Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a game of note from 1937.
Tony Bartirome, first baseman for the 1952 Pirates. Before becoming the long-time trainer for the Pirates, Bartirome played one full season in the majors with Pittsburgh. He was a local kid, born and raised in Pittsburgh. He was signed as an 18-year-old by Pie Traynor, on behalf of the Pirates, early in 1951. Bartirome played just one season in the minors before joining the Pirates in 1952, making his Major League debut three weeks before his 20th birthday. For Hutchinson of the Western League in 1951, he batted .282 with 30 extra-base hits in 123 games. The jump to the majors from Class-C ball then would be considered the same jump from short-season ball to the majors now, so it’s no surprise that he didn’t excel at the plate at such a young age in Pittsburgh. Bartirome hit .220 with the Pirates and was not your typical first baseman. He had 13 extra base hits in 124 games, none of them were homers. Despite the poor season at the plate, he accomplished something pretty impressive by not hitting into a double play all season. He was considered to be above average defensively in the minors, but modern metrics credit him with -0.5 WAR on defense during his only big league season.
Bartirome spent all of the 1953-54 seasons serving in the Army before returning to the Pirates in 1955. He promised at the time to fight to get back his old job at first base but he ended up spending the next nine seasons in the minors before he retired as a player. His first season back in the minors was spent at Class-B Burlington-Graham of the Carolina League, the equivalent of Low-A now. He batted .328 in 96 games, though he had just ten extra-base hits, all doubles. Bartirome moved up a level to play for Williamsport of the Eastern League in 1956 and hit .305 in 115 games, winning the league batting title. There was a thought that he might be able to make the majors again in 1957 after he followed up that solid minor league season at Williamsport by hitting .377 in Panama over the winter, where he won another batting title and an MVP award. The Pirates never even gave him a look during Spring Training though. He played in the Pacific Coast League in 1957, where he batted .316 in 71 games, at a level considered to be one step below the majors. He always hit for average, and started to draw more walks later in his career, but the fact that he hit just 11 homers in 11 seasons, including five in 1951, held him back from the majors. While he wasn’t short at 5’10”, he tipped the scales at just 155 pounds, despite attempts to put on muscle to help his case to get back to the majors. After he retired as a player following the 1963 season, Bartirome became a minor league trainer for three years, before joining the Pirates big league staff in 1967. It was a spot he would hold until after the 1985 season, when he moved on to the same job in Atlanta, moving along with Chuck Tanner, who was fired after the 1985 season.
Culley Rikard, outfielder for the 1941-42 and 1947 Pirates. He had a baseball career that began at 21 years old in 1935 and it ended 17 years later, but his big league time consisted of just one full season and two partial seasons, all spent with the Pirates. Rickard debuted in the Class-C East Dixie League, where he put up a .310 average over 130 games in his first season. In 1936, he moved to another Class-C league, playing for Cleveland of the Cotton States League. That year he hit .327 with 46 extra-base hits. Despite two years of solid stats, Rickard was right back in Class-C ball, playing for three different teams in 1937. He didn’t advance a level until playing half of the 1938 season with Memphis of the Southern Association, where he hit .288 in 70 games. He also added a .362 average in 86 games for Greenville of the Cotton State League that same year. He spent the next two full seasons at Memphis, hitting well each time. Rickard batted .323 in 127 games in 1939, then showed more power in 1940, hitting .301 with 50 extra-base hits. He played seven seasons in the minors before joining the Pirates on September 20, 1941. Rikard had hit .339 with 73 extra-base hits that year, playing for Memphis of the Southern Association. The first day he was with the Pirates, he started in left field during the second game of a doubleheader, going 2-for-4 with a double. Rikard played a total of six games that year and then 38 games during the 1942 season, with half of those games coming as a pinch-hitter. He had his arm broken by a line drive in July of 1942 when he was throwing batting practice. He returned later that season for just one game and that was only as a pinch-runner.
Shortly before the 1943 season started, Rikard was called to serve during WWII. He returned to baseball in 1946, spending the season with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .325 in 144 games for Hollywood, then rejoined the Pirates for the 1947 season. That year he played 109 games, hitting .287 with 50 walks, 53 runs scored and 32 RBIs. Rikard split his playing time between right field and center field, in what would turn out to be his last season in the majors. On January 27, 1948, he was released outright to Indianapolis, ending his time with the Pirates. He played five more years in the minors before he retired. His first season back in the minors was a big one. Rickard drove in 107 runs for Indianapolis, adding 85 walks and 99 runs scored. In each of the next three years, he played partial seasons with Indianapolis. In his final season of pro ball, he dropped down to a Class-C team and batted .353 with 54 extra-base hits in 131 games. His actual name was Culley, making him the only known Culley in the majors or minors.
Dan Sullivan, catcher for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys on April 18, 1886. On Opening Day of the 1886 season, the Alleghenys and the St. Louis Browns played a doubleheader. Sullivan caught the opener, his first game with Pittsburgh. It would also be the last game he played with the team and the last of his Major League career. He actually played a Sunday exhibition game with the Alleghenys a week after his debut. Pittsburgh just got done losing three-of-four games to the Cincinnati Red Stockings, so the two teams played an exhibition game on the scheduled off-day, with 2,500 fans still showing up. Sullivan didn’t start, but he was forced into action when outfielder Tom Brown got injured in the fourth inning running out a ball that ended up going foul. Sullivan was released in early June without playing another game for the Alleghenys. He then played for Savannah of the Southern Association briefly in the minors that year, though his pro career ended before the season was over. He got married while in Pittsburgh and when Savannah started having financial trouble in early August, he left the team to return home. He said at the time that he didn’t care if he got blacklisted from baseball because he was done playing. His pro career ended at 29 years old and he passed away within seven years of his last game. His obituary said of his time after baseball “He came (back) to Pittsburgh and started a saloon business without success. Then he disappeared and was not heard from again until the notice of his death.” The saloon business actually belonged to his wife, who was widowed before she married Sullivan.
Sullivan played a total of five seasons in the majors (all in the American Association). The first 3 1/2 years (1882-85) were spent with Louisville. Sullivan hit .273 in 67 games as a rookie, putting up a .610 OPS, which would end up being his career high. He hit .214 over 36 games in 1883, then batted .239 with 26 RBIs and 27 runs scored in 63 games in 1884. He split the 1885 season between Louisville and St Louis, combining to hit .144 in 30 games. In his only game with the Alleghenys, he went 0-for-4 with two errors. Sullivan was a .233 hitter in 197 big league games, with zero home runs to his credit. His pro career began with the New York Metropolitans of the Eastern Championship Association in 1881, the season before the American Association started up.
On this date in 1937, the Pirates took on the Boston Braves (also referred to as the “Bees” during this period) at Braves Field. The managers that day were Pie Traynor (Pirates) and Bill McKechnie. Traynor was one of the greatest players in team history, while McKechnie was not only a former Pirates player, but at the time, he had led them to their last World Series title in 1925. Traynor wasn’t playing at that time and he never took the field in 1936, but he did play five more games later in that 1937 season before his Hall of Fame playing career officially ended.
The Pirates lineup included a couple other big names in Pirates history. Out in right field stood Paul Waner, while Arky Vaughan manned the shortstop position. At first base was Gus Suhr, the man who some consider to be one of the best first basemen in Pirates history.
The Braves lineup was loaded with players with Pirates connections, some before this game, some afterwards. Deb Garms, who batted lead-off and played left field, won a batting crown while with the Pirates in 1940. Al Lopez, batting cleanup, caught for the Pirates from 1940 until 1946. Vince DiMaggio batted fifth, he played five seasons (1940-44) with the Pirates in center field. Elbie Fletcher batted sixth and played first base that day. He played seven seasons for the Pirates. Tommy Thevenow, batting seventh and playing second base, had played five seasons with the Pirates already and would rejoin the team during the 1938 season. The Braves even went to the bullpen for another former Pirates player, Guy Bush, who played for the 1935-36 Pirates.
Pittsburgh won the game that day behind the complete game of Ed Brandt, a former long-time Boston Braves pitcher. Paul Waner scored two runs, while Arky Vaughan added two hits and an RBI. The Pirates scored two runs in the third, fifth and seventh innings, while Boston scored all their runs in the first three innings, one coming from DiMaggio, who hit a solo homer. At the close of play, the Pirates stood in first place with an 11-3 record.