This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 23rd, Pirates Trade Roberts and Sign Holdzkom

Two former Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers born on this date who were teammates in the minors for two years, as well as one trade to recap and one transaction.

The Trade

On this date in 1956, the Pirates traded second baseman Curt Roberts and pitcher Jack McMahan to the Kansas City Athletics in exchange for second baseman Spook Jacobs. It took Jacobs eight years to make the majors after he signed his first contract. As a rookie in 1954, he hit .258 with 60 walks and 17 stolen bases in 132 games for the Philadelphia A’s. The team moved to Kansas City the next season and Jacobs spent most of the year in the minors. For the 1956 A’s, the 30-year-old Jacobs was hitting .216 with 15 walks over 32 games at the time of the deal. Roberts had a similar story to Jacobs. He made his Major League debut in 1954 and played 134 games for the Pirates that season. In 1955, he spent most of the year in the minors. At the time of the trade, the 26-year-old second baseman was hitting .177 in 31 games for Pittsburgh. McMahan was a 23-year-old rookie lefty reliever for the 1956 Pirates. He was a Rule 5 draft pick out of the Yankees system, with a 6.08 ERA in 13.1 innings of work over 11 relief appearances.

After the deal, Jacobs started 11 straight games at second base for the Pirates, but after he hit just .162 with four errors, the team decided to go in another direction. He was sent to the minors, where he would spend the rest of his career, retiring after the 1960 season. In his place, the Pirates called up a 19-year-old from the minors to make his Major League debut on July 7, 1956, and he would hang around Pittsburgh until 1972 as a player, eventually making the Hall of Fame. That teenager was Bill Mazeroski. Curt Roberts went right to the minors for the A’s and remained there until 1963, never playing another Major League game. McMahan would pitch 23 games for the A’s, nine as a starter. He pitched better than he did while he was in Pittsburgh, although he had an 0-5 record to show for it at the end of the year. Just like the other two players, his big league career ended in 1956, spending the next three seasons in the minors, where he only won six games over that time.

The Transaction

On this date in 2014, the Pirates signed right-handed pitcher John Holdzkom, who was pitching in independent ball at the time. He originally signed out of high school with the New York Mets in 2006 and he was limited to 126 innings over his first six seasons in pro ball due to injuries. He pitched briefly in the minors for the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, then in independent ball in 2013, before turning things around in 2014. After signing, Holdzkom reported to Altoona for four games, then pitched 18 times in Indianapolis, before being called up by the Pirates when the rosters expanded in September. He gave up two runs over nine innings and nine appearances, while striking out 14 batters. Holdzkom spent 2015 in the minors, missing time with an injury, then was let go in April of 2016. He pitched one minor league game for the Chicago White Sox that year, then pitched winter ball in Australia in 2018.

The Players

Ken Jungels, pitcher for the 1942 Pirates. Prior to joining the Pirates in the 1941 Rule 5 draft, Jungels had spent parts of four seasons with the Cleveland Indians. They were all brief stops with the team, as he had a total of 19 appearances (all in relief) and 35.1 innings pitched. He debuted in pro ball at 20 years old in 1936, putting up a 4.78 ERA in 162 innings for Fargo-Moorhead of the Class-D Northern League. He moved up to Class-C in 1937, pitching for Springfield of the Middle Atlantic League. Jungels had a 21-4, 3.21 record in 227 innings. That performance led to two September relief appearances for the Indians. In 1938, he moved up three levels to Milwaukee of the American Association, where he went 7-7, 4.71 in 128 innings before joining Cleveland in early August. Jungels had an 8.80 ERA in nine appearances. He ended up spending the entire 1939 season with Milwaukee, going 10-16, 4.73 in 196 innings. He was with the Indians early in 1940 for two games, then was back in Milwaukee for a 5.11 ERA in 132 innings. Jungels made six appearances over the first 4 1/2 months of the season before being sold to a minor league team in Wilkes-Barre. On September 30, 1941, he was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Pirates.

For the 1942 Pirates, he was being used in the mop-up role through the beginning of June. Jungels pitched six times, all in losses, and had a 6.59 ERA in 13.2 innings. Despite the fact he was used just six times over the first two months of the season, three of his appearances came on consecutive days in a series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. His last outing with the Pirates was also against the Dodgers. On June 2nd, he threw five innings during a 17-2 loss. That game was actually only his last game with the team as a pitcher, but five days later he was used as a pinch-runner for the third time that year. On June 10th, the Pirates sold him to Jersey City of the International League. For the 25-year-old Jungels, it marked the end of his Major League career. He finished the 1942 season with Jersey City, then pitched three games for the team at the beginning of 1943. He would begin serving in the military during WWII in 1943, staying there until he returned to baseball for the 1946 season. He ended up playing four more seasons in the minors before retiring after 1949 season, which was spent pitching Class-C ball for Ogdensburg of the Border League. He played Triple-A level ball the previous three years, seeing time with Jersey City, as well as Minneapolis and Louisville of the American Association. Jungels finished his five-season Major League career with a perfect 1-0 record. In 25 appearances, he had a 6.80 ERA in 49 innings.

Bill Harris, pitcher for the 1931-34 Pirates. He had a pro baseball playing career that stretched over 25 seasons, beginning in 1921 and ending in 1945. Harris would win a total of 281 games in his career, but very little of his time was actually spent in the majors. He had a 2.22 ERA in 69 innings with Charlotte of the South Atlantic League in his first pro season, then moved down one level to the Class-C Piedmont League, where he had a 24-15, 2.69 record in 321 innings for Winston-Salem. During the 1923-24 seasons, he pitched a total of 25 games for the Cincinnati Reds, with most of that time coming during the first year when he had a 5.17 ERA in 69.2 innings. It would then take another seven years before he pitched in the majors again, returning with the 1931 Pirates. Harris spent most of 1924 with Minneapolis of the American Association, where he had a 5.05 ERA in 219 innings. In 1925 he went 18-15, 4.45 in 263 innings, then he split the 1926 season between Minneapolis and Asheville of the South Atlantic League. He struggled at the upper level, before putting up a 3.74 ERA in 195 innings with Asheville. In 1927, he had a rough go in Asheville, and ended up pitching most of the year with Portsmouth of the Virginia League, which was also considered to be a Class-B level. In 202 innings that year, he had a 4.10 ERA.

Despite this long stretch in the minors, Harris actually had a fairly impressive season right in the middle of it, going 25-9, 3.36 in 257 innings in 1928, while pitching back in Asheville. He moved up to the Texas League in 1929 and had an 8-20 record (ERA isn’t available) in 219 innings. The 1930 season was spent with Waco (Texas League) where he went 15-13, 4.14 in 248 innings. Harris had an 11-21 record in the Texas League in 1931, where his 2.87 ERA was near league average, but he played most of the year for an anemic offensive club in Galveston. His team once went four straight starts of his without scoring a run. He was purchased from Forth Worth (Texas League) in exchange for Andy Bednar and Larry Cox, plus cash, on September 1st and he joined the Pirates two days later. He had an impressive debut, throwing a five-hit shutout over the Cincinnati Reds. Harris followed that up with two more complete games, allowing one run in each game, although he took the loss in his third outing.

In 1932, Harris started 11 games through the end of June, before being moved into a bullpen role that saw him get occasional starts. At one stretch during August, the Pirates went through a rough patch as a team and he ended up pitching ten times (twice as a starter) over 24 days. All of those appearances came during losses. He finished the year with a 10-9, 3.64 record in 168 innings. In 1933, Harris was strictly a reliever, throwing a total of 58.2 innings over 31 outings, while posting a 3.22 ERA. His role was great diminished the last two months of the season, making a total of six appearances over that time, with the last four coming during doubleheaders. In fact, 18 of his games pitched that year came on days that the Pirates played a doubleheader. By 1934, Harris was strictly in a mop-up role, pitching just 11 times all season for the Pirates, plus he was sent to the minors for part of the year. He made one late season start and pitched a total of 19 innings with Pittsburgh, posting a 6.63 ERA. The Pirates released him unconditionally to Buffalo of the American Association on Christmas day in 1934. He spent the next four seasons in Buffalo, where he won a total of 50 games and average 212 innings pitched per season. In 1938, he got his last shot at the majors, going to the Boston Red Sox, who gave him 11 starts over the last two months of the season.

From 1939 through 1943, Harris pitched with Jersey City of the International League, the last two years with Ken Jungels, who shares his birthday (see above). Harris won a total of 38 games during the 1939-41 seasons, with an ERA between 2.62 and 2.80 each year. He started to see declining work in 1942 at 42 years old and by 1944 he was the pitcher-manager for Class-D Erie of the PONY League. He ended up managing for six seasons in the minors. He pitched over 3,800 innings of pro ball, including 12 years with 200+ innings. Harris pitched a total of 83 games with the Pirates, 22 as a starter, with a 16-15, 3.45 record in 276.2 innings. His big league career saw him go 24-22, 3.92 in 433.2 innings. His nickname in the minors was “Black Bill”, but right before joining the Pirates he was being called “Hard Luck Harris” because of his poor run support that season.