This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 29th, John Wehner and a 1961 Trade for Pitching

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

The Trade

On this date in 1961, the Pirates traded pitcher Tom Cheney to the Washington Senators in exchange for pitcher Tom Sturdivant. Cheney was a 26-year-old righty, in his fourth big league season, second with the Pirates. He went 2-2, 3.98 in 11 games, eight as a starter, for the 1960 Pirates. He made just one appearance in 1961 for Pittsburgh, allowing five runs without recording an out. Sturdivant was a 31-year-old righty, who spent time as a starter and reliever in the majors. He was 2-6, 4.61 for the Senators in 1961, making ten starts and five relief appearances.

After the deal, Cheney pitched five seasons for Washington, going 17-25, 3.52 in 88 games, 58 as a starter. Not many people realize that he is the single game strikeout king in Major League history, striking out 21 Baltimore Orioles batters on September 12, 1962. In one of the truly great pitching performances, he allowed just one run over 16 innings for the complete game win. Sturdivant played with the Pirates until May of 1963, when he was sold to the Detroit Tigers. He went 14-7, 3.49 for the Pirates in 219.1 innings over 65 games, 23 as a starter. With the Pirates in 1961, he was 5-2, 2.84 in 11 starts and two relief appearances, throwing 85.2 innings.

The Players

Tony McKnight, pitcher for the 2001 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick in 1995 by the Houston Astros out of high school, getting selected 22nd overall. McKnight spent his first two years in the GCL, pitching just 11.2 innings during the 1995 season, then posting a 6.66 ERA in 24.1 innings over nine appearances (six starts) in 1996. In 1997, he went 4-9, 4.68 in 115.1 innings at Quad Cities of the Midwest League. That was followed by a promotion to High-A, where he was 11-13, 4.67 in 154.1 innings in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. His breakout season was 1999 in Double-A, where he went 9-9, 2.75 in 24 starts and 160.1 innings pitched for Jackson of the Texas League. He split the 2000 season between Double-A and Triple-A, combining to go 4-10, 4.61 in 25 starts and 150.1 innings pitched. McKnight made his Major League debut for Houston on August 10, 2000. He went 4-1, 3.86 in six starts, throwing 35 innings, including a complete game in a win over the Pirates, during one of the final games at Three Rivers Stadium. The next season he was back in Triple-A until mid-June, when he got called up for three starts in which he went 1-0 4.00 in 18 innings. At the trading deadline, the Pirates sent closer Mike Williams to the Astros for McKnight, who went right into the big league rotation. In 12 starts for Pittsburgh, he went 2-6, 5.19 in 69.1 innings. He spent all of 2002 at Triple-A Nashville for the Pirates, going 11-14, 5.24 in 175.1 innings. He then finished his career with the Dodgers Triple-A team the next season, pitching just four games. In his brief big league time, he went 7-7, 4.63 in 122.1 innings.

John Wehner, utility player for the 1991-1996 and 1999-2001 Pirates. He was taken by the Pirates in the seventh round of the 1988 draft out of Indiana University. He was a local kid, born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He debuted in the New York-Penn League, where he hit .275 with 18 steals and 41 runs scored in 70 games. Wehner moved up to the Carolina League in 1989, hitting .301 with 32 doubles, 14 homers and 21 steals of Salem. He was in Double-A in 1990, playing for Harrisburg of the Eastern League, where he batted .288 with 27 doubles, 71 runs scored and 24 steals in 138 games. He was back in Double-A to start 1991, hitting .265 with 17 steals in 61 games. At Triple-A Buffalo, he hit .304 in 31 games. Wehner was up in the big leagues by mid-July of 1991, helping the Pirates to the National League East pennant with a .340 average in 37 games. He played 14 seasons in pro ball, spending only one full season (1996) in the majors. In ten of those other 13 seasons, Wehner split the year between the majors and minors. He couldn’t repeat his rookie success in 1992, hitting .179 in 55 games, seeing time at third base, first base and second base. His playing time dropped in 1993, as he hit .143 in 29 games. The 1994 season was spent almost all in the minors, where he hit .303 in 88 games. His big league time was limited to two games (one start) in mid-July. Wehner was with the Pirates for two weeks of May in 1995, then returned in mid-July until the end of the season. He batted .308 in 52 games that year, finishing with three triples and no homers or doubles. That led to his most big league time in 1996, when he played 86 games and hit .259 with career highs in runs (19), doubles (nine), homers (two) and RBIs (13).

Pittsburgh put him on waivers after the 1996 season, where he was picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Los Angeles released him in Spring Training, so he signed with the Florida Marlins for the 1997 season and picked up a World Series ring that year, while hitting .278 in 44 games, mostly coming off of the bench. The next year he played 58 games for the Marlins, hitting .227 in 88 at-bats. Wehner returned to the Pirates as a free agent in June of 1999 and stayed with the team until the 2001 season. He batted .185 in 39 games during the 1999 season, then hit .300 in 50 at-bats over 21 games in 2000. In his final big league season, he hit .196 in 53 at-bats over 41 games. Wehner batted .274 in 148 chances as a pinch-hitter. He hit the final home run at Three Rivers Stadium, one of four career homers and the only one that wasn’t hit as a pinch-hitter. For the Pirates, he hit .250 with 47 RBIs in 364 games. Wehner coached three seasons in the minors for Pittsburgh, then became a broadcaster for the team, holding that spot since 2005. He holds the record for consecutive errorless games at third base (99), tied for the honor with Jeff Cirillo.

Burgess Whitehead, second baseman for the 1946 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball with Columbus of the American Association in 1931 at 20 years old. He hit .328 in 135 games that rookie season. Whitehead played 162 games for Columbus in 1932, hitting .313 with 36 doubles and nine triples. Most of the 1933 season was spent back in Columbus, where he hit .346 in 89 games. He was with the St Louis Cardinals at the beginning of the year, but he had just seven at-bats in 12 games. Whitehead spent the entire 1934 season with the Cardinals, hitting .277 with 55 runs scored in 100 games, seeing time at second base, third base and shortstop. He played 107 games that next year and made the All-Star game. He hit .263 with 33 RBIs and 45 runs scored. After the season, he was traded to the New York Giants for two players and cash. Whitehead played 154 games in 1936 and set career highs with 99 runs scored, 176 hits, 31 doubles and 14 stolen bases. He batted .278 with four homers and 47 RBIs. That performance led to him finishing 11th in the MVP voting. He made his second All-Star appearance in 1937 when he batted .286 with 64 runs scored and a career high 52 RBIs. Whitehead led all National League second baseman in fielding percentage and  putouts in 1937, when he played 152 games at the position.

After that 1937 season, Whitehead had an appendectomy which did not go well, causing him to suffer a nervous breakdown, forcing him out of baseball for one year. When he returned in 1939, he had a sub-par season, hitting .239 in 95 games. He followed it up with a .282 average in 133 games during the 1940 campaign, but dropped down to a .228 average in 116 games in 1941. He was signed by the Pirates in 1942, but due to serving in the Army during WWII, he didn’t play with Pittsburgh until the 1946 season. That year, the 36-year-old infielder hit .220 in 55 games with five RBIs. It would be his last season in the majors. Pittsburgh released him prior to the 1947, after which he played two seasons in the minors before retiring. He was a .266 career hitter with 415 runs scored in 924 games.  All 17 home runs he hit in his career came at the Polo Grounds. Of those homers, 16 were hit as a member of the Giants, while the other was hit while he was with the Cardinals in 1934, coming off of longtime Pirates pitcher Joe Bowman.

Patsy Flaherty, pitcher for the 1900 and 1904-05 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 20 years old, playing for two teams in the Interstate League in 1896. The next year he was with the Paterson Silk Weavers of the Atlantic League, where he went 19-20, 1.89 in 343.2 innings. He was a teammate with Honus Wagner that year, before Wagner joined the Louisville Colonels of the American Association in July. Flaherty played for Paterson again in 1898 and 1899, while also seeing time with Richmond of the Atlantic League. He began his big league career in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels, as a teammate of Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, Fred Clarke and ten other players who would be traded to Pittsburgh in the off-season. He went 2-3, 2.39 in 39 innings over the last five weeks of the  1899 season. The Louisville franchise folded before the 1900 season and Flaherty joined his teammates in Pittsburgh, pitching 22 innings with a 6.14 ERA in 1900. He finished the season in the Eastern League on loan to Hartford, where he had an 11-11 record. He was traded to Syracuse of the Eastern League after the season, then pitched for Syracuse and Toronto (another Eastern League team) in 1901, posting a 15-16 record. In 1902 he was back playing in Louisville, this time with a minor league team in the American Association. He went 26-16 and threw 367 innings. His next Major League experience came with the 1903 Chicago White Sox, when he went 11-25, 3.74 in 293.2 innings, leading the American League in losses. He pitched well in five starts for Chicago in 1904 (2.09 ERA in 43 innings) before he was sold to the Pirates, who were desperate for pitching. He joined the Pirates on May 13th and practiced with the team, but didn’t make his debut until June 10th. His actual purchase date was just four days before his debut. The move paid off big time that first year, as he went 19-9, 2.05 in 242 innings from the beginning of June until the end of the season. Not only did he lead the team in wins, he also had the best ERA. It turned out to be just one magical year for Flaherty, who went 10-10, 3.50 in 1905 for a Pirates team that went 96-57 on the season. After spending all of 1906 with Columbus of the American Association, where he went 23-9 and pitched 305 innings, he was traded to the Boston Doves as part of the three-for-one deal for Ed Abbaticchio. Flaherty went 24-33 over the next two years for two bad Boston teams, throwing a total of 461 innings. He spent 1909 in the minors, returning briefly to the majors for one game with the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies and four games for Boston again in 1911. He pitched in the minors off and on until 1917, while also managing down on the farm and scouting into the 1930’s. In his nine-year big league career, he went 67-84, 3.10 in 1,302.2 innings. With the Pirates, he was 29-19, 2.85 in 451.2 innings.

Heinie Reitz, second baseman for the 1899 Pirates. He was the second baseman for the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles team of the National League that won three straight pennants from 1894-96. His 31 triples in 1894 set a Major League record at the time. He debuted in pro ball in 1890 at 23 years old, playing his first three seasons on the west coast. In 1893, he joined the Orioles as their everyday second baseman. Reitz hit .286 in 130 games, with 90 runs, 76 RBIs, 24 steals and 65 walks. In 1894, he batted .303 in 108 games, with 31 triples, 86 runs scored, 105 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. His .968 fielding percentage was the best in the National League and a single season record at second base at the time, back when Hall of Famer Bid McPhee was a dominant defensive force in baseball. McPhee would top his record in 1898 and hold the single season mark for the next 23 years. Reitz was limited to 71 games in 1895 due to a broken bone in his right shoulder. He hit .294 that season. Healthy in 1896, he helped the Orioles to a 90-39 record by batting .287 with 76 runs scored and a career best 106 RBIs. He hit .289 with 84 RBIs and 76 runs scored in 128 games during the 1897 season, while leading the league with a .962 fielding percentage at second base. After the season, he was part of a six-player trade with the Washington Senators.

Before the Pirates acquired Reitz for three players in December of 1898, he hit .303 in 132 games for the Senators that season, leading the league’s second basemen for a third time in fielding percentage, this time with a .959 mark. With Pittsburgh, his time was cut short due to injury. Reitz played just 35 games for the Pirates, hitting .263 with 16 RBIs, before a leg injury suffered while running on June 3rd ended his season early. It was thought that he wouldn’t miss significant time, but he was doing scouting for the Pirates by the end of the season. He was sold outright to Milwaukee of the American League on March 23, 1900 and never appeared in the majors again. Reitz played pro ball until 1908, seeing time with 11 different teams during the 1900-08 seasons. He finished with a .292 average in 724 big league games, with 447 runs scored and 463 RBIs. Despite 31 triples in one season, he had 65 career triples. He’s referred to know as Heinie, a popular nickname for players named Henry back then, but it appears that “Pepper” was a much more popular nickname for him during his playing days. Reitz’s father actually went by the Heinie nickname, and was in the news in May of 1899 when he was murdered for not buying drinks for two men at a saloon.