This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 20th, Walter Schmidt and Blas Minor

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one who spent nine seasons in a Pirates uniform.

Walter Schmidt, catcher for the 1916-24 Pirates. It took him nine seasons of minor league ball before he made his big league debut with the Pirates in 1916 at 29 years old. He debuted at age 20 in the Three-I League in 1907, playing for the Cedar Rapids Rabbits. Schmidt played for four different teams in four different leagues during his first four seasons of pro ball. He finally settled down with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, where he spent the 1911-1915 seasons, averaging 127 games played per year. He never put up big stats on offense, topping out at a .265 average (1911) and 25 extra-base hits (1912) in a season. His signing with the Pirates in September of 1915 was an interesting one to say the least. He had to buy his own release from San Francisco, so he could sign a deal with the Pirates. Schmidt hit just .190 over 64 games in his first season with Pittsburgh, with two homers in 184 at-bats. Both home runs had significance. The first came off the great Christy Mathewson, while the second one would be his last home run until late in the 1924 season, two weeks away from the end of his Pirates career. Following his rookie year, his hitting improved to the point he never hit less than .238 in any season.

In 1917, Schmidt hit .246 in 72 games, nearly splitting the catching in half with primary starter William Fischer. He scored just nine runs all year, though the Pirates barely did better, scoring just 464 runs all season. They finished with a 51-103 record. Schmidt became the starting catcher during the shortened 1918 season (due to the war). He batted .238 in 105 games, with 27 RBIs and 31 runs scored. He received more starts than any other catcher in 1919, playing 85 games, with a .251 average, 29 RBIs and a 23:9 BB/SO ratio. Schmidt saw his average go up to .277 in 1920, though all of baseball saw an increase in offense due to rules that helped the batters (certain pitches were made illegal, while new baseballs were put in play more often).  He had his best season in 1921 when offense continued to rise around baseball, hitting .282 in 114 games, breaking the 100-hit barrier for the only time in his career. He set a high with 38 RBIs and ten stolen bases. During Spring Training in 1922, he held out from signing his contract, looking for a two-year deal. Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss wouldn’t budge on the contract he sent Schmidt to sign, so he ended up missing the first 99 games of the season before finally rejoining the team. He caught almost every day after returning and managed to hit .329 in 40 games. Schmidt had the busier part of a platoon with Johnny Gooch in 1923. Schmidt batted .248 in 97 games, with 37 RBIs and a career high of 39 runs scored, though it came with a .581 OPS. Gooch took over as the primary catcher in 1924 and Earl Smith was acquired mid-season when both Gooch and Schmidt were injured. In his final season with the Pirates, Schmidt batted .243 in 58 games. His third career home run came on September 16th in Philadelphia and it was a grand slam off of Johnny Couch.

Schmidt was a strong defensive catcher with a good arm. He threw out 51% of runners attempting to steal during his career and would lead National League catchers in games caught twice, assists twice, caught stealing percentage twice, fielding percentage once and putouts once. In 729 games with the Pirates, he hit .257 with 225 RBIs and 207 runs scored. Schmidt finished his Major League career as a backup for the 1925 St Louis Cardinals, which was unfortunate timing on his part twice as the Pirates won the 1925 World Series and the Cardinals won it all in 1926. He played in the minors for four more seasons before retiring, spending his last year back in San Francisco. His brother Charles “Boss” Schmidt, played six seasons in the majors with the Tigers and was the opposing catcher to the Pirates during the 1909 World Series

Blas Minor, pitcher for the 1992-94 Pirates. He was drafted four times, twice by the Philadelphia Phillies, before he finally signed with the Pirates in 1988. Minor was first selected out of Merced College in the January draft in 1985, taken in the 11th round by the Kansas City Royals. When June rolled around and he had not signed, the Phillies took him in the fifth round. He passed on that selection, only to have the Phillies take him again seven months later in the first round, going 24th overall. Minor balked at that deal in order to attend Arizona State, where he was chosen in the sixth round in 1988 by the Pirates. He was a closer during his first year in rookie ball, picking up seven saves in 15 appearances. Minor then jumped to the Carolina League for his first full season in 1989, pitching 86.2 innings with a 3.63 ERA. He made four starts among his 39 appearances. He spent the 1990 season at Double-A, where he had 38 appearances (six as a starter), with a 3.06 ERA and five saves in 94 innings. He struggled his first time at Triple-A with a 5.75 ERA in 1991, but he put it all together in 1992, posting a 2.45 ERA in 45 games (seven starts), with 18 saves in 96.1 innings.

During the middle of that 1992 season, Minor made his Major League debut, pitching two innings on July 28th. It would be his only big league appearance that year, but the following season he made the Pirates Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. In 65 games as a reliever in 1993, Minor went 8-6 4.10 with two saves and 94.1 innings pitched. He had a strong BB/SO ratio, striking out 84 while walking just 26 batters. In 1994, he pitched extremely poor, lasting only nine games before being sent back to Triple-A. He was recalled in mid-June, but was demoted again after just one month, and then never returned to the Pirates. Minor was put on waivers that November, where he was picked up by the New York Mets. The 1995 season was his last full year in the majors. He had a 3.66 ERA in 46.2 innings over 35 appearances. He began 1996 with the Mets, posting a 3.51 ERA in 17 appearances before he was traded to the Seattle Mariners on June 9th. Minor split the rest of the season between the majors and Triple-A, putting up a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings with the Mariners. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Houston Astros. In his final big league stint in 1997, Minor gave up six earned runs in 12 innings, over 11 appearances. He spent the next two seasons in the minors with the Milwaukee Brewers, before finishing his pro career by playing in Mexico in 2000. With the Pirates, he went 8-7, 4.76 in 115.1 innings over 83 appearances.

Rick Langford, pitcher for the 1976 Pirates. He was drafted by the St Louis Cardinals in the 11th round in 1971 and the Cleveland Indians in the 36th round in 1972, but did not sign with either club. The Pirates signed Langford as an amateur free agent in June 1973, after he pitched for Manatee Junior College (now called State College of Florida), which is located just outside of the Pirates Spring Training home in Bradenton, Florida. He pitched just ten innings that first year in the Gulf Coast League, though he didn’t allow an earned run. He moved all the way up to High-A in 1974 and had a record of 11-7, 2.69 ERA in 174 innings. Langford split 1975 between Double-A and Triple-A, winning 12 games against just four losses, while posting a 3.45 ERA in 107 innings. He began 1976 at Triple-A, winning nine of 16 starts, with a 3.20 ERA. Langford was called-up in June to make his big league debut, pitching ten games before he was returned to the minors. He returned in September for two more appearances, finishing with a 6.26 ERA in 23 innings. During Spring Training of 1977, the Pirates sent him to the Oakland A’s in a nine-player deal that brought Phil Garner to Pittsburgh. Langford would go on to play ten seasons in Oakland.

The A’s were extreme bad when he first joined the team. He was put in the starting rotation and compiled a 4.02 ERA in 208.1 innings, which resulted in an 8-19 record for Langford, who led the American League in losses. He split the 1978 season between starting and relief, finishing 7-13, 3.43 in 175.2 innings. Back to starting in 1979, he posted his highest full-season ERA (4.28) in 218.2 innings. His 12-16 record was actually good compared to the 42-92 record they had when he didn’t record a decision. The A’s had an incredible turnaround in 1980, adding 29 wins to their total, finishing with a winning record one year after a 54-108 season. Langford was a big part of that with his best career season. He went 19-12, 3.26, while leading the league with 28 complete games and 290 innings. He threw 22 straight complete games at one point and had a crazy record during June and July when he lost every start in June and won every start in July. He was headed for a similar season in 1981 before the strike knocked 50+ games off of the schedule. Langford finished that year 12-10, 2.99 in 195.1 innings, once again leading the league in complete games (18). That turned out to be his last strong season and the 1982 season turned out to be his last healthy season. He went 11-16, 4.21 in 237.1 innings in 1982, then spent the next four years battling to stay healthy. Langford had a 12.15 ERA in seven starts in 1983, then pitched just 8.2 innings in 1983. He had a 3.51 ERA in 1984, but he was limited to 59 innings. He was released in the middle of the 1986 season after going 1-10, 7.36 in 55 innings. He pitched for the New York Yankees in Triple-A in 1988 before retiring. In his career, he went 73-106, 4.01 in 1,491 innings, with 196 starts and 64 relief appearances. Since 1996, he has held multiple jobs with the Toronto Blue Jays, including coaching jobs at the Major League level.

Tom Stankard, infielder for the 1904 Pirates. He was a sought after player while still in college, before deciding to sign with the Pirates on December 10, 1903, with the understanding that he would finish school first. In March of 1904, it was said that the Pirates expected Stankard to join the team in June, right after his term at Holy Cross ended. He was the captain of their baseball team and had a reputation as a slugger, who could play almost any position. His big league career consisted of just two games, both of them off of the bench. He went 0-for-2 at the plate and saw some innings at third base and shortstop, handling his only two chances in the field without issue. Stankard played his only two games 24 days apart in July, 1904. His pro debut was as a ninth inning replacement at shortstop for Honus Wagner, who suffered a minor injury two innings earlier in a 14-2 game. He finished 1904 in the minors and would go on to play another ten years in pro ball. Much of that minor league time was spent in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he played during the 1906-08 and 1913-14 seasons. Nine of his ten years were spent in the northeast, with the only outlier being his 1909 season playing for Denver of the Western League. Stankard hit .319 during that 1906 season, then followed it up with years in which he hit .297, .296, .294 and .293, showing remarkable consistency. He was a two-sport star at Holy Cross prior to joining the Pirates. In football, he was an All-American in 1903, playing fullback and defensive end. Stankard debuted with the Pirates on July 2nd, but he actually started a game with them on June 30th, three days after he reported to the team. It was an in-season exhibition game against a local team called Homestead and he batted eighth and played first base. He went 0-for-3 with a run scored and he handled ten plays in the field without issue. Stankard played the final five innings of a game on July 26th, getting put in at third base by acting manager Tommy Leach, who was standing in for Fred Clarke, who was out due to typhoid fever. The Pirates let Stankard go just two days later, although the same report said that he never signed with the team and was just there on trial. He immediately joined Jersey City of the Eastern League, where he finished off the season.

Pete McShannic, third baseman for the 1888 Alleghenys. He began his pro career in the minors in 1885. By age 23 in 1887 he was a player/manager for a team from Johnstown, PA. that played out of the Pennsylvania State Association. He had the same job the following season, playing for the Zanesville Kickapoos of the Tri-State League. At the end of the season, he latched on with the Alleghenys, playing his first big league game on September 15, 1888. Starting third baseman Elmer Cleveland asked to be released just before the Alleghenys game started on September 13th, stating that he was tired and worn down from the season and wanted to get an early start to his off-season. He played the game that day and then was let go. McShannic was already practicing with the team and was immediately signed by manager Horace Phillips to play out the season of the season after Cleveland asked to be released. The scouting report on McShannic given that day said that he did a great job of moving runners along with the bat. He was an excellent base runner and he did admirable work at third base. He played 26 games for Pittsburgh that year over 29 days (season ended on October 13th), hitting .194 with one walk, three stolen bases and five RBIs in 98 at-bats. McShannic played all 26 of his games at third base and he was an above average fielder. At the end of the season in 1888, teams were required to submit a reserve list of players for the 1889 season and McShannic was one of 15 players on their list for Pittsburgh. He was given his release in early February so he could sign with Hamilton of the International League, which turned out great for the Alleghenys because he played poorly in the minors. He gave up a $1,500 contract with Pittsburgh to take $1,300 with Hamilton, although the minor league season started later and ended earlier, making it a better paying job per day. He played two more seasons in the minors before retiring from baseball. That was partly due to his performance with Hamilton in 1889, where he hit just .188 in 54 games. On October 11, 1889, he joined a local amateur team to take on the Alleghenys in an exhibition game, but his presence didn’t help the East Enders squad, which lost 25-3 that day. Despite spending just one month with the Alleghenys in 1888, when the franchise opened up Forbes Field 21 years later, the Pirates invited McShannic (and a handful of other former players) to witness the opening of the new stadium. He was a Pittsburgh native, who became a local artist after his playing career was over, though he did some work prior to retiring from baseball.