This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 23rd, Sam Leever

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including one of their best pitchers ever.

Sam Leever, pitcher for the Pirates from 1898 to 1910. He didn’t make the majors until he was 26 years old, but he stayed around Pittsburgh long enough to be considered one of their best pitchers ever. On the Pirates all-time list for pitchers he ranks fourth in ERA with a 2.47 mark, tied for second in wins with 194, sixth in both innings pitched (2,660.2 IP) and games started with 299. He ranks fourth in complete games with 241 and second in shutouts with 39. He won 20 games four times and three times led the National League in winning percentage. He helped the Pirates to four pennants from 1901-1909. Leever’s best season was 1903 when he won 25 games and led the league with a 2.06 ERA. He had just one season in which his ERA was over 3.00, and that was during his first full season. The Pirates were his only big league team during his 13-year career.

Leever made his first mark in pro ball in 1897 for Richmond of the Atlantic League, where he had a 21-18 record in 316 innings. He was 25 years old at the time, spending his earlier years as a school teacher, while playing club ball for Cincinnati amateur teams. He spent 1896 playing for Clarksville in the Blue Grass League, which was an independent minor league at the time. Former Pirates catcher Billy Earle (1892-93) discovered Leever and moved him from the amateurs to pro ball. That one minor league season in Richmond was enough to get him a look with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Earle’s own scouting report of Leever at the time said that he plenty of speed, commanded his pitches, and “he had plenty of baseball pluck and gameness”. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 15, 1897 and he joined the team the following spring. He was with the club early in the year before returning to Richmond on June 1st, then rejoined the Pirates in mid-September. Leever played just five games total for the Pirates, but he had a 2.45 ERA in 33 innings and earned a job for the following season. In 1899, Leever went 21-23, 3.18 in 379 innings, a total he never came close to matching in any of his other seasons (his second highest was 284.1 innings in 1903). His record was below .500 and the Pirates played just above .500 for the season (76-73), but his ERA was 43 points lower than the team’s average (that includes his own ERA bringing that number down). That 3.18 ERA was over 30 points higher than his second worst season ERA during his career.

The Pirates improved with the additions of Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Deacon Phillippe, Claude Ritchey, Tommy Leach, Rube Waddell and others from the Louisville club in December of 1899, and that in turn helped Leever. He went 15-13, 2.71 in his first season with that group, but that improved to 14-5, 2.86 in 1901 when the Pirates won their first NL pennant. They were even better in 1902 (the best team in franchise history) and Leever was a big part, going 15-7, 2.39 in 222 innings. After his big 1903 season mentioned above, he was dealing with a sore arm during the World Series and he struggled in his two starts, taking the losses in both games. Leever went 18-11, 2.17 in 253.1 innings in 1904, then he went 20-5 in 1905. It was the third time that he led the NL in winning percentage. In 1906, Leever went 22-7, 2.32 in 260.1 innings. His best season might have been the 1907 campaign when he had a 1.66 ERA in 216.2 innings. That ERA was only the fourth best in the NL that season, though the other five spots in the top six in ERA that year belonged to Chicago Cubs pitchers (they had a team ERA of 1.73 that year!).

Leever went 15-7, 2.10 in 192.2 innings in 1908. He was limited in 1909 due to a very strong pitching staff ahead of him, but he still pitched well when called upon. He was 8-1, 2.83 in 70 innings and did not make an appearance in the World Series. He finished up with a 2.76 ERA in 111 innings in 1910, then played a bit of minor league ball in 1911 and briefly in 1913, before retiring. He was also a manager during the 1913 season.

Sam Frock, pitcher for the 1909-10 Pirates. Frock began his pro career in 1905 pitching in the New England League. In three seasons in the minors, he went a combined 62-28 before signing with the Boston Doves (Braves) in late August 1907. With Boston, he went 1-2, 2.97 in five games, three as a starter. Despite the nice MLB debut and three strong seasons in the minors, he returned to the minors for the entire 1908 season. For Providence of the Eastern League that year he went 24-14 in 47 games, pitching 325 total innings. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 23, 1908 from Providence after owner Barney Dreyfuss personally went to see him pitch. He was purchased that same day by Dreyfuss, though Frock remained with his minor league team through the end of the season. Frock was a seldom used reserve for the 1909 Pirates making just four starts and four relief appearances all season. He went 2-1, 2.48 in 36.1 innings and he did not appear in the World Series. Frock was traded to the Doves on April 28, 1910, along with first baseman Bud Sharpe, for pitcher Kirby White. In his lone appearance for the 1910 Pirates, Frock allowed four runs over two innings, though just one run was earned. Boston was a very poor team in 1910 (53-100) and he got plenty of time on the mound, going 12-19, 3.71 in 255.1 innings. He was back in the minors for good in 1911, after posting a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings during the first month of the season for Boston. He only had 15 wins in his MLB career, but he was quite an accomplished minor league pitcher, winning 203 games. He had four 20+ win seasons. He managed for at least one season in the minors (1922) after his playing career ended.

Albert “Cozy” Dolan, outfielder/third baseman for the 1913 Pirates. He was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in late August of 1913 in exchange for Bobby Byrne and Howie Camnitz. The Pirates also received cash in the deal. Dolan was just 23 years old at the time of the trade and both Camnitz and Byrne were star players on the downside of their careers. In the last 35 games of that 1913 season Dolan hit .203 with 14 stolen bases. Shortly after the season ended, the Pirates traded Dolan in an eight-player deal with the St Louis Cardinals that went horribly wrong, when two of the three returning players jumped to the Federal League after one year. The Pirates also gave up first baseman Dots Miller to get the center piece in the deal, first baseman Ed Konetchy, and then Miller finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. Dolan ended up as a regular in the Cardinals lineup and he had his two best seasons in the majors, hitting .257 with 70 RBIs in 237 games, while seeing significant time at four different positions. Despite the 1915 season being his best year, Dolan ended up in the minors for the next three years. He was a manager in the minors in 1919, then coached with the New York Giants from 1922 to 1924. During that 1922 season, seven years after his last big league game, he appeared as a pinch-runner on July 7th in an 18-inning game against the Pirates. He was a .252 hitter in 379 games spread out over seven seasons. Before joining the Pirates, he played briefly for the 1909 Cincinnati Reds, spent two seasons with the New York Yankees (1911-12) and he played 66 games for the 1912-13 Phillies. Dolan got the nickname “Cozy” the 19th century way. There was a player named Patrick “Cozy” Dolan, who played nine years from 1895 until 1906. Whenever a player came along with the same last name as someone before him, he was likely to inherit that player’s nickname. You can find numerous instances throughout the early years of baseball, including four Buck Freemans. Dolan’s baseball career ended unfortunately when he reportedly suggested a player take a bribe at the end of the 1924 season. He was banned from baseball and never returned.

Shawn Chacon, pitcher for the 2006-07 Pittsburgh Pirates. Chacon came to the Pirates in the middle of the 2006 season from the New York Yankees in exchange for Craig Wilson. He was put right into the starting rotation and he went 2-3, 5.48 in nine starts. In 2007, Chacon moved to relief, making 60 appearances out of the bullpen, while getting just four starts. He went 5-4, 3.94 and pitched 96 innings. He left via free agency after the season and moved on to the Houston Astros the next year, but a physical confrontation with the GM ended his year early. He was released in June of 2007 and didn’t played at all during the following year. Chacon played Independent ball in 2009 and also had a brief stint that year with the Oakland A’s Triple-A team. He finished with a 45-61, 4.99 record over eight seasons in the majors. In 2003, he went 11-8, 4.60 for the Colorado Rockies and made his only All-Star appearance. Chacon was drafted by the Rockies in third round of the 1996 draft out of high school in Greeley, Colorado, which is approximately one hour away from Coors Field, home of the Rockies. Despite going to high school so close to his hometown team, he was actually born in Alaska, one of just 12 Major League players born in that state. Chacon debuted in the majors in April of 2001 and made 71 starts over his first three seasons. He moved to the bullpen full-time in 2004, then went back to the rotation in 2005, only to get traded to the Yankees at the 2005 trading deadline. His actual time with the Yankees was one year and three days.

Rick White, pitcher for the Pirates from 1994-95, then again in 2005. White began his 12-year big league career with the Pirates, four seasons after they drafted him in the 15th round of the 1990 amateur draft. He went 4-5, 3.82 during his rookie season in 1994, pitching a total of 75.1 innings over five starts and 38 relief appearances. The next year he made nine starts and six relief appearances, going 2-3, 4.75 in 55 innings. The Pirates let him go in December of 1995, but he quickly re-signed on a minor league deal. He had reconstructive elbow surgery earlier in December and there was a chance that he could miss the entire 1996 season. White ended up making it back before the minor league season ended, though he was limited to 18.1 innings over five games. He was let go after the season ended. He signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1997 and made it back to the majors in 1998. He pitched for the Devil Rays until mid-2000, then played for the 2000-01 New York Mets, the 2002 Colorado Rockies, the 2002 St Louis Cardinals, the 2003 Chicago White Sox and the 2003 Houston Astros, before moving on to the Cleveland Indians for the 2004 season. After going 5-5, 5.29 in 55 relief appearances in 2004 with the Indians, the Pirates signed White as a free agent. He went 4-7, 3.72 in 75 innings over 71 appearances in 2005, all out of the bullpen. After leaving the Pirates via free agency for the second time, White split the 2006 season between the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, then split the 2007 season between the Seattle Mariners and the Astros. In his career over 12 seasons, he went 42-54, 4.45 in 18 starts and 595 relief outings. White is one of two players to wear uniform number “00” with the Pirates. Pitcher Joe Page in 1954 was the other.

Dave May, pinch-hitter for the 1978 Pirates. May had a nice 12-year career in the majors, but his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates consisted of only five plate appearances, all as a pinch-hitter. May began the 1978 season as a member of the Texas Rangers. Before he played a game for them, he was sold to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers then sold him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in September and he went 0-for-4 with a walk as a pinch-hitter. That was the end of his big league career, though he played a year in the minors before retiring. He played a total of 1,252 Major League games, hitting .251 with 96 homers and 422 RBIs. His best season came with the Brewers in 1973, when he hit .303 with 25 homers, 93 RBIs and 96 runs scored, while making his only All-Star appearance. May began his career by signing with the San Francisco Giants at 17 years old in 1961. He debuted in pro ball the next season and it took him five years to make the majors, playing his first game while with the Baltimore Orioles on July 28, 1967. The Orioles acquired him from the Giants in the first-year draft after the 1962 season. May played for the Orioles until early 1970, when he was traded to the Brewers. His time with the Brewers ended with a trade on November 2, 1974, and it made him a household name at the time. He was sent to the Atlanta Braves, along with a player to be named later, in a trade for the great Hank Aaron, just seven months after Aaron set the career home run record. The Braves traded him to the Rangers after he hit .216 with five homers in 223 games over two seasons. His son Derrick May spent ten seasons in the majors, mostly with the Chicago Cubs.