Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a pair of strong third basemen and a current broadcaster for the team.
Richie Hebner, third baseman for the 1968-76 and 1982-83 Pirates. In 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .277 with 128 homers and 520 RBIs in 1,140 games. He batted .301 as a rookie, hit .300 again two years later, then hit 25 homers in 1973. Hebner homered twice during the 1971 NLCS and then added another during the World Series. He hit 203 homers during his 18-year career. He wore #20 when he started with the Pirates, but changed to #3 in 1972 when his number was retired in honor of the great Pie Traynor.
The Pirates signed Hebner as a first round draft pick out of high school in 1966. He made the majors by 20 years old in 1968 as a September call-up. He stuck in the majors the next Opening Day and never returned to the minors. Hebner hit .301 in 129 games as a rookie, with eight homers, 47 RBIs and 72 runs scored. His average dropped slightly to .290 in 1970, while playing 120 games. However, he showed more power, improving his slugging percentage by 44 points. That trend continued the next season, with a .271 average in 112 games, but his slugging went up another 23 points and he finished with 17 homers. The Pirates won the World Series that year, but it was actually his worst season (by WAR) during the 1969-74 run. The 1972 season was his best year, with a .300 average and a career best .886 OPS. Hebner set a personal best with his 25 homers in 1973, then set his best in runs scored (97) in 1974.
After down years in 1975-76, Hebner was allowed to leave via free agency. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977, moved on to the New York Mets in 1979, then to the Detroit Tigers in 1980. The Pirates purchased him from the Tigers during the 1982 season and he hit .300 in 25 games in Pittsburgh that season. Hebner batted .265 with five homers and 26 RBIs in 78 games for the Pirates in 1983. He left via free agency again and signed with the Chicago Cubs, where he spent his final two seasons. Hebner set a career high with 82 RBIs in 1980, despite playing just 104 games. He finished with a .276 average and 890 RBIs in 1,908 games in the majors.
Bob Elliott, third baseman/outfielder for the 1939-46 Pirates. He was a three-time All-Star in eight seasons with the Pirates, hitting .292 with 633 RBIs in 1,047 games. They traded him prior to the 1947 season and he went on the win the NL MVP award that season. In his career, Elliott had six seasons with 100+ RBIs and made the All-Star team six times. He was a .289 career hitter with 1,195 RBIs. His best season with the Pirates was 1943 when he hit .315 and drove in 101 runs, though he followed that season up with back-to-back 108 RBI seasons. Elliott had a strange career stat line with his batting average. He batted .292 during each of his first two seasons in the minors. He hit .292 in his first full year with the Pirates, and he hit .292 during his time with the Pirates. As a pro (minors/majors combined) he hit .292 in 2,614 games.
The trade of Elliott to the Boston Braves was a huge one at the time. The Pirates were acquiring Hall of Fame second baseman Billy Herman to be a player-manager. The also picked up three other players, while Elliott and Dolph Camelli went to Boston. It did not go well for Pittsburgh. While they were trading the big player in the deal, Elliott was even better after he left. He had 23.4 WAR in eight seasons with Pittsburgh and 25.8 WAR in five seasons with the Braves. Boston moved on from him at the right time, as he lasted just two more seasons in the majors and posted 1.4 WAR over that time. The move out of spacious Forbes Field improved his power numbers. Elliott had 50 homers with the Pirates, topping out at ten in 1944. With the Braves, he hit 101 homers, with three 20+ home run seasons. He was an outfielder during his first three seasons with the Pirates, then moved to third base for three years, before splitting third base and outfield in his final two years.
Bob Walk, pitcher for the 1984-93 Pirates. In ten seasons in Pittsburgh, he went 82-61, 3.83 in 1,303 innings. Walk picked up double digit victories in six of his 14 seasons in the majors. He was an All-Star in 1988 when he posted a 2.71 ERA in 212.2 innings. He made three starts and four relief appearances during the 1990-92 NLCS playoffs. Walk has been announcing for the Pirates since he retired following the 1993 season. He was drafted three times out of College of the Canyons in California before he signed as a third round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1976. Walk made the majors in 1980 and was a big part of the Phillies World Series winning team, going 11-7, 4.57 in 27 starts and 151.2 innings. Just before Opening Day in 1981, Walk was traded to the Atlanta Braves even up for veteran outfielder Gary Mathews. He had a 4.85 ERA in 211.1 innings over three seasons in Atlanta before being released during Spring Training in 1984. The Pirates signed him as a free agent eight days later and he remained there for ten seasons, twice re-signing with the club as a free agent.
Walk saw just 11 appearances (all starts) total during his first two seasons with the Pirates, before becoming a regular during the 1986 season. He made 15 starts and 29 relief appearances that year, going 7-8, 3.75 in 141.2 innings. He had a similar split role in 1987 and improved his ERA, going 8-2, 3.31 in 117 innings. Walk had his best year in 1988, throwing a career high 212.2 innings, going 12-10, 2.71 in 32 starts. He had a 13-10 record in 1989 and threw 196 innings, but it was quite different from the previous year. He had a 4.41 ERA that season, easily his highest mark during his first nine seasons in Pittsburgh. Walk saw a dip in his work during the 1990-92 playoff run for the Pirates, but he was a solid pitcher each year, posting 3.75, 3.60 and 3.20 ERAs, while averaging 126 innings each year. He had a 26-13 record during that time and he picked up two playoff wins. Walk made 32 starts in 1993 and won 13 games, but he had a 5.68 ERA in 187 innings.
Josh Smoker, lefty reliever for the 2018 Pirates. He pitched seven games with Pittsburgh, posting an 11.12 ERA in 5.2 innings. He also made 74 appearances with the 2016-17 New York Mets and one appearance for the 2018 Detroit Tigers. Smoker split 2019 between Triple-A (Dodgers) and independent ball, then didn’t play during the 2020 season. He was a first round draft pick of the Washington Nationals out of high school in 2007. Smoker was a starter in the minors through 2010, then switched to full-time relief in 2011 in High-A. The move paid off with a 2.31 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 50.2 innings during that first season, though it still took him another five years to make it to the majors. That’s because he suffered a torn labrum during the early part of 2012 and missed the entire 2013 season as well. He played independent ball in 2014, then signed with the Mets in 2015, seeing time at three different levels. Smoker debuted in the majors in August of 2016 and pitched 20 games that year. He spent nearly the entire 2017 season in the majors, posting a 5.11 ERA in 54 appearances. The Pirates acquired him in a trade for minor league pitcher Daniel Zamora on January 31, 2018. Smoker was in the majors at the start of the season for two weeks, then again for a shorter stay at the beginning of July. He was lost via waivers to the Tigers on July 28th. He pitched once a month later, then got released in early September.
Joe Muir, pitcher for the 1951-52 Pirates. In two seasons, he went 2-5, 5.19 in 52 innings over six starts and 15 relief appearances. The Pirates were his only big league team. He complied a 62-40 record in seven minor league seasons. Muir was a lefty pitcher, who signed at 24 years old in 1947 after serving two years in the Marine Corps. It took him four years to make the majors, though he put up some impressive stats in the lower levels during his first two seasons, while compiling a 28-11 record. He moved up to Triple-A Indianapolis in 1949 and struggled his first time through the league, posting a 4.92 ERA in 139 innings. He improved to 10-10, 3.91 in 205 innings in 1950. Muir made the Pirates Opening Day roster in both 1951 and 1952, though he didn’t last the whole year either season. He was with the team through mid-May of 1951, posting a 2.76 ERA in 16.1 innings. The Pirates recalled him in September after the season ended in Indianapolis, but he didn’t make any appearances. In 1952, he lasted until June, though he had a 6.31 ERA in 36.2 innings. On October 11, 1952, he was part of a five-player trade with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. Muir pitched for Hollywood in 1953, then retired from baseball.
Bill Warwick, catcher for the 1921 Pirates. He made his big league debut on July 18, 1921 with the Pirates and caught two innings, while going 0-for-1 at the plate. It was also his first game of pro ball. That ended up being his only game for the Pirates. He also played 22 games for the 1925-26 St Louis Cardinals and finished with a .304 average. Warwick’s baseball career lasted from 1921 until 1929. His father-in-law was his manager with the Pirates, George Gibson. Warwick’s real first name was Firman, the only MLB player ever with that name. His baseball career has an interesting twist early on. He was a catcher in high school, who decided to give up the game when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. However, the team needed a catcher and the head coach remembered that Warwick played well in high school, so he was asked to play. He didn’t want to play at first, but once he did, he didn’t regret the decision. Warwick put up big numbers in college, yet still turned down offers to go pro after he graduated. He was playing for a local independent team in 1921 when the club folded, opening the door for an offer from Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss that was too good to turn down, so he signed on July 12th.
In Warwick’s only game with the Pirates, the New York Giants faked a steal attempt and he bit, sailing a throw into center field for an error. The runner (George Burns the baseball player) then stole third base. Warwick caught pitcher Drew Radar, who came in at the same time, with New York up 12-1 in the seventh. Rader was a highly touted college pitcher, but that game ended up being his only big league contest. Warwick actually caught a Pirates exhibition game on September 9th, getting the bulk of the work in that contest. He was briefly sent to Birmingham of the Southern Association for two games, but the Pirates recalled him on September 15th for the rest of the season. Warwick was sent to Columbia of the South Atlantic League in in May of 1922, then recalled by the Pirates on September 14th, though he didn’t play for the Pirates during either stint. He was with the Pirates in 1923 after Opening Day, then sent to Flint of the Michigan-Ontario League for the season, which eventually ended his time with the Pirates.
Gussie Gannon, lefty pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. He had a six-year minor league career in which he went 55-55, but his MLB career consisted of just one relief appearance. On June 15, 1895, Bill Hart started for the Pirates and got hit hard. The Pirates called upon Gannon to make his Major League debut and the rookie ended up going the last five innings. He allowed four runs (though just one was earned), gave up seven hits, two walks and he failed to strikeout a batter. Gannon struck out both times he batted. He lived until 1966, making him one of the last surviving 19th century major league players. The Pirates signed him on June 5, 1895, ten days before his debut. At the time, he was pitching for a team from Sharon, PA, where he allowed a total of eight hits in his last three starts combined. He was said to be a tall pitcher, who was 19 years old, but he turned out to be 21 years old and 5’11”. Gannon had a strong fastball and some deceiving curves. His signing announcement included the interesting fact that he was a plumber in the off-season. Gannon lasted exactly two weeks with Pittsburgh. His pay was said to be $200 per month and expenses were covered. He finished the 1895 season pitching for Syracuse of the International League on loan from the Pirates. He ended up pitching until 1900 before retiring.