This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 18th, Steve Blass

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one Opening Day of note.

The Game

On this date in 1886, Pittsburgh played its fifth opener in franchise history. The team was called the Alleghenys then and that season would be their last in the American Association before they moved to the National League. That Opening Day was like no other in franchise history. It remains as the only time that Pittsburgh has ever played a doubleheader on Opening Day. The Alleghenys lost both games that day to the St Louis Browns, the eventual champions of the AA that season. Pittsburgh lost the opener 8-4 with Ed “Cannonball” Morris as the starter, and then lost 10-5 in the second game with future Hall of Fame pitcher James “Pud” Galvin starting. The Alleghenys also opened up their season in 1885 on this date. It was the first time in team history that they played a regular season game in the month of April. That day, Ed Morris shutout the Browns by a 7-0 score.

The Players

Steve Blass, pitcher for the 1964 and 1966-74 Pirates. The Pirates signed Blass right out of high school in 1960 for $4,000 and sent him to the low minors, where he compiled a 5-4, 4.32 record in 73 innings, with 92 strikeouts, splitting the season between two teams. He broke out the next year as a 19-year-old, going 13-6, 3.32 in 160 innings for Batavia of the New York-Penn League. Blass picked up 227 strikeouts, which he would top the next season. He moved up to the Carolina league for 1962 and went 17-3, 1.97 in 23 starts, with 209 strikeouts in 178 innings, earning a late season promotion to A-ball for Asheville of the South Atlantic League. Although he didn’t pitch well in his brief trial for Asheville, a 7.20 ERA in 30 innings, with 25 strikeouts (234 total on the season), he was still moved up to Triple-A to start the 1963 season. After going 11-8, 4.44, with 141 strikeouts in 152 innings over 24 starts, it took just two more Triple-A starts in 1964 to earn him a promotion to the big leagues.

Blass went 5-8, 4.04 during his rookie season at 22 years old, making 13 starts and 11 relief appearances. Despite solid stats, he returned to Triple-A for the entire 1965 season, going 13-11, 3.07 in 164 innings. He was a regular in the Pirates starting rotation in 1966, going 11-7, 3.87 in 155.2 innings. He made 25 starts and nine relief appearances. Blass had more of a swing role during the 1967 season, making 16 starts and 16 relief appearances. He had a 6-8 record, though it came with a respectable 3.55 ERA in 126.2 innings. The 1968 season would be his breakout season in the majors. He won 18 games, posted a 2.12 ERA in 220.1 innings and led NL pitchers with a .750 winning percentage. After throwing just six complete games in his first 54 starts in the majors, Blass picked up 12 complete games and a career high seven shutouts.

Fortunately for Blass, the 1969 Pirates were a strong team, because his season wasn’t a good one compared to his other peak years. He pitched 210 innings and set a career high with 147 strikeouts, though he had a 4.46 ERA (the worst on the team). He was still able to go 16-10 thanks to great run support. For comparison, Dock Ellis that season had an 11-17 record with an ERA almost a run lower. Those tables turned on Blass the next season when he had a 3.52 ERA in 196.2 innings, yet he ended up with a losing record (10-12) on a team that won the National League East with 89 wins. He did not get to pitch in the postseason, but he would make up for that missed opportunity the next year.

The 1971 season was a magical one for the Pirates and for Blass. He went 15-8, 2.85 in 240 innings during the season, leading the NL with five shutouts. After struggling in two NLCS starts against the San Francisco Giants, allowing ten runs over seven innings, he won both of his World Series starts against the Baltimore Orioles. Both were complete game victories, the second game being game seven of the series, a 2-1 victory. Blass had his best season in 1972, winning a career high 19 games, making the All-Star team for the only time in his career and finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting. He had a 2.49 ERA in 249.2 innings.

When Blass came back for the 1973 season the control on his pitches was gone, without any injuries or explanation. He couldn’t throw strikes and his record that season was a dismal 3-9, 9.85 with 84 walks (versus just 27 strikeouts) in 88.2 innings. Things got so bad the next season, that he spent the year in the minors, where he pitched just as poorly. He made one big league start that season, allowing eight runs and seven walks in five innings. In Triple-A, he had a 9.74 ERA in 17 starts, with 103 walks in 61 innings. He was released in the spring of 1975, ending his baseball career. Blass had a 103-76, 3.63 record over 1,597.1 innings in ten seasons with the Pirates. He retired from baseball in 2019 after his 60th seasons as a player/announcer with the Pirates, though he was with the team as a guest instructor during 2020 Spring Training.

Angelo Encarnacion, catcher for the 1995-96 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1990. He played his first season at 21 years old in the Dominican Summer League, then jumped up to the New York-Penn League in 1991, where he batted an empty .254, with just five walks and five extra-base hits in 50 games. He had a similar season in Low-A Augusta of the South Atlantic League in 1992, putting up a .255 average, with a slight uptick in both walks and power, leading to .638 OPS (67 point jump from the previous year). Encarnacion spent the majority of the 1993 season in High-A, where he once again added one point to his previous year’s average by hitting .256 in 70 games. His OPS saw the slightest increase as well to a .647 mark, though it came from a increase in power and a decrease in walks. In 1994, he hit .291 in 67 games and threw out 43% of baserunners attempting to steal while at Double-A. Those numbers earned him a spot on the 1995 Pirates in early May when Don Slaught went down with a hamstring injury. Encarnacion missed just five games that year with the season starting late due to the strike that wiped away the end of the 1994 season. The injury to Slaught wasn’t thought to be long-term when it happened, but Encarnacion spent all but one month of that 1995 season in Pittsburgh, hitting .226 with ten RBIs in 58 games. Encarnacion spent part of June/July in Triple-A until Slaught went down with a second hamstring injury. Encarnacion began the 1996 season in Triple-A, hitting .319 in 75 games, while playing for Calgary. The Pirates recalled him for a four-week span beginning in mid-July when Keith Osik was placed on the disabled list, and he hit .318 in seven games before being sent back down when Osik returned. Just prior to the start of the 1997 season, he was traded along with young outfielder Trey Beamon to the San Diego Padres in a four-player deal that brought Mark Smith to Pittsburgh. Encarnacion didn’t appear in the majors with the Padres, but he played 11 games for the Anaheim Angels that season after an August 23rd trade sent him to the American League. He returned to the minors to start 1998, and remained there through his retirement in 2003. He spent those final six seasons in the minors playing for the Angels (1998), Cleveland Indians (1999), Chicago Cubs 1999-2000), Boston Red Sox (2000-01) and three independent league teams during the 2002-03 seasons.

Larry Foss, pitcher for the 1961 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent at 19 years old in 1955, then spent the first seven seasons of his career in the minors. He had a rough intro to pro ball while playing for the Dublin Irish of the George State League in 1955, where he had a 5.51 ERA in 80 innings, while issuing 82 walks. He moved up a level to the Arizona-Mexico League in 1956, where he showed just a slight improvement in his control. He went 11-8, 5.26 in 142 innings, with 123 walks and 136 strikeouts. Foss missed the first three months of the 1957 season and ended up pitching just 15 games split between two teams. His 1958 season went basically the same, with missed time in the middle of the year leading to him pitching 15 games split between two teams. He was healthy in 1959, when he pitched in relief for Wilson of the Carolina League. Foss went 5-4, 2.25 in 60 innings that season. He was with the Pirates for all of Spring Training in 1960 before being sent to Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. His stay there lasted just three games before he was sent to Savannah of the South Atlantic League, where he went 9-5, 3.08 in 146 innings over 17 starts and 14 relief outings. Foss went to Spring Training again with the Pirates in 1961, though he was cut two weeks earlier than he was in 1960. The Pirates finally called him up to the majors in September of 1961 after he went 10-7, 3.59 in 143 innings, splitting the year between A-ball and Double-A. Foss made three starts for the Pirates, winning his Major League debut over the St Louis Cardinals on September 18th by going seven innings and allowing two earned runs. He spent most of the 1962 season back in A-Ball, where he pitched well with a 3.67 ERA in 125 innings, though when he was called up to Triple-A, he was hit very hard. In nine innings over three starts and two relief appearances, he allowed 19 earned runs for Columbus of the International League. The Pirates put him on waivers in early September and he was picked up by the expansion New York Mets. Foss pitched five games for the Mets that 1962 season, posting a 4.63 ERA in 11.2 innings. Early in the 1963 season, the Mets trade him to the Milwaukee Braves, in what turned out to be his last season in the minors. He played in the Western Canada Baseball League in 1964 to finish out his pro career.

Bob Linton, catcher for the 1929 Pirates. He spent the entire 1929 season with the Pirates, but never started a single game. Linton came off of the bench 17 times that year, eight times to finish the game behind the plate, and the other nine times he was used as a pinch-hitter. He only batted more than once in a game one time, on August 20th when the Pirates sat their regular catcher after they went down 8-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the third inning. Linton spent the rest of his career in the minors, playing 14 more seasons before finally retiring after the 1945 season. He joined the Pirates in Spring Training of 1927 after playing independent ball in the Butte Mines League for a team from Anaconda. His pro career began in 1927 at 25 years old when he hit .279 in 121 games for Columbia of the South Atlantic League. He played for the Pirates during Spring Training of 1928, before he got injured and returned to the minors. He spent that season,playing for Decatur of the Three-I League, where he posted a .305 average in 109 games. He won the third-string catching job for the 1929 Pirates during his third Spring Training with the club. Linton beat out Roy Spencer, who caught for the Pirates from 1925-27, and John O’Connell, who caught three games over two seasons (1928-29), to earn that third-string position behind veteran starter Charlie Hargreaves and his backup, 22-year-old Rollie Hemsley.  On December 11, 1929, he was released to the Baltimore Orioles of the International League as partial payment for catching star Al Bool, who lasted just one season with the Pirates. Linton spent the 1930-33 seasons with Baltimore, but just one of those seasons (1933) was a full year. He spent time with five other teams during the 1930-32 seasons, yet he returned to Baltimore each year. He later played for Galveston of the Texas League (1934-35), Toledo of the American Association (1936-38), then served three years as a player/manager for Forth Worth of the Texas League during the 1939-41 seasons. Linton finished his career with Minneapolis of the American Association in 1942 and then after a stint in the Navy, he played for Landis of the North Carolina State League in 1945. During his college days at Louisiana Tech and the University of Wyoming, he was a star athlete in baseball, football and boxing. His first name was Claud (often spelled Claude), but he was known more by the nickname “Bob” during his pro career.

Jack Scott, pitcher for the 1916 Pirates. He made his Major League debut for the Pirates as a pinch-hitter, before making his pitching debut in relief of starter Elmer Jacobs in the first game of a doubleheader on September 19, 1916. Scott pitched five innings that day, allowing six earned runs on five hits and three walks, with four strikeouts. He debuted in the majors on September 6th and drew a walk, then struck out three days later in his second (and final) pinch-hitting chance. Scott had just the one shot on the mound for the Pirates. Just nine days after his pitching debut, he was released back to Macon of the South Atlantic League. It was announced at that time that he was just with the Pirates on trial and they didn’t feel that he was ready yet for the majors. He was purchased from Macon on August 13th, though it wasn’t decided at the time whether or not he would join the Pirates that fall. As it turned out, he joined the Pirates just 12 days later because they wanted to make sure they had enough pitchers to cover them during a string of doubleheaders coming up on the schedule. So his pitching debut ended up coming 25 days after he joined the team. In 1917, Scott pitched for two different minor league teams, compiling a 14-11, 2.44 record in 221 innings. In mid-August, his contract was purchased by the Boston Braves. He ended up pitching four seasons for the Braves, one game for the Cincinnati Reds in 1922, then six years for the New York Giants. A freak injury while starting his car caused him to miss the entire 1918 season. He went 6-6, 3.13 in 103.2 innings in 1919, then had a 10-21 record in 1920, despite a decent 3.53 ERA in 291 innings. Boston went from 62-90 in 1920 to 79-74 in 1921 and Scott’s record benefited from being on a better team. His ERA actually went up slightly to 3.70 in 233.2 innings, but he had a 15-13 record. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds over the off-season and he was given his release after pitching just one inning due to an arm injury. He went through a tryout with the Giants and debuted for them on August 1st. Over the final two months, he went 8-2, 4.41 in 79.2 innings, then pitched a complete game shutout over the New York Yankees in game three of the World Series, which was won by the Giants. Scott went 16-7, 3.89 in 220 innings in 1923, helping the Giants back to the World Series, This time he struggled in the postseason, giving up five runs in three innings. Despite the solid regular season, he was traded to the minors over the winter.

Scott spent the entire 1924 season with Toledo of the American Association, going 20-20, 3.25 in 341 innings. He returned to the Giants in 1925 and he went 14-15, 3.15 in 239.2 innings. He was a workhorse in 1926, leading the National League in games pitched (50), making 22 starts and 28 relief appearances. Scott went 13-15, 4.34 in 226 innings. He pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and led the National League with 21 losses, while posting a 5.09 ERA in 233.1 innings. After starting the 1928 season in the minors, Scott returned to the Giants in August and stayed there through the 1929 season. After his final big league game, he spent another two seasons in the minors before retiring. Scott had a 103-109, 3.85 career record in 356 games. He was a lifetime .275 hitter and he pinch-hit over 50 times during his career. He was traded twice for Hall of Fame pitchers, the first time was for Rube Marquard in 1922 and the other was for Burleigh Grimes during the 1926-27 off-season. He was born in Ridgeway, North Carolina and had the nickname “The Ridgeway Giant” when he joined the Pirates due to his somewhat large stature for the time, standing 6’2″, 201 pounds. He was the tallest player on the Pirates in 1916.

Jack Rothfuss, first baseman for the 1897 Pirates. He spent his first two seasons of pro ball playing for his hometown team, the Newark Colts of the Atlantic League. He got a late start in pro ball, debuting at 24 years old, but it was said that he played baseball all of his life, including time spent with the Newark Ironsides, a semi-pro team. He certainly looked like his had plenty of prior experience by batting .351 in 123 games in 1896, with 72 extra-base hits and 87 stolen bases. Rothfuss was acquired by the Pirates on July 29, 1897 and  joined the team two days later after batting .323 with 43 extra-base hits and 21 steals in 89 games for Newark. It was said that he would be given a trial at once and if he proved that he could play in the big leagues, he would be a fixture at first base. He debuted on August 2nd and played well with the Pirates, hitting .313 with 18 RBIs in 35 games during the last two months of the season. He was supposed to be the Pirates starting first baseman for 1898, but he contracted dysentery and was too sick to play the first three months of the season. The Pirates sold his contract to the Kansas City Blues of the Western League shortly after the 1898 season started. Rothfuss ended up playing semi-pro ball in 1898 once he was better, then finished his career playing with another nine seasons in the minors, never returning to the majors again. He played for 12 different teams during those final ten seasons in the minors, though he spent three full seasons (1902-04) with Kansas City of the American Association. He batted .309 during the 1902 season, then hit .285 with 40 doubles and 116 runs scored in 1903. When he joined the Pirates, Rothfuss was a teammate on Newark with his older brother Adam, who caught seven seasons in the minors before a foul ball that broke two bones ended his career in 1902. In April of 1921, a nephew of Jack Rothfuss named Harry Rothfuss got a trial with the Pirates and played one season in the minors.

Editor’s Note: Some research along with a fellow historian uncovered an April 18th birthday for Sam Nicholl, outfielder for the 1888 Alleghenys. For now I am leaving his bio in the April 20th article (with a note about the discrepancy) because that is where anyone would search for his name here, since he is listed everywhere as being born on April 20, 1869. There will be more on the research on Tuesday.