This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 18th, Pirates Acquire Hank Greenberg

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a transaction involving a Hall of Famer.

The Transaction

On this date in 1947 the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased all-star first baseman Hank Greenberg from the Detroit Tigers for $75,000. He led the American League in both homers and RBIs in 1946 at the age of 35, but the Tigers put him on waivers anyway, where he was picked up by the Pirates. Not only did they pay a high price to acquire him, he was also paid $100,000 for the season, the first player to reach that six-figure salary level. He would hit just .249 with 25 homers and 74 RBIs for the Pirates, but he was able to lead the NL in walks with 104, despite missing 29 games throughout the season. That was his only year for the Pirates as he retired after the season, although he contributed to the team for years to come thanks to his help with a young Ralph Kiner, who credited Greenberg with making him a better hitter. Greenberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956.

The Players

Eddie Moore, utility fielder for the 1925 World Series winning Pirates. He started his pro career in the minors in 1922, playing two full seasons before the Pirates made him a September call-up in 1923, getting him into six late seasons games. He was playing for Atlanta of the Southern Association when Pirates scout Bill Hinchman purchased his contract on July 18th for $20,000, a huge price at the time. Moore was said to be joining the Pirates at the end of Atlanta’s season in early September, though by mid-August, the Pirates were trying to get him sooner so they could get a better look at him. Moore made the 1924 Pirates Opening Day roster, but he was seldom used until the Pirates decided to bench a struggling Pie Traynor. In a move that ultimately helped the Pirates, Moore got injured in the middle of a hot streak, allowing Traynor to get back in the lineup, and he obviously went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Moore played just 16 of the team’s first 51 games that season, all of them off of the bench. He then hit .373 over 13 starts before the injury. In late August, they decided to throw him out in right field and he batted .385 over the next month, before ending quietly over the final week of the season. In 72 games in 1924, Moore hit .359 with 47 runs scored.

Moore was the starting second baseman during the 1925 campaign, though he also made 15 starts in right field and three at third base. The Pirates went on to the World Series and he did his part with a .298 average, 77 walks, 77 RBIs and 106 runs scored in 142 games played. In the World Series, he hit .231 with a homer and five walks. In 1926 he was hitting .227 through 43 games when the Pirates sold him to Boston Braves. It seemed like they were giving up on him quickly, but he was not well liked among the Pirates management for numerous reasons, including poor play, an argument with bench coach Fred Clarke, and they didn’t like the way he handled his contract signing. Moore hit .302 in 112 games during the 1927 season, while serving in an utility role, playing six different positions. He struggled in a limited role in 1928, then was sold to the minors prior to the 1929 season. The Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) purchased his contract in May of 1929 and he hit .291 over 187 games during the 1929-30 seasons. After that his big league time was limited to 37 games with the 1932 New York Giants and 27 games for the 1934 Cleveland Indians. He played minor league ball until age 41 in 1940. He spent six seasons in the minors as a player-manager and then returned in 1947 to manage for one final season. Moore was a .301 hitter in 263 games with the Pirates and finished his nine-year career with a .285 average in 748 games

Laurin Pepper, pitcher for the 1954-57 Pirates. He was a bonus baby signing, as the Pirates paid $35,000 for him to keep him from playing in the NFL where he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a halfback. Under the rules of the time, a bonus baby signing had to spend two years on the Major League roster before he could be sent to the minors. Bonus Baby players usually signed right out of high school, but Pepper was already 23 years old, attending college at the University of Southern Mississippi, and serving in the military before signing on June 15, 1954, two days before he got married. Pepper rarely pitched during those first two seasons, getting in a total of 70.2 innings over 28 games, nine as a starter. He pitched poorly mostly due to a lack of control, but the Pirates were cellar dwellers at the time, losing 195 games combined over those two seasons. He had a combined 1-6, 8.66 record during the 1954-55 seasons, with 68 walks and just 24 strikeouts.

In 1956, he had better overall Major League results, but the control problems were still a major issue, with 25 walks in 30 innings. While his ERA was a respectable 3.00 that season, those 30 innings were over seven starts and four relief appearances, meaning that the walks shortened his outings. His longest starts was 5.1 innings in a loss to the Milwaukee Braves on July 15th. The Pirates were still forced to keep him on the active roster during the early part of the season because the Bonus Baby rule covered two full years from the date the player joined the team, not the first two seasons. Pepper didn’t pitch after August 4th. He was optioned to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League on August 8th. The Pirates recalled him on September 1st, but an eye injury kept him from pitching. He pitched with the Pirates for one month during the 1957 season, his last year in the majors. He had an 8.00 ERA over nine innings during that final season. He began the year back in Hollywood, getting optioned on April 8th after failing to make the club in Spring Training. Pepper was recalled on May 3rd and made all of his appearances between May 7th and June 6th. On June 8th he was optioned back to Hollywood and did not return in September. He was with the Pirates in Spring Training of 1958, but he got cut on April 1st, then he lasted a day longer during Spring Training in 1959, getting cut on April 2nd. Pepper finished his pro career in the minors in 1963. His full name is Hugh McLaurin Pepper III, meaning he went by part of his middle name.

Charlie Eden, outfielder for the 1884-85 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. When he joined Pittsburgh in 1884, he had already played National League ball for the Chicago White Stockings in 1877 and the Cleveland Blues two years later. In 1879, Eden led the National League with 31 doubles and 41 extra-base hits. Despite that strong performance, he has no known pro ball records for the 1880-82 seasons, playing independent ball instead, just like he did during the 1878 season. The Alleghenys picked him up mid-1884 after he played an exhibition game for the Buffalo Bisons of the National League. Manager Horace Phillips promised to pay Eden double his salary offered by Buffalo, so he left for the bigger paycheck. Right before that, he was a member of Grand Rapids of the Northwestern League, where he had spent the previous year and a half, but that club folded in early August. For Pittsburgh in 1884, the lefty hitting Eden batted .270 in 32 games, 31 as the center fielder, plus one as a starting pitcher. He played in each of the final 32 games of the season. In his debut on August 25th against Baltimore, he had three hits and made an outstanding catch near the center field wall as he got entangled with left fielder Conny Doyle. With only one umpire at the time, Eden was asked by umpire John Kelly if he actually made the catch and Eden gave him his word that he did, so the out was called. His lone homer in Pittsburgh came on August 27, 1884 against Pete Meegan, who would be his teammate for the 1885 Alleghenys. It came during the one game that Eden pitched that season and he lost 7-5, while batting second in the lineup. In 1885, he took over full-time in left field and hit .254 in 98 games, with 38 RBIs and 57 runs scored. Eden was again used as an emergency pitcher, starting once and pitching in relief three times. In November of 1885, it was announced that he was retiring from baseball, but he actually finished his career in 1886 playing independent ball. He tried out for Indianapolis of the National League in 1887, but while attempting to get into shape in late May, he suffered soreness in his knee, which was bothering him since a base running mishap years earlier. The Hoosiers were actually trying to sign him as an extra pitcher. He had a job working for the railroads and was only willing to sign if they promised him that he could take his railroad job back after the season. In 226 big league games, he hit .261 with four homers, 77 RBIs and 118 runs scored.

Justin Thomas, pitcher for the 2010 Pirates. He was a fourth round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2005 amateur draft. He began his pro career as a starter, before switching to the bullpen in 2009. He made his MLB debut in September of 2008 for the Mariners, pitching eight times in relief. He had a 6.75 ERA in four innings with nine hits and two walks allowed in his brief time with Seattle. On October 29, 2009 he was selected off waivers by the Pirates. During the 2010 season he had a few different stints with the Pirates, making a total of 12 appearances in which he compiled a 6.23 ERA in 13 innings. He spent all of 2011 in Triple-A with Indianapolis, pitching 63 games with an 8-2, 3.89 record in 69.1 innings. After becoming a free agent at the end of the season, he signed with the Boston Red Sox in late November and pitched a total of 11 more big league games, split between Boston and the New York Yankees during that 2012 season. Thomas struggled in his limited time in both spots, posting a 2.57 WHIP in seven appearances with the Red Sox, while allowing three runs over three innings with the Yankees. He split the 2013 season between 16 starts in Triple-A for the Oakland A’s, and nine games in Japan. He had a similar story in 2014, pitching for the Los Angeles Angels in Triple-A (20 starts) and ten games in Korea. Thomas finished his pro career in China in 2015, where he had a 3.83 ERA in 22 starts. His big league career amounted to 24.2 innings over 31 appearances, with an 0-2, 6.93 record.

Wandy Rodriguez, pitcher for the 2012-14 Pirates. He went 11-10, 4.16 in 30 starts and one relief appearance for the Pirates after they acquired him in a 2012 trade deadline deal for three prospects. Rodriguez pitched eight years for the Houston Astros prior to joining the Pirates and had an 80-84, 4.06 record in 218 starts and nine relief appearances. He last pitched in the majors for the 2015 Texas Rangers, though he signed with the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles and Astros between August 2015 and April 2016 and only saw a handful of minor league appearances from those three teams combined. Since his last game with the Royals in 2015, he has pitched three seasons of winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez signed with the Astros as an international free agent out of the Dominican days before his 20th birthday in January of 1999. Despite signing at a late age, it still took him six full seasons and the first part of 2015 before he made his Major League debut. The Astros put him in their starting rotation and stuck with him for two full years of poor pitching. He had a 5.53 ERA in 128.2 innings as a rookie in 2005, then saw a slight tick up to a 5.64 ERA in 135.2 innings in 2006. He began a steady improvement in 2007, when he went 9-13, 4.58 in 31 starts and 182.2 innings. That ERA improved to 3.54 in 2008, though he missed a handful of starts, limiting him to 137.1 innings.

Rodriguez finally put everything together in 2009 and had his best season. He went 14-12, 3.02 in 33 starts and a career best 205.2 innings. While his win/loss record was mediocre over the next two years, he has a nice ERA to go along with the full workhorse workload. Rodriguez went 11-12, 3.60 in 195 innings in 2010, then nearly repeated those numbers in 2011, going 11-11, 3.49 in 191 innings. His walk and hit totals were nearly identical as well. He gave up 183 hits in 2010 and 182 in 2011, with 68 walks (2010) compared to 69 in 2011. Prior to joining the Pirates in 2012, he was 7-9, 3.79 in 130.2 innings over 21 starts. After the deal, he went 5-4, 3.72 in 75 innings. He tied his career best with 205.2 innings that season. Things went downhill from there. He pitched well when healthy in 2013, but that was just 12 starts. He went 6-4, 3.59 in 62.2 innings. He had a flexor strain in his pitching (left) elbow. A knee injury contributed to poor results through six starts in 2014, which led to the Pirates designating him for assignment in May. He was released on May 30th. In his 11-year career, he went 97-98, 4.10 in 1,557.1 innings.

Gift Ngoepe, infielder for the 2017 Pirates. When he made it to the Pirates on April 26, 2017, he became the first player born in Africa to make it to the Major Leagues. He was joined by pitcher Tayler Scott in that select group in 2019. Ngoepe was signed by the Pirates as an international amateur free agent at 18 years old in 2008 out of South Africa. He worked his way slowly through the minor league system, getting added to the Pirates 40-man roster during the same off-season that he would have reached minor league free agency. He played in the Gulf Coast League during his rookie season as a pro in 2009. He moved up to the New York-Penn League in 2010, then was injured for most of 2011, when he was limited to 27 games total. He moved to High-A Bradenton in 2012, then saw action in the Arizona Fall League after the season. Ngoepe really struggled with the jump to Double-A in 2013, then went back to the AFL in the fall and hit just .078 in 17 games. He was a gifted defensive player at the time, with some power and speed, but the low average and high strikeout rates, limited his prospect potential. In his second run at Double-A, he hit just .238 with 135 strikeouts, but he showed decent power, a nice walk rate and he stole 13 bases.

Ngoepe was back in Altoona for a third season in 2015, and better results led to him being promoted to Triple-A. He would spend the entire 2016 season in Triple-A and was likely going to be a September call-up, but a bar fight and altercation with police after a game, led to him attending the Fall Instructional League instead of playing for the Pirates. Pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas was also in that fight and he too was on the same path as Ngoepe before costing himself a September chance with the Pirates. The two would be linked together again in 2017. In mid-April, Neverauskas was called up and became the first Major League player ever who was born in Lithuania. Just days later, Ngoepe joined him in the majors as another first for his country (South Africa) as well as the continent. Ngoepe got off to a great start with three hits and two walks in his second game for the Pirates, before the strikeouts quickly caught up to him. He went 8-for-49 with 25 strikeouts in his next 26 games, before playing his final game with the Pirates on May 31st.  After the season, he was sold to the Toronto Blue Jays, who gave him a stint in the majors in 2018. Ngoepe went 1-for-18 with 12 strikeouts during his short big league time in Toronto, which is currently his final time in the majors, though he’s still active. He spent the start of 2019 in the minors with the Philadelphia Phillies, then got released and signed with the Pirates. He was around for just 31 days, but a .100 average in Double-A cut short his time. He’s currently playing winter ball in Australia. Ngoepe’s younger brother Victor spent four seasons in the Pirates system.