The Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 1st, Pirates Trade Pitching for Power

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1921, the Pirates traded pitcher Elmer Ponder to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Dave Robertson. Ponder was 28 years old at the time of the deal, in his fourth season with the Pirates. He pitched well in 1920, posting a 2.62 ERA in 194 innings, and he was pitching well in limited time in 1921 with a 2-0, 2.19 record in 24.2 innings. Robertson was 31 years old, four years removed from his second straight National League home run title. After batting .500 in the 1917 World Series, he quit baseball for one season. Returning in 1919, Robertson had regained his power in 1920, hitting .300 with 50 extra base hits and 75 RBIs for the Cubs. In 1921 however, he was hitting .222 with no homers at the time of the deal.

After the trade, Robertson had a big second half of the season for the Pirates, batting .322 with 48 RBIs in 60 games. He was a holdout during Spring Training the following year, which earned him his release. The New York Giants signed him in late April and that season would be his last in the majors. Ponder struggled with Chicago, who would end up trading him to the Pacific Coast League after the season. He went 3-6, 4.74 in 89.1 innings for the Cubs, in what would be his last season in the majors.

The Players

Al Tate, pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He debuted in pro in 1939 at 20 years old, playing three seasons for Salt Lake City of the Class-C Pioneer League before spending the next four seasons away from the game, serving in the military during WWII. In his first season at Salt Lake City, Tate went 4-6, 3.93 in 87 innings. He was 13-10, 3.97 in 211 innings in 1940. That was followed by his best minor league season in 1941 when he went 10-13, but had a 3.38 ERA in 229 innings pitched. Tate returned to pro ball in 1946, going to Spring Training with the Pirates, signing a deal on March 15, 1946 after he impressed them in training camp. He was actually scouted while pitching during the war at Fort Benning. He was with the Pirates on Opening Day, but didn’t pitch before being optioned to the minors on April 27th. Tate went 5-12, 3.94 in 121 innings in the minors that season, split between two levels. Most of his work was done with Selma of the Class-B Southeastern League, where he had a 3.30 ERA in 1010 innings. With Double-A Birmingham of the Southern Association at the start of the year, he had a 7.20 ERA in 20 innings. He was recalled by the Pirates that September and joined the team on September 10th. He made his big league debut on the 27th, pitching the eighth inning of an 8-0 loss in Cincinnati. Tate allowed three hits and two runs in his only inning of work. Two days later, he made the start in the last game of the season, throwing a complete game against the Reds in a 3-2 loss. He spent the entire 1947 season with Albany of the Eastern League, where he went 12-10, 3.61 in 177 innings. On September 28th, he was released to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League, seemingly ending his time with the Pirates. The next year, Tate was in the Pacific Coast League, where his career came to an end after just three games. Sacramento released him back to the Pirates on April 22nd and it was said that he would be assigned to New Orleans of the Southern Association. He refused to report, which ended his pro career. He was a good hitting pitcher, who occasionally pinch-hit and played in the field, finishing with a .288 minor league average in 424 at-bats. His actual first name was Walter, but he went by his middle name (Alvin).

Frank Barrett, pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. He began his pro career in the Class-D Georgia-Florida League in 1935 at 21 years old, where he had an 8-10 record and threw 130.1 innings. He split the 1936 season between Union Springs of the Class-D Florida-Alabama League and Class-C Huntington of the Middle Atlantic League (There are clearly errors in his available stats, so I won’t share them). The next year he moved up to Mobile of the Class-B Southeastern League, where he went 18-11, 2.43 in 237 innings. Most of 1938 was spent back in Mobile, but he also saw 19 innings with Rochester of the International League, one step below the majors. Barrett had a 2.72 ERA in 205 innings with Mobile that season. In 1939 he went 13-7, 3.10 in 215 innings for Houston of the Texas League, before joining the St Louis Cardinals ahead of his Major League debut on October 1, 1939. He pitched 1.2 innings in relief that day and allowed one run. Barrett pitched one game for the 1939 Cardinals, then spent the next five seasons trying to work his way back to the majors. During the war years, many Major League players served either in the military or had wartime jobs, leaving the quality of play from 1942-46 low. It opened jobs for players like Barrett, who otherwise may have had only a few cups of coffee in the majors. He spent the 1940-44 seasons pitching for Columbus of the American Association, where he mainly pitched in relief. He averaged 134 innings pitched for the first four years, then had a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings through early June of 1944.

Barrett returned to the majors in 1944 with the Boston Red Sox and had two decent seasons, going 12-10, 3.16 in 75 games, including his only two major league starts. He went 8-7, 3.69 in 90.1 innings to finish out the 1944 season, then had a 2.62 ERA in 86 innings in 1945. He played for the Boston Braves in the second half of the 1946 season, going 2-4, 5.09 in 35.1 innings before returning to the minors. Barrett was with the Pirates organization since the start of the 1947 season, though it took until 1950 for him to get his next (and last) big league chance. He pitched the 1947-48 seasons for Indianapolis, throwing a total of 188 innings. He moved to New Orleans of the Southern Association in 1949, where he had an 11-8, 4.65 record in 147 innings. The Pirates called him up in September of 1950 after he went 11-7, 3.38 in 144 innings with New Orleans. He made five appearances for the Pirates, allowing three runs in 3.2 innings. Barrett won 141 minor league games over 19 seasons of pro ball. He was a player/manager during his last two seasons (1951-52) in the Pirates farm system. He played his final full season (1952) all the way down at Class-D ball with Mayfield of the Kitty League. Barrett managed in the minors in 1953 and he pitched one final minor league game in 1955.

Fritz Scheeren, outfielder for the 1914-15 Pirates. He is one of 13 players from LaFayette College in Pennsylvania to make the majors, although only two of them have appeared in a game since the 1953 season, including David Bednar, who joined the Pirates in 2021. Scheeren played for LaFayette to start 1914, then joined a semi-pro team in New Bethlehem, PA during the summer. After working out with the Pirates for several days on a tryout basis, he signed a deal with them on September 11th for the remainder of the 1914 season and for the full 1915 season. He played his first game with the team as the starting right fielder on September 14, 1914. The Pirates were in fifth place with no chance of moving up in the standings, so manager Fred Clarke decided to give playing time to a handful of young players. Scheeren performed well at the plate, hitting .290 with a homer in 11 games. He played four games in center field, as well as seven games in right. The next year he made the team out of Spring Training, but he was a seldom-used backup outfielder. He played just four games with three at-bats over the first month of the seasons before being released to Youngstown of the Central League. Just two days before he was released, it was said that he was likely to get a chance to play with the team desperate for outfielder help. Instead they called up Zip Collins, who ended up playing 101 games that season. Scheeren played two seasons in the minors without returning to the majors before retiring from baseball. In college he was known as one of the best power hitters in the collegiate ranks. He was also a star football player (fullback) at LaFayette.