This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: An Early Home Run Champ and the Pirates Sign a Hall of Famer

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one transaction of note.

The Transaction

On this date in 1892, the Pirates signed Joe Kelley, a 20-year-old minor league outfielder with 12 games of big league experience, all coming during the previous season with the Boston Beaneaters (Braves). Pittsburgh put Kelley in center field, where he would play 56 games before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles for star outfielder George Van Haltren and cash. While they were getting the current star in the deal, the .239 hitter they gave up, turned into a .317 career hitter with a Hall of Fame plaque. Kelley had a top ten OPS every season from 1893-98, scoring an average of 127 runs and driving in an average of 108 runs per season during that six-year stretch. Van Haltren was part of three bad trades involving the Pirates, the first before he played his first big league game.

The Players

Nyjer Morgan, outfielder for the 2007-09 Pirates. He was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 33rd round of the 2002 amateur draft out of Walla Walla Community College. Four years earlier, he turned down the Colorado Rockies when they drafted in the 43rd round out of high school in Canada. As a late round pick, he worked his way through the Pirates system, hitting nearly .300 along the way while stealing 234 bases in 513 games. Morgan hit just six homers in 2,287 plate appearances in the Pirates system. He debuted in pro ball the year after he was drafted, playing for Williamsport of the New York-Penn League, where he hit .343 with 49 runs scored and 26 steals, though he was thrown out 17 times attempting to steal. He moved up to Low-A the next year and hit .255 in 134 games, with 83 runs scored, 53 walks and 55 steals, improving his stolen base rate greatly with just 16 caught stealing. He was limited to 60 games in 2005 at High-A Lynchburg, where he hit .286 with 24 steals. In 2006, Morgan split the season between Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona, combining to hit .304 with 82 runs scored and 59 steals in 81 attempts. He played in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league after the season and hit .294 with 20 steals in 32 games. His missed time again in 2007 due to an injury, batting .305 with 26 steals in 48 games, mostly spent at Triple-A.

Morgan was called up to the majors for the first time in September of 2007, starting 25 games for Pittsburgh, finishing with a .299 average and seven steals. He made up for some of that missed time by playing in the Arizona Fall League after the season. He made the 2008 Opening Day roster and hit poorly through early May before being sent to the minors. He returned briefly in June, before coming back for good in mid-August. On August 19th, his batting average was .130 after an 0-for-4 day. By the end of the season, he had it up to .294, partially due to eight multi-hit games over a ten-game stretch. Morgan was the Opening Day left fielder in 2009, hitting .277 in 72 games through the end of June. He was traded to the Washington Nationals on June 30, 2009, along with Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge. Morgan played in Washington until the end of 2010, hitting .280 with 58 steals (82 attempts) and 95 runs scored in 185 games. He moved on to Milwaukee, where he had a strong 2011 season, batting .304 with a .778 OPS in 119 games. That was followed by a very poor 2012 season in which he had 16 RBIs and just 12 steals in 122 games. He spent 2013 in Japan, then played briefly for the 2014 Cleveland Indians, hitting .341 in 15 games. He played in Korea in 2015, then Mexico in 2016-17, both summer and winter ball during that time, before retiring. Morgan led the National League in caught stealing in both 2009 and 2010, then cut down his running, attempting just 37 steals over his final three seasons. He finished as a .282 hitter in 598 big league games, with 12 homers and 120 steals.

Sean Casey, first baseman for the 2006 Pirates. He had a 12-season Major League career, spent mostly with the Cincinnati Reds, that included a four-month stop with the Pirates during the 2006 season. Casey was a second round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1995 out of the University of Richmond. He went to the New York-Penn League his first season and hit .329 with 18 doubles in 55 games. He skipped to High-A in 1996, where he hit .331 in 92 games, with 31 doubles and 12 homers. He spent the majority of 1997 in Double-A, hitting .386 with 19 doubles, ten homers and 66 RBIs in 62 games for Akron. He moved up to Triple-A for 20 games and hit .361 with seven doubles and five homers. Casey finished the year in the majors, playing six games for the Indians. In Spring Training of 1998, Cleveland traded him to the Reds even up for pitcher Dave Burba. Casey played 96 games for Cincinnati that year, hitting .272 with 21 doubles, seven homers and 43 walks. He became the full-time first baseman during the 1998 season, then played 151 games in 1999. He hit .332 with 103 runs scored, 42 doubles, 25 homers, 99 RBIs and a career best .938 OPS. He was an All-Star for the first of three times and received MVP support for the only time in his career, finishing 14th in the voting.

Casey batted .315 with 33 doubles and 20 homers in 133 games in 2000. He made his second All-Star appearance in 2001 when he batted .310 with 40 doubles, 13 homers and 89 RBIs. During the 2002 season, Casey saw his average drop down to .261 in 120 games, with six homers. He missed time twice that year due to a shoulder injury. Healthy in 2003, he hit .291 with 80 RBIs in 147 games. He had his third All-Star season in 2004 when he hit .324 with 101 runs scored,  24 homers, 99 RBIs and a career best 44 doubles. He batted .312 in 2005, but saw a significant power drop, with his slugging percentage going down 111 points. Pittsburgh acquired him on December 8, 2005 in exchange for pitcher Dave Williams. Casey played 59 games for the Pirates, hitting .296 with three homers and 29 RBIs, prior to being traded to the Detroit Tigers for minor league pitcher Brian Rogers. He missed 38 games while in Pittsburgh due to a back injury caused by a collision at first base with John Mabry of the St Louis Cardinals. After the deal, Casey hit .245 with five homers in 53 games with the Tigers in 2006. He batted .296 with 30 doubles in 143 games in 2007, but he hit just four homers all year. He signed a free agent deal with the Boston Red Sox for the 2008 season, then hit .322 in 69 games, while failing to connect on a homer. Casey was a career .302 hitter in 1,405 games, with 130 homers and 735 RBIs. He batted over .300 six times.

Tony Armas, outfielder for the 1976 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates at 17 years old as an amateur free agent in 1971 out of Venezuela. He batted just .230 with one homer in 74 games during his rookie season. He was in A-Ball the next year, where he hit .266 with nine homers in 117 games, though a low walk rate left him with a .306 OBP. In 1973, Armas batted .301 with 11 homers in 84 games for Double-A Sherbrooke of the Eastern League. The Pirates switched Eastern League affiliate in 1974 and he hit .277 with 26 doubles, 15 homers and 81 RBIs in 137 games for Thetford Mines. Armas made it to Triple-A by age 21, hitting .300 with 28 doubles and 12 homers in 128 games during that 1975 season. He repeated the level the next year and topped twenty homers (21) for the first time, though his average dropped down to .235 with 120 strikeouts.  Armas was called up by the Pirates in September, getting into four games before the year was over. He was then traded to the Oakland A’s on March 15, 1977 in a nine-player deal that brought Phil Garner back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates won the World Series two years later with Garner, but Armas had some big seasons in his career, first in Oakland and then in Boston. Twice he led the league in homers and three times he drove in over 100 runs. He didn’t fully break out until the 1980 season. He hit .240 with 13 homers in 118 games in 1977. He played 91 games in 1978, batting .213 with just two homers. In 1979, Armas hit .248 with 11 homers in 80 games. Finally in 1980, the bat came around. He hit .279 with 35 homers, 109 RBIs and 87 runs scored in 158 games. That performance earned him a 12th place finish in the MVP voting. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he led the American League with 22 homers, while batting .261 with 76 RBIs in 109 games. He finished fourth in the MVP voting and made his first All-Star game.

In 1982, Armas hit .233 with 28 homers and 89 RBIs in 138 games. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox after the season in a deal that was partially made to open up a spot at third base for Wade Boggs, by sending Carney Lansford to the A’s. That drop in average in 1982 was followed up by a low .218 average (.254 OBP)  in 145 games in 1983, but it came with 36 homers, 107 RBIs and 77 runs scored. He had his best season in 1984 when he hit .268 and led the league with 43 homers, 123 RBIs and 339 total bases. He also set career highs with 107 runs scored and 29 doubles. He made his second (and final) All-Star appearance, he won his only Silver Slugger award, and he finished seventh in the MVP voting. Armas dropped off quickly from his peak season. He hit .265 with 23 homers and 64 RBIs in 1985, missing time due to a calf injury in the middle of the season. He hit .264 in 121 games in 1986, watching his home run total drop to 11 on the season. He signed a free agent deal with the California Angels and spent his final three big league seasons there, hitting .258 with 27 homers and 88 RBIs in 208 games. His work was limited during that time due to bad knees that caused him to retire at 35 years old, though he played some winter ball in Venezuela before finally hanging up his cleats. Armas finished his career with a .242 average in 1,432 games, with 251 homers and 815 RBIs over 14 seasons. His son Tony Armas Jr. played for the 2007 Pirates. His brother Marcos Armas played for the 1993 Oakland A’s.

Fred Carroll, catcher/outfielder for the 1885-89 Alleghenys and the 1891 Pirates. He was a strong hitting catcher during an era where most backstops weren’t expected to contribute with their bat. The ability to catch day in and day out with inferior equipment was valued at the position. Carroll began his pro career at age 15 in 1880, playing in his home state for San Francisco of the California League. Before making his Major League debut, his only pro experience outside of California was 46 games in 1883 for Reading of the Interstate League, where he put up a .309 batting average. He began his big league career as a teenager with the 1884 Columbus Buckeyes of the American Association, debuting two months before his 20th birthday. He hit .278 with six homers and led all catchers in fielding percentage. Before the 1885 season, the Columbus franchise folded and most of the team’s, including Carroll, were purchased by the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He had an average first season in Pittsburgh, hitting .268 with 30 RBIs and 45 runs scored in 71 games. He caught 60 games that season. He then followed it up with a strong 1886 campaign, playing a career high 122 games. He hit .288 with 64 RBIs and 92 runs scored, while catching 70 times and also putting in some time at first base.

The Pittsburgh franchise moved from the American Association to the National League in 1887 and Carroll was the top hitter on the team during their first year in the new league, batting .328 with a team leading six homers and 54 RBIs. He caught just 40 times that year, seeing more action in the outfield. His numbers saw a dip in 1888, with a .248 average and 15 extra-base hits in 97 games, but the following season was a big offensive year for him. He only played about half of his games behind the plate because the team had a strong defensive catcher in Doggie Miller, so they moved Carroll around to keep his bat in the lineup. The team also liked to pair catchers up with certain pitchers at this time, so the two always worked together. During that 1889 season, Carroll hit .330 with 85 walks and 80 runs scored. He lead the league with a .486 OBP and with his .970 OPS. That OPS is the highest in team history for a catcher and it ranks 25th in team history.

When the Player’s League formed in 1890, Carroll was one of numerous Alleghenys to jump to the new league, playing for the Pittsburgh Burghers. He batted .298 in 111 games, with 95 runs scored, 71 RBIs and 75 walks. The league folded after one season and most of the players returned to their old teams in 1891, which in the case of Pittsburgh was actually a consolidated club between the owners/players of the NL and PL clubs. The new club became a stronger team than their 1889 version by signing some star players after the PL breakup. The better team also meant less time for Carroll, who saw his batting average drop down to .218 in 91 games, in what would be his last season in the majors. He played minor league baseball until 1895, briefly returning in 1898 for one last game. His first two years back in the minors were spent in California, but he played for Grand Rapids of the Western League in 1894 and had a huge season, batting .389 with 51 doubles, 23 triples and 22 homers in 130 games. He hit 58 doubles and 21 homers during the 1895 season, mostly spent with Grand Rapids. He was a .281 hitter in 574 games for the Pirates/Alleghenys, scoring 405 runs and driving in 295 runs. For nine years, he was the franchise’s career home run leader (19), until passed in 1896 by Hall of Famer Jake Beckley.

Ed Beecher, outfielder for the 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He was in his fifth season of minor league ball in 1887, playing for Hartford of the Eastern League, when he was signed by the Alleghenys in late June. His minor league stats are incomplete, dating back to a brief stint with Trenton of the Interstate Association in 1883 at 23 years old, following by playing for a team from Hartford of the Connecticut State League in 1884. The next year he played with Hartford in a different league, along with seeing time with Bridgeport in the Eastern League and the Southern New England League. Beecher hit .239 with 15 extra-base hits in 76 games that season. He was with Bridgeport of the Eastern League for most of 1886, hitting .236 with ten extra-base hits in 55 games. His results with Hartford before joining Pittsburgh showed that he was in the middle of a breakout season. He’s credited with a .444 average, 24 steals and 25 extra-base hits in 40 games that year, and according to the report of his signing, he had an 18-game hitting streak active at the time. He was signed by Pittsburgh president William Nimick on June 23rd, for what was said to be a small purchase price from Hartford, but it came with a strong salary for Beecher, who debuted with the Alleghenys five days later.  Nimick was looking to add 2-3 strong bats to his lineup so he went on a scouting trip out east, though Beecher was the only player that he signed. Beecher was the starting left fielder for Hartford, but he played all three outfield positions for Pittsburgh, hitting .243 with 22 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 41 games. The following year he was back in the minors with a team from Wilkes-Barre, where he played through part of 1889. He was back in the National League in 1889 with Washington Nationals, where he hit .296 with 30 RBIs in 42 games. Beecher had a big 1890 season playing for the Buffalo Bisons of the Player’s League, hitting .297 with 90 RBIs in 126 games, although he was horrendous on defense, setting an all-time Major League record for outfielders with 55 errors. When the PL folded after one season, Beecher moved on to the American Association, where he played his last season in the majors in 1891, splitting the year between the Washington Statesmen and Philadelphia Athletics. He hit .235 in 74 games, with 24 steals and 44 runs scored. Back in the minors in 1892, he played for three different teams in the Eastern League that year. After two years out of pro ball, he played three more games in 1895 before retiring.

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