This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 3rd, Gus Suhr and AJ Burnett

Nine former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Gus Suhr, first baseman for the 1930-39 Pirates. Suhr is considered by some as the best first baseman in team history. He was acquired by the Pirates after hitting .381 with 51 homers, 62 doubles and 299 hits for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League in 1929. Those totals are obviously extremely impressive but a little bit misleading. The PCL was a high offense league and they played approximately 200 games per year with Suhr playing in 202 during that season. On December 7, 1929, the Pirates paid $20,000, plus the rights to first baseman Earl Sheely, to acquire the 23-year-old (almost 24) Suhr from San Francisco. The 1930 season was one of the highest offense seasons in Major League history, so Suhr broke in at the right time. He hit .286 during his rookie campaign with 80 walks, 93 runs scored and 107 RBIs.

A leg injury cost him part of the 1931 seasons and his numbers really suffered, hitting only .211 in 87 games. After that season he was a mainstay in the lineup, averaging 152 games played per season over the next seven years. Three times he led the NL in games played. Suhr drove in 103 runs during the 1934 season and two years later he had a career year, hitting .312 with 95 walks, 111 runs scored and 118 RBIs. Those totals set career highs in all four categories. He also made his only All-Star appearances that 1936 season, though the All-Star game didn’t start until his fourth season in the league. During each of his eight full seasons in a Pirates uniform, Suhr finished in the top six in the NL in both walks and triples, although surprisingly after you hear that fact, he never led the league in either category.

In ten seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .278 with 789 RBIs and 689 runs scored over 1,365 games. He ranks eighth in Pirates history in runs batted in and eighth in walks with 679. He played 822 consecutive games with the Pirates, which was an NL record. His streak only ended when he attended his mother’s funeral during the early part of the 1938 season. The Pirates traded Suhr to the Philadelphia Phillies in the middle of the 1939 season in exchange for pitcher Max Butcher, who was just 28-46 career at the time of the trade. Despite the stats seemingly making this a one-sided trade, the Pirates actually got the better of the deal, as Butcher went 67-60 in seven seasons in Pittsburgh, while Suhr played 70 games for the Phillies before they released him. He returned to the minors, playing off and on until 1948. He had two brief stints as a manager in the minors, first when he was 17 years old, then when he was 42 years old. He played pro ball for a total of 21 seasons. He was with his hometown San Francisco Seals for four full seasons (1926-29) and a few games in 1925, before being acquired by the Pirates.

AJ Burnett, pitcher for the 2012-13 and 2015 Pirates. He pitched three seasons in Pittsburgh, going 35-28, 3.34 in 87 starts, with 532 strikeouts in 557.1 innings. The Pirates acquired him in February 2012 from the New York Yankees for two minor league players, who combined to play nine big league games. Burnett was already a veteran of 13 big league seasons by that time, debuting in the majors at 22 years old with the 1999 Florida Marlins. Just four years earlier, he was an eighth round draft pick of the New York Mets out of high school in Arkansas. The Marlins acquired him in a five-player trade that involved Al Leiter headed to New York. Burnett played seven seasons with the Marlins, though he had trouble staying healthy. He threw a no-hitter in 2001, then missed most of the 2003 season and part of 2004 due to Tommy John surgery, which cost him a chance to be part of their 2003 World Series run. Burnett went 49-50, 3.73 in 131 starts and 853.2 innings with the Marlins. He signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays and spent three seasons there, winning ten games in each of his first two years, followed by 18 wins and 221.1 innings in 2008. The New York Yankees signed him to a five-year deal in December of 2008 and he pitched well in his first season (4.04 ERA in 33 starts and 207 innings) before posting a 5.26 ERA in 2010 and a 5.15 mark in 2011.

After being acquired by the Pirates over the 2011-12 off-season, Burnett went 16-10, 3.51 in 31 starts and 202.1 innings. It was the second best win total during his career. He actually pitched better the next season, though it didn’t show in his record. He went 10-11, 3.30 in 30 starts, helping the Pirates to their first postseason appearance in 21 years. After the season, he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies, where things did not work out at all. He led the league in losses, earned runs allowed and walks. Burnett returned to the Pirates as a free agent in 2015 and went 9-7, 3.18 in 164 innings over 26 starts, helping the team to its third straight playoff appearance. After the season, he decided to retire. Burnett won 164 games during a 17-year career, yet he didn’t make an All-Star team until his final season in the majors (2015) at 38 years old. He ranks 38th all-time with 2,513 strikeouts, one spot ahead of the great Christy Mathewson. Just two players on that strikeout list ahead of him pitched for the Pirates, Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven and Jim Bunning.

Dick Colpaert, pitcher for the 1970 Pirates. He was only in the majors for three weeks, pitching 10.2 innings over eight relief appearances, but he was actually in the Pirates system for ten seasons. He was drafted by the Pirates from the Baltimore Orioles in November 1962 during the first-year draft (which does not exist anymore) and he stayed around until November 1972 when he was sold to the Kansas City Royals. He spent a total of 13 seasons in the minors, going 76-60, 3.37 in 546 games. The Pirates called him up from the minors on July 17, 1970 when Steve Blass went down with an injury that cost him a full month. Colpaert debuted four days later, retiring all six batters he faced in a 3-1 loss to the Houston Astros. His only big league win came when he pitched a scoreless eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves in his second game. The Pirates were trailing 5-3 going into the bottom of the eighth and they were able to take the lead with three runs. Dave Giusti came in for the ninth inning and saved the game. Colpaert allowed runs in three of his final six appearances, pitching his last big league game on August 10th when he allowed four runs over 1.1 innings against the New York Mets. The very next day he was sent to the minors to make room for the return of Steve Blass. Colpaert ended up going 12-3, 2.28 in 46 relief appearances at Triple-A during that 1970 season, but never made it back to the majors. Two years later he won 14 games and picked up 21 saves in 61 relief outings. His time with the Pirates ended on September 25, 1972 when he was sold to the Kansas City Royals. His best pitch was a palm ball, which you rarely see today.

Harry Fisher, pitcher for the 1951-52 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1947 as an amateur free agent and his first year he won 17 games pitching for the Tallahassee Pirates, which would end up being his career high for victories. He was a decent pitcher who could really swing the bat, occasionally playing outfield during his minor league career. Before he was sent down in 1951, there was talk of switching him from the mound to either first base or the outfield. He was called up to the Pirates late in 1951 and never took the mound, but he did pinch-hit three times. During that time, the talk was that he would either switch to outfield or catcher in 1952. The following season he pitched eight games for the Pirates, three as a starter. While he fared poorly on the mound (1-2, 6.87), he was used seven times as a pinch-hitter, going 5-for-15 at the plate. Fisher began that season with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. He was recalled on June 12th and debuted nine days later. He remained with the Pirates through August 9th, when they sent him to Toronto of the International League. He finished out his career in the minors in 1959 with a 65-79 record in 264 games. During his final three seasons, he saw more outfield time than mound time. His minor league highlights were his back-to-back seasons in which he hit .397 and .423 in 1949-50. Those weren’t just very limited seasons either, as he record 89 hits in 214 at-bats over the two seasons combined.

Kirby White, pitcher for the 1910-11 Pirates. The Pirates acquired White early in the 1910 season from the Boston Doves for pitcher Sam Frock and first baseman Bud Sharpe. White had a 6-13 record, with a 3.22 ERA in 148.1 innings, as a 25-year-old during his rookie season in 1909. Three starts into the 1910 season he was 1-2, 1.38 for the Doves. He made his last appearance for Boston on April 27th, then debuted in Pittsburgh against the Chicago Cubs seven days later. For the Pirates during the 1910 season, he had a 10-9, 3.46 record in 21 starts and nine relief appearances. He wasn’t able to pitch until May of the 1911 season due to an arm injury, and when he finally made a start May 24th he was ineffective, getting pulled from the game early and taking the loss. That was his last Major League game. Just four days later, the Pirates sold him to a minor league team in Indianapolis. He saw limited work after leaving the Pirates in 1911 due a summer-long suspension for not being in good enough shape to pitch games. He finished his pro career playing four seasons (1912-15) for the Sioux City Indians of the Western League. He averaged 260 innings per year during the 1912-14 seasons. White was known for his impressive curve ball, but his control issues kept him from being more effective in the majors. Prior to his rookie season with Boston, he pitched for Lancaster of the Ohio State League, where he won 28 games and pitched 363 innings in 1908. His actual first name was Oliver, but he preferred to go by his middle name.

Luis Sojo, infielder for the 2000 Pirates. Sojo signed with the Pirates as a free agent in January of 2000. He hit .284 with five homers and 20 RBIs in 61 games for the Pirates before being traded to the New York Yankees in early August for pitcher Chris Spurling. He played more second base and shortstop during his career, but with the Pirates, all but one game he played on defense was at third base. Sojo played a total of 848 Major League games over 13 seasons, hitting .261 with 261 RBIs. He won four World Series titles while with the Yankees and drove in 15 runs in 43 playoff games. Sojo was signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela by the Toronto Blue Jays on his 21st birthday in 1986. It took him four years to make the majors, then he lasted just 33 games with Toronto. After the 1990 season, he was part of a six-player trade with the California Angels. Almost two years to the day, the Angels traded him back to the Blue Jays. He signed with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in January 1994, then got selected off waivers by the Yankees in August of 1996, which turned out to be the best move of his career. He played a total of seven seasons in New York, compiling just 274 games during that time, but he was a member of the 1996 and 1998-2000 World Series champs. He has done coaching and minor league managing since retiring in 2003. In nine seasons as a manager in the minors for the Yankees, he has won three league titles. While he spent most of the 1993 season in the minors and he didn’t see any postseason action, the Blue Jays won the World Series title that year, so he has five rings to his credit.

Mark Dewey, pitcher for the 1993-94 Pirates. In 66 games for the Pirates, he had a 3-3, 3.23 record with eight saves. He had a 2.36 ERA in 26.2 innings over 21 appearances during the 1993 season, then saw more action in 1994, when he posted a 3.68 ERA in 51.1 innings. He pitched 205 career games in the majors (all in relief) and those eight saves with the Pirates were the only ones that he recorded during his career. Dewey made a comeback in 2001 after five years of retirement, pitching 11 games for the Pirates in Triple-A. He played again six years later in Independent ball in 2007 (he was also the team’s pitching coach), but he lasted just 18 games before cutting short that final comeback. Dewey has been a pitching coach coach off and on since 2000. The San Francisco Giants selected him in the 23rd round of the amateur draft out of Grand Valley State in 1987. He debuted in the majors in 1990 and did well, posting a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings over 14 appearances. Despite that brief success, he spent the entire 1991 season in the minors, mostly with the New York Mets, after joining them as a waiver pickup in early May. He made it back to the majors with the Mets in 1992 for a 4.32 ERA in 33.1 innings over 20 appearances. The Pirates picked Dewey up off waivers from New York in May of 1993. He actually retired earlier that season after learning that the Mets were going to send him to the minors on April 3rd. He reconsidered five weeks later and New York was hoping to sneak him through waivers, but it didn’t work. He became a free agent after spending his two seasons with the Pirates and signed with the Giants, where he spent the final two years of his big league career.

Michael Restovich, outfielder for the 2005 Pirates. The Pirates picked him up from the Colorado Rockies in May of 2005 for future considerations. Over 52 games in Pittsburgh, Restovich hit .214 with two homers and five RBIs in 84 at-bats. He was released following the 2005 season, then spent the next two seasons bouncing between the minors and majors, seeing time with the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals. Restovich spent 2008 in Japan, then played another three years in the minor leagues without making it back to the majors. He had a .239/.313/.377 line in 152 Major League games over six seasons. He was a second round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in the 1997 draft out of Mayo High School in Rochester, Minnesota. In took him five years to make it to the majors as a September call-up in 2002, and he did well in his brief time, hitting .308 with a homer. Baseball America rated him as a top 100 prospect in all of baseball four times, starting in 1999 when he hit .312 in Low-A ball, with 19 homers and 107 RBIs. After a down year in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 2000, he bounced back in Double-A, batting .269 with 23 homers and 84 RBIs. He earned his first big league trial after batting .284 with 29 homers and 98 RBIs in Triple-A in 2002. Restovich saw big league time in 2003 and 2004 with the Twins, though it was limited and his numbers in Triple-A fell off each year. Despite not getting an extended look from his hometown team, he had an .807 OPS in 61 games with the Twins. Minnesota lost him on waivers to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the end of Spring Training in 2005. Just six days later, the Devil Rays lost him on waivers to the Rockies. Before joining the Pirates, he hit .290 in 14 games for Colorado.

Carlos Maldonado, catcher for the Pirates during the 2006-07 seasons. During his two seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .163 with two homers in 43 at-bats. Maldonado was in the Pirates system from 2005 through 2008, splitting his time between Altoona and Indianapolis. After leaving the Pirates in 2009 via free agency, he spent one season in the minors for the Boston Red Sox. After that, Maldonado spent four seasons with the Washington Nationals, briefly appearing in the majors in both 2010 and 2012, playing four games each year. He retired after playing winter ball in 2015-16. Prior to joining the Pirates, he spent nine seasons in the minor leagues with the Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros. Maldonado was signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela by the Mariners in 1995 and he ended up playing a total of 20 seasons in pro ball. The Pirates signed him as a free agent shortly after the 2004 World Series ended. When he was called up in September of 2006, it was called a reward for the hard work he put in that season in the minors, as well as giving a shot to someone who was in his 11th season of pro ball without a big league appearance. The Pirates added a third catcher in September just like every other team in baseball and Maldonado filled that role, getting 19 at-bats over eight games, including six games as a starter. He spent slightly more time with the Pirates in 2007, coming up in mid-August when Ryan Doumit was placed on the disabled list. Maldonado remained in the majors through the end of the season, playing 13 games total, eight as a starter.