This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 8th, Wally Westlake and Nick Kingham

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a member of the 2019 team.

Nick Kingham, pitcher for the 2018-19 Pirates. A 2010 fourth round draft pick of the Pirates, Kingham went 6-8, 6.67 in 19 starts and 13 relief appearances over his two seasons in Pittsburgh. He was taken off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays in June of 2019. They used him for 11 relief appearances before he was released in late August. Kingham signed to play in Korea for the 2020 season. Kingham was a top 100 prospect in baseball by multiple sources, but he got sidetracked by Tommy John surgery early in the 2015 season. He was in line for a big league call-up at that point, but didn’t make his debut until two years later. Kingham didn’t have the same stuff post-surgery, losing velocity and command, which hurt his prospect status. His big league debut was a very impressive performance. He retired the first 20 batters of the game against the St Louis Cardinals and finished with seven shutout innings, one hit, no walks and nine strikeouts. From that point on with the Pirates, he had a 5.74 ERA in 64 innings in 2018 and a 9.87 ERA in 34.2 innings in 2019.

Rex Johnston, outfielder for the 1964 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1959, sending him to the minors where he spent five full seasons before getting a chance in the majors at 26 years old. Johnston had a strong all around season in A-ball in 1961 when he hit .283 with 61 walks, 18 homers and 13 stolen bases. He spent the next three season for the Pirates in Triple-A Columbus. His Major League career was very brief, lasting just under one month. He made his big league debut on April 15, 1964 during a 12-inning game and he was intentionally walked during his first time at the plate in the majors. He batted just once more during the month of April, while also making five appearances as a late-inning defensive replacement in left field.

On May 2nd, Johnston started his only career game, going 0-for-4 with a walk during a 5-4 win over the St Louis Cardinals. He never recorded a Major League hit, but on May 10, 1964 during a doubleheader, he pinch-hit for Elroy Face, drew a walk and then scored his only big league run on a single by Roberto Clemente. All told, he appeared in 14 games and went to bat ten times, going 0-for-7 with three walks. He returned to the minors on May 12th to finish the year, then spent two more seasons at Triple-A in the San Francisco Giants system before retiring from baseball. During the 1960 season the Steelers invited Johnston to a tryout. He played football at USC, so he had recent gridiron experience at the time. The Pirates granted him permission to attend the tryout and following the minor league season he joined the Steelers for that one year, doing mostly punt and kick returns. He is the only man to play for both the Steelers and Pirates. He passed away last year at 82 years old.

Wally Westlake, outfielder for the 1947-51 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940 and spent his first three seasons in the minors. He missed the 1943-45 seasons due to military service, then returned in 1946, playing his first season back in Oakland of the Pacific Coast League. Westlake hit .315 in 136 games, with 31 extra-base hits and 60 runs scored. The Pirates traded for him in late 1946, sending Oakland cash and one player to complete the deal. He was put in right field to start the 1947 season and ended up playing 112 games. Westlake hit 17 homers and drove in 69 runs during that rookie season. Both of those numbers ranked him third on the Pirates behind two future Hall of Famers, Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner.

In 1948, Westlake hit .285 with 65 RBIs and 17 homers, which ranked him second on the team behind Kiner. He played in a career high 147 games in 1949 and drove in 104 runs. It would be the only time that he reached the century mark in RBIs during his career. He ranked eighth in the National League in both homers (23) and RBIs that season. In 1950, Westlake set a career high with 24 homers while also hitting .285 and driving in 95 runs. He moved to third base for the 1951 season and got off to a hot start. In his first 50 games he was hitting .282 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs, putting him on pace to set new career highs in both categories.  He was the only power hitter on the Pirates besides Kiner at the time, so what happened next was a bit of a surprise.

On June 15, 1951 the Pirates traded Westlake and pitcher Cliff Chambers to the Cardinals for five players, the best among them being infielder Dick Cole and catcher Joe Garagiola. Chambers had just thrown a no-hitter weeks earlier, the first one in Pirates history since 1907. Westlake would make the All-Star team that year with St Louis, but his star faded quickly outside of Pittsburgh. He had a nice half season in 1953 with the Cleveland Indians, but by 1956 he was out of baseball completely, and he spent most of his last two seasons in the minors. He hit .281 for the Pirates over 580 games, with 311 runs scored, 97 homers and 378 RBIs. His brother Jim Westlake had a one-game big league career for the Philadelphia Phillies, pinch-hitting on April 16, 1955. Wally Westlake passed away in 2019 at 98 years old.

Bill Hoffer, pitcher for the 1898-99 Pirates. He had one of the greatest starts to a big league career, but was out of the majors after just six seasons. Hoffer went 31-6, 3.21 in 314 innings as a rookie in 1895, helping the Baltimore Orioles to the National League title. He followed that up with a 25-7 record in 1896 and a second NL title. He went 22-11 in his third season, giving him a 78-24 record to begin his career. Things went downhill from that point on, as Hoffer finished up his career by going 14-22 over his final three seasons. That included a brief stint with the 1898 Pirates in which he won all three of his starts. It didn’t go as well in 1899 for the Pirates, as he went 8-10, 3.63 in 163.2 innings. Hoffer last pitched in the majors in 1901, though he played minor league ball until 1909.

Prior to joining the Pirates in 1898, he went 0-4, 7.34 for the Orioles, which included a complete game 9-8 loss to the Pirates on May 31st. The Pirates signed him a month before his first game. He was ill at the time and then needed some extra practice before he was game ready. Hoffer’s first appearance with the Pirates came in relief on July 21st, then he followed with three starts between July 26th and August 3rd. He didn’t pitch again that season due to illness (said to be malaria), though he was mentioned a few times in mid-August as being scheduled to pitch. After putting in a full season in 1899, Hoffer was released by the Pirates on February 28, 1900.