This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 15th, Gus Bell and Maurice Van Robays

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Gus Bell, outfielder for the 1950-52 Pirates. Bell was signed as an amateur free agent in 1947 at 18 years old. By age 20, he already had two .300 seasons in the minors, and by age 21 he was a starter in the majors. He began the 1950 season in Triple-A playing for Indianapolis and did so well in the first 38 games, hitting an even .400 (66-for-165), that the Pirates called him up on May 30th for a doubleheader. He went 2-for-5 in each game of the doubleheader, although the Pirates lost both games. Bell would play 111 of the final 117 Pirates games that rookie season, hitting .282 with eight homers and 53 RBIs. He finished second in the National League with 11 triples. The next year as an everyday starter all season, he played 149 games and led the National League in triples with 12, while adding 16 homers. He drove in 89 runs and scored 80 runs, ranking second on the Pirates in each category behind Ralph Kiner.

In 1952, Bell had a down year from the previous season, hitting just .250 with 59 RBIs, while striking out 72 times. That strikeout total was the tenth highest in the NL, and he got there despite the fact that he spent three weeks in the minors after a 1-for-18 start to the season. Right after the 1952 season ended, the Pirates traded Bell to the Cincinnati Reds for three players who provided very little in return, while Bell went on to have a nice career, including three straight 100 RBI seasons from 1953-55. In his first season in Cincinnati, he hit .300 with 30 homers, 105 RBIs and 102 runs scored, which earned him mild MVP support. He was a four-time All-Star during his 13 full seasons in the majors, finishing with 206 homers and 962 RBIs in 1,741 games. He is the father of Buddy Bell and grandfather of both David Bell and Mike Bell, making them one of four three-generation families in baseball history.

Maurice Van Robays, outfielder for the Pirates from 1939-43 and 1946. He played briefly in the minors in 1934 with two different teams, but didn’t see his first full-time play in pro ball until 1937 when he would hit .368 with 43 homers in the low minors. During the 1935-36 seasons, he was playing for a local team called the Karp Coal, near his home in Detroit. In 1938 he moved up to A-ball after an early season demotion from Montreal of the International League. Montreal owned his rights since September of 1937, but they felt early on in 1938 that he wasn’t ready for that level of play, so he spent the majority of the season playing for Knoxville of the Southern Association. In Knoxville, Van Robays batted .307 with 23 homers. The Pirates purchased him from Montreal over the winter of 1938-39 and brought him to Spring Training, though it was said that he wasn’t competing for a big league job. Van Robays returned to Montreal for 1939 and hit .320 in 136 games, earning a September call-up to Pittsburgh. He hit .314 in 27 games, impressing enough to land the left field job for the 1940 Pirates. In his first full season in the majors, he hit .273, with 82 runs scored, 45 extra-base hits and  116 RBIs, which led the team and was the third highest RBI total in the NL.

Van Robays hit .282 with 78 RBIs in 1941, showing a big drop in RBIs  from the previous season, but it was still the second highest total on the Pirates. His stats dropped way off in 1942, hitting just .232 in 100 games, with one home run and a .311 slugging percentage. He rebounded a bit in 1943 after starting the year in the minors (he played one April game for the Pirates), hitting .288 in 69 games in Pittsburgh. However, after the season ended, he entered the Army during WWII, and spent the next 32 months away from baseball. Van Robays returned for the start of the 1946 season, but struggled due to the off-time, hitting just .212 in his last Major League season. The Pirates cut ties with him after the season, sending him to Oakland of the Pacific Coast League as part of the deal to acquire Wally Westlake. Van Robays spent four seasons in Oakland before retiring. He had a career .267 average in 529 Major League games with 303 RBIs.

Craig Hansen, pitcher for the 2008-09 Pirates. He was part of the return in the Jason Bay trade at the 2008 trade deadline. Injuries limited him to just 21 games with the Pirates. Hansen had a 6.95 ERA in 22 innings. In parts of three years with the Boston Red Sox, he had a 6.15 ERA in 74 appearances. He was a first round pick out of St John’s by the Red Sox in 2005, selected 26th overall. He signed with Boston on July 26th and on September 19th he made his Major League debut. He pitched 12.2 scoreless innings in the minors (mostly in Double-A) before his debut. Hansen began 2006 in the majors, but he joined the Red Sox in June and pitched a total of 38 games, posting a 6.63 ERA in 38 innings. He spent all of 2007 in the minors, while also participating in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to his trade to the Pirates, he had a 5.58 ERA in 30.2 innings over 30 appearances. After the trade, he had a 7.47 ERA in 16 appearances for the Pirates. He also saw time in Pawtucket and Indianapolis that season, pitching a total of 61 games between the two levels. In 2009, he suffered from brachial plexus neuropathy, which weakens/numbs muscles in the arm, shoulder and upper back. He was limited to five big league appearances in 2009 and 16 minor league innings in 2010 before being released. Hansen had a brief comeback at the lower levels of the minors with the New York Mets in 2012.

Randy Niemann, pitcher for the 1982-83 Pirates. He pitched 28 games total for the Pirates over two seasons, spending part of each year as a starting pitcher in the minors and a reliever in the majors. He went 1-2, 6.24 in 49 innings for Pittsburgh, with most of that time coming in 1982. Niemann came to the Pirates from the Houston Astros as the player to be named later in the Johnny Ray for Phil Garner trade. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Miguel Dilone in September of 1983, ending his time in Pittsburgh. Niemann was drafted three times before he finally signed, first going to the Montreal Expos in the fifth round, then the Minnesota Twins in the third round, before the New York Yankees signed him as a second round pick in 1975. Just two years later, he was traded to the Astros, where he made his big league debut in May of 1979. He pitched a total of 48 big league games in 1979-80, then spent 1981 in the minors. After leaving the Pirates, he played briefly for the White Sox in 1984, the New York Mets in 1985, then had a 3.79 ERA in 31 appearances for the 1986 Mets, helping them to their second World Series title. Niemann finished his big league career with six appearances for the 1987 Minnesota Twins. He played pro ball until 1988, returning to the Mets on a minor league deal for his final season.