This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 2nd, Jeff Suppan

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Jeff Suppan, pitcher for the 2003 Pirates. He had a 17-year big league career, going 140-146, 4.70, while playing for seven different teams. Suppan signed a one-year contract with the Pirates as a free agent on January 31, 2003 and remained with the team until the trading deadline later that year. He went 10-7, 3.57 in 21 starts for the Pirates, equaling his career high in wins up to that point, which he actually reached three straight seasons with the Kansas City Royals (1999-2001). At the end of July, the Pirates traded Suppan to the Boston Red Sox in a deal that brought back Freddy Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez. He ended up having his best seasons after signing with the St Louis Cardinals as a free agent in 2004, winning 16 games for two seasons in a row. His 3.57 ERA in 2005 was the best of his career for a full season, Suppan also got a chance to start a World Series game during both the 2004 and 2006 seasons. He was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in 1993 and debuted in the majors just two years later. Boston used him sparingly during his first two seasons, as he pitched 22.2 innings each year. He also managed to allow 29 hits each year. Suppan got his big break in 1997, when he spent most of the year in the majors, going 7-3, 5.69 in 112.1 innings. The Arizona Diamondbacks took him in the November 1997 Expansion draft. He struggled there in 13 starts, posting a 6.68 ERA, then got sold to the Royals in September of 1998. That led to his three consecutive seasons with ten wins, while also averaging 215 innings per year. In 2002, he made 33 starts and he went 9-16, 5.32 in 208 innings. After leaving the Pirates, he finished 2003 with the Red Sox, then St Louis for three years, Milwaukee for four years, back to St Louis for the end of 2010. He then spent 2011 in the minors, before wrapping his pro career up in 2012, getting in 30.1 innings for the San Diego Padres. Suppan pitched a total of 2,542.2 innings, which

Bill Wagner, catcher for the 1914-17 Pirates. He began his pro career in 1914 and bounced between the minors and majors for the first three years getting into a total of just 27 games with the Pirates through the 1916 season. He finally spent the entire season in the majors in 1917, playing 53 games in which he hit .205 with nine RBIs in 151 at-bats. Right after the season ended the Pirates sold him to the Boston Braves where he finished his Major League career in 1918. He played two more minor league seasons before retiring from pro ball. He was no relation to Honus Wagner, his teammate for all four seasons in Pittsburgh. Bill Wagner batted .205 in 80 total games with the Pirates.

Wagner debuted July 16, 1914 with the Pirates, seeing a total of three games off of the bench as a defensive replacement behind the plate that season. He played his second game on July 21st and his last on September 7th. He recorded just one at-bat. Before joining the Pirates he had just a very brief experience in pro ball, playing 11 games for Waterloo of the Central Association earlier in the 1914 season. Scout Chick Fraser found him there while scouting another player and signed him to a contract. He joined the Pirates on June 30th and remained with the club for the rest of the year, despite getting no starts. In 1915, he spent most of the year playing for Youngstown of the Central League, where he hit .250, with 40 extra-base hits in 124 games. He was sent down to the minors on April 3rd, near the end of Spring Training. On June 20th, the Pirates played Youngstown and he went 0-for-4 with a walk and two errors. On August 25th, the Pirates released backup catcher Bobby Schang and Wagner rejoined the team. Wagner played five games, going 0-for-5 at the plate. In 1916, he spent the season with Terre Haute of the Central League, where he hit .290 in 125 games. He was with the Pirates for the first ten games of the season without playing, before getting shipped off on April 24th. The Pirates recalled him on September 11th and he was immediately given the starting job for the rest of the season. He got his first big league start on September 13th and collected the first three hits of his career, including a triple. Wagner batted .231 in 19 games.

Jesse Altenburg, outfielder for the 1916-17 Pirates. He played four seasons in the minors before getting his first chance at the majors after hitting .320 in 109 games for Wheeling of the Central League in 1916. The Pirates brought him to the majors in mid-September that year for the last two weeks and he hit .429 in eight games, going 6-for-14 with a double and triple. He started the 1917 season with the Pirates, but was let go after just a month due to a .176 average in 11 games. He never returned to the majors, finishing his playing career in the minors in 1924. He also managed for four seasons in the minors. Altenburg originally joined the Pirates in December of 1914 when they drafted him from Ludington of the Michigan State League. In his second pro season, both spent with Ludington, he hit .279 in 116 games, with 22 extra-base hits (no homers) and 55 stolen bases. He was reported to be just 19 years old at the time, but it was later determined that he was two years older. He went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1915 and stayed with the team until April 22nd, when he was shipped to Youngstown of the Central League. While he didn’t get into any games that season for the Pirates, he at least made it to Opening Day (April 14th) with the club. He was actually away from the team for a few days in between Opening Day and being sent down while attending the funeral of his mother. On June 20th, the Pirates played Youngstown in an exhibition game and lost. Altenburg batted lead-off, going 1-for-4 with a double. He rejoined the Pirates in September, only to be sent home almost right away due to manager Fred Clarke saying that he wasn’t going to use him over the final month.

Altenburg attended Spring Training in 1916 and stayed around until April 7th, when he was shipped to Wheeling. On September 15th, the local Pittsburgh papers reported that he signed with a minor league team in the Interstate League for the remainder of the season. However, just four days later he made his MLB debut in New York as a pinch-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader. His 11 appearances with the Pirates in 1917 were spread out over the first five weeks of the season and he made just three starts. His final big league game occurred on May 17th, then two days later it was announced that the Pirates were sending him to Toronto of the International League soon and Altenburg was refusing to go, saying he would retire first. His final game with the Pirates was actually an exhibition game played on May 20th in Jersey City, NJ. Altenburg batted lead-off and played left field, where he went 0-for-4. He quickly changed him mind about going to the minors, accepting the assignment the next day. On August 14th, he was released to Kansas City of the American Association, ending his time with the Pirates.

George Boehler, pitcher for the 1923 Pirates. Prior to his time in Pittsburgh he got limited playing time in the majors, pitching 37 games for the Detroit Tigers over five seasons, before spending the next three years in the minors. He returned to the majors with the St Louis Browns in 1920, but pitched just four games over two seasons. Boehler spent the entire 1922 season in the minors, though he did all he could do to earn another shot in the majors. Pitching for Tulsa of the Western League he pitched 62 games, throwing a total of 441 innings and he won 38 games. The Pirates purchased his contract for $30,000 from Tulsa on December 11, 1922 and he joined the team during Spring Training three months later.  He not only made the team, he started the second game of the year, giving up seven runs to the Chicago Cubs in a loss. After just one more start he was moved to the bullpen where he was used sparingly, making just eight appearances between April 24 and July 16. On July 28th, he was released on option to Omaha of the Western League. The local paper called him “the $30,000 warm-up pitcher” and said that he had streaks of wildness that kept him from being an effective pitcher for the Pirates. The Pirates reportedly tried to trade Boehler and $5,000 to Des Moines for 20-year-old pitcher Charles Olsen, who never ended up making the majors. On December 12, 1923, the Pirates sent Boehler to the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League as part of the large package they gave up to acquire Ray Kremer. Boehler got one more brief trial with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1926 before finishing his career in the minors in 1930. He won 248 games over 17 seasons in the minors and he went 6-12, 4.71 in 61 Major League games. He was said to throw very hard, with a hard curve to go along with his fastball.

Jack Neagle, pitcher/outfielder for the 1883-84 Alleghenys. Neagle made his major league debut in 1879 with the Cincinnati Reds and went 0-1, 3.46 in two starts. He didn’t pitch in the majors again until four years later and had a crazy season. He started in Philadelphia and went 1-7, 6.90 in eight games, then moved to Baltimore, where he went 1-4, 4.89 in six games. Neagle then came to Pittsburgh, where he was 3-12, 5.84 in 16 starts. In three stops, he finished with a 5-23, 5.94 record and threw a total of 221.1 innings. In 1884, he had a much better ERA, but the record barely improved. Neagle went 11-26, 3.73 in 38 starts. He threw 37 complete games. Pittsburgh finished that season 30-78, so they were actually a little better with him on the mound. He actually began the year playing for their Reserves team, which was a team of backups that played local amateur teams and the Reserves from other American Association teams. It was basically like having a Triple-A team in the city in case they needed extra players, though the idea didn’t last long because the team wasn’t making money.

Neagle took some turns in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching, playing there 15 times in 1883 with Pittsburgh and another six times the next year. He wasn’t much of a hitter though, batting .165 in 70 games with the Alleghenys and .176 with no homers in 369 career at-bats. His career record in the majors was 16-50, 4.59 in 560.1 innings. He finished 60 of his 68 starts. Neagle didn’t have a long pro career. His brief time in Cincinnati is his first known pro experience, though he was 21 years old and minor league ball started just two years earlier, so there weren’t many opportunities for pro ball any earlier. In 1881, he played for the New York Metropolitans of the Eastern Championship Association, which was as close as you could get to the majors. His team was stacked with former and future MLB players, with 24 of the 25 players used that season being Major Leaguers at one time. In 1882, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies of the League Alliance, which was basically on the same level as New York. Of their 20 players, 17 made the majors (either before and/or after), including Ed Morris, who holds most of the Pirates single-season pitching records. After leaving the Alleghenys, Neagle’s only other known time in pro ball came with Macon of the Southern League in 1885.

Sam Crane, middle infielder for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Crane was a light hitter with an average glove who bounced around between 1880 and 1889, playing in the majors during six of those ten years, with six different teams in three different leagues. He played in the minors with Scranton in 1888, then was out of pro ball in 1889. When the Player’s League was formed for the 1890 season, it created eight more Major League teams and the need to fill those rosters, so Crane returned to the majors with the New York Giants. After two games, he moved on to Pittsburgh, where he played 22 games, hitting .195 while playing second base and shortstop. He debuted for the team on May 30th and played both games of a doubleheader. He was released after a game on June 28th in which he committed three errors at shortstop in the eighth inning, that helped turn a 1-1 tie into a 9-1 loss. Prior to that day, the local press said that Crane lacked range, but he could handle everything hit to him. Not even a full week after he was released, Crane filled in as an umpire for a game between the two teams he played for that season. It was his last of eight appearances as an umpire, with his first one coming during the 1879 season before his Major League debut. He finished his playing career back with the New York Giants, playing two more games for them in 1890. In his career he hit .203 with 183 runs scored and 45 RBIs in 373 games. Crane went on to become a famous sportswriter after his playing career ended. He served as a manager as a rookie in 1880, leading Buffalo of the National League to a 24-58 (plus three ties) record. Four years later, he was a player-manager in the short-lived Union Association, where he had a 49-18 record. He also managed one season in the minors. Crane was 6’0″ and strong, but he hit just three homers in his career, two of them off of pitcher Charlie Sweeney one year apart.

Ed Wolfe, pitcher for the 1952 Pirates. Wolfe was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates in 1949. He spent three seasons working his way up the minor league ladder before making the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1952. During the 1951 season, while playing for Charleston of the South Atlantic League, Wolfe went 11-10, 3.10 in 21 starts and 12 relief appearances. With the Pirates, he made all of his appearances within a seven-day stretch. In his debut against the Reds on April 19th, he gave up two runs on two hits and a hit batter in 2/3 of an inning. The next day, he gave up one run on four hits over two innings. Wolfe made his last appearance five days later, throwing a scoreless inning against the Cardinals, though he did allow a hit and two walks. He was returned to the minors shortly thereafter on April 29th and he went on to win 15 games for New Orleans of the Southern Association that season. He went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1953, but he was part of a large group sent to the minors on April 6th and didn’t get the call to the majors during the season. He was there in 1954 as well, though this time he was sent to the minor league camp in late March. Wolfe played in the minors until 1955, spending his entire seven-year pro career in the Pirates system. He was a gifted athlete in high school, playing baseball, basketball, football and track for his school. After graduating high school, he entered the service, then attended college, before signing his first pro deal.