Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two trades of note.
On this date in 1912, the Pirates traded long-time third baseman/outfielder Tommy Leach, and pitcher Lefty Leifield to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for pitcher King Cole and outfielder Solly Hofman. Leach was with the Pirates since coming over in the large trade in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels that brought Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke and Rube Waddell to the Pirates. He is among the Pirates top ten all-time in games played, at-bats, runs scored, triples and stolen bases. Leach was hitting .299 at the time of the trade, but at age 34, he was thought to be near the end of his career. Leifield had been a mainstay in the Pirates rotation for the last six years, although in 1912 he was seeing very little time on the mound. At age 27, he was coming off a season in which he went 16-16, 2.63 and pitched a career high 318 innings. Cole had won 38 games between the 1910-11 seasons, but in 1912 he was struggling badly. The Pirates were hoping the 26 year old righty could regain his form. Hofman began his career with the 1903 Pirates as a 20-year-old. He had spent the last ten years with the Cubs. In 884 games, he hit .271 with 441 runs scored and 158 stolen bases. In 1912 he was hitting .272 in 36 games with 28 runs scored.
The trade was a clear win for the Cubs. After the trade, Hofman had leg problems and was used very seldom, getting into just 17 games. Early in the 1913 season he was sent to the minors, then jumped to the Federal League in 1914. Cole was also seldom used, pitching just 49 innings for the Pirates, posting a 6.43 ERA. He was sent to the minors in 1913, spent the next two seasons with the New York Yankees, then unfortunately passed away in 1916 from tuberculosis. Leifield and Leach were both holdouts during Spring and it was said to contribute to their departure. Leifield pitched well when he played, but wasn’t used often. He went 7-2, 2.42 in 70.2 innings. The next year he pitched just six games before spending five seasons in the minors. He eventually returned to the majors for three more seasons (1918-20). Leach was a good role player for the Cubs in 1912, then had a strong 1913 season, leading the National League in runs scored with 99. He then played 153 games in 1914, hitting .263 with 79 walks, while leading the NL in at bats. He hit just .224 with 17 RBIs in 107 games in 1915, then spent two years in the minors before returning to the Pirates in 1918 for one last season.
On this date in 1925, the Pirates traded first baseman Al Niehaus to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for pitcher Tom Sheehan. Niehaus was a minor league star, getting his first chance at the majors. He had batted over .330 in three straight seasons prior to joining the Pirates for the 1925 season. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs, but before he played a game for them, he came to the Pirates on October 27, 1924 in a six-player deal. He played 17 games for Pittsburgh before the trade, hitting .219 with seven RBIs. Pittsburgh was able to trade him because they signed veteran first baseman Stuffy McInnis one day earlier. Sheehan was in his fifth season in the majors, although they were spread out over an 11-year time-frame. He was 9-10, 3.24 for the Reds in 1924, pitching 166.2 innings over 39 appearances, 14 as a starter. In 1925, he was struggling, allowing 31 runs in 29 innings.
After the trade, Niehaus hit .299 in 51 games for the Reds. He returned to the minors, playing another four years down on the farm before retiring. Shortly after his career ended, he contracted pnuemonia and passed away just two days later at 32 years old. Sheehan pitched 23 games for the Pirates, all in relief. In 57.1 innings, he had a 2.67 ERA. He was with the team the first two months of 1926, before he was returned to the minors in June. He played another nine seasons before retiring as a player, never making it back to the majors again. He wound up with 259 minor league wins, with another 17 victories during his time in the majors. The Pirates also had a third baseman during the 1906-07 seasons named Tom Sheehan, who was of no relation to the latter player.
Luis Escobar, pitcher for the 2019 Pirates. He was signed at 17 years old out of Colombia in 2013. He was originally a third baseman, but the Pirates signed him as a pitcher after he showed much better stuff on the mound. Escobar started pro ball in the Dominican Summer League in 2014. He had a 4.75 ERA in 55 innings, but that was a bit deceiving. His final start was a disastrous outing that skewed his ERA and he was diagnosed with appendicitis later that day. He moved up to the Gulf Coast League in 2015, where he had a 3.54 ERA in 11 starts, earning a late promotion to the New York-Penn League, where he made two more starts. He remained in the NYPL in 2016, going 6-5, 2.93 in 67.2 innings. Escobar was in Low-A the next season and set a team record with 168 strikeouts for the West Virginia Power. He went 10-7, 3.83 in 131.2 innings. In 2018, he split the season between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. Escobar had a 3.98 ERA in 92.2 innings in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, then saw that number go up to 4.54 in 35.2 innings for Altoona. The 2019 season saw him switch to relief work, and he began the year back in Bradenton, where he was dominant in ten outings. That led to him moving up to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he had a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 innings over 13 games, which included a handful of starts. The Pirates called him up on July 6th and he pitched four games, throwing 3.2 innings of shutout ball in his first three relief outings, before giving up five runs over two innings in his final appearance. He was sent to Indianapolis on July 25th and wasn’t recalled when the rosters expanded. The Pirates released Escobar in June of 2020 while teams were still waiting to see if the 2020 season would be played. He has pitched winter ball in Colombia since then and he’s currently pitching in Mexico in 2021.
Tony Watson, pitcher for the 2011-17 Pirates The 6’4″ lefty was drafted in the ninth round in 2007 by the Pirates out of the University of Nebraska. It was the third time that he was drafted. He was originally taken in the 23rd round out of high school by the Florida Marlins in 2003. In 2006 the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 16th round. He went 7-2, 2.79 in 13 starts over two levels for the Pirates in 2007. In 2008, he was with Lynchburg of the Carolina League, where he went 8-12, 3.56 in 151.2 innings over 28 starts. His 2009 regular season was limited to five games due to an elbow strain. He was fine by the fall and made 11 relief appearances in the Arizona Fall League. He was moved to a long relief role in 2010 for Altoona, though he still saw a handful of starts. Watson went 6-4, 2.67 in 111.1 innings, with 105 strikeouts. He started 2011 with Indianapolis, moving up to the majors in early June after posting a 2.36 ERA in 34.1 innings with 35 strikeouts. Watson made 43 appearances for the Pirates as a rookie, pitching a total of 41 innings with a 3.95 ERA. In 2012, he made 68 appearances with a 3.38 ERA. He pitched 53.1 innings and struck out 5 batters. He established himself as a reliable reliever the next year with a 2.39 ERA in 71.2 innings over 67 outings. He was even better the next two seasons, with a 10-2, 1.63 record in 77.1 innings over 78 games in 2014 when he made his only career All-Star appearance. He led the National League in games pitched that season. Watson had a 1.91 ERA in 75.1 innings over 77 contests during the 2015 season. After accumulating five saves total during his first five seasons, the Pirates moved him to a closer role during the 2016 season and he had 15 saves, while his ERA went up to 3.06 in 67.2 innings. He was at a 3.66 ERA and ten saves in 2017 when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31st for two minor league players, including top prospect Oneil Cruz. With the Pirates, Watson was 31-16, 2.66, with 30 saves, in 433 innings over 450 appearances. During five postseason pitching appearances in Pittsburgh, he allowed one run over five innings.
Watson had a 2.70 ERA for the Dodgers after the trade, pitching 20 innings over 24 appearances. They used him 11 times during the postseason, which they lost to the Houston Astros in the World Series. Watson was actually the winning pitcher in games four and six of the World Series, his only two postseason pitching decisions. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the San Francisco Giants. In 2018, he had a 2.59 ERA in 66 innings over 72 appearances. He saw his numbers slip a bit in 2019, with a 4.17 ERA in 54 innings over 60 games. During the shortened 2020 season, he had a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings over 21 outings. He saved two games, his first saves since leaving the Pirates. Watson is current pitching for Los Angeles Angels in 2021. He originally signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent, but he had an opt out on the deal and choose free agency on March 26th, three days before signing with the Angels.
Al Mamaux, pitcher for the 1913-17 Pirates. The Pirates signed him one year out of Duquesne University, where he pitched well at just 18 years old, including a 19-inning game in which he allowed just four hits. He played for a semi-pro team from Wilkinsburg, Pa. in 1912 and it was said that he struck out 10-12 batters every game and threw a no-hitter. Pirates manager Fred Clarke was made aware of Mamaux and invited him to Spring Training in 1913 after seeing him during pre-game workouts with the Pirates at Forbes Field in the fall of 1912. It was said that at least three other Major League teams were interested in him, but he was loyal to his local team, being a native of Pittsburgh. During that 1913 season, he went 18-16 in 39 games for the Huntington Blue Sox of the Ohio State League. Mamaux pitched one game for the Pirates, going three innings in relief on September 23rd, just two days after rejoining the club. In 1914, he made six starts and seven relief appearances, pitching a total of 63 innings, with five wins, two shutouts and a 1.71 ERA. The next year, he would establish himself as one of the National League’s best pitchers. He went 21-8 with a 2.04 ERA and eight shutouts, while throwing 251.2 innings. Those eight shutouts are the highest total in franchise history since the team moved to the NL in 1887. He also struck out 152 batters in 1915, the fourth highest total in the NL that season. During the 1916 season, Mamaux won 21 games again. He finished third in the NL with 163 strikeouts and his 310 innings pitched were the fourth highest total in the league. In what should have been the start of a great career, Mamaux let conditioning and insubordination get in the way of his success. He was suspended during part of the 1917 season and almost all of the following year. He pitched just 18 games between 1917-18, going 2-12, with 11 of those losses coming with the 1917 Pirates. Pittsburgh included him in a five-player deal with the Brooklyn Robins on January 9, 1918, which also included two future Hall of Famers, Casey Stengel and Burleigh Grimes.
Mamaux pitched another seven seasons in the majors after the trade, though he was limited to eight innings in his first year with Brooklyn. On May 1st, he was drafted into the Army during WWI. He returned in 1919 to 10-12, 2.66 in 199.1 innings over 22 starts and eight relief appearances. He had a similar season in 1920, though his record improved as Brooklyn won the National League pennant. He went 12-8, 2.69 in 190.2 innings over 17 starts and 24 relief appearances. He allowed two runs over four innings in three appearances during the World Series. His 1921 season was cut short in mid-June due to illness. He returned as a relief pitcher in 1922, going 1-4, 3.70 in 87.2 innings over 37 games. Mamaux struggled during the early part of 1923 and was released outright on May 15th. He signed with Reading of the International League and he went 17-10, 3.40 in 217 innings. He was 11-6, 3.05 in 130 innings with Reading in 1924 before being purchased by the New York Yankees on July 12th. He went 1-1, 5.68 in 38 innings to finish out the season. Mamaux’s Major League career ended in 1924, but his playing days were far from over. He lasted in the minors until 1935, five of those years as a player/manager, before finishing his career as a manager in 1936. He won 150 minor league games, to go along with his 76 big league wins. He played with Newark of the International League from 1926 through 1933, winning 25 games during the 1927 season and 20 games in 1929. With the Pirates, he was 49-36, 2.61 in 713.1 innings. He finished his big league career with a 2.90 ERA in 1,293 innings.
Mike Donlin, outfielder for the 1912 Pirates. He began his pro career playing in California for three different teams during the 1898 season, and remained out there for the first half of the 1899 season. He began his Major League career in July of 1899 at 21 years old, hitting .323 as a rookie in 66 games for the St Louis Perfectos (Cardinals). The next year he raised his average to .326 in 78 games, then jumped to the American League in 1901, where he batted .340 with 107 runs scored in 121 games for the Baltimore Orioles (the Yankees franchise before moving to New York). Donlin went to prison in 1902 after causing problems during a drinking binge. He missed most of the season, then signed with the Cincinnati Reds when he came back in late August. He hit .287 with 30 runs scored in 34 games to finish out the year. In 1903, he hit .351 with 25 doubles, 18 triples, 67 RBIs, 26 steals and 110 runs scored. Donlin had more off-season troubles, then while hitting .356 in 60 games through the middle of the 1904 season, he was suspended for 30 days by the Reds. They ended up trading him to the New York Giants, where he had his best season. He hit .280 in 42 games to finish out 1904, then in 1905 he set career highs in runs scored (124), batting average (.356) and RBIs (80), all while playing 150 games. He led the league in runs scored that season. A broken ankle limited him to just 34 games in 1906 (he batted .314), then he sat out the entire 1907 season demanding more money.
Donlin had married a famous actress and he himself took up vaudeville acting during his time away from the sport. He returned to baseball for 1908, and hit .334 with 106 RBIs in 155 games for the Giants, but he sat out the next two years, deciding that he made much more money acting so he wouldn’t play baseball anymore. By 1911, the acting had begun to slow down and he changed his tune, returning to the Giants. Donlin was sold to the Boston Rustlers (Braves) in August of 1911 and finished the season hitting .316 in 68 games. The Pirates acquired him on February 17, 1912 in exchange for outfielder Vin Campbell. Donlin missed time in June to be with his wife, who was sick, then almost immediately after returning he injured his foot while batting. He hit .316 for the Pirates in 77 games, spending most of his time in right field. The Pirates put him on waivers in December, where he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. Donlin sat out the 1913 season, before returning to a minor league team at the end of the year. He then played 35 games for the Giants in 1914 before finally calling it quits as a player, this time for good. He was a .333 hitter in 1,049 big league games, which shows that his decision not to play so much in his prime likely cost him a spot in the Hall of Fame.