This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 16th, Six Obscure Former Players

There have been six former Pittsburgh Pirates who were born on this date. Combined they played just 62 games for the Pirates, 51 from one player.

Jorge Rondon, pitcher for the 2016 Pirates. He lasted just two games with the 2016 Pirates after they acquired him off waivers during the previous October. Rondon allowed seven runs on nine hits in 3.2 innings in Pittsburgh, though his first appearance was much better than the second one. On June 19th, he allowed one run over two innings in a loss to the Chicago Cubs. Two days later, he gave up six runs over 1.2 innings in a 14-5 loss at PNC Park to the San Francisco Giants. That game ended up being his final game in the majors. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, he played a total of 11 big league games over two seasons with three different teams. Rondon made his Major League debut on June 29, 2014 with the St Louis Cardinals and he threw a shutout inning. That ended up being his only big league game that season. After the season, the Colorado Rockies picked him up on waivers. Rondon lasted two games with the Rockies and had absolutely awful results. Unlike his time in Pittsburgh, both of his outings were bad. He allowed three runs over one inning in his debut, then had one of the worst outings in big league history. Rondon faced eight batters on May 1, 2015 against the San Diego Padres and all eight batters scored, seven of the runs were earned. He was put on waivers a short time later and he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles by May 10th, leaving him with a 90.00 ERA during his time in Colorado. Rondon debuted for Baltimore with 3.1 shutout innings on August 2nd. It was a short stint, but he was back by the end of the month to finish out the season. He threw two shutout innings in his first game back, then gave up 15 runs over eight innings in his last six appearances combined. Rondon debuted in pro ball in 2006 and is still active, most recently playing winter ball in his home country of Venezuela, though he hasn’t played in the minors since a 2018 stint in Double-A with the Chicago White Sox. He was originally signed by the Cardinals at 18 years old in July of 2006 as an international amateur free agent.

Luis Figueroa, second baseman for the 2001 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Rico at the age of 23 in 1997. He split that first season of pro ball between the two A-ball teams batting .240 with 23 stolen bases. The next season he spent the entire year in Double-A, hitting .249 with 71 walks, though his stolen bases saw a huge decline as he went 6-for-11 in steals. He repeated Double-A in 1999 and saw a slight improvement in his stats, batting .263 with 23 extra-base hits in 131 games. The fact that he was 26 years old and starting the 2000 season back in Double-A for a third year, didn’t look too good for his future. After hitting .284 in 94 Double-A games in 2000, he earned his first promotion to Triple-A late in the year, where he hit .250 in 23 games. He would begin the 2001 season in Triple-A and he hit .300 over 92 games at the level. The Pirates called him up to the majors on June 27th to replace an injured Pat Meares. Figueroa, who was batting .298 at the time, had to be added to the 40-man roster, and the Pirates dropped Andy Barkett to create roster space. Figueroa played four games off of the bench for the Pirates, going 0-for-2 at the plate. He finished three of those games on defense at second base. He was sent back down after the July 2nd game, so the Pirates could activate John Wehner from the disabled list. Six weeks later, Figueroa was put on waivers, where he was picked up by the New York Mets. He remained at Triple-A with his new team and stayed in the minors for quite some time after the move. He was with the Mets until early 2002, then joined the Montreal Expos for the rest of the season and all of 2003. He was with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004 and the Boston Red Sox in 2005. Figueroa finally made it back to the majors in 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays, getting an eight-game trial in May/June. In 2007, he played six games in June with the San Francisco Giants, which ended up being his final big league time. Figueroa would go on to play in the minors with the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs, then back with Toronto. He remained active in the minors through 2012 and he played winter ball until 2016 at age 41. Figueroa played 18 MLB games and 1,617 minor league games and 400+ winter league games (full stats are missing for two seasons). In total, he had over 2,100 hits and over 1,000 runs scored. Figueroa is the cousin of Jose Hernandez, who played shortstop for the Pirates in 2003 and 2006.

Jerry Hairston, outfielder for the 1977 Pirates. He was a third round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox out of high school in Alabama in 1970, and he played for them until the Pirates purchased his contract on June 13, 1977. Hairston made it to the majors after just three years, debuting as a light-hitting left fielder/first baseman, who put up a .271 average and .371 OBP in 60 games as a rookie. He was with the White Sox through late June in 1974, then returned in late August to finish out the season. Hairston was a bench player, mostly seeing time in left field and off of the bench. He batted .229 in 45 games. In 1975, he had a .407 OBP in 69 games, mostly due to a high walk rate. He had a decent walk rate again in 1976, but it came with a .227 and he had no power or speed to his game. Four years into his career, he had no homers and two stolen bases. He did well in abbreviated time in 1977 before joining the Pirates, batting .308 in 13 games. He played 51 games for the Pirates over the last 3 1/2 months of the 1977 season, hitting .192 in 52 at-bats. Two weeks after he joined the team, he hit his first career home run as a pinch-hitter off of Tug McGraw of the Philadelphia Phillies. Exactly two weeks later, he homered again off of Jerry Koosman. Hairston’s contract was sold to a team from the Mexican League in Spring Training of 1978. He returned to the majors in 1981 with the White Sox and played until 1989, spending 13 of his 14 Major League seasons with Chicago.  While he average 100 games played per year over a five-year span (1982-86), Hairston never had more than 271 plate appearances in a season. He became known as a top pinch-hitter during his day and he 434 of his 859 games came in that role.He had a .736 OPS as a pinch-hitter, which was better than the .733 mark he put up in all of his other plate appearances. From 1982 through 1987, he hit five homers in a season five different times. He also finished with somewhere between 18 and 26 RBIs each season during that stretch, showing amazing consistency. Hairston was a .258 hitter in 859 games, with 30 homers and 205 RBIs. He comes from a huge baseball family, one of a handful of three generation families in big league history. His dad Sam Hairston played four years in the Negro Leagues and another year for the 1951 White Sox. His brother John Hairston played for the 1969 Chicago Cubs,  and his sons Jerry and Scott played a combined total of 27 seasons in the majors.

Ray Harrell, pitcher for the 1940 Pirates. He pitched three games for the Pirates during his one season on the team, all in relief, all in losses, and all came within a four-day stretch in early May. He allowed five runs in 3.1 innings before being sent down to the minors, where he posted a 6-23 record pitching for Portland in the Pacific Coast League.  When the Pirates released him to Portland on May 14th, they did it with an agreement in place that allowed them to purchase Portland catcher Ed Fernandes by September 6, 1940. Fernandes was playing for the Pirates just four weeks later. Usually when you see a player from the 40’s with a big gap in their Major League career it is because they served during WWII, but for Harrell he actually played in the minors the whole time until getting a brief shot with the 1945 New York Giants, which ended up being his last season in the majors. He pitched 12 times in relief that season, posting a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings. Prior to joining the Pirates as a waiver pickup in January 1940 (at a cost of $7,500), he played parts of four seasons in the majors with three different teams, compiling a 9-20 record in 104 games. Harrell did not have a strong debut in pro ball and getting noticed for his earlier work in semi-pro ball. Playing in Class B in 1933 at 21 years old, he had a 6.04 ERA and 161 walks in 210 innings while playing for Quincy of the Mississippi Valley League. He moved up to Rochester of the International League the next season and showed massive improvements, with a 4.06 ERA in 184 innings and a much lower walk rate. Harrell debuted with the St Louis Cardinals at the start of the 1935 season and had a 6.67 ERA in 29.2 innings over 11 outings, before spending the final three months of the season in the minors back at Rochester. Harrell spent all of 1936 at Rochester, posting a 4.80 ERA in 212 innings. He then spent all of 1937 in the majors, where he had a 5.87 ERA in 96.2 innings over 15 starts and 20 relief appearances. He did slightly better in a limited role in 1948, putting up a 4.86 ERA in 63 innings. Harrell was sold to the Chicago Cubs after the 1938 season, then traded to the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1939 season. He had a 5.87 ERA that year in 12 starts and 14 relief appearances. He won 164 games during his 15-season minor league career.

Skip Dowd, pitcher for the Pirates on July 5, 1910, which ended up being his only Major League game. Bill Powell started for the Pirates on July 5th against the Chicago Cubs, which ended up being his last start for the Pirates. Unlike Dowd, he was able to pitch 15 games for the team before they gave up on him. Dowd came in to finish of an 11-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs that day. The last four runs by Chicago were all scored against him, though none of them were earned runs. He pitched to 13 batters in his two innings, giving up four hits, two walks and he hit a batter. He would be sold to Indianapolis later that month and he spent the next five seasons in the minors before retiring as a player. At 26 years old in 1915, he had a 14-9 record and pitched 231 innings for Montreal of the International League. He came to the Pirates right after he graduated from Holy Cross College. Dowd actually wasn’t pitching during his last year at college due to an early season arm injury. He was still playing though, seeing time at first base and in center field. The Pirates originally signed him in March, but nothing was announced so that he was able to play his final season of college ball. Before his deal was announced in mid-June, it was believed that he would sign with the Cincinnati Reds, who made him a strong offer to sign, though no one knew that Barney Dreyfuss already had his signature on a deal after putting in a better offer. The local press in Pittsburgh knew that a “mysterious collegian pitcher” signed in March, but they didn’t learn his identity until June 15th. He reported to the Pirates on June 29th after graduating and he was sent to Indianapolis of the American Association on July 25th, which happened to be the same day they let loose Bill Powell. Dowd ended up spending four weeks with the Pirates, despite pitching just one game. His stay in Indianapolis was short as well in 1910, though it was assumed that his arm injury limited his effectiveness and Indianapolis brought him back in 1911. Dowd is one of 77 players from Holy Cross to make it to the majors, although none have appeared in a game since 1977. His real name was James Joseph Dowd.

John Sullivan, catcher for the 1908 Pirates. Sullivan played 13 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1905. That was his only Major League experience prior to coming in to catch for the Pirates at the end of an 11-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on September 5, 1908. It would be his only game for the Pirates. He went 0-for-1 at the plate with a walk and he threw out the only runner that tried to steal against him, which happened in the ninth inning with the score already 11-0. Apparently it was okay to attempt a stolen base late in a blowout back then, but the 35-year-old Sullivan had a strong arm and still got his man. He went 19-for-36 throwing out runners during his short time in the majors. He played in the minors from 1900 until 1910. He didn’t debut in pro ball until he was 27 years old, though when the Pirates brought him up eight years later, he was referred to as “young” during the recap of his first game. Prior to joining the 1908 Pirates, he was playing for the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, where he hit just .211 with four extra-base hits in 90 games. Sullivan and his teammate, pitcher Chick Brandon, were purchased on August 29, 1908 (the same day they acquired Bill Powell) and joined the Pirates on September 2nd, three days before his debut with the team. The pair was asked to report early when Pirates pitcher Bob Vail become ill and was unable to pitch, although Vail happened to be the starting pitcher during Sullivan’s only game, so he recovered fairly quickly it appears. Sullivan came into the game in the sixth inning and caught Sam Leever for the final four innings. After his one game with the Pirates, Sullivan  was soon sent back to Kansas City because he refused to finish out the season for a salary of $350, which would have been his total pay from September 2nd through October 4th. He left the club on September 11th without ever signing a contract.