Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players and two trades of note on this date.
Austin Meadows, outfielder for the 2018 Pirates. The Pirates selected Meadows out of high school in Georgia with the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft, a compensation pick for being unable to sign pitcher Mark Appel the previous year. Meadows was a top prospect in baseball throughout his minor league career, though his progress was slowed significantly due to injuries, including numerous hamstring issues that took away his speed over the years. He had a great debut in the Gulf Coast League, putting up a .977 OPS in 48 games, which led to a late promotion to the New York-Penn League, where he hit .529 with two homers in five games. He was limited to just 45 games in 2014, including seven rehab games at lower levels, spending the rest of his time in Low-A. Meadows combined for an .881 OPS. In 2015, he was healthy for the entire season and hit .307 with seven homers and 20 steals in 121 games with Bradenton, then moved up to Double-A at the end of the year. That fall he went to the Arizona Fall League and hit just .169 with one homer. He was limited to 87 games in 2016, though he did so well in his short time at Double-A (.976 OPS in 45 games) that he got promoted to Indianapolis, where he hit .214 with six homers in 37 games. Meadows missed half of 2017 and struggled when he did play, putting up a .670 OPS with Indianapolis. In 2018, he made his big league debut on May 18th and did well, though he had a hot start and then hit a slow patch, which resulted in a demotion to Indianapolis. Meadows hit .292 with five homers in 49 games for the Pirates before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. He reported to Triple-A with the Rays, before returning in September for ten games. In 2019, Meadows hit .291 with 33 homers and 89 RBIs in 138 games, earning an All-Star spot and mild MVP support. He struggled throughout the shortened 2020 season, hitting .205 with four homers. Through 18 games in 2021, he had an .898 OPS. Meadows was considered to be a solid defensive center fielder in the minors, but slowing over the years and a very weak arm have led to him becoming a below average left fielder, who is used at DH often. The defense has limited him to 4.3 WAR in the majors, despite his one strong season at the plate, which compiled 4.5 offensive WAR alone.
Ivan Cruz, first baseman for the 1999-2000 Pirates. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1989 amateur draft, taken in the 28th round at 21 years old out of Jacksonville University. Cruz didn’t make his Major League debut until eight years later while with the 1997 New York Yankees. He debuted in pro ball well, putting up a .792 OPS in the pitcher-friendly New York-Penn League in 1989. He skipped to the Florida State League in 1990, another pitcher-friendly league, and posted a .794 OPS. Cruz struggled a bit the next year at Double-A, posting a devilishly mediocre .666 OPS in 121 games, though he received a brief trial in Triple-A. He would spend the entire 1992 season back in Double-A, hitting .273 with 25 doubles, 14 homers and 104 RBIs. In his first full season in Triple-A in 1993, he batted just .226 in 115 games, with 13 homers and 50 RBIs. Cruz repeated the level in 1994, hitting .248 with 15 homers in 97 games. He would end up spending most of 1995 back in Double-A, where he hit .282 with 31 homers. He became a free agent after the season and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. Cruz batted .258 with 26 doubles, 28 homers and 96 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A in 1996. The Yankees called him up to the majors twice in 1997, making his debut in mid-July for two weeks, followed by a September recall. He went 5-for-20 with three RBIs and two walks. He was limited to 61 minor league games in 1998, though he batted .280 with 14 homers during his limited time.
After spending three seasons in the Yankees system and getting into just 11 big league games, Cruz signed with the Pirates on December 22, 1998. He began the year in Triple-A, hitting .338 with 23 homers and 77 RBIs through 65 games, when he was called up on June 24th to take the place of Jose Guillen, who was sent to the minors. Less than two weeks after being called up, Cruz strained his oblique during batting practice and was put on the disabled list. He returned to Triple-A briefly before going back on the DL. In 2000, he again began the year in Triple-A, getting recalled in mid-May. After going 1-for-11 at the plate, the Pirates designated him for assignment. He finished the year in the Mexican League, then signed to play in Japan in 2001. Cruz played for the St Louis Cardinals in 2002, spending the year in Triple-A until being recalled in September when the rosters expanded. He then spent his last season of pro ball (2003) in Japan. Cruz hit 254 homers in the minors and five times topped 90 RBIs in a season. His big league career amounted to 58 plate appearances over 41 games. He hit .273 with two homers and eight RBIs.
Chris Cannizzaro, catcher for the 1968 Pirates. He was originally signed by the St Louis Cardinals in 1956 as an amateur free agent, shortly after his 18th birthday. He batted .212 in Class-D ball during his first season in pro ball. At that time, that was the lowest level of the minors. Cannizzaro put up decent stats in his second season, which was split between Class-D and Class-C teams. He ended up with a .722 OPS in 78 games that year. In 1958, he moved to the upper level of the minors, spending his first of two seasons with Omaha of the American Association. Cannizzaro batted .272 with 21 extra-base hits in 110 games in 1958. In 1959, he hit just .231 with 12 extra-base hits in 101 games. Despite the poor showing at the plate, he was with the Cardinals at the beginning of 1960 as a backup catcher, getting into seven games over the first month of the season before being sent to the minors for the rest of the year. He moved from Omaha to Rochester of the International League in 1960 and hit .251 with 25 extra-base hits and 49 walks, leading to a .703 OPS. In 1961, Cannizzaro started the season in the minors before coming back to St Louis during the second half of the season. He played just six games (all off the bench) from August 3rd through the end of the season. When he was called up on July 30th, he was replacing rookie Tim McCarver as the third-string catcher.
In October of 1961, Cannizzaro was selected by the New York Mets in the expansion draft. It was a great break for him, as he played 59 big league games during the 1962 season. He batted .241 in 133 at-bats, with nine RBIs. He also led the National League with a 55.6% caught stealing rate. He spent most of the 1963 season in the minors, playing just 16 games with the Mets, but he was once again the backup during the 1964-65 seasons. Cannizzaro batted .311 in 60 games in 1964, which led to more playing time the next season, though his offense dropped off significantly. He hit just .183 in 114 games in 1965, with a .502 OPS. He did well defensively though, including a 52.5% caught stealing rate, which was the best in the NL.
Cannizzaro played in the majors for six straight years, before spending the next two years in the minors. During that time he was traded from the Mets to the Atlanta Braves, from the Braves to the Boston Red Sox, and from the Red Sox to the Detroit Tigers. The Pirates acquired Cannizzaro from the Tigers on November 29, 1967 in exchange for minor league player Mike Derrick. For Pittsburgh in 1968, he spent most of the year in the minors, getting called up in August after hitting .243 at Triple-A with 31 RBIs in 88 games. Cannizzaro played 25 big league games that year, starting 18 of them behind the plate. In 58 at-bats, he hit .241 with seven RBIs. In his 11th at-bat after getting called up, he hit home run. It was significant in the fact he went 592 at-bats during his first six seasons in the majors without hitting a home run. On March 28, 1969, the Pirates traded Cannizzaro to the San Diego Padres in a four-player deal. He ended up playing in the All-Star game in 1969 and lasted in the majors until 1974.
Despite being an All-Star in 1969, Cannizzaro didn’t have a big season. He had a .587 OPS in 134 games, hitting .220 with 21 extra-base hits and 42 walks. He did much better in 1970, hitting .279 with five homers in 110 games. He got off to a slow start in 1971 and was traded to the Chicago Cubs in May. He hit .208 with a career best six homers in 92 games that season. He was lost of waivers to the Los Angeles Dodgers and spent the next two years there, hitting a combined .235 with two homers in 90 games. After being released by the Dodgers, he signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent for 1974. He was in Triple-A until August 1st when the Padres purchased his contract. Cannizzaro ended up back in the majors for two more months before finishing out his playing career with a brief stint in the minors in 1975. He actually played one game in 1979 while managing Salinas of the California League. He also managed during the 1980-81 seasons in the California League. In 13 seasons in the majors, he hit .235 with 169 RBIs in 740 games. In his career, he attempted twenty stolen bases at the Major League level, he was successful just three times. He threw of 41% of runners attempting to steal during his career.
On this date in 1947, the Pirates traded outfielder Al Gionfriddo and $100,000 in cash (some sources say $125k), to the Brooklyn Dodgers for pitchers Cal McLish, Kirby Higbe, Hank Behrman, catcher Dixie Howell and infielder Gene Mauch. The deal was originally going to be a straight up purchase of the five players, but the Pirates threw Gionfriddo into the deal. The day before the trade, the newspapers were reporting that the Pirates were going to purchase just two players. As for the players after the trade, Behrman was returned to the Dodgers after giving up 25 runs in 24.2 innings for the Pirates. With his return, the Pirates recouped as much as $50,000 from the original sale price. Mauch was just 21 years old at the time of the trade, with only five games of Major League experience. He ended up hitting .300 in 16 games for the Pirates before being dealt back to the Dodgers in a six-player trade on December 8, 1947.
Dixie Howell was signed by the Dodgers in 1938, but never played a big league game for them. With the Pirates in 1947 as a 27-year-old rookie, he hit .276 with 25 RBIs in 76 games. Ten months after being acquired, he was one of the players the Pirates sent (along with plenty of cash) to the San Francisco Seals in exchange for highly touted pitcher Bob Chesnes. McLish was just 21 years old when the trade occurred, with 24 games of Major League experience over two seasons. He pitched three games for the Pirates over two seasons before being traded to the Chicago Cubs. That trade was made exactly one year after the Mauch trade mentioned above. McLish eventually became a very good big league pitcher, but not until age 31, well after being dealt by the Pirates.
That left Higbe as the only player in the deal that was still with the team by the time 1949 rolled around. He was a serviceable pitcher for his two full seasons, pitching 102 games, 38 as a starter. He won 19 times and saved 15 games between 1947-48, but he quickly went downhill the next season and was traded to the New York Giants by the beginning of June of 1949. Before the original deal, Higbe had a 70-38 record in five seasons in Brooklyn. Gionfriddo played 37 regular season games for the Dodgers in 1947 and hit .177 with six RBIs. He also played four games in the World Series and made one of the most memorable catches of all-time, robbing Joe DiMaggio in game six to help the Dodgers send the series to a seventh game. That game ended up being his last game in the majors.
On this date in 1952, the Pirates traded pitcher Bil Werle to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for veteran pitcher Red Munger. Werle began his career in Pittsburgh and had been with the Pirates since 1949, going 28-35, 4.76 in 147 games, sixty as a starter. Munger at age 33 was just two years old than Werle, but he had nine seasons of Major League experience at that point, all with the Cardinals. He had a 74-49 record in 233 games, 144 as a starter. He was also a three time All-Star. Munger made one start for St Louis in 1952, two weeks prior to the trade, and he did not pitch well, giving up six runs in 4.1 innings. Werle had pitched five games in 1952, all out of the bullpen, and he too did not pitch well. In four innings, he gave up ten base runners and four runs.
After the trade Munger showed no signs of the All-Star pitcher he once was, going 0-3, 7.18 in four starts and a relief appearance. He ended up going to the minors for the rest of 1952 and all of the next three seasons. The Pirates brought him back in 1956 after he went 23-8, 1.85 in 1955 for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. He ended up making 13 starts and 22 relief appearances in 1956, posting a 3-4, 4.04 record in 107 innings, in what would be his last season in the majors. Werle pitched 19 games for the Cardinals (all in relief), before being put on waivers in October, where he was picked up by the Boston Red Sox. He pitched 19 games over two seasons in Boston (1953-54), before returning to the minors for good, although he was far from done. He last pitched pro ball at age 42 in 1963.