Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus we have one trade of note and a game recap from 1999.
On this date in 1998, the Pirates traded pitcher Esteban Loaiza to the Texas Rangers in exchange for pitcher Todd Van Poppel and second baseman Warren Morris. Van Poppel was once considered a future ace before he pitched a pro game. He was a high school star who the Oakland A’s took in the first round of the 1990 draft, and at the age of 19 he made his Major League debut. He never panned out though, as by the time of this deal at age 26, he was with his third team already. For the 1998 Rangers, he had made four starts before this deal and he was 1-2 with an 8.84 ERA. Morris was in his second year of pro ball, hitting .331 with 14 homers and 73 RBIs in 95 games at Double-A. Loaiza was also a 26-year-old pitcher, though he had much more success in the majors than Van Poppel. Loaiza had a 27-28, 4.63 record in 96 games (87 as a starter) for the Pirates. He was 6-5, 4.52 at the time of the deal.
After the trade, Morris finished the season in Double-A, hitting for the exact same average for the Pirates affiliate (.331) as he had when he came over. In 1999, he finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, hitting .288 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs. His numbers dropped off during his sophomore year, then fell even more in 2001, and he was sent to Triple-A for half the season. The Pirates released him during the following Spring Training. Van Poppel went 1-2, 5.36 in seven starts and 11 relief appearances for the 1998 Pirates. They resigned him for 1999, though he spent the entire year in Triple-A. He pitched in the majors until 2004, and for a short time he found success as a reliever with the 2000-01 Chicago Cubs. Loaiza ended up pitching in the majors until 2008, winning another 99 games, including 21 for the 2003 Chicago White Sox, when he finished second in the AL Cy Young voting. He was a two-time All-Star, making the game in 2003 and 2004. For the Rangers, he went 17-17, 5.19 before they traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in July of 2000.
Brian Rogers, pitcher for the 2006-2007 Pirates. He was an 11th round draft pick in 2003 of the Detroit Tigers out of Georgia Southern University. He debuted as a starter in the New York-Penn League, making 12 starts in 2003, with a 3.34 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 56.2 innings. In 2004, he spent the entire year as a starter in Low-A, going 6-8, 4.55 in 142.1 innings over 25 starts, with 120 strikeouts. In 2005, Rogers moved to relief in High-A, playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He went 4-1, 2.06 in 65.2 innings over 52 games, with 65 strikeouts. He began the 2006 season in Double-A, pitching for Erie of the Eastern League, where he had a 2.39 ERA in 64 innings over 37 games, with 69 strikeouts. He came to the Pirates at the 2006 trading deadline in exchange for Sean Casey. He pitched just twice in Double-A for the Pirates and seven times in Triple-A Indianapolis, before joining the Major League roster. He made his debut on September 1st, pitching a scoreless inning. He would pitch ten times for Pittsburgh, posting an 8.31 ERA in 8.2 innings with seven strikeouts. He went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and made six scoreless appearances, throwing a total of 7.2 innings. Rogers began the next season in Triple-A, before getting called up in mid-May. He made three appearances for the Pirates, facing nine batters over two innings of work, allowing three runs to score. He was returned to Triple-A, where he finished the season. The Pirates dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season, then re-signed him to a minor league deal. He split his 2008 season between Double-A and Triple-A, before being released in June, despite outstanding results. He allowed three earned runs in 29.1 innings that season while with the Pirates. He went on to pitch 16 games for the Tigers in Triple-A and four scoreless games at Double-A with the New York Mets that year before retiring from baseball.
Jerry Lynch, outfielder for the 1954-56 and 1963-66 Pirates. He played one season of minor league ball before spending two years away from the game serving in the military. In 1950 at 19 years old, he hit .329 with 52 extra-base hits for Greenville of the Class-C Cotton States League. When he returned to baseball in 1953, he was a member of the Yankees organization, spending the year playing for Norfolk of the Piedmont League (Class-B), where he hit .333 in 132 games, with 33 doubles, 22 triples and 21 homers. The Pirates picked him up in the 1953 Rule 5 draft and he played 98 games as a rookie in 1954, splitting his time between the corner outfield spots. He batted .239 with eight homers and 36 RBIs. Lynch had a similar role the next season, although the Pirates experimented with switching him to catcher at the end of the year. During his first day as a big league catcher, he caught all 18 innings of a doubleheader. It was an idea that was scrapped before Spring Training start in 1956, and he ended up playing a total of 21 innings behind the plate in his 13-year career. During that 1955 season, he hit .284 with 29 extra-base hits in 88 games. He would end up playing just 19 games in 1956, with all but one as a pinch-hitter, as he missed most of the season with phlebitis. Just as the Pirates acquired Lynch in the Rule 5 draft in December of 1956, they lost him the same way to the Cincinnati Reds.
Lynch was a seldom-used backup during his first season in Cincinnati, hitting .258 with four homers in 67 games, making 20 starts all year, all of them in right field. In 1958, he got a chance to play regularly in right field and he responded by batting .312 with 16 homers, setting career highs with 20 doubles, 68 RBIs, 58 runs scored and 122 games played. In 1959, he batted .269 in 177 games, setting a career high with 17 homers. His playing time dropped over the next two years. Lynch batted .289 with six homers in 1960, going to the plate 178 times in 102 games played. In 1961, he batted 210 times over 96 games, hitting .315 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs. He had a .404 average and a 1.376 OPS in 59 pinch-hitting opportunities that year, which led to him getting mild MVP support as a bench player. He saw more playing time in 1962 and responded by hitting .281 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 114 games. On May 23, 1963, the Pirates traded outfielder Bob Skinner to the Reds to reacquire Lynch. He had played 640 games with the Reds, hitting .289 with 70 homers and 282 RBIs. The left-handed hitting Lynch, saw limited time over his last four seasons with the Pirates, getting 161 starts, with all but three of them coming as a left fielder. He was hitting .250 with two homers in 22 games at the time of the trade. For the 1963 Pirates, he hit .266 with ten homers and 36 RBIs in 88 games. In 1964, he hit .273 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs in 114 games. Lynch moved to a full-time bench role in 1965, batting 131 times all season. He still hit well, with a .281 average and five homers. In his final season, he batted 60 times in 64 games, and put up a .552 OPS. He played just 16 innings in the outfield that year. He finished his time with the Pirates as a .263 hitter in 544 games, hitting 45 homers, with 188 RBIs and 144 runs scored. In his 13-year career, he hit .277 with 115 homers and 470 RBIs in 1,184 games. He was a .263 hitter with 18 homers and 90 RBIs in 491 pinch-hitting opportunities.
Chummy Gray, pitcher for the 1899 Pirates. He began his pro career in the minors in 1893, with his only Major League experience coming six years later during a September trial with the 1899 Pirates. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, Gray had pitched the previous four seasons for the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League, winning a combined 47 games during the 1897-98 seasons. He debuted around his 19th birthday in 1893, playing in the New England League for a team that moved twice during the season. Gray went 5-7, 3.17 in 105 innings. He remained in the New England League in 1894 for a team from Bangor, though no stats are available. He moved up to A-Ball in 1895, playing for Toronto of the Eastern League, where he had a 15-27, 3.00 record in 354.1 innings, completing 36 of his 40 starts. The 1896 season was split between Columbus of the Western League and his first year with the previously mentioned Buffalo team. No complete stats are available from that year, but his 1897 stats show that he went 23-13, 1.84 in 328 innings, completing 35 of 37 starts. In 1898, he had a 24-11 record in 331 innings, with 38 complete games in 39 starts. His ERA isn’t available from that year, but he allowed fewer runs per nine innings in 1898 than he did in 1897. Buffalo moved to the Western League in 1899 and the Pirates bought two of their players. Pop Dillon debuted for the Pirates on September 8th, one day before Gray was also sold to Pittsburgh.
The circumstances that led to Gray’s signing and use by the Pirates would be considered odd under today’s standards. The Pirates had a pitcher named Tully Sparks, who was only signed through September 15th. At that date he was free to leave for home to attend to his cotton business. Chummy was purchased for $1,000 from Buffalo and took Spark’s spot in the rotation. His first big league appearance was on September 14th, pitching in relief of Sam Leever, who had loaded the bases before he was pulled. Gray allowed all three runs to score, walking one batter and throwing a wild pitch to score the other two. He finished the game off with four scoreless innings, but the Pirates still lost by two runs. Chummy (real name was George) started four days later and won his first game 7-5 over the Boston Beaneaters. He then started six of the next 18 games, with the Pirates winning three of his starts. He went 3-3, 3.34 in 70.2 innings for the Pirates. He was kept around until the huge deal between the Louisville Colonels and Pirates took place, which infused a ton of talent to the Pittsburgh roster, including Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke and Rube Waddell. Gray was originally sold to Kansas City of the American League (the year before it became a Major League) for $500, but he refused to play for them and he was then sold back to Buffalo once the deal was called off. In a twist, Gray was sold to Kansas City weeks later. He would return to Buffalo in 1902, and played minor league ball until 1905, without a trip back to the majors.
Jim Handiboe, pitcher for the 1886 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. His pro baseball career began as a Major Leaguer at the age of 19 with the 1886 Alleghenys, and 11 years later it ended without him playing for another Major League team. His signing announcement came on November 1, 1885 and it was said that he played for a team called Henley from Richmond, Indiana, where he pitched four no-hitters. It was also said that his contract called for a salary of $150 per month. Pittsburgh had two strong pitchers for 1886, Pud Galvin and Ed Morris, back during an era when teams rarely used more than two starters, especially when the guys were as good as Galvin and Morris. Those two started 113 of the team’s 140 games that year, while Handiboe finished third on the team with 14 starts. He started his first game on May 28th, a 4-1 loss to Matt Kilroy, who is the holder of the all-time single season strikeout record. Handiboe’s next start was 11 days later, and it was another loss. He then went another ten-day stretch without an appearance before he started three games in a row over a five-day span (June 19-23). Ed Morris was out for a short time and Galvin had started all three of the previous games. Handiboe went 2-1 in those games, throwing a 3-0 shutout in the last game against the St Louis Brown Stockings. After a start by Galvin, Handiboe went for the fourth time in a five-game stretch and got hit hard, losing 19-5 to the Louisville Colonels. From then on, he started eight games over the final three months of the year, with his last Major League game coming on September 8th, a 6-2 loss to St Louis in the second game of a doubleheader. Pittsburgh went with Galvin or Morris in 24 of the last 26 games, with new rookie pitcher Bill Bishop getting the other two starts. Handiboe finished 7-7, 3.32, completing 12 of his 14 starts. He had an $1,800 salary with the Alleghenys for 1887 and he was with the club on Opening Day on April 30th, but he didn’t pitch before he was sold to Eau Claire of the Northwestern League on May 13th. A large majority of his minor league stats are missing, but his last known team is Columbus of the Western League in 1897.
The Game Recap
On this date in 1999, the Pittsburgh Pirates took on the Cleveland Indians at Three Rivers Stadium. The Pirates were trying to get to the .500 mark against a strong Cleveland team. It was a back and forth battle that ended with a 13-10 win for the Pirates and a big day for Kevin Young, who homered twice and drove in five runs. Here are full details of that game in one of our Game Rewind features.