This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 15th, King, Rambo and Abbaticchio

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one minor trade mentioned below.

The Players

Adeiny Hechavarría, infielder for the 2018 Pirates. He was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Cuba, just days before his 21st birthday in 2010. Hechavarria defected from Cuba after playing three years of pro ball there. The Blue Jays signed him to a four-year deal worth $10,000,000. He didn’t play in 2009, so it took some time for him to get back into the swing of things. He put up poor stats are High-A and mediocre stats at Double-A during his first season in the U.S., which was followed by a brief trip to the Arizona Fall League. Hechavarria returned to Double-A in 2011 and posted a .622 OPS in 111 games, then exploded on offense when he reached Triple-A, though he was playing in the very hitter-friendly Las Vegas at the time. He had a .968 OPS in 25 games. That was followed by another trip to the Arizona Fall League after the season. In 2012, he opened the year back in Las Vegas and had a .788 OPS in 102 games before being promoted to the majors in August. For the 2012 Blue Jays, he hit .254 in 41 games, while playing three infield spots. The Blue Jays kept him just under the Rookie of the Year qualifications so he was eligible for the award in 2013. However, he was traded to the Miami Marlins as part of a huge 12-player deal in November of 2012. Hechavarria was the starting shortstop for the Marlins from day one. He played solid defense, but he put up a .565 OPS in 148 games during his first season, gaining no Rookie of the Year support. His hitting improved slightly each of the next two years. He hit for average, putting up a .276 mark in 2014 and a .281 mark in 2015, but he had limited power and low walk totals, which kept his overall production down.  His stats slipped off in 2016 when he played a career high 155 games, and he finished the year with a .594 OPS.

Hechavarria was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2017 season and did well after the deal, posting a .701 OPS in 77 games. He had a .621 OPS through 61 games played in 2018 when he was traded to the Pirates for minor league pitcher Matt Seelinger on August 6th.  Hechavarria hit .233 with a homer in 15 games for the Pirates before he was sold to the New York Yankees on August 31st, ending his time in Pittsburgh after just 25 days. He signed with the New York Mets as a free agent in 2019 and hit .204 in 60 games before he was released in August. He signed with the Atlanta Braves just two days later and put up a 1.039 OPS in his final 24 games of the season. Hechavarria remained with the Braves during the shortened 2020 season, putting up a .607 OPS in 27 games. He did not sign for the 2021 season. In nine seasons in the majors, he has hit .253 in 922 games, with 37 homers, 273 RBIs, 35 stolen bases and 311 runs scored. During the 2015 season, he was rated as the sixth best defensive player in the National League, finishing with 2.0 dWAR.

Jeromy Burnitz, right fielder for the 2006 Pirates. He already had 13 seasons of Major League experience when the Pirates signed him to a one-year contract on January 9, 2006. He had played for five different teams over the five previous seasons at the time of the signing. Burnitz was originally drafted out of high school in 1987 by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 24th round. While he didn’t sign with the Brewers then, he would eventually end up there for the best years of his career. He attended Oklahoma State University, where the New York Mets selected him in the first round (17th overall) in 1990. Burnitz had a huge first full season in pro ball, despite a .225 batting average. Playing in Double-A, he was a 30/30 players, with 31 homers and 31 steals, while also drawing 104 walks. He moved up to Triple-A in 1992 and struggled, so he had to repeat the level to begin the 1993 season. In late June of 1993, the Mets called him up to the majors. He batted .243 with 13 homers in 86 games as a rookie. A slow start in 1994 landed him back in Triple-A for 2 1/2 months in the middle of the season, then he lost the end of the year due to the strike. Burnitz hit .238 with three homers in 45 games. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians in November and he played just nine big league games in 1995. In 1996, he got off to a strong start and was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in an August trade. He combined to hit .265 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 94 games that season. Burnitz would take off the following year when he batted .281 with 37 doubles, 27 homers, 85 RBIs, a career high 20 steals and 75 walks. He set career highs the next year with 38 homers and 125 RBIs, receiving mild MVP support for his effort.  Burnitz was an All-Star for the only time in 1999 when he hit .270 with 33 doubles, 33 homers, 110 RBIs and 91 walks in 130 games. He saw his average drop to .232 in 161 games in 2000, but he still had 31 homers, 98 RBIs, 99 walks and 91 runs scored. In his final season in Milwaukee in 2001, he batted .251 with 32 doubles, 34 homers, 100 RBIs, 80 walks and a career high 104 runs scored.

In January of 2002, Burnitz was traded to the Mets in a three-team deal that involved 11 players. He did poorly in his only full season back with the Mets, hitting .215 with 19 homers and 54 RBIs in 154 games. He was doing well during the 2003 season, putting up a .974 OPS in 65 games, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in mid-July. He batted just .204 with a .643 OPS after the deal. Burnitz signed a one-year free agent deal with the Colorado Rockies after the season and moving to Coors Field was to his liking. He batted .283 with 37 homers and 110 RBIs. He had a 1.057 OPS at home and a .757 mark on the road. In 2005 for the Chicago Cubs, Burnitz hit .258 with 24 homers and 87 RBIs in 160 games. He signed with the Pirates on January 9, 2006 and ended up hitting .230 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs in 111 games, making 84 starts in right field. His first home run of the season was the 300th of his career, becoming just the third player (after Willie Stargell and Ralph Kiner) to hit his 300th homer while wearing a Pirates uniform. Burnitz retired following the 2006 season. For his career, he hit .253 with 315 homers, 981 RBIs and 917 runs scored in 1,694 games.

Mike Diaz, utility player for the 1986-88 Pirates. He was a 30th round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1978 out of high school in California. He debuted that season in the Gulf Coast League and hit .279 with one homer in 26 games. He remained in short-season ball in 1979 and had an .875 OPS in 63 games in the New York-Penn League. Diaz moved up to Low-A in 1980 and hit .293 in 105 games. He skipped to Double-A for the 1981 season, though he ended up repeating the level. He batted .264 with ten homers in his first season with Midland of the Texas League, then came back with a .289 average, 22 homers and 75 RBIs in his second season. Diaz moved up to Triple-A Iowa in 1983, where he hit .324 with 15 homers in 74 games. He made it to the majors for the first time in 1983 for six September games, all of them off of the bench. Chicago traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 1984 season and he spent the entire year in Triple-A, where he hit .270 with 14 homers. Early in the 1985 season, the Pirates traded for Diaz, giving up minor league catcher Steve Herz. Diaz spent the year at Triple-A Hawaii (after ten games with the Phillies Triple-A club), hitting 22 homers with 85 RBIs. He then made the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1986 without appearing in a big league game during the previous two season. In his first year with the Pirates, he hit .268 with 12 homers and 36 RBIs. He followed that up with a .241 average, 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 103 games during the 1987 season. He was playing mostly off the bench through August of 1988, when the Pirates traded him to the Chicago White Sox for Gary Redus. Diaz was released at the end of the year and he spent the last four seasons of his pro career in Japan. He hit 39 homers and drove in 105 runs in 130 games in 1989, then hit .311 with 33 homers and 101 RBIs in 128 games in 1990. Diaz was a career .247 hitter in the majors, with 31 homers and 102 RBIs in 293 games. He hit .250 with 28 homers in 247 games with Pittsburgh. While with the Pirates, he split the majority of his time between first base and left field, though he also saw time at right field, catcher and third base. Diaz came up through the minors as a catcher, but his big league career saw him play just 13 games behind the plate, and only two of those games were starts.  He had the nickname “Rambo” after the movie Rambo came out starring Sylvester Stallone, who Diaz shared many characteristics with, including looks and how he talked.

Bill Pierro, pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. He was a hard-throwing sidearm right-handed pitcher, with strong minor league stats, but his Major League career was ended by illness shortly after it started. Pierro was signed by the Pirates at 20 years old as an amateur free agent in 1947 and he struggled with his control in the low minors (Class-D) that first season while splitting his time between Bartlesville of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League and Tallahassee of the Georgia-Florida League. His 4.30 ERA wasn’t that bad, but in 134 innings, he had 159 walks. On August 22nd, he made headlines when he picked up 15 strikeouts in a game. He turned it around quickly while at Bartlesville in 1948, posting a 17-8, 2.15 record in 230 innings. He was still wild (145 walks) but he was also very hard to hit, allowing just 114 hits all season. Pierro moved up to Class-B for the 1949 season and continued his success with the Waco Pirates of the Big State League. He went 18-11, 2.96 in 255 innings that season, lowering his walks to 126 for the season, while increasing his innings pitched. In 1950 he moved up to Triple-A with the Indianapolis Indians, going 8-3, 2.60 in 25 games, with 59 walks in 104 innings, before getting called up to the Pirates on July 12th, when the made a flurry of roster moves during a year in which they would finish with a 57-96 record. He had a rough go with the Pirates, posting a 10.55 ERA in twelve games, three as a starter. He pitched 29 innings, gave up 33 hits and walked 28 batters. He had some success against the New York Giants in three appearances, giving up one run on two hits over five innings. Pierro pitched just once in the last 31 games of the season. As the 1951 Spring Training schedule was wrapping up, Pierro started complaining of a gastritis attack and dizziness. Just days later (on his birthday), he was rushed to the hospital with what turned out to be inflammation of the brain. He was listed in critical condition and the first few days it didn’t look good for him. He eventually recovered and lived out a full life passing away in 2006, but the brain issue marked the end of his baseball career. The Pirates officially released him in April of 1952.

King Cole, pitcher for the 1912 Pirates. He had minimal experience in pro ball prior to his big league debut on October 6, 1909. Cole pitched briefly in pro ball in 1908, then spent the 1909 season playing for Bay City of the Southern Michigan League, where he posted a 21-17 record. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs at the end of the season and threw a shutout in his Major League debut against the St Louis Cardinals on the final day of the season. He had an amazing rookie season in 1910, going 20-4 with a league leading 1.80 ERA in 239.2 innings. He threw 21 complete games and had four shutouts. Cole was almost as good his second season, going 18-7, 3.13 in 221.1 innings. His pitching quickly went downhill in 1912, going 1-2, 10.89 in eight games through the end of May. The Pirates and Cubs hooked up on a four-player trade on May 30th, with Tommy Leach and Lefty Leifield going to Chicago and Cole and Solly Hofman coming back to Pittsburgh. King (first name was Leonard) went 2-2, 6.43 in 12 games for the Pirates, making five starts and pitching 49 innings. In his final game with the Pirates on September 1, 1912, he allowed 11 runs on 12 hits over eight innings in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Cole was healthy, but never got into a game during the final month. When the Pirates went on their final road trip on September 28th, they allowed eight of their 28 players to go home, including Cole. Coincidentally, they were on their way to play the Chicago Cubs and Cole was living in Chicago over the winter, so he actually attended at least one game during that series. On October 24, 1912, he was sold to the Columbus Senators of the American Association as a partial payment for the Pirates acquiring pitcher Wilbur Cooper and Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler (who never joined the Pirates, long story for another time) earlier in the fall. Cole went 23-11 in 46 games for Columbus in 1913, throwing a total of 341.2 innings. The Yankees took him in the 1913 Rule 5 draft and he spent two seasons in New York. In 1914 he did well in a swing role, going 10-9, 3.30 in 141.2 innings spread over 15 starts and 18 relief appearances. He saw limited time in 1915, with a 3.18 record in 51 innings. Late in 1915 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and he passed away on January 6, 1916 at the age of twenty-nine. Cole had a career record of 54-27 with a 3.12 ERA in 730.2 innings.

Ed Abbaticchio, infielder for the 1907-1910 Pirates. He made his MLB debut with the 1897 Philadelphia Phillies, playing parts of two seasons in Philadelphia before spending the next four years in the minors. With no previous professional baseball experience, the 20-year-old Abbaticchio played three September games for the Phillies in 1897 before he got injured. In 1898, he batted .228 with no homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games for Philadelphia. He played for Minneapolis of the Western League in 1899, then spent the 1900 season in the American League, one season before it reached Major League status. Abbaticchio moved on to Nashville of the Southern Association in 1901, where he put up a .363 batting average in 108 games. Back in Nashville for 1902, he hit .353 in 99 games. He returned to the majors with the Boston Beaneaters in 1903 and became the first Italian-American star in baseball, and possibly the first Italian-American ever in the majors. He was Boston’s everyday second baseman for most of the 1903 season, seeing some time at shortstop as well. He batted .227 in 136 games, with 52 walks, 23 steals and 61 runs scored. Abbaticchio became the everyday shortstop in 1904 and played 154 games that year. He batted .256 with 24 steals, 76 runs scored and 54 RBIs. He played 153 games in 1905 and led the National League with 610 at-bats. He had his best season at the plate, batting .279 with 40 extra-base hits, 30 stolen bases and 70 runs scored, leading to a career best .700 OPS.

Abbaticchio sat out the 1906 season to manage a hotel in Pittsburgh owned by his family. Boston traded him to Pittsburgh on December 11, 1906 in exchange for three players, Ginger Beaumont, Claude Ritchey and Patsy Flaherty. That deal did not work out for the Pirates, though they were still a strong team after the deal. Ritchey and Abbaticchio were basically the same player after the deal and Beaumont outplayed both of them, while Flaherty was a steady presence in the Boston rotation for two seasons. He was a shortstop with Boston, but with Honus Wagner at shortstop in Pittsburgh, he moved to second base. In his first season he hit .262 with 82 RBIs, 65 walks and 35 stolen bases. In the field he led the league in errors for second baseman. During the 1904 and 1905 seasons, he also led the National League in errors among shortstops, so what happened in 1908 was probably a surprise. Abbaticchio hit .250 with 61 RBIs in 146 games that season, plus he had the best fielding percentage among NL second baseman. Just five games into the 1909 season, Abbaticchio lost his starting job to rookie Dots Miller, forcing him to the backup middle infielder role. In 36 games that year, he hit .230 with 16 RBIs. He saw just one at-bat in the postseason, as the Pirates won their first World Series title. In 1910, Abbaticchio played just three games for the Pirates through the end of June, leading to Pittsburgh selling him back to Boston on July 1st. He hit .247 with a .587 OPS in 52 games, then got released at the end of the season, ending his baseball career. He was a gifted athlete who also excelled at football and played some basketball.

Bill Gray, third baseman for the 1898 Pirates. He made his pro debut with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1890 as a teenager. He hit .242 in 34 games and played seven different positions during his brief time, everywhere except pitcher and shortstop. He had a similar season at 20 years old in 1891, hitting .240 in 23 games while playing five different positions. After two seasons with Philadelphia, he spent the next three years in the minors. He played for two teams in the Eastern League in 1892, moved to the Pennsylvania League in 1893, then played for Indianapolis of the Western League in 1894, where he hit .318 with 50 extra-base hits and 117 runs scored in 115 games. He returned to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 1895 and hit .304 in 52 games. The following season his average dropped down to .207, which would lead to him spending the 1897 season back in the minors with Indianapolis, where he batted .347 with 56 extra-base hits and 131 runs scored in 125 games. On November 10, 1897 the Reds traded him, along with Billy Rhines, Pop Schriver, Jack McCarthy and Ace Stewart to the Pirates for outfielder Mike Smith and pitcher Pink Hawley. The Pirates were giving up two of their better players and they didn’t get a lot from the five-player return. Gray was the everyday third baseman for the Pirates in 1898 and he hit .229 with 67 RBIs and 56 runs scored in 137 games. His defense was below average and he committed the second most errors among National League third baseman. It ended up being his last season in the majors. The Pirates traded him that December to Milwaukee of the Western League in exchange for Ginger Beaumont, who went on to become a star center fielder for the Pirates for eight seasons. Gray finished his career two years later in the minors, spending his final season in the American League, the year before it became recognized as a Major League. He was a .242 hitter in 292 big league games, with 141 RBIs and 126 runs scored. His lone big league home run came in 1895 in the ninth inning of a game his team was losing 15-0 at the time.

The Trade

One minor deal to mention from this date. In 2009, the Pirates acquired second baseman/outfielder Delwyn Young from the Los Angeles Dodgers for two players to be named later. The Pirates later sent minor league pitchers Eric Krebs and Harvey Garcia to Los Angeles to complete the deal. Young played 234 games for the Pirates during the 2009-10 seasons, hitting .255 with 14 homers and 71 RBIs, while neither Krebs nor Garcia played for the Dodgers in the majors and both were soon out of baseball after the deal. Young’s time with the Pirates, and in the majors, ended when he became a free agent after the 2010 season.