This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 4th, Possum, Lefty and Lefties

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Dan Plesac, pitcher for the 1995-96 Pirates. He was a lefty reliever with nine years experience when the Pirates signed him as a free agent on November 9, 1994. He went 2-3, 4.61 in 54 games for the Chicago Cubs in 1994, and had been a closer with the Milwaukee Brewers for five seasons earlier in his career. Plesac went 4-4, 3.58 in 58 games for the Pirates in 1995, striking out 57 batters in 60.1 innings. In 1996, he led all Pirates pitchers in games pitched with 73 and had a 6-5, 4.09 record with 11 saves. Almost two years to the day they signed him as a free agent, the Pirates traded Plesac to the Toronto Blue Jays in a nine-player deal that brought back six players to Pittsburgh. He played another seven seasons in the majors, finishing with 1,064 games pitched, 1,072 innings, 1,041 strikeouts and 158 saves. Plesac was highly touted in high school, but he still turned down a second round pick by the St Louis Cardinals in 1980 so that he could attend North Carolina State. He maintained that high standing in college, getting selected in the first round by the Brewers in 1983, taken 15 picks higher than he was selected three years earlier. It took him just three years before he was in the majors for good, earning a spot on the Brewers 1986 Opening Day roster. In 51 appearances as a rookie, he had a 2.97 ERA, with 14 saves and what ended up being his career high with ten wins. He lowered his ERA slightly each of the next three years while averaging 53 games and 29 saves per year. He had a 2.61 ERA in 1987, 2.41 in 1988 and 2.35 in 1989. Plesac made three straight All-Star appearances during those seasons, which ended up being his only three All-Star appearances during his 18-year career. His ERA rose over 4.00 during the 1990-91 seasons and he lost his closer role. He rebounded in 1992 with a 2.96 ERA, but his two seasons with the Cubs saw him post a 4.68 ERA in 117.1 innings. After Pittsburgh, he pitched for the 1997-99 Blue Jays, the 1999-2000 Arizona Diamondbacks, back to Toronto for 1 1/2 seasons, before finishing up with the 2002-03 Philadelphia Phillies. He had a 2.70 ERA in his final season, though he was strictly a lefty specialist at the time, pitching a total of 33.1 innings over 58 appearances. His nephew Zach Plesac is a starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.

Doug Slaten, relief pitcher for the 2012 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates on January 11, 2012 after going 0-2, 4.41 in 31 relief appearances during the 2011 season with the Washington Nationals. He had a career record of 7-8, 3.60 in 137.2 innings over 206 appearances going into the 2012 season. For the Pirates, Slaten pitched ten games, going 0-0, 2.71 in 13 innings, with nine hits allowed, eight walks and he recorded six strikeouts. Slaten was let go via free agency following the season and never played pro ball again. He was drafted three times from three different schools before he finally signed. In 1998, the Baltimore Orioles took him in the 29th round out of high school. He went to Glendale Community College in 1999 and he was once again selected by the Orioles, this time dropping to the 34th round. Just one year later, Slaten was selected in the 17th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks after transferring to Los Angeles Pierce College. He was a starting pitcher during his first four seasons of pro ball (2000-03), but he didn’t make it to the majors until three years later as a full-time reliever. Slaten was a September recall in 2006 and he pitched nine games for the Diamondbacks. That was followed by spending the entire 2007 season in the majors, where he had a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 innings over 61 appearances, mostly serving in the lefty specialist role. That year ended up being his only full season in the majors. His ERA went up to 4.73 in 45 appearances in 2008, followed by a 7.11 ERA during a brief stint in 2009. He moved on to the Nationals in 2010 and threw 17 shutout innings in Triple-A before joining the big league club for the rest of the year. Slaten had a 3.10 ERA in 40.1 innings over 49 games. He started 62 games in the minors, but never started a Major League game. He had just five games during his big league career in which he threw more than 1.1 innings. Three of them occurred in Pittsburgh, including his career high of three innings on June 6, 2012, and all five were during losses. He passed away at 36 years old in 2016.

Dennis Konuszewski, relief pitcher who threw his only career big league game with the 1995 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Pirates in 1992 out of the University of Michigan, and he spent his entire minor league career in the Pirates farm system, throwing 207 games (33 as a starter) from 1992 until 1997. Konuszewski actually played just four games above Double-A ball ever. He spent three games in Triple-A in 1996 after his one Major League game on August 4, 1995. He came into that one big league game to start the seventh inning against the Houston Astros with the Pirates down 3-2 in the second game of a doubleheader. He walked the first batter he faced, gave up a single to the second hitter, then the Astros dropped down a sacrifice bunt for his lone out. That was followed by two more singles and two runs before he was pulled from the game. That left him with a career 54.00 ERA. Konuszewski didn’t have much success in Triple-A either, allowing 13 hits, 11 runs and five walks in only 3.1 innings. The Pirates called him up to the majors on August 4, 1995 to take the place of pitcher Jim Gott, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Konuszewski was sent back to Double-A Carolina on August 8th when first baseman Kevin Young was activated from the disabled list. So his official big league time lasted four service days. On November 20, 1995, he was dropped from the 40-man roster. After pitching well in the Arizona Fall League after the 1994 season, he was added to the 40-man on November 22, 1994 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He was originally drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 28th round in 1989. After his pro career ended in 1997 when he asked for his release, Konuszewski gained a bit of a reputation as a great softball and vintage base ball player (played under rules from the mid-1800s), leading his teams to numerous league titles and personally winning some home run titles.

Steve Brye, outfielder for the 1978 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the Twins in 1967, taken 17th overall out of St Elizabeth HS in Oakland, CA.  It took him just three seasons to make it to the majors as a September call-up at 21 years old in 1970. Brye had already played eight seasons in the majors when the Pirates signed him as a free agent on April 4, 1978. He played his first seven seasons with Minnesota and then one year with the Milwaukee Brewers (1977), where he hit .249 in 94 games and played errorless ball in 83 games in the outfield. He had just one season with the Twins in which he was an everyday player. In the other seasons, he was either in a platoon role or a bench role. During the 1974 season, he hit .283 in 135 games, with 52 runs scored, 41 RBIs and 32 doubles, setting career highs in all five categories. The next year he set a career best with nine homers, though he manged to hit just 13 doubles, so his overall power numbers didn’t go up. In five of his six full seasons in Minnesota, he finished with at-bat totals between 241 and 278 each season, only topping that high mark with his 488 in 1974. For the Pirates in 1978, he played 66 games, mostly off the bench, splitting his time between all three outfield positions. He made 13 starts in left field, five in right field and five in center field. He hit .235 with nine RBIs in 130 plate appearances. He had an odd split of hitting .345 when he played left field, versus .123 in all other roles (CF/RF/PH). Brye was released shortly after the season ended and would go on to play one more season in Triple-A for the San Diego Padres before retiring as a player. He was a career .258 hitter in 697 Major League games, with 30 homers, 193 RBIs, 237 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.

Possum Whitted, utility fielder for the 1919-21 Pirates. Whitted (first name was George) was in his eighth season in the majors when the Pirates traded an outfielder named Casey Stengel of the Philadelphia Phillies for him on August 9, 1919. Both players were 29 years old at the time and Stengel was also in his eighth big league season. Possum was hitting .249 in 78 games with Philadelphia prior to the trade. He had never batted higher than .281 in a season, but in the last 35 games of the 1919 season for the Pirates, he had 51 hits and a .389 batting average. He took over the Pirates third base job in 1920 and hit .261 with 74 RBIs in 134 games. He had as many triples (12) as doubles (11) and homers (one) combined. In 1921 he moved back to the outfield and hit .283 with 63 RBIs in 104 games. He spent most of his time in right field, though he still got starts in left field, center field and first base. Despite those strong stats, the Pirates sold Whitted to Brooklyn for $2,500 a few weeks prior to the 1922 season. They must have known his Major League career was nearing the end because he lasted just one pinch-hit appearance with Brooklyn before going back to the minors, where he played until age 41 in 1931 and managed for 11 years. He spent his last five years playing first base and managing for Durham of the Piedmont League, a C-ball team, a level equal to someone playing Low-A ball now after their big league career was over.

Owner Barney Dreyfuss actually parted ways with Whitted because he considered him to be the ringleader of a group of players who didn’t always follow club rules for conduct off of the field. The Pirates cut his salary by $2,500 for the 1922 season, which obviously didn’t sit well with Whitted. After the trade, Whitted got himself in trouble with his Brooklyn team by attempting to burn bridges with the Pirates. He was quoted as saying that he was angry at the Pirates for demoting him to Brooklyn, which likely explains why he was sent to the minors on May 4th, ending his big league career. In 11 big league seasons, he hit .269 with 23 homers, 451 RBIs, 440 runs scored and 116 stolen bases in 1,025 games.

It was a bit surprising that the Pirates wanted Whitted in the first place, because he put up his worst career stats (by far) against Pittsburgh, hitting .247 with a .602 OPS. His second lowest mark was .646 against the New York Giants. On the other hand, maybe they figured if he didn’t have to face Pittsburgh pitching, his overall stats would improve. He did have a .733 OPS for the Pirates, and a .675 career mark, but that’s partially skewed by the uptick in offense that baseball saw during his time in Pittsburgh. After the beaning death of Ray Chapman in 1920, MLB teams allowed new baseballs to be put in play more often. That combined with the elimination of new spitball pitchers prior to the 1920 season helped raise offense across the majors.

Lefty Davis, outfielder for the 1901-02 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1896 and wasn’t signed by a Major League club until 1901, but in a three-month span from late March of 1901 until the end of June, he was a member of three different organizations. Davis signed with the Philadelphia Athletics early in 1901, as they prepared to play their first season in American League history (the league existed prior to 1901 but was not considered a Major League). Before he ever played a game for the Athletics, he jumped to the National League to play for the Brooklyn Superbas. After hitting .209 in 25 games he was released and quickly signed with the Pirates. He started in right field and hit .313 in 87 games with 87 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. The Pirates won their first NL title that season. Davis returned for 1902 and hit .280 with 52 runs scored and 19 stolen bases in 59 games, as the Pirates not only won their second straight NL crown, but they also posted their best record ever by going 103-36. His season ended on July 11th when he broke his leg on a freak play at second base. He got caught between a slide and attempting to stay up on a steal of second base when he realized the throw was going into center field. He was ready to play again by September 23rd, but owner Barney Dreyfuss decided to give him his unconditional release that day instead. Dreyfuss said that he paid Davis in full and allowed him to leave because the Pirates didn’t need him for the rest of the season (11 more days at that point). Prior to the start of 1903, Davis signed with the New York Highlanders of the American League. He lasted just two more season in the majors and ended up playing another eight years in the minors, while also managing for four seasons. Davis hit .237 in 104 games for the Highlanders, then returned to the NL four years later, where he hit .229 in 73 games for the Cincinnati Reds. His real name was Alfonzo DeFord Davis. He has a similar story to Possum Whitted after his big league career ended. Davis spent his last two seasons as a player/manager for a C-ball team, playing for Winona of the Northern League. While his minor league stats are slightly incomplete, he played at least 1,355 games over 13 seasons and had over 1,400 hits. He managed a total of four years in the minors.

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