Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus three transactions of note.
Tim Foli, shortstop for the 1979-81 and 1985 Pirates. Foli had his best career season in 1979, helping the Pirates to their fifth World Series title. He batted .291 and set career highs with 70 runs scored and 65 RBIs. In the NLCS, he batted .333 and drove in three runs over three games. Then in the World Series, he hit .333 in the seven-game series, with six runs scored and three RBIs. He was a .251 career hitter over 16 big league seasons and 1,696 games. He stuck out just 399 times during his career, including a total of 14 strikeouts in 597 plate appearances during the 1979 season. With the Pirates, he hit .269 in 365 games. He led NL shortstops in fielding percentage in 1980 and he’s rated as one of the top 100 defensive players ever, with a 16.5 dWAR. While his defense made him a solid player over his career, his offense was consistently average at best. He finished with -0.3 WAR on offense, which included the 1.8 offensive WAR he accumulated with the 1979 Pirates. His second best offensive season was the 0.5 WAR he put up during the 1980 season with the Pirates when he hit .265 in 127 games, with a .623 OPS, 61 runs scored and 38 RBIs.
Foli was drafted first overall in the 1968 amateur draft by the New York Mets and he made his Major League debut just two years later at the end of the 1970 season. He played just one full season in New York before being traded to the Montreal Expos in a four-player deal that included four big games (Rusty Staub, Mike Jorgenson and Ken Singleton). Foli played in Montreal until 1977 when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants mid-season. The Giants held onto him for just seven months before selling him to the Mets, who would trade him to the Pirates in early April 1979 for shortstop Frank Taveras. Foli was traded to the California Angels after the 1981 season, then sent to the New York Yankees two years later. Almost exactly one year later, the Pirates gave up Dale Berra and minor leaguer Jay Buhner as part of a five-player trade to get Foli (and Steve Kemp) back. Foli’s second stint in Pittsburgh was not a successful one. He was released on June 17, 1985 after batting .189 in 19 games.
As a side note, Foli is featured here in one of our earliest Card of the Day articles. It highlights a future throwback jersey (if I ever get my way)
Jose Contreras, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. He finished his 11-year big league career with the Pirates in 2013, giving up five runs in five innings over seven appearances. He won 78 games during his career, mostly spent with the Chicago White Sox. The Cuban-born Contreras signed with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in February of 2003, four months after he defected from Cuba during a tournament. He was a star pitcher in his home country, who was already 31 years old when he first signed. His stay in New York was short. He was traded to the White Sox during his second season and he stayed there until the end of the 2009 season. Contreras won 15 games and pitched a career high 204 innings in 2005, then made his lone All-Star appearance in 2006, when he went 13-9, 4.27 in 196 innings. He had a rough 2007, going 10-17, 5.57 in 189 innings. He didn’t bounce back from that until 2010 when he moved to a relief role for the Philadelphia Phillies and had a 3.34 ERA in 67 appearances. Contreras made 17 appearances for the Phillies in 2011 and 2012, missing time each year with an injury. He signed with the Pirates on February 23, 2013 and was released in mid-July. He had an 0.93 ERA in Triple-A that season for the Pirates. After being released, he spent a month in Triple-A for the Boston Red Sox, then signed a 2014 deal with the Texas Rangers, though he was cut late in Spring Training. He finished his career playing in Mexico and China. Counting his time in pro ball in Cuba, he won 192 games over 24 seasons and he pitched just over 2,700 innings.
Adam Hyzdu, outfielder for the 2000-03 Pirates. He debuted in the majors at 28 years old, but still managed to put in seven seasons total, including his first four years with the Pirates. He was a first round pick of the San Francisco Giants out of high school in 1990, ten years and three months before his MLB debut. Hyzdu hit .231 with 18 homers and 55 RBIs in 173 games with the Pirates. He played a total of 18 years of pro ball (1990-2007) and hit 299 homers, with the last seven coming while he was playing in Japan. On July 19, 2002, he went 3-for-5 with a grand slam in a win over the St Louis Cardinals. The next day he did even better, going 4-for-5 with two homers and seven RBIs. He finished that season hitting .232 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs in 59 games. That was easily his best season in the majors. In his other six big league trials combined, he hit eight homers and drove in 27 runs. Before joining the Pirates as a minor league free agent in May of 1999, he also spent time with the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, in addition to his first four seasons with the Giants. Between the 1999-2000 seasons, Hyzdu hit a total of 55 homers in 233 games for Double-A Altoona. Despite spending all of 1999 in Double-A, the Pirates quickly re-signed him to a minor league deal after the season. After his time in Pittsburgh, which ended when he became a free agent after the 2003 season, Hyzdu had two more stints with the Boston Red Sox, as well as stints for the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers. He saw big league time with all three clubs over the 2004-06 seasons, though it amounted to just 48 games total.
Frank Luce, outfielder for the 1923 Pirates. His big league career consisted of nine games at the end of the 1923 season and just one of those was as a starter. Despite the brief career, he went 6-for-12 at the plate, drove in three runs and stole two bases. Luce played 11 seasons in the minors and batted over .300 six times. His time with the Pirates was closer to the beginning of his career, which stretched from 1921 until 1931. During the 1923 season, Luce hit .382 with 19 triples, 15 homers and 17 stolen bases for Flint of the Michigan-Ontario League. He joined the Pirates on September 15th and he debuted just two days later. He took over for Carson Bigbee, who was trying to play through a leg injury suffered a day earlier. In the fourth inning, Luce hit for Bigbee and reached on a scratch single. Unfortunately, he was picked off of first base, so his first big league hit didn’t end well.
While his big league career on paper didn’t amount to much, he still made quite an impression with the team during his brief stay. In an exhibition game in Lima, Ohio, he homered twice, including one that was called the longest homer seen at that park. He had two hits and two stolen bases in his second exhibition game, then hit two triples against Columbus of the American Association. A quote after the third game, which looks ridiculous now, started that Luce would give Kiki Cuyler a run for a starting outfield spot in 1924. Luce was in Spring Training with the Pirates in 1924 and he got some press for hitting the first Pittsburgh home run of the spring. He was getting a lot of praise for hitting the ball harder than anyone else in camp, while also providing some solid defense in the outfield. He was still around on Opening Day, but he didn’t play in any games and the Pirates released him outright to his team in Flint on April 25th, ten days into the 1924 season.
Walter Mueller, outfielder for the 1922-24 and 1926 Pirates. In four seasons in the majors, all spent with the Pirates, he hit .275 with two homers and 49 RBIs in 121 games. He never played more than 40 games in a season, and split his time evenly between left and right field, making 41 appearances at each spot. He also played center field five times. Mueller retired during the 1925 season to help run a family business in St Louis with his brothers. In 1921, Mueller hit .324 with 60 extra-base hits in 165 games with Joplin of the Western League. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 16th, though he stayed with Joplin until the end of their season. During the 1922 season, Mueller didn’t debut until the 20th game of the season, then hit a three-run homer off of Hall of Famer Grover Alexander on the first pitch he saw in the majors. Mueller was sent to the minors on June 28th by manager George Gibson, despite hitting .270 with two homers and 18 RBIs in 32 games. When Bill McKechnie replaced Gibson as manager days later, one of the first things he did was bring Mueller back. Mueller was nursing an upper back/neck injury at the time and ended up playing just one more game that season on July 5th as a pinch-hitter.
During the 1923 season, he was buried deep on the bench. Through the first 92 games of the season, he played eight times, all off of the bench, batting a total of nine times. He didn’t make his first start until August 12th, then ended up making 23 starts over the rest of the season. Mueller batted .306 in 40 games that season. In 1924, his playing time was spread out more over the whole season, though the bulk of his at-bats came in June when he made six of his eight starts. After retiring in 1925, he returned late in the 1926 season and saw a lot of September action, hitting .242 in 19 games. He retired again in 1927 for the family business, playing sandlot ball on the weeks to get his fill of baseball. His only other playing time was 19 games for Indianapolis of the American Association in 1928. His son Don Mueller spent 12 seasons as an outfielder in the majors, spending most of his time with the New York Giants. I’ve seen him listed in a few places as being the brother of outfielder Heinie Mueller, who spent 11 seasons in the majors, but many sources don’t back that information up.
Tun Berger, utility player for the 1890-91 Alleghenys. In 104 games for the worst team in franchise history, he hit .266 with 40 RBIs and 64 runs scored. As a bench player in 1891, he hit .239 and played five positions. He was one of just three players from the 1890 Alleghenys who was still around for the 1891 season (including Sam LaRocque, who lasted one game in 1891). Berger played everywhere for Pittsburgh during his two seasons except pitcher and first base. His only other big league time was 26 games with the 1892 Washington Senators. He had three years of pro ball before joining Pittsburgh, and he played minor league ball during the 1892-98 seasons. Berger was a reserve at the beginning of the season in 1890 and didn’t travel with the team until they released two other players in early May and gave him a chance to play. The local papers gave very little details about him prior to the season, sometimes just listing his name, other times calling him a virtual unknown. Berger’s salary in 1890 was $250 per month. His career highlight was an August 8, 1890 game in Cincinnati in which he had four hits and made four above average defensive plays in left field, including one catch that earned him a standing ovation from the home crowd. He went by the nickname “Tun” at times, but his first name was John.
On this date in 1983, the Pirates traded outfielder Mike Easler to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher John Tudor. Easler hit .313 with 27 homers and 91 RBIs in his first year with the Red Sox. The next season, both his average and power numbers dropped off, and he finished with a .737 OPS. He moved on to the Yankees the following season. Tudor went 12-11, 3.27 in 212 innings and 32 starts for the Pirates, then moved on to the St Louis Cardinals and helped them to the World Series in 1985, where he won two games over the Kansas City Royals. He finished second in the Cy Young voting after picking up 21 wins and posting a 1.93 ERA.
On this date in 1989, the Pirates signed pitcher Neal Heaton as a free agent. He had seven seasons of big league experience prior to joining the Pirates. Heaton went 3-10, 4.99 in 11 starts and 21 relief appearances for the Montreal Expos in 1988, so his signing didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. He spent three years in Pittsburgh, making 43 starts and 71 relief appearances. Heaton went 21-19, 3.46 for the Pirates before being dealt in early 1992 to the Royals in an even up trade for Kirk Gibson.
On this date in 1990, the Pirates re-signed 30-year-old lefty starter Zane Smith as a free agent. During the middle of the 1990 season, the Pirates traded for Smith and he pitched well, going 6-2, 1.30 in 11 games. He ended up playing another four years in Pittsburgh, then moved to Boston for one season before finishing his career with the 1996 Pirates. In six seasons with the Pirates, he went 47-71, 3.35 in 768.1 innings.