This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 18th, Elbie Fletcher and Dick Littlefield

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players and a manager were born on this date.

Brian Fisher, pitcher for the 1987-89 Pirates. He was born in Hawaii and became the 17th player from that state to make the majors when he debuted in 1985. Fisher was drafted out of high school in Colorado at 18 years old in 1980, taken in the second round by the Atlanta Braves. While he never played in the majors with the Braves, he was in their minor league system for five seasons before the New York Yankees acquired him in December of 1984 in a trade for veteran catcher Rick Cerone. Fisher was a starter in the minors for the Braves, spending one full season at five different levels, as he worked his way up to Triple-A in 1984. His best minor league season happened in High-A ball in 1982, when he had a 2.77 ERA in 104 innings, with 123 strikeouts. He had a 4.26 ERA the previous year in Low-A, though he racked up 152 strikeouts in 152 innings. Fisher struggled in Double-A in 1983 with a 5.22 ERA in 27 starts, but he still got the call to Triple-A to start 1984. He responded with a 9-11, 4.28 record in 29 starts and 183 innings pitched. He saw his strikeout rate take a huge cut in the upper levels, average 6.1 per nine innings during the 1983-84 seasons. Fisher needed just a month at Triple-A in 1985 before he made the majors. He had an impressive rookie season as a reliever, going 4-4, 2.38 in 98.1 innings over 55 appearances. The Yankees even used his as a closer for a time, during which he picked up 14 saves. The sophomore jinx hit Fisher hard and he even spent a brief time at Triple-A in 1986. He made 62 appearances for the Yankees and threw 96.2 innings, posting a 9-5 record with six saves. Those are all strong numbers, but he had a 4.93 ERA, which was the highest full-season mark during his big league career. He really didn’t pitch poorly throughout the year, just had a few implosions here and there until mid-August. Over a five-week stretch (August 15 – September 17) he posted a 10.38 ERA in 17.1 innings. Fisher had a 3.86 ERA prior to that rough patch.

He spent two years in the Yankees bullpen without a start before the Pirates acquired him in a six-player deal on November 26, 1986 that also brought Doug Drabek back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates moved Fisher to a starting role and he responded with an 11-9, 4.52 record in 185.1 innings. He had similar results the following season, going 8-10, 4.61 in 146.1 innings, but his strikeout total dropped from 117 to 66 and his WHIP went up. Fisher started 1989 on the disabled list, then pitched poorly when he returned. He went on the DL again, which prompted the Pirates to send him to Triple-A to finish the year when he returned. Following the season he was released. Fisher pitched in pro ball until 1993 but he played just 26 Major League games after leaving the Pirates. He had four relief appearances for the 1990 Houston Astros, spent 1991 in Triple-A for the Milwaukee Brewers, then made 14 starts and eight relief appearances for the 1992 Seattle Mariners. He also spent half of that 1992 season in Triple-A for the Cincinnati Reds. Fisher finished his career in Triple-A with the San Francisco Giants in 1993. He went 19-22, 4.72 in 348.2 innings with the Pirates. In his seven-year career, he went 36-34, 3.49 in 640 innings.

Dick Littlefield, pitcher for the Pirates from 1954 until 1956. The Pirates acquired Littlefield from the Baltimore Orioles on May 25, 1954 in exchange for veteran outfielder Cal Abrams. It was the fifth time Littlefield was traded since 1950. He began his big league career in 1950 with the Boston Red Sox at 24 years old. He posted a 9.26 ERA in 23.1 innings, with 24 walks. He had an 8.38 ERA in four appearances with the 1951 Chicago White Sox, then split the 1952 season between the Detroit Tigers and St Louis Browns, seeing his first bit of success at the big league level. Littlefield posted a 3.54 ERA in 94 innings that season. He made 22 starts and 14 relief appearances in 1953 for the Browns, going 7-12, 5.08 in 152.1 innings. The Browns went 54-100 that season, then moved to Baltimore for the 1954 campaign. Prior to joining the Pirates, he had 12 career wins in 93 games, 32 as a starter. For the Orioles in 1954 he had a 10.50 ERA in three relief appearances. He nearly equaled his career win total in his first four months in Pittsburgh, going 10-11, 3.60 in 155 innings. The record was impressive because the Pirates lost 101 games that year back during the days of the 154-game schedule. Like most of the Pirates pitchers in 1955, he struggled on the mound, posting a 5-12, 5.12 record in 130 innings. Three other regular pitchers on that staff had a higher ERA and only Bob Friend (14-9) had a winning record. Early the next year, the Pirates traded Littlefield and young outfielder Bobby Del Greco to the St Louis Cardinals for young outfielder Bill Virdon.  Prior to the trade, Littlefield made two starts and four relief appearances for the Pirates. He played in the majors until May of 1958, then returned to the minors where he finished his career in 1962. He had a 91-69 minor league record, but he manage to go only 33-54 in the majors. He was involved in ten trades during his nine-year career including being traded from the San Francisco Giants to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jackie Robinson. After the deal, Robinson refused to report to the Giants, and the deal was voided when he decided to retire. Littlefield finished with a 4.29 ERA in 297.2 innings with the Pirates. He had a career 4.71 ERA in 761.2 innings in the majors.

Elbie Fletcher, first baseman for the 1939-43 and 1946-47 Pirates. Fletcher debuted in the majors at 18 years old, seeing eight September games for the 1934 Boston Braves. He had just 82 games of minor league experience at that point. He spent most of the 1935 season back in the minors, joining Boston in mid-August. He batted .236 with one homer in 39 games. Fletcher spent the entire 1936 season in the minors, playing for Buffalo of the International League, where he hit .344 with 67 extra-base hits in 154 games. The 1937 season was his first full year in the majors and he put up mediocre stats, especially for a position where teams usually get power. He batted .247 with one homer in 148 games, posting a .629 OPS. He improved the next year, hitting .272 with 37 extra-base hits and 60 walks in 147 games. The Pirates acquired Fletcher from the Boston Bees (the team name changed in 1936) in exchange for infielder Bill Schuster on June 15, 1939.  Fletcher was hitting .245 with no homers in 35 games prior to the trade. He would end up playing 916 games in Pittsburgh while the Bees got just two games out of Schuster. Fletcher stepped right into the starting first baseman role and hit .303 with 71 RBIs in 102 games that first year. In 1940 he started a streak of three straight seasons with over 100 walks, while leading the National League in OBP each season. He not only walked 119 times in 1940 to lead the league, he also drove in 104 runs and scored 94 times. We posted a full recap of his 1940 season here. In 1941 he had an NL leading 118 walks, scored 95 runs and drove in 74 while hitting a career high 13 triples and 29 doubles. After a .289 average and 105 walks in 1942, Elbie (his first name was Elburt) made his only All-Star appearance in 1943. That year he led all NL first baseman in assists, putouts and fielding percentage, while batting .283 with 95 walks, 91 runs scored and 70 RBIs. Fletcher would lose the next two years while serving in the military (Navy) during WWII, returning to the Pirates in 1946 and picking up where he left off. He drew 111 walks, drove in 66 runs and scored 72 times. His numbers and playing time dropped in 1947, and then following the season, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for veteran first baseman Les Fleming. Fletcher spent the 1948 seasons in the minors before getting one more year at the big league level right back where he started, spending the 1949 season with the Braves. He finished his pro career in the minors in 1950. For the Pirates, Fletcher hit .279 with 625 walks and 464 RBIs in 916 games.

Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan, manager for the Pirates during the 1916-17 seasons. He was a long-time player before taking up a second shorter career as a manager. Callahan started his pro career as a pitcher in 1894 with the Philadelphia Phillies, making nine big league appearances before playing his first minor league game. He then spent two full years in the minors before spending the next nine seasons in Chicago. Callahan played four years (1897-1900) in the National League with the Colts/Orphans (Cubs), then five more years (1901-05) with the White Sox in the brand new American League. He had a 20-10 record in 1898, then followed it up with a 21-12 record in 1899. From 1897 to 1902, he averaged 257 innings pitched. Callahan was one of the better hitting pitchers in baseball, which led to more playing time in the field on his days off from pitching. He took over at third base full-time for the White Sox in 1903 and pitched his final three games that season. By 1904, he was the starting left fielder. After the 1905 season, he purchased a semi-pro team and took five years off from the majors. Due to the fact his team was considered an outlaw team, he was put on the MLB ineligible list. To clear his name he had to pay a heavy fine so he could play again when the 1911 White Sox came calling. Despite the long layoff, and the fact he was 37 years old at the time, Callahan hit .281 with 60 RBIs and 45 stolen bases in 1911. He retired after 1913 with a .273 batting average in 923 games and a pitching record of 99-73 in 195 games pitched. Nixey (a childhood nickname) was a player/manager for the White Sox in 1903-04 and 1912-14. He had a 309-329 record over those five seasons. He worked in the White Sox front office in 1915 then took over the Pirates managerial job to start 1916. Under Callahan, the Pirates went from fifth place in 1915 down to sixth place in 1916. The team record dropped from 73-81 down to 65-89 in his first year with the team. Pittsburgh was even worse in 1917, and after a 20-40 start, he was replaced by Honus Wagner. It was the last job in baseball for Callahan, who became a successful contractor later in life.