This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 17th, Various Opening Days Throughout the Years

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus some Opening Days that occurred on April 17th in Pirates History.

Deolis Guerra, pitcher for the 2015 Pirates. He was signed by the New York Mets at 16 years old in 2005 as an international free agent out of Venezuela. The Mets had him in full season ball at 17 years old, splitting the season between Low-A and High-A, combining for a 2.53 ERA in 89 innings. He remained in the Florida State League for all of 2007, posting a 4.01 ERA in 89.2 innings. Guerra was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 2008 and stayed in the Florida State League, where he had an extremely high 5.47 ERA in 130 innings, playing in a pitcher-friendly environment. Guerra finally made it out of High-A in 2009, though his results weren’t much better. Between High-A and Double-A that year, he had 4.89 ERA in 149 innings. He had a rough go of it in 2010, posting a 6.24 ERA in Double-A and a 6.84 mark in a brief stint at Triple-A. He switched to relief finally in 2011 and had a 5.59 ERA in 95 innings at Double-A. After a strong seven-game stint in Double-A in 2012, he moved back up to Triple-A at the end of April and posted a 4.87 ERA in 57.1 innings. A shoulder issue limited him to just three games in 2013, but he was able to play winter ball after the season. Guerra became a free agent, but re-signed with the Twins, where he played the year in Triple-A, putting up a 4.33 ERA in 52 innings over 36 appearances.

He was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent prior to the 2015 season and he made his Major League debut on June 27, 2015. He pitched ten games for the Pirates, posting a 6.48 ERA in 16.2 innings. He was re-signed as a minor league free agent after the 2015 season, but the Pirates almost immediately lost him to the Los Angeles Angels in the Rule 5 draft. Guerra had a 3.68 ERA in 63 games for the 2016-17 Angels, seeing most of that time with the 2016 club, when he posted a 3.21 ERA in 53.1 innings. He spent the 2018 season with the Texas Rangers in Triple-A, where he had a 3.79 ERA in 59.1 innings over 40 appearances. During the 2019 season, he pitched one big league game, allowing four runs while recording just two outs for the Milwaukee Brewers. The rest of the season was spent in Triple-A, where he dominated during a high offense year in the league (due to new baseballs). Guerra had a 1.89 ERA in 66.2 innings over 45 games. In the shortened 2020 season, he spent part of the year with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he gave up nine runs over 7.1 innings and nine appearances. He signed a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s in 2021 and dominated in Spring Training, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, but did not make the team on Opening Day. Guerra has played 12 seasons of winter ball in Venezuela.

Andy Barkett, outfielder/first baseman for the 2001 Pirates. His Major League career was brief, spending one month with the Pirates in the middle of the 2001 season. Despite getting just 17 games in the big leagues, Barkett put up a .304 batting average and a .786 OPS. He mostly played left field, but also saw time at first base and in right field. He played 11 seasons of pro ball (1995-2005) and signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent prior to 2001. He was never drafted and didn’t even start pro ball with an affiliated team. He signed with Butte of the Pioneer League at 22 years old in 1995 after attending North Carolina State University. Barkett didn’t last long without a team. After hitting .333 in 45 games, he was purchased by the Texas Rangers, who sent him to Low-A ball to finish the season. He played his first full season of pro ball in the Florida State League in 1996, where he hit .286 in 115 games, with a .783 OPS. He moved up to Double-A in 1997 and batted .299 with 50 extra-base hits and 63 walks in 130 games. Barkett appeared to be right on the doorstep of the majors in 1998, spending most of the year in Triple-A, where he batted .314, with an .859 OPS. He ended up spending the entire 1999 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, hitting .307 in 132 games, with 47 extra-base hits. Despite those results over two seasons, he was released just 13 games into the 2000 season without getting a shot in Texas. Barkett signed with the Atlanta Braves to finish out the 2000 season, spending the rest of the year in Triple-A. When he wasn’t in the majors for the Pirates in 2001, he batted just .242 in 101 games, with a .705 OPS. Barkett put up similar numbers for the Seattle Mariners in Double-A in 2002 and Triple-A in 2003. He bounced back with a strong season in Triple-A for the Detroit Tigers in 2004, posting an .842 OPS. At 32 years old in 2005, he wrapped up his playing career with 37 games for the Atlanta Braves in Triple-A. Barkett has managed nine seasons in the minors, including 2017 with Indianapolis, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pirates. He was also an assistant minor league hitting coordinator for the Pirates. Barkett was the assistant hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox in 2018, helping them to a World Series victory. In 2021 he is working as hitting advisor in the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Bob Osborn, pitcher for the 1931 Pirates. He was born the day after Pirates all-time great (and his teammate for one season) Paul Waner. Osborn began his pro baseball career in the majors at 22 years old, making one September appearance for the 1925 Chicago Cubs. The next season he saw plenty of time on the mound, both as a starter and as a reliever. He went 6-5, 3.63 in 136.1 innings that season, making 15 starts and 16 relief appearances. In 1927 he had the same role, although he didn’t pitch as well and saw less time. He made 12 starts and 12 relief appearances, going 5-5, 4.18 in 107.2 innings. He spent all of the 1928 season and most of 1929 in the minors. Osborn played in the Pacific Coast League in 1928 for Los Angeles, where he had a 5.70 ERA in 120 innings. In 1929, he was with Reading of the International League, where he went 11-14, 4.10 in 182 innings. He rejoined the Cubs in September, making three appearances over the final three weeks of the season. He was back in the majors for the entire 1930 season, getting 13 starts and 22 relief appearances. Osborn went 10-6, 4.97 in 126.2 innings. That ERA sounds high but it was actually one of the best years for offense in baseball history. The Cubs team ERA was 4.80, which ranked fourth in the National League.

The Pirates lost pitcher Steve Swetonic in Spring Training with an arm injury in 1931, so they purchased Osborn from the Cubs in late April to replace him. He was seldom used by the Pirates, appearing in eight games in relief during his first two months. In the middle of July he made two starts, then became a mop-up man out of the pen. He pitched in nine straight losses, seven times coming during doubleheaders. On September 3rd, he took over for a struggling Larry French in the second inning. Osborn threw 7.1 innings of shutout ball and the Pirates made a comeback to get him the victory. That game was the only Pirates victory he pitched in during the final two months of the season. After five more relief appearances in losing efforts, his big league career was over. Osborn would be traded, along with catcher Eddie Phillips, to Kansas City of the American Association for pitcher Billy Swift on January 29, 1932. He played for two different American Association teams during the 1932 season, then two lower level teams in 1933, before playing out his baseball career in semipro ball. In the majors, Osborn went 27-17, 4.32 in 446.1 innings.

The Openers

The first time the Pirates opened the season on April 17th was in 1902, in what turned out to be the best season in team history. The Pirates shut out the Cardinals that day 1-0 behind the pitching of Deacon Phillippe. He pitched a seven-hit shutout and the only run of the game was scored by Tommy Leach, who collected three hits, including Pittsburgh’s only extra-base hit. The Pirates went 103-36 that year, winning their second straight NL pennant.

The next April 17th opener was in 1923 when the Pirates took on the Chicago Cubs. Pittsburgh walked away with a 3-2 win courtesy of a fine pitching performance from Johnny Morrison. He pitched a complete game and both runs scored off him were unearned. The Pirates lineup that day included three future Hall of Fame players. Shortstop Rabbit Maranville and center fielder Max Carey batted 1-2 in the lineup, while third baseman Pie Traynor hit sixth during his second full season in the majors. He actually moved up to fifth in the lineup in May, then moved to the cleanup spot in early August, before hitting third for the final 33 games.

In 1934 the Pirates opened up in St Louis and dropped their opener by a 7-1 score. The opposing pitcher that day was the great Dizzy Dean. He shut down a Pittsburgh team that had five future Hall of Famers at the top of the lineup. Lloyd Waner, Freddie Lindstrom, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor and Arky Vaughan hit one through five that day. The Pirates also used Waite Hoyt in relief, another HOF player. The Cardinals lineup, besides Dean, also had Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick and Leo Durocher in it, making it ten Hall of Famers who participated in that game. The Cardinals were known as the Gashouse Gang that season when they went on to win the World Series.

The 1939 Pirates opened their season in Cincinnati with a 7-5 victory. Cy Blanton of the Pirates faced off against Johnny Vander Meer that day. Lloyd Waner batted lead-off for the Pirates, Arky Vaughan batted cleanup and Paul Waner got a pinch-hit in his only at-bat. Another Pirates Hall of Famer joined the fun that day as Heinie Manush got to pinch-hit for catcher Ray Mueller in the 8th inning. Manush spent two seasons with the Pirates, but he accumulated just 28 plate appearances during that time.

Another April 17th opener in Cincinnati occurred during the 1945 season. The game didn’t have the firepower of previous openers, with many good players serving in the military during WWII. The managers for each team went on to make the Hall of Fame, and so did one of the players, who made it as a manager. Frankie Frisch was at the helm for Pittsburgh, a HOF second baseman mentioned above in the 1934 opener. His catcher that day was Al Lopez, who was still six seasons away from beginning his HOF managerial career. The opposing manager,and third HOF’er, was a former Pirates infielder named Bill McKechnie. He already filled out his Hall of Fame resume by leading the 1925 Pirates and 1940 Reds to World Series titles. The Pirates lost the game 7-6 in 11 innings. Reds lead-off hitter Dain Clay drove in five runs, four of which came on a fifth inning grand slam off  of Pirates starter Fritz Ostermueller. It was the first home run of Clay’s career.

The last time the Pirates opened up their season on April 17th was in 1956, when the New York Giants defeated the Bucs 4-3 at the Polo Grounds. Hitting third that day and playing right field for the Pirates was Roberto Clemente, who made his Major League debut exactly one year earlier. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Dale Long hit a two-run homer for the Pirates and Bob Friend pitched a complete game, taking the loss.   The great Willie Mays was batting third for the Giants that day, but the hitting star was pitcher Johnny Antonelli, who tied the game up in the seventh inning with a solo homer.