This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 8th, Pitchers, Catchers and Al Gionfriddo

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date.

Jim Dougherty, pitcher for the 1999 Pirates. He was a late round draft pick of the Houston Astros, who took five years to make the majors. The Astros took the 22-year-old right-hander in the 26th round out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1990, though he didn’t debut until 1991.  Dougherty had outstanding results pitching strictly in relief during each of his first three seasons of pro ball. Starting in Low-A in 1991, he posted a 1.52 ERA in 83 innings. In High-A in 1992, he had a 1.56 ERA in 81 innings. Moving up to Double-A in 1993, Dougherty had a 1.87 ERA in 52 appearances. He was the closer for his team each year, picking up a total of 95 saves. His stats dropped in 1994 at Triple-A, though that can partially be attributed to pitching in the Pacific Coast League. He had a 4.12 ERA in 59 innings, with 21 saves. Dougherty was in Triple-A to start 1995, but he was still on the Opening Day roster for the Astros when the season started late due to the strike. He posted a 4.92 ERA in 56 relief appearances and 67.2 innings during his rookie season in the majors. Despite spending the whole year in the majors, he had a short leash during the 1996 season. Dougherty pitched 12 times for the Astros, making his last appearance on May 20th. He had a 9.00 ERA in 13 innings, compiling more walks than strikeouts. He was released after the season and then spent all of 1997 pitching in the minors for the New York Mets, where he went 10-1, 1.45 in 62 innings over 44 outings. Dougherty signed with the Oakland A’s for 1998 and spent most of the year in Triple-A. He pitched nine times for Oakland, allowing 11 runs in 12 innings. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent for 1999. In his one season with the Pirates, he pitched just two innings at the big league level during the second week of the season. In his first outing he gave up three runs, two of them earned, in two innings. Dougherty then walked the only batter he faced in his other game. He was sent to Triple-A on April 23rd for the rest of the season. He pitched at Triple-A for the St Louis Cardinals in 2000 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2001. The Pirates re-signed him to a minor league deal in 2002 and he finished his pro career splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A. He pitched 586 minor league games over 12 seasons without making a single start.

Joel Johnston, pitcher for the 1993-94 Pirates. He was a third round draft pick in 1988 at 21 years old, taken by the Kansas City Royals out of Penn State. He was a starting pitcher at the beginning of his pro career and he had a rough go in his first season. Johnston put up a 5.20 ERA in short-season ball, making 14 starts and pitching 64 innings. He skipped a level to the Florida State League in 1989 and didn’t do any better in a pitcher-friendly league. Johnston had a 4.92 ERA in 131.2 innings. He repeated the level in 1990 and got the same results, yet still ended up with a promotion to Double-A and even a Triple-A appearance. Johnston posted a 4.88 ERA in 55.1 innings in High-A, then gave up nine runs in 6.2 innings at Double-A. He was moved to relief full-time at Triple-A in 1991 and earned a trip to the majors in September, despite a 5.21 ERA in 74.1 innings. He began the 1992 season in the majors, then finished up in Triple-A after just five appearances. Johnston had a 1.80 ERA over 18 games with the Royals during the 1991-92 seasons, but there was a huge split in performance. His 1991 performance in almost unexplainable because he gave no indication of being that type of pitcher in the minors. In 13 games, he allowed one run in 22.1 innings, with 21 strikeouts and just nine hits allowed. Johnston had a 13.50 ERA during his brief big league time in 1992. He was part of a trade after the 1992 season that sent him and pitcher Dennis Moeller to the Pirates in exchange for veteran second baseman Jose Lind. The 1993 season was his best in the majors. He had a 3.38 ERA in 53.1 innings over 33 appearances, joining the Pirates in early July, and remaining through the end of the season. He picked up his only two big league saves that season. The next year he allowed 12 runs over 3.1 innings during the first two weeks of the season, then was sent to the minors, and then he was released by the end of May. He pitched four early season games for the 1995 Boston Red Sox, which ended up being his last big league experience. He finished up the 1995 season with the Colorado Rockies, then played independent ball in 1996 and his final year of pro ball was spent in China in 1997. Johnston had a 4.31 ERA in 85.2 innings in the majors over five seasons.

Juan Jimenez, pitcher for the 1974 Pirates. He began his career in 1967 at 18 years old in the Houston Astros system as an infielder, switching to pitcher after just one year in rookie ball. He split the 1968 season between the Appalachian League and the Florida State League, skipping over the two levels between those two leagues. He had a 4.29 ERA in 63 innings, with 51 strikeouts. He did not play in 1969, then reemerged in 1970 in the Philadelphia Phillies system. Pitching in Low-A ball as a starter, he went 10-8, 2.68 in 171 innings. Jimenez saw limited work as a reliever in A-Ball in 1971, posting a 2.05 ERA in 44 innings. He missed the 1972 season as well, then was part of the Pirates system in 1973. Playing for Sherbrooke of the Double-A Eastern League, Jimenez went 7-3, 2.57 in 98 innings over ten starts and 19 relief appearances. On April 6, 1973, he pitched in relief for Steve Blass during the Hall of Fame game played in Cooperstown against the Texas Rangers. Jimenez took the loss, but he pitched well, giving up just two runs over 6.1 innings after taking over in the third inning. Jimenez moved up to Triple-A Charleston in 1974, where he made 16 starts and ten relief appearances. He had a 2.62 ERA in 142 innings, but he managed to compile just 65 strikeouts. It was still enough to earn him a trip to Pittsburgh on September 1st. His big league career consisted of just four relief appearances for the 1974 Pirates, four innings total, with all of his appearances coming during losses. The worst one was a September 25th contest against the St Louis Cardinals when the Pirates took an 11-8 lead in the top of the 11th. Jimenez allowed three runs without record an out before being removed, then the Pirates lost later that inning. An interesting note about his four games with the Pirates. They were spread out over a three-week period in September and he faced four different teams, all on the road. The Pirates actually played more home games in September that year, yet the home fans never saw him pitch. The Pirates dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season, reassigning him to Charleston. Jimenez spent all of 1975 in Triple-A, posting a 3.03 ERA in 104 innings, before the Pirates sold him to a team from the Mexican League, where he finished up his career in 1981. He briefly coached in the minors after his playing career ended.

Toby Atwell, catcher for the Pirates from 1953 until 1956. Atwell spent six seasons catching in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system before he made his Major League debut with the Cubs in 1952. He was blocked in the Dodgers system by Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. He got a delayed start in pro ball due to serving three years in the Army during WWII before signing his first contract at 22 years old in 1946. Atwell did well in his first season, batting .328 in 114 games while playing in the Three-I League, which was considered a Class-B level at the time, four steps from the majors. He skipped a level to the Texas League in 1947, where he hit .269 in 80 games. He also played two games for Montreal of the International League, one step below the majors. So it appeared at the time that he was being fast-tracked to the majors, but his first opportunity was still five years away.  That’s made even more surprising by his performance the next season. Playing 32 games in the Texas League and 60 games for St Paul of the American Association (Triple-A), he put up a .345 batting average, doing better at the higher level. The next three seasons were spent with Montreal of the International League. Atwell had mediocre results in 1949 and 1951, but he put up an .800 OPS in 1950. The Dodgers finally gave him his big break by trading him to the Chicago Cubs after the 1951 season. As a 28-year-old rookie in 1952, Atwell made the National League All-Star team as a backup catcher to Campanella. He hit .290 over 107 games, putting up a .730 OPS. The Pirates acquired him from the Cubs in the ten-player Ralph Kiner trade on June 4, 1953, Atwell was batting .230 through 24 games at the time. For the Pirates that season, he hit .245 with no homers and 17 RBIs in 53 games. He had his best big league season at the plate in 1954, hitting .289, with a career high .760 OPS, in 96 games. That proved to be a high point, as his offense dropped off and he saw less playing time in 1955. He hit just .213 in 71 games, with one homer and 18 RBIs.

The Pirates traded Atwell to the St Louis Cardinals during the 1956 season for a player to be named later (Dick Rand). He reported to the minors, then five weeks later, he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies. Just 13 days later, he was sold to the Milwaukee Braves, returning to the majors for his final 15 big league games. Atwell batted .111 for the Pirates and .167 for the Braves during that 1956 season. He spent two more seasons in the minors before retiring at 34 years old. He was a .260 hitter in 378 big league games. In his four seasons in Pittsburgh, he was a .250 hitter in 232 games, with four homers and 64 RBIs. He consistently had twice as many walks as strikeouts, finishing his career with 161 base on balls and 84 strikeouts. His caught stealing percentage was well below league average at the time (31% compared to 43% from the league), which led to him twice allowing the most stolen bases in a season. However, his .990 fielding percentage in 1952 was the second best among NL catchers, just one year after he led all MLB catchers with 15 errors.

Al Gionfriddo, outfielder for the 1944-47 Pirates. He is known by many baseball people as the man who robbed Joe DiMaggio in game six of the 1947 World Series. It’s a famous catch that is still shown often to this day, but Gionfriddo actually played most of his playing career for the Pirates, not the Brooklyn Dodgers. He spent three years in the minors and also had a brief stay in the military during WWII, missing the entire 1943 season. He debuted in pro ball at 19 years old in the Class-D Pennsylvania State Association, playing for a team from Oil City. Gionfriddo hit .334 with 41 extra-base hits in 91 games. Despite the strong debut, he was back at Oil City the next year, and he managed to do even better. He hit .348 with 43 extra-base hits in 97 games. After missing all of 1943, he moved up to A-Ball, playing for Albany of the Eastern League. Gionfriddo hit .329 in 138 games, with 130 runs scored, 50 stolen bases and 108 walks. He showed a little power in his first two seasons, but managed to hit just one homer for Albany. However, he had 23 doubles and an amazing 28 triples. That performance earned him a late September call-up in 1944 to make his Major League debut. He was one of four players purchased from Albany by the Pirates on August 31, 1944, though only pitcher Len Gilmore reported to the Pirates right away. Gionfriddo and the other two (Vic Barnhart and Bill Rodgers) remained with Albany through the end of the playoffs before reporting to Pittsburgh. After playing four games for the 1944 Pirates, he was a regular in the Pirates outfield in 1945, playing 82 games in center field and 26 more split between LF/RF. He hit .284 with 60 walks and 74 runs in 122 games that year. A rookie named Ralph Kiner emerged in 1946, taking playing time away from Gionfriddo. He started just 17 games all season, including eight times in September. He hit .255 in 64 games, getting a total of 115 plate appearances. Early the next season, after one pinch-hitting appearance in the team’s first 13 games, he would be traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers (along with $100,000) in exchange for five players. Gionfriddo played just 37 regular season games in Brooklyn and only four of the seven post-season games, getting four plate appearances total. His last Major League game was the game in which he made that famous catch. Over his four seasons in Pittsburgh, he had exactly 600 plate appearances, hitting .266 with two homers and 52 RBIs in 191 games. He had 75 walks and 28 strikeouts while with the Pirates. Gionfriddo was sent to the minors in 1948 and stayed there for nine seasons before retiring. He served as a player-manager for half of the 1953 season, and he spent his final four seasons of pro ball, playing with low-level Class-C teams. Not surprisingly at that level of competition, he batted between .332 and .368 during his final three seasons. Gionfriddo was a .311 hitter in 1,422 minor league games. He is the only big league player to be born in Dysart, PA, a small town just outside of Altoona.

Bill Salkeld, catcher for the Pirates from 1945-47. He played nine seasons in the minors before getting his first shot at the big leagues when the Pirates bought his contract from the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League in September of 1944. He debuted in 1934 at 17 years old, playing his first two seasons for Sacramento of the PCL, which was an advanced level for someone his age. His career was sidetracked by a major injury in 1936 that almost cost him his leg, though it did cost him the 1937-38 seasons. Salkeld returned in 1939 to bat .310 in 120 games, playing most of the year for Tuscon of the Class-D Arizona-Texas League. He was back in the PCL in 1940, where he hit .288 with 20 homers in 127 games for San Diego. Despite strong stats and big league teams losing players to the war effort, he remained with San Diego through the end of the 1944 season. That year he hit .241 in 115 games, giving no real signs that he could have a big season in the majors the next year. Salkeld hit .313 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs in 95 games during his rookie season in Pittsburgh. His .966 OPS that year is the 28th best single-season output in team history and it’s a record for catchers (Fred Carroll had a .970 mark in 1889, playing a 43 of his 91 games at catcher). We wrote an in depth article looking at Salkeld’s rookie season here. The following season the Pirates split the catching duties between four guys who all caught between 39 and 56 games. Salkeld played 69 games total and got exactly 200 plate appearances on the year, hitting .294 with 39 walks. After a 1947 season that saw him slump down to .213, and also get a demotion to the minors, he was traded to the Boston Braves in a five-player deal that brought Danny Murtaugh to Pittsburgh. Salkeld played three more seasons in the majors before returning to the minors where he finished his career in 1953. He did well in a platoon role for the 1948-49 Braves, posting a .792 OPS in 78 games the first year, followed by a .796 OPS in 66 games in 1949. He was sold to the Chicago White Sox at the end of the 1949 season and lasted one game in 1950 (his final big league game) before being sent to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. He retired after a poor showing during the 1951 season with Portland of the PCL, but returned as a player-manager during the 1953 season with Stockton of the California League. Salkeld was trying to find a big league job during those last two years because he was just 43 days away from receiving a pension from baseball. His grandson Roger Salkeld was a pitcher for two teams during the mid-90’s.

Ray Mueller, catcher for the Pirates from 1939-40 and 1950. He signed to play pro ball at 20 years old in 1932 and spent his first three seasons with Harrisburg of the New York-Penn League. After two years if which he didn’t hit much, Mueller batted .325 over 94 games in 1934. The next year he was in the majors for the Boston Bees (Braves). He batted .227 in limited time as a rookie, then spent the first half of the 1936 season back in the minors. He returned in July, hitting .197 over 25 games for Boston. Mueller platooned behind the plate during the next two years. He hit .251 with a .670 OPS in 64 games in 1937. In 83 games in 1938, he put up a .636 OPS, seeing his OBP take a significant drop, but his slugging stayed the same. He was a prime trade target of the Pirates in 1938 after they fell just short of winning the pennant. They acquired him from the Bees for catcher Al Todd, outfielder Johnny Dickshot, and cash. He wasn’t much of a hitter at the time obviously, but in each of his first four seasons in the majors, he threw out better than 50% of runners attempting to steal. Mueller batted .233 (.611 OPS) in 86 games in 1939, then lasted just four games in 1940, before spending the rest of the year in the minors. He would rejoin the Pirates ten years later when he was purchased early in the 1950 season from the New York Giants. It took Mueller nearly three full years to finally make it back to the majors, but once he returned, he had his two best years. In 1943 with the Cincinnati Reds, he hit .260 with eight homers and 52 RBIs in 141 games, gaining some mild MVP support. He led NL catchers in games caught, assists and double plays. In 1944, he hit .286 with ten homers, 73 RBIs and 53 walks in 155 games. He made his only career All-Star appearance and he finished seventh in the MVP voting. He started all 155 team games behind the plate as part of a 233-game consecutive streak at catcher. While he was at his peak, the Army came calling during WWII, and he missed the entire 1945 season.

Mueller had a productive return in 1946, hitting .254 with eight homers and 48 RBIs in 114 games. He had a league best .994 fielding percentage, while leading the league in assists, caught stealing and double plays.His playing time was limited in 1947, but he had a .712 OPS in 211 plate appearances.  A broken ankle in 1948 limited him to just 14 games, then he split the 1949 season between the Reds and New York Giants, hitting .243 in 88 games. Before rejoining Pittsburgh on May 17, 1950, he went 1-for-11 at the plate in four games. Back with the Pirates in 1950, he hit .269 with six homers and 24 RBIs in 67 games. He was released a month prior to the 1951 season, then finished his big league career that year right back where he started in Boston, where he hit .157 in 29 games. After leaving the Braves following the 1951 season, he spent his final four years of pro ball in the minors, playing his last season in 1955 at 43 years old. In 14 big league seasons, he hit .252 over 985 games, with 56 homers and 373 RBIs. He managed for seven seasons in the minors, including the first two years as a player-manager. He also coached for two years at the big league level. All told, he played 23 seasons of pro ball, doing that despite missing a year in his prime while serving in the Army. His cousin Don Gutteridge played 12 seasons in the majors, including the final four games of his career with the 1948 Pirates, making them one of 21 families to play for the Pirates.

Jim Hughey, pitcher for the 1896-97 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1890 and got a brief shot at the majors the next year with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, where he made one start and one relief appearance. Hughey spent the 1892 season in the minors, splitting his time between two teams, putting together a 15-21 record, while throwing 315 innings. For Kansas City of the Western League, he had a 2.12 ERA in 200 innings, yet he had a 9-15 record. He got another brief taste of the majors in 1893 with the Chicago Colts (Cubs), posting an 11.00 ERA in nine innings over two starts. Hughey spent the next two seasons pitching for Toledo of the Western League, winning a combined 46 games, while throwing a total of 652 innings. The Pirates acquired him on November 24, 1895 as part of a cash deal with the Toledo club in which the Pirates received five players. The Pirates also received pitcher Jerry Nops in that deal. Nops never pitched for them, but he went 53-26 for the 1897-99 Baltimore Orioles. Hughey ended up being the only player in the deal to play for the Pirates. He went 6-8, 4.99 in 155 innings over 14 starts and 11 relief appearances in 1896. He basically put up the same exact season in 1897, going 6-10, 5.06 while pitching 149.1 innings. The Pirates traded Hughey (and cash) to the St Louis Browns after the season for pitcher Bill Hart. Hughey had a 12-18 record during his two seasons while with the Pirates, but that was actually by far the best performance of his career. He finished with a 29-80 record in the Major Leagues. In 1898 he went 7-24 for a Browns team that went 39-111 on the season. His luck got worse the next year as he pitched for the worst team in baseball history, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. They went 20-134, with Hughey contributing a 4-30 record. He wrapped up his big league career with the 1900 St Louis Cardinals, then finished his pro career in the minors in 1904. Despite going 17-72 in years when he wasn’t with the Pirates, he still had a higher ERA with Pittsburgh than all of his other five seasons combined, finishing with a 5.03 ERA for the Pirates, and a 4.87 career ERA in 1,007.2 innings. He had the nickname Coldwater Jim, which didn’t have a great story behind it. He lived in Coldwater, Michigan.