Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two trades of note.
On this date in 2009, the Pirates traded Adam LaRoche to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for two minor leaguers, shortstop Argenis Diaz and pitcher Hunter Strickland. LaRoche played three years in Pittsburgh, hitting .265 with 58 homers and 213 RBIs in 375 games. The Pirates were getting two prospects for their starting first baseman, but neither worked out. Diaz played 22 games for the Pirates in 2010, hitting .242 in 33 at-bats, but never made the majors again. Strickland missed most of 2010 and all of 2011 with elbow and shoulder problems, then was lost on waivers in 2013 before making the majors. He has pitched in the majors in since 2014, posting a 3.16 ERA in 317 appearances and 287.1 innings pitched through early July of 2021. LaRoche played just six games for Boston before they dealt him to the Atlanta Braves for first baseman Casey Kotchman.
On this date in 1988, the Pirates traded outfielder Darnell Coles to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder Glenn Wilson. Coles had been acquired by the Pirates from the Detroit Tigers during the previous August for veteran third baseman Jim Morrison. The 26-year-old Coles hit .230 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs in 108 games for the Pirates. He played eight years in the majors after the deal, spending time with seven different teams, never approaching the numbers he put up in 1986 with the Tigers (.273 average, 20 homers, 86 RBIs). Wilson was a 29-year-old outfielder, who was in his seventh season in the majors. He was hitting .250 with three homers in 78 games for the Mariners at the time of the deal. In 1985 for the Philadelphia Phillies, he drove in 102 runs and made the National League All-Star team. For the Pirates, he hit .274 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs in 147 games over the 1988-89 seasons before being traded to the Houston Astros in August 1989 for outfielder Billy Hatcher.
George Gibson, catcher for the 1905-1916 Pirates. He was born in Canada and his pro career began in 1903 at the age of 22, seeing brief time with two lower level clubs. Gibson moved up to Montreal of the Eastern League in 1904, where he hit just .204 in 80 games. The next season he was hitting .290 through 41 games when the Pirates acquired him on June 27th, beating out the New York Highlanders (Yankees) for his services. He joined the team two days later and he was in the lineup by July 2nd. Owner Barney Dreyfuss praised his defense, while acknowledging that he had almost no pro experience and he was a raw talent. Gibson played 46 games in his rookie season and batted .178 with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs. He received about half of the work in 1906 and batted .178 again, this time with an OPS that was just .434 for the year in 81 games. He began to see extra work in 1907 due to his defense, and the offense improved. Gibson hit .220 with 18 extra-base hits and 35 RBIs in 113 games. He led all National League catchers with 109 games caught. His OPS was basically the same in 1908, though he played even more. In 143 games that year, he batted .228 with 19 doubles and 45 RBIs. Gibson was a workhorse during the 1909 season when catchers played with inferior equipment to today’s standards. He started 150 games, catching all but 66 of the team’s innings that year, including the World Series. Gibson set career highs in games, hits (135), doubles (25), triples (nine) and RBIs (52) that season, finishing with a career best 4.7 WAR. He threw out 138 runners attempting to steal and led the league with a .983 fielding percentage.
In 1910, Gibson led the league in games caught for a fourth straight time, while also leading in caught stealing and fielding percentage for a second straight year. He batted .259 with 22 doubles, six triples, 44 RBIs and a career high 53 runs scored. Gibson’s defense was so good behind the plate that he received mild MVP support during the 1911 season when he batted .209 in 100 games, with a .541 OPS. The hitting improved in each of the next three years, though his time was limited due to injuries and solid catching partners. Gibson had a .616 OPS in 95 games in 1912. He led the league with a .990 fielding percentage, which was a Major League record at the time. He had a .689 OPS in 48 games in 1913, missing nearly two full months after he crashed into the stands while chasing a pop up on April 20th. He was healthy for 1914 and hit a career high .285 in 102 games, with a career best .713 OPS. Gibson played 120 games during the 1915 season, hitting .251 with 22 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs. He was batting just .202 through 33 games played in 1916 before the Pirates placed him on waivers in August, where he was picked up by the New York Giants. He didn’t report to New York until the 1917 season and saw limited time there. He ended up playing 39 games for the 1917-18 Giants before his big league career ended. He played a player-manager for Toronto of the International League in 1919. Gibson would go on to manage seven seasons in the majors, including two separate stints with the Pirates. He was at the head of the club during the 1920-22 seasons and the 1932-34 seasons, posting a 401-330 record. He also briefly managed the 1925 Chicago Cubs. He wasn’t much of a hitter during his career, but his defense was great and he had a strong arm. Gibson led all catchers in fielding three times and he threw out 47.5% of runners during his career. In 1,174 games in Pittsburgh, he had a .238 average, with 15 homers and 341 RBIs. He was the Pirates leader in games caught for just over 90 years before being surpassed by Jason Kendall.
We had two articles here related to Gibson, the first being a talk with Martin Healy Jr., co-author of a book on Gibson. The second article was also from Healy and it dealt with a memorabilia item related to Gibson. As a side note, Healy passed away not too long after contributing that second article, so we feel honored to have had his work submitted here.
Ryan Vogelsong, pitcher for the 2001, 2003-06 and 2016 Pirates. He was a fifth round draft pick in 1998 of the San Francisco Giants out of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. He’s the only MLB player to be drafted out of that school. Vogelsong had ten starts in short-season ball during that 1998 season, posting a 1.77 ERA. He was skipped to High-A to finish the year and had a 7.58 ERA in four starts. The 1999 season was split between High-A and Double-A, with success at the lower level (2.45 ERA) and rough times in the upper level (7.31 ERA). He spent all of 2000 in Double-A, going 6-10, 4.23 in 155.1 innings over 27 starts. He finished the year in the majors with four scoreless relief appearances. In 2001, Vogelsong split his time between Double-A and Triple with both the Giants and the Pirates. The Pirates acquired him on July 30, 2001, along with outfielder Armando Rios, in exchange for Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal. At the time of the deal, Vogelsong had pitched 13 games in relief for the Giants, with a 5.65 ERA in 28.2 innings. He had never pitched in relief in the minors, and when the Pirates got him, they sent him to Triple-A, putting him back in the starter role. Vogelsong made two September starts for the Pirates in 2001, failing to get past the third inning in each game. Worse than the two losses he picked up was the fact he needed elbow surgery that would cost him half of the following season, with the other half spent rehabbing in the minors. In 2003, he began the year in Triple-A as a starter, getting recalled by the Pirates three separate times during the season. Vogelsong made 26 minor league starts, going 12-8, 4.29 with 146 strikeouts in 149 innings. For Pittsburgh, he went 2-2, 6.55 in 22 innings over six games.
In 2004, Vogelsong made the Pirates out of Spring Training and would make 26 starts to go along with five relief appearances. He went 6-13, 6.50, throwing a total of 133 innings. By the next season, he was throwing strictly out of the bullpen, making 44 appearances, with a 4.43 ERA in 81.1 innings. He resumed the role the next year but after limited success, posting a 6.39 ERA in 38 innings over 20 appearances, he went sent to Triple-A, then released at the end of the season. Vogelsong pitched three years in Japan (2007-09), then returned to the states in 2010 with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He also spent part of that season in Triple-A with the Los Angeles Angels. He played in Venezuela over the winter, where he had a lot of success, posting a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts. In January of 2011, Vogelsong re-signed with the Giants and made an incredible turnaround, winning 27 games over his first two seasons, while making the 2011 National League All-Star team. He went 13-7, 2.71 in 179.2 innings in 2011, earning an 11th place finish in the Cy Young race. In 2012, he helped the Giants to a World Series victory by going 14-9, 3.37 in 189.2 innings. He went 3-0 in four playoff starts and allowed just three runs in 24.2 innings. He missed part of the 2013 season and struggled when he did pitch, going 4-6, 5.73 in 103.2 innings. The Giants won again in 2014 and Vogelsong went 8-13, 4.00 in 184.2 innings. His postseason success from two years earlier didn’t carry over, but San Francisco still won their third title in five seasons. He allowed nine earned runs in 12.1 innings. In 2015, he went 9-11, 4.67 in 135.1 innings. He was left go via free agency and signed with the Pirates for the 2016 season. In what would be his last year in the majors, he went 3-7, 4.81 in 82.1 innings over 14 starts and ten relief appearances. For the Pirates, he went 13-26, 5.73 in 127 games (47 as a starter) and 362.2 innings pitched. He was 48-49, 3.93 in 827.1 innings with the Giants. He finished with 900 career strikeouts in 1,190 innings.
Denny Gonzalez, infielder for the 1984-85 and 1987-88 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1981 out of the Dominican Republic just prior to his 18th birthday. The Pirates brought him to the Gulf Coast League that year and he hit .346 in 50 games, with nearly double the amount of walks as strikeouts. He moved quickly in the system, playing the 1982 season between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .257 in 119 games, with a .683 OPS. Gonzalez mostly played second base in his first two seasons. He was still there in 1983, but saw more time at shortstop that year. He played the entire season with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .269 with 35 extra-base hits and 32 walks in 125 games. He was even better in 1984, hitting .300 with 22 doubles, seven triples, 15 homers and 40 stolen bases in 113 games, before joining the Pirates for 26 games at the end of the year. He batted .183 with no homers in that first trial, while seeing time at three different positions. The 1985 season had the same basic split, playing in Hawaii until joining the Pirates in August. He had an .853 OPS in 106 games in Triple-A that year and he batted .226 with four homers in 35 games for the Pirates. The next year saw Gonzalez back in Triple-A and he slumped all season, finishing with a .222 average and a .639 OPS.
Gonzalez spent four seasons in the majors for the Pirates, although none of them were full seasons. He made just one Opening Day roster (1987), but that ended up being the year he played the least amount of games for Pittsburgh. He played just five games without a hit in 1987, then batted .188 in 24 games with the Pirates in 1988. All told, Gonzalez played 90 games for the Pirates, hitting an even .200 with four homers and 17 RBIs. With Pittsburgh, he played 34 games at third base, 25 at shortstop, 16 in left field and ten at second base. He was dealt to the Cleveland Indians in November of 1988 along with a player to be named later, for a player to be named later. The rest of the deal turned out to be Felix Fermin going to the Indians, while Jay Bell returned to the Pirates. Gonzalez went to the minors for the Indians, coming up for eight September games, which would be the last Major League games of his career. He was far from finished as a player. He played until 1998, spending time in the minors with the Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets and Boston Red Sox, while also seeing time in Japan, before playing out his career in Mexico. He then went on to become a trainer down in the Dominican. We posted an in depth article on Gonzalez here in our Obscure Pittsburgh Pirates feature.
R.C. Stevens, first baseman for the 1958-60 Pirates. He was a big (6’5″, 220 lbs) first baseman who the Pirates signed in 1952 out of high school in Georgia. He debuted in Class-D ball with Batavia of the PONY League, where he hit .256 with 23 extra-base hits in 110 games. The next year saw him move up to Class-C, playing for St Jean of the Provincial League, where he batted .313 with 43 extra-base hits in 121 games. He began showing big power numbers in 1954 as a 19-year-old in the Carolina League, where he hit 31 doubles and 25 homers. He had 115 RBIs and 100 walks, posting a .920 OPS in 140 games for Burlington-Graham. Pittsburgh moved Stevens up the next year to the much tougher competition in the Pacific Coast League, where he struggled the first season in Hollywood with a .693 OPS and poor BB/SO numbers. He came back with 27 homers and 72 RBIs the following year for Hollywood, adding 162 points to his OPS. Stevens split the 1957 season between the PCL and the Pirates Triple-A team (Columbus) in the International League, batting a combined .256 with 19 homers and 81 walks. He made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1958 as a backup at first base, getting into 59 games throughout the year, which also included a brief trip to the minors in July. Stevens started 19 games for the 1958 Pirates, hitting .267 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 90 at-bats. He would see limited time in each of the next two seasons in the majors, playing a combined 12 games, while spending most of those two years with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. He had average stats in the minors in 1959, then had 37 homers and 109 RBIs in 1960. The Pirates were in a pennant race that year and he didn’t join the club until September. He batted just three times and was used as a defensive replacement at first base seven times for the tin-gloved Dick Stuart. The Pirates dealt Stevens to the Washington Senators on December 16, 1960 as part of a package to acquire pitcher Bobby Shantz. Stevens played one year with the expansion Senators in their first year, hitting .129 in 33 games. He returned to the minors in the middle of the 1961 season and stayed there until his retirement after the 1963 season. He hit .210 with eight homers and 21 RBIs in 176 plate appearances over 104 big league games. In 12 minor league seasons, he hit 191 homers.
Sheldon Lejeune, center fielder for the 1915 Pirates. He was a strong minor league hitter, with speed and a big arm, whose success never carried over to the majors. Lejeune batted .328 or higher in five of six seasons from 1910-1915, and he also did it with a bit of power, hitting as many as 25 homers in a season. In fact, during that 1912 season in Grand Rapids of the Central League when he hit 25 homers, the rest of his teammates combined for 15 homers. His Major League time was brief though, getting in six games for Brooklyn in 1911 and 18 games for the 1915 Pirates. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 10, 1914 from Sioux City of the Western League, but he didn’t join Pittsburgh until the following spring. Sioux City was managed by the younger brother of Fred Clarke, the Pirates manager at the time. Josh Clarke recommended his outfielder to the Pirates. Lejeune was batting .382 at the time that they acquired him, though his average was down to .361 by the end of the minor league season. His big league exploits weren’t much to talk about, but he was well known at the time for one thing. Lejeune had the longest official recorded throw of a baseball at the time. In 1910, he threw a ball over 426 feet in the air during a yearly event held in Cincinnati, breaking the old record by at least ten feet. The official record was 400 feet set in 1872, but many “unofficial” throws had been made between 400 and 416, including one by Honus Wagner in 1898. Two years before his record breaking throw, he missed tying the record by one foot during the Cincinnati event. For the Pirates, Lejeune batted just .169 with two RBIs and four stolen bases. He recorded four outfield assists during his brief time, playing all 18 of his games with Pittsburgh as the center fielder. When the Pirates started the season slow, Lejeune was sent to the bench, and soon was back in the minors, where he would end his playing days the next season. He played his final game for the Pirates on May 3rd and the next day he was released back to Sioux City. During his brief time in Brooklyn, Lejeune hit .158 with two steals. His minor league career began in 1905 at 19 years old, and in 1907 he went to Spring Training with the Chicago White Sox.
Jack Glasscock, shortstop for the 1893-94 Pirates. He was a star shortstop, who had a 17-year career in the majors that saw him hit .290 with over 2,000 hits to his credit. Glasscock began his pro career in Pittsburgh during the first year that minor league call existed (1877) and within two years he was in the majors. He was a strong hitter, fast base runner and an even better defensive player, leading the league in fielding six times during his career, with five more second place finishes. It took Glasscock a few years to establish himself at the plate. As a rookie in 1879, he had a .209 average and a .479 OPS in 80 games for the Cleveland Blues. He hit .243 with a .556 OPS in 77 games in 1880, then improved to a .602 OPS in a league leading 85 games in 1881. The next year he batted .291 in 84 games, with 66 runs scored, 104 hits and 27 doubles. In his final full season in Cleveland in 1883, Glasscock hit .287 in 96 games, with 110 hits, 67 runs scored and for the second straight season, he had 46 RBIs. He split the 1884 season between Cleveland and a jump to Cincinnati of the Union Association. The latter league existed for just one season and the competition was considered to be low. However, it’s still rated as a Major League and Glasscock hit .419 in 38 games, with 48 runs scored.
Glasscock returned to the National League in 1885 with the St Louis Maroons and hit .280 in 111 games, with 66 runs scored and 40 RBIs. He would end up with exactly 40 RBIs in each of the next two seasons as well. In 1886, he put up a .325 average and scored 96 runs, which was a career best to that point. Glasscock moved with most of his teammates to the Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1887. He hit .294 that year, with 91 runs scored and a career high 62 stolen bases. His production dropped in 1888, with a .269 average in 113 games, with 48 stolen bases, but his best two seasons were right around the corner. In 134 games in 1889, he hit .352 with a league leading 204 hits, to go along with career highs of 40 doubles and 128 runs scored. He also stole 57 bases. With the Player’s League coming into existence in 1890, Glasscock led the National League with a .336 average in 1890. He also led with 172 hits, while picking up 32 doubles, 66 RBIs, 54 stolen bases, 91 runs scored and an extremely impressive 41:8 BB/SO ratio. His offense dropped off dramatically in 1891, with a .241 average in 97 games. He lost 211 points in his OPS that year. In 1892, he joined the St Louis Browns and hit .267 in 139 games, with 72 RBIs and 83 runs scored.
When Pittsburgh acquired him in 1893 in a trade for infielder Frank Shugart and cash, Glassock was batting .287 in 48 games for the Browns. He joined the Pirates on July 4, 1893 just in time for a holiday doubleheader. The Pittsburgh crowd that day at Exposition Park was very excited to get the star shortstop and gave him a thunderous applause. Glasscock earned that reception all season, finishing with a .341 average over his 66 games with the team, driving in 74 runs. His 100 RBIs that season were a career high, as were his 12 triples. The 36-year-old shortstop began to show his age the next season, batting .281 over 87 games, in a season that was at the top of the list for offense in baseball. The Pirates had a star filled lineup that year, one that hit .312 as a team. Glasscock was released on August 21, 1894 after a second hand/finger injury of the season left him unable to play, and he wasn’t expected to return before the year was over. He played one more year in the majors, batting .276 split between Louisville and Washington, then hung around minor league ball for another six seasons before finally retiring at 43 years old. Two of those minor league seasons were spent as a player/manager for Fort Wayne of the Interstate League.