This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 16th, Four Birthdays and Two Transactions

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including the third baseman during the first National League game in franchise history. We also have two recent free agent signings.

The Players

Ron Villone, pitcher for the 2002 Pirates. The Pirates are one of the twelve teams Villone pitched for in his 15-year Major League career that stretched from 1995 until 2009. He was a first round draft pick out of college in 1992 by the Seattle Mariners, selected with the 14th overall pick. Villone started his moving around during his first season, debuting with the Mariners in late April of 1995, before getting traded to the San Diego Padres on July 31st. He was in San Diego for exactly one year before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Barely more than a year later, the Brewers traded him to the Cleveland Indians. Villone remained with the Indians until right before Opening Day in 1999, when he got released. Just three days later, he signed with the Cincinnati Reds. After the 2000 season, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent on February 16, 2002, after he went 6-10, 5.89 in 53 games (12 as a starter) in 2001, playing for both the Rockies and Houston Astros. For the Pirates, he began the year as a starter and had a 2-4, 6.81 record after seven games, then was switched to the bullpen for the rest of the season. Villone went a combined 4-6, 5.81 in 93 innings over 45 games. He was granted free agency after the season and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who released him before he pitched a game (they’re not even included on his 12-team list). He was picked up by the Astros again and he continued playing pro ball until 2011, making stops with Houston (2003), Seattle (2004-05), Florida Marlins (2005), New York Yankees (2006-07), St Louis Cardinals (2008) and Washington Nationals (2009). He also spent part of Spring Training in 2009 with the New York Mets. In his 15-year Major League career, Villone went 61-65, 4.73 in 717 games. His best season (according to WAR) came in 1999 as a starting pitcher, when he went 9-7, 4.23 for the Reds, while throwing a career high 142.2 innings. He made 70+ appearances during three of his final five seasons in the majors. He pitched in the playoffs just three times in his career, with his team getting eliminated in the first round each time. Villone pitched once in each series and he didn’t allow any runs.

Alfredo Amezaga, shortstop for the 2005 Pirates. He played 584 Major League games over nine seasons and three of those games came while he was with the 2005 Pirates. They acquired him as a waiver wire pickup on April 20, 2005 from the Colorado Rockies. Amezaga had played two games that season before being put on waivers. His stay in Pittsburgh was just as short. He played three games in 15 days, all off the bench, and he put in four innings at shortstop. Amezaga went 0-for-3 at the plate, drew a walk and stole a base. The Pirates designated him for assignment on May 5th when Jose Castillo returned from the disabled list. Amezaga went to Triple-A Indianapolis for the rest of the season after clearing waivers. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Florida Marlins. From 2006-08, he saw regular playing time with the Marlins, getting into at least 125 games all three seasons. After being limited to just 27 games in the majors in 2009 due to a knee surgery, he signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and played just one game all season due to ongoing knee issues. Amezaga played 20 games each for the Marlins and Colorado Rockies in 2011, in which ended up being his final season in the majors. However, he continued to play pro ball for another seven seasons. He spent time in the minors with the Chicago Cubs and the Dodgers during that time, but most of his playing time came in Mexico. Amezaga was drafted three times before he finally signed his first pro deal. The Colorado Rockies selected him in the 36th round out of high school in 1997. The next year they took him again in the 44th round. He finally signed in 2009 when he was taken in the 13th round by the Anaheim Angels. He made it to the majors by 2002, and played his first three seasons with the Angels, though he never stuck for a full season in the majors until he signed with the Marlins. Amezaga was a .247 hitter in the majors, with 12 homers, 110 RBIs, 173 runs scored and 49 stolen bases. Most of his playing time came in center field in the majors, but he played every position except catcher and pitcher.

Erskine Mayer, pitcher for the 1918-19 Pirates. After three years in the minors, he started his MLB career with the Philadelphia Phillies in September of 1912 at 22 years old. Mayer had back-to-back 21 win seasons in 1914-15 when the competition was slightly watered down due to the existence of the Federal League as a Major League. He had a 2.58 ERA in 321 innings in 1914, then dropped that mark down to 2.36 in 274.2 innings in 1915. He helped the Phillies to their first World Series in 1915, then started two postseason games, allowing three earned runs in 11.1 innings. His workload dropped off during the next two seasons, though he still put up solid overall numbers, including a 2.76 ERA in 1917. It was the deadball era, so he was never among the top ten in ERA during this time. He went 76-61, 2.81 in seven seasons with the Phillies before they traded him to the Pirates for pitcher Elmer Jacobs on June 20, 1918. Mayer went 9-3, 2.26 in 14 starts and a relief appearance with the Pirates to finish the 1918 season. He was part of one of the best regular season games in Pirates history during that season. On August 1st, Mayer started against the Boston Braves and pitched 15.1 scoreless innings before being relieved by Wilbur Cooper, who then followed with 5.2 scoreless innings. Art Nehf was the hard luck loser in that game, pitching all 21 innings for the Braves. He allowed two runs in the 21st inning and the Braves had no answer in the bottom of the inning. In 1919, Mayer had a good record at 5-3 in 18 games (ten starts), but his ERA was just 4.48 in 88.1 innings. The Pirates put him on waivers, where he was taken by the Chicago White Sox on August 6th after every other team passed on claiming him. He actually pitched twice in relief for the Pirates while on waivers, which is a practice that no longer exists. He joined the team now known as the Black Sox because they threw the 1919 World Series. He had an 8.37 ERA in 23.2 innings in Chicago, then pitched one inning in the World Series. That was his last season in pro ball. Mayer’s brother Sam played one season in the majors with the 1915 Washington Senators

Art Whitney, third baseman for the 1884-87 Alleghenys. He debuted in the minors at 19 years old during the first season of minor league ball (1877), playing for Lowell of the League Alliance. In 1878, Lowell was in the International Association. He then played for Worcester for two different leagues over the 1879-80 seasons, though the second move this time was a little better. After playing in the National Association in 1879, Worcester got a big league club in 1880, and Whitney hit .222 as a rookie in 76 games. He played three years in the National League with three different teams from 1880-82, going from Worcester to Detroit to Providence. He spent all of 1883 in the minors with East Saginaw of the Northwestern League. Whitney also spent part of 1884 in the minors with Saginaw of the Northwestern League before joining the Alleghenys in mid-August, making his debut on the 22nd after rain pushed his debut back one day. In 23 games he hit .298 and played strong defense at third base, earning a full time job for the next season. He was the team’s shortstop for the 1885 season and he led all AA shortstops in fielding percentage with a .918 mark, 39 points above league average. He was strong enough defensively that he still played everyday despite a .233 average with no power or speed. Moved back to third base for 1886, he only hit .239, but again led his position in fielding percentage, this time 57 points above the league average.

The Alleghenys moved to the NL in 1887, and Whitney hit .260, which was the second highest average of his 11-year career. Even in the NL, which was considered to be the stronger league, he was well above average in the field, winning his third straight fielding title at his position. He held out the beginning of the 1888 season over his contract and the Alleghenys traded him to the New York Giants for third baseman Elmer Cleveland on June 16, 1888. Whitney spent two full seasons with the Giants, then moved to the New York club during the only season of the Player’s League. When that league folded, Whitney finished his big league career back in the American Association, seeing time with two different teams. He continued in pro ball through the end of the 1893 season, spending his final two seasons in the minors. Whitney played 368 games for Pittsburgh and hit .248 with no homers in his 1,541 plate appearances. He had just six career homers in the majors and three of them came within a three-week stretch in May of 1891. He hit .223 over 978 big league games. His brother Frank also played in the majors spending one season with the 1876 Boston Red Stockings.

Whitney had one of the great poses in the 1887 Old Judge set, showing him with a dog. We posted an article on that card here.

The Transactions

On this date in 2011, the Pirates signed veteran reliever Jose Veras as a free agent. The 30-year-old right-hander spent the 2010 season with the Florida Marlins, where he had a 3.75 ERA over 48 innings and 48 appearances. For the Pirates in 2011, he set career highs with 79 appearances and 71 innings. Veras had a 2-4, 3.80 record and recorded one save. Following the season, the Pirates traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for corner infielder Casey McGehee.

Exactly one year before signing Veras, the Pirates signed free agent reliever Brendan Donnelly. Just like Veras, Donnelly spent his previous season with the Marlins. He had a 3-0, 1.78 record in 25.1 innings over 30 appearances. The 38-year-old Donnelly was three years removed from a strong run with the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, where he made an All-Star appearance and won a World Series ring. He struggled with the Pirates, in what ended up being his final big league season. Donnelly went 3-1, 5.58 in 30.2 innings over 38 appearances. He was released by the Pirates on July 29th.