This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 29th, The First Sunday Home Game

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one game of note. Also, Steven Brault is celebrating his 29th birthday.

The Players

Rookie Davis, pitcher for the 2019 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the New York Yankees in 2011, taken in the 14th round out of Dixon HS in North Carolina. He signed too late to debut in 2011, then put up a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings during the 2012 season, while pitching in the Gulf Coast League. Davis had a terrific season in 2013, mostly pitching in the New York-Penn League. He had a 1.90 ERA in 13 starts and 52 innings pitched. He moved up to Low-A in 2014, where he went 7-8, 4.93 in 126 innings. The next year he split the season between High-A and Double-A, combining to go 8-7, 3.86 in 130.2 innings. After the season, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in a four-for-one swap for Aroldis Chapman. Davis spent the majority of the 2016 season in Double-A, where he went 10-3, 2.94 in 101 innings. He made four starts and a relief appearance in Triple-A, posting a 7.50 ERA in 24 innings. Despite having no success in Triple-A, Davis made his Major League debut for the 2017 Reds on April 6th, just a few days after making the Opening Day roster. He was injured three different times during the season and spent more than half of the year back in the minors, where he made 16 starts over three levels. For the Reds, he made six starts and one relief appearance, posting an 8.63 ERA in 24 innings. He made five of those appearances in the first month of the season, then returned for two September outings, before a hip injury ended his season early and cost him most of 2018. After only pitching in the minors during the second half of 2018, compiling 26.1 innings total over three levels, Davis was signed as a minor league free agent by the Pirates. He made five big league appearances in the middle of the 2019 season, starting one of those games. He had a 6.75 ERA in 10.2 innings. Davis missed about half of the season due to multiple injuries, and spent the rest of the year with Triple-A Indianapolis, where he had a 5.64 ERA in 52.2 innings.. He left via free agency in October of 2019 and hasn’t pitched since. His real first name is William.

Tony Armas, pitcher for the 2007 Pirates. He was a highly rated prospect, who never quite reached his potential in the majors. Armas spent his first eight seasons in the majors with the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, going 48-60, 4.45 in 151 starts. He was signed out of Venezuela as an amateur free agent at 16 years old in 1994 by the New York Yankees. He made it as high as High-A ball in 1997 before he was traded mid-season to the Boston Red Sox. His stay in Boston lasted just three starts. Four months later he was traded to the Montreal Expos in a deal for Pedro Martinez. Armas spent all of 1998 in High-A, going 12-8, 2.88 in 153.1 innings over 27 starts. He moved up to Double-A in 1999, where he went 9-7, 2.89 in 149.2 innings. He ended up making one spot start for the Expos that season in August, taking the loss, despite one earned run over six innings. Armas pitched briefly in the minors in 2000, spending the rest of his time with Montreal, where he went 7-9, 4.36 in 17 starts and 95 innings. His best season came in 2001, when he recorded 176 strikeouts in 196.2 innings and posted a 4.03 ERA in 34 starts. He had a 9-14 record that season, which was in line with the team’s 68-94 record. The Expos turned things around in 2002 and posted a winning record, which helped out Armas. He went 12-12, 4.44 in 164.1 innings over 29 starts. He made five starts in 2003 before a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery ended his season. He didn’t return until June of 2004 and had a rough season, going 2-4, 4.88 in 72 innings over 16 starts. He was actually doing much better until his final two starts added over a full run to his season ERA. Armas missed the start of 2005 with a groin strain and he was out for the final month with shoulder inflammation. In between he went 7-7, 4.97 in 101.1 innings over 19 starts. He missed a month of 2006 with a strained forearm, but still managed to pitch 154 innings over 30 starts, going 9-12, with a 5.03 ERA.

The Pirates signed Armas as a free agent on February 1, 2007. He started off very slowly in Pittsburgh, going 0-3, 8.46 in seven starts before he was moved to the bullpen. In August, Armas moved back to a starting role and won four of his eight starts. He finished with a 4-5, 6.03 record in 31 games, 15 as a starter, with 97 innings pitched on the year. Following the season, he signed as a free agent with the New York Mets, where he pitched three games in the majors during that 2008 season. Those games would be the last of his big league career. Armas last pitched for the Atlanta Braves in the minors during the 2009 season before he was released in late July. He never pitched a complete game in 167 Major League starts. His father, who was also named Tony, began his career with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1971. He played four games for the 1976 Pirates before being traded away in a nine played deal with the Oakland A’s in March of 1977. The younger Tony also had an uncle named Marcos Armas, who played for the 1993 A’s.

John Vander Wal, outfielder for the 2000-01 Pirates. He was originally an eighth round pick of the Houston Astros in 1984 out of high school, but he decided to attend Western Michigan University instead. Three years later, the Montreal Expos selected him in the third round. Vander Wal had a huge pro debut in the New York-Penn League, which led to a quick promotion to High-A ball to finish the 1987 season. He split the 1988 season between High-A and Double-A, hitting .269 with 29 doubles and 13 homers in 120 games. He spent the entire 1989 season in Double-A, though he only played 71 games, hitting .253 with six homers. It appeared as if he stalled at that level, but a third attempt in 1990 proved to be just what he needed. Vander Wal batted .303 with 36 extra-base hits in 77 games, earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he batted .296 in 51 games. He had a big season in Triple-A Indianapolis in 1991, which earned him a September look with the Expos. Vander Wal hit .293 with 36 doubles, eight triples, 15 homers and 79 walks in 133 games for Indianapolis, then batted .213 with one homer and one walk in 21 games for the Expos. He spent the entire 1992 season in the majors as a part-time left fielder (40 starts) and he received heavy use off of the bench, which would become his calling card throughout his career. He batted .239 with four homers in 105 games that first full season in the majors.

Vander Wal had a very similar role in 1993, though most of his playing time was at first base. He hit .233 with five homers in 106 games. He moved on to the Colorado Rockies in 1994 and didn’t see much of an improvement while switching to a high offense environment. Vander Wal hit .245 with five homers in 91 games during the strike-shortened season. He finally hit his stride during the 1995 season, hitting .347 in 105 games, which led to a 1.026 OPS. He started just five games all season. He received slightly more playing time in 1996, but his numbers regressed back to 1992-94 standards, as he hit .252 with five homers in 104 games. Vander Wal struggled so badly during the 1997 season that he spent a month back in the minors. He hit .174 with one homer in 76 games for the Rockies. However, the hitting returned in 1998 and he batted .288 with five homers in 89 games before the San Diego Padres acquired him on August 31st to help with their playoff run. They ended up going to the World Series that year and Vander Wal was valuable in the playoffs, going 6-for-15 with a double, triple and a homer.

Vander Wal hit .272 with 41 RBIs in 246 at-bats over 132 games in 1999. The Pirates acquired him as one of three players they got in return from the Padres in a trade for outfielder Al Martin on February 23, 2000. The Pirates used him often in right field in 2000, but he also saw time at first base, left field and was used frequently as a pinch-hitter, a role he had been used in often during his career. Vander Wal had a career year at the plate in 2000, hitting .299 with 72 walks, 24 homers and 94 RBIs in 384 at-bats. His best home run total prior to 2000 was the six he hit during the 1999 season, and he had just 31 career homers going into that first season with the Pirates. He was used in the same role the following season, hitting .278 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs through the end of July when he was dealt to the San Francisco Giants, along with Jason Schmidt, in return for Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios. Vander Wal ended up playing three more seasons, for three different teams, before retiring after the 2004 season. He didn’t do a lot for the Giants after the trade, hitting for a .744 OPS in 49 games, but the Giants won that trade easily due to the contributions of Schmidt. Vander Wal had a bench role for the New York Yankees in 2002, hitting .260 with six homers in 84 games. He had a slightly expanded role with the 2003 Milwaukee Brewers, hitting .257 with 25 doubles and 14 homers in 117 games. He finished his career with the 2004 Cincinnati Reds, used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter. He struggled in that role, batting .118 in 42 games. Vander Wal had a career average of .261 in 1,372 games, with 97 homers and 430 RBIs. He pinch-hit over 600 times in his career, collecting 129 hits and 17 homers. His total of 28 pinch-hits in 1995 is a Major League record.

1934: First Sunday Game

While long-time Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss was alive, he refused to play baseball in the city of Pittsburgh on a Sunday, citing state Blue Laws of the day which did not allow pro games to be played that day. After Dreyfuss passed in 1932, the Philadelphia Phillies and Pirates appealed to the state to allow Sunday baseball and in 1934 the law was repealed. The first Sunday home game was scheduled for April 29, 1934. On that day, the Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds by a 9-5 score in front of 20,000 fans at Forbes Field. On the mound that day for Pittsburgh was Red Lucas, making his Pirates debut against the team that traded him during the off-season. The Pirates lineup had four Hall of Fame players at the top, including their entire outfield. Pie Traynor was on the bench at this time, limited to pinch-hitting duties due to an arm injury.

Lloyd Waner, CF
Paul Waner, RF
Freddie Lindstrom, LF
Arky Vaughan, SS
Gus Suhr, 1B
Cookie Lavagetto, 2B
Tommy Thevenow, 3B
Pat Veltman, C
Red Lucas, P

The Pirates collected twelve hits during the game, including three each by Lloyd Waner and Gus Suhr. Paul Waner and Suhr both homered, and the latter drove in four runs. The Waner brothers each had two RBIs apiece. The Reds that day had two future Hall of Fame hitters in their lineup, Jim Bottomley at first base and Chick Hafey in center field. The also had two more come in as substitutes that day, catcher Ernie Lombardi pinch-hit and veteran pitcher Dazzy Vance, who began his career with the 1915 Pirates, finished off the game on the mound.

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