This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 26th, Preacher Roe and a Heisman Winner

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, starting with the most recent first.

Joe Martinez, pitcher for the 2010 Pirates. He was a 12th round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2005 out of Boston College, who made his Major League debut in 2009. Martinez debuted in short-season ball after the draft and didn’t exactly impress, putting up a 4.30 ERA in 69 innings. He moved up to Low-A the next year and went 15-5, 3.01 in 167.2 innings over 27 starts. He spent the entire season in High-A in 2011, going 10-10, 4.26, while playing in the high offense environment in San Jose. That was followed by the exact same record the next year in Double-A, except this came with a 2.49 ERA in 148 innings. Martinez made the big league Opening Day roster in 2009 without any Triple-A experience. He went 3-2, 7.50 in nine games that season for the Giants, five as a starter. In his second game in the majors on April 9, 2009, he was hit in the head by a liner from Mike Cameron, which caused him to miss nearly half of the season. Martinez went four full months between Major League appearances, returning on August 5th to give up three runs over five innings in a win over the Houston Astros. He spent most of the first four months of the 2010 season in the minors, pitching four games for the Giants over three separate stints, posting a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings. At the July 31st trade deadline, he was sent to the Pirates, along with John Bowker, in exchange for relief pitcher Javier Lopez. Martinez first reported to Triple-A, then joined the Pirates when the rosters expanded in September, posting a 3.12 ERA in five relief appearances. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians after the season and pitched at Triple-A all of 2011. Martinez pitched one game with the 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks after signing there as a free agent. His big league time ended with two games for the 2013 Indians, after signing as a free agent during the 2012-13 off-season. He became a free agent again on October 1, 2013, but didn’t sign until getting a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Angels on March 4, 2014. Just seven weeks later, after posting a 16.36 ERA in three starts, he decided to retire. Martinez went 4-3, 5.82 in his four big league seasons, making six starts and 15 relief appearances, with 55.2 innings pitched. He threw over 1,100 innings during his minor league career.

George Kopacz, first baseman for the 1970 Pirates. He signed his first pro contract in 1960, yet prior to joining the Pirates he had just six games of Major League experience, all with the 1966 Atlanta Braves. He started out with a solid first year of pro ball at 19 years old, playing at the lowest level of the minor league system (Class-D), where he hit .275/.353/.379 in 120 games. He moved up one level in 1961 and hit .327 with 11 homers, 88 RBIs and 105 runs scored in 127 games for Boise of the Pioneer League. Kopacz moved up one level again in 1962 and saw a slight dip in his production across the board, though it was coming in a more pitcher-friendly league. He made what appeared to be a big move towards making the majors in 1963 while playing in the Texas League, which was Double-A at the time. Kopacz batted .321 in 140 games, with 102 runs scored and 86 RBIs. He had a very odd 1964 season that was a setback, playing for three different Triple-A clubs and then back at Double-A at one point, with mediocre results at both levels. That led to him returning to the Texas League in 1965, where his .711 OPS in 128 games was well below his .809 mark two years earlier. Back in Double-A in 1966, he put up an .819 OPS in 94 games, spent 19 games in Triple-A, then got called up to the majors in mid-September. He went 0-for-9 with a walk and run scored in six games. Kopacz spent most of 1967 and 1968 back in Double-A, with average results each year. Pittsburgh acquired him in July, 1969 in exchange for outfielder Shaun Fitzmaurice, who had nine big league games to his credit, all coming in 1966. Kopacz remained in Triple-A after the deal and didn’t do much, but his second push to the majors was just ahead of him. In Triple-A in 1970, he hit .310 with 29 homers, 110 RBIs and 100 runs scored, winning the International League MVP and earning a September call-up to the Pirates. He went 3-for-16 in ten games, with two starts at first base and the rest of his appearances as a pinch-hitter. He returned to the minors in 1971 and played three more seasons, the first two as a member of the Pirates organization. While he didn’t approach his big numbers from 1970, he had solid seasons while still with Pittsburgh, putting up an .879 OPS in 1971 and an .830 mark in 1972. His final year was spent with the New York Yankees affiliate in Syracuse (International League), where he saw a large drop in his production at 32 years old. The Pirates traded him to the Yankees on March 1, 1973 for Tony Solaita, a younger first baseman, with one game of big league experience. In 1,728 minor league games, Kopacz hit 144 homers and drove in 834 runs.

Vic Janowicz, catcher for the Pirates in 1953-54. He was a Heisman winner in College at Ohio State, who the Pirates signed as a bonus baby. His high bonus amount (reported first as $25,000, though it was apparently more like $10,000) meant that the Pirates had to keep him on their Major League roster for two full seasons before he could be sent to the minors or they would lose the rights to his contract. It was announced in October that he would attend Spring Training with the Pirates, but he didn’t actually sign with the Pirates until December 2nd after being released from the Army. Janowicz played just one game of college baseball, but he saw action playing ball while serving in the Army. He saw limited playing time during his two seasons in Pittsburgh, despite the fact the Pirates lost over 100 games each year. He was a catcher during his first season, then saw most of his playing time in 1954 at third base. In 83 career games he hit .214 with two homers and ten RBIs, though he did much better during his first season. Janowicz batted .252 in 42 games in 1953, seeing most of that time from July 10th until the end of the season. He played just six of the first 85 games that year, three as a starter and he had just one complete game during that time. His first game was the 40th game of the season. Over the final 69 team games, he started 29 games behind the plate. In 1954, Janowicz started a late April game in left field. It wasn’t until July 5th that he made another start or even played in the field again. Over a 63-game stretch, he pinch-hit seven times and pinch-ran six times. From July 5th until July 24th, he was the everyday third baseman, but he batted just .158 during that stretch. After July 24th, he played just nine more games and made one start. The Pirates used seven different starters at third base in 1954, with six of them making more than ten starts. The Pirates released Janowicz after the 1954 season, though they didn’t have much choice because he signed a lucrative two-year deal to play in the NFL for the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately for Janowicz, a car accident in 1956 ended his playing career. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976. We recently posted a Card of the Day article looking at his 1954 Topps card.

Preacher Roe, lefty pitcher for the 1944-47 Pirates. He was originally signed by the St Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1938 and pitched one game in the majors that season at 22 years old. It would be six years later before he reached the majors again. On September 30, 1943 the Pirates sent two players and cash to the Cardinals for Roe. He had pitched the previous five seasons in the high level minors, getting into 150 games, 85 as a starter, although he never topped 167 innings pitched. He had his best year in 1943, going 15-7, 2.37 in 167 innings for Columbus of the American Association. That would be his last time in the minors. For the 1944 Pirates he went 13-11, 3.11 in 39 games (25 starts) with 185.1 innings pitched. He would win 14 games the following year, upping his innings pitched to 235, while throwing 15 complete games. He led the NL in strikeouts with a career high of 148, and his 2.87 ERA ranked sixth in the league. An off-season fight prior to 1946 led to a skull fracture that severely hampered his last two seasons in Pittsburgh. He went a combined 7-23 between 1946-47 with an ERA over 5.00 each season. In December 1947 he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a six-player deal. Roe would pitch seven seasons in Brooklyn, going 93-37 for a team that would make three World Series appearances during his time there. His success in Brooklyn was immediate. In 1948 he went 12-8, while posting a career best 2.63 ERA. He went 15-6 in 1949, then threw a shutout in game two of the World Series. Roe made the All-Star team that season for the first of four consecutive years. He also received mild MVP support each year, topping out with a fifth place finish in 1951. During the 1950 season, he went 19-11, 3.30 in 250.2 innings. He had an incredible win-loss record in 1951, going 22-3, 3.04 in 257.2 innings. He set a career high in innings and he had his only 20-win season. Roe’s workload dropped over his final three seasons, but he was still effective, and the Dodgers made it to the World Series in 1952 and 1953. He went 11-2, 3.12 in 158 innings in 1952, then won game three of the World Series. He was also used in relief twice during the postseason. Despite a 4.36 ERA in 1953, he still had an 11-3 record. He lost his only start during the World Series that year. In his final season, Roe was used sparingly, mostly as a spot starter. He had a 5.00 ERA in 63 innings. He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles after the season, but decided to retire instead. In his career, he went 127-84, 3.43 in 1,914.1 innings. His first name was Elwin, but he went by the Preacher childhood nickname.

Jack Hammond, second baseman for the 1922 Pirates. He first played minor league ball in 1909 before attending Colgate University. Hammond returned to the minors in 1914 with Springfield of the Eastern Association and he hit .261 with 41 steals in 124 games. He then played with the Cleveland Indians, making their 1915 Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. In 35 games, he hit .214 with four runs batted in, before finishing the season in the minors. He remained in the minors until 1922 when he again played for the Indians, this time for just one game in late April, though an injury kept him from playing more. Hammond had played well as the player/manager for Pittsfield of the Eastern League in 1921, impressing with his all-around game on offense, defense and his running, as well as his leadership qualities, which earned him his second chance at the majors. Cleveland needed to get their roster down to 25 men by May 15th and Hammond was one of the players to go to get to that limit. He was picked up on waivers by the Pirates on May 13th. Hammond was used sparingly in Pittsburgh, getting just two at-bats and five pinch-running appearances during his first month. Beginning on June 14, he started three straight games at second base, going 1-for-3 in each game, and he made every play hit his way in the field. Those games would be his last in the majors. He finished his playing career the next season in the minors. On June 26th, the Pirates left him behind when they went on a short road trip (five days) to Cincinnati and Chicago. Just two days later, he was released outright to Kansas City of the American Association, ending his brief time in Pittsburgh. Hammond hit .321 in 76 games for Kansas City, then finished his pro career with a .300 batting average in 121 games in 1923. He is one of just 15 graduates of Colgate to ever play in the majors, and out of that group, Hammond is third with 45 games played. His 13 runs scored are five more than the 12 lowest players scored combined. No Colgate graduate has played in the majors since the 1963 season. He’s referred to as Jack now, but his real name was Walter Charles Hammond and he was known as Walter during his time in Pittsburgh.

Sam LaRocque, infielder for the Pirates/Allegehenys in 1890-91. He played in the minors from 1884 until 1907, getting in just three seasons of Major League experience along the way. He played his first two games in the majors in 1888 for the Detroit Wolverines, hitting .444 (4-for-9) but also making four errors. He next appeared with the 1890 Alleghenys, a team that would finish 23-113 on the season. LaRocque was signed on October 21, 1889 as part of a group of three players signed by the Alleghenys that day, as they tried to get good players ahead of the potential losses to the upstart Player’s League in 1890. He played well for Quincy of the Central Interstate League in 1889, hitting .363 in 35 games, but he hit just .210 while playing for London of the more advanced International League during the rest of the year. LaRocque played 111 games for the Alleghenys in 1890, hitting .242 with 27 steals and 59 runs scored. Most of his time was spent at second base, though he did get 31 games at shortstop, including the Opening Day assignment. On June 5th, the local papers announced that he was released due to excessive drinking, which earned him a fine earlier in the season. LaRocque denied that he was released and instead said that he was too sick to play at the time. Teams still controlled players for ten days back then after releasing them and just three days later, the Alleghenys rescinded their release and brought him back. He remained through the end of the season and he was one of just three players from the 1890 club to play with the team into the next season, though his stay was short. In 1891 he played one game at third base for Pittsburgh, going 0-for-4 with two errors, before being released. He moved on to Louisville of the American Association later that season, where he hit .314 in ten games, which was his last time in the big leagues. While his minor league stats are incomplete, it’s known that he played over 1,500 games and he had at least ten seasons in which he had a .300+ average. LaRocque hailed from Canada and his real name was Simeon Henry Jean LaRocque. His name was often spelled LaRoque while in Pittsburgh.