Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a trade of note involving two future Hall of Famers, which occurred 100 years ago today.
On this date in 1921 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded infielder Walter Barbare, outfielders Billy Southworth and Fred Nicholson, along with $15,000 cash, to the Boston Braves in exchange for shortstop Rabbit Maranville. It was a lot to give up for one player, but the Pirates were picking up a star player. Southworth was an everyday outfielder who hit .284 in 1920. Nicholson batted .360 that year in 99 games, Barbare was a solid backup infielder with six years of experience in the majors. All three were in their 20’s and younger than Maranville at 29 years old. Maranville was a top-notch defensive shortstop (all-time, not just his era) and he was a decent hitter with some speed. The trade ended up helping both teams, giving the Pirates a much needed defensive upgrade in the infield, plus Maranville had his best offensive seasons while in Pittsburgh.
For the Braves they replaced one regular player with two everyday players, and Nicholson also saw plenty of time off the bench (plus the team really needed the cash). Boston saw their team in one season go from 92 losses in 1920 to a winning record (79-74) in 1921. The Pirates won 90 games in 1921 and finished in second place, making an 11-game improvement in the win column. Maranville would play four seasons with the Pirates before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs. He put up 11.5 WAR during his time in Pittsburgh and still had decent trade value at the end. The Braves received 9.3 WAR from their three players, who spent a combined seven seasons in Boston. Both Barbare and Nicholson would be sold to a minor league team in Toledo, while Southworth was traded in 1923 to the New York Giants in a deal that included three future Hall of Famers. He had a 23-year career in the majors, and in 1954 the Baseball Writers of America would induct him into the Hall of Fame. Although he wasn’t inducted as a player, Billy Southworth also made the Hall of Fame in 2008, getting elected by the Veteran’s Committee as a manager.
Victor Cole, pitcher for the 1992 Pirates. He was a 14th round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in 1988 out of Santa Clara University. He had an outstanding debut after the draft, going 6-0, 1.84 in 58.2 innings, split over two levels. Cole moved to a starting role in 1989 and had decent stats in High-A ball, then did poorly in Double-A, posting a 6.36 ERA in 13 starts. He spent the entire 1990 season in Double-A, seeing occasional starts mixed with long relief outings. He had a 4.35 ERA that year in 107.2 innings. Cole came to the Pirates on May 3, 1991 in an even up exchange for big league veteran OF/1B Carmelo Martinez. With the Pirates, Cole split the 1991 season between Double-A and Triple-A. Including his brief time in Triple-A for Kansas City that year, he went 2-5, 3.03 in 65.1 innings over 45 appearances, with 12 saves. In 1992, the Pirates returned him to the starting role for the first time since 1989 and he went 11-6, 3.11 in 19 starts at Buffalo (Triple-A). In between those minor league starts, the Pirates called him up in June. Over a five-week span he pitched four times in relief, made four starts, finishing with an 0-2, 5.48 record in 23 innings. That ended up being his entire big league career. Back in the minors for 1993, he struggled badly posting a 7.21 ERA and was cut before the end of the season. He finished the year in the Milwaukee Brewers system, then signed back with the Royals for 1994 after a very rough April in Double-A for the Brewers that season. Cole would spend the 1995-96 seasons in the minors for the San Diego Padres, while also playing independent ball each year. He pitched in Taiwan in 1997, played in the minors for the Chicago Cubs in 1998-99, split the 2000-01 seasons between Korea and Triple-A for the St Louis Cardinals, then finished his 15-year pro career in Korea in 2002.
Benny Distefano, 1B/OF for the Pirates in 1984, 1986 and 1988-89. He was drafted three times out of Alvin Community College before he finally signed with the Pirates after they made him their second round pick in 1982. The Los Angeles Dodgers took him in the 16th round of the January 1981 draft, then the Toronto Blue Jays took him in the second round of the June 1981 draft. Distefano debuted in Low-A ball in 1982 and he hit .289 with 15 homers, 89 RBIs and 85 walks. He skipped a level in 1983, going to Double-A, where he hit 25 homers and drove in 92 runs. His success in 1983 helped lead to him getting called up to Pittsburgh a month into the 1984 season. The Pirates gave him 86 plate appearances over a three-month span, before sending him back to the minors in early August after he hit .167 with three homers. He spent all of 1985 in Triple-A, hitting .238, with 49 extra-base hits and 69 walks in 136 games. Distefano would spend the majority of the 1986-88 seasons in Triple-A for the Pirates, getting just 82 plate appearances in the majors over that three-year span. He hit .345 in very limited time with the Pirates in 1988. His best season in the majors would be 1989 when he played 96 games, though 50 of those games were as a pinch-hitter. He hit .257 with 15 RBIs in 154 at-bats. That season he caught in three Major League games, and to this day he is still the last left-handed throwing catcher in Major League history. All three appearances behind the plate came as defensive replacements late, and he caught a total of six innings. Distefano was released by the Pirates after that 1989 season, and his only other MLB experience was 52 games for the 1992 Houston Astros. He spent the 1990 season in Japan and also saw time in the minors for the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners. He caught one game while with the Mariners and two while with the Rangers, his only minor league catching appearances. While in Pittsburgh, Distefano hit .227 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 188 games. Most of his playing time was at first base, though he saw starts in right field occasionally and played some left field.
Alfonso Pulido, pitcher for the 1983-84 Pirates. He was pitching in the Mexican League when the Pirates called him up to the majors for the first time at 26 years old. Pulido had a 17-3, 1.89 record for the Mexico City Reds during the 1983 season. His contract was purchased by the Pirates on July 22nd, though they allowed him to remain with his team in Mexico. He was a reliever during the previous season, posting a 2.41 ERA in 93.1 innings, but already had 18 complete games at the time of his purchase by the Pirates. He pitched one game that year for Pittsburgh on September 5th, allowing three runs in two innings as a starter. Milt May was his catcher in that game and they were having trouble with the signs because May didn’t know Spanish and Pulido didn’t know any English. It led to Tony Pena translating from the dugout, though at one point Pena came a little too far on to the field and the Pirates were charged with a visit to the mound. In 1984, Pulido went 18-6, 2.54 in 216 innings at Triple-A. He got a September call-up and once again pitched just one game and two innings. He allowed two runs in relief during an 8-3 loss to the St Louis Cardinals. Following the season, the Pirates traded him to the New York Yankees along with Dale Berra and Jay Buhner for Steve Kemp and Tim Foli. Pulido pitched ten games (three starts) for the Yankees in 1986, which ended up being his only other big league time. He spent the entire 1987 season in Triple-A for the Yankees, then returned to his home country of Mexico and was active there in pro ball until 1994. He career began there in 1977 and he was there until his sale to the Pirates. Pulido threw a pitch that you don’t often see now, relying on a screwball. However, he had three different types of screwballs that he used.
Kurt Bevacqua, utility fielder for the 1974 and 1980-81 Pirates. He spent 15 seasons in the majors for six different teams, was drafted three times and traded six times, yet he played just 970 total games, many of those off of the bench. Bevacqua was first drafted by the New York Mets in 1966 in the 32nd round out of Miami-Dade College. The following January, the Atlanta Braves selected him in the sixth round. He finally signed after the Cincinnati Reds picked him in the 12th round of the June 1967 draft. Before he made the majors, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in May of 1971. Bevacqua debuted in the majors with the 1971 Indians, hitting .204 in 55 games, while playing five different positions. He saw limited time in Cleveland in 1972, then got traded to the Kansas City Royals after the season. He played 99 games during the 1973 season, hitting .257 with two homers and 40 RBIs, while playing five positions. He was acquired by the Pirates in a December 1973 trade that involved five players, with Nelson Briles going to the Royals as the main piece in the deal. Bevacqua was then traded back to the Royals seven months later after batting .114 in 18 games with the Pirates. He finished the 1974 season in the majors with the Royals, then moved on to the Milwaukee Brewers for two years, where he hit .226 over 116 games, with a large majority of that time coming during the 1975 season. He then signed with the Texas Rangers and ended up with a .970 OPS in 39 games during the 1977 season. His stats slipped back to earth in 1978, and then he got traded to the San Diego Padres. In 1979, Bevacqua played a career high 114 games, hitting .253 with a homer and 34 RBIs.
The Pirates got him mid-season from the Padres in 1980 in a four-player deal and he hit .163 over 22 games that year with the Pirates. That was followed by limited playing time in 1981, when he received just 34 plate appearances in 29 games. When Pittsburgh released him after the 1981 season he signed back with the Padres, where he remained for his final four seasons. Bevacqua spent most of his late career as a pinch-hitter, but in the 1984 World Series he got 18 plate appearances and hit .412 with two homers. He was a career .236 hitter, though as a pinch-hitter he hit .258 in 376 games. In his three seasons with the Pirates he played a total of 69 games and hit .171 in 121 plate appearances. He started 253 games during his career at third base, while also seeing 76 starts at second base, 63 at first base, 30 in left field, 14 in right field and two at shortstop. From the low offensive numbers and long career, you would assume that he was a strong defensive player, but his career dWAR is -4.2, giving him a career -3.9 WAR. He was also successful on just 12 of his 32 attempted stolen bases during his career.
Sam Jethroe, outfielder for the 1954 Pirates. He began his career in the Negro Leagues, debuting in pro ball in 1938. He signed his first minor league contract when he was 31 years old in 1948 with the Brooklyn Dodgers after spending seven seasons with the Cleveland Buckeyes of the Negro American League. He reported to the Montreal Royals of the International League after joining the Dodgers and he hit .322 in 76 games. In 1949 he hit .326 with 154 runs scored, 70 extra-base hits and 89 stolen bases for Montreal. Brooklyn traded him to the Boston Braves in the off-season and at age 33 he would win the National League Rookie of the Year award. He scored 100 runs that first season and led the NL in stolen bases (35) in each of his first two seasons. Jethroe batted .273 with 18 homers as a rookie, then followed that up with 101 runs scored, 18 homers and a .280 average. He got in two good seasons before his age started to catch up to him in the majors. He slumped down to a .232 average in 1952, and he had 112 strikeouts, which was a huge number for that time. He still hit 13 homers and stole 28 bases, but he finished with a .675 OPS, which was well off of his first two seasons. Jethroe spent the 1953 season in the minors, hitting .309 with 70 extra-base hits and 137 runs scored for Toledo of the American Association. The Braves traded him and five other players, as well as $100,000 cash, to the Pirates in exchange for young infielder Danny O’Connell. Pirates GM Branch Rickey wanted to add speed to his team and he believed that Jethroe would be able to add that specialty to the team. Jethroe played just two games for the Pirates, getting into two early season contests in 1954. He went 0-for-1 at the plate and played two innings in the outfield. He was sent to the minors on April 18th and finished his playing career there five seasons later, never making the majors again. On January 4, 1955, he was sold outright to Toronto of the International League, officially ending his time with the Pirates. He spent each of his final five seasons playing in Toronto, wrapping up his pro career at 41 years old.
Jack Saltzgaver, second baseman for the 1945 Pirates. He began his pro career back in 1925, and when he finally made the majors in 1932 at age 29, he was lucky to get another shot. That year for the New York Yankees in 20 games he hit just .128 in 47 at-bats. He spent all of 1933 back in the minors, where he never hit less than .288 in his first nine seasons. After batting .305 in 165 games for Newark of the International League, Saltzgaver had his most productive Major League season in 1934, hitting .271 with 64 runs scored in 94 games for the Yankees. He played another three seasons in New York, but saw less playing time each year, going from 94 games down to just 17 games by the 1937 season. He was still playing with a Yankees affiliate from 1938-1945, but spent the entire time in the minors until the Pirates acquired him at age 42 to play second base. Pittsburgh gave up cash and outfielder Bill Rodgers to pick up Saltzgaver from Kansas City of the American Association on May 8, 1945. At the time, the Pirates were worried about losing more players to the war effort and they wanted experienced insurance in the infield. He remained with the team for the rest of the year, though he rarely played after May 31, starting just nine games the rest of the way. Despite the lack of playing time, he hit .325 in his 117 at-bats. The Pirates released him outright on January 3, 1946 and he returned to the minors to play one more season and then manage until 1950. He finished with a .304 average in 2,036 minor league games. He batted .260 with ten homers and 82 RBIs in 278 big league games. Playing first in the Western League for three seasons (1927-29) then in the American Association (1930-31), two of the better leagues at the time, Saltzgaver batted between .302 and .340 each year, playing 154+ games each seasons, so it’s a bit surprising that he didn’t get a big league chance earlier. He wasn’t just hitting for average either. During that five-year stretch, he average 37 doubles and 15 triples per year, while slugging 19 homers in each of the last two seasons.
Bill Regan, second baseman for the 1931 Pirates. He didn’t make the majors until age 27, when the Boston Red Sox acquired him in late May of 1926 for two players after he hit .318 in 38 games for Columbus of the American Association. He batted .297 with 55 extra-base hits in 149 games for Columbus in 1925. Regan debuted in pro ball in 1921, spending his first four seasons in the lower levels of the minors. The lifelong native of Pittsburgh hit .263 in 108 games during that rookie season in Boston, while playing full-time at second base. Regan would receive mild MVP support during each of the next two seasons. He batted .274 with 51 extra-base hits in 129 games in 1927, then followed it up with a .264 average, 43 extra-base hits and 75 RBIs in 139 games in 1928. He had his best hitting season in 1929, batting .288 with a .735 OPS in 104 games. The 1930 season was a very high offense year in the majors and Regan’s stats dropped off from the previous season, so an otherwise decent .266 average probably hid the fact his skills were in decline. The Red Sox, who had lost 102 games in 1930, put Regan on waivers where he was picked up by the Pirates on February 19, 1931. Owner Barney Dreyfuss said that the Pirates picked him up to be a backup to second baseman George Grantham, who eventually moved over to first base for the rest of the season. For the 1931 Pirates, Regan hit .202 in 28 games with nine errors, earning a trip back to the minors, where he would finish his playing days in 1935. He played his last big league game on June 14th, and then on the 15th he was sold outright to Baltimore of the International League. He served in the military during WWI and played semi-pro ball in Pittsburgh before signing his first contract to play minor league ball. After his playing career, he also served in the military during WWII.
Ed Barney, outfielder for the 1915-16 Pirates. He began his pro career in the minors in 1913, playing for two different teams in the low-level Eastern Association, where he hit .273 with no power. In 1914, he hit .326 and stole 46 bases in 118 games for Hartford of the Eastern Association. In 1915 he made a huge jump in competition, moving up to Jersey City of the International League, where he hit .335 in 62 games. That early season performance at a high level of the minors earned Barney a Major League job with the New York Yankees. He joined them in late July, but after hitting .194 in 11 games, they put him on waivers. The Pirates picked him up for the waiver price on August 20th and he debuted three days later. Barney got off to a rough start with the Pirates, going 1-for-18 in his first six games, which landed him on the bench. Two weeks later, he went 3-for-3 with two walks in his first start in 15 days. He would play the final 21 games of the season in center field, hitting .307 during that stretch. That performance helped earn him a spot on the 1916 Pirates. He would play 45 games that season, drawing 23 walks and stealing eight bases, but he hit just .197 with only four extra-base hits, all doubles. He started 20 of the team’s first 24 games in center field, then moved to left field for another 18 starts. He was sent to the minors after playing his last Major League game on July 2nd. The Pirates traded Barney to Louisville of the American Association in an even up deal for infielder Jack Farmer on July 3rd. Barney played minor league ball until 1924, then managed for one season. He batted .329 with 60 extra-base hits for Buffalo of the International League in 1921, but it didn’t get him another chance at the majors.