This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 24th, The One Who Got Away and The One Who Didn’t Get Away

Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and no major transactions.

Jack Pfiester, pitcher for the 1903-04 Pirates. He was an unfortunate case for the Pirates, a pitcher who struggled in two brief tryouts each year with the team so they gave up on him. It turned out to be a bad move on their part, as just two years later, he was a 20-game winner for the first place Chicago Cubs. The lefty began his career in the minors in 1901, playing for two teams in the Class-A Western Association at 23 years old. He was actually with the Baltimore Orioles (current day New York Yankees) of the American League for a brief time in 1901, but he didn’t get into any games. The only available stat from that time in the minors is that he pitched in 24 games. They next year he posted a 13-15, 3.63 record in 225.1 innings for Spokane of the Pacific Northwest League. He moved on to San Francisco in 1903, pitching in the Pacific National League, where he first got recognized by the Pirates due to his 19 wins and 2.78 ERA in 288 innings. Pfiester joined the Pirates on September 3rd and it was said at the time that they had so many new players that there wasn’t a uniform available for him or his San Francisco teammate Joe Marshall. In fact, they had to sit in the grandstands during their first day with the team, with the paper noting that it took them a week to travel to Pittsburgh and they were tired upon their arrival. Pfiester was said to possess a good fastball and a fine assortment of curves. He debuted in the majors on September 8th and made three late season starts for the Pirates, going 0-3, 6.16 in 19 innings with 15 strikeouts.

He began the 1904 season with the Pirates, but after two starts and a relief appearance, he went sent to Omaha of the Western League. Pfiester had a rough start to Spring Training, deal with a sore arm and tonsillitis, which effected his workload getting ready for the season. When he was cut in 1904, the Pirates decided to keep pitchers Bucky Veil and Lew Moren over Pfiester. Neither of those two ended up pitching for the Pirates again. It was down in Omaha where Pfiester finally established himself, but it was the Chicago Cubs who recognized those improvements, not the Pirates. In two seasons for Omaha, he posted a 49-22 record. The Cubs went to the World Series three straight seasons from 1906 until 1908 and Pfiester was a big reason that they won during those years. He went 20-8, 1.51 in 250.2 innings in 1906, but had a rough time in the World Series, going 0-2, while allowing seven runs in 10.1 innings. He then won 14 games with a league leading 1.15 ERA in 195 innings in 1907. That’s the seventh best single season ERA in baseball history. Pfiester won game two of the World Series, giving up one run in a complete game performance. He went 12-10, 2.00 in a career high 252 innings in 1908. The Cubs won their second straight title that year, though he ended up allowing eight runs on 11 hits in his only start in the World Series.

In 1909, Pfiester went 17-6, 2.43 in 196.2 innings for the second place Cubs, a team that won 104 games. Health and injury problems limited him to just two more seasons in the majors and he threw 134 innings total for the 1910-11 Cubs. He finished with a 71-44 record and a 2.02 career ERA, the fourth best ERA of all-time among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings. Pfiester was part of our One Who Got Away series, in an article that has expanded detail on his time in Pittsburgh.

Sam Barkley, first baseman/second baseman for the 1886-87 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his pro career in 1883 at 25 years old, playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. When that team joined the American Association the next season, Barkley was their second baseman. He hit .306 in that rookie season, leading the AA with 39 doubles. Toledo was a Major League team for just one season, and in 1885 he moved to the St Louis Browns of the AA, where he hit .268 with 53 RBIs in 103 games. The Alleghenys purchased his contract for $1,000 during that off-season, though it wasn’t without controversy. He was signed by the Baltimore American Association team on December 10th, but that deal was agreed on while he was still property of St Louis, so it was considered to be void. St Louis gave the option to Barkley to pick where he wanted to play and if that team met the $1,000 release price, he would be allowed to go there. Barkley decided on Pittsburgh and signed with them on January 4th. There was a big case made of the signing and Barkley was actually suspended for a year for a short time, but an actual court case was brought up. It was finally settled when the Alleghenys released first baseman Milt Scott to Baltimore on April 16th. Barkley, who was with the Alleghenys, but not playing in games, was allowed to play that same day in an exhibition game, two days before the regular season began. He salary for the year was $2,000.

That first year in Pittsburgh, Barkley hit .266 with 69 RBIs and 77 runs scored, helping the team to a second place finish behind the Browns. Pittsburgh moved from the AA to the National League for the 1887 season. He was the cleanup hitter in the first National League game in Pirates history back on April 30, 1887. Barkley was the second baseman to begin the year, but when regular first baseman Alex McKinnon became ill and later passed away, Barkley took over at first base for the duration of the season. He struggled at the plate, hitting .224 in 89 games. Just prior to the 1888 season, Pittsburgh sold him to the Kansas City Cowboys, sending him back to the AA. Barkley played two seasons there, before finishing his career in the minors in 1889, back where he started in Toledo. He hit .216 with 51 RBIs and 67 runs scored in 116 games for Kansas City in 1888 as their everyday second baseman. In 1889, he hit .284 in 45 games and played his final big league game on July 12th. A few days later he was traded (along with $1,000) to the minors (Toledo) for third baseman Billy Alvord. Barkley was a .258 hitter in 582 big league games over six seasons, with ten homers and 362 runs scored.

Barkley was recently featured here in a Card of the Day article, which was a guest submission. It has much more on his acquisition by the Alleghenys, besides the card feature part.

I’ll be posting something a little later today that will help out this article with content for next year.