This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 24th, Frank Taveras

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a player who was with two World Series teams.

Frank Taveras, shortstop for the 1971-79 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates in 1968 out of the Dominican Republic, shortly after his 18th birthday. He spent four full seasons in the minors before he got his first chance in the big leagues. He played just one game during his first season, pinch-running for Willie Stargell during a 15-inning game against the Mets on September 25, 1971. He played just four September games with the Pirates in 1972, then spent the entire 1973 season in Triple-A. Despite not getting a late season chance in the previous season, Taveras made the 1974 Pirates Opening Day roster and started 107 games at shortstop. After hitting .246 his rookie season, Taveras slumped down to .212 in 1975, but he still started 122 games. He received added playing time in 1976, getting nearly 150 more plate appearances. He also stole 58 bases in 69 attempts, after stealing 30 bases during his first four seasons with the Pirates. He showed speed in the minors, but that amount to 112 steals over his six full seasons, so no one likely expected his breakout year in 1976, or what happened next. In 1977, Taveras led the NL in stolen bases with 70. He also hit his first Major League homer, which was an inside-the-park grand slam on August 5th in his 510th big league game. The next season, Taveras set career highs in hits (182), doubles (31) and RBIs (38). He batted .278 and added 46 stolen bases, but he was also caught stealing 25 times.

Just 11 games into the 1979 season, the Pirates traded Taveras to the New York  Mets for Tim Foli. Due to the timing of the trade, Taveras was able to play 164 games that season. He spent three years in New York, where he batted .263 and stole 90 bases. He finished his career with the 1982 Montreal Expos, batting .161 in 48 games, before being released in August. He hit .255 in 1,150 career games, stealing exactly 300 bases, while hitting just two career homers. Both of his homers came in Cincinnati and the second one cleared the fence in left field. With the Pirates, he batted .253 in 724 games, with 310 runs scored and 206 steals. He was a member of both Pirates World Series teams in the 1970s, though he wasn’t with the team in the playoffs either year and he totaled just 12 games played during those seasons. He went 1-for-9 with a walk in five games during the 1974-75 playoffs.

Victor Cruz, pitcher for the 1981 Pirates. He was a reliever for three seasons in the majors when the Pirates acquired him from the Cleveland Indians on December 9, 1980 as part of the return in a trade for Bert Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen. He pitched just 22 games with the Pirates during the strike-shortened 1981 season, going 1-1, 2.65 with one save. Cruz also pitched part of the season in Triple-A, where he made three starts, which ended up being the only starts he made during the final eight seasons of his pro career. He was traded to the Texas Rangers just prior to the start of the 1982 season in exchange for Nelson Norman. Cruz spent the entire 1982 season in the minors, then posted a 1.44 ERA in 17 games for the Rangers in 1983, before finishing his career in the minors with the Detroit Tigers organization in 1985. Cruz began his pro career at 18 years old when he was signed by the St Louis Cardinals as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. Before he made the majors, the Cardinals traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays. Cruz made the majors at 20 years old with Toronto in 1978 and had a great debut, posting a 1.71 ERA and nine saves in 47.1 innings over 32 relief appearances. The Blue Jays traded him to the Indians after the season and he went 3-9, 4.23, with ten saves, in 78.2 innings over 61 appearances in 1979. In 1980,  he went 6-7, 3.45 in 86 innings over 55 games, while picking up a career best 12 saves. Despite the relatively short big league career, he had a 3.09 ERA in 271 innings.

Tim Drummond, pitcher for the 1987 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in 12th round of the January phase of the 1983 draft, taken out of Charles County Community College. He’s the only Major League player drafted from that school. He began his pro career as a starting pitcher, but he was moved to relief after the 1985 season. Drummond pitched two straight seasons (1984-85) for Low-A Macon, and saw his ERA go up during the second year. The move to the bullpen was met with mixed results during his first season, posting a 3.79 ERA in High-A. In 1987, he skipped right over Double-A and had a strong season for the Pirates Triple-A affiliate in Vancouver. He posted a 2.97 ERA in 63.2 innings over 46 appearances, while picking up ten saves. After four full seasons in the minors, Drummond was a September call-up for Pittsburgh in 1987. He debuted on September 12th and pitched a total of six games in relief, allowing three runs over six innings. Late during the following Spring Training, he was traded to the New York Mets as one of four players involved in the Randy Milligan/Mackey Sasser trade. On July 31, 1989, he was one of five pitchers traded to the Minnesota Twins for Frank Viola. Despite Drummond spending all of 1988 and most of 1989 with the Mets, never pitched for them in the majors. He pitched a total of 43 games for the Twins over two seasons, going 3-5, 4.28 in 107.1 innings. Most of that time came in 1990 when he made his only four Major League starts. He pitched in the minors until 1992 before retiring, spending his final two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds organizations.

Lloyd Johnson, pitcher for the 1934 Pirates. His entire Major League career consist of one inning pitched for the Pirates on Saturday, April 21, 1934. He played four seasons in the minors prior to his big league game. Johnson went 16-20, 4.39 in 281 innings during the 1933 season with Mission of the Pacific Coast League. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 9, 1933, though he was allowed to finish the season with his current team. In February of 1934, the President of the Mission club (Joe Bearwald) gave an interview to the local Pittsburgh papers in which he said that, in his opinion, Johnson was the best left-handed pitcher to ever come out of the PCL. He also called him a late bloomer, who has developed great velocity, above average control and he’s cool under pressure, with a free and easy delivery. Johnson made the 1934 Opening Day roster despite showing a drop in his velocity, though the Pirates seemed to note that he would only be with the team for a short time before being farmed out. He was with the Pirates in their bullpen when they came to Cincinnati on April 21st for the fourth game of the year. With the Reds up 8-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning, manager George Gibson called upon Johnson to pitch to the bottom of the order. He allowed just one hit but still retired the side facing just three hitters. The last batter that Johnson faced in the majors was former Pirate Adam Comorosky. Johnson returned to the minors on option on May 8th, going back to his team in Mission, California, where he had played the previous four seasons. He was with the Pirates in Spring Training of 1935, but on March 25th, the Pirates released him outright to his Mission club. He played a total of 12 minor league seasons (1930-41), posting a 97-121 record. The Pirates paid $9,000 when they signed Johnson, but since he didn’t perform up to standard, pitcher Wayne Osborne was then traded to the Pirates in late 1934 to complete the deal. Osborne lasted two games with the Pirates before he was returned to Mission.

Del Howard, first baseman for the 1905 Pirates. He played just one season in Pittsburgh, but he was involved in two fairly big trades. Howard was a 26-year-old minor league star when the Philadelphia Phillies purchased him from Omaha of the Western League. Just four months after they bought him, and before he could play a single game for the Phillies, they traded him to the Pirates in exchange for three players with big league experience. The deal also had a second player (Otis Clymer) going over to the Pirates a month later, though it couldn’t be announced because Clymer wasn’t actually with the Phillies yet. Howard hit .316 in 144 games for Omaha in 1904, and then had a strong rookie season in 1905 for the Pirates, hitting .292 with 63 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. Almost a year to the date of acquiring Howard, the Pirates packaged him in a deal with two other players to acquire star pitcher/future Hall of Famer Vic Willis from the Boston Beaneaters (Braves). Howard played with Boston through the middle of 1907, then spent the next 2 1/2 seasons with the Chicago Cubs. He was a .263 hitter over five seasons in the majors before he returned to the minors in 1910, where he played for six more full seasons and parts of two others. He also managed for 11 years in the minors, eight of those years as a player-manager. His brother Ivan Howard was an infielder in the American League for four seasons. Besides December 24th being his date of birth, it’s also a sad anniversary, as Howard passed away in 1956 on his 79th birthday.