This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 8th, Gene Freese

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date. Three of them had brothers in the majors, two of those sets were teammates with the Pirates, while the other siblings had a more impressive pairing during the 1942-43 seasons:

Gene Freese, infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-58 and 1964-65. He was signed as an amateur free agent at 19 years old by the Pirates prior to the 1953 season. He hit .300 that year in the lower levels, then moved up to Double-A in 1954, where he hit .332 with 16 homers in 145 games. That earned him an Opening Day spot for the 1955 Pirates. He played just over half of his games at third base that rookie season and the rest at second base, hitting .253 with 14 homers and 69 runs scored in 134 games. Freese started off slow in 1956, hitting .209 through July 4th when he was sent back to the minors. He returned in late September for six games, going 2-for-11 at the plate. In 1957, he was on the bench to start the year, but by late May he was in the lineup regularly, mostly at third base. He hit a career high .283 in 114 games. Despite that solid season, he began the next year on the bench. Freese started just one game through the first two months before the Pirates traded him along with infielder Johnny O’Brien to the St Louis Cardinals for infielder Dick Schofield.

Freese played for four different teams before the Pirates purchased him from the Cincinnati Reds in November 1963. He spent the rest of 1958 in St Louis, then got traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of the season. Freese hit 23 homers and drove in 70 runs during his only season in Philadelphia, then got traded to the Chicago White Sox. He batted .273 with 17 homers and 79 RBIs, then got flipped to the Reds. In his three seasons in Cincinnati, he saw diminishing playing time. Freese hit .261 with 32 homers and 114 RBIs in 236 games. After rejoining the Pirates, he played 99 games and hit .225 with 40 RBIs in 1964. He saw limited action for the 1965 Pirates, getting into 43 games before he was sold to the White Sox. He finished his career in 1966, spending his final 21 games in the majors with the Houston Astros. Freese hit .254 with 115 homers and 432 RBIs in 1,115 big league games. With the Pirates, he was a .247 hitter, with 33 homers and 139 RBIs in 472 games. He played two seasons in the minors after his final big league game, then managed during the 1973-74 seasons for Shreveport of the Texas League. He actually put himself in the lineup for a few games during the 1973 season at 39 years old. His brother George Freese played parts of three seasons in the majors, including the 1955 season with the Pirates, where he was splitting time at third base with Gene for a short time.

John Gilbert, shortstop for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. His story of how he entered the baseball encyclopedia is an interesting one. The 1890 Alleghenys were an extremely bad team, going 23-113. They were also bad enough to give two brothers, John and Harry Gilbert, a chance to be a double play combo for one day in the majors, despite the fact they were both playing for a semi-pro team at the time with no prior big league experience. On June 23rd, the Alleghenys had a scheduled doubleheader in Philadelphia and a new double play combo, Harry at second base and John at shortstop. John Gilbert went 0-for-8 at the plate, but fielded both games cleanly, handling all nine chances that came his way. His younger brother Harry collected two singles in his eight at-bats and also played the field flawlessly. The Pirates won the second game that day, which was the only day in the majors for the Gilbert brothers. They are the first set of siblings to play together in Pittsburgh Pirates history. The 21-year-old Harry Gilbert was the better prospect of the two players, while the 26-year-old John was a solid player for their Pottsville semi-pro team. There was the thought among the local Pottsville fans weeks before their day with the Alleghenys that Harry would end up playing in the majors at some point, but his brother got to tag along for his big day. Just two days after their only day in the majors, both were back playing for Pottsville, serving as the double play combo, while batting 1-2 in the lineup, with John hitting lead-off. His only other known pro experience came in 1889 for Hazelton of the Middle States League, and no stats are available for that team.

Walker Cooper, catcher for the 1954 Pirates. He was already a 39-year-old veteran of 14 seasons when the Pirates signed him as a free agent in February of 1954. Cooper was a top catcher of his era, an eight time all-star who had finished in the top ten in the National League in batting average three times and four times he finished among the league leaders in slugging percentage. He had also received MVP votes in four different seasons, including 1943 when he finished second in the voting. While with the St Louis Cardinals in the early 1940s he was not only the catcher for his brother Mort Cooper, who had three straight 20-win seasons, but the pair started the 1942 and 1943 All-Star games for the NL. The Cardinals won the World Series during the 1942 and 1944 seasons, while also making the series in 1943. Walker debuted in the majors in 1940 with the Cardinals, five years after signing as an amateur. He remained there until 1946 when he was sold to the New York Giants for a huge sum of money at the time ($175,000). In 1947, he hit .305 with 35 homers and 122 RBIs. After 3 1/2 seasons in New York, Cooper was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Ray Mueller, a former and future Pirates catcher at the time. Cooper spent 11 months in Cincinnati before being traded to the Boston Braves. He was with the Braves through their move to Milwaukee in 1953, but they released him just days before he signed with the Pirates.

By the time the Pirates got Cooper he was past his prime, having hit .235 and .219 in the previous two seasons (he was a .285 career hitter in 1,473 games). He lasted just 14 games for Pittsburgh, pinch-hitting in 12 of those games, going 3-for-15 with two doubles. He was put on waivers in May and the Chicago Cubs picked him up. He played well for them in a limited role, hitting .310 in 158 at-bats. He played three more seasons before retiring, 1955 with the Cubs, then back to St Louis for the 1956-57 season. One of the more under-appreciated catchers of all-time, Cooper received as many as 14.4% of the votes needed for Hall of Fame induction, last appearing on the ballot in 1977. He may have had a better shot if he didn’t most almost all of the 1945 season due to service in the Navy during WWII.

Brian Boehringer, relief pitcher for the Pirates from 2002-04. He pitched 167.1 innings over 153 games in Pittsburgh putting together a 10-9, 4.36 record with one save. His best season for the Pirates came in 2002 when he had a 3.39 ERA in 70 games. Boehringer was a fourth round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1991 out of UNLV. He was originally taken in the tenth round in 1990 by the Houston Astros, but he decided to return to college.  Boehringer played seven seasons in the majors before joining the Pirates. He was acquired by the New York Yankees while still in the minors in 1994, then debuted in the majors in 1995. After three seasons split between the minors and majors in New York, he was taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1997 expansion draft. Just ten days later, the Devil Rays traded him to the San Diego Padres. He was released in 2000 and re-signed with the Yankees as a free agent. Boehringer split 2001 between the Yankees and San Francisco Giants, going 0-4, 3.65 in 69 innings over 51 appearances. He became a free agent on December 21, 2001 and signed with the Pirates as a free agent five weeks later. After leaving Pittsburgh via free agency following the 2004 season, he joined the Yankees for a third time, though the 2004 season ended up being his final time in the majors. Besides the Yankees, Beohringer also tried to make it back to the majors with the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers in 2006, getting released by all three teams between March and September. He also played independent ball in 2006, before finishing his pro career in indy ball in 2007. Boehringer pitched 356 games in the majors, going 26-32, 4.36 in 534.2 innings. He won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1996, then was on the losing end of the World Series in 1998 against the Yankees, while playing in San Diego.

Marv Rickert, outfielder for the 1950 Pirates. The Pirates purchased his contract from the Boston Braves in December 1949. In 17 games in Pittsburgh, mostly as a pinch-hitter, he went 3-for-20 with four RBIs. He played in the field just three times with the Pirates, all in right field, and only once as a starter. On May 29th of that 1950 season, the Pirates sold him to the Chicago White Sox, where he finished his Major League career later that year. Rickert played two more years in the minors before retiring from pro ball. He spent parts of six seasons in the majors and missed all of 1943-45 serving in the Coast Guard during WWII. Rickert hit .247 over 402 games in the majors. He debuted in pro ball in 1938, playing four years for Tacoma of the Western International League before being acquired by the Chicago Cubs in 1941. He played eight big league games for the Cubs in 1942, then spent the rest of the season with Tulsa of the Texas League. After three years of service in WWII, Rickert played 111 games for the 1946 Cubs, hitting .263 with 28 extra-base hits and 47 RBIs. He slumped badly in 1947, hitting just .146 in 71 games, mostly playing off the bench. He was sold to the Cincinnati Reds after the season, then after just eight games in 1948, the Reds traded him Boston. He hit .290 in 103 games with the Braves before joining the Pirates. In 1951 while playing for Baltimore of the International League, Rickert hit .321 with 35 homers and 104 RBIs. He was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies at the time, but never got a shot with them in the majors.