This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 14th, Pirates Open Up World Series Winning Season

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and one game of note.

The Players

Chris Leroux, pitcher for the 2010-13 Pirates. Leroux was drafted out of high school in Canada by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the ninth round of the 2002 draft. He decided to attend Winthrop University in South Carolina, where he was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 draft by the Florida Marlins. He debuted in pro ball as a starter in 2006 and struggled at three lower levels, posting a combined 6.06 ERA. Leroux switched to relief in 2007 and had a 4.14 ERA in 71.2 innings over 46 appearances at Low-A.  He moved to High-A for 2008 and had a 3.65 ERA in 74 innings over 57 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Despite mild success and his lack of upper level experience, he made his MLB debut in May of 2009. He ended up having three separate stints in the majors, though he only pitched five games total, spending the rest of the season in Double-A. Leroux was in the majors at the beginning of 2010 and remained there until mid-May. He went to Triple-A, where he pitched poorly in 21 games, posting a 6.95 ERA in 22 innings, but he returned to the majors when the rosters expanded on September 1st. The Pirates picked him up on waivers on September 13, 2010 after he posted an 8.03 ERA in 22 relief appearances between 2009-10 for the Marlins. After making six appearances for Pittsburgh in 2010, with three runs allowed over 4.2 innings, Leroux began the 2011 season in Triple-A. He was recalled in July, appearing in 23 games for the Pirates with a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings. He was placed on the 60-day DL at the start of the 2012 season with a strained right pectoral muscle. He ended up pitching just ten games in the majors that year after returning in September, then followed that up with his final big league games for the Pirates at the start of the 2013 season. He was let go on April 17th, one week after his last game with Pittsburgh. During his final two seasons with the Pirates combined, he allowed 12 runs over 15.1 innings. Leroux finished out the 2013 season pitching in Japan. He finished his MLB time with two games for the 2014 New York Yankees, giving up five runs over two innings. He pitched in the minors for another two seasons before retiring, seeing time with the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays organization. He played a total of five seasons of winter ball between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 off-seasons, playing in both Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. With the Pirates, he had a 4.20 ERA in 45 innings over 41 appearances.

Kyle Farnsworth, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. He was a 47th round draft pick out of high school by the Chicago Cubs in 1994. Despite that low draft status, Farnsworth ended up playing 16 years in the majors. He was known as a reliever with 100+ MPH heat, but he actually began his Major League career as a starting pitching in 1999. As a rookie for the Cubs, he went 5-9, 5.05 in 130 innings. He switched to relief the next year, making just five starts, to go along with 41 relief appearances. He struggled that sophomore season, going 2-9, 6.43 in 77 innings. Farnsworth was on top of his game in 2001, putting up a 2.74 ERA in 88 innings over 76 appearances. He got roughed up in 2002 though, to the tune of a 7.46 ERA in 46.2 innings over 45 games. While not as drastic, that trend continued in the 2003-04 seasons. Farnsworth was a solid bullpen arm in 2003 with a 3.30 ERA in 76.1 innings and 77 appearances. His ERA dropped to 4.73 in 2004 in 66.2 innings. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2005, who in turn traded him to the Atlanta Braves in July. He had an outstanding season that got better as it went along, combining in the two stops to put up a 2.19 ERA in 70 innings, with 16 saves. Farnsworth became a free agent after the season and signed with the New York Yankees where he continued his off and on seasons, though he didn’t rebound in the odd number year this time. He had a 4.32 ERA in 2006 and a 4.80 ERA in 2007. He was doing slightly better in 2008 before a mid-season trade back to the Tigers, where a poor showing left him with a 4.48 ERA for the season. Farnsworth signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent prior to the 2009 season. He went 1-5, 4.58 in 41 appearances, then had strong results in the first half of 2010, putting up a 2.42 ERA in 44.2 innings. In July he was traded to the Braves, where he posted a 5.40 ERA to finish the season.

Farnsworth signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2011 season. He had an excellent first year, posting a career best 2.18 ERA in 57.2 innings, with 25 saves. As you probably figured out, that success did not carry over. He was moved out of the closer role in 2012 and finished with a 4.00 ERA. He re-signed with the Rays for 2013, but he was released after a 5.76 ERA in 39 games through early August. The Pirates signed him five days later to help with their playoff run and he gave up just one run over 8.2 innings and nine appearances in September. Fansworth split his final season in the majors between the New York Mets and Houston Astros, who released him in June, which ended his big league career. He spent his final two seasons of pro ball pitching in Mexico before retiring. In the majors, he had a 43-66, 4.26 record and 57 saves in 988.2 innings over 893 games. His postseason experience was a lot like his career. He threw shutout ball in four different series over the years, but he had a career 5.06 ERA in postseason play.

John Van Benschoten, pitcher for the 2004 and 2007-08 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the Pirates in 2001 out of Kent State University, the eighth overall pick in the draft. Van Benschoten hit 31 homers his last season of college, the most in the country, but he was drafted as a pitcher. As a reliever for Kent State in 2001, he had a 2.77 ERA in 48.2 innings. He reported to the New York-Penn League after signing and posted a 3.51 ERA in nine starts. He spent his first full season of pro ball at low-A ball, playing for Hickory, where he went 11-4, 2.80 in 27 starts, striking out 145 batters in 148 innings. Van Benschoten split the 2003 season between High-A and Double-A, going 13-6, 3.17 in 26 starts, striking out 127 in 139 innings. After a 4.72 ERA in 23 Triple-A starts in 2004, he was called up to the majors for the first time in August. He made five starts for the Pirates and one relief appearance. He went 1-3, 6.91 in 28.2 innings over the final six weeks of the season. Against the Houston Astros on September 10th, he allowed just one run in eight innings, picking up his first career win.

Van Benschoten had to have surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2005, followed shortly by surgery on his left shoulder, and he missed the entire season. He had to have left shoulder surgery again in 2006 and didn’t make his season debut until August in the minors. He was limited to five starts and 22.2 innings. He began 2007 in Triple-A, going 10-7, 2.56 in 19 starts. Van Benschoten debuted in the majors that season in mid-June and remained in the rotation for a month. He then returned to Triple-A until September, when he rejoined the Pirates. He made nine starts and two relief appearances for the Pirates with extremely poor results. He went 0-7, 10.15 in 39 innings with a 2.15 WHIP, though he had a 3.92 ERA in his first four starts, then gave up 35 runs over his final 18.1 innings.. Van Benschoten began 2008 in the minors, getting recalled for the first time in late April. After one start and three relief appearances, he was sent back to Triple-A. The Pirates called him up for a second time in late June, giving him four starts before sending him down again for the remainder of the season. Pittsburgh let him go after the season and he signed with the Chicago White Sox, spending the 2009 season in the minors. He spent 2010 in the minors with the New York Yankees and 2011 at Triple-A with the San Diego Padres. Van Benschoten was released by the Padres during the end of Spring Training in 2012. He was 2-13, 9.20 in 90 innings with the Pirates. He had a 3.84 ERA in 811.1 innings in the minors.

Bill Luhrsen, pitcher for the 1913 Pirates. He was a spitball pitcher who began his career in the minors in 1908 at 24 years old after playing semi-pro ball for a time. He played for three different teams in the Arkansas State League, posting a 16-17 record at the level that was considered to be Class-D ball, the lowest level of the minors. He remained in Arkansas in 1909, playing for the Marianna Brickeys of the Northern Arkansas League, then split the 1910 season between two lower level teams, putting up a 17-10 record. Despite solid results and three years of pro experience, he remained in Class-D ball in 1911, playing for Great Bend of the Kansas State League and Superior of the Nebraska State League. He spent the 1912 season in Class-D again, playing for Huntsville of the Southeastern League. His time spent in the low levels leaves us with very little in the way of stats from his first five seasons of pro ball. That changed the next year when he started the season with Selma of the Cotton States League, where he pitched 160 innings during the first half of the season. He was picked up by the Pirates from Albany of the South Atlantic League in August of 1913 after going 17-8 between two teams. Albany paid Selma $500 for Luhrsen’s contract just one month earlier. He reported to the Pirates on August 19th and made his Major League debut during the second game of a doubleheader on August 23, 1913, coming in during the second inning after the starter Wilbur Cooper allowed four runs in the first. Luhrsen would pick up the victory that day when the Pirates ended up scoring 13 runs. He pitched eight innings, allowing four runs. He got his first start ten days later, winning 5-2 over the Cincinnati Reds. Four days later he beat the St Louis Cardinals for his third straight win, before picking up a loss a week later against the New York Giants with Christy Mathewson on the mound. He lasted just two innings that game due to wildness, in what would be his last Major League game. Just days later, his contract was sold to Columbus of the American Association, where he pitched a few more times before the season ended. The local papers critiqued his small stature (5’9″, 157 pounds) and his lack of refinement on the mound, saying he could be good with more experience, but he wasn’t ready for the majors. That was despite a 2.48 ERA in his 29 big league innings. Luhrsen played two more years in the minors before retiring. He signed with Columbus in February of 1914, but ended up playing for five other teams over his final two years. Despite pitching his final pro game in 1915, he was still a draw in his home state of Arkansas, where he made headlines in 1923 for pitching part of a tripleheader, and he was pitching as late as 1927 in semi-pro games when he was 43 years old. He was occasionally referred to in print as “Wild Bill”, but it seemed to have nothing to do with his control as a pitcher.

George Merritt, outfielder/pitcher for the 1901-03 Pirates. He had a 15-year career in the minors, splitting his time between the outfield and pitching. The Pirates brought him to the majors for the first time when they purchased his contract from the Utica Pentups of the New York State League on September 4, 1901. Merritt, who debuted in pro ball in 1900, played just 39 games for Utica in 1901, but he put up a .328 average during that time (his pitching stats are unavailable, though a newspaper report said that he won 22 of his 26 starts). Just 11 days before he joined the Pirates, it was announced that he signed with the New York Giants after he defeated them in an exhibition game, but Utica sold his contract to the Pirates instead. He made his big league debut on September 6th during the second game of a doubleheader and won 13-4 over the Giants, getting two hits of his own, including a triple. Despite making a strong impression on the mound (after a shaky first inning) Merritt did not make another start for 18 days. His first appearance was the last game of three straight doubleheaders the Pirates played and the team was in a pennant race at the time. When he next started on the 24th, the Pirates had a nine-game lead with 11 to go in the season. Merritt would throw a complete game over the Giants in his second start, winning 14-9, although he didn’t pitch as bad as nine runs would sound. The fielding behind him was described as “sloppy once the Pirates had a big lead.” His third start of the year came in the final game of the season against the Chicago Orphans (Cubs), exactly one month after his debut. Merritt improved his record to 3-0 thanks to nine runs by the Pirates and nine errors by the Orphans. The Pirates played a barnstorming tour after the season to make a little extra money, but Merritt wasn’t in on the tour due to his late arrival with the club. The limited roster allowed all of the regulars to get a bigger cut of the money pool.

Merritt would spend the 1902 season in the minors with Worcester of the Eastern League, where he hit .285 in 64 games and won 11 games on the mound. He was actually with the Pirates until May 15th without playing a game, then got released outright. He was re-signed by the Pirates on August 18th, though he was to remain with Worcester through the end of their season. That day before he joined the Pirates, he played right field in an exhibition game for Worcester against the Pirates. He rejoined Pittsburgh with just five games left in the schedule. He started in left field on September 27th and collected three hits. He only got into the game because the regular left fielder/manager Fred Clarke, was visiting his sister, who was ill. When Tommy Leach couldn’t play due to his own illness and regular first baseman Kitty Bransfield got injured before the game, the Pirates had to empty the bench just to play the game, which they still ended up winning 13-6. The next day the Pirates were also without regular second baseman Claude Ritchey, so they went even further down the bench, this time losing 3-2 to the Reds. Merritt went 0-for-4 and then didn’t play in any of the last three games of the year. Once again the team played postseason exhibition games and Merritt was not part of the group, but he played with the team during their annual Field Day at Exposition Park on October 6th. The next year he was with the Pirates as a backup outfielder early in the year. He would hit just .148 in nine games and he made one appearance on the mound in relief, allowing one earned run in four innings. He broke a bone in his foot on a slider on May 26th and that ended up being the end of his big league career. The Pirates sent him to Worcester once he was healthy, but he was returned to the Pirates a short time later. Instead of reporting back to the Pirates, he was released, and ended up finishing the year with Jersey City of the Eastern League. Despite the fact he played just 15 Major League games, he was a member of three National League pennant winners. His minor league career ended 12 years after his last Major League game. He played eight straight seasons for Jersey City (1903-10). After he saw a drop in his hitting, he moved back to pitching full-time in 1909 and won 14 games.

The Game

Finally, on this date in 1925, the Pirates opened up their season at Wrigley Field in Chicago with an 8-2 loss. Emil Yde, who went 16-3 in 1924, made the start for the Pirates while 38-year-old future Hall of Famer Grover Alexander made the start for the Cubs. For Alexander, it was the 301st win of his career. Pittsburgh would go on to win the NL pennant and the World Series during that 1925 season. The Pirates lineup that day featured three Hall of Famers:

LF Carson Bigbee

CF Max Carey

2B Eddie Moore

3B Pie Traynor

RF Kiki Cuyler

1B George Grantham

SS Glenn Wright

C Earl Smith

P Emil Yde

Here’s Wilbur Miller’s recap of the game.

We also have Game Rewind features from April 14th in two other World Series winning seasons. Here’s the 1909 season and 1960 season, both highly recommended.