Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one transaction of note.
Gene Alley, shortstop for the Pirates from 1963 until 1973. The Pirates signed him the winter after he graduated high school and sent him to play for Dubuque of the Midwest League during the 1959 season. He wasn’t signed right out of HS because most scouts considered him too small, but he hit .287 that first season in the minors, with 15 homers in 120 games. He moved up a level to Class-C ball the next season, playing for Grand Forks of the Northern League, where he hit .280 with 14 homers in 115 games before getting promoted twice. He made it all the way to Triple-A for four games, hitting .357 with a homer. Alley played the 1961 season for Asheville of the South Atlantic League, just two steps from the majors as a 20-year-old. He had a good season, hitting .263 with 45 extra-base hits and 86 runs, but repeated the level in 1962. He made it to Triple-A for part of that year, but he hit just .194 with 18 hits and 13 RBIs in 36 games. With Asheville that season, he batted .281 with 31 extra-base hits in 88 games. Alley spent the 1963 season at Triple-A, hitting 19 homers for Columbus, although his average was just .244 with 129 strikeouts.
The Pirates made Alley a September call-up in 1963, giving him starts at three infield positions (2B/SS/3B) and he hit .216 with no RBIs in 17 games. They decided he was ready for the majors at that point, and in 1964 he split the shortstop position with Dick Schofield, although Schofield started almost twice as often. Alley hit .211 with 13 RBIs and 30 runs scored in 81 games. In 1965, Schofield was traded away near the end of May and the shortstop positioned belonged to Alley. Prior to the trade, Alley was subbing in at second base for an injured Bill Mazeroski. Alley had a decent season in 1965, hitting .252 with 32 extra-base hits in 153 games, but it was during the 1966 season that he really established himself. He batted a career high .299 with 88 runs scored in 1965. He also set career bests with 28 doubles and ten triples, while collecting seven homers. His defense at shortstop was outstanding, giving the Pirates the best middle infield in baseball when he was teamed with Mazeroski. He set a team record for double plays turned (128) by a shortstop that season. He also won the Gold Glove award and finished 11th in the National League MVP voting.
Alley gained some more accolades in 1967, winning his second straight Gold Glove and making his first All-Star appearance. He played 152 games, hitting .287 with a career high 55 RBIs. He led all NL shortstops with 500 assists, 257 putouts and 105 double plays. After two strong seasons at the plate, his offense began to slip in 1968 (a very low year for offense league-wide) and it never recovered. Over his last six seasons, he batted in the .240’s four times and never hit higher than the .248 he put up during the 1972 season. Despite hitting .245 with a .628 OPS in 1968, Alley still made his second straight All-Star game appearance. He was injured during part of 1969 and when he did play (82 games played), most of his time was spent at second base, where he replaced Mazeroski, who played just 67 games that year. Alley managed to hit just three doubles in 309 plate appearances in 1969, yet he also set a career high with eight homers, a number he would also reach the next season.
Alley played between 114-121 games each year from 1970-72 and was still strong enough defensively to overcome his lackluster hitting. While his .244 average in 1970 was his lowest since his rookie season, his .658 OPS was actually his highest mark during the final six years of his career. His average dropped to .227 in 1971 and he had just 21 extra-base hits in 114 games. His power numbers dropped more in 1972 (17 extra-base hits in 119 games) but his .321 OBP was his best mark after 1967. He saw limited time in the postseason during 1970 and 1971, batting only 13 times between the NLCS in 1970 the the two rounds of playoffs in 1971, when the Pirates won their fourth title. In the 1972 NLCS against the Reds, Alley had some trouble at the plate, going 0-for-16 in the five game series. His overall playoff average was .037 (1-27). He saw limited time in 1973, especially in the second half of the season. From July 21st on, he didn’t start a single game, getting 11 plate appearances off the bench during his 17 games played. Alley retired after the season with 1,195 games played in a Pirates uniform, which ranks as the 19th highest total. Alley just missed a major milestone due to his benching at the end of that 1973 season, finishing his career with 999 hits. He was a .254 career hitter with 342 RBIs and 442 runs scored. According to modern metrics, he was the best defensive player in the National League during the 1965 and 1968 seasons. In fact, those two seasons rank him third (3.6 in 1968) and fifth (3.5 in 1965) in franchise history for defensive WAR. As far as lifetime dWAR for Pirates, only Bill Mazeroski, Honus Wagner and Jack Wilson rank higher than the 14.7 mark put up by Alley.
Bobby Lowe, pinch-hitter for the Pirates on April 17, 1904. Lowe spent 18 years in the majors, but most people know him for just one game he played. On May 30, 1894 Lowe became the first player in Major League history to hit four home runs in one game. His Pirates career also lasted just one game and it wasn’t quite as exciting. Lowe pinch-hit for pitcher Doc Scanlan in the ninth inning on April 17, 1904 and struck out, as the Pirates lost 6-5 to the St Louis Cardinals in the third game of the season. Lowe was injured during the previous season and didn’t play the second half, instead finishing the year as a minor league manager. The Pirates let him train with the team during Spring Training in 1904 and just before Opening Day declared he would be used as a utility fielder along with Otto Krueger. In a sign of the times, Lowe never actually signed with the Pirates, so when the team decided they had no spot for him on April 21st, he went home, free to sign with another club. He ended up signing on with the Detroit Tigers and played 140 games that season, all at second base. He batted just .208 with 40 RBIs and 47 runs scored, so the decision didn’t come back to hurt the Pirates. He was a strong defensive player early in his career, but by that time he was considered to be below average. Lowe would go on to play three more seasons in the majors with the Tigers before returning to the minors for one last season as a player/manager. He was a bench player during those final three years, seeing time at every spot on defense except pitcher and catcher. He played just 116 games total from 1905 through 1907, hitting .204 in 363 at-bats, with one homer and 27 RBIs. Lowe was a star player in his prime, three times batting over .300, twice driving in over 100 runs, while playing solid defense at second base. He played 1,821 career games, hitting .273 with 988 RBIs, 1,135 runs scored and 303 stolen bases.
Lowe debuted in pro ball at 21 years old in 1887, and his big league debut came just months before his 25th birthday. He was a Pittsburgh native, though his first three seasons of pro ball were spent in the minors for two different teams in Wisconsin. After hitting .315 with 25 steals in 99 games in 1889 for Milwaukee of the Western Association, Lowe was signed by the Boston Beaneaters for the 1890 season. It helped that the Player’s League came along that season, creating a large number of big league jobs. While that influx of Major League spots lasted just one year, Lowe showed enough to stick around once players returned to their old teams in 1891. He hit .280 in 52 games as a rookie. He was used in a utility role in 1891, seeing more time in the outfield than anywhere else, though he played seven different positions. He hit .260 with 74 RBIs, 43 steals and 92 runs scored in 125 games. He played five different spots on defense in 1892, with most of that time spent in left field. His average dropped to .242 in 124 games in 1892, with 79 runs scored, 57 RBIs and 36 steals.
Baseball saw a surge in offense as the pitching distance was moved back to 60 feet and 6 inches for the first time. The previous distance was 50 feet, though it’s not as big of a difference as it sounds. The 50 feet distance was the front of a pitcher’s box that they had to stay within before releasing the ball. It was also measured to the middle of home plate. The new distance was measured from a pitching rubber they pushed off of while delivering to the back of home plate. The major difference was that they could pitch from anywhere in the pitcher’s box before, which was obviously much bigger than a stationary pitching rubber and that took away some advantages for pitchers. Lowe saw a surge in his offense in 1893, though it was bigger than most players. He hit .298 with 14 homers, 89 RBIs and 130 runs scored in 126 games. He hit 11 homers during his first three seasons combined. The 1894 season turned out to be a monster year for offense before things started on a downward trend in 1895. Lowe played 133 games in 1894 and set career highs in average (.346), hits (212), runs (158), doubles (34), triples (11), homers (17) and RBIs (115). In 1895 he batted .297 with 102 runs scored and 62 RBIs, though he missed some time and played just 100 games. Injuries limited him to 73 games in 1896, though he batted .320 with 59 runs scored and 48 RBIs when he was healthy. He had a strong/healthy 1897 season, hitting .309 in 123 games, with 106 RBIs and 87 runs scored.
Lowe had very similar 1898 and 1899 seasons. There was just a one point difference in his OPS and he batted .272 each year. He drove in 94 runs and scored 65 times in 1898, then had 88 RBIs and 81 runs scored in 1899. In the last year before the American League sprung up, with the competition level was at an all-time high in 1900 due to the limited number of big league jobs, Lowe hit .278 with 71 RBIs and 65 runs scored in 127 games. In 1901, his final year in Boston, he batted .255 with 47 runs scored and 47 RBIs. He was sold to the Chicago Cubs in December of 1901 and he batted .251 with no homers and 50 RBIs during his two seasons with the team before joining the Pirates. Lowe never led the league in fielding percentage, yet he managed to finish in the top three at his position eight different times. He pulled up an impressive feat late in his career, finishing third in fielding percentage in 1900 at second base, then second in 1901 at third base, then second in 1902 at second base. During that 1902 season he was rated by modern metrics (dWAR) as the third best defensive player in the National League.
On this date in 2001, the Pirates traded outfielder Emil Brown to the San Diego Padres for minor league outfielder Shawn Garrett and minor league pitcher Shawn Camp. Brown was in his fifth season for the Pirates, but he could never quite break into the lineup regularly. In 196 games, he had a .205 average, with eight homers and 38 RBIs. He didn’t do much for the Padres, but after spending the 2002-04 seasons in the minors, he had three solid seasons for the Kansas City Royals. Camp played 11 years in the majors, with all 541 of his appearances coming in relief. The downside was that he didn’t make the majors until after he left the Pirates as a free agent. Garrett spent 11 years in the minors without a trip to the big leagues, so the Pirates ended up with no value from the deal.