Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Famer, plus one trade of note that included another Hall of Famer. Current reliever Geoff Hartlieb turns 27 today.
On this date in 1980 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven and catcher Manny Sanguillen to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Gary Alexander and pitchers Victor Cruz, Bob Owchinko and Rafael Vasquez. By the time the 1982 season started, Blyleven was the only player still with his new team. Sanguillen was released before the season started, while the Pirates got very little from any of the players they received in return. Blyleven requested a trade during the season and was disgruntled with his handling in Pittsburgh, so the trade was thought to be more of an addition by subtraction. He pitched just as well in Cleveland as he did in Pittsburgh, going 48-37, 3.23 in five seasons, though elbow surgery limited him to four starts in 1982. The Pirates received 44 games total from their four new players, which includes 22 games and 34 innings from Cruz, 21 games from Alexander and one relief appearance from Owchinko, though that came in 1983 after he returned as a free agent. In 1981 he was traded for pitcher Ernie Camacho, who lasted 21.2 innings for the Pirates before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in a deal that did not go well. Vasquez never made the majors. Cruz was traded for Nelson Norman in 1982. Norman, who played just four games with the Pirates, was part of the trade that brought Blyleven to Pittsburgh in 1977.
Todd Van Poppel, pitcher for the 1998 Pirates. He came to the Pirates in July of 1998 from the Texas Rangers, along with Warren Morris, in exchange for Esteban Loaiza. Prior to the trade, Van Poppel had an 8.84 ERA in four starts with the Rangers. That was after spending the entire 1997 season in the minors. He went 1-2, 5.36 in seven starts and 11 relief appearances for the Pirates that season. He re-signed with the Pirates as a free agent for 1999, but spent the entire season in the minors and then left via free agency in October. Van Poppel was a first round draft pick out of high school in 1990, taken 14th overall by the Oakland A’s, and he was in the majors by the next season for one September start. After spending all of 1992 in the minors, he made 16 starts for the A’s in 1993 and posted a 5.04 ERA in 84 innings. The A’s gave him 23 starts in 1994, despite a 6.09 ERA in 116.2 innings. He never put it together in his 11-year big league career, finishing with a 40-52, 5.58 record with six different clubs. His best seasons in the majors came right after he left the Pirates. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2000 and pitched mainly in relief for two seasons. He had a 3.18 ERA in 161.1 innings over 110 appearances. Besides the A’s, Rangers, Cubs and Pirates, he played in the majors for the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds. He also spent time with the Anaheim Angels, Kansas City Royals and New York Mets.
Doc Medich, pitcher for the 1976 Pirates. The Pirates traded three players for Medich on December 11, 1975 and he went 8-11, 3.52 in 26 starts and three relief appearances. He pitched nearly 100 fewer innings than he did the prior season and he finished 3-0 in his last eight games to get his record to that 8-11 mark. From June 17 to August 14 he went 0-6 in eight starts. Just prior to the 1977 season the Pirates traded him away in a nine-player deal to the Oakland A’s, with six players going the other way, including Tony Armas and Dave Giusti, while the Pirates got Phil Garner in return. In Medich’s 11-year career he won 124 games while playing for seven different teams. Medich was drafted in the 30th round by the New York Yankees in 1970 out of the University of Pittsburgh. He debuted in the majors for one late-season game in 1972, then became a regular in the rotation the next season. Medich won a total of 49 games during the 1973-75 seasons.
The Pirates were looking to add a big name to the top of their rotation after the 1975 season and the Yankees had a high price for Medich. At the time of the deal, Pirates GM Joe Brown noted that he paid a high price and that turned out to be true. The Pirates gave up veteran pitchers Ken Brett and Dock Ellis who both had better 1976 seasons than Medich. To make matters worse, young second baseman Willie Randolph was added to the deal, despite the Pirates getting calls from a lot of teams trying to pursue him. Randolph compiled 65.9 WAR in his career, making the trade a disastrous one-sided loss for the Pirates. The Yankees not only got the three best players, but they signed free agent pitcher Ed Figueroa, who won 19 games, so they had their replacement for Medich before the deal. Medich didn’t finish 1977 with the A’s. He also spent time with the New York Mets and Seattle Mariners. That was followed by five years with the Texas Rangers, signing as a free agent. He finished the final two months of the 1982 season with the Milwaukee Brewers. He retired after the season and continued his medical career, which he started while in the majors. He acquired the nickname “Doc” while still in medical school.
Henry Camelli, catcher for the Pirates from 1943 until 1946. Camelli had a minor league career that stretched from 1935 until 1951. In between he spent parts of five years in the majors, four with the Pirates. With Pittsburgh, he played a total of 107 games, hitting .252 with 15 RBIs in 226 at-bats. He had his best season with the Pirates in 1944, when he hit .296 in 63 games. At the end of the 1946 season, Camelli was part of a six-player deal that brought HOF second baseman Billy Herman to the Pirates from the Boston Braves, though the Pirates also gave up Bob Elliott in the deal and he went on to win the MVP award. Camelli played 52 games for the 1947 Braves, then spent the rest of his pro career in the minors. Camelli’s debut in the majors was as the starting catcher, batting eighth, in the final game of the 1943 season. He was purchased from Albany of the Eastern League on August 31st and joined the Pirates on September 17th, but didn’t get into a game until 16 days later. During the 1943 season, he hit .282 in 96 games for Albany, his third straight year playing for the team and his ninth year of minor league ball. After having a solid 1944 season as a platoon player with the Pirates, Camelli spent most of 1945 in the Army. He had a factory job early in the year and joined the Pirates late in spring, but by early May he was in the service until October. He split the 1946 season between the Pirates and Toronto of the International League, spending all of July and August in the minors. During the 1950-51 seasons in the minors, he served as a player-manager.
Adam Comorosky, outfielder from 1926 until 1933. In his eight seasons in Pittsburgh he hit .293 over 627 games with 363 RBIs. During the 1930 season, he had 47 doubles, 23 triples and 12 homers, all while recording 33 sacrifice bunts, which led the league. Comorosky is the only player in MLB history to reach those double/triple/homer totals in the same season. The Pirates traded him at the right time, sending him to the Cincinnati Reds in a four-player deal after the 1933 season. He played just 186 big league games after the deal. Comorosky got his start in baseball by playing on Sundays, while working in the coal mines. He impressed enough to get a minor league deal with Waynesboro of the Blue Ridge League in 1925. He did well there and finished the season with Williamsport of the New York-Penn League, which was a higher level of the minors than the league was in recent years. He hit .197 in a brief time with Williamsport in 1925, then he batted .307 with 54 extra-base hits in 132 games there in 1926. On August 18, 1926, the Pirates purchased his contract along with teammate Wally Tauscher. Comorosky was allowed to finish the season in Williamsport before joining the Pirates for his MLB debut on September 13th. He went 4-for-15 in eight games during his first trial, but he didn’t stick with the Pirates until he returned from the minors in August of 1928.
Comorosky batted .295 in 51 games in 1928, then played full-time in 1929, batting .321 with 97 RBIs and 86 runs scored. After his big season in 1930, which also included a .313 average, 119 RBIs and 112 runs scored, Comorosky saw a big drop in production in 1931. He hit .243 in 99 games and his OPS dropped 299 points (.900 to .601). As his stats dropped during the season, so did his playing time. The Pirates were confident that he would bounce back in 1932 and denied trade rumors. He had a better season, but not up to previous standards. Comorosky had a .286 average and a .726 OPS in 108 games. One month after the season ended, he was traded to the Reds with Tony Piet, for pitcher Red Lucas and outfielder Wally Roettger. After his two seasons in Cincinnati, Comorosky spent another four seasons in the minors, retiring after the 1940 season. In his big league career, he was a .285 hitter over 813 games.
Mike Mitchell, outfielder for the 1913-14 Pirates. Mitchell was a star outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, but by the time he got to the Pirates, he was on his downside. The Pirates selected him off waivers in July of 1913 from the Chicago Cubs and Mitchell became their everyday center fielder. He played 54 games, hitting .271 with 16 RBIs for the 1913 Pirates. Mitchell moved to right field in 1914 and saw his average drop, which led to the Pirates putting him on waivers after 76 games. He hit .234 with a .613 OPS for the Pirates in 1914, then finished the season with a .719 OPS over 55 games for the Washington Senators. He was sold to the New York Yankees prior to the 1915 season, but he decided to retire instead. In his eight-year career, he was a .278 hitter with 202 stolen bases. From 1909 until 1911, he put up seasons with 37, 35 and 35 steals. Mitchell finished with both 514 runs scored and 514 RBIs in 1,124 big league games. He led the league in triples twice with the Reds. He began his pro career at 22 years old in 1902 and spent his first five seasons in the minors playing for seven different teams. He debuted in the majors in the middle of the deadball era at 27 years old and hit .292 during his first season while playing 148 games. That average had him ranked seventh in the NL. After a sophomore slump in 1908, Mitchell finished second in the NL with a .310 average and second with an .808 OPS, trailing only Honus Wagner in both categories. He led the league with 17 triples, then led with 18 triples in 1910, when he also led the league with 156 games played. Mitchell set a career high with 22 triples in 1911, but he finished second to Larry Doyle of the New York Giants, who had 25 triples.
Joe Kelley, outfielder for the 1892 Pirates. He batted .239 in 56 games for the Pirates as a 20-year-old, before he was traded for star outfielder George Van Haltren. It turned out to be one of the more unfortunate trades in team history. Kelley had a Hall of Fame career that included a .317 career average and five straight 100 RBI seasons in the 1890s, which could have really helped out the Pirates during that era. In 1896, he scored 148 runs, stole 87 bases and posted a 91:19 BB/SO ratio. Kelley debuted in the majors with the 1891 Boston Beaneaters, though he lasted just 12 games. The 19-year-old had minimal minor league experience prior to his big league debut and some of that time was spent as a pitcher. He started the 1892 season with Omaha of the Western League, but the Pirates purchased his release (reportedly for $500) and signed him to a contract on July 13th. Kelley played all 56 of his games with the Pirates in center field, despite talk of trying him out at shortstop early in his tenure. His was traded to Boston in September for the aforementioned George Van Haltren. The Pirates also included cash in the deal.
Kelley was an immediate success after leaving the Pirates. He reeled off 11 straight seasons hitting over .300, topping out at a .393 average in 1894. He had 107 walks, 111 RBIs, 48 doubles and 165 runs scored during that 1894 season. That run scored total ranks seventh all-time for a single season, though he didn’t lead the league that year. Billy Hamilton set the MLB record with 198 runs that year. Kelley was a player/manager for the Cincinnati Reds during the 1902-05 seasons. After hitting just .228 for the Reds in 1906, he became the player/manager for Toronto of the International League, where he hit .322 in 91 games. That led to a job back in the majors with the Boston Doves (Braves) where he hit .259 in 73 games and served as their manager. Kelley returned to Toronto as a player for two seasons (1909-10), then became their manager from 1912-14. In the majors, Kelley played 1,853 games, with 1,421 runs scored, 2.220 hits, 194 triples, 1,194 runs scored, 443 stolen bases and 911 walks. His .402 career on base percentage ranks 52nd all-time, and his batting average is 61st best. He’s ninth all-time in triples. Kelley was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 by the Veteran’s Committee.