Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, one trade to talk about and one Opening Day to mention. We start with one of the all-time greats in team history. Before we start, recent Pirates pitcher Tyler Bashlor turns 28 today. He will get a full bio next year on April 16th if he’s no longer in the organization. He was just recently sent outright to Triple-A.
Paul Waner, outfielder for the 1926-1940 Pirates. If the Pirates ever created a Mount Rushmore for players, Waner has a strong case to be included there. He retired with a .333 career average, 1,627 runs scored, 3,152 hits, 1,091 base on balls and 1,377 RBIs. With the Pirates, he ranks first all-time in batting average with a .340 mark (Jake Stenzel hit .360, but had less than 2,000 PAs). He also ranks first in doubles with 558 (career he ranks 11th all-time). He is sixth in games played, second to Honus Wagner in both runs scored and triples, third in hits and walks, and fifth in RBIs. When he left the Pirates, he was the team’s all-time leader in home runs. Among all Major League right fielders, he is first in putouts, fourth in assists and second in games played. He holds the Pirates single season record with 237 hits. He’s also tops on the doubles list with 62, and he’s first in RBIs with 131. He has five of the top ten single season batting averages in team history, four of the top ten in hits, and two of the top ten seasons in runs scored. He led the National League in games played three times, runs twice, hits twice, doubles twice, triples twice, RBIs once and he won three batting crowns. He was the NL MVP in 1927 and finished second in the voting in 1934. Waner batted .333 during the 1927 World Series. He was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1952, then was joined there by his brother Lloyd in 1967, although Paul had passed away two years earlier. The Pirates retired his jersey number 11 in 2007. The Waner brothers combined for 5,611 hits.
Waner debuted in pro ball at 20 years old in 1923 and spent his first three seasons playing for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League. He was probably big league ready after his first season when he hit .369 in 112 games. He batted .356 the next year, while collecting 46 doubles. His best was still ahead. During the 1925 season, Waner hit .401 with 75 doubles and 280 hits in 174 games. Pirates scout Joe Devine recommended that the Pirates acquire Waner, which they did on October 12, 1925. At the same time, they also received infielder Hal Rhyne, with the reported price for both being $100,000 and three players. Waner made an easy transition to the majors as a rookie, hitting .336 with 66 walks, 35 doubles, 101 runs scored, 79 RBIs and a league leading/career high 22 triples. He was even better the next year in helping the Pirates to the 1927 World Series. He led the league with a .380 average, 342 total bases, 237 hits, 131 RBIs and 18 triples. He also added 42 doubles and 114 runs scored. The RBI and hit totals are single-season Pirates records. We posted a detailed recap of his 1927 season here. In 1928, Waner led the league with 142 runs scored and 50 doubles. He also added a .370 average, 223 hits, 77 walks, 19 triples and 86 RBIs. During the 1929 season, he batted .336 with 100 RBIs, 131 runs scored and 89 walks. He had 43 doubles, 15 triples and a career high 15 homers.
In 1930, offense was up all around baseball. Waner put up a .368 average and 115 runs scored, along with his fourth straight 200+ hit season. He set a career high with 18 stolen bases. His 1931 season looks like a down year compared to the surrounding seasons. He hit .322 and scored 88 runs, the only time he didn’t reach 90 runs in a season during his first 12 years in the majors. Waner finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1932 after setting a Pirates record with 62 doubles. He hit .341 with 215 hits, 107 runs scored and 82 RBIs. Waner was an All-Star for the first time in 1933 (first year of the All-Star game) when he batted .309 with 38 doubles, 16 triples and 101 runs scored. He had an outstanding second All-Star campaign in 1934, winning his second batting title with a .362 average. He also led the league with 122 runs scored and 217 hits. Waner finished with 32 doubles, 16 triples, 14 homers and 90 RBIs.
The 1935 season saw Waner make his third straight All-Star appearance. He batted .321 in 139 games, with 98 runs scored and 78 RBIs. He had his best season according to WAR in 1936 (7.1 WAR) when he won his third batting title with a .373 average. Waner had 218 hits, 53 doubles, 107 runs scored and 94 RBIs. While he played until 1945, he had one final big season in 1937. That year he hit .354 with 219 hits, 74 RBIs and 94 runs scored. He still provided positive value in each of the next seven seasons (he batted once in 1945), but he was far from the superstar player. Waner hit .280 in 1938, with 31 doubles and 69 RBIs. He was a .328 hitter in 125 games in 1939, then batted .290 over 89 games in 1940. He was released by the Pirates after the season and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His stay in Brooklyn was over in May when he was released, but he quickly signed with the Boston Braves, Waner hit .267 in 106 games that season.
Waner hit .258 in 114 games during the 1942 season, then got released in January of 1943. He quickly signed back with Brooklyn and had a fine season in a part-time role, putting up a .311 average in 82 games. He hit .287 through 83 games in 1944, before being released on September 1st. He signed with the New York Yankees that same day and took a pinch-hitting role. Waner went 1-for-7 with two walks to finish out the season. He batted once in 1945, drawing a walk, before being released in early May when he retired. His pro career ended the next year in the minors.
Babe Phelps, catcher for the 1942 Pirates. While with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1935 until 1941, Phelps was a strong hitting catcher who made three All-Star appearances. Twice he batted over .360 in a season, and he had a .315 average in 581 games with Brooklyn. His time with the Pirates was brief and a bit rocky. Phelps started off in pro ball at 22 years old in 1930, playing Class-D ball for Hagerstown of the Blue Ridge League, where he hit .376 in 115 games. He moved up one level in 1931 and put up a .408 average in 115 games while playing the Middle Atlantic League for a Hagerstown franchise that moved twice during the season. That performance earned him a brief look with the Washington Senators in September of 1931. Phelps played Class-B ball in 1932 for Youngstown of the Central League, where he put up a .373 average and 81 extra-base hits in 135 games. He played for Albany of the American Association in 1933, which was a top minor league at the time. Phelps hit .293 in 122 games, with 38 extra-base hits, earning a trip to the majors with the Chicago Cubs in September. He remained in the majors through the 1942 season. He was a backup catcher to Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett in 1934, playing just 44 games, with eight starts all year. Phelps hit .286 with 12 RBIs in 70 at-bats. He was selected off waivers by the Dodgers in January of 1935 and he hit .264 in 47 games that first season. He got a starting role in 1936 and responded with a .367 average in 115 games. Phelps batted .313 in a career high 121 games in 1937. He drove in 58 runs and set a career best with 37 doubles. His 1938 season was limited due to a fractured thumb suffered on July 1st, which kept him out of action for the next 46 days. He batted just .255 after returning, finishing the year with a .308 average. He was named an All-Star that year, but could not participate in the game. Phelps was an All-Star again in 1939 when he .285 in 98 games, with a career low .754 OPS. He received his third straight All-Star selection in 1940 when he batted .295 in 118 games, while setting career highs with 47 runs scored, 13 homers and 61 RBIs.
Phelp’s last season in Brooklyn was marred by health problems, injuries and a suspension, leading him to play just 16 games in 1941. The Pirates acquired him a four-for-one deal on December 12, 1941 in exchange for shortstop Arky Vaughan. Phelps platooned at catcher with future Hall of Fame manager Al Lopez in 1942 for the Pirates. He hit .284 with nine homers and 41 RBIs in 95 games that season. In April 1943, Phelps was put on the voluntary retired list by baseball for failing to sign his contract for that season within ten days after the start of the schedule. The Pirates tried trading him in May, but the commissioner held up the deal due to his status. They finally dealt Phelps to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with cash, in exchange for first baseman Babe Dahlgren on December 30, 1943. Phelps never reported to the Phillies, instead deciding to retire after 11 seasons in the majors. In his career, he batted .310 in 726 games, with 54 homers, 345 RBIs and 239 runs scored.
Piggy Ward, left fielder for the 1891 Pirates. He made his Major League debut just after his 16th birthday, playing one game for the 1883 Philadelphia Quakers (Phillies). Six years later he returned to the majors, this time playing seven games for the 1889 Quakers. In between that time, he bounced around teams in Pennsylvania. Ward was born in Chambersburg, PA and lived out his later years in Hollidaysburg, PA, so he was able to land jobs with many local/in-state clubs throughout his career in pro ball. Two seasons after his second brief trial with Philadelphia, he joined the Pirates for a brief six-game trial in late August, with all five of his starts in left field. It was said that owner J. Palmer O’Neil thought highly of Ward and purchased his contract from Minneapolis of the Western Association on August 8, 1891 when he tried to purchase the team outright along with his business partners with the Pirates after it was revealed that they (Minneapolis) were near the point of folding due to finances. Ward returned his signed contract to the Pirates days before he arrived with the club and well after he was expected to arrive, taking extra time to get to them from Minneapolis. That decision to arrive late likely cost him a lot of money. He was originally signed to replace third baseman Charles Reilly, but Reilly started hitting the ball well just before Ward arrived. It was revealed that Ward stopped at his home in Altoona for a few days before reporting to the Pirates and he didn’t play right away because he had a sore back “from a few days earlier” according to the August 24th Pittsburgh Press. He ended up coming off the bench late and playing center field in his debut on August 25th. On August 26th it was said that Ward would play third base and Reilly would go out to right field. That didn’t happen, but Ward did debut in left field that day in his first start with the Pirates. He had three hits the next day, and two hits and two runs on August 29th. He played his final game on August 31st, going 0-for-4 at the plate.
Ward hit .333 for the Pirates in 18 at-bats with six singles, two RBIs, three runs scored and three stolen bases. The local newspaper at the time was critical of his defense, suggesting he should play third base because he was too slow to cover ground in left field. However, they did like the hitting that he added to the team during his brief stay. His time with the team ended due to illness, which came on just as Reilly’s bat cooled off. Reilly ended up hitting just .219 with a .561 OPS in 1891. Ward was released after he couldn’t come to an agreement with the team on his salary. They offered to pay him half of his salary while he was out of action due to illness, but he wanted his full paycheck through the end of October, so the club gave him his release instead, which came with ten days pay at the full rate. Pittsburgh was one of five teams Ward played for during the 1891 season, spending time with four minor league teams at some point during the year, in four different leagues. He bounced around a lot during his career, playing for five different Major League teams in six seasons and at least 30 different minor league teams during his 21-year career.
His defense was often maligned outside of Pittsburgh, with numerous disparaging remarks saying that he could hit well, but couldn’t field at all. July 23, 1893 St Louis Dispatch probably summed up his defense the best when they said “Ward shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling and wild throwing from any man masquerading in a league uniform and drawing a salary”. He was a .286 hitter in 221 big league games. He batted .290 in 56 games for the 1892 Baltimore Orioles, then split the 1893 season between the Orioles and Cincinnati Reds, hitting .271 with 55 runs scored in 53 games that year. Ward finished out his big league career with the 1894 Washington Senators, where he hit .303 with 80 walks, 86 runs scored and 41 steals in 98 games. While he did an excellent job of getting on base in the majors (.419 OBP), he hit just one big league home run. His minor league stats are far from complete at this time, with a few seasons totally missing and others incomplete, but he is still credited with over 1,600 minor league hits. His first name was Frank. His nickname came from a combo of his weight, running and the way he chatted up the game in the coaching box, with one early source saying he sounded like a catarrhal cow.
On this date in 1937, The Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman/right fielder Earl Browne to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitcher Joe Bowman. Browne was a September call-up for the Pirates in both 1935 and 1936. He was 26 years old at the time and had hit .273 in 17 total games for the Pirates. Bowman was also 26 years old, and coming off of a season in which he went 9-20, 5.04 in 203.2 innings. It was his fourth season in the majors and he had a 21-35 career record. The trade worked out decent for the Pirates in that they got five seasons out of Bowman. He had a 33-38, 4.35 record in 629.2 innings for Pittsburgh. He pitched 134 times, 78 as a starter. Browne was a regular for the Phillies in 1937, playing all three outfield positions and first base. He hit .292 with 52 RBIs in 105 games. The Phillies sold him to the St Louis Cardinals just over a month into the 1938 season and he never played in the majors again.
The 1903 Season Opener
On April 16, 1903, the Pirates played their season opener against the Cincinnati Reds. Pittsburgh had won the last two National League pennants and they looked to make it three in a row. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the 1903 season wouldn’t just end with an NL pennant. The Pirates would go on to play a postseason series against the the American League champions Boston Americans, in what would be the first modern day World Series. The Pirates opened up the 1903 season with an easy 7-1 win against the Reds, on their way to sweeping the four-game series. The starting lineup for the Pirates that day was as follows:
CF Ginger Beaumont
LF Fred Clarke
3B Tommy Leach
SS Honus Wagner
1B Kitty Bransfield
RF Jimmy Sebring
2B Claude Ritchey
C Ed Phelps
P Deacon Phillippe
That same lineup would start game one of the World Series, with the only change being Ritchey and Sebring were switched in the order. Here is the boxscore courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
We also have a Game Rewind feature from the time the 1885 Alleghenys, while still in the American Association, played a great exhibition game against the Buffalo Bisons of the National League