This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 21st, Andy Van Slyke and Freddy Sanchez

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a key piece of the 1990-92 playoff teams and the franchise’s last batting champion.

Andy Van Slyke, outfielder for the 1987-94 Pirates. He came to the Pirates from the St Louis Cardinals along with catcher Mike Lavalliere and pitcher Mike Dunne on April 1, 1987 in a trade for All-Star catcher Tony Pena. He was a solid player who took it to the next level with the Pirates.  He was a first round draft pick in 1979, taken sixth overall out of high school by the Cardinals. Van Slyke debuted in the majors in 1983 at 22 years old and spent four seasons in St Louis, hitting .259 with 41 homers and 104 stolen bases in 521 games. The Cardinals had him in more of a utility role, giving him time in all three outfield spots, as well as third base and first base. After compiling 10.2 WAR with the Cardinals, he surpassed that total during his second season in Pittsburgh. In 1987, he hit .293 with 34 stolen bases and set career highs in doubles (36), triples (11), homers (21), RBIs (82), runs (93) and OPS (.866). He would surpass all of those totals in Pittsburgh, many of them in the next season. Van Slyke hit .288 with 25 homers, 100 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, 15 triples (led the league) and 101 runs scored during the 1988 season. He saw a down year in 1989, hitting just .237 with nine homers in 130 games.

In 1990, Van Slyke helped lead the way towards the Pirates first pennant since 1979 by hitting .284 with 77 RBIs and playing stellar defense in center field, winning his third straight Gold Glove. That’s an award he would win again the next two seasons as well. Van Slyke helped the Pirates to a second straight title in 1991 by driving in 83 runs and scoring 87 times. The 1992 season would see the Pirates make the playoffs for a third straight time and Van Slyke had his best overall season, as he hit .324 with 103 runs scored and 89 RBIs. He led the NL in hits (199) and doubles (45), and he made his second All-Star team, won his fifth Gold Glove, won his second Silver Slugger award and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. Van Slyke had his best playoff performance this year, batting .276 with four RBIs. He hit .310 in 1993, but he was limited to 83 games due to a spring knee surgery and a broken collarbone in June. He had a .698 OPS in 105 games during the strike-shortened 1994 season. In 1,057 games with the Pirates, Van Slyke hit .283 with 117 homers, 134 stolen bases, 564 RBIs and 598 runs scored. He became a free agent after the 1994 season and signed with the Baltimore Orioles in April, after the strike was settled. Mid-season, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he finished his career that year. In his career he was a .274 hitter with 164 homers, 792 RBIs, 835 runs scored and 245 stolen bases. His son Scott Van Slyke played six years in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Freddy Sanchez, infielder for the 2004-09 Pirates. He was originally an 11th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2000. Sanchez played briefly in the majors for the Sox in both 2003 and 2004, getting a total of 52 plate appearances over 32 games. He was traded to the Pirates along with relief pitcher Mike Gonzalez in exchange for pitchers Brandon Lyon and Jeff Suppan on July 31, 2004, though Sanchez wasn’t in the original deal between the two teams. Eight days earlier, the two teams hooked up on a five-player trade that had Lyon and Gonzalez going opposite ways in the deal. Lyon was injured, so the trade was revised and Sanchez was included. Sanchez played just nine games for the Pirates in 2004. He started the 2005 season in the majors and ended up hitting .291/.336/.400 in 132 games, splitting most of his time between third base and second base, while also getting some turns at shortstop.

Sanchez wasn’t the starting third baseman in 2006. That spot actually belonged to Joe Randa, but when Randa got hurt in early May, Sanchez took over and set the world on fire. He won the NL batting crown on the last day of the 2006 season by going 2-for-4 to finish with a .344 average. He also led the league in doubles with 53 and drove in 85 runs. He was selected to the All-Star game and even got some mild MVP support. In 2007, Sanchez became the everyday second baseman and would make his second straight All-Star appearance, as he hit .304 with 42 doubles and 81 RBIs. He struggled in 2008 (though he still had 1.2 WAR), hitting a career low .271 in 145 games, which came along with a .298 on base percentage. Back on his game in 2009, Sanchez made his third All-Star appearance. He was sent to the San Francisco Giants at the July 31st trading deadline that year after hitting .296 with a .776 OPS in 86 games for the Pirates. Sanchez finished his career after the 2011 season, as injuries took a toll on his effectiveness during that time and limited him to 196 games with the Giants in 2 1/2 seasons. He batted .297 in 904 big league games, including a .301 average in 676 games with the Pirates. Sanchez was originally drafted in the 30th round of the 1996 draft out of high school by the Atlanta Braves. He decided to attend Oklahoma State  (actually his third college) and he moved up to the 11th round in 2000, taken by the Red Sox.

John Hope, pitcher for the 1993-96 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick of the Pirates in 1989 out of Stranahan High School in Florida. After pitching a total of 15 innings in 1989, he missed the entire 1990 season due to Tommy John surgery. He saw somewhat limited work over three levels in 1991, then he threw 176.1 innings during the 1992 season in High-A, going 11-8, 3.47 in 27 starts. He spent most of 1993 in Double-A, where he had a 9-4, 4.37 record in 111.1 innings. His Triple-A time that season was brief, with a 6.33 ERA in four starts. Despite the major setback and limited/poor time in Triple-A, he made it to the majors that season, debuting on August 29, 1993. He went 0-2, 4.03 in 38 innings over seven late season starts that season. During the next two seasons in Pittsburgh, he saw limited time out of the bullpen, pitching a total of 12 games. Hope allowed a total of 20 runs over 14.1 innings between both seasons. In 1994, he was with the team from early May until mid-June. In 1995, he had three appearances in July and allowed at least two runs in all three games, while throwing just 2.1 innings total. He had strong results in Triple-A that season, going 7-1, 2.79 in 13 starts. In 1996, he was again used as a starter and struggled, going 1-3, 6.98 in four starts and one relief outing. Hope also had a rough go in Triple-A that year, posting a 4.82 ERA in 125 innings. He debuted that season with the Pirates on April 25th and pitched his final game for them 19 days later. That was also the end of his Major League career. The Pirates released him after the season and he signed as a minor league free agent with the Colorado Rockies in January of 1997. Hope spent the next three years in the minors, two of those in Independent ball, before retiring in 1999. He finished 1-5, 5.99 in 73.2 innings in the majors.

Danny Kravitz, catcher for the 1956-60 Pirates. Kravitz was a local kid, signed as an amateur at 18 years old by the Pirates in 1949 after attending a tryout with hundreds of other players. It took seven years before he made the majors, though he spent the entire 1952-53 seasons serving in the Marines. Kravitz put up strong results at the lower levels over his first three seasons, then he was pushed to the upper levels when he returned, playing for New Orleans of the American Association in 1954. He played well, hitting .292 with 11 homers in his first season back, then batting .298 with 19 homers in 1955. In 1956, he was the starting catcher for the Pirates on Opening Day. By May 22nd, he lost his starting job, and on June 28th, he was hitting .265 when he played his last game of the season for the Pirates. On July 4th, the Pirates made wholesale changes, sending four players to their affiliate Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League, while bringing Bill Mazeroski to Pittsburgh.. Kravitz was in that group of players.  In 1957, Kravitz once again had an Opening Day job, but he lost it in May after batting .120 in his first 13 games. He was optioned to Columbus of the International League on May 15th, where he hit .249 in 105 games, before returning for six games in September with the Pirates.

Kravitz stuck with the Pirates for all of 1958, though most of his playing time came during the final week of May and throughout the first half of August. In those four weeks, he had 62 of his 100 at-bats on the season. The 1959 season was very similar. He had a three-week stretch of starts that resulted in 67 of his 162 at-bats. Kravitz had a .545 OPS during that stretch, then barely played after August 1st. He had some poor timing with Pittsburgh, getting traded during the World Series winning 1960 season, after spending 11 years in the organization (including the military years). On June 1st, after six at-bats in eight games, Kravitz was sent to the Kansas City A’s in a trade for catcher Hank Foiles. He would finish out that season with the A’s, then play the last three years of his pro career in the minors. Over his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Kravitz hit .236 with six homers and 40 RBIs in 156 games. His best season with the team came in 1959, when he hit .253 with 21 RBIs.

Bill Werle, pitcher for the Pirates from 1949 until 1952. As a 28-year-old rookie in 1949, Werle went 12-13, 4.24 in 29 starts and six relief appearances for the Pirates. His big league debut was 7.2 shutout innings in a win over the Cincinnati Reds. He ended up throwing two complete game shutouts later in the season, which ended up being his only two career shutouts in the majors. The next season, he went 8-16, 4.60, but proved to be a valuable asset, by making 22 starts and 26 relief appearances. In his first two seasons combined, he pitched a total of 436.1 innings. In 1951, he was able to put together an 8-6 record in nine starts and 50 relief appearances, despite posting a 5.65 ERA for a team that went 64-90. Werle got into five games for the 1952 Pirates before they sent him to the St Louis Cardinals on May 3rd in exchange for pitcher Red Munger. He pitched in the majors until 1954, spending parts of his final two seasons with the Boston Red Sox, then stuck around in the minors until 1963. He finished with a 29-39, 4.69 big league record in 665.1 innings, and he had 147 minor league wins. He threw over 3,000 innings during his pro career. The Pirates acquired him on September 22, 1948 from the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in exchange for three future players and cash. Werle pitched the first five seasons of his pro career for San Francisco, while also missing the 1945 season due to service during WWII. At the time of his purchase, he had a 15-7 record. He was allowed to finish the 1948 season with the Seals and he went 17-7, 2.74 in 250 innings.

Pete Scott, outfielder for 1928 Pirates. Scott was a great hitter, but he is remembered most for being one of the two players returning to the Pirates in the lopsided Kiki Cuyler deal. While Cuyler went on to make the Hall of Fame, Scott played just one season for the Pirates. In his first two seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs (1926-27), he hit .299 over 148 games, with 55 RBIs and an .802 OPS. Despite his limited MLB time, he was already three weeks shy of 30 years old at the time of the deal. After the trade, Scott hit .311 in 60 games for the Pirates, scoring 33 runs and driving in 33 runs. He was seldom used at the beginning of the year and then missed all of August with an awful injury. On July 26th, he ran headfirst into a concrete wall at the Polo Grounds while trying to make a play. He was rushed to the hospital and the papers the next day reported his injury as a broken neck, though they said it wasn’t a severe injury. He missed a total of 39 days, returning on September 4th to hit .192 over ten games played in the last four weeks of the season. Despite hitting well when he played, Scott returned to the minors in 1929 and never played in the majors again, retiring after the 1933 season. On December 13, 1928, the Pirates sold him outright to Mission of the Pacific Coast League, with the understanding that they could buy him back at the end of the 1929 season if he proved that he was fully healthy after his injury. He ended up batting .335 in 105 games, but he never returned to Pittsburgh. He played a total of 14 years in pro ball, only batting under .300 twice. The first time was as a rookie with the 1926 Cubs and the other time as a rookie in the minors, when he hit .291 in 1920. Scott finished with a .320 minor league average in 1,073 games.

Warren Gill, first baseman for the 1908 Pirates. Gill played a total of 12 seasons in the minors as a light-hitting defensive-minded first baseman. Two of those seasons he served as a player-manager. Early in his career, he also pitched three seasons for Cedar Rapids of the Three-I League. His big league career consisted of just 27 late season games for the 1908 Pirates. He hit .224 with 11 walks and 14 RBIs, while playing flawless defense at first base. After the season, Gill was sold to Minneapolis of the American Association on January 13, 1909. The Pirates picked up Gill on December 20, 1907 after he hit .289 in 133 games for Oklahoma City of the Western Association. The Pirates kept him around during Spring Training in 1908 and he played plenty of third base.  Just three days before Opening Day on April 12th, a local paper ran the headline that he might be the starting third baseman for the Pirates in the first game. A different paper noted that he wasn’t hitting the ball hard during the spring, popping it up often or hitting it on the ground. A third local paper (this is all true) noted that he was sent to Grand Rapids the previous night, but might finish dental school before playing his first game of the season. As a side note, Gill had the nickname “Doc” because he was a doctor.

Gill reported to Grand Rapids of the Central League, where he was said to be the best first baseman in the league. When the Pirates regular first baseman Alan Storke struggled, the Pirates brought back Gill and kept him in the lineup for most of the remainder of the season. In a sign of the times, one of Gill’s strong points according to the local press was his constant chatter during games, encouraging his pitcher. He debuted on August 26th and played his final game on September 29th. There was word as early as August 12th that the Pirates were offering a bonus and a player to get Gill back from Grand Rapids before the end of the season (September 8th), but the Grand Rapids management wasn’t budging. Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss even visited Grand Rapids multiple times before finally securing him on August 23rd to return to Pittsburgh. His pro career lasted another five seasons (1909-13) before he retired.