Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. Before we get into the former players, current shortstop Cole Tucker turns 25 years old today. He was a 2014 first round pick, who has played parts of the last three seasons with the Pirates.
Edinson Volquez, pitcher for the 2014 Pirates. He was signed at 18 years old out of the Dominican Republic by the Texas Rangers in October of 2001. He debuted in the U.S. in 2003, pitching in the Arizona Summer League, where he 4.00 ERA in 27 innings. Volquez split the 2004 season between Low-A and High-A, combining to go 8-5, 3.82 in 127.1 innings. The Rangers had him in the majors by late August of 2005 after he put up a 4.10 ERA in 127.1 innings over three levels of the minors. In his first big league trial, he 14.21 ERA in 12.1 innings over three starts and three relief appearances. Volquez made 21 starts in Triple-A in 2006, posting a 3.21 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He went 1-6, 7.29 in eight starts with the Rangers. In 2007, he made 26 minor league starts and had a 3.67 ERA in 144.2 innings. In his big league time, he had a 4.50 ERA in 34 innings over six starts. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds after the season in a two-for-one deal for Josh Hamilton. The trade worked out great for Volquez, who went 17-6, 3.21 in 196 innings, making his only All-Star appearance. However, the next three years were limited to poor performances over 41 starts total, as he missed time with Tommy John surgery and a 50-game PED suspension. He was part of a four-for-one deal, going to the San Diego Padres before the 2012 season. Volquez 11-11, 4.14 in 182.2 innings during his first season in San Diego. He was released in late August during his second season after going 9-10, 6.01 in 27 starts and 142.1 innings. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the final five weeks of the season and had a 4.18 ERA in 28 innings.
Volquez signed a one-year contract with the Pirates for the 2014 season. That year he went 13-7, 3.04 in 192.2 innings. He started the Wild Card game against the San Francisco Giants and allowed five runs over five innings. He signed with the Kansas City Royals for 2015 and went 13-9, 3.55 in 200.1 innings. He made five starts during the postseason, helping the Royals to their second World Series title. His numbers took a hit in 2016, with a 10-11, 5.37 record in 189.1 innings, leading the American league in earned runs allowed. He signed a two-year free agent deal with the Miami Marlins for 2017-18, but he was limited to a 4-8, 4.19 record in 92.1 innings over 17 starts during that time. Volquez missed the entire 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery, then pitched a total of 24 innings in 2019 between the majors and minors while with the Rangers. He signed a minor league deal with the Rangers for the 2020 season and ended up pitching seven games in relief, allowing four runs in 5.2 innings. He did not sign anywhere for 2021. Volquez played 15 seasons in the majors, putting together a 95-89, 4.45 record in 273 starts and 21 relief appearances, pitching a total of 1,546.1 innings.
Moises Alou, outfielder for the 1990 Pirates. He was a first round pick, taken second overall in the January 1986 amateur draft out of Canada College in California. He debuted with Watertown of the New York-Penn League at 19 years old in 1986, hitting .239 with 23 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases in 69 games. Injuries limited him to 43 games in 1987 and he hit just .208 with 12 extra-base hits. In 1988, Alou played for Augusta of the South Atlantic League, where he batted .313 with 35 extra-base hits, 24 steals and 51 walks in 105 games. By the end of the 1989 season, he was considered a top prospect in the minors. That year he hit .298 with 17 homers and 20 steals, splitting the year between High-A and Double-A. He began 1990 back in Double-A, but it didn’t last long, making it to Triple-A after a month. Alou hit .273 with five homers in 75 games at Triple-A before getting the call to the majors in late July. He played two games for the Pirates, going 1-for-5 while playing left field. The Pirates sent him to the Montreal Expos on August 16, 1990 as the player to be named later in a trade made eight days earlier that brought Zane Smith back to Pittsburgh. The move helped the team short-term, but Alou was still a productive Major Leaguer long after Smith was gone.
Alou hit .200 in 14 games for the Expos in 1990, then missed the entire 1991 season due to a shoulder injury. He batted .282 with nine homers and 16 steals in 1991, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. In 1993, he hit .286 with 18 homers, 17 steals and 85 RBIs. His 1994 season was one of the best of his career and it came during a strike-shortened campaign. He batted .339 in 107 games, with 22 homers and 78 RBIs. The led to his first All-Star appearance, a Silver Slugger award and a third place finish in the MVP voting. In 1995, he missed a bit of time due to injury again, but he still played 93 games, hitting .273 with 14 homers. The 1996 season saw Alou hit .281 with 21 homers and 96 RBIs. He became a free agent and signed with the Florida Marlins after the season. He hit .292 with 23 homers and 115 RBIs in 1997, helping the Marlins to their first World Series title. He was even better the next year when he repeated his 1994 trifecta of an All-Star, Silver Slugger and third place MVP finish. Alou was traded to the Houston Astros after the Marlins immediately broke up their World Series champs. He batted .312 with 104 runs scored, 34 doubles, 38 homers, a career high 124 RBIs and 87 walks, which was also a career best. It was his best season according to WAR, compiling 6.2 of his career 39.9 WAR in that one year. At the peak of his game, Alou was injured in Spring Training and missed all of the 1999 season.
Alou returned to action in 2000 with the Astros, hitting .355 with 30 homers and 114 RBIs. He finished second in batting average in the league, 17 points behind Todd Helton. In 2001, Alou hit .331 with 31 doubles, 27 homers and 107 RBIs. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .275 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs in 132 games that first year. In 2003, he batted .280 with 35 doubles, 22 homers and 91 RBIs, helping the Cubs to the playoffs, where he batted .500 in their first round win, then hit .310 with two homers in the NLCS loss to the Marlins. In 2004, Alou hit .293 with 106 RBIs, setting career highs with 106 runs, 36 doubles and 39 homers. He played 155 games that year, the last time that he was healthy through a full season. Alou signed with the San Francisco Giants as a free agent for 2005 and hit .321 with 19 homers in 123 games. He played just 98 games in 2006, but he hit .301 with 22 homers and 74 RBIs. He signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets and he was limited to 102 games during the 2007-08 seasons. Alou batted .342 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs during his time in New York.
He finished his 17-year career with a .303 average, 332 homers and 1,287 RBIs in 1,942 games. He was a six-time All-Star and he won two Silver Slugger awards. Twice in his career he finished third in National League MVP voting, and he received mild MVP support in five other seasons. He comes from a huge baseball family. His dad and two uncles were long-time MLB outfielders, who once played together in the majors. His brother Luis Rojas is the current manager of the New York Mets. His cousins Mel Rojas and Jose Sosa each played in the majors.
Luke Hamlin, pitcher for the 1942 Pirates. He didn’t make the majors until the age of 28, but Hamlin would go on to have a decent nine-year career with 76 wins and a 20-win season to his credit. He began in 1928 at 22 years old, pitching for Class-D Hanover of the Blue Ridge League, where he went 12-6, 2.03 in 173 innings. The next year he moved up to Class-C Fort Smith of the Western Association, posting a 20-9, 2.50 record in 248 innings. Hamlin advanced to Class-B Evansville of the Three-I League in 1930, where he had an 18-7, 3.21 record in 213 innings. He pitched briefly for Evansville in 1931, but spent most of the season with Beaumont of the Texas League (A-Ball), where he went 14-13, 3.47 in 228 innings. He remained in Beaumont in 1932, going 20-10, 2.77 in 221 innings. The next year he was one step from the majors with Toronto of the International League, where he was 21-13, 3.48 in 261 innings. Hamlin’s first chance in the majors came with the 1933 Detroit Tigers, where he made three late season starts. He was with the team for all of 1934, going 2-3, 5.38 in five starts and 15 relief appearances, throwing a total of 75.1 innings. After spending the next two years in the minors with Milwaukee of the American Association, he returned with the 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers and would become a regular in their rotation for five seasons.
Hamlin went 11-13, 3.59 during his first season back in the majors. He made 25 starts and 14 relief appearances, throwing a total of 185.2 innings. He went 12-15, 3.68 in 237.1 innings over 30 starts and 14 relief appearances in 1938, with his record suffering due to the team being 11 games under .500 for the season. The Dodgers were 15 games over .500 the following season, their first year under Hall of Famer Leo Durocher. During that 1939 season, Hamlin went 20-13, 3.64 in 269.2 innings, leading the National League in games started (38). He had a career best ERA in 1940 when he went 9-8, 3.06 in 182.1 innings. In 1941, Hamlin went 8-8, 4.24 in 136 innings, making 20 starts. The Pirates acquired him on December 12, 1941 as part of a package in return for Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan. For Pittsburgh, Hamlin had a 4-4, 3.94 record, making 14 starts and nine relief appearances. He spent the 1943 season pitching for Toronto of the International League, posting a 21-8, 2.14 record in 224 innings, yet didn’t get a call to the majors. The Philadelphia A’s traded for him in September of 1943 and Hamlin finished his big league career with the A’s in 1944, going 6-12, 3.74 in 190 innings that year. He returned to Toronto for the next four seasons, then finished his career two years later (1950), pitching those last two seasons in the low levels of the minors, one year as a player-manager. He had a long successful minor league career, winning 213 games in 15 seasons, with four 20-win seasons, giving him a total of 286 wins in the pros, while throwing a total of 4,390 innings. While it’s an obvious apples to oranges comparison, that innings total in the majors would be the 31st highest total in baseball history. Hamlin went 73-76, 3.77 in 1,405 Major League innings.
Chet Nichols, pitcher for the 1926-27 Pirates. He got a late start to his pro career, beginning in 1925 with New Haven of the Eastern League at 27 years old. Nichols pitched 304 innings that first season, posting a 15-10, 2.93 record. The next year, he was 13-6, 2.37 through July when the Pirates gave him a shot at the majors. In late June, Nichols completed his eighth straight victory before an ankle injury during practice sidelined him. It was said that the Pirates were one of numerous teams after him, but they were unable to get a look at him during a scouting trip due to the injury. He was purchased on June 25th for a price reported to be between $12,000 and $20,000 depending on the source, with the Pirates also giving up Bud Culloton. Nichols reported to the Pirates the next day and had an x-ray on his ankle, which showed two broken bones. He ended up making his debut with Pittsburgh on July 30th. He made three relief appearances over a six-day span. While the first one went well (1.2 scoreless innings) the other two did not. He allowed 11 runs in six innings. The Pirates kept him around until he was sent back to New Haven on option on August 25th. Nichols was back with the team during Spring Training in 1927, but didn’t make his season debut with Pittsburgh until the middle of May. For the Pirates he went 0-3, 5.86 in eight relief appearances, pitching a total of 27.2 innings. His next-to-last appearance with the team was an in-season exhibition game and he did not take part in the World Series because the Pirates returned him to New Haven on August 8th. He was being used as a batting practice pitcher almost exclusively during his final six weeks with the team, appearing in just one game that counted. He pitched 12 games during the 1927 season for New Haven, going 6-4, 2.60 in 83 innings. Nichols would be taken by the New York Giants in the 1927 Rule 5 draft. He gave up 13 runs in 2.2 innings during his time with the Giants, with one outing each in May, July and August. After leaving Pittsburgh, he pitched 33 more games in the majors over four seasons, finishing his big league career with a 1-8, 7.19 record in 122.2 innings. He was with the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1930-32 seasons, but he pitched just 30 games total. The 1932 season was also his final year in pro ball. His son Chet Nichols Jr, pitched nine seasons in the majors between 1951 and 1964.
Bunny Brief, first baseman for the 1917 Pirates. He was one of the best home run hitters in the minor leagues ever. Brief hit 342 homers over a 19-year career that began during the deadball era. He wasn’t all power, he was also a pretty good hitter, batting .331 in the minors, which included ten straight .300 seasons to finish his career. However, his time in the majors matched his last name and he showed neither the average nor power he was famous for in the minors. He debuted in pro ball at 17 years old, spending his first three seasons (1910-12) with Traverse City of the Class-D Michigan State League, his hometown team. He hit .353 there in 119 games in 1912, with 55 extra-base hits. Brief spent September/October of 1912 and most of 1913 seasons with the St Louis Browns, playing a total of 100 games with a .230 average and one homer. He hit .318 with 79 extra-base hits and 38 steals for Kansas City of the American Association in 1914, then next appeared in the majors with the 1915 Chicago White Sox, batting .214 with two homers in 48 games. After hitting .314 with 33 homers for Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League in 1916, Brief got his last chance at the majors, making the 1917 Pirates. He would play 36 games before returning to the minor leagues, hitting .217 with two homers. The first home run he hit with Pittsburgh came off Grover Alexander, the Hall of Fame pitcher with 373 career wins. The next homer came the next day, off Erskine Mayer, who would go on to pitch for the Pirates the next season. Brief returned to the minors in June of 1917, and finished that season (and the next 11 years) down of the farm without making it back to the majors. The Pirates worked out a deal with Salt Lake City to take him on a 30-day trial and if they wanted to keep him, they would need to pay for his services. They decided after 30 days to return him, although Brief balked at returning to the Pacific Coast League, so the Pirates held on to him until he was sold to Louisville of the American Association instead. His unwillingness to return to his old team actually added another 15 games to his big league resume. He is known in baseball history by the name Bunny Brief, but his actual given name is Anthony Grzeszkowski.