This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 30th, George Van Haltren, Omar Moreno Signs

Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one transaction of note.

The Transaction

On this date in 1969, the Pirates signed Omar Moreno as an amateur free agent out of Panama. He was 16 years old at the time and it took him six years to make his debut in the majors with the Pirates. Moreno was a starter by 1977, and he played a big part in the 1979 World Series winning season by playing all 162 games, while scoring 110 runs and stealing 77 bases. He also batted .311 with seven runs scored in the postseason. He played eight seasons with the Pirates and a total of 12 years in the majors. In 944 games with Pittsburgh, he batted .255 with 412 stolen bases and 530 runs scored. Moreno set a team record with 96 stolen bases in 1980. He led the National League in steals during the 1978 and 1979 seasons. He ranks third in team history in steals, only trailing Hall of Famers Max Carey and Honus Wagner.

The Players

Dan Runzler, pitcher for the 2017 Pirates. He pitched four seasons for the San Francisco Giants, twice playing on World Series winning teams. Runzler was 32 years old and five years removed from his last big league appearance when he signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent prior to the 2017 season. He spent the year with Indianapolis before getting a surprise call up in September. He made eight appearances with the Pirates, giving up four runs (two earned) in four innings. Runzler spent the 2018-19 seasons pitching in the minors and independent ball and did not play during the 2020 season. He was originally drafted in the 17th round in 2006 by the Seattle Mariners out of the University of California Riverside. He decided to return to school and moved up to the ninth round the next year, getting selected by the Giants. He played short-season ball his first season of pro ball, then repeated the level in 2008. Runzler had a 2.10 ERA in 30 innings in the Northwestern League that season, but he struggled in Low-A, posting a 5.47 ERA in 24.2 innings. Despite that high ERA, he was just a year away from making an incredible leap through the Giants system. Runzler pitched for all four full-season teams in 2009, followed by a September trial with the Giants. He had an 0.76 ERA in 59 innings over 47 appearances in the minors, then gave up one run in 8.2 innings over 11 outings in the majors. Despite a high walk rate, he had a strong 2010 season in San Francisco as a lefty specialist. Runzler posted a 3.03 ERA in 32.2 innings over 41 games. He ran into a rough patch in 2011, with a 6.26 ERA in 27.1 innings over 31 games. He spent half of the season in Triple-A, getting time as a starting pitcher. He made just 15 starts in his 13-year pro career and ten came during that stint in the minors. Runzler played a bit part during their 2012 World Series winning season, getting into six games in September without allowing a run. He played for the Giants in Triple-A for all of 2013 and 2014, then spent the next two seasons seeing time in Japan, independent ball and Triple-A for the Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks. He finished his affiliated career with the Boston Red Sox in early 2018. In five big league seasons, he had a 3.89 ERA in 76.1 innings over 97 games.

Mike Johnston, pitcher for the 2004-05 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 20th round of the 1998 amateur draft, taken out of Garrett Community College in Maryland. To this date, he’s the last player from that school to get drafted and the only one to make the majors. Johnston began his minor league career as a reliever, switching to the starting role full-time in 2001 and for part of 2002. He had a 3.41 ERA in 31.2 innings at 19 years old in 1998, mostly pitching in the Gulf Coast League. He moved up to the New York-Penn League in 1999, where he went 3-2, 4.25 in 42.1 innings. In 2000, he pitched for Hickory of the South Atlantic League and he struggled in a long relief role, putting up a 6.22 ERA in 25 appearances. That was followed by the move to the starting rotation, which paid off. Between 16 starts in Low-A and another ten in High-A (plus one relief appearance), Johnston had a 3.36 ERA in 155.1 innings. He spent the entire 2002 season in High-A, though he was limited to ten starts and five relief appearances. He had a 3.63 ERA in 57 innings. Those would be his final career starts in pro ball. In 2003, he made his Double-A debut and had a 2.12 ERA in 46 relief appearances. The Pirates skipped him over Triple-A, right to the majors to open up the 2004 season and he didn’t allow a run in his first nine outings, while posting a 1.84 ERA through his first two months. Things went downhill from there as his ERA rose to 4.37 three weeks later and he was returned to the minors, where he put up an 8.40 ERA in 19 appearances. In 2005 Johnston pitched well in Triple-A, but during his only big league game on June 24th he gave up four hits, four runs and two home runs in one inning. He pitched in the minors all of 2006, putting up a 5.74 ERA in Triple-A, before being released by the Pirates. He missed the entire 2007-08 seasons with a torn labrum and made one last brief comeback in the Chicago White Sox system in 2009 before retiring. Johnston worked with a hard fastball that routinely hit 95+ MPH, along with a strong slider as his secondary pitch. He suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, which caused him to drop out of high school, but the condition was less severe as he got older.

Ripper Collins, first baseman for the 1941 Pirates. He played seven seasons in the minors before getting his first chance at the big league level. In his first full season of minor league ball in 1925 at 21 years old, Collins hit .327 with 54 extra-base hits in 99 games for Johnstown of the Middle Atlantic League. He basically matched those stats the next season while still in Johnstown, hitting .313 with 48 extra-base hits in 102 games. His 1927 stats are incomplete, as he bounced around playing for three different teams. He spent most of 1928 playing for Danville of the Three-I League. That season he hit he hit .387 with 66 extra-base hits, but the best was still yet to come. In 1930, playing for Rochester of the International League, Collins hit .376 with 40 homers, 34 doubles and 19 triples in 167 games. That was after batting .315 with 38 homers for Rochester in 1929, which apparently wasn’t enough to get him his first big league shot. The St Louis Cardinals brought him to the majors for the first time in 1931, and while he hit .301, he didn’t show any of the power he had the previous two seasons in the minors. That changed in 1932 when he hit 21 homers and drove in 91 runs. In 1934 he hit a league-leading 35 homers, while adding 40 doubles, 12 triples, 128 RBIs and a .333 average. He also led the National League with a .615 slugging percentage. He hit .313 with 23 homers and 122 RBIs in 1935, making the NL All-Star team. His production slowly dropped off each of the next three seasons, although he did make the All-Star team again in 1936-37. Collins batted .292 with 13 homers in 103 games in 1936, He followed that up with a .274 average, 16 homers and 71 RBIs in 115 games with the Chicago Cubs, joining his new team in a three-player deal completed just days after the 1936 season ended. Collins batted .267 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs in 143 games in 1938.

Collins was returned to the minors in 1939, spending two seasons in the Pacific Coast League as a member of the Cubs affiliate in Los Angeles. He hit .334 with 26 homers and 128 RBIs in 1939, then followed it up with .327 average, 18 homers and 111 RBIs in 1940. The Pirates purchased his contract on March 25, 1941 for $5,000 and he was used as a bat off of the bench for much of that season. The Pirates reportedly brought him in an insurance for first baseman Elbie Fletcher, who had a knee injury earlier in his career. Collins himself helped broker the deal, in part because Los Angeles tried to cut his salary from $1,100 a month down to $800 a month. It also helped that Pirates manager Frankie Frisch was his manager for four season in St Louis when Collins was at his peak. He started just six games all year with the Pirates, two of them in right field during a doubleheader in May. Collins batted .210 with 11 RBIs in 70 at-bats over 49 games. He was released by Pittsburgh that November under his own request so he could take a player-manager job for Albany of the Eastern League, a position he held for five seasons. Collins managed a total of ten seasons in the minors. He played his final games at 43 years old  in 1947 for San Diego of the Pacific Coast League. While his minor league stats aren’t completely known, it is known that he had over 2,900 hits in pro ball, while hitting over 300 homers. His big league stats show a .296 average in 1,084 games, with 135 homers and 639 RBIs over nine seasons.

Hal Rhyne, infielder for the 1926-27 Pirates. He played four seasons for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League before the Pirates acquired him for 1926. After he hit .315 with 40 doubles in 1925, the Pirates swung a cash deal for Paul Waner and Rhyne that reportedly cost them $100,000 on October 12, 1925, the same day as game five of the World Series, which was won by the Pirates. Rhyne had his doubters among scouts, who all praised his strong defense at shortstop, but they said that he had trouble hitting a curve ball and wouldn’t hit in the majors. He was said to have average speed and no power, but he was a very smart player. For the Pirates, he played 66 games at second base and 44 at shortstop as a rookie in 1926. He hit .251 with 39 RBIs and 46 runs scored in 366 at-bats. In 1927 he was the Pirates starting second baseman during the first three weeks of the year, then sat on the bench until Pie Traynor got injured, allowing Rhyne more playing time. He was the starting second baseman again for most of August, but then he played only five of the last 39 games, getting just four plate appearances during that stretch. He started at second base in game three of the World Series, going 0-for-4 at the plate. Rhyne beat out 20-year-old Joe Cronin for the second base job during Spring Training of 1927, which turned out to be an awful decision on the part of the Pirates. Cronin would play just 12 games all season with the Pirates, then move on to the Washington Senators in 1928, where he would turn himself into a Hall of Fame player. Rhyne was sold back to the San Francisco Seals on February 9, 1928, where he spent the 1928 season. After batting .312 in 185 games (they played longer seasons in the PCL), he then returned for five more season in the majors with the Boston Red Sox (1929-32) and Chicago White Sox (1933). Rhyne batted .251 over 120 games in 1929, seeing most of his playing time at shortstop. The 1930 season was a huge year for offense in baseball, but Rhyne managed to hit just .203 in 107 games. He had his best big league season at the plate in 1931, which combined with his strong defense, led to a 14th place finish in the MVP voting. Rhyne hit .273 in 147 games, with 57 walks, 51 RBIs and 75 runs scored. His hitting dropped off the next year, down to a .227 average, then he played just 39 games for the 1933 White Sox over the course of the entire season. He returned to San Francisco in 1934, spending his last seven seasons of his career in the minors. From 1938-40, Rhyne was a player/manager for Tacoma of the Western International League. During his big league career, he was a .250 hitter in 655 games, with 192 RBIs and 252 runs scored. Rhyne hit just two big league homers, both with the Pirates in his rookie season, and both were inside-the-park homers. He played 1,730 minor league games and had over 1,800 hits.

Ed Sicking, second baseman for the 1927 Pirates. He was an accomplished minor league player, who was never able to put together a strong showing in the majors. Sicking had over 2,500 minor league hits during a 16-year career but his Major League career barely lasted 200 games. He played one game for the 1916 Chicago Cubs, debuting in the majors as a 19-year-old pinch-hitter on August 26th. Sicking spent all of 1917 in the minors, then spent the better part of three seasons in the majors playing for three different teams, including two stints with the New York Giants. In 1918, he hit .250 in 46 games in New York, splitting his time between third base and second base. He played six games with the Giants early in 1919 before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on May 4th. Sicking hit .216 in 61 games for the Phillies. He was back with the Giants in 1920, but after hitting .172 in 46 games, he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. He finished the year with the Reds, hitting .268 in 37 games. He then spent all of 1921-26 in the minors playing for the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. Sicking hit between .285 and .320 each of those seasons, but it took until 1927 for him to get another shot at the majors. The 1927 Pirates went on to win the National League pennant and Sicking was around for the first three weeks, getting seven at-bats in eight games before returning to the minors. Just like the aforementioned Hal Rhyne, Sicking played second base for the 1927 Pirates. In fact, Sicking was acquired early in the season because the Pirates wanted a veteran presence to take turns at second base, forcing the 20-year-old Joe Cronin to a deep bench spot. Pirates new manager Donie Bush spent the 1924-26 seasons managing Indianapolis, where Sicking was his everyday second baseman all three seasons. The Pirates purchased his contract on April 6th from Indianapolis, just eight days after naming Hal Rhyne the starting second baseman. Sicking couldn’t play regularly with the Pirates due to an arm injury. The Pirates asked waivers on him on May 8th, but before his ten days were up, he was told to report back to the Pirates by May 23rd. He did just that, though nine days later he was outright released to Indianapolis without playing another game.  From 1927 until 1931, Sicking batted over .300 every season in the minors, yet he never got another chance at the majors. He retired after 1933 with a .306 minor league batting average in 2,189 games.

Dutch Meier, outfielder/shortstop for the 1906 Pirates. He was a well-known football and baseball player from Princeton, who never played pro ball until the Pirates convinced him to sign in November of 1905. It was said in the newspaper on the day Meier signed that he had already played for the Pirates “last Summer” under as assumed name. They were exhibition games (teams used to play those during the season) and he went by the name Koch. The local paper later surmised that “Koch” was believed to be Meier. Dutch (his first name was Arthur) was with the Pirates for the entire 1906 season, getting into 82 games, splitting his time between each of the three outfield positions and some shortstop. He batted .256 with 11 doubles, four triples, no homers and four stolen bases. He was above average defensively in the outfield, but his .899 fielding percentage at shortstop was well below average. Meier got a stretch of 17 straight starts in left field beginning on May 16th, after Fred Clarke injured his shoulder making a catch.  That one season was Meier’s only pro experience, minors or majors. On February 7, 1907, it was said that he signed with a semi-pro team in Chicago called the Spaldings (a team named after Hall of Famer Al Spalding), which would have got him banned from baseball for jumping his contract. However, four days later, he sent a note to the Pirates saying that he was retiring from professional baseball. In a letter to owner Barney Dreyfuss, Meier said that his relatives talked him out of playing professional baseball and the life of a Major League player wasn’t for him, but he would still play semi-pro ball. He had previously played with the Spaldings before joining the Pirates,  Before his time with the Spaldings, Meier played college ball at Princeton, where he was heavily recruited by a handful of Major League teams. Meier eventually took up coaching at Princeton after leaving the Pirates. He was very hesitant to play pro ball from the start due to family objections, so it is no surprise that he only played one season, and it took the persuasion of his college teammate Homer Hillebrand (who was with the Pirates) to convince him to finally play. Meier was still reserved for the 1908 season at one point, which effectively meant that if he decided to return to pro ball, he was still property of the Pirates.

George Van Haltren, outfielder for the 1892-93 Pirates. While with the Pirates, he was a member of one of the deepest, most talented outfields the team ever had. The 1893 Pirates had Jake Stenzel, Elmer Smith and Patsy Donovan in the outfield and all three were star players of the day. They were alongside Van Haltren, who was the best of the bunch.  Van Haltren hit .325 in 137 games for the Pirates, with 84 RBIs, 43 stolen bases and 139 runs scored. He was involved in three trades with the Pirates and all three of them went poorly. Full details of the trades can be read here (highly recommended click), but the quick summary shows that they traded Van Haltren in 1887 for veteran pitcher Jim McCormick, then watched McCormick struggle in his lone season with Pittsburgh, while Van Haltren turned into a strong outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings. The Pirates then reacquired Van Haltren very late in the 1892 season in exchange for young outfielder Joe Kelley, who eventually turned into Hall of Famer Joe Kelley. The final deal was the sale after the 1893 season for $2,500, which was even meager by 1893 standards for a player sale. Van Haltren went on to put up 25.0 WAR with the New York Giants after the deal. If the Pirates held on to him, then the deal for Kelley wouldn’t have been so one-sided.

Van Haltren started out as a pitcher on the west coast and signed with the Alleghenys just prior to the 1887 season. However, he received a higher offer and attempted to back out of his deal with Pittsburgh. When he didn’t report, he was traded to Chicago for McCormick, who was also holding out at the time. Just 21 years old at the time, Van Haltren was acquired for his arm, but he quickly turned into a quality outfielder. He went 11-7, 3.86 in 161 innings, and he batted .203 in 45 games. In 1888, he went 13-13, 3.52 in 245.2 innings and threw four shutouts. He batted .283 in 81 games, 57 of those games coming as an outfielder (six games he played both pitcher and outfield). Van Haltren moved full-time to the outfield in 1889, seeing most of his time in left field, before switching more to center field for the rest of his career. He hit .322 with 81 RBIs, 82 walks and 126 runs scored. In 1890, he jumped to the Player’s League, playing for Brooklyn, where he hit .335 in 92 games, while also going 15-10, 4.28 in 223 innings. It was the last time that he saw regular pitching work, though he pitched another 15 games in the majors split over six seasons.

In 1891, he played for Baltimore of the American Association. He hit .318 with 83 RBIs, 71 walks, 136 runs scored and 75 stolen bases. Baltimore moved to the National League in 1892 and he hit .302 with 70 walks, 105 runs and 49 stolen bases in 135 games. The Pirates acquired him at the end of the season and he batted .200 in 13 games. He was a .338 hitter during his only full season with the Pirates, before their poor decision to sell him off to the Giants. Van Haltren wasn’t known as the best fielder, even though he covered a lot of ground and had a strong arm. He did not have reliable hands in the outfield. In his first year in New York, he hit .331 with 109 runs, 43 steals and a career best 105 RBIs. The 1894 season was a great year for offense in baseball because rules were put in place to limit the effectiveness of pitchers. Van Haltren set a career high with a .911 OPS that season. He followed that up by hitting .340 with 113 runs scored and 103 RBIs in 1895. The next year he set career highs with a .351 average and 21 triples, with the latter leading the league. He also tied a career high with 136 runs scored. Van Haltren led the league in at-bats during each of the next two seasons. He hit .329 with 119 runs scored in 1897, and .312 with 129 runs scored in 1898. He set a career high with 204 hits that year, while leading the league with 156 games played.

In 1899, Van Haltren hit .301 with 75 walks and 118 runs scored in 152 games. He batted .315 in 1900, with 114 runs scored and a league best 45 stolen bases, winning his first and only stolen base crown at 34 years old. Van Haltren also set a career high with 30 doubles. He hit .335 during the 1901 season, while “only” scoring 82 runs, breaking a string of ten straight 100+ runs scored seasons. He began the 1902 season off slow before he suffered a broken leg/ankle while sliding into second base on May 22nd. It ended his season and he wasn’t the same when he returned in 1903, batting .257 in 84 games. While his big league career was done, he was far from done as a player. He spent the next six seasons playing in the Pacific Coast League, retiring at 43 years old.

In 17 seasons in the majors, Van Haltren was a career .316 hitter in 1,990 games, with 1,642 runs scored, 2,544 hits, 1,015 RBIs and 583 stolen bases. He ranks 38th all-time with 161 triples. He also had over 1,000 hits in the minors, giving him over 3,500 career hits in pro ball. It’s hard to figure out why he hasn’t received more attention for the Hall of Fame, especially when you add in the three decent seasons of pitching stats. He finished his big league pitching career with a 40-31, 4.05 record in 689.1 innings. After his playing days were over, he became a west coast scout for the Pirates, and once went over five years without signing a single player. He was actually praised for his scouting work because he told the Pirates not to sign numerous players who came highly recommended and ended up going nowhere. However, his string of non-signings ended with a deal for pitcher Walter Nagle, who lasted just eight games with Pittsburgh.

Tom Burns, third baseman for the 1892 Pirates. He played twelve seasons with the Chicago White Stockings before joining the Pirates for one last season in the majors. Burns debuted in the majors as a shortstop in 1880 at 23 years old. He moved to second base for a time, then back to shortstop, before playing third base for his final seven seasons, including his lone year with the Pirates. He debuted with a .309 batting average in 1880, which ended up being his career high. His best overall season at the plate came in 1883, when he hit .294 and set career highs with a .750 OPS and 37 doubles. The White Stockings saw a jump in their offense during the 1884 season because the ground rules in their smaller park changed, counting balls hit over the fence as homers for the first time. It was just 180 down the left field line and 196 down the right field line, though a very high fence/netting kept a lot of balls in the park down the right field line. Burns watched his teammates succeed as a group that year (and it hurt their pitchers) but he put up a .631 OPS, which was well below the team’s .770 mark. With the regular rules in place for 1885 (balls over the fence counted as doubles), Burns batted .272 with 71 RBIs and 82 runs scored. During the 1888 season, he hit just .234, but he drove in 70 runs and stole 34 bases. He played 134 of the team’s 136 games that year, then led the National League with 136 games played in 1889 and 139 games in 1890. In an era where players didn’t wear gloves and third basemen saw a lot more work than they get now, he managed to play all but two games over a three-year period During that 1890 season, as one of the few big name players not to jump to the Player’s League, he set career highs with 86 RBIs and 86 runs scored. In 1891, Burns hit .226 with 17 RBIs in 59 games, which his worst season in the majors up to that point. Burns hit .266 in 1,239 games with Chicago, driving in 679 runs and scoring 715 times.

The Pirates purchased his contract on May 17, 1892 and he played just 12 games for them over a two-month span. He didn’t get into any early season games with Chicago due to an arm injury that kept him behind in his training. It was still bothering him at the time of the deal with the Pirates, but as part of the agreement, it was said that he signed a binding three-year deal that would allow him to manage the team and make player transactions, which was a fairly common practice for managers back then. In his brief playing time with Pittsburgh, Burns hit .205 in 39 at-bats, with eight singles and four RBIs. He played eight games at third base and made nine errors. The Pirates made him the manager during most of his short stint with the team, taking over for Al Buckenberger, who started the year with a 15-14 record. After Burns went 27-32 at the helm, and he was clearly done as a player, the team replaced him with Buckenberger, who worked in the front office when he wasn’t managing that season. Just days later on July 29th, Burns was outright released. It was said that he was clearly done as a player (his final game came seven days earlier) and the team was out of control off of the field with him in charge. Burns went to the minors in 1893 and was a player/manager for the Springfield Ponies for three seasons, before only managing during the 1897 season. He then managed the Chicago Colts (new name for the White Stockings/Cubs) for two seasons (1898-99), before managing two more seasons (1900-01) in the minors. Burns passed away suddenly during the 1901-02 off-season from a heart attack and age 45. As a big league manager, he had a 187-170 record. He was known as a strong defensive player and it shows in modern metrics, which give him positive defensive WAR numbers during every season in Chicago. During the 1888-89 seasons, he led all National League third basemen in both put outs and assists each year, though he also led the league in errors in 1889.

In January of 1893, the Pirates were forced to pay Burns $1,500 that was said to be owed to him for the previous season. The court case revealed that the Pirates only took on Burns because Pittsburgh owner/president William Temple worked out a five-year deal for $15,000 a year with Cap Anson that would start during the 1893 season. As part of the agreement, Temple agreed to pay Burns $4,500 during the 1892 season. Anson obviously never joined the Pirates, though the report never said whether or not he backed out on the deal, or Temple did due to the high salary for the time. Burns talked of a lawsuit before the Pirates even released him.