This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 17th, John Smiley and the John Smiley Trade

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. We start with the one who was also traded on his birthday.

John Smiley, pitcher for the 1986-91 Pirates. He was a 12th round draft pick of Pittsburgh in the 1983 amateur draft, who made his Major League debut in September of 1986. Smiley was drafted as an 18-year-old out of Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, PA. He is just one of four players drafted out of that school and the only one to make it to the majors. He did not have a great debut in pro ball, posting a 5.29 ERA in 12 starts in the Gulf Coast League in 1983. Things got a little better in Low-A in 1984, despite a 5-11 record. Smiley had a 3.95 ERA in 130 innings. He repeated Low-A for part of 1985, finishing the year at the level by putting up a 4.67 ERA in 16 starts. He spent part of the year in High-A, posting a 5.14 ERA in ten starts. The Pirates place him in High-A in 1986 and put him in the bullpen, where he had a 3.10 ERA and 14 saves in 90 innings, over 48 appearances. He made the jump to the majors that September and never returned to the minors. Smiley had a 3.86 ERA in 11.2 innings during his first stint in the majors. In 1987, he made 63 relief appearances and did not do well, putting up a 5.63 ERA in 75 innings, with 50 walks and 58 strikeouts. He spent his first two seasons in the bullpen before moving to the starting role for 1988. Seemingly out of nowhere, Smiley won 13 games in 1988, while posting a 3.25 ERA in 205 innings. He then followed it up with a 12-8, 2.81 record in 205.1 innings over 28 starts in 1989, completing eight of those outings. The Pirates won their first pennant in 11 seasons in 1990, but Smiley struggled on the mound. He went 9-10, 4.64, and his innings dropped down to 149 that season, after topping the 200 mark two straight years. He missed six weeks mid-season when he slammed his hand in a car door on May 19th, breaking a bone in his pitching hand.

In 1991, Pittsburgh again won the NL East and this time Smiley was a big part of it. He went 20-9, finishing third in the Cy Young voting, while making his first All-Star appearance. In the postseason, he got hit hard in both of his NLCS starts against the Braves, lasting a total of just 2.2 innings between both games. With one year left on his contract before free agency, the Pirates traded him on his 27th birthday to the Minnesota Twins for Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings. Smiley won 16 games and pitched 241 innings for the Twins, but the Pirates were still able to make the playoffs for a third straight time. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent in 1993 and he won 50 games over the next five seasons before injuries ended his career. His time in Cincinnati got off to a rough start, going 3-9, 5.62 before an elbow injury sidelined him for the rest of the season in early July. He did better during the strike-shortened 1994 season, going 11-10, 3.86 in 24 starts before things were shut down. He also did well in the slightly shortened 1995 season, going 12-5, 3.46 in 176.2 innings, while making his second (and final) All-Star appearance. Smiley had a 3.64 ERA in 217.1 innings in 1996, then saw his career come to a close late in the 1997 season after being traded to the Cleveland Indians. While warming up for a start in late September, he broke a bone in his arm near his shoulder. He was about to make his first appearance since August 30th, missing three weeks due to tendinitis in his elbow and shoulder. He spent the entire 1998 and 1999 seasons rehabbing his injury, with hopes of playing in 2000. He signed a minor league deal with the Pirates in January of 2000 after throwing off the mound at Three Rivers Stadium, but two weeks later shoulder pain caused him to stop pitching and his deal with the Pirates was voided, ending his career. With the Pirates, he went 60-42, 3.57 in 854 innings over 196 games. He had a 126-103, 3.80 career record in 12 seasons, throwing 1,907.2 innings.

Raul Chavez, catcher for the 2008 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela at 17 years old in 1990 by the Houston Astros. It took Chavez six years before he made the majors with the Montreal Expos at the end of the 1996 season. He was acquired by Montreal in a three-player trade in December of 1995. His first shot at the majors saw him play just four games over four weeks and get just one start, which came on the final day of the season. Chavez made it back to the majors for two stints in 1997, playing a total of 13 games. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners in May of 1998 and played just one game for them in two years. He signed as a free agent with the Astros in January of 2000 and remained there through the end of Spring Training in 2006. Chavez played 14 games for the Astros in 2000 and hit his first home run. He spent all of 2001 in the minors, then returned to the big league level for two games in 2002. He saw 19 games in 2003, then finally got an extended big league stay in 2004 when he played a career high 64 games, hitting .210 with no homers and 23 RBIs. Chavez was a backup for the Astros for most of 2005, but he hit just .172 in 32 games. Right before Opening Day in 2006, he was picked up off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles. He hit .179 in 16 big league games in 2006. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent after spending all of 2007 in Triple-A for the New York Yankees. Prior to his one season in Pittsburgh, he had played 170 Major League games spread out over nine seasons. Chavez was called to the majors when Ryan Doumit got hurt in early May, then he stayed there as Doumit’s backup in early June when a struggling Ronny Paulino was sent to Triple-A instead. Chavez hit .259 with ten RBIs in 42 games for the Pirates. He left via free agency following the 2008 season and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. He played 51 games for Toronto that year, then spent his final two seasons of pro ball in the minors, spending 2010 with the Blue Jays and 2011 at Triple-A with the New York Mets. His final pro experience was winter ball in Venezuela during the 2011-12 off-season. It was his sixth year of playing winter ball in his home country. Chavez was a .231 hitter in 263 big league games, with seven homers and 65 RBIs. He was never much of a minor league hitter, making it to the majors more because of his defense. In a career that lasted 21 years, he played 1,566 minor league games and he hit .252 with 65 homers. He threw out 41% of base runners in his big league career during a time when catchers averaged a 28% caught stealing rate.

Rod Scurry, pitcher for the 1980-85 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in the first round of the 1974 amateur draft, taken 11th overall out of Hug HS in Nevada at 18 years old. Despite the fact he made it to Double-A to start the 1976 season, he didn’t make his Major League debut until four years later. He debuted in the New York-Penn League in 1974, pitching 89 innings for Niagara Falls. He moved up to the Carolina League in his first full season in 1975 and he went 9-12, 3.66 in 150 innings, with 143 strikeouts. In Double-A in 1976, he had a 3.88 ERA in 123 innings, with 83 walks and 83 strikeouts. He was back in Double-A in 1977 and pitched better, putting up a 2.87 ERA in 18 starts, with 48 walks and 111 strikeouts in 113 innings. He was promoted late to Triple-A and had a 4.62 ERA in eight starts. Scurry split the 1978 season between the Double-A/Triple-A levels and struggled at both, posting a combined 5.38 ERA in 92 innings. He split 1979 between the bullpen and starting, though he spent the entire year at Triple-A Portland, as the Pirates switched their affiliate from the International League to the more hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. His 4.13 ERA in 122 innings was enough to get him a September call-up, though he didn’t pitch for the World Series champs until the 1980 season. Scurry was a starter for most of his minor league career with the Pirates, but once he made it to the majors, he was put in the bullpen full-time. He made just seven starts in his six years in Pittsburgh, all in 1981. He did well in his first year in the majors, posting a 2.15 ERA in 37.2 innings over 20 appearances. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Scurry went 4-5, 3.77 in 74 innings, picking up seven saves. He had a big year in 1982, posting a 1.74 ERA in 76 appearances covering 103.2 innings and he racked up a career high 14 saves. As good as his 1982 season was, his 1983 season was a major disappointment. His ERA ballooned to 5.56 in 61 appearances, and he walked 53 batters in 68 innings. Scurry turned things around in 1984, getting his ERA down to 2.53 and his WHIP was 1.08 on the season, though he was limited to 46.1 innings due to disabled list stints for drug dependency issues in April and an elbow injury in August. In September of 1985 the Pirates sold him to the New York Yankees after he posted a 3.21 ERA in 30 appearances. He played in New York in 1986, though he missed two full months with a knee injury, which limited him to 39.1 innings for the season. Scurry finished his big league career with the Seattle Mariners in 1988. He spent the 1987 season in Triple-A with the San Francisco Giants. In 257 games for the Pirates, he went 17-28, 3.15 with 34 saves and 377.1 innings pitched.

Cito Gaston, outfielder for the 1978 Pirates. He was in his 11th year in the majors when the Pirates purchased his contract from the Atlanta Braves on September 22, 1978. With ten games left in the season and the Pirates trailing the first place Phillies by just 1.5 games in the standings, the team acquired Gaston’s veteran bat to help off the bench. Pittsburgh ended up using him just twice as the Phillies took the division. He went 1-for-2 at the plate with a single and run scored. He played two years in the Mexican League following that 1978 season, which was the last year of his Major League career. Gaston was a .256 hitter over 1,026 Major League games, and while most of his career he was more of a fourth outfielder type performer, he had a big season in 1970. That year he made his only All-Star appearance, hitting .318 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs. All of those stats were the high marks of his career. He debuted in the majors with the Atlanta Braves at age 23 in 1967, three years after they signed him as an amateur free agent. He had a big seasons in the minors with Batavia of the New York-Penn League in 1966, hitting .330 with 28 homers and 104 RBIs, prior to a late season push to Double-A. The next year he batted .305 with Austin of the Texas League before getting his first chance with the Braves. Gaston saw just nine games in September during his first stint in the majors, hitting .120 in 25 at-bats. He spent all of 1968 in the minors, then resurfaced with the San Diego Padres in their first year of existence after they selected him in the 1968 Expansion Draft. He didn’t do anything that would make you think that his best 1970 season was on the horizon. Gaston batted .230 with two homers and 28 RBIs in 129 games as a rookie in 1969. After his All-Star season, he quickly dropped back to earth, batting .228, with a .650 OPS in 141 games in 1971. That was followed .269 average and seven homers in 1972, then a .250 average with 16 homers in 1973. After hitting just .213 in 106 games in 1974, the Padres traded him to the Braves. Gaston was a backup during his four seasons in Atlanta, starting just 93 games total, with a handful of starts at first base each year. He played between 56 and 69 games each season during that stretch. In his career, he was a .254 in 254 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, with seven homers and 42 RBIs. Gaston managed the Toronto Blue Jays for 12 seasons (1989-97, 2008-10) and he led them to two World Series titles in 1992-93.

Pete Reiser, outfielder for the 1951 Pirates. He originally signed with the St Louis Cardinals in 1937 at 18 years old, then became property of the Brooklyn Dodgers the next year when the Cardinals were forced to get rid of 74 of their minor league players because they violated rules about having multiple minor league affiliates in the same league. Reiser batted .302 for Superior of the Northern League in 1938, then hit .301 after moving up to Elmira of the Eastern League in 1939, though he was injured for a good portion of the year. He was still able to work his way to the majors by mid-season in 1940, and he hit .293 in 58 games as a rookie. Reiser quickly became a household name in 1941, winning a batting title with his .343 average, while also leading the league in doubles (39), triples (17), total bases (299) and runs scored (117). In the outfield, he led all National League center fielders with 355 putouts and 14 assists.  He made his first All-Star appearance and finished second in the MVP to teammate Dolph Camilli. Brooklyn had the top three spots in the MVP voting that year, with pitcher Whit Wyatt finishing third. Reiser batted .310 in 1942, with 33 doubles, ten homers and 89 runs scored. He made his second All-Star appearance and finished sixth in the MVP voting. He was a 23-year-old star when he enlisted in the military prior to the 1943 season. Reiser actually failed the physical to get into the Navy due to injuries he suffered playing baseball, before he was accepted into the Army. His time was mostly spent entertaining troops playing for the baseball team on base. He missed three years in the prime of his career, returning in 1946 to make his third (and final) All-Star appearance. He batted .277 in 122 games that first year back, with 75 runs scored, 73 RBIs and a league leading 34 stolen bases. Reiser finished ninth in the MVP voting. Not only did he miss all of that time during the war, but he also had trouble staying healthy later in his career due to the hard-nosed play he showed on the field throughout his entire pro career. He batted .309 in 1947, though he was limited to 110 games. He then hit just .236 in 64 games in 1948, followed by a trade to the Boston Braves after the season. Reiser had a solid first year in Boston, putting up a .271 average and an .812 OPS over 84 games in 1949.  He was released after batting just .205 with one homers in 58 games in 1950. By the time the Pirates signed him in November of 1950, the injuries had taken their toll, and he was limited to a backup role. Reiser played 74 games for Pittsburgh, with 49 of those games coming off the bench. He hit .271 with 13 RBIs in 140 at-bats. The Pirates released him following the season and he signed with the Cleveland Indians, where he finished his career in 1952, hitting .136 in 34 games. Reiser had a .295 career average in 862 Major League games and twice led the National League in stolen bases, though he finished with just 87 career steals. He hit 58 homers, had 368 RBIs and he scored 473 runs.

Ralph Shafer, pinch-runner for the 1914 Pirates. The Pirates announced his signing on July 22, 1914, saying that he would report to the team within a few days, though he ended up showing up the next day. Shafer was in his first season of pro ball at the time, playing for Huntington of the Ohio State League, after previously playing college ball for the University of Cincinnati. He played his only Major League game three days after his signing was announced. In the 8th inning of a game on July 25th against the New York Giants, the Pirates trailed 4-2. With no one on and one out, Ham Hyatt collected a single off Christy Mathewson. Shafer was called off the bench to run for the slow-footed first baseman, who was pinch-hitting for pitcher Marty O’Toole. The next batter popped up the shortstop, then future Hall of Famer Max Carey struck out to end the inning. Shafer returned to the bench, having never left first base. Little did he know at the time, but his big league career was over. The following day the Pirates traveled to Long Branch, NJ to play an exhibition game, which was to be a tryout for a few young players who just joined the Pirates, among them being Shafer. The newspaper reported the next day that he played with a lot of energy during the exhibition game, but he was unlikely to play in the rest of the Giants-Pirates series.

On July 28th, it was reported that another young outfielder named John Collins seemed to be the better of the two new outfielders during pre-game fielding and batting practice. They said that if either saw any time it would be Collins, who made his debut just days later. He would play 49 games that season for the Pirates. On August 1st the Pirates played a doubleheader and it was said that if Shafer looked good in batting practice he would start one game. Two days later, after another exhibition game, Shafer and a pitcher were sent back to Pittsburgh while the rest of the team continued a road trip that had ten days left. Teams back in that era would leave lesser players at home to save on travel expenses, but the Pirates were doing so poorly during this period that they were trying new players almost daily. They used 30 different position players that season, despite the fact five of their players ended up playing over 140 games that year. Since he wasn’t playing, Shafer was allowed to return home to attend to some business matters. On August 5th, it was announced that he was released back to the Ohio State League because his rights didn’t actually belong to the Huntington club, so they didn’t have the authority to sell him. He ended up being assigned to the Lexington club and remained there through the end of the 1915 season. He played in the minors in 1915-16 and 1921-22 before retiring from baseball.

Jesse Hoffmeister, third baseman for the 1897 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1896, playing for two different teams in the Interstate League. His moving around would be a sign of things to come. Hoffmeister played for two teams in the Interstate League in 1897 as well. The Pirates paid Springfield $500 for his release on July 22, 1897 according to one source, while another said the purchase price was $1,000. He was called the toughest man ever to play in the Interstate League, with a cannon for an arm. He was leading the league in average at the time, while hitting 15 homers in half of a season. If he stayed with the Pirates, the papers said that he would get a $1,900 salary for the season. He joined the Pirates on July 23, 1897 and was in the lineup the next day. He held the third base job through the end of the season. The 20-year-old Hoffmeister made quite an impression on the 4,000 Pirates fans who witnessed his first game. He collected three hits (two singles and a triple), scored three times and drove home six runs in a 16-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, while garnering the nickname “Hoffy” that same day. It was said that he spent more than two hours after the game talking to fans of the Pirates who were at his first game. He continued his hot hitting the rest of the way, batting .309 with 36 RBIs in 48 games. On September 28th, he had a single, triple and homer off of pitcher Dave Wright, who pitched just two big league games, with the first coming two years earlier for the Pirates, when he allowed six runs in two innings. Despite the strong performance on offense, Hoffmeister spent the rest of his ten-year pro career in the minors. His fielding was likely part of the cause, with 31 errors in those 48 games, including two in his first game. He had a .792 fielding percentage with the Pirates, which was exactly 100 points below a league average, which he had a hand in bringing down to that .892 mark. In the 1897-98 off-season, the Pirates traded for third baseman Bill Gray, who was a much better fielder. The move didn’t exactly work out, as Gray hit just .229 with no homers in 137 games during his only season with the Pirates. Hoffmeister signed his contract to play with the Pirates in early February  of 1898 and he was with the team through Spring Training, though he hand a finger injury on his throwing hand that severely affected his performance in the field. He stopped playing shortly after and became sick while remaining behind at the Spring Training spot in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Once healthy, he reported to Indianapolis of the Western League for the rest of the season. Hoffmeister played in the minors until 1906, seeing action with 14 different teams during that stretch from 1898 until 1906. Until recent research uncovered the date, his birthday was unknown. He kept in shape in the off-season by bowling, a sport which he excelled in.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone!

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