This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 4th, Dazzy Vance and Michael McKenry

There have been eight former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date. Before we get into them, current reliever Richard Rodriguez turns 31 today. He will get his bio once he’s a former player.

Cory Luebke, pitcher for the 2016 Pirates. He was drafted three times before he finally signed, the first time by the Pirates out of high school. After passing on signing as an 18th round pick in 2004, the Texas Rangers selected Luebke in the 22nd round two years later. He then moved up to the 63rd overall pick in 2007 (still considered a first round pick that year), taken by the San Diego Padres. He signed quickly and split the season over three levels, posting a 3.07 ERA in 58.2 innings. The next year did not go well, splitting the season between High-A and Low-A, Luebke went 6-9, 5.12 in 128.1 innings. He completely turned things around in 2009, playing between High-A and Double-A. He had a 2.78 ERA in 129.2 innings, despite spending more than half of the year in the high-offense California League. Luebke started off 2010 with a 2.40 ERA in Double-A over eight starts and two relief appearances. He moved up to another high offense league, the Pacific Coast League, and posted a 5-0, 2.97 record in nine starts. That led to a September call-up to the Padres, and he had a 4.08 ERA in 17.2 innings. He spent the entire 2011 season with the Padres, making 17 starts and 29 relief appearances. In 139.2 innings, he went 6-10 with a 3.29 ERA. Luebke did great in five April starts in 2012, before his career was completely derailed. He missed the rest of the season with a strained elbow, followed by two Tommy John surgeries and another injury that cost him all of 2013, 2014 and most of 2015. The Pirates signed him as a minor league free agent in February of 2016 and he made the Opening Day roster as a reliever. A hamstring injury quickly put him out of action and by June he was released. In nine appearances, he allowed nine runs over 8.2 innings with the Pirates. He finished the 2016 season in the minors for the Miami Marlins, then signed with the Chicago White Sox for 2017, before retiring in May of 2017. In his big league career, he had a 3.52 ERA in 197 innings.

Michael McKenry, catcher for the 2011-13 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2006 out of Middle Tennessee State, who made his Major League debut in September of 2010. McKenry had a rough debut in short-season ball, hitting .216 in 66 games in 2006. He moved up to Low-A with Asheville of the South Atlantic League in 2007 and had an outstanding year, hitting .287 with 22 homers, 90 RBIs and 66 walks. He moved up to High-A in 2008, where he hit .258 with 18 homers, 75 RBIs and 55 walks in the high-offense California League. McKenry had a similar season in Double-A the next year, batting .279 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs and 54 walks in 102 games. He struggled in winter ball in the Dominican, then had average stats in Triple-A the next year (.752 OPS in 99 games), playing in a hitter-friendly park for Colorado Springs. He went 0-for-8 at the plate in six games for the Rockies that September. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox prior to the start of the 2011 season and played in Triple-A, before the Pirates picked him up in early June after a rash of injuries depleted their catching ranks. McKenry caught 58 games for Pittsburgh in 2011 and hit .222 with 11 RBIs in 180 at bats. He remained with the team for two more seasons and served in a platoon role in 2012. That year he hit .233 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 88 games. He had a similar role through late July of 2013 before a knee injury ended his season and his time with the Pirates. In his final game with the Pirates, he collected four hits and drove in two runs. In Pittsburgh, he finished with a .226 average, 17 homers and 64 RBIs in 187 games. He became a free agent after the season and played two seasons in Colorado (2014-15), followed by his final three big league games for the 2016 St Louis Cardinals. His 2016 season was a wild ride. He signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers in February, then got released in May. He signed with the Cardinals and spent two months there before being released. On July 23rd, he signed with the Atlanta Braves, who sold him to the Milwaukee Brewers. Before the calendar year was up, he became a free agent and signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for 2017. McKenry spent the entire 2017 season in Triple-A, before retiring as a player. He is currently an announcer for the Pirates. He was a .238 hitter in 311 big league games, with 29 homers and 103 RBIs.

Bruce Aven, outfielder for the 2000 Pirates. He was a 30th round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians out of Lamar University in 1994, who made it to the majors by August of 1997 season. Aven batted .332 after signing in short-season A-ball, then put up big power numbers during his next two seasons. He hit 23 homers for Kingston of the Carolina League in 1995, then another 24 in 1996, while spending a large majority of the season with Double-A Canton-Akron. He also put up a .304 average and a .911 OPS in 1996. In 1997, he began the year at Triple-A, where he batted .287 with 17 homers, 77 RBIs and 50 walks in 121 games. Aven debuted with the Indians on August 27, 1997 and he hit .211 in 13 games. He missed all but five Triple-A games of 1998 due to elbow surgery. He spent 1999 with the Florida Marlins  after being selected off waivers on October 28, 1998. He hit .289 with 12 homers and 70 RBIs in 137 games for Florida. In December of 1999, the Marlins traded him to the Pirates in exchange for outfielder Brant Brown. Aven hit .250 with 25 RBIs in 72 games for the Pirates, seeing time at all three outfield spots, before they shipped him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in early August. Aven played just nine games with the 2000 Dodgers. He made brief appearances for the Dodgers in 2001 (21 games) and Indians in 2002 (seven games) before finishing his career in the minors in 2003 as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. He was briefly with the Philadelphia Phillies in the minors during the 2002 season after the Indians traded him for pitcher Jeff D’Amico on June 25th. In his big league career, he hit .273 with 20 homers and 103 RBIs in 259 games. Aven stole just six bases in the majors and only attempted ten steals total. In the minors, he had 59 steals over his first four years, then stole just 13 bases over his last five seasons.

Brian Hunter, first baseman for the 1994 Pirates. He was an eighth round pick in 1987 at 19 years old, selected by the Atlanta Braves out of Cerritos College in California. It’s a school that has produced 16 big league players, but just one (Joel Adamson) since the 1987 draft when Hunter and Bret Barberie both made it. Hunter didn’t have the best start to his pro career, batting .231 with a .295 OBP in the Appalachian League during his first season. However, he moved up to A-ball in 1988 and hit 25 homers and drove in 80 runs, while putting up an .819 OPS. He was in Double-A by 1989, hitting .253 with 19 homers and 82 RBIs in 124 games. Hunter remained in Double-A for more than half of the 1990 season, hitting .241 with 14 homers. He added another five homers in Triple-A, but it came with a .197 average in 43 games. He earned a trip to the majors with a decent start to the 1991 season in Triple-A, batting .260 with ten homers and 30 RBIs in 48 games. For the Braves, Hunter batted .251 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs in 97 games. He finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He batted .333 with a homer in the NLCS against the Pirates that year, then he hit just .190 in the World Series, which was won by the Minnesota Twins. In 1992, Hunter hit .239 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs in 102 games. The Braves made it to the World Series again in 1992 and he went 1-for-5 in both the NLCS and the World Series, which they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays. Hunter struggled in 1993, hitting .138 in 37 games, which caused him to spend part of the season back in the minors. The Pirates acquired him in November of 1993 in exchange for minor league infielder Jose Delgado. Hunter played 76 games with the Pirates, hitting .227 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs, prior to being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in late July for minor league outfielder Micah Franklin. The trade happened shortly before the strike ended the season, so Hunter played just nine games for the Reds that year. He finished as the Pirates team leader in home runs that season. Hunter hit .215 with one homer in 40 games for the 1995 Reds, then he batted .268 with seven homers in 75 games for the 1996 Seattle Mariners. After spending the entire 1997 season in the minors, he reemerged in the majors with the 1998 St Louis Cardinals, where he hit .205 with four homers in 62 games. He ended up back with the Atlanta Braves in 1999, hitting .249 with six homers and 30 RBIs, while playing a career high 114 games. He came off of the bench in 74 of those contests. He went 2-for-18 in the playoffs, as the Braves lost the World Series to the New York Yankees that year. He began the 2000 season with the Atlanta Braves, but after just two games, he was lost on waivers to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he hit .210 with seven homers in 85 games. That ended up being his final big league season. Hunter played in the minors until 2002, hitting 142 homers over 13 minor league seasons. He was a .234 Major League hitter with 67 homers in 699 games. During most of Hunter’s career, there was another National League outfielder named Brian Hunter.

Mel Queen, pitcher for the Pirates in 1947-48 and 1950-52. He was signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1938 and he spent most of his first seven seasons of pro ball in the minors. He pitched just 33 Major League games for New York, seeing four early season appearances in 1942, followed by ten starts at the end of the 1944 season. He went 6-3, 3.20 in 81.2 innings that season, completing four games, including a 14-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Athletics on September 4th. That performance would have likely led to more during the 1945 season, but he was inducted into the Army in February of 1945 and wasn’t released until June of 1946. Queen had a 6.43 ERA in 30.1 innings over 14 appearances in 1946. In five early season appearances for the 1947 Yankees, he had a 9.45 ERA in 6.2 innings. The Pirates purchased his contract that July and put him in the starting rotation, where he went 3-7, 4.01 the rest of the way. In 1948 he spent most of the year in the bullpen and struggled. In 25 games he made eight starts and had a 6.65 ERA in 66.1 innings pitched. Queen spent the entire 1949 season in Triple-A, where he won 22 games for Indianapolis of the American Association. The Pirates put him in their rotation for 1950 and stuck with him most of the way, despite a final record of 5-14 with a 5.98 ERA in 120.1 innings. In 1951 he set career highs in wins (seven), innings pitched (168.1) and games pitched (39), with 21 of those appearances in the starting role. Queen had two very poor outings to start the 1952 season and then was sent to the minors, where he pitched another four years before retiring. His final game on May 1st saw him give up seven runs over two innings. Later that same day, the Pirates released him to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. With the Pirates in five seasons, he went 19-36, 5.33 in 432.1 innings. He was 8-4, 4.27 in 124.1 innings during four years with the Yankees. He won 134 games during his minor league career. His son, Mel Queen Jr., pitched seven seasons in the majors and held numerous other jobs in baseball up until his passing in 2011.

Clyde McCullough, catcher for the 1949-52 Pirates. He began his pro career in 1935 at 18 years old and made his Major League debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1940, pinch-hitting once in April, then returning mid-September for eight more games. McCullough did well in the lower levels, debuting with a .263 average and 42 extra-base hits in 130 games during his first season. He batted .306 in his second season, then jumped to a .329 average for Binghamton of the New York-Penn League in 1937. He moved up to the upper levels of the minors in 1938 and hit just .234 in 90 games. Before joining the Cubs in 1940, he hit .277 with 38 extra-base hits in 108 games for Kansas City of the American Association. He put up big numbers between his big league stints in 1940, batting .324 with 53 extra-base hits in 145 games for Buffalo of the International League. McCullough earned a spot with the Cubs in 1941 and he hit .227 with nine homers and 53 RBIs in 125 games. That ended up being his career high for games, homers and RBIs during his 15-year big league career. He batted .282 in 109 games in 1942, then saw his average drop to .237 in 1943, while his work was limited to 87 games. After playing four seasons, he enlisted in the Navy and missed the 1944-45 seasons, although he was back in time to play in the 1945 World Series. He played three more seasons for the Cubs and was even named to the 1948 All-Star game despite playing just 69 games and compiling a .209 batting average. In his first season back from the war, McCullough hit .287 in 95 games. His .755 OPS was a career high for the first nine years of his career. The Pirates acquired him in a four-player deal during December 1948, with two players going each way. McCullough played four seasons in Pittsburgh, catching about 60% of the games over the 1949-51 seasons. He had a .237 average and a .665 OPS during his first season with the team. In 1950, he hit .254 with six homers and 34 RBIs in 103 games. It was the only time in his final 12 seasons that he topped 100 games. In 1951, he hit a career high .297 with 39 RBIs. His .806 OPS was also his best. That ended up being just a one-year high. McCullough batted .233 with one homer in 66 games in 1952. Pittsburgh traded him back to the Cubs after the 1952 season in exchange for pitcher Dick Manville and cash. McCullough made the All-Star team in 1953 again, this time playing just 77 games all year, while hitting .258 with six homers. He played with the Cubs until 1956, playing a total of 89 games over his final three seasons, which included 49 total starts. McCullough finished his pro career in the minors in 1957. While with the Pirates he hit .258 in 352 games with 19 homers and 109 RBIs. In his career, he hit .252 with 52 homers and 339 RBIs in 1,098 games.

Dazzy Vance, pitcher for the Pirates on April 16, 1915. He would eventually go on to win 197 games and make the Hall of Fame in 1955, but during his Major League debut with the Pirates he did not pitch well. Vance started the third game of the 1915 season, lasting just 2.2 innings against the Reds, giving up three runs on three hits and five walks before being pulled. Later that same season, he was picked up by the New York Yankees, where he went 0-3 in eight games. He next pitched in the majors in 1918 with the Yankees and did not fare well in two games. He wouldn’t pick up his first win until 1922 with the Brooklyn Robins when he was 31 years old. In his first 11 seasons with Brooklyn he won a total of 186 games, three times topping 20 wins. Vance led the National League in strikeouts for seven straight seasons (1922-28) and thrice led the league in ERA. He pitched in the majors until 1935 and including his minor league win totals, he won 330 pro games. Vance had the second most wins of any pitcher in Pirates history after they left the team, trailing only Burleigh Grimes. We posted a One Who Got Away article detailing Vance’s time with the Pirates.

Vance went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1915 and made a strong first impression in a Pirates vs Pirates exhibition game, which is basically all they played for most of that spring. He tossed three shutout innings in his spring debut. The next game didn’t go as well, and he was facing the younger hitters on the team, players who were vying for bench spots. Vance gave up seven runs on 14 hits in five innings. He gave up one run over four innings on March 24th versus the starting lineup players, but he was also helped by an outstanding triple play that was inches away from breaking the game open. Just two days later, he pitched five more innings and allowed three runs against the younger players. Jumping teams again, he faced the starting lineup again on March 29th and somehow allowed just one run in four innings, despite five hits and five walks. On April 3rd he pitched against a minor league team from Nashville and threw a complete game, limiting them to two runs. Ten days later in the final exhibition game of the spring, which was just three days before his lone Pirates start, he pitched a complete game against a minor league team from Indianapolis, losing 2-1. Five days after his start for the Pirates, they optioned him to St Joseph of the Western League, which is where he pitched during the 1914 season.  Vance was only with the Pirates on tryout, with the team having the option to purchase him for $5,000 from St Joseph. After his first game, St Joseph’s owner asked the Pirates to either pay the amount of return Vance, which they did. The Pirates still held the option to purchase him for the same amount later that same season, but they never did. In his first game back in the minors, Vance threw a three-hit shutout on April 25th. In between his time with the Pirates and Yankees, he was reportedly purchased by the Chicago White Sox, but never made an appearance for them. It turned out that the announcement was made prematurely and he ended up being purchased by the Yankees a week later on July 31st. His first name was Charles, sometimes listed as Arthur Charles, but he had the Dazzy nickname (for his dazzling fastball reportedly) before he made the majors.

Jeff Pfeffer, pitcher for the 1924 Pirates. He was in his 13th big league season when the Pirates picked him up on waivers on July 17, 1924 after he was released by the St Louis Cardinals. At one time he was considered one of the better pitchers in the league, but by 1924 he was on the downside of his career. He would go 5-3, 3.07 in 58.2 innings for Pittsburgh in what turned out to be his last Major League experience. He made four starts for the Pirates and 11 relief appearances. On December 13, 1924, the Pirates released Pfeffer unconditionally. He played in the minors for the next five seasons until retiring at 41 years old after the 1929 season, spending the first year with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, followed by four seasons with Toledo of the American Association. Pfeffer won 16 or more games in a season six times in the majors and twice he topped 20 wins. His two best seasons came with the Brooklyn Robins in 1914 when he went 23-12, 1.97 and in 1916 when he went 25-11, 1.92. The impressive part about that 1914 season is that Brooklyn finished the season 75-79, or in other words, they went 52-67 when he didn’t get the decision in a game. Pfeffer finished his big league career with a 158-112 record, plus he won another 130 minor league games. His career 2.97 ERA ranks 97th all-time among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings in at the big league level, and he’s 47th among all pitchers who put in more than ten seasons (including partial years) in the majors. Knowing that, it’s probably a little surprising that he had just four seasons in which he finished among the top ten in the league in ERA. He put up those impressive stats despite missing all but one game during the 1918 season, right in the middle of his prime, while serving in the military during WWI. Pfeffer debuted in the majors in 1911 with the St Louis Browns, who moved on from him after just two relief appearances, making him the One Who Got Away for the Browns (hat tip to our own series on the Pirates and their losses). He won 25 games in the minors in 1913 before returning to the big leagues with Brooklyn.

His older brother was also known as Jeff Pfeffer, though he was referred to as “Big Jeff”. The odd part about both brothers having the same name is that neither of them was named Jeff. The older Pfeffer was named Francis Xavier Pfeffer, while the young Jeff was actually named Edward Joseph Pfeffer. The local press from the day he was acquired by the Pirates off waivers said that “Big Eddie Pfeffer, who goes by the nickname Jeff like all members of the Pfeffer family…”.