Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a pair of teammates from the 1949 team. We also have a recent trade of note.
On this date in 2008, the Pirates acquired outfielder Jose Tabata and pitchers Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf from the New York Yankees in exchange for relief pitcher Damaso Marte and outfielder Xavier Nady. The Pirates were giving up the two veterans in the deal, taking on four young players with minimal experience. Marte was a free agent at the end of the 2008 season and he did not pitch well after the deal, or in his final two seasons after re-signing with the Yankees. Nady saw his 2008 numbers drop after the deal, but he still did well in New York. However, he missed nearly the entire 2009 season with injury. With the performance of those two players, it wouldn’t take much for the Pirates to win this deal.
Jose Tabata had the biggest upside of this group, and while he never truly reached it, he stuck around for six seasons and finished with a 1.9 WAR. Ohlendorf made 64 starts with the Pirates and had a very quick peak in the middle, before falling off quickly. He had a 2.3 WAR with the Pirates. Karstens was similar to Ohlendorf, though he took a different route. He also had a brief peak at the end of his five years with the Pirates, which followed mediocre results. He had 3.9 WAR in Pittsburgh. McCutchen was the fourth wheel, who saw parts/all of four seasons with the Pirates before moving on to Baltimore. He had 0.4 WAR. This deal in 2011 appeared as if it had a chance to be a huge steal, but all four pieces fell off quickly around the same time. The Pirates won the deal, but that wasn’t saying much because the bar was set low.
Joaquin Benoit, pitcher for the 2017 Pirates. He signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic with the Texas Rangers shortly before his 19th birthday in 1996. Benoit debuted in the Dominican Summer League that year, then moved to the U.S. in 1997, where he had a 2.05 ERA in 44 innings as a starter in the Gulf Coast League. He was up in full-season ball in 1998, pitching the entire year for Low-A Savannah of the South Atlantic League, where he had a 3.83 ERA in 15 starts. From there it was to Port Charlotte of the High-A Florida State League in 1999. He went 7-4, 5.31 in 105 innings over 22 starts in the pitcher-friendly league. Despite those poor results, the Rangers still pushed him to Double-A for the 2000 season and he responded with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 85.1 innings. The 2001 season saw him debut in the majors briefly, while making 28 starts in the minors, with 24 coming at Triple-A, where he 9-5, 4.59 in 131 innings. He debuted in the majors on August 8th and allowed six runs over five innings. It ended up being his only big league game that season. He spent half of 2002 in the majors, making 13 starts and four relief appearances, going 4-5, 5.31 in 84.2 innings. Benoit put in a little more big league time each of the next two years, but neither were full seasons in the majors. He went 8-5, 5.49 in 105 innings in 2003, with 17 starts and eight relief appearances. That was followed by a 3-5, 5.68 record in 103 innings over 15 starts and 13 relief appearances in 2004.
Benoit moved to a relief role in 2005 and it was permanent after that season. He went 4-4, 3.72 in 88 innings in 2005, with nine starts and 23 relief appearances. He didn’t make a single start during his final 11 seasons. In 2006 in 56 games, he had a 4.86 ERA in 79.2 innings. He had a solid 2007 season, going 7-4, 2.85 with six saves in 82 innings over 70 outings. In 2008, Benoit dropped down to a 5.00 ERA in 45 innings and 44 appearances. He missed the 2009 season due to shoulder surgery and came back in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays. At 32 years old and on a minor league deal, he ended up having his best season. Benoit had a 1.34 ERA in 60.1 innings over 63 games with the Rays. He signed a free agent deal with the Detroit Tigers for the next three seasons. He had a 2.95 ERA in 66 innings over 61 appearances in 2011, then posted a 3.68 ERA in 71 innings over 73 games in 2012. He moved to the closer role in 2013, picking up 24 saves. He went 4-1, 2.01 in 67 innings that year. Benoit signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent and he went 4-2, 1.49 with 11 saves in 54.1 innings over 53 games in 2014. He moved out of the closer role in 2015, but still put up strong results, with a 2.34 ERA in 65.1 innings over 67 games.
Benoit was traded to the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2016 season. He struggled there with a 5.18 ERA in 26 games, but after being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in July, he gave up one run in 23.2 innings (0.38 ERA). That earned him a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017, and he had a 4.07 ERA in 42 innings over 44 games through the end of July. He finished his 16-year big league career with the 2017 Pirates after coming over in a July 31st trade deadline deal with the Phillies in exchange for minor league pitcher Seth McGarry. Benoit pitched eight games for the Pirates, posting a 7.56 ERA over 8.1 innings. He spent time on the disabled list with left knee inflammation and pitched just once after August 21st. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Washington Nationals, though he never pitched for them. In 1,068.2 innings over 764 big league appearances, Benoit went 58-49, 3.83, with 53 saves.
Jose Martinez, infielder for the 1969-70 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent out of Cuba in 1960, and it wasn’t until nine years later that he finally made his Major League debut. Martinez began as a shortstop, but by the time he made it to the majors, he was spending most of his time at third base. He began pro ball at 17 years old with Dubuque of the Midwest League in 1960, where he hit .284 with 28 extra-base hits and 28 steals in 101 games. He moved up to Grand Forks of the Class-C Northern League in 1961, hitting .280 with 40 stolen bases and 74 runs scored in 122 games. Martinez moved up to A-Ball in 1962, playing for Asheville of the South Atlantic League. He hit .243 that season in 119 games and struck out 102 times, which was high for the era. The 1963 season saw him hit .266 with 23 doubles, eight triples, 15 homers, 63 walks and 20 steals in 122 games, which were split between two Class-A teams. Martinez showed his best power in 1964 by hitting 20 homers while playing back in Asheville. He batted .273 that season in 119 games and only attempted three stolen bases all year, despite stealing 100 bases over his first four seasons. By the time he reached Triple-A in 1965, the power numbers from the previous year were gone. Between the 1965-66 and 1968 seasons (he didn’t play in 1967), Martinez hit just 14 homers.
Martinez batted .231 with seven homers in 96 games in 1965 with Columbus of the International League. Back with Columbus in 1966, he hit .213 with six homers in 111 games. After spending the 1967 season on the inactive list, Martinez returned to York of the Eastern League (Double-A) in 1968, where he hit .261 with one homer and six steals in 125 games. In 1969, he went from a light-hitting third baseman, who was demoted to Double-A for the entire 1968 season, to the Pirates backup infielder. He was helped along by the fact that the Pirates manager was Larry Shepard, who managed him in the minors and gave him every chance to win a spot in the majors. Martinez played 77 games that year, getting 34 starts at second base in a season that Bill Mazeroski played just 67 games all year due to injury. Martinez hit .268 with one homer, 16 RBIs and twenty runs scored. His homer that year was a ninth inning grand slam that came during a 2-2 ballgame. He made the Opening Day roster again in 1970 and was with the team through the end of May, playing 19 games, four as a starter. He went 1-for-20 at the plate before being sent back to Triple-A, where he spent the next two years for the Pirates. Pittsburgh sold him to the Kansas City Royals in Spring Training of 1972 and he spent the next three years in their system at Triple-A, prior to his retirement from playing. Martinez hit .245 in 96 games for the Pirates and played over 1,300 minor league games in 14 seasons. He went on to become a longtime coach with the Chicago Cubs, Royals and Atlanta Braves after his playing days.
Tom Saffell, outfielder for the 1949-51 and 1955 Pirates. He played just 23 games of minor league ball in 1941 for two different teams, then missed the next four years. He was first out with a knee injury, which caused him to be released twice in 1941, but then he missed time while serving in the military during WWII from late 1942 to early 1946. Saffell returned to the minors in 1946 and signed with Atlanta of the Southern Association, back when minor league teams could farm out their own players. The speedy lefty played center field and batted lead-off most of his minor league career. Atlanta sent him to Burlington of the Carolina League (Class-C) for 95 games and then 35 games with Class-A Charleston of the South Atlantic League. Between the two stops, he hit .315 with 37 extra-base hits and 37 stolen bases. He spent most of 1947 with Selma of the Southeastern League, while also seeing time with Atlanta. He batted .327 in 119 games, with 46 extra-base hits and 27 steals. Saffell played in Indianapolis for the 1948 season, a team which had a working agreement with the Pirates. With Indianapolis that year, he hit .299 with 22 stolen bases and 119 runs scored. He was back there to start the next season and he hit .275 with nine homers in 69 games. The Pirates purchased Saffell from Indianapolis on September 29, 1948 and optioned him back to the team at the start of 1949. He was called up midway through the 1949 season and he played well, hitting .322 in 73 games with 36 runs scored. He made the Opening Day roster the next year, but struggled to hit and was sent down at the end of May. Coming back up in mid-August, he finished the year batting .203 in 67 games. The next season was more of the same. Saffell was a seldom used bench player during the first month, then got sent down in May. He eventually came back up and finished with a .200 average in 49 games.
Saffell spent all of the next three seasons in the minors, then got one more shot with the Pirates as their 1955 Opening Day center fielder. He played for Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League during the 1952-54 seasons and showed remarkable consistency there, especially with his batting average, which was .273, .273 and .279 in his three seasons. There was talk that he had a huge price tag during the 1954 season, which is why he stayed in the minors during that time. On October 13, 1954, the Pirates purchased his contract, though it was a conditional deal and they could return him if he didn’t make the team. Saffell remained with the Pirates until his release in mid-September, batting .168 in 73 games. He finished the season with the Kansas City A’s, his last Major League team. He played four more seasons in the minors, all spent in the Pacific Coast League with three different teams, before retiring as a player. After his playing career ended, he was a longtime manager in the minors, a few of those seasons spent in the Pirates organization. He also played a total of 19 games during the 1962-64 seasons, mostly as a pinch-hitter. Saffell, who passed away in 2012, spent 30 years as the president of the Gulf Coast League, staying active in baseball into his late 80’s. In his four years with the Pirates, he hit .239 in 262 games, with six homers, 39 RBIs and eight stolen bases.
Eddie Bockman, third baseman for the 1948-49 Pirates. He originally signed as an 18-year-old in 1939, though he didn’t make the majors until seven years later, partly due to missing three full seasons (1943-45) while serving in the military during WWII. Bockman played Class-D ball in 1939 for two different teams, combining to hit .259 in 77 games. He moved up to Class-C Joplin of the Western Association in 1940 and batted .272 with 27 doubles, 11 triples and seven homers in 131 games. He remained in Joplin for the 1941 season, where he hit .290 with 24 doubles and 20 triples in 136 games. He was in Class-B with Norfolk of the Piedmont League in 1942 before joining the war effort. He hit .284 with 16 extra-base hits in 69 games that season. Bockman came back from the war in 1946 and hit .303 with 78 walks, 95 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in 144 games for Kansas City of the American Association, which was one step from the majors. He had a brief trial that September with the New York Yankees, going 1-for-12 in four games, then he was traded to the Cleveland Indians shortly after the season ended. For Cleveland in 1947, he hit .258 in 46 games, getting just 71 plate appearances all season. He made ten starts all year, mostly playing third base. On January 16, 1948, the Pirates purchased Bockman from the Indians. In his two seasons with the Pirates, he started 100 games, all at third base. He was the team’s regular third baseman at the end of the 1948 season and the first two months of the 1949 season, but he didn’t hit much and lost the job to Pete Castiglione. Bockman hit .239, with four homers and 23 RBIs in 70 games for Pittsburgh in 1948, then hit .223 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 79 games in 1949. He was sold outright to Indianapolis of the American Association on February 25, 1950 and ended up playing another nine seasons in the minors after his final big league game, the last four years as a player/manager. He spent most of his late time in the minors on the west coast, though his best season came down at Class-B ball in 1955 with Albuquerque of the West Texas-New Mexico League. The year he batted .345 with with 137 RBIs, 109 runs scored and 106 walks in 139 games. During his four years in the majors, he was a .230 hitter with 11 homers and 56 RBIs in 199 games.
Jimmy Bloodworth, second baseman for the 1947 Pirates. A common theme among the three players from today who played in the 1940’s is that they all missed significant time in their prime while serving in the military during WWII. Bloodworth, unlike the previous two players, was already an established Major Leaguer when he missed his time. He debuted in pro ball in 1935 at 17 years old in Class-D ball and hit .303 in 58 games during his first season. He spent most of the 1936 season with Columbia of the Class-B South Atlantic League, where he hit .299 in 111 games. In 1937, Bloodworth played the entire season for Class-A Chattanooga of the Southern Association, hitting .282 with 32 doubles, 18 triples and seven homers in 153 games. He received a late season promotion to the majors, hitting .220 in 15 games for the Washington Senators. In 1938, he spent part of the year down in the Class-B Piedmont League and predictably he dominated the league, batting .381 in 37 games. The rest of the year was spent back with Chattanooga, where he hit .280 in 94 games. He made it back to the majors with the Senators for more than half of the 1939 season, batting .289 with 24 doubles and four homers in 83 games. Bloodworth mostly played second base in 1940, though he made starts at first base and third base as well. He hit .245 with 36 extra-base hits and 70 RBIs in 119 games. After the season, he was part of a four-player trade with the Detroit Tigers.
Bloodworth was the everyday second baseman for the Detroit Tigers in 1942-43. He hit .242 with a career high 13 homers in 137 games during the 1942 season. The next year he hit .241 in 129 games, with 33 extra-base hits and 52 RBIs. He missed all of the 1944-45 seasons while serving during WWII, before returning in 1946 to take over his second base job in Detroit again. In his first year back he hit .245 in 76 games, with five homers and 36 RBIs. The Pirates purchased his contract in December of 1946, exactly five years to day that the Tigers traded to get him. For Pittsburgh in 1947, Bloodworth started 82 games at second base, playing 88 games total, and he hit .250 with seven homers and 48 RBIs. He began the year with the team, but was quickly sent down to the minors until returning on July 4th, so all of his 82 starts actually came over the last 88 team games of the season. Almost a year to the day after they acquired him, the Pirates traded Bloodworth to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for minor league second baseman Monty Basgall. Bloodworth never played for the Dodgers in the majors, but returned to the big leagues in 1949 for three seasons, first with the 1949-50 Cincinnati Reds, then the 1950-51 Philadelphia Phillies. He played in the minors until 1955, and from 1952-54 he took up pitching, while also serving as a player/manager. He was a .248 hitter with 451 RBIs in 1,002 Major League games over 11 seasons. In 1940, he had the best fielding percentage among American League second basemen. He also finished in the top three in fielding during the 1941-43 seasons. Bllodworth led the AL in both assists and putouts in 1941.