This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 20th, Mackowiak, Varsho and a Trade with the Phillies

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1918, the Pirates traded pitcher Elmer Jacobs to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Erskine Mayer. Erskine Mayer was a 28-year-old righty, in his seventh season in the majors, all spent with Philadelphia. He had a 76-61, 2.81 career record with the Phillies. At the time of the trade, he was 7-4, 3.12 in 13 starts. Jacobs had a 3.03 ERA in 403.2 innings with the Pirates, though his record stood at 12-30 at the time of the deal because the 1917 Pirates were one of the worst teams in franchise history. The 25-year-old righty began his Major League career with the 1914 Phillies, pitching 14 games there prior to being sold to the Pirates.

After the deal, Mayer pitched great for the 1918 Pirates, going 9-3, 2.26 in 123.1 innings. He had his share of troubles in 1919, with a 4.48 ERA in 88.1 innings. The Pirates put him on waivers in August of 1919, where he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox, the team that threw the 1919 World Series months later. Jacobs had a similar tale as Mayer after the deal, although he pitched in the majors off-and-on until 1927, outlasting Mayer by eight years in the majors. Jacobs pitched well in 1918, then went 6-10, 3.85 for the 1919 Phillies before they dealt him to the St Louis Cardinals, just weeks before the Pirates gave up on Mayer.

The Players

Rob Mackowiak, utility player for the 2001-05 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as a 53rd round draft pick in 1996 out of South Suburban College, one year after getting picked in the 30th round by the Cincinnati Reds. That’s a school that has produced just three MLB players through the draft. Mackowiak had a slow climb through the minors, spending time at all six levels, playing parts of two seasons at both High-A and Double-A. He was drafted as a shortstop, but barely played the position in pro ball. He went to the Gulf Coast League in 1996, where he hit .267 in 27 games. He moved up to the New York-Penn League in 1997 and hit .286 in 61 games, with his first career homer. Mackowiak split the 1998 season between the two full-season A-Ball teams, combining to hit .268 with 28 doubles, six triples and four homers in 111 games. The 1999 season was split between High-A and Double-A. He hit .286 with ten homers, 57 RBIs and 72 runs scored in 127 games. His best season was 2000, playing for Altoona, where he hit .297 with 13 homers, 87 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. He played just 32 games in Triple-A in 2001 before making it to the majors for the first time. Mackowiak made his debut on May 19, 2001. He played 83 games his rookie season, getting starts at both corner outfield spots and second base. He also played third base and first base off of the bench. He batted .266 with 15 doubles and four homers. In 2002, he started 20+ games at three different positions, right field, center fielder and third base. Mackowiak hit .244 with 16 homers, 48 RBIs and 57 runs scored in 136 games that year. He was playing the super utility role in 2003 until June when his average dropped to .183, earning him a demotion to Triple-A until late August. He finished the year on a hot streak, batting .270 for the entire season.

Mackowiak bounced back in 2004 to have his best career season, setting highs with 17 homers, 75 RBIs and 155 games played. He started 51 games at third base and 71 games in the outfield split between all three spots. The 2005 season saw him hit .272 in 142 games, his highest average while with Pittsburgh. He also added second base back into his playing time, getting 17 starts there. After the season, the Pirates traded him to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Damaso Marte. Mackowiak was used almost exclusively as an outfielder in 2006, hitting .290 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 112 games (63 starts). He split the 2007 season between the White Sox and San Diego Padres, combining to hit .263 with six homers and 38 RBIs in 113 games, seeing his most time in left field. He signed a free agent deal with the Washington Nationals for 2008, but he was released in June after hitting .132 in 38 games. Mackowiak never played in the majors again. He finished his career in 2009 in the minors, spending time with the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets. With the Pirates, he played 593 games, hitting .258 with 52 homers and 221 RBIs. In his eight-year career, he hit .259 with 64 homers, 286 RBIs and 307 runs scored in 856 games.

Gary Varsho, outfielder for the Pirates in 1991-92 and 1994. He was a fifth round draft pick in 1982 by the Chicago Cubs out of the University of Wisconsin. Varsho spent 6 1/2 seasons in the minors before making his big league debut in in July of 1988. Despite that long journey, he begin in Low-A ball and moved up one level each of the next two seasons. He hit .251 with 40 RBIs, 30 steals and 49 walks in 76 games in 1982. In High-A in 1983, he hit .263 with 32 extra-base hits and 46 steals in 131 games. In his first year in Double-A in 1984, Varsho batted .261 in 128 games, with 65 runs scored, 50 RBIs and 27 steals. He repeated the level in 1985 and he hit just .246, while watching his OPS drop 76 points. He stole 40 bases in 48 attempts. That down year in offense led to him spending a third full season at the level, where he batted .266 with 36 extra-base hits and 45 steals. Varsho moved up to Triple-A in 1987 and he hit .302 with 41 extra-base hits, 87 runs scored and 37 steals. He was hitting .278 with 25 extra-base hits in 1988 when the Cubs finally gave him his first shot at the majors. He would split each of his first three seasons in the majors jumping between Triple-A and Chicago. Varsho hit .276 in 46 games his first year, though he started just 11 contests. He also saw more bench time with the Cubs in 1989, batting 91 times in 61 games, while hitting just .184 with a .496 OPS. In 1990, he hit .250 in 46 games, batting just 49 times. He made one start all year. In three years with the Cubs, he hit .231 in 153 games, with no homers and 12 RBIs.

At the end of Spring Training in 1991, the Pirates acquired Varsho in exchange for outfielder Steve Carter. He would spend the entire 1991 season with the Pirates, getting the majority of his games in as a pinch-hitter, although he hit just .220 in that role. On the year, the left-handed hitting Varsho batted .273 with four homers, 23 runs scored and 23 RBIs in 99 games. In 1992, he started just 27 of the 103 games he played, once again getting a lot of pinch-hitting chances with limited success (.236). For the season, he batted .222, with four homers, 22 runs and 22 RBIs. Varsho was put on waivers after the season, where he was picked up by the Cincinnati Reds. After one season in Cincinnati in which he hit .232 in 77 games, he was released, re-signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent. He played 67 games in 1994, nine as a starter, hitting .256 with five RBIs. Varsho became a free agent after the season and finished his playing career in Philadelphia the next year, hitting .252 in 72 games. In eight seasons in the majors, he hit .244 with ten homers and 84 RBIs. He only stole 27 bases in the majors, compared to 259 steals in the minors. Despite the low total, he had a high success rate, going 27-for-32. He took up a managing position in the Phillies minor league system before moving up to the majors as a coach. In 2004, he managed the last two games of the season for the Phillies. He was then the Pirates bench coach from 2007 until 2010. He became a scout for the Los Angeles Angels, before returning to the Pirates as a pro scout in 2016, which is still his current position.

Clem Koshorek, infielder for the 1952-53 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1946 at 20 years old, spending six seasons in their minor league system before being picked up by the Pirates in the 1951 Rule 5 draft. He was a light-hitting shortstop, who debuted with Class-D Jamestown of the PONY League, where he hit .299 with 63 walks and 107 runs scored in 117 games. He moved up to A-Ball in 1947 and he hit .262 in 82 games for Williamsport of the Eastern League. Koshorek hit just .222 in 77 games for Charleston of the South Atlantic League in 1948, then spent 2 1/2 years playing for Flint of the Central League. He hit .297 in 30 games in 1948, then batted .273 with 55 walks, 84 runs and 39 steals in 139 games in 1949. Koshorek hit .277 with 27 extra-base hits in 123 games in 1950. He played for Little Rock of the Southern Association in 1951, where he hit .261 with three homers in 153 games, leading to him joining the Pirates. Koshorek was the starting shortstop through the first day of June for the 1952 Pirates, until he missed the next three weeks due to an injured right toe, which occurred while sliding. When he returned, he went through stretches of starting at second base, then third base, then back to second. He finished the year batting .261 with no homers, 15 RBIs and 27 runs scored in 98 games, 81 of them as a starter. In 1953, he would get just one at-bat for the Pirates, a strikeout as a pinch-hitter on Opening Day before being sent to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit just .176 in 26 games. He was playing with Toronto of the International League in July when he broke his leg, which ended his season. On October 6, 1953 he was sold to New Orleans of the Southern Association. He would go on to play the last six seasons of his career in the minors, the final year as a player/manager. As he got older, Koshorek dropped down the minor league system, going from Triple-A in 1954-55, to Double-A in 1955-57, to A-Ball in 1958-59, the Class-D to end his career. Koshorek was the smallest Major Leaguer at the time, listed at 5’4″, 165 pounds. His defense was considered to be above Major League average at shortstop, with good range.

Bill Clemensen, pitcher for the Pirates in 1939, 1941 and 1946. He came without invitation to the Pirates Spring Training in 1937 at 17 years old and impressed the team enough that they signed him and sent him to the minors. He drew comparisons to Bob Feller at the time, though Feller had just one partial season in the majors when that happened and his young age likely had more to do with the comparison. Clemensen pitched two full seasons down on the farm before spending the 1939 season with the Pirates. He played for Class-C Hutchinson of the Western Association in 1937, where he went 16-10, 3.67 in 211 innings, with 122 walks. In 1938 he was 8-10, 3.96 in 141 innings for Gadsden of the Class-B Southeastern League. Clemensen was a mop-up pitcher all year for the 1939 Pirates, making 12 appearances with the first 11 all being in relief during one-sided Pirates losses. Pittsburgh let him start game one of a doubleheader on the last day of the season. Clemensen picked up the loss that day, allowing seven runs in 6.1 innings. The Pirates sent him to Syracuse of the International League for 1940, where he pitched just 65 innings all season, while posting a 4.85 ERA. In 1941, he pitched 101 innings in the minors, splitting the year between Albany of the Eastern League and St Paul of the American Association. He was a September call-up by the Pirates that year, getting into two games before the year ended. On the last day of the season, he threw a 3-2 complete game win over the Cincinnati Reds. Clemensen looked to be ready for a full-time spot in the majors in 1942, but he was inducted into the Army to serve during WWII. He missed four seasons of pro ball before returning to the Pirates in 1946. He pitched two scoreless innings early in the season for the Pirates in 1946, before returning to the minors, where he stayed until his retirement during the 1947 season. The Pirates sold him to Columbus of the American Association on April 24, 1946, ending his time with the team. He was 8-11, 4.53 in 155 innings for Columbus in 1946, then pitched his final 16 pro games for Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League in 1947.

Ed Warner, pitcher for the 1912 Pirates. He attended Brown University, a popular school for Major Leaguers prior to WWII, with 36 former big league players before the war. Only former Pirates player Bill Almon has made it to the majors since then. The Pirates signed Warner right out of college with no minor league experience. His signing was first announced on June 21, 1912, when he was still pitching college ball. The Pirates also signed his teammate at the same time, fellow pitcher Joe Conzelman, who didn’t debut in the majors until 1913. Warner made his Major League debut on July 2, 1912, pitching the ninth inning of a 9-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. He was described as having a wondrous fastball and a good changeup (then called a slowball), although he was wild at times. He threw from the left side with “free arm movement” and a “puzzling crossfire” delivery. The Pirates gave him three starts that year, two in July and one in early August. In his second start, Warner threw five scoreless innings before allowing six runs in the sixth inning. In his last start, he threw a 3-0 shutout against the Braves, allowing 11 base runners in the game. It was said in The Pittsburgh Press that he was considered to be “the best young southpaw who has broken into the National League in a long time”. He threw a total of 11 games, pitching 45 innings with a 1-1, 3.60 record. He was doing well until his last two outings on August 22nd and 26th, when he allowed a total of seven earned runs in 7.2 innings. He didn’t pitch in any of the final 35 games of the season. On December 16, 1912, Pittsburgh sold him to Columbus of the American Association, reportedly as part of their deal to acquire Wilbur Cooper earlier in the year. The Pirates said that he needed more experience before he would be ready for the majors, while his critics with the local papers said that he could only go 5-6 innings before he started to get tired. Warner decided to retire from baseball, rather than not play in the Major Leagues. He quickly became a successful business man and never returned to the game.