 in the majors. His son Jim Bagby Jr pitched for the 1947 Pirates.

On this date in 1887, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys purchased second baseman Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap from the Detroit Wolverines. He was a good hitter with a strong glove, leading the league four times in assists and fielding % by a second baseman. He was also the first of a total of five star players from that 1887 Wolverines team who the Alleghenys would purchase over a 16-month period. Dunlap hit .262 hit first year in Pittsburgh and played just 82 games, although his defense remained strong. In 1889 the batting average dropped to .235 in 121 games, though he was able to add strong defense. His 65 RBIs were second most on the team. Dunlap also briefly managed the team in 1889, but they did not play well in his 17 games. He was one of the few players to stay with the Alleghenys when most of the league jumped to the Player’s League in 1890. However, he lasted just 17 games and hit .172 before being released. After leaving Pittsburgh, Dunlap played just eight more Major League games over two seasons before retiring. His career was sidetracked/ended early by two broken legs late in his big league time.