Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one game of note
Cy Blanton, pitcher for the 1934-39 Pirates. He started his baseball career as a semi-pro player and an outfielder. His father was a catcher in the 1880s, who reportedly turned down an MLB offer of $80 per month salary because it wasn’t enough money to play in the majors. The younger Blanton debuted in pro ball in 1930, pitching for Class-C Shawnee of the Western Association. His ERA isn’t available, but he allowed 5.92 runs per nine innings, while going 12-16 and throwing 222 innings. He had a 15-13 record and threw 213 innings in 1931 while playing for three different teams, all at the Class-C level. Blanton played for Independence of the Western Association in 1932, going 18-15, 3.76 in 263 innings. In 1933, he went 21-7 and threw 256 innings while playing for Class-A St Joseph of the Western League, earning him a long look with the Pirates during the following spring. His 1933 season had two major highlights that got him a lot of notice. He threw a no-hitter and struck out 20 batters in one game. His contract (and the contract of Leo Nonnenkamp) was purchased by the Pirates on August 26, 1933 from Tulsa of the Texas League, the team that owned his rights at the time and farmed him out to St Joseph. Not long after being purchased, Blanton picked up 19 strikeouts in a game.
Blanton was with the Pirates during Spring Training of 1934, labeled as the best rookie they had in camp. He actually made the team out of Spring Training, but didn’t pitch any games before being sent to Albany of the International League on May 8th, where he went 11-8, 3.86 in 26 games. In his big league debut on September 23, 1934, Blanton pitched well, giving up three runs over eight innings in the loss. He walked four batters in that game, a sign of the control problems that got him sent back to the minors earlier that year. He would overcome the wildness the next year, making the team out of Spring Training. Blanton had a terrific rookie season despite missing time right in the middle of it with appendicitis. He went 18-13, throwing four shutouts and he led the league in ERA with a 2.58 mark. He walked just 55 batters in 254.1 innings, posting the lowest WHIP (not a recognized stat at the time) in the National League with a 1.08 mark. That pitching earned him some mild MVP support (15th place finish in the voting).
In 1936, Blanton pitched in some tough luck. The Pirates went 84-70 that year, but his record stood at just 13-15, despite a respectable 3.51 ERA. He made 32 starts and 12 relief appearances, pitching a total of 235.2 innings. He also threw four shutouts for a second season in a row, leading the league both years in that category. Blanton had a third straight solid season in 1937, this time making the NL All-Star team during a time in which the NL took only six pitchers to the game. He went 14-12, 3.30 in 242.2 innings, leading the NL with 34 games started. For the third straight year, he threw four shutouts. During the 1938 season, Blanton had a rough start, posting just one win over the first two months of the season. After not pitching for nearly a month, the Pirates used him in the second game of a doubleheader on June 19th and he picked up the win. Blanton wasn’t used again for another 11 days, yet won again that day too. He would end up making another nine starts in a row without losing, picking up the win in six of those games. He faded as the season came to a close and finished 11-7, 3.70 in 172.2 innings. He was out of action for most of the 1939 season due to a sore arm. Blanton missed three months of the season, making just six starts and four relief appearances, going 2-3, 4.29 in 42 innings. He was sent to the minors in 1940, where he got hit hard in three starts prior to his release in May. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies right away and returned to the majors, where he went 4-3, 4.32 in 77 innings. He ended up making 25 starts and three relief appearances for them in 1941, going 6-13, 4.51 in 163.2 innings. While it wasn’t a strong season by any means, he got off to a decent start and made his second All-Star appearance. Blanton had a 5.64 ERA through 22.1 innings in 1942 when he was released by the Phillies, ending his big league career.
After barely pitching in 1942, Blanton spent the next three seasons with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. In 1945 he was called into service during WWII but failed the physical. His health had become so bad at the time due to alcohol problems that he was sent to a hospital after the physical and he passed away a short time later at 35 years old. For the Pirates, he went 58-51, 3.28 in 155 games, 129 as a starter, with 13 shutouts to his credit. He was 10-20, 4.55 in 263 innings while with the Phillies. We posted an in depth article on Blanton here.
Omar Olivares, pitcher for the 2001 Pirates. Before joining Pittsburgh, Olivares had played 11 seasons in the majors, spending time with seven different teams. His pro career back in 1987 at 19 years old after he was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Diego Padres in September of 1986. He was born in Puerto Rico, but he attended Miami-Dade College. He started in Low-A ball, where he went 4-14, 4.60 in 170.1 innings. In 1988, Olivares showed tremendous improvements at Low-A and finished the year with three starts in High-A. He went 16-6, 2.11 in 208.2 innings that year. That brief stint at High-A was enough and he spent the entire 1989 season at Double-A with Wichita of the Texas League. He went 12-11, 3.39 in 185.2 innings. The following spring he was traded to the St Louis Cardinals for two players. Olivares was in Triple-A in 1990, going 10-11, 2.82 in 159.1 innings over 23 starts before making his big league debut on August 18th. He had a 2.92 ERA in 49.1 innings with the Cardinals. In his first full season in the majors, he went 11-7, 3.71 in 167.1 innings. He saw even more work the next year, finishing with a 9-9, 3.84 record in 197 innings. Olivares switched to a relief role in 1993, making 58 appearances, with nine early season starts mixed in. He went 5-3, 4.17 in 118.2 innings. A poor season during the strike-shortened 1994 season actually led to him making nine starts back in Triple-A. He had a 5.74 ERA in 73.2 innings for the Cardinals.
Oliveras was released by the Cardinals in April of 1995 and he signed days later with the Colorado Rockies. He had a 7.39 ERA in Colorado over six starts and five relief appearances, before being put on waivers, where he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. He had a 5.40 ERA in ten innings with the Phillies, then became a free agent at the end of the year. The Detroit Tigers signed him as a free agent and he made 25 starts in 1996, going 7-11, 4.89 in 160 innings. In 1997, he went 5-6, 4.70 in 19 starts for the Tigers before getting traded to the Seattle Mariners, where he finished the season with 5.49 ERA in 62.1 innings. Olivares signed with the Anaheim Angels for 1998 and made 26 starts and 11 relief appearances. He had a 9-9, 4.03 record in 183 innings. In 1999, he had a 4.05 ERA through 20 starts when he was traded to the Oakland A’s. In 12 starts with his new team, he went 7-2, 4.34 in 12 starts. Olivares won a career high 15 games and thew over 200 innings (205.2) for the only time in his career that season. He struggled the next season, posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 starts and five relief appearances. The Pirates acquired Olivares from the A’s at the end of Spring Training in 2001 in exchange for a player to be named later. For Pittsburgh, he went 6-9, 6.55 in 110 innings, making 12 starts and 33 relief appearances. He switched to the relief role after his June 8th start left him with a 2-7, 7.21 record. He became a free agent after the seasons, signing with the Cleveland Indians, where he finished his pro career in 2002 after two minor league starts. Olivares had a career record of 77-86, 4.67 in 349 games (229 as a starter) and 1,591.2 innings pitched. He was a strong hitter for a pitcher, batting .240 with five homers in 242 at-bats. His father Ed Olivares played for the 1960-61 St Louis Cardinals.
Willie Randolph, second baseman for the 1975 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Pirates in 1972 out of high school. Randolph spent that first season in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .317 in 44 games. He played well as an 18-year-old in full-season ball in 1973, batting .280 with 25 doubles, eight homers and 43 steals in 121 games. His average dropped to .254 at Double-A in 1974, but he drew 110 walks and stole 38 bases, to go along with 46 extra-base hits, giving him an .816 OPS. Randolph fully established himself as a prospect the next season in Triple-A, hitting .339 with 25 extra-base hits and a 14-for-14 mark in stolen bases in 91 games, earning a promotion to the majors at the end of July. In 30 games for the Pirates, he batted .164 with three RBIs in 70 plate appearances. Randolph started 12 games at second base and one game at third base. His game at the hot corner would be a forgettable one, as he committed three errors. It turned out to be the only time in his 18-year career he played a position other than second base. On December 11, 1975, the Pirates traded Randolph, along with Dock Ellis and Ken Brett, to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Doc Medich. The trade did not work out for the Pirates, as they gave up the 21-year-old second baseman, who would go on to make six All-Star appearances during his career and compile 66.2 WAR over the next 17 seasons. Medich was even out-pitched by both Ellis and Brett in 1976, then the Pirates lost out on a late 1976 trade with the Oakland A’s that included Medich. Randolph finished with .276 career average and a strong .373 OBP due in part to 1,243 walks. He stole 271 bases, collected 2,210 hits and scored 1,239 runs. He ended up playing another 2,138 games at second base after leaving Pittsburgh. He had 20.2 dWAR during his career, ranking him 51st all-time in that category. We wrote an in depth article on Randolph’s time with the Pirates here.
During his first season in New York, Randolph was an All-Star. He hit .267 and set a career high with 37 steals, helping the Yankees to their first of three straight World Series appearances, though they lost to the Cincinnati Reds in 1976. In 1977, he hit .274 with 64 walks, 91 runs scored, 11 triples and a career high 28 doubles, making his second All-Star appearance. Randolph hit .279 with 82 walks, 36 steals and 87 runs scored in 1978, but a late season hamstring injury kept him out of the playoffs, though the Yankees were still able to win back-to-back championships. In 1979, he hit .270 with 95 walks, 98 runs scored, 33 steals and a career high 13 triples. In 1980, Randolph made his third All-Star appearance and won his only Silver Slugger award. He hit .294 with a career high/league leader 119 walks, stealing 30 bases, while scoring a career high 99 runs. His 15th place finish in the MVP race was the best for his career. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he hit just .232, but still had a .336 OBP and he scored 59 runs in 93 games. With his defense and 14 steals, that was good enough for his fourth All-Star game and the fourth World Series appearance for the Yankees (second loss). In 1982, Randolph batted .280 with 75 walks and 85 runs scored. He was limited to 104 games in 1983, but he had a very similar season to 1982, with a one point difference in his batting average and slugging percentage and a seven point difference in his OBP. Randolph was extremely consistent during this time at getting on base. In 1984 he hit .287 with 86 walks and 86 runs scored. From 1982-84, he hit between .279 and .287 each year, with OBP marks of .349, .348 and .348 each year.
In 1985, Randolph hit .276 with 75 runs scored and 85 walks. He batted .276 again in 1986, this time with 94 walks and 76 runs scored. He had a strong season in 1987 and made his fifth All-Star appearance. Randolph hit .305 with 82 walks, 96 runs scored and a career high 67 RBIs. He missed time due to injury in 1988 and saw his average drop to a career worst .230 mark in 110 games. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, as their second baseman (Steve Sax) signed with the Yankees. Randolph was an All-Star during his first season in Los Angeles, hitting .282 with 71 walks and 65 runs scored in 145 games. In 1990, he was hitting .271 through 26 games when he was traded to the Oakland A’s. He finished the season with a .260 average in 119 games. Randolph signed with the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent in 1991 and posted a career best .327 batting average, with 75 walks and 60 runs scored in 124 games. He signed a free agent deal in 1992 with the New York Mets and played his final big league season, batting .252 in 90 games. Randolph became a coach/manager after his playing days. In four years at the helm of the Mets, he had a 302-253 record.
Jason Thompson, first baseman for the 1981-85 Pirates. He was originally drafted in the 15th round of the 1972 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school, but chose to attend Cal State Northridge, where he signed as a fourth round draft pick in 1975 by the Detroit Tigers. He made it to the majors as a full-time player by the next season after just 77 minor league games. He went right to Double-A after signing and hit .324 with ten homers in 73 games. His Triple-A season in 1976 consisted of just four games. Thompson hit just .218 as a rookie in 123 games for the 1976 Tigers, though it came with 17 homers and 68 walks, for a respectable .704 OPS. In his second full year, he .270 with 73 walks, 87 runs scored, 31 homers and 105 RBIs, while making his first of two consecutive All-Star appearances. In 1978, he hit .287 with 74 walks,79 runs scored, 26 homers and 96 RBIs. He saw a dip in his production in 1979, hitting .246 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs in 145 games. After a slow start in 1980, the Tigers traded him to the California Angels on May 27th for outfielder Al Cowens. Despite the early season struggles, Thompson ended up hitting .288 with 21 homers, 90 RBIs and 83 walks that year.
On April 1, 1981, the Pirates traded catcher Ed Ott and pitcher Mickey Mahler to the Angels in order to acquire Thompson. His first year in Pittsburgh was shortened by the strike and he never got the bat going, finishing with a .242 average and 15 homers in 86 games. His second season would end up being his best with the team. Thompson made his third All-Star appearance and finished with a .284 average, 101 walks, 31 homers and 101 RBIs. He set a career high with 32 doubles and tied his best mark with 87 runs scored. He finished 17th in the MVP voting that year. In 1983, he batted .259 with 99 walks, 18 homers and 76 RBIs. He had a similar season in 1984, batting .254 with 87 walks, 17 homers and 74 RBIs. He saw his average/power drop to .241 with 12 homers in 123 games in 1985, but 84 walks helped him to a .369 OPS. On April 4, 1986, the Pirates traded Thompson to the Montreal Expos for two minor league players. He would play just 30 games for Montreal before they released him, which ended his career. He was hitting .196 with no homers at the time, but 18 walks gave him a .406 OBP. For the Pirates, he hit .259 with 93 homers and 354 RBIs in 671 games. He drove in the same exact number of runs during his five seasons in Detroit, albeit in 56 fewer games. He hit 208 career homers and drove in 782 runs.
On this date in 1980, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs played a 20-inning contest at Three Rivers Stadium. A crowd of 25,994 got their money’s worth, as the five hour and 31 minute contest ended with Omar Moreno driving in Ed Ott with the winning run. After the Cubs tied the game up 4-4 in the top of the ninth, neither team scored until the 20th inning walk-off hit for Moreno.
Bert Blyleven pitched the first ten innings for the Pirates, while Rick Reuschel was the starter for the Cubs. The Pirates at one point went 46 straight batters without collecting a hit. A John Milner hit in the sixth inning was their last hit until a Lee Lacy single in the 19th inning.