This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 31st, Death to Flying Things

Nine former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a pitcher who won over 300 games. We also have one trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1974 the Pittsburgh Pirates traded shortstop Jackie Hernandez to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Mike Ryan. Hernandez played three seasons for the Pirates, starting in 1971 when he became the everyday shortstop late in the year and helped lead the team to their fourth World Series title. In three years in Pittsburgh he played 214 games and hit .205 with 48 RBIs. Ryan was 32 years old at the time of the trade, with ten seasons in the majors. He was strong defensively with a great arm, but not much of a hitter. In fact, he had batted below .200 in six of his nine full seasons. After the trade, Ryan played just 15 games in 1974, then became the manager of the Pirates A-ball team in Charleston for the 1975-76 seasons. Hernandez was released before he ever played a game for the Phillies. He re-signed with the Pirates and finished his career that 1974 season in Triple-A, although he did spend the next two seasons playing in Mexico before retiring as a player.

The Players

Guillermo Heredia, outfielder for the 2020 Pirates. He signed with the Seattle Mariners at 25 years old in 2016 out of Cuba. Heredia had five full seasons of pro ball at the highest level before defecting to Mexico in 2015. He signed with the Mariners a year later and began the season in the minors. He played 93 games over two levels before making his big league debut on July 29, 2016. Heredia hit .250 with one homer in 45 games as a rookie. The next year he was a regular in the Seattle outfield. In 123 games, he posted a .652 OPS, with a .249 average and six homers. He established himself as a strong defensive player, splitting his time evenly between center field and left field. Heredia saw a very slight bump in both his games played (125) and OPS (.661) the next year, but he was actually seeing less playing time because more of his games came off of the bench. He played more center field in 2018 and his dWAR went from 0.6 in 2017 to -0.6 in 2018. Heredia was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2019 season and saw his time cut to 89 games and 231 plate appearances, while playing all three outfield spots. He batted .225 with five homers. He was granted free agency after the season and he was signed by the Pirates. In Pittsburgh, Heredia went 3-for-16 in eight games before first being optioned to the Alternate Training Site, then being designated for assignment, where he was picked up by the New York Mets. In seven games for the Mets, he went 4-for-18 at the plate with two homers. He’s a .239 hitter in 397 big league games, with 19 homers and 80 RBIs.

Ted Power, pitcher for the 1990 Pirates. The Pirates signed the nine-year veteran in November 1989 as a free agent. The 35-year-old right-hander went 1-3, 3.66 in 40 relief appearances in 1990. He threw a total of 51.2 innings and recorded seven saves. The Pirates made the playoffs that season and Power pitched three games in the NLCS, including starting game six, which was his only start all year. He would leave via free agency following the season. He pitched a total of 13 years in the majors with a 68-69, 4.00 record in 564 games (85 starts), but that 1990 season was his only postseason experience. Power was a fifth round draft pick out of Kansas State by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976. He debuted in High-A after the draft, then spent 2 1/2 seasons in Double-A before reaching Triple-A for the first time in 1979. He would spend all of 1980 in Triple-A, as well as parts of the next two seasons. Power debuted in the majors in 1981, and pitched a total of 48 innings over two seasons with the Dodgers. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds after the 1982 season ended and he spent the next five years there, serving in multiple roles. He had a season where he pitched in long relief, another where he saved 27 games, and another in which he made 34 starts and threw 204 innings. Power did much better in the relief roles than he did as a starter. He had a rough 1988 season split between the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, which included a 5.91 ERA in 99 innings. Power spent the 1989 season with the St Louis Cardinals, before joining the Pirates. After leaving the Pirates, he played for the 1991 Reds, the 1992-93 Cleveland Indians and the 1993 Seattle Mariners. His two seasons in Cleveland had vastly different results, with a 2.54 ERA in 99.1 innings in 1992, followed by a 7.20 ERA over 20 innings in 1993. He actually finished his pro career with two starts in the independent Heartland League in 1998 at 43 years old, though it wasn’t any attempted comeback. He was working with the Huntington team and tried to help the attendance by putting a former MLB pitcher on the mound and promoting it ahead of time.

Ken Gables, pitcher for the 1945-47 Pirates. He spent his entire big league career with the Pirates. Gables had a 13-11, 4.69 record in 62 big league games, 23 as a starter. The Pirates acquired him from Oakland of the Pacific Coast League on September 8, 1944 in exchange for cash and a player to be named later. He had a 6.10 ERA over 93 innings that season, but the Pirates had multiple scouts recommend signing him after first-hand views. His rookie season was his best, going 11-7, 4.15 in 138.2 innings. He was one of five Pirates starters to win at least ten games that year. Gables didn’t make his first start until July 15th during a doubleheader, which he won 15-3 over Brooklyn and pitched a complete game. His longest outing over the first three months of the season was five innings. From July 22nd to August 26th, he had four complete game starts with one run allowed, posting a 2.41 ERA over 74.1 innings during that stretch. He mostly pitched in relief in 1946, posting a 5.27 ERA in 100.2 innings over seven starts and 25 relief appearances. Gables pitched just once during the 1947 season, giving up two runs and recording just one out in an early season outing. He was then sent to the minors on May 5th, where he split the rest of the season between Atlanta of the Southern Association and Indianapolis of the American Association. Following the 1947 season, he was traded along with two other players and cash to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League in exchange for pitching prospect Bob Chesnes. Gables spent a total of ten seasons in the minors and compiled a 68-96, 4.01 record in 350 games. His last seven years were spent in the Pacific Coast League, where he had a run of three straight seasons (1951-53) with 205+ innings pitched each year. His previous high for innings pitched was the 159 he threw during his rookie year in pro ball in 1942 for Binghamton of the Eastern League. Gables spent the 1943 season serving in the military during WWII.

Donald Songer, pitcher for the 1924-27 Pirates. He pitched a total of 49 games for the Pirates, 16 as a starter, over four seasons. He was a member of two Pittsburgh clubs that went to the World Series, but did not participate in either postseason. Most of his playing time with the team came during the 1926 season when he made 15 starts and 20 relief appearances. He had a 7-8, 3.13 record that year in 126.1 innings. While pitching for Oklahoma City of the Western League on August 15, 1924, it was noted by the team’s local paper that Pirates scout Chick Fraser was in attendance and he had to be impressed by Songer allowing two runs over a 10-inning complete game victory. He would win 22 games and throw 295 innings that season, his fifth year in pro ball. Four weeks later on September 13th, the Pirates acquired Songer and pitcher Joe Brown from Oklahoma City in exchange for pitcher Buckshot May and a pile of cash. Fraser noted that day to the local Pittsburgh press that Songer was the best pitching prospect he saw all summer.  Songer joined the Pirates days later and pitched four games that September, allowing seven runs in 9.1 innings, though six runs came in one outing. In 1925, he made eight relief appearances during the first five weeks of the season, then didn’t pitch after May 19th. However, he started an exhibition game for the Pirates on June 3rd, before being optioned back to Oklahoma City exactly one week later. The Pirates were able to recall him with five days notice first, though he never returned that season. He had a 10-9 record and a 1.39 WHIP in 146 innings over 30 appearances for Oklahoma City that season. After his solid 1926 season, the Pirates sold him to the Giants on May 9, 1927. Before being sold, he made two relief appearances for Pittsburgh and allowed ten runs over 4.2 innings. He finished his Major League career later that season, throwing another 22 games for New York, where he had a 2.86 ERA in 50.1 innings. Songer won a total of 99 games over eight minor league seasons, which included a high of 31 wins for the Enid Harvesters of the Western Association in 1922. He finished his career in 1929 with Tulsa of the Western League, where he allowed nearly a run per inning (ERAs aren’t available for the league).

Stuffy Stewart, second baseman for the 1922 Pirates. He played parts of eight big league seasons over a 14-year span. He first played 12 games for the St Louis Cardinals during the 1916-17 seasons, then didn’t play in 1918 due to a contract holdout, followed by spending the next three seasons in the minors. He was actually traded by the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in January of 1919, though he never played in Philadelphia. Stewart played for Birmingham of the Southern Association during the 1920-21 seasons, hitting just .241 in 129 games in 1920, before crushing the ball at a .323 clip in 154 games in 1921. He was purchased by the Pirates on September 15, 1921, among a large group of minor league players added that day. He started the first three games of the 1922 season at second base for the Pirates, going 2-for-13 with two errors, before losing his starting job to Cotton Tierney. He got his chance at second base late in Spring Training, when Pie Traynor was moved off second base and sent to third base. Manager George Gibson sent Stewart to second base that same day and the rest is history. On April 22nd (seven days after his final game with the Pirates), Stewart was sent back to his Birmingham team, with word that the Pirates and Birmingham manager Carlton Molesworth couldn’t come to an agreement on his purchase price, so instead he was optioned back to the minors, where he would remain the rest of the season. The Brooklyn Robins took him in the Rule 5 draft once the season was over, though his stay there lasted just four games in 1923 before being sent back to Birmingham. During the 1923-24 seasons, Stewart managed for Birmingham, before returning to the majors with the 1925 Washington Senators, a club that lost to the Pirates in the World Series that year (Stewart didn’t participate in the postseason). He played three seasons with Washington, mostly serving as a backup at second base and third base. He was back in Birmingham for all of 1928, returned to the majors for his final three games back with the Senators, then finished his career out in the minors, playing his final games in 1932. Stewart hit .238 in 176 Major League games, with 74 runs scored, 18 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Of those 176 career games, just 50 were as a starter. He played 15 seasons in the minors and collected over 1,700 hits. He batted .300 six different times, though he also finished seasons with a .297, .298 and .299 average. His real first name was John.

Jimmy Zinn, pitcher for the 1920-22 Pirates. Zinn debuted in pro ball in 1915 at 20 years old and spent his first five seasons in the minors before getting a September 1919 trial with the Philadelphia Athletics. He pitched four of those years for Waco of the Texas League, though he missed most of 1918 and half of 1919 while serving in the military during WWI. His first big league trial was a little rough, with a 6.31 ERA in 25.2 innings over three starts and two relief outings. Zinn spent the 1920 season in the minors with Wichita Falls of the Texas League, where he went 18-10, 2.20 in 262 innings. He was purchased by the Pirates, along with outfielder Johnny Mokan, on August 20, 1920 and both were to report to Pittsburgh at the end of his minor league season a few weeks later. However, on September 2nd, the Pirates requested that Zinn report to them immediately and he was allowed to leave early.  Zinn made three starts and three relief appearances for the Pirates that September, going 1-1, 3.48 in 31 innings. During the second game of a doubleheader on October 2nd, Zinn started in right field and went 1-for-3 with a run scored. The game was limited to six innings and played in 61 minutes, called on account of darkness. He pitched the first game of that doubleheader and lost 7-3, with all seven runs (five earned) scoring in the seventh inning, yet he stayed in to complete the contest. Zinn was with the Pirates for all of 1921 and he went 7-6, 3.68 in 127.1 innings, making nine starts and 23 relief appearances. On May 30th, he threw his only shutout for the Pirates in a 13-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. Zinn had a 1.68 ERA in five early season relief appearances in 1922 before the Pirates released him outright to Kansas City of the American Association on June 2nd. It was said at the time that the Pirates had an abundance of quality pitchers and no innings for Zinn. At the time of his release, they had eight other pitchers on the roster. He spent seven seasons there, winning at least 14 games each year. He would get one more Major League chance in 1929 with the Cleveland Indians. He went 4-6, 5.04 in 18 games there, ending his big league career, though his baseball career was far from over. Zinn pitched another nine seasons in the minors, retiring after the 1939 season with 295 minor league wins to go along with his 13 major league wins. He pitched until age 44, the last three years as a player/manager. He managed a total of eight seasons in the minors. He was a .283 hitter in 76 big league games and he hit over .300 during seven straight minor league seasons, topping out at a .366 mark in 1926.

Jot Goar, pitcher for the 1896 Pirates. He made his MLB debut three games into the 1896 season with the Pirates in relief. He would pitch only three games that year, all in relief, losing one. In 13.1 innings, he gave up 36 hits, eight walks, hit a batter and allowed 33 runs. His 16.88 ERA with the Pirates is the second highest in team history for any pitcher with more than five innings pitched. He only pitched one other game in the majors, a two-inning relief appearance for the Reds on May 1, 1898. The Pirates purchased Goar for $3,500 on September 5, 1895 from Terre-Haute of the Western League, after he had a 3.38 ERA in 288 innings during the 1895 season. Before he played a game for the Pirates, a newspaper in Cincinnati circulated an unfounded rumor that he was going to retire, which caused a lot of confusion back then when teams had to either write letters or travel to visit players in the off-season. Goar refuted those rumors and said that he was ready to show Pittsburgh fans that he belonged with the team, though he also mentioned that their hopes might be too high due to the praise he received after the signing, and they should save their judgement for after they see him pitch.

One of Goar’s relief appearances for the Pirates was on May 20th, when he pitched the last six innings of a 25-6 loss to Brooklyn in Pittsburgh. The Pirates manager Connie Mack told Goar to lob the ball over the plate, allowing the Brooklyn hitters to pile up runs. The reason was that the game was already 6-0 Brooklyn and it started to downpour. The Pirates were trying to stall, hoping for the game to be called before five innings were played and the game was official. The move backfired when the weather cleared and by the end of the fifth, they were already down 17-0. So while he pitched poorly with the Pirates, he wasn’t half as bad as the numbers indicate.  Goar had a somewhat brief pro career on record, going from 1895-1900, though he actually started in 1890 at 20 years old under the name Gore in most game recaps, pitching in the Indiana State League for a team from Muncie. He was called Kid Gore and he had a 15-strikeout game on May 2nd, though by the end of the month, a sore arm ended his season early. Goar played for teams in Muncie in 1891-94, and even had a 17-strikeout game on July 16, 1892. In 1893, the local papers started calling him Jot instead of Kid. He pitched three years in the Western League (1895-97) and spent the 1900 season with Indianapolis of the American League, which was considered to be a minor league level at that time. His real first name was Joshua. We posted a memorabilia article on Goar, who was featured on a pin during his time with the Pirates.

Al Buckenberger, manager for the 1892-94 Pirates. He took over for manager Tom Burns 60 games into the 1892 season, with the Pirates record standing at 27-32 at the time. Buckenberger would turn the team around, finishing with a 53-41 record the rest of the way. In 1893 he led the team to their best finish since joining the National League in 1887, going 81-48, which was good enough for second place, five games behind Brooklyn. The team’s .628 winning percentage that year is the sixth best in franchise history. However, the team record the next year was a disappointing 53-55 after a doubleheader on September 1st, when he lost his job to the team’s catcher, Connie Mack. The Pirates went by the team nickname “Braves” during the 1894 season (it appeared infrequently during the 1893 season as well), and they were often called Buck’s Braves by the local papers. For Mack, it was the start of a 53-year career as a manager. A few weeks after his release, there was talk that Buckenberger was approached to manage a Pittsburgh team in a new league that could form in 1895 and rival the National League, much like the Player’s League did four years earlier. That rumor apparently led to his departure from the Pirates. That new league never formed and he managed the 1895 St Louis Browns (Cardinals) instead. Buckenberger had managed for two seasons in the majors prior to joining the Pirates and then added another four seasons afterwards. He also managed for six seasons in the minors and was a minor league player for four seasons. He went 187-144 at the helm of Pittsburgh, and in nine big league seasons, he had a 488-539 record.

Bob Ferguson, Utility fielder for the 1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He was a star baseball player before the first Major League was organized in 1871, beginning his amateur career at least eight years earlier. Ferguson was 26 years old before the National Association was formed in 1871, and 31 years old before the National League first played a game. In fact, the schedules were so short during the era he played in, that he played 824 Major League games over 14 seasons and twice led the league in games played. His big league totals, not surprisingly, don’t look like those of a star player, but the man they nicknamed “Death to Flying Things” was one of the best fielders of his time (he mostly played third base) and he could handle the bat too. He is regarded by most as the first switch-hitter in baseball, a lifetime .265 hitter with 357 RBIs and 544 runs scored.  His best season at the plate was 1878 for the Chicago White Stockings, when he hit .351, with 44 runs and 39 RBIs in 61 games. That ended up being his only .300+ season in the majors. By the time he joined the Alleghenys, he was at the end of his career, already 39 years old, the oldest player in the majors at the time. Ferguson played ten games for Pittsburgh, seeing time at four different spots. He hit just .146, with six singles in 41 at-bats. He played his final game on July 1st and he was relieved of his managerial duties on July 16th, officially ending his big league playing career. He managed for parts or all of 16 seasons in the majors, including an 11-31 record as the second of five managers the 1884 Alleghenys had that season. He played every position in the majors except left field, though most of his time was spent at third base earlier in his big league career and second base later. The only home run Ferguson hit in his Major League career came off another great nickname in baseball history, Ed “The Only” Nolan, who it was said that he always wanted to be the only starting pitcher for the team he was on, though my own extensive research debunked that nickname origin story. Ferguson’s nickname came from his ability to catch fly balls back before any type of gloves were worn. With a birth date on January 31, 1845, he has the earliest date of birth for any player in Pirates history.