On March 4, 1899, the Pittsburgh Press printed a list of 23 players provided by manager Bill Watkins. It was the group of players he planned on taking to Roanoke for Spring Training that year. This series titled A Snapshot in Time, looks at Pittsburgh Pirates rosters on a specific day and sees how those players helped the Pirates during that season, as well as future seasons, including any players they might bring back in trades.
I wanted to do the 1899 season since I first thought up this series. The Pirates went from 1882 until 1898 without a league title. The 1899 season was no different in that sense, but it was also the end of an era. After the season, Barney Dreyfuss became the team owner and he swung a deal to bring all of the best players from his old team (the Louisville Colonels) to his new team. That brought along players like Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach, Deacon Phillippe, Claude Ritchey and Rube Waddell, forever changing the face of the Pirates franchise. By 1909, that group helped the Pirates to four National League titles, two World Series appearances and one championship title, though the 1901-02 seasons were also considered championship titles at the time, despite the existence of the American League.
This is the last Spring Training group before the new era began in 1900. Below you will find all 23 players listed in the following clipping. I’ll cover their 1899 results, as well as anything they contributed in the future. I’ve listed them in the same order as in the clipping below.
Eddie Boyle – His big league career consisted of five games in 1896, split between Pittsburgh and Louisville. He was a late arrival to Spring Training in 1899 and was still getting into shape on April 17th when manager Watkins allowed him to train in Cincinnati, then join the Pirates when they came through town. He was released on May 12th without appearing in a game, sitting for 21 games. Platoon catchers Frank Bowerman and Pop Shriver were both doing so well that the Pirates decided that they didn’t need a third catcher, so they released Boyle.
Frank Bowerman – In 1899, he hit .260 in 110 games, playing 80 games behind the plate and 28 at first base. He was released to the New York Giants in March of 1900, after the big Louisville trade made him expendable.
Pop Schriver – The veteran Schriver was in his 12th season in 1899. He hit .281 in 92 games, with 49 RBIs. He caught 78 games. He remained with the Pirates in 1900 as part of a three-man veteran tandem, before being sold to the St Louis Cardinals prior to the 1901 season.
Jesse Tannehill – Tannehill gets lost in Pittsburgh Pirates history, but he should be better known. He went 25-13 in 1898, then had a 24-14 record in 1899. He went 20-6 in both 1900 and 1902, which surrounded an ERA title in 1901, not that he knew he won it at the time, since it wasn’t an official stat. Perhaps he gets lost because he spent part of his career in the 19th century, or perhaps no one has forgiven him for jumping to the American League in 1902, leaving the Pirates with nothing to show in return. They still won the 1903 crown without him.
Bill Hoffer – He went 8-10, 3.63 in 163.2 innings for the 1899 Pirates. He was released on February 28, 1900 when the Louisville trade made him expendable (you’ll read that a lot here).
Rosie Rosebraugh – His entire big league career consisted of four games in 1898 and two starts in 1899, last appearing on July 5th. On July 9th, he was loaned to Mansfield of the Interstate League and did not return.
Sam Leever – Leever was in his first full season in the majors in 1899 and he was a workhorse. He completed 35 of 39 starts and he made 12 relief appearances, leading the league with 379 innings. He had a 21-23 record, which turned out to be his only losing record in a season. He remained with the Pirates through the end of his big league career in 1910. He was a big part of the 1901-03 champs and a small part of the 1909 champs.
Tully Sparks – He went 8-6, 3.86 in 170 innings in 1899. The Louisville trade made him expendable and he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 1900 season.
Jim Gardner – He went 1-0, 7.52 in three starts and three relief appearances. He suffered a severe beaning in 1898, which was said to have limited his effectiveness in 1899. He last pitched on June 26th and got released on June 30th.
Billy Rhines – He went 4-4, 6.00 in nine starts for the 1899 Pirates, his final team in the majors. He played his final game on June 22nd and pitched so poorly that he was let go that same day.
Jack Cronin – He made four starts for the 1898 Pirates, but he didn’t make the 1899 team. He was sold to Detroit of the Western League on March 16th.
Jack Rothfuss – He was released to the minors on March 28th (see next player). Rothfuss played briefly for the 1897 Pirates, in what turned out to be his only big league experience.
Pete Lepine – He didn’t make the Opening Day roster and never played for the Pirates. His only big league experience was a brief run with the 1902 Detroit Tigers. Rothfuss and Lepine were both released to Kansas City of the Western League at the same time, though only Rothfuss stuck with his new team.
Willie Clark – He got the majority of starts at first base for the 1899 Pirates. In 81 games, he hit .283 with no homers, 49 runs scored and 44 RBIs, while posting a .770 OPS. It was slight drop-off from his 1898 stats with the Pirates. He was released by the Pirates prior to their game on August 5th and Bowerman took his place at first base.
Heinie Reitz – He was a star second baseman before coming to Pittsburgh, but on June 3rd, a leg injury ended his season after just 35 games. He was sent to Milwaukee of the American League (a minor league in 1900) prior to the 1900 season and never played in the majors again. The Pirates eventually got catcher Harry Smith in return from Milwaukee, but he jumped to the American League before playing a game for the Pirates, so really they got nothing.
Bones Ely – He was a defensive specialist at shortstop, who hit .278 with 72 RBIs and 67 runs scored in 139 games in 1900. He played shortstop for another 1 1/2 seasons in Pittsburgh before being released in the middle of the 1901 season. Hons Wagner was mostly playing outfield when he first joined the Pirates, partially because Ely was skilled on defense.
Jimmy Williams – As a rookie in 1899, Williams had an incredible season. He hit .354 with 126 runs scored, 116 RBIs, a league leading 27 triples and 26 stolen bases. He set the Pirates record with a 26-game hitting streak, then broke that record by hitting in 27 straight games, both in the same season. His stats fell off in 1900, losing 234 points off of his OPS, then he decided to jump to Baltimore of the American League in 1901, leaving the Pirates with nothing for him.
Art Madison – He hit .271 in 42 games as the backup infielder, then was part of the trade with Louisville. When Louisville folded, Madison returned to the Pirates, only to be sold off six days later to the minors. He never played in the majors again.
Patsy Donovan – Donovan took over as the manager early in the season and the Pirates had a 69-58 record under his guidance. He put in eight solid years with the Pirates, but the Louisville trade made him expendable. He was sold to the St Louis Cardinals in early 1900 for the bargain price of $1,000, then batted over .300 in each of the next four seasons.
Jack McCarthy – in 139 games in 1899, he hit .306 with 69 RBIs and 109 runs scored. After the big trade made him expendable, the Pirates sold his contract on December 12th to the Chicago Cubs, who were then known as the Orphans.
Tom O’Brien – He was sold to the New York Giants on April 13th, after losing out in the fight for the backup outfielder spot to rookie Ginger Beaumont. O’Brien returned to the Pirates in 1900, but he passed away before the start of the 1901 season.
Tom McCreery – He had a big season in 1899, batting .324 with 65 RBIs and 77 runs scored in 119 games. He remained with the team after the Louisville trade, performing poorly as a backup outfielder. He retired after the season, though he changed his mind a short time later and returned in 1901 with Brooklyn.
Ginger Beaumont – The list saved a good one for last. Beaumont hit .352 as a rookie, stole 31 bases and scored 90 runs in 111 games. He stayed around until a 1906 trade to the Boston Beaneaters. That trade was an epic failure, as Barney Dreyfuss overpaid to get infielder Ed Abbaticchio, but Beaumont contributed 22.3 WAR to the Pirates over eight seasons before the deal. He won a batting title, led the league in hits three straight years and scored 100+ runs for four straight years. He was a key member of their three titles during the 1901-03 run.
As you can see, only seven of these 23 players were with the Pirates 13 months later when the 1900 season started. Beaumont, Leever and Tannehill were big parts of championship teams, while Schriver, McCreery, Ely and Williams weren’t around for any of the titles. These players as a group only brought back one player in a trade, while all of the others were released, retired or sold off. Even the trade is stretching it a bit, as Beaumont was just 1/3rd of the deal for one player.