Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a game of note
Windy McCall, lefty reliever for the 1950 Pirates. He originally signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, but joined the war effort before playing a single game. He came back in 1946 as a free agent and didn’t make his pro debut until 1947, playing for Roanoke of the Piedmont League, where he went 17-9, 3.78 in 219 innings. Windy (first name is John) signed with the Boston Red Sox and made his Major League debut at the beginning of the 1948 season. He made one start for Boston, lasting 1.1 IP, while allowing three runs before being pulled. After the game, he was sent back to the minors for the rest of the season, going 9-12, 4.67 in 183 innings for Louisville of the American Association. In 1949, he was with the Red Sox at the beginning of the year, pitching five times before being demoted to the minors again. He pitched a scoreless inning his first outing, then gave up multiple runs in each of his next four relief appearances. In the minors that year, he went 5-7, 5.06 in 96 innings, splitting the year between Louisville and Seattle of the Pacific Coast, seeing similar results/time with each club.
Shortly after the 1949 season ended, the Pirates purchased McCall’s contract from Boston’s farm team in Louisville. It was said that he was purchased on a trial basis and would either be returned 30 days after Opening Day in 1950, or they could decide to keep him and pay the full price (said to be $22,500). A Spring Training injury in 1950 limited his use with the Pirates early on, and after two outings ( seven runs in 6.2 IP), he was sent to the minors on May 17th. McCall went 7-7, 5.28 in 104 innings for Indianapolis of the American Association in 1950. He was released by the Pirates on November 19, 1950, but he remained with their affiliate, going 10-9, 4.53 in 171 innings for Indianapolis in 1951, spending the entire season with the team. He was with Indianapolis through the beginning of 1952 when he was optioned to Birmingham of the Southern Association. From there he went to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, before he was able to turn his career around with the New York Giants, putting together a productive three year run (1954-56) as a reliever. McCall had a 3.25 ERA in 61 innings over 33 appearances for the Giants in 1954, helping them to the World Series, which they won over the Cleveland Indians. In 1955, he went 6-5, 3.69 in 95 innings over 42 games. In 1956, he 3.61 ERA in 77.1 innings over 46 appearances. He made four starts and saved seven games, though saves weren’t an official stat at the time. After a rough start in 1957, allowing five runs in three innings over five games, he was sent to the minors, where he finished his career two seasons later. McCall had an 11-15, 4.22 record in the majors, with 253.2 innings pitched over 134 games (15 starts). He got his nickname because it was said he talked too much.
Al Lyons, pitcher for the 1947 Pirates. Although he was a great two-way player in the minors, he spent most of his Major League time as a pitcher, occasionally playing outfield. During a 14-year minor league career, Lyons hit .269 with 159 homers in 1,559 games. He also pitched 147 minor league games, going 47-33 with a career ERA right around 3.55 (he has a small number of games with stats unknown). He debuted in pro ball in 1940 at 21 years old, spending his first two seasons with Joplin of the Class-C Western Association. He hit .299 with 45 extra-base hits the first year, then batted .304 with 52 extra-base hits in 1941, to go along with a 1.26 ERA in 43 innings. Lyons moved up to the Class-A Eastern League in 1942, where he hit .249 with 36 extra-base hits in 140 games with Binghamton. He jumped up to Kansas City of the American Association in 1943, hitting .236 with 20 extra-base hits in 108 games, while going 4-6, 3.49 in 80 innings. He made his Major League debut with the 1944 Yankees, posting a 4.54 ERA in 11 relief appearances and he hit .346 in 26 at-bats. In August, he was called into service during WWII, joining the Navy. He would miss the entire 1945 season, but he was back for Opening Day in 1946. Lyons pitched two games for New York that year, then spent the rest of the season back with Kansas City. He made another six relief outings and had a 9.00 ERA in 11 innings during the following season for the Yankees before being purchased by the Pirates in early August. Lyons pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in his Pirates debut, then picked up a win with four scoreless innings just two days later. He made another 11 appearances for Pittsburgh over the course of the season, all of them coming during losses. He went 1-2, 7.31 in 28.1 innings with the Pirates. The Pirates traded Lyons to the Boston Braves on November 18, 1947 in a deal that brought back Danny Murtaugh and Johnny Hopp (see his bio below). Lyons lasted just seven relief appearances (16 games total) with Boston before being sent to the minors, where he finished his pro career eight years later without a return trip to the big leagues. He had a 7.82 ERA in 12.2 innings with the Braves, while going 0-for-5 with a walk as a pinch-hitter. He played in the Pacific Coast League from 1949 through 1955, still seeing mound time, while regularly playing outfield. In his big league career, he went 3-3, 6.30 in 100 innings over 39 games (one start). He was a .293 hitter in 58 at-bats, with three doubles and a homer. The home run came in his final at-bat and final game for the Pirates.
Johnny Hopp, outfielder for the 1948-50 Pirates. He had a 14-year career in the majors that saw him play 1,393 games, make one All-Star team and pick up MVP votes in four different seasons. His pro career began at 19 years old in 1936, hitting .361 in 107 games for the Class-D Newport Elks of the Nebraska State League. He skipped numerous levels in 1937, jumping up to Rochester of the International League, just one step from the majors. He batted .307 with 51 extra-base hits in 141 games during his first season with Rochester, then returned there for the 1938 season, where he hit .299 with 40 extra-base hits in 124 games. He played for Houston of the Texas League in 1939, which was a step down from the International League. Hopp hit .312 with 28 doubles and 15 triples in 133 games. That led to a late-season trial with the St Louis Cardinals, and he didn’t return to the minors until after his big league career was finished.
As a bench player for the Cardinals in 1940, Hopp batted .270 in 80 games, getting 164 plate appearances. He began to get regular playing time in 1941, though he moved all around the first, seeing time at first base and all three outfield spots. He hit .303 with 40 extra-base hits, 50 walks and 83 runs scored in 134 games, which earned him an eighth place finish in the MVP voting. His playing time slipped the next two seasons, with a .258 average and a .716 OPS in 95 games in 1942, followed by a .224 average and a .604 OPS in 91 games in 1943. As the team’s starting center fielder in 1944, he had a big season, which again gained him some mild MVP support. That year Hopp batted .336 with 35 doubles, nine triples, 11 homers, 72 RBIs and 106 runs scored. In 1945 he batted .289 in 124 games, with 67 runs scored and 44 RBIs. On February 6, 1946, he was traded to the Boston Braves for Eddie Joost. Hopp was an All-Star in 1946 and finished 12th in the MVP voting, hitting .333 with 71 runs scored and a career high 21 stolen bases. He batted .288 with 74 runs scored in 134 games during the 1947 season, spending most of his time in center field.
Hopp had nine seasons in at the big league level when the Pirates acquired him in a five-player deal on November 18, 1947 that also included Danny Murtaugh coming to Pittsburgh. For the Pirates, he played outfield and saw some time at first base, hitting .278 his first year, with 64 runs scored in 120 games. He played 80 games in the outfield without an error that season. He began the 1949 season with the Pirates, before getting traded to the Dodgers for outfielder Marv Rackley in May. When Rackley reported to the Pirates, he had a sore arm, which didn’t get better. A few weeks later the trade was voided, sending Hopp back to Pittsburgh. He went 0-for-14 in eight games with Brooklyn. After being returned, Hopp hit the ball well, batting .335 over 85 games, with 50 runs scored. He hit even better in 1950, batting .340 through 106 games played, when the Pirates decided to sell him to the New York Yankees in early September. Hopp ended up winning a World Series title with the Yankees that year and the next, adding to the two he won in 1942 and 1944 with the Cardinals. He put up a 1.078 OPS in 19 games with the 1950 Yankees. In 1951, he was used mostly off of the bench, hitting .206 in 46 games. He began 1952 with the Yankees, before being released in late May. He signed a few days later with the Detroit Tigers, where he finished out his big league career later that season. Hopp hit .197 with no homers in 57 games (81 plate appearances) in his final season. His last pro experience was as a player/manager for Grand Forks of the Class-C Northern League in 1955. He was a .296 career hitter in his 14 seasons in the majors, with 698 runs scored, 458 RBIs and five seasons of batting .300 or better. Hopp hit .310 with 117 RBIs and 170 runs scored in his 331 games for Pittsburgh. He had his share of trouble in the World Series, going 8-for-50 with eight singles and two walks over his five postseason appearances.
Wilbur Fisher, pinch-hitter for the Pirates on June 13, 1916. He joined the Pirates in early June of 1916 after playing baseball at Marshall University. He was an outfielder, who was described as tall and rangy with power and good baseball smarts. Fisher never got much of a chance to show off those skills. His only Major League appearance resulted in an out when he pinch-hit for pitcher Frank Miller in the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on June 13, 1916, six days after he reported to the Pirates. When he joined the Pirates it was said that he would train with the team and if things worked out, he would get a start down the line, but in the meantime he would be used as a pinch-hitter. Fisher played 45 games of minor league ball in 1915 under the last name McCullough (his middle name), hitting .310 for Charleston of the Ohio State League. It was a common practice back in the day for college players to play games under assumed names so they were still eligible to play college ball. The Pirates in 1906 had a college star named Dutch Meier on their roster, who had played exhibition games with the team the previous season. He went by the name “Koch” in those games. The Pirates scouted Fisher during that time in Charleston and liked what they saw, but it was said that they lost track of him until scout Chick Fraser saw him at Marshall University, where he was batting .450 at the time that he signed. He was officially signed on June 1, 1916 after the Pirates released veteran second baseman Otto Knabe. The Pirates parted ways with Fisher on June 26th, giving him his unconditional release after they couldn’t find a good spot for him in the minors. He ended up playing for Huntington of the Class-D Ohio State League in 1916 and Petersburg of the Class-C Virginia League in 1917, which turned out to be his last pro experience. Fisher is one of three Majors Leaguers who were born on July 18, 1894. That list also includes Bill Haeffner…
Bill Haeffner, catcher for the 1920 Pirates. He began his pro career in the minors at 20 years old, playing for Hamilton of the Class-B Canadian League, where he hit .215 in 61 games. The next year he played four games for the Philadelphia A’s in late June/early July, as Connie Mack went through 56 players during a 43-109 season. He also spent part of that season playing for Charlotte of the Class-D North Carolina State League. Haeffner then played semi-pro ball until 1920 when Pittsburgh picked him up after scout Bill Murray saw him catch five games and recommended him to manager George Gibson. He was signed just after Christmas Day in 1919 and it was said that the Pirates planned to have a strong and deep catching group for the 1920 season, which ultimately led to Haeffner barely seeing any time behind the plate for the first two months. He played just three of the first 52 games of year for the Pirates, then played in 51 of the final 103 games. He hit .194 with 14 RBIs in 175 at-bats, and threw out 46% of would-be base stealers. Haeffner got his chance to play when two Pirates catchers were hurt in the same game. The regular starter, Walter Schmidt, took a foul ball off his wrist and couldn’t continue. Second string catcher Cliff Lee tried to put down a bunt during his at-bat and he was hit on the hand and had to leave, forcing the Pirates to go to Haeffner for the rest of that game. He also played another six full games over a four-day span thanks to two doubleheaders. Just before players were due to report to Spring Training in 1921, Haeffner informed the team that he decided to retire after his salary demands weren’t met, though he began playing independent/outlaw ball that same year. He was placed on the ineligible list by baseball commissioner Judge Landis, but he would return to pro baseball seven years later with the Pirates in Spring Training of 1928 after he was reinstated on February 13th of that same year. He ended up being lost via waivers on March 30th to the New York Giants, where he played just two early season games, both as a late inning replacement during blowout games. He then went on to Boston (Braves) where he played in in-season exhibition games, but never got in a real game. His actual time in pro ball consisted of just four seasons.
On this date in 1951, Ralph Kiner hit three homers and drove in seven runs in a 13-12 road victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Kiner was the fourth batter of the game and he hit a grand slam in his first at-bat. He followed that up with a two-run homer in the fourth and a solo shot in the eighth. He had a chance for a fourth home run, but his deep fly to right field in the ninth wasn’t quite enough. Kiner had four games during his career with three homers, two in 1947 and one in 1948. Here’s the boxscore.