Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note.
On this date in 1949, the Pirates sent pitcher Kirby Higbe to the New York Giants for infielder Bobby Rhawn and pitcher Ray Poat. Higbe came to the Pirates in 1947 from the Brooklyn Dodgers, owner at the time of a 97-72 career record. He was 34 years old at the time of this Pirates/Giants deal, being used in a limited role for Pittsburgh. He had a 0-2, 13.50 in six relief appearances and one start, throwing 15.1 innings with 37 base runners allowed. Poat was 31 years old at time, in his sixth season in the majors. He didn’t have the track record Higbe had, winning just 22 games in his career. Poat had pitched just two games for the Giants in 1949, allowing six runs in 2.1 innings. Rhawn was 30 years old with 63 games of Major League experience, spread out over three seasons with the Giants. He played three infielder positions, seeing work everywhere but first base.
After the deal, Rhawn started two games at third base, pinch-hit once, then was put on waivers. His stay with Pittsburgh lasted nine days, ending when he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He played 24 games with Chicago before finishing his career in the minors. Poat started his first two games with the Pirates before moving to the bullpen. He struggled in his 11 outings, posting a 6.25 ERA in 36 innings, with 67 base runners allowed. He finished his career the next year in the minors. Higbe didn’t have to do much to make this deal a win for the Giants. He was put in their bullpen, making 37 appearances with a 3.47 ERA in 80.1 innings pitched. He pitched with New York through July of 1950, making 18 more appearances before being sent to the minors. He pitched another 3 1/2 years down on the farm before retiring.
Doug Frobel, outfielder for the 1982-85 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in late 1977 as an amateur free agent at 18 years old out of Canada. He started off slow in the minors during his first two years, then broke out in the 1980 season. During his first season in 1978, he was placed in A-Ball, where he hit .237 with two homers in 93 games. He spent half of the 1979 season in short-season ball, after beginning the year back in Low-A. Frobel hit a combined .234 with seven homers in 83 games that season. He hit .325 with 13 homers in 67 games while playing for Shelby of the South Atlantic League in 1980, earning a promotion to High-A. There he batted just .236 in 40 games, but added seven more homers. Frobel moved up to Double-A Buffalo in 1981, where he lead the team with 28 homers. In Triple-A the next year, he hit .261 with 23 homers and 21 stolen bases, playing for Portland in the Pacific Coast League. He got a September call-up that year and he hit .206 in 16 games for the Pirates. Frobel returned to the minors in 1983, where he hit .304 with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 101 games for Hawaii (PCL), earning a promotion back to Pittsburgh in mid-August. He would hit better during his second trial in the majors, batting .283 in 32 games, with an .861 OPS.
Frobel was with the Pirates on Opening Day in 1984 as their starting right fielder. He struggled mightily, with his average under .200 for more than four months of the season. For two months of the year his average was in the .130-.150 range, but the Pirates stuck with him at the Major League level for the entire season. Frobel finished with a .203 average, 12 homers and 28 RBIs in 126 games. He was with the Pirates for most of 1985 as a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter, but after a .202 average and no homers through mid-August, he was sold to the Montreal Expos. Frobel would play 12 games for the Expos in 1985 after spending time at Triple-A. He spent all of 1986 in the minors with the New York Mets, hitting .249 with 11 homers and a low walk rate for Tidewater of the International League. He made his last Major League appearance with the 1987 Cleveland Indians, playing 29 games, with just seven starts. He was with the team for about seven weeks early in the year, then returned for a brief time in mid-August. Frobel played two more seasons in the minors before retiring, splitting the 1988-89 seasons between the Expos, Chicago White Sox and a stint in Mexico. He spent part of each season back in Double-A, and he hit just .159 in 56 games during his final season. Frobel hit .213 with 17 homers, 49 RBIs, 62 runs scored and 13 steals in 227 games with the Pirates.
Fresco Thompson, second baseman for the 1925 Pirates. He played three seasons in the minors before making his big league debut in September of 1925 with the Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 21 years old in 1923. Thompson split his first season between Class-D ball and Class-A, and actually did better at the higher level. As reference, that would be like jumping from short-season ball to Double-A now. He combined to hit .303 with 38 doubles and seven triples that season. He spent the 1924 season with Omaha of the Western League, where he batted .304 with 36 doubles, 13 triples and seven homers in 166 games. The Pirates acquired his rights on December 2, 1924 in exchange for pitcher Arnie Stone and a cash sum that wasn’t released, but said to be at least $10,000. Thompson was with the Pirates during Spring Training of 1925 before being shipped to the minors on April 18th, four days after Opening Day. He was sent out with a stipulation included that the Pirates could recall him with five days notice. Before rejoining the Pirates in August of 1925, he was with Kansas City of the American Association, where he was hitting .288 with 22 triples in 113 games. Thompson returned on August 21st (exactly five days after being recalled), but he didn’t get into his first game until his 16th day back with the team. Pittsburgh was in first place at the time and had a comfortable lead with a month to go in the season. Regular second baseman Eddie Moore had moved to right field, being replaced at second base by Johnny Rawlings, who didn’t last there long. He broke his ankle after taking over the spot and Thompson moved into the second base role. He would hit .243 in 14 games with eight RBIs that September, starting just a handful of those games before Moore moved back to his old position. The Pirates won the World Series over the Washington Senators in seven games, although Thompson didn’t play in the series.
Thompson was released outright to Buffalo of the American Association on December 12, 1925. He spent the 1926 season there, hitting .330 with 26 homers. He returned to the big leagues with the New York Giants in September of 1926, then was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in the off-season. Thompson manned second base for Philadelphia for four seasons, hitting .300 with 219 RBIs and 369 runs scored in 575 games. He batted .303 with a career high 70 RBIs in 1927. The next year he received mild MVP support after hitting .284 with 34 doubles, 11 triples and 99 runs scored. His best was still yet to come. In 1929, Thompson hit .324 with 41 doubles and 115 runs scored. His final season in Philadelphia saw him hit .282 with 34 doubles in 122 games, though the 1930 season was a huge one for offense, so his numbers were mediocre that year. The Pirates almost reacquired him after the 1927 season when they were trying to trade star outfielder Kiki Cuyler. Thompson played for Brooklyn in 1931 and hit .265 in 74 games, then played a total of four games in the majors from 1932-34, spending the rest of his time in the minors, where he played until 1941. He had a 19-year career as a player in pro ball, including parts of nine seasons in the majors. Fresco (real first name was Lafayette, Fresco was his middle name) managed eight years in the minors, the first four as a player/manager. He was a .298 hitter in 669 big league games.
Jake Hewitt, left-handed pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. He joined the Pirates after first pitching for West Virginia University for two years, then spending 1894-95 playing semi-pro ball in the Pittsburgh area. Before joining the Pirates, he had a short stint with Warren of the Iron and Oil League, a local minor league in the Pittsburgh surrounding area. The Pirates approached him about a trial with the big league club on July 26th, but he had a sore leg at the time and said that he wouldn’t pitch until it was better. He made his Major League debut in relief on August 6, 1895, coming in during the seventh inning of a game that the Pirates were winning 14-1 at the time. He kept the St Louis Browns scoreless for three innings. Nine days later, after a second relief appearance, he made his first start against the Chicago Colts (Cubs). Hewitt pitched great in the first, then after thinking he struck out the first batter in the second on a full count pitch, he lost his composure. He hit the next batter, then failed to get an out on a bunt back to the mound, which was followed by a single, then an error, leading to his departure with no outs in the second inning. The local newspaper claimed that Hewitt “suffered stage fright” against the strong Chicago team. Wanting to see what they had in him, the Pirates ran Hewitt out there the very next day and he picked up a 5-2 complete game win against the same Chicago club. Despite the strong pitching performance on the second day, he never played in the majors again, finishing his pro career with three more seasons in the minors. On August 23, 1895, one week after his final big league game, Hewitt was loaned to Rochester of the Eastern League, where he had a 4.19 ERA in 58 innings over eight games, compiling just ten strikeouts. He was signed by the Pirates for 1896 and was originally going to remain in Rochester, but they switched his assignment to Grand Rapids of the Western League before the season started. Grand Rapids let him go due to poor pitching and he ended up with New Castle of the Interstate League, where he spent the rest of his pro career. Hewitt didn’t actually sign with the Pirates until August 7th, the day after his MLB debut. His initial appearance was on a trial basis, but when he showed good velocity and some strong curveballs, the Pirates released backup infielder Bill Niles and signed Hewitt. The local papers called him “Farmer Hewitt”