Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a first baseman for the 1925 World Series champs.
Hal Smith, catcher for the 1965 Pirates. When he played for the Pirates in 1965, it was the first time he played pro ball since 1961 with the St Louis Cardinals. After signing with the Cardinals in 1949 as an 18-year-old amateur free agent, it took Smith seven years to make his Major League debut. His career in pro ball didn’t get off to a great start. In the low levels of the minors in 1949-50, he put up identical .224 averages each season. That was followed by missing the 1951 season while serving in the military. When he returned in 1952, he batted .238 in 31 games. Smith spent the entire 1953 season in A-Ball, playing for Omaha of the Western League, where he hit .215 with 12 extra-base hits in 107 games. He moved a level up to the Texas League in 1954 and hit .259 with 15 extra-base hits in 79 games. It was an improvement over all of his previous seasons, but the best was yet to come. Smith batted .299 in the Texas League in 1955, with 22 doubles, seven triples and eight homers in 139 games, career highs for all five statistical categories in the minors. Smith spent the next six seasons in the majors with St Louis (1956-61). He was a two-time All-Star, playing a total of 566 games, hitting .258 with 23 homers and 172 RBIs.
Smith batted .282 in 75 games as a rookie in 1956. That was followed by his first All-Star season, when he batted .279 in 100 games. Smith saw his offense slide in 1958, as he hit .227 with six extra-base hits in 77 games. He rebounded nicely in 1959, making his second All-Star appearance (they played two All-Star games that year, so technically he made three All-Star games, but the same players were involved in both games). Smith batted .270, while setting career highs with 13 homers and 50 RBIs. The next season saw him slide once again down to a .228 average with two homers, though he set a career high with 16 doubles. In both 1959 and 1960, he threw out more runners than any other catcher in the National League and he had the highest caught stealing percentage (51.5%) during the 1960 season. After hitting .248 with ten RBIs in 45 games in 1961, Smith became a coach for the Cardinals. He then worked two years in their minor league system before joining the Pirates in 1965 as a coach. When injuries behind the plate struck Pittsburgh, Smith was put on the active roster. He started a game on July 1st, going 0-for-3 at the plate, then came in as a defensive replacement in three other games over the next week before moving back to full-time coaching. He was with the Pirates organization through the 1967 season and was playing for the team during that last Spring Training, with word that he might be activated as a player if the other catchers weren’t up to the task. He was never activated though and the following year he moved on to a coaching job with the Cincinnati Reds. There have been three Hal Smiths in MLB history and all three played for the Pirates. One was a catcher for the 1960 World Series champs. The other spent his entire four-year career as a pitcher with the 1932-35 Pirates.
Lou Tost, pitcher for the Pirates on April 24, 1947. He first played minor league ball in 1934, but didn’t make his Major League debut until eight years later for the Boston Braves. His pro career got a late start and did not begin with a bang. At 23 years old, he pitched one game for Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. The next year he played just ten games for Mission of the PCL. He finally saw regular action in 1936, though he dropped down to Class-C ball to do it, four levels lower than the PCL. Tost went 15-14, 4.45 in 261 innings for Muskogee of the Western Association that season. He moved back up to the PCL, where he spent the next season with Mission and then the following four seasons with the Hollywood Stars. In 1937, he went 9-8, 3.45 in 204 innings. With Hollywood in 1938, he went 11-16, 3.48 in 220 innings. He saw a drop in his results and his workload the next two seasons. Tost pitched 121 innings in 1939, making 16 starts and 17 relief appearances. He went 5-10, 4.98 that season, then pitched mostly in relief in 1940, going 4-6, 4.07 in 135 innings. Just when it seemed as if he was getting further away from making the majors, the 1941 season turned things around.
At age 30 in 1941, Tost went 13-10, 3.85 in 243 innings over 47 games for Hollywood. He was traded to the Braves in late September of 1941 and saw plenty of action during his rookie season the next year. In 35 games, 22 as a starter, he went 10-10, 3.53 in 147.2 innings. The next season he pitched just three games for the Braves before the military came calling. Tost missed most of 1943 and all of 1944-45, then returned to the minors during the 1946 season. While playing for Seattle of the PCL, he went 16-13, 2.70 in 240 innings. He was in camp with the Braves in 1947 until the Pirates purchased his contract in late March for $10,000. It came as a surprise to the people in Boston, who thought they were giving up a good pitcher for nothing more than cash. His Pirates career didn’t turn out so well though. On April 24th, he came in to pitch the 8th inning against the Cubs, with the Pirates down 5-4. Tost faced six batters, allowing one run on three hits in his only inning of work. Just three days after that game, he was optioned to Indianapolis, where he finished out the year by going 11-12, 4.35 in 178 innings. On October 9th, the Pirates released him outright to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League as part of the payment for catcher Ed FitzGerald. He played another five seasons in the minors before retiring in 1952, ending a 16-year pro career. He pitched the 1948-50 seasons in the Pacific Coast League, but for his final two seasons he dropped down in competition, pitching Class-B ball in 1951 and Class-C ball in 1952. He won a total of 124 games in pro ball and pitched 2,126.1 innings.
Al Niehaus, first baseman for the 1925 Pirates. He played his first three years of pro ball in the Florida State League, a lower level of the minors (Class-C). Niehaus debuted with Jacksonville in 1921 at 22 years old and hit .258 with 20 extra-base hits in 109 games. He had a much better year in 1922 when he batted .332 for Jacksonville in 112 games, with 27 extra-base hits. That was following by a .364 average and 43 extra-base hits in 115 games for Bradenton during the 1923 season. He also spent time that year with Atlanta of the Southern Association, where he hit .182 in 45 games. Niehaus has a breakout season in the minors in 1924, hitting .366 with 53 extra-base hits for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs after that breakout season in 1924, but he never played for them. Pittsburgh acquired him from the Cubs on October 27, 1924 in a six-player deal (three going each way) that included Wilbur Cooper, Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, Vic Aldridge, Charlie Grimm and George Grantham, all much bigger name players than Niehaus. He became the Pirates everyday first baseman just over a week into the 1925 season, then lost the job after three weeks once his batting average fell to .205 on May 12th. Pittsburgh signed star veteran first baseman Stuffy McInnis on May 29th, signaling the end with the Pirates for Niehaus. The Pirates traded him to the Cincinnati Reds on May 30,1925 in exchange for pitcher Tom Sheehan. Niehaus finished up with a .219 average in 19 games for the Pirates. He hit .299 in 51 games for the Reds to finish out the year, then returned to the minors to play his last four years of pro ball before retiring. He was back with Atlanta for the entire 1926 season, then moved around the south during his final three years, seeing time with six different teams. Barely two years after his career ended, he passed away from pneumonia at 32 years old.
Harry Gardner, pitcher for the 1911-12 Pirates. His pro career began at 21 years old in the Pacific Coast League, with a brief trial for Oakland. He didn’t pitch much in his second season either, which was spent with Boise/Bozeman team in the Inter-Mountain League (Class-D). Gardner had a big year in 1910 for Vancouver of the Class-B Northwestern League, going 22-13, 2.38 in 288 innings. There was word on June 15th of that season that Barney Dreyfuss was willing to pay the $2,500 price tag to acquire Gardner and let him finish the season in Vancouver, but the owner of the team believed that he could be worth more if he finished the season strong. As it turned out, just one week later it was reported that Pirates scout Tim O’Rourke received a telegram from Dreyfuss saying that a deal was reached, and Vancouver would get $1,500 right away and then another $1,000 at the end of the year, while Gardner would remain with the team all season. Gardner made his debut with the Pirates on April 17, 1911, pitching in relief of Babe Adams, who gave up six runs in the first four innings. Gardner was said to look nervous and hesitant. At one point his slow delivery allowed a runner to steal home, but he settled down and allowed just that one run over his four innings of work. The team was impressed with how hard he threw, but he wasn’t ready for a full-time Major League job. He would end up being used 13 times during that season by the Pirates, three times as a starter, going 1-1, 4.50 in 42 innings. In 1912, he was again a bullpen pitcher for the Pirates, though he didn’t last long. After one unimpressive outing in which he came in with the Pirates up 7-5 in the 7th inning and pitched one inning, allowing three inherited runners to score, as well as three runs of his own, Gardner was sent to the minors. His final outing was on April 14th, but he remained with the Pirates until June 4th, when he was sent to St Paul of the American Association on an option. On August 13th, Gardner was one of five players traded to St Paul for infielder Art Butler. Including that 1912 season, Gardner pitched another 13 years in the minors without ever making it back to the big leagues. He was a 206-game winner in the minors, eight times amassing 17 or more victories in a season. He won 20 games for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in 1920, and another 22 victories for Seattle in 1923. During the 1920-23 seasons, all spent in Seattle, he averaged 290 innings pitched per season.
As a side note for Gardner, his career stats are listed wrong everywhere you look. During his one outing in 1912, he’s credited with six unearned runs while recording just one out. My own research found that he recorded three outs and allowed three runs, while the other three runs charged to him were actually inherited runners.
Bill Eagan, second baseman for the 1898 Pirates. He spent most of his 13-year pro career in the minors, getting three different shots at the majors with three different teams over a seven-year period. He debuted at 18 years old in 1887 with Scranton of the International Association. He has no pro records from 1888, but moved to Harrisburg of the Middle States League in 1889, and remained in town playing for Harrisburg in two different leagues during the 1890 season. In 1891, he played for the St Louis Browns of the American Association. As their everyday second baseman, he played well defensively, but wasn’t much of a hitter, batting .219 with 19 extra-base hits in 82 games. Eagan then played for Albany of the Eastern League during the 1892-93 season, while also seeing six September games for the 1893 Chicago Colts (Cubs). He then returned to the minors for all of the next four years, spending the entire time with Syracuse of the Eastern League. In 1897, he batted .306 with 29 doubles and 50 stolen bases in 135 games. He was reportedly sold to the Pirates in September of 1897, only to have Brooklyn make a better offer to acquire him. There was a case brought up at the meeting of the owners on November 8th and Eagan was awarded to the Pirates. He was the starting second baseman for Pittsburgh early in the 1898 season and he would hit .328 with 14 runs scored in 19 games, but on June 3rd he was replaced by newly acquired Tom O’Brien. Eagan never played in the majors again. Five days after the O’Brien trade, he was sold to Louisville, a team managed by Fred Clarke, who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career for the Pirates as a player and manager. Clarke denied the deal once he found out Eagan was injured during his last game, so he was sent home. He ended up signing with Syracuse of the Eastern League ten days later and was back on the field by June 19th. He played two more years in the minors before he retired from baseball.