This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 26th, Baseball Returns from Strike

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and an Opening Day of note.

The Players

Sean Rodriguez, utility player for the 2015-18 Pirates. He was drafted out of high school by the Anaheim Angels in the third round of the 2003 draft. Rodriguez took five years before he made his big league debut and then he didn’t stick in the majors until two years after that point. After putting up a .712 OPS in his first season of pro ball, he had a huge 2004 season. He began the year in Low-A, then moved to short-season ball mid-season. Rodriguez had a .726 OPS in Low-A, then exploded for a 1.055 OPS in 64 games in the Pioneer League. He was in Low-A for all of 2005, where he hit .250 with 14 homers and 27 steals in 124 games. He spent most of High-A in the high offense environment of the California League, but also saw 18 games in Double-A and one game in Triple-A. In all three stops combined, Rodriguez hit .307 with 29 homers, 86 RBIs and 15 steals. He spent all of 2007 in Double-A, hitting .254 with 17 homers and 15 steals. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League after the season and put up a .695 OPS in 23 games. In 2008, Rodriguez spent the entire year in Triple-A and put up big numbers in a hitter-friendly park, batting .306 with 21 homers and 19 doubles in 66 games. He had three separate stints with the Angels that year, hitting .204 with three homers in 59 games. After doing well in winter ball in the Dominican that off-season, Rodriguez put up big numbers in Triple-A again in 2009, while also seeing big league time. He had a 1.017 OPS and 29 homers in 103 games at Triple-A, while hitting .200 in 12 games in the majors. On September 1, 2009, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, though he didn’t debut in the majors for them until 2010. He played seven different positions during his first season with Tampa Bay, while hitting .251 in 118 games. Rodriguez played just five positions in 2011 and his average dropped to .223 in 131 games. He saw 49 starts at shortstop and 40 at second base. His average dropped again in 2012, though so did his playing time, while splitting his work between shortstop, second base and third base. He hit .213 with a .607 OPS in 112 games. Rodriguez saw more time in left field than anywhere else in 2013, while playing 96 games for the first of two straight season. He put up a .246 average in 2013, then hit .211 with 12 homers in 2014. He had just ten walks that second year, resulting in a .258 OBP.

The Pirates acquired Rodriguez in a trade with Tampa Bay during the 2014-15 off-season for minor league pitcher Buddy Borden. Despite playing four consecutive seasons for the Pirates, he wasn’t with the team during the middle of that run. He played 139 games in 2015, though most of it was off of the bench, so he accumulated just 240 plate appearances. He batted .246 with four homers, while seeing most of his time at first base. Rodriguez hit .270 with 140 games in 2016, setting career highs with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. He left via free agency following the 2016 season, but returned in an August trade with the Atlanta Braves. Due to a Spring Training car accident, he was limited to 15 games with Atlanta before returning to Pittsburgh. Rodriguez hit .167 with five homers and eight RBIs in 54 games that season. Rodriguez hit .167 with five homers in 66 games in 2018 before being released on September 1st. He played 76 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019, then got into four games for the Miami Marlins in 2020. With the Pirates, he hit .230/.304/.399 in 384 games. Rodriguez played every position with the Pirates except pitcher and catcher. In 12 big league seasons, he is a .226/.302/.380 hitter over 1,099 games.

Francisco Cordova, pitcher for the 1996-2000 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates in January of 1996 at 23 years old (turned 24 in April) and went right to the majors after spending four seasons pitching in his home country of Mexico. He played for the Mexico City Reds, a team that had a working agreement with the Pirates at the time. Cordova would be joined on the Pirates in 1997 by his Mexico City teammate Ricardo Rincon, who he is now forever linked with in Pirates history. While stats aren’t available now, it was said at time that Cordova had a 40-6, 3.03 record in Mexico City, including 13-0 in 1995. The Pirates GM at the time (Cam Bonifay) said that he threw 89-93 MPH and had a chance to be a quality middle reliever in the majors. He was competing for a job at the back of the bullpen and earned it on the last day of roster cuts by putting up a 2.57 ERA in 14 Spring Training innings. Cordova pitched mostly out of the bullpen in 1996, making 59 total appearances (six starts) and posting a 4-7, 4.09 record in 99 innings. He moved to the starting role in 1997 and had a memorable season that year. He went 11-8, 3.63 in 29 starts and 178.2 innings. On July 12th he threw nine hitless innings against the Houston Astros. The game was tied after nine and Ricardo Rincon finished off the no-hitter in the tenth, as the Pirates won the game on a three-run homer from Mark Smith. Cordova had his best season in 1998, going 13-14, 3.31 in 33 starts, with 220.1 innings pitched and 157 strikeouts. He couldn’t match those numbers in either of his next two seasons and he saw his pitching time decrease as his ERA increased. In 27 starts in 1999, he went 8-10, 4.43 in 160.2 innings. Cordova made 17 starts and one relief appearance in 2000, going 6-8, 5.21 in 95 innings. He made his last start on August 8th, then missed the rest of the season with an elbow injury, which put him on the DL twice earlier in the season. Cordova had surgery for a bone spur in his elbow on August 18th. After missing almost all of 2001 with elbow issues, except for two minor league appearances, he pitched back in Mexico until 2011. During his five years in Pittsburgh, he went 42-47, 3.96 in 166 games, 112 as a starter.

Curt Wilkerson, infielder for the 1991 Pirates. He spent six seasons with the Texas Rangers and another two with the Chicago Cubs before signing with the Pirates as a free agent on January 9, 1991. Wilkerson was a fourth round draft pick out of high school in 1980 by the Rangers. He moved fairly quickly through the minors, despite a slow start in pro ball. He batted .190 in the Gulf Coast League as a 19-year-old in 1980. He wasn’t much better in Low-A ball in 1981, hitting .204 in 106 games. He split 1982 between A-Ball and Double-A, putting up better results at the higher level, while stealing 33 bases on the season. Wilkerson batted .312 with a .798 OPS in Triple-A in 1983, which earned him a trip to the majors in September, where he batted .171 in 16 games. He made the Opening Day roster in 1984 and started 102 games at shortstop and another 42 at second base. He batted .248 in 153 games, though it came with just 22 walks and only 13 extra-base hits. He had a similar role the next season and put up very similar stats, with a .241 average, 17 extra-base hits and 22 walks in 139 games. He also stole 14 bases. Wilkerson’s playing time dropped in 1986, as his low OBP/slugging numbers continued, along with a .237 average. He played 110 games, making 35 starts at second base and 28 at shortstop. The playing time slipped again in 1987, though he put up a .700 OPS, which was 99 points better than his previous high. He batted .268 in 85 games, with 32 starts all season. Wilkerson had his best career season in 1988, hitting .293 in 117 games, with a career best .703 OPS. The Chicago Cubs acquired him from Texas in a nine-player trade that off-season, a deal that included Jamie Moyer, Rafael Palmeiro and Mitch Williams.

Wilkerson played 77 games during each of his two seasons for the Cubs, with most of his games coming as a third baseman, though he also played four other positions. He hit .244 in 160 at-bats in 1989, followed by a  .220 average, with 16 RBIs in 196 at-bats in 1990. He reached free agency after the season and signed 2 1/2 months later with Pittsburgh. For the Pirates, Wilkerson was the backup at three infield positions (everything except first base), seeing most of his time at second base. He hit .188 with 18 RBIs in 85 games in Pittsburgh. He homered twice that year, tying a career high. The home run he hit on September 19th was a special one. With the score tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, he hit a walk-off grand slam against Hall of Famer Lee Smith. In the post-season that year, he batted four times in the NLCS, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Following the season, Wilkerson left via free agency. He played two years for the Kansas City Royals, hitting .250 with a career high 18 steals in 111 games in 1992, followed by his final 11 big league games in 1993. Wilkerson finished his career in the minors, playing for the Royals and Seattle Mariners in 1994, and the Montreal Expos in 1995. He later managed for six seasons in the minors and Independent ball, including three years for the Pirates, taking over Williamsport in 1999-2000 and Lynchburg in 2001. In his 11-year big league career, Wilkerson hit .245 with 179 RBIs, 272 runs scored and 81 steals in 972 games. He hit eight career homers.

Amos Otis, outfielder for the 1984 Pirates. He was a fifth round draft pick out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in 1965. He batted .329 as an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League during his first season of pro ball. He moved up to the New York-Penn League the next season and saw a 248 point drop to his .948 OPS from the previous season. Otis was taken by the New York Mets in the 1966 minor league draft after the season and made his Major League debut nine months later. He was skipped to Triple-A in 1967 and hit .268 with 29 steals in 126 games. He put up a .220 average in 19 games with the Mets and was thrown out on all four stolen base attempts. After spending all of 1968 back in Triple-A, where he hit .286 with 15 homers and 21 steals, Otis played 48 games for the 1969 Mets, hitting .151 in 93 at-bats. He made the Opening Day roster, but was sent down after hitting .136 through June 15th. He went down to the minors for three months, hitting .327 in 71 games, then returned in mid-September. The Mets won the World Series that year, though he didn’t make his first postseason appearance until seven years later. New York traded him in December 1969, along with pitcher Bob Johnson, to the Royals for third baseman Joe Foy. The trade turned out to be a disaster for the Mets as Foy played one season in New York and Otis established himself as a star in Kansas City, spending 14 seasons in a Royals uniform. Johnson had one solid season in Kansas City, before he was dealt to the Pirates in a six-player trade.  Otis played in five All-Star games and won three Gold Glove awards in center field during his time in Kansas City. He played the third most games in Royals history and ranks in the franchise’s top four in hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, RBIs and stolen bases.

Otis was given a chance to play full-time right away and he was an instant star, making his first All-Star appearance in 1970. He batted .284 with 91 runs scored and a league-leading 36 doubles. He stole 33 bases in 35 attempts. In 1971, he was an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and he finished eighth in the MVP voting. Otis batted .301 and led the league with a career best 52 steals. He made his third straight All-Star appearance in 1972, thanks to a .293 average in 143 games, with 28 steals. He had an outstanding 1973 campaign, with another All-Star game, another Gold Glove, and a third place finish in the American League MVP race. He hit .300, with a career high 26 homers. Otis had 93 RBIs and 89 runs scored. He won his third Gold Glove in 1974 when he hit .284 with 52 extra-base hits, 18 steals and 87 runs scored. Tonsillitis cost him three weeks during the middle of the 1975 season when he hit .247 in 132 games, though he had 39 steals and 87 runs scored.

The Royals won their division in 1976 and Otis was an All-Star again, while finishing seventh in the MVP voting. He batted .279 and led the league with 40 doubles, while adding 18 homers, 86 RBIs, 93 runs scored and 26 steals. Unfortunately for Otis, who played 153 regular season games, he sprained his ankle in the second inning of the postseason and never returned during the series, which the Royals lost. The Royals returned to the playoffs in 1977, with Otis hitting .251 with 71 walks, 17 homers, 78 RBIs and 85 runs scored. He hit .125 that postseason in five games. His best year in the majors was 1978, when the Royals won their third straight AL West pennant and he finished fourth in the MVP voting. He hit .298 with 22 homers, 32 steals, and a career high 96 RBIs. He also hit .429 in the postseason, though Kansas City lost their third straight series to the New York Yankees. Otis had another big season in 1979, hitting .295 with a career high 100 runs scored. He hit 18 homers, stole 30 bases and drove in 90 runs.

Kansas City went to the World Series in 1980, finally beating the Yankees in the postseason, but they lost the title to the Philadelphia Phillies. Otis was limited to 107 games during the regular season and he had a .699 OPS, which was a career low to that point. A finger injury right before Opening Day caused him to miss the first 39 games of the season. He was a star in the postseason that year, hitting .333 in the ALCS, followed by a .478 average, three homers and seven RBIs in the World Series. Otis hit .269 with nine homers and 16 steals in the strike-shortened 1981 season, then batted .286 with 88 RBIs and 73 runs scored in 125 games in 1982. In 1983, Otis hit .261 with 41 RBIs in 98 games during his final season for Kansas City. After the season he was granted free agency and signed with the Pirates on December 19, 1983. He was the Pirates starting left fielder in April, but saw his playing time decrease, and he spent time on the disabled list twice before being released on August 5th, ending his playing career. Otis ran into an outfield wall during the first play of the game on May 18th and bruised his ribs, causing him to miss a month. On July 13th, he injured his knee, which had him out for two weeks. He played just two games after returning. Otis played 40 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .165 with ten RBIs in 109 plate appearances. In his sixth game with the team, he hit a two-run single that gave him 1,000 RBIs. He finished his career just two games shy of the 2,000 mark. He was a career .277 hitter, with 193 homers, 341 stolen bases, 1,092 runs scored and 1,007 RBIs. He finished with a career 42.8 WAR. In 1978, he finished second in the American League with 7.4 WAR.

The Season Opener

On this date in 1995, the Pirates played their first game since August 11, 1994, due to the strike that canceled the end of the season and the entire postseason. The April 26th opening date was the latest the Pirates began their season since 1893, when they opened on April 27th. The Pirates lost this game 6-2 at home against the Montreal Expos, with starter Jon Lieber allowing all six runs in his 4.2 innings of work. Jay Bell had the Pirates only extra base hit that day, a fourth inning solo home run. The Pirates lineup that day was as follows:

Jacob Brumfield, CF
Carlos Garcia, 2B
Al Martin, LF
Jeff King, 3B
Jay Bell, SS
Orlando Merced, RF
Rich Aude, 1B
Mark Parent, C
Jon Lieber, P

Here’s the boxscore courtesy of Baseball-Reference.