Today is the 48th anniversary of the tragic passing of a legendary Pittsburgh Pirates player. The great Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua to deliver relief aid after the country was struck by an earthquake. He was just 38 years old. He picked up his 3,000th hit just three months and one day before the accident. We will have more on the Hall of Fame right fielder a little later today.
We have just two former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.
Esteban Loaiza, pitcher for the 1995-98 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1991 out of Mexico at 19 years old. Loaiza went 5-1, 2.26 in the GCL his first season, then followed that up the next year with a 10-8, 3.89 record in 143.1 innings in low-A ball with Augusta. In 1993 he pitched 152 innings, posting a 3.49 ERA and reaching Double-A at age 21 for his final seven starts of the season. He was very consistent with his stats in the minors, posting a 3.79 ERA in 154.1 innings, while making 24 starts in a full season at Double-A. Despite never pitching in Triple-A, he made the jump to the majors in 1995 and made a league leading 31 starts. Loaiza also led the NL in earned runs allowed (99) that rookie season. He threw 172.2 innings, posting a 5.16 ERA and an 8-9 record, finishing second on the team in wins during that strike-shortened season.
Loaiza was back in the minors for part of 1996, making 11 starts in Triple-A and ten starts for the Pirates. His big league ERA improved slightly over the previous season, posting a 4.96 mark in 52.2 innings. He was back in the Major League rotation for all of 1997 and his 11-11, 4.13 record helped the Pirates to 79 wins and a second place finish. Loaiza started the 1998 season with the Pirates, going 6-5, 4.52 in 21 games, before he was shipped to the Texas Rangers for minor league second baseman Warren Morris and pitcher Todd Van Poppel. The trade worked out well for a short time, as Morris had a big rookie season and Loaiza had mediocre results with the Rangers over parts of three seasons, going 17-17, 5.09 in 307 innings. He moved on to the Toronto Blue Jays in the middle of 2000 in a trade that worked out great for the Rangers. The return was Michael Young, the seven-time All-Star, who was still in the minors at the time. Loaiza spent 2 1/2 seasons in Toronto and had a 4.96 ERA in 433.1 innings. In 2003, he moved on to the Chicago White Sox as a free agent and he had an outstanding season, virtually out of nowhere. He went 21-9, 2.90 in 226.1 innings, leading the league with 207 strikeouts. Loaiza made his first All-Star appearance and he finished second in the Cy Young voting.
Loaiza was an All-Star in 2004, but it was not a good season, and he ended up with the New York Yankees before the year was over. He had a 5.70 ERA in 183 innings. Over the next four seasons, he saw time with the Washington Nationals, Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers, before finishing his big league career back with the White Sox in 2008. After that, he played two seasons of winter league ball in Mexico, followed by a brief stint during the summer league season in his home country. Loaiza pitched 14 seasons in the majors and saw time with eight teams, finishing up with a 126-114, 4.25 record in 333 starts and 44 relief appearances. While with the Pirates, he went 27-28, 4.63 in 513.1 innings over 87 starts and nine relief appearances.
Bobby Byrne, a third baseman for the 1909-13 Pirates. The Pirates acquired him in August of 1909 from the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for light-hitting third baseman Jap Barbeau and backup infielder Alan Storke. At the time of the trade, Byrne was batting .214 with 61 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. The Pirates won the NL title in 1909 and Byrne hit .256 with 31 runs scored in 43 games to finish the season. He was also considered to be a much better defensive third baseman than Barbeau, who had trouble coming in on bunts, which were prevalent during that era. In the World Series he hit .250 with five runs scored, as the Pirates beat the Tigers in seven games.
Byrne was a Rule 5 draft pick of the Cardinals in September of 1906. He debuted in the majors in 1907 and played 149 games as a rookie. He batted .256 that season, but dropped down to a .191 average in 1907. He was just a .227 hitter his first three seasons in the majors, including his two months with the Pirates, but in 1910 he broke out in a big way, having the best season of his 11-year career. He led the NL with 178 hits and 43 doubles, while scoring 101 runs and stealing 36 bases. He also batted .296 with 66 walks and a career high 52 RBIs. He matched that RBI total in 1911 and nearly matched his previous season runs total with 96 runs, while playing a career high 153 games. On the downside, the batting average was down to .259, and he led all NL third baseman in errors with 35, though modern metrics still give him an 0.7 dWAR for the season. Byrne had a solid 1912 season batting .288 with 45 extra-base hits, while scoring 99 runs in just 130 games. In 1913 Byrne was having a typical season of his years in Pittsburgh when in late August the Pirates traded him and star pitcher Howie Camnitz, who was struggling at the time, to the Philadelphia Phillies. In return the Pirates received third baseman Cozy Dolan and cash. It seemed to be a perfectly timed trade, as Byrne spent five seasons in Philadelphia and accumulated just 0.7 WAR total. His defense was starting to slip at the time of the trade, despite being just 28 years old at the time.
The Phillies tried him at second base in 1914 with extremely poor results. He then went back to full-time at third base in 1915 and led the league with a .969 fielding percentage. At the time, that was the second best single season mark in Major League history. In September of 1917, the Chicago White Sox picked Byrne up off waivers from the Phillies and he played just one game in Chicago, his final big league game. He was a career .254 hitter in 1,283 games, though with the Pirates he hit .277 in 590 games. After his playing days ended, he managed in the minors for two seasons.