This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 6th, Make Way for the Sluggers

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and five of them were significant contributors.

Pedro Alvarez, third baseman for the 2010-15 Pirates. He was the first round draft pick of the Pirates in 2008, selected second overall out of Vanderbilt. The Boston Red Sox originally selected him in the 14th round out of high school three years earlier. Alvarez signed too late to play in 2008, then split his first season of pro ball between high-A and Double-A. He .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBIs. He moved to Triple-A for 2010 and hit .277 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs in 66 games. Alvarez made his big league debut on June 16, 2010 and he hit .256 in 95 games, with 16 homers and 64 RBIs, giving him 117 total runs batted in on the season. He struggled badly during the 2011 season, spending 50 days on the disabled list, and he was even optioned to the minors for part of the year. In 74 games, he hit .191 with four homers. In 2012, Alvarez hit .244 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs. He also struck out 180 times, setting a franchise single-season record.

In 2013, Alvarez won the National League home run crown with 36 homers, which was the most for the Pirates since Brian Giles hit 38 in 2002. Alvarez drove in 100 runs that season, won the Silver Slugger award and made the All-Star team for the only time in his career. He also struck out 186 times, breaking his own team record. For the second straight year he led all of baseball with 27 errors. He had an injury in 2014, which limited him to a .231/.312/.405 slash line in 122 games. Alvarez moved to first base in 2015 and hit 27 homers and drove in 77 runs. He was let go after the season with one year remaining before free agency and ended up playing 168 games over the next three seasons for the Baltimore Orioles. The move to the American League helped his value because he was able to serve often as the DH, keeping him out of the field, where he compiled a -7.2 dWAR during his nine-year career. Overall, he had 5.1 WAR in his career, thanks almost solely due to his power. He finished with a .236/.309/.441 slash line in 742 games in Pittsburgh and he put up a .794 OPS in Baltimore. Alvarez ranks 13th in franchise history with 131 homers.

Richie Zisk, outfielder for the 1971-76 Pirates. He was a third round draft pick of the Pirates out of high school in 1967. Zisk spent six seasons in the minors, hitting .300 with 129 homers before earning his first Opening Day job in the majors. He played 24 games with the Pirates between the 1971-72 seasons, mostly as a September call-up, though he did have a short stint in July in 1972. It was a bit surprising that it took him that long to finally earn a spot, and it took the passing of Roberto Clemente to open up a spot. Zisk broke into pro ball with a .307 average and 16 homers in 56 games in the Appalachian League at 18 years old in 1967. He had a .920 OPS in full-season ball the next year, then moved up to High-A and put up a .919 OPS in 1969. He spent all of 1970 in Double-A and hit .296 with 34 homers in 125 games. In 1971 before his first September trial, he batted .290 in Triple-A, with 29 homers, 109 RBIs and 94 walks. He did even better in 1972, at least with the OPS, going from a .953 mark, to a .969 OPS in 1972, yet his big league time was limited each year because the Pirates were a playoff team.

In 1973, Zisk made the Opening Day roster and he was the everyday right fielder for the last two months of the season. He played 103 games that year, hitting .324 with 54 RBIs, leading to a ninth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. The 1974 season would see him finish ninth in the MVP voting, as he drove in 100 runs, with a .313 batting average, which was the sixth highest average in the National League. Zisk batted .300 during the NLCS series. He hit .290 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs in 1975, helping the Pirates to the playoffs for the second straight year. They would lose both years in the NLCS, but Zisk hit ,500 this time in the playoffs. Those two brief series would end up being the only playoff experience of his 13-year career.

In 1976, Zisk set career highs with 91 runs and 35 doubles. He hit 21 homers (his high while with the Pirates) and drove in 89 runs. With Omar Moreno establishing himself as a regular, and Zisk having just one season left before he hit free agency, the Pirates traded him to the White Sox for Goose Gossage and Terry Forster on December 10, 1976. The Pirates needed pitching at the time, so they traded from their surplus of outfielders. Zisk went on to hit 30 homers and drive in 101 runs in his only year in Chicago, making the All-Star team for the first time in his career. He signed a five-year deal with the Texas Rangers on November 9, 1977, then played the first three seasons of that deal in Texas before he was traded to the Seattle Mariners, where he finished his career in 1983. Zisk hit .271 in 419 games with the Rangers, with 69 homers and a 226 RBIs. He made his second All-Star appearance during the 1978 season. He hit .286 in 315 games with the Mariners, collecting 49 homers and 141 RBIs. He was a career .287 hitter with 792 RBIs in 1,453 games over 13 seasons. With the Pirates, he finished with a .299 average, 69 homers and 324 RBIs. After his playing days, he spent 15 seasons coaching (two years managing) for the Daytona Cubs. He’s also done scouting work for the Chicago Cubs.

Bill Koski, pitcher for the 1951 Pirates. He was rushed to the majors as a 19-year-old after just ten lower level minor league games in 1950. While playing for Mayfield of the KITTY League, he went 8-2, 2.42 in 78 innings. The Pirates were one of 13 teams interested in signing him right out of high school in June of 1950, so they used some star power to get his name signed to a contract. At the time, legendary actor Bing Crosby was a part owner of the Pirates, so the club had him call Koski’s father to help convince him to sign with Pittsburgh. It worked, and by July 10th, Koski was starting for Mayfield. The Pirates gave him the maximum bonus allowed without him qualify as a Bonus Baby player, which would have meant that the Pirates would have to immediately add him to the big league roster. Despite avoiding that rush to the majors, Koski didn’t take long to join the big league club. The Pirates assigned him to New Orleans of the Southern Association during the off-season, then purchased his contract on a 30-day trial basis. He began the 1951 season on the Pirates Opening Day roster and started his career with a three no-hit innings in relief during his first appearance. That earned him a start a week later and he picked up his only career decision in a loss to the Giants. Koski was with the Pirates through early June before returning to the minors. On June 15th, the Pirates made a 2-for-5 player swap with the St Louis Cardinals and Koski was one of the players sent to the minors (New Orleans) to make room for all of the new players. He came back up on September 5th and had two more relief outings. That would turn out to be his only season in the majors. He struggled with his control during his brief big league time, walking 28 batters in 27 innings with just six strikeouts. He had a 6.67 ERA and a 2.,00 WHIP. Koski spent 1952 in the minors, then served in the Korean War before returning to minor league baseball for four more seasons. He actually rejoined the Pirates on July 14, 1954 ahead of a doubleheader, when the Pirates were short-handed. It was said that he was out of options and was placed on waivers immediately upon arriving with the Pirates. The reason for the move was that minor league waiver claims cost $500 and big league claims cost $10,000, so if they were going to lose him, they wanted the most money that they could receive. When he wasn’t claimed after ten days, the Pirates released him by sending him outright to Waco of the Big State League.

Smoky Burgess, catcher for the 1959-64 Pirates. He came to the Pirates in January 1959 from the Cincinnati Reds as part of the seven-player Harvey Haddix/Don Hoak trade. The 32-year-old Burgess already had nine years of big league experience at that point. He signed with the Chicago Cubs at 17 years old in 1944 and debuted in the majors five years later. He batted .378 in 115 games at the lower levels of the minors during the 1947 season, then topped that mark with a .386 average in 1948, playing 116 games for Nashville of the Southern Association. He saw limited time during his first season in the majors in 1949, starting five of his 46 games, while accumulating just 60 plate appearances total. Burgess, whose real first name was Forrest, spent the entire 1950 season in the minors, where he hit .327  for Springfield of the International League. He returned to the Cubs and batted .251 in 94 games in 1951. After the season, he was part of a seven-player deal that sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies. He immediately did better at the plate with his new team, batting .296 and .292 during his first two seasons in Philadelphia. However, his best was yet to come. During the 1954 season, Burgess posted a .368 batting average in 345 at-bats over 108 games. He also made his first All-Star appearance that year. Burgess didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title race, but his average was 23 points higher than league leader Willie Mays that season. Just seven games into the 1955 season, Smoky was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where he made his second straight All-Star appearance. He hit .301 that season, setting career highs  with 21 homers and 78 RBIs. His playing time dropped off during the next three seasons in Cincinnati, failing to reach 100 games or 275 plate appearances in any of those years. In the season before joining the Pirates, Burgess hit .283 with six homers, and he started just 53 games.

After joining the Pirates, Smoky hit .297 with 59 RBIs in 377 at-bats in 1959. He had an OPS of .834 thanks to 44 extra-base hits in his limited at-bats. He also made the All-Star team for the first of three consecutive seasons. He hit .294 in 1960, helping the Pirates to a World Series title by hitting .333 (6-for-18) in the postseason. Burgess hit .303 with 52 RBIs in 323 at-bats in 1961 and topped his 1959 OPS with an .851 mark, but he would be even better during the following season. In 1962, he had 360 at-bats and hit .328 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs, his high in all three Triple Crown categories while with the Pirates. His playing time decreased in 1963, and his average dropped to .280. By early September in 1964, he was put on waivers by the Pirates, finishing the year with the Chicago White Sox. He spent the next three years in Chicago, serving almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter, with just three starts during that time. In 18 Major League seasons he hit .295 with 126 homers and 673 RBIs in 1,691 games. He pinch-hit 551 times in his career, hitting .278 with 138 RBIs. With the Pirates, he batted .296 in 586 games, with 51 homers and 265 RBIs. Burgess led all National League catchers in 1953 with the Phillies and 1960-61 with the Pirates.

Dale Long, first baseman for the 1951 and 1955-57 Pirates. He was in the minors for seven seasons before he got his first chance at the majors for the Pirates in 1951. He was taken in the December 1950 Rule 5 draft, and the Pirates were his fifth organization. He spent time playing for the minor league affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees between 1945 and 1950.He played just ten games with the 1951 Pirates before he was put on waivers, where he was picked up by the St Louis Browns on June 1st. The Pirates cut Long after they claimed outfielder Jack Maguire off waivers, only to lose Maguire on waivers to the Browns just five weeks later. The Pirates attempted to make Long a left-handed catcher during Spring Training, but it ended up being a failed experiment, though he was still the team’s emergency catcher early in the season. He lasted just 34 games in St Louis before the Pirates reacquired him on December 6, 1951 and assigned him to their affiliated team in New Orleans. The Pirates received $10,000 when he was claimed on waivers, and they paid just $1,000 to get him back six months later. Long became a feared slugger for their minor league affiliates during the 1952-54 seasons, but never got a second shot at the majors during that time. He hit 33 homers for New Orleans in 1952, then hit smacked a total of 58 homers for Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League during the 1953-54 seasons.

In 1955 the Pirates gave him his second chance with the team and he excelled. He hit .291 in 131 games, with 79 RBIs and he led the NL with 13 triples. Long made his only All-Star appearance in 1956 when he slugged 27 homers and drove in 91 runs. From May 19th until May 28th, he homered in eight straight games, setting a still standing (since tied) record for consecutive games with a home run. Long struggled after the home run streak ended. He had a .411 average and a 1.288 OPS after play on May 28th. From May 29th through the end of the season, he had a .653 OPS in 114 games. In early 1957 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in a four-player deal that brought Gene Baker and Dee Fondy to the Pirates. Long would play in the majors until 1963, seeing time with the Cubs, Washington Senators, San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees after leaving Pittsburgh. He played against the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, and then later won a World Series ring with the 1962 Yankees, though he spent most of that time in between postseason appearances playing for the Senators. Long finished his career with a .267 average and 132 homers in 1,013 games. In his four seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .272 with 44 homers and 176 RBIs in 296 games. During the 1958 season, he played two games at catcher, making him one of the last lefty catchers in MLB history to this day. Just Mike Squires (1980 Chicago White Sox) and Benny Distefano of the 1989 Pirates have been lefty catchers since then.

Glenn Wright, shortstop for the Pirates from 1924 until 1928. He had played three seasons of minor league ball before the Pirates purchased his contract from the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. Wright hit 22 homers during the 1921 season at 20 years old, spending most of the year in the low-level Southwestern League playing for a team called the Independence Producers. He saw some brief time with Kansas City that year, making a jump over three levels of the minors to his new team. He did well there in 1922, hitting .299 in 142 games, with 40 extra-base hits. He followed that up with a .313 average in 153 games, collecting 58 extra-base hits. Right before the Pirates acquired him, the local Kansas City papers ran a story talking about Wright going up to the majors next year, saying that he took mean cuts at the plate, hitting the ball hard and far, and that he had a great arm and ran well. In particular, the story focused on the arm and on how he always played the cutoff man on throws from the outfield. There was a story in March of 1923 that Wright asked to remain in Kansas City for the 1923 season because he felt he was ready yet for the Major Leagues, so the team reportedly turned down a large offer from the Washington Senators to keep him one more year. However, the next month the Pirates were said to have acquired him for four players (plus cash reported to be no less than $40,000), with the understanding that he would remain in Kansas City for the entire season on option.

Wright had an outstanding rookie season in 1924, finishing third in the National League with 111 RBIs, third with 18 triples, and he led the league with 616 at-bats. He also set a record for assists by a shortstop with 601, a total that has been topped only once since (Ozzie Smith in 1980). Wright would finish 11th in the NL MVP voting that season. His second season was even better than his first. He hit .308 and drove in 121 runs while scoring a career high 97 runs. He collected 60 extra-base hits, led NL shortstops again in assists and this time finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. The Pirates went to the World Series that year and Wright struggled with a .185 average, but the Pirates still took the series in seven games. On May 7, 1925, he turned an unassisted triple play, just the sixth in MLB history at the time.

In 1926, Wright played just 119 games, missing some time in August after suffering an injury during a clubhouse scuffle. Prior to the injury he was hitting .324, but upon returning three weeks later, his average dropped down below .300, only coming back to .308 by going 6-for-8 in the last two games of the season. Healthy for the 1927 season, he hit .281 and drove in 105 runs, topping the century mark in RBIs for a third time in four years. He led all NL shortstops in games played, putouts and also errors. The Pirates made the World Series again and again Wright had his postseason troubles, hitting .154 as the Pirates lost in four games. He played just 108 games in 1928, missing some time with off-field problems and he was now in the manager’s doghouse. After the season, the Pirates traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for pitcher Jesse Petty and a backup infielder named Harry Riconda. It was an awful return for a star shortstop, but it wouldn’t go as poorly as it could have for the Pirates. Wright would be injured almost all of 1929, then come back in 1930 to hit .321 with 22 homers and 126 RBIs, before injuring his leg. That injury would effectively end his days as a star shortstop. He posted a .772 OPS in 1931 in 77 games and even got some mild MVP support, but he saw his value on defense drop along with his hitting. In 1932, Wright had a .732 OPS in 127 games, which was his last productive year in the majors at age 31. He batted .235 with one homer in 71 games in 1933, then finished his big league career with nine games for the 1935 Chicago White Sox. He was a career .294 hitter with 723 RBIs in 1,119 games. Wright was done as a big league player in 1935, but he continued playing in the minors until 1938, the last three years as a player-manager. He also managed in the minors in 1946 and 1955 and scouted for a long time for the Boston Red Sox.

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