Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date including the first player in Major League history to accomplish two very rare feats.
Johnny Ray, second baseman for the 1981-87 Pirates. He was originally a 12th round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 1979 out of the University of Arkansas, coming to the Pirates in the August 31, 1981 trade that sent Phil Garner to Houston. Ray struggled in full-season ball during his draft year, but he had a strong 1980 season in Double-A, hitting .324 with 48 extra-base hits, 59 walks and 86 runs scored. He moved up to Triple-A in 1981 and at the time of the trade, he was hitting .349 with 50 doubles, 111 runs scored and 19 stolen bases. Ray immediately took over the second base job after joining the Pirates and hit .245 with 11 doubles in 31 games. He started every game during his first full season in the majors in 1982, leading the league in games played, while hitting .281 with 63 RBIs, 79 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. That led to a second place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Ray batted .283 in 1983 and led the league with 38 doubles, winning the Silver Slugger award. He followed that up with his second doubles crown in 1984, again hitting 38, while also posting a career high .312 batting average. The Pirates were bad in 1985 and Ray saw a slight dip in his production, though he managed to drive in 70 runs, which was his career high up to that point. He batted .274 with 33 doubles and 13 stolen bases.
In 1986, Ray topped the .300 batting mark for the second time (.301) and drove in 78 runs, his high while with the Pirates. During the 1987 season he was traded to the California Angels late in the season. His .686 OPS through 123 games was his lowest while with Pittsburgh and the return for the Pirates in the deal reflected his lower production. The Pirates received back Miguel Garcia, a pitcher who played briefly in the majors for parts of three seasons with the Pirates. They also got a power hitting minor leaguer named Bill Merrifield, who played just three minor league games after the trade before he was released. During Ray’s five full seasons in Pittsburgh, he played at least 151 games each year, hit 30 or more doubles every season and scored at least 67 runs. He finished his time in Pittsburgh with a .286 average in 931 games, hitting 202 doubles and 37 homers, while adding 391 RBIs and 414 runs scored. Ray would go to California and make his only All-Star appearance, hitting .306 with a career best 83 RBIs in 1988. He also set a career high with 42 doubles. He signed to stay in California and played two more years for the Angels before finishing his career in the Japan Central League. Ray had a .289 average in 1989, though it came with just 24 extra-base hits, resulting in a .685 OPS. He put up similar production in 1990, with a .277 average and a .679 OPS, though he showed a little more power and drew fewer walks than the previous season. He hit .299 in his first season in Japan, then dropped to a .190 average in 1992, his final season of pro ball. Over his ten-year big league career, he hit .290 in 1,353 games, with 294 doubles, 594 RBIs, 604 runs and 80 stolen bases. Ray had some strong years on defense early in his career, three times finishing among the top ten dWAR players in the National League. In 1983, he had the third best mark with his 2.8 dWAR.
Nick Strincevich, pitcher for the Pirates in 1941-42 and then again from 1944-48. He began his minor league career in 1935 when he was signed by the New York Yankees, and he didn’t make his big league debut until 1940, after the Boston Bees took him in the Rule 5 draft. His career didn’t get off to a good start in pro ball, with 20 walks over 18 innings in 1935 at 20 years old in Class-C ball. He moved down to Class-D ball in 1936 and he went 10-8, 3.94 in 153 innings, while walking just 58 batters. He jumped over a level in 1937 to play for Norfolk of the Piedmont League, where he had an 11-8 record and threw 177 innings. Strincevich moved to the upper levels in 1938, pitching for Newark of the International League, where he went 11-4, 4.32 in 102 innings. He struggled with the same club in 1939, then spent part of the year in the Pacific Coast League, where he had a 3.86 ERA in 56 innings. His only full season in Boston did not go well, as he moved between starting and the bullpen. In 128.2 innings as a rookie, he went 4-8, 5.53 in 14 starts and 18 relief appearances, with more walks (63) than strikeouts (54). The Pirates acquired him the following May in an even swap for Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner, who was on the downside of his career. Prior to the trade, he pitched three times in relief for Boston, allowing five runs in 3.1 innings. Strincevich spent most of his first three seasons with the Pirates in the minors, pitching a total of 19 Major League games before getting his big break in 1944 when many of the best players were serving in the military during WWII. He actually did well in limited time in 1942 with the Pirates, posting a 2.82 ERA in 22.1 innings, but most of the year was spent in the minors. That was followed up by a strong season with Toronto of the International League in 1943, when he went 15-7, 2.40 in 233 innings, yet he didn’t see any time with the Pirates that year. During that big 1944 season with the Pirates, he went 14-7, 3.08 in 190 innings over 26 starts and 14 relief appearances. He would win 16 games the following year, setting a career high with 228.1 innings pitched. He still posted a decent 3.58 ERA in 1946, but the Pirates were a bad team and his record suffered, going 10-15 in 176 innings. Strincevich would throw three shutouts that season, two more than he threw during the rest of his big league career. After all of the players were back from the war effort, he was used out of the bullpen in 1947 and 1948, before the Pirates sold him mid-season to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he finished his Major League career later that year. He pitched two more years in the minors before retiring from baseball. With the Pirates in seven seasons, he went 42-40, 3.64 in 88 starts and 74 relief appearances, throwing a total of 741 innings.
Lefty Webb, pitcher for the 1910 Pirates. He pitched three seasons in the minors prior to being drafted by the Pirates on September 1, 1909 in the Rule 5 draft. He played that 1909 season for Grand Rapids of the Central League, where he had an 11-16 record, pitching 252 innings in 33 games. He allowed an average of 3.07 runs per nine innings (ERA isn’t available, but it’s obviously lower). The 1910 season was his only year in the majors and he was used sparingly throughout the season. He made three starts and four relief appearances, pitching a total of 27 innings. He had a 2-1, 5.67 record. He debuted on May 23rd and played his final big league game on August 5th. His debut was one scoreless inning at the end of a one-sided loss. The next day he was released to New Britain of the Connecticut League, though the Pirates were able to repurchase him during the season if they wanted him back. They did just that a mere 20 days later and he pitched six games over the next eight weeks. It was said that his time with New Britain was cut short because his old Grand Rapids team objected to him being in the minors with another team without their consent. In his first game after returning to the Pirates, Webb threw a complete game in a 6-1 road win over the St Louis Cardinals. He beat St Louis again four days later at Forbes Field, with another complete game. His season took a turn for the worse on July 11th when he gave up six runs in 2.1 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. He had just one mop-up appearance after that point. The 25-year-old Webb would end up pitching ten games in the minors that season for Grand Rapids after the Pirates sent him there on August 20th. He played another four years in the minors before retiring, seeing time with four different clubs, including three Central League teams. Webb won 20 games in 1908 for the Newark Newks of the Ohio State League. He real first name was Cleon.
Henry Yaik, catcher/outfielder for the 1888 Alleghenys. He had three years of semi-pro ball and two seasons of minor league experience before making his Major League debut with Pittsburgh on October 3, 1888. He spent the bulk of the 1888 season playing for Wheeling of the Tri-State League, where he was teammates with Sam Nicholl, who would debut with the Alleghenys two days after Yaik. The Wheeling club ended their season on September 26th and both players signed with the Alleghenys right after the game. His time with Pittsburgh was short, especially when looking at games. He debuted on October 3rd, and by October 4th his big league career was over. Yaik would have played more, but a finger injury in his second game put him on the sidelines for the final eight games of the season. He signed a contract for 1889, but his release was announced on December 30, 1888 in an official press release from the league. However, seven days earlier it was announced that he had signed with Detroit of the International League for the 1889 season, after they were trying to get his services from Pittsburgh. The Alleghenys sold him to Detroit on December 19th for a price that one local paper estimated to be “no more than $200 or $300 because he cost Pittsburgh nothing”. During his brief big league career, he caught one game, played left field in the other and made three errors in each game (one source gave him just one error as a catcher). Yaik went 2-for-6 at the plate with a walk and a run batted in. Yaik joined Pittsburgh on September 27th and he was one of just 12 players they had available at the time after they let Jake Beckley and Fred Dunlap return home early.
Yaik played pro ball as late as 1895, although there are no records of him playing in the minors from 1891 until 1894 and a search for his name came up empty during that time. In 1890, he was the catcher for Cy Young during Young’s only season in the minors. Yaik is one of four lefty throwing catchers in Pirates history. It’s interesting to note that while now his birth date in listed as March 1, 1864, an 1888 bio for him lists it as February 29, 1863 and specifically mentions that he was born on a leap year. If you know anything about leap years, you know that 1863 didn’t have one, but there was one in 1864, so the year could have been off by one. Part of his scouting report after leaving Pittsburgh said that he was very fast down the first base line and he didn’t drink.
Paul Hines, outfielder for the 1890 Alleghenys. He didn’t have much of a career with Pittsburgh, hitting just .182 in 31 games, but Hines accomplish two feats that are very rare in baseball history and he was the first to accomplish both of them. He began his career in 1872 at the age of 17, playing in the National Association, the first recognized Major League. In 1878, he not only became the first player to ever turn an unassisted triple play but he also became the first Triple Crown winner in baseball history.
The triple play has been disputed due to different stories from the players involved. Hines was playing center field and caught a liner with men on second and third base. The runners were off on the play and Hines, who was playing shallow, continued running in on the play and tagged third base. Under the rules of the time, if the runner from second had passed third already and not retouched it yet while returning to second base, the fielder could just tag the base to retire both him and the other runner. Hines threw to second base anyway and that is where the dispute takes place. Some of the players involved said the runner was on his way back to second base so the throw was necessary, while others claimed Hines got to third base before he came back. It would be hard to imagine that Hines was able to get to third base from center field and he didn’t either pass the runner coming back and tag him, or if he wasn’t able to tag him, he would’ve still had enough time to keep running to third base then turn and make the throw to get the runner going back to second base. Because of the dispute between those involved, some sources list Neal Ball of the Cleveland Naps in 1909 as the first player to turn an unassisted triple play, but based on common sense, Hines seems to be the rightful owner of that distinction.
In 1878 home runs were not a common occurrence and RBIs weren’t even an official stat, so when he won the triple crown in 1878 no one knew about it. There was also a problem with his stats that kept him from ever knowing he won the batting crown that year. The player who finished behind him batting, Abner Dalrymple (first batter in Pirates NL history) was awarded the title because stats accumulated in tie games weren’t counted in the overall stats back then. It wasn’t until many years later that research uncovered the error and Hines was awarded the batting title. Hines also won the 1879 batting title without knowing due to Cap Anson being credited with hits from a few games twice that put his average higher than Hines at the time.
Hines finished his career with a .302 batting average, with 1,217 runs, 855 RBIs and 2,133 hits in 1,658 games. His career game totals were cut short due to smaller schedules back in the day. He started in the majors at age 17, but his team didn’t play a 100 game schedule until his 13th season in the majors. With a full schedule, he would’ve likely been a Hall of Famer by now had he played the same amount of seasons (20) he ended up playing. He led the league in doubles three times during his career, once led in hits and twice led in total bases. He had 11 seasons batting over .300 and one year where he finished with a .299 average. Hines played every position at least once during his career, but a large majority of his work came as a center fielder.
During his time in Pittsburgh, he was brought in to play first base and he joined the club during the middle of Spring Training, getting a $2,800 salary. He went right into the lineup before he was ready to face live pitching according to the papers, though that didn’t stop him from collecting three hits on the day he arrived at camp. A week later he had a five-hit game, raising expectations for the veteran. He lowered those expectations a bit days later with four errors in one game. Hines batted third and play first base in the season opener. He started the season so poorly that he was sent home after two weeks. The Alleghenys released him days later, only to rescind that release after they suffered some injuries. He played outfield after returning, but the batting average never returned and they released him on June 13th. He finished the year with the Boston Beaneaters, then finished his big league career with the Washington Statesmen of the American Association in 1891. Hines remained in pro ball though, playing his final minor league game in 1896 at 41 years old, serving his final two seasons as a player-manager.