This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: Pirates Sign Sam McDowell

Two Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and two transactions of note.

The Transactions

On this date in 1975, the Pirates signed pitched Sam McDowell as a free agent. The 32-year-old was a Pittsburgh native, signing with the Cleveland Indians in 1960 right out of Central Catholic HS in Pittsburgh. He was one of the most intimidating pitchers of his time, possibly the hardest thrower of his day, who not only led the league in strikeouts five times, he also issued the most walks five times as well. In 11 seasons with Cleveland, he had a 122-109 record with 2,159 strikeouts in 2,109.2 innings pitched. Prior to 1972, McDowell was traded to the San Francisco Giants, where injuries and off-field issues began to take their toll on his career. He moved on to the New York Yankees in the middle of 1973 and was released by them after the 1974 season. McDowell went 1-6, 4.69 in 1974, making seven starts and six relief appearances. He was a non-roster player in Spring Training for the Pirates in 1975 before he made the team as a reliever. He made 14 appearances, one as a starter, and he had a 2-1, 2.86 record in 34.2 innings before he was released in late June. That was the end of his playing career. He finished with 141 wins, a 3.17 ERA and 2,453 strikeouts.

On this date in 1973, the Pirates traded catcher Charlie Sands to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for pitcher Chris Zachary. Sands had been with the Pirates since October 1970, when he came over from the New York Yankees in a six-player deal involving all minor leaguers. He played 28 games for the Pirates in 1971, all but three were as a pinch-hitter. The 25-year-old spent nearly all of 1972 in Triple-A, where he hit .283 with 12 homers and 64 walks in 74 games. He was a September call-up, but was used just once as a pinch-hitter the entire month. Zachary spent all of 1963 in the majors as a 19-year-old with no minor league experience. From 1964 until 1972, he played in the minors every season. He also appeared in the majors at some point during every one of those seasons, except 1968 and 1970. He set a career high with 25 appearances in 1972 with the Tigers, going 1-1, 1.41 in 38.1 innings.

Sands didn’t even get a chance to get comfortable in Detroit. He was traded to the California Angels just 17 days after this trade. He spent the year down in Triple-A, only getting a September call-up. In 1974 he spent most of the season with the Angels, playing a career high 43 games. After three games with the Oakland A’s in 1975, he finished his career in the minors one year later. Zachary went 14-7, 3.18 in 25 Triple-A starts for the Pirates in 1973. He was a September call-up. and in six relief appearances he pitched 12 innings with a 3.00 ERA. After the season, the Pirates traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher/first baseman Pete Koegel. Neither Zachary nor Koegel appeared in the majors after the trade.

The Players

Jon Lieber, pitcher for the 1994-98 Pirates. He was originally a ninth round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1991 out of the University of South Alabama at 21 years old, but he decided to return to school and the move paid off. He was a second round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in 1992. Lieber had a 2.90 ERA in 62 innings after signing in 1992, then was putting up strong numbers through late July in 1993, while pitching mostly in High-A. He came to the Pirates along with Dan Miceli in exchange for pitcher Stan Belinda at the 1993 trading deadline. The Pirates assigned him to Double-A, where he had a 3.97 ERA in six starts to finish out the season. Lieber pitched a total of 169.2 in 1993, posting a 15-6, 3.45 record, with 134 strikeouts. After just six minor league starts in 1994, the Pirates called him up in mid-May and he went right into the starting rotation. He made three starts in Double-A, three in Triple-A, combining for a 1.49 ERA in 42.1 innings.  In 17 starts with the Pirates before the strike ended the season in early August, Lieber went 6-7, 3.73 in 108.2 innings. In 1995 he pitched poorly through June 17th, posting a 7.48 ERA, which got him a demotion to Triple-A. He pitched almost as bad there, with a 7.01 ERA in 14 starts. Despite the season-long slump, he was a September call-up, making ten appearances, one as a starter. He had a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings over the final month.

Lieber made the 1996 Pirates out of Spring Training as a reliever. Through July 7th, he had a 2-2, 4.21 record in 34 appearances. After that date, he switched to the starter role, going 7-2, 3.91 in 15 starts to finish the year. In 1997, the Pirates went 79-83, staying in the pennant race until the last week of the season. Lieber was one of three pitchers (Esteban Loaiza and Francisco Cordova are the others) to win 11 games that year for the Pirates. He had a 4.49 ERA and pitched 188.1 innings. In 1998 he had a better ERA than the year before (4.11 vs 4.46) but he went just 8-14 in 28 starts, throwing 170.1 innings. On December 14,1998 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Brant Brown. Lieber ended up pitching four years for the Cubs, winning 20 games in 2001 when he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. He was 10-11, 4.07 in 203.1 innings in 1999. With one year left before free agency, the Cubs agreed to a three-year deal with Lieber for $15,000,000.  He responded well in that first season by leading the league with 35 starts and 251 innings. He went 12-11, 4.41 and set a career high with 192 strikeouts. After going 20-6, 3.80 in 232.1 innings in 2001, Lieber went 6-8, 3.70 in 21 starts in 2002, before getting injured in his final start on August 1st. He missed all of 2003 following Tommy John surgery, coming back the following year to pitch another five seasons in the majors, splitting his time between the New York Yankees (2004), Philadelphia Phillies (2005-07) and back to the Cubs for the 2008 season. Lieber went 14-8, 4.33 in his season with the Yankees, then had a 29-30, 4.55 record in Philadelphia. During the 2005 season, he pitched 218.1 innings. He finished his 14-year career with a 131-124, 4.27 record in 2,198 innings, which included his 38-47, 4.36 in 682.2 innings with the Pirates.

Hisanori Takahashi, pitcher for the 2012 Pirates. He was acquired by the Pirates in late August of 2012 from the Los Angeles Angels as a waiver pickup. In nine relief appearances for the Pirates over the final six weeks of the season, Takahashi posted an 8.64 ERA in 8.1 innings. He was released in October and signed with the Chicago Cubs, where he made the final three appearances of his big league career during the 2013 season. He spent the first ten years of his pro career pitching in Japan, before signing with the New York Mets for the 2010 season. As a 35-year-old rookie with the Mets, Takahashi went 10-6, 3.61 in 122 innings, with eight saves and 114 strikeouts. He made 12 starts and 39 relief appearances. The Mets released him at the end of the season and he signed with the Angels on December 2, 2010. In 2011, he went 4-3, 3.44 in 68 innings over 61 relief appearances. At the time he was picked up by the Pirates, Takahashi had a 4.93 ERA in 42 innings over 42 appearances. While his final three appearances were with the Cubs, he actually finished his time in the U.S. playing in Triple-A for the Colorado Rockies, who purchased his contract on June 22, 2013 After leaving the U.S. following the 2013 season, Takahashi pitched two more seasons in Japan. He had a 3.99 ERA in 243.1 innings in the majors, and an 86-74, 3.67 record in 12 seasons in Japan, where he pitched 1,431.1 innings. He didn’t reach the highest level in Japan (known as the Japan Central League) until he was 25 years old. He pitched his first ten seasons for the Yomiuri Giants, spent those first seven years in the rotation with Masumi Kuwata, who pitched for the 2007 Pirates. The two helped the Giants to the 2000 and 2002 Japana Series championship titles (that league’s version of winning the World Series). Takahashi threw a large assortment of pitches, including a screwball.

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