This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 28th, Big Trade and a Big Comeback

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades and a game of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1939, the Pirates traded first baseman Gus Suhr to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitcher Max Butcher. Suhr played ten years for Pittsburgh and ranks near the top of the team’s all-time first basemen list. He played 1,365 games for the Pirates, hitting .278 with 789 RBIs. By the time this trade happened though, he was nearing the end of his career at 33 years old. The Phillies got just 70 games out of him before releasing him during the 1940 season. He ended up playing over 600 more minor league games after being released, but never played in the majors again. Butcher was a 28-year-old righty with a 2-13 record at the time of the deal. He had a career record at that point of 28-46 in four seasons. After the deal, the move to Pittsburgh helped Butcher, who finished up 67-60, 3.34 in 202 games over seven seasons with the Pirates. He won a career high 17 games in 1941, but he had a lower ERA in three of his final four seasons in the majors.

On this date in 2000, the Pirates sent left fielder Wil Cordero to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for infielder Enrique Wilson and outfielder Alex Ramirez. Cordero was with Cleveland in 1999, hitting .299 in 54 games. The Pirates signed him as a free agent in December of 1999. The 28-year-old had been in the majors since 1992, and in 1994 he was an All-Star shortstop for the Montreal Expos. With the Pirates, he hit .282 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs in 89 games. After the trade, he played 38 games for Cleveland in 2000 without hitting a homer. Cordero bounced around the majors after that season, playing until 2005, when he hit just .118 for the Washington Nationals. Wilson had just turned 27 years old, and he was in his fourth season with Cleveland, hitting .287 in a total of 190 games. A top ranked prospect in their system, he played third base, second base and shortstop. He played 86 games for the Pirates over the 2000-01 seasons, hitting .223, before being dealt to the Yankees for Damaso Marte. Ramirez was a 25-year-old, who had hit well in parts of three seasons with Cleveland, batting .286 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 92 games. With Pittsburgh he had some trouble at the plate, hitting .209 in 43 games with a 7/32 BB:SO ratio. After the season, he was sold to Japan, where he played until 2013 and hit 380 homers. In his 21 total seasons of pro ball, he hit 508 homers. The deal worked out best for the Pirates, but the three players involved in the deal all had troubles with their new team. The trade win came from the acquisition of Marte, who pitched well for the Pirates, then was used in a trade piece with the New York Yankees, which brought back four players.

The Players

Carmelo Martinez, first baseman for the 1990-91 Pirates. He signed with the Chicago Cubs at 18 years old in 1978 as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Rico. He debuted in the Gulf Coast League in 1979, where he hit .203 with one homer in 40 games. He moved up to full-season ball the next year and hit .257 with 23 doubles and 12 homers in 128 games. He was up in Double-A in 1981, playing for Midland of the Texas League, where he hit .296 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs. He repeated the level in 1982 and did even better, hitting .334 with 35 doubles, 27 homers, 85 walks, 100 runs scored and 93 RBIs. In 1983 he played 123 games in Triple-A, batting .251 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs. He came up to the majors in late August and hit .258 with six homers in 29 games. That December he was part of a six-player, three-team trade, going to the San Diego Padres in the deal. In his first full season in the majors, Martinez helped the Padres get to the World Series by hitting .250 with 28 doubles, 13 homers and 66 RBIs. He managed to hit .176 (3-for-17) in both the NLCS and the Fall Classic, with a .399 OPS in the five-game series with the Detroit Tigers. The next year he hit 21 homers, drove in 72 runs and walked 87 times, with a league leading 14 assists from left field, in what was his best season in the majors.

In 1986, Martinez struggled at the plate, hitting .238 in 113 games, with nine homers and 25 RBIs. He rebounded the next year, batting .273 with 70 walks, 15 homers and 70 RBIs. His average dropped to .236 in 1988, and his walk rate dropped as well, though he managed to hit 18 homers and drive in 65 runs in 121 games. His playing time went down more in 1989, as he hit .221, with a .651 OPS. After the season, he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent and rebounded in a part-time role. In 71 games with the Phillies, he batted .242 with eight homers and a .743 OPS. The Pirates acquired him from Philadelphia on August 30, 1990 to help with their first pennant run in 11 years. Martinez hit .211 with two homers in 12 games for Pittsburgh, getting three starts. He started twice in the NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds and went 2-for-8 with two doubles and two RBIs. He began the 1991 season with the Pirates, but was dealt to the Kansas City Royals in early May for pitcher Victor Cole. He would be traded to the Reds later in the season and he finished the year between all three stops with a .234 average and six homers in 64 games. That 1991 season ended up being his last year in the majors, ending his nine-year career with a .245 average, 108 homers and 424 RBIs in 1,003 games. Martinez spent the 1992 season in Japan, then played all of 1993 in Triple-A for the Seattle Mariners, before playing in Mexico for the 1994-95 seasons. He also spent a short time with the Cleveland Indians in Triple-A in 1995. He is the cousin of Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez.

Duke Esper, lefty pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys and the 1892 Pirates. He had two stints with Pittsburgh, playing for two drastically different teams just two years apart and his results were the exact opposite. As a rookie in 1890, Esper began the year with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, where he went 8-9, 4.89 in 18 games. After being released in August, he signed with the Alleghenys and made two starts, both one-sided losses. He ended up with the Pirates under some off circumstances. The day before his debut with Pittsburgh, he went through a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies and their Hall of Fame manager George Wright. It was said that if he looked good he would pitch the next day for the Phillies. However, he ended up pitching against the Phillies the next day for the Alleghenys. His debut on August 23rd was said to be a strong pitching performance with poor defense behind him in a 7-0 loss, where the paper claimed that none of the runs were earned. Pittsburgh went 23-113 that season and they tried out a ton of players just to get through the season, but Esper had one of the shortest stints with the club. He wasn’t even officially signed by the team when he pitched his first game, though he signed his deal two days later. His second and final start came on August 28th in a 9-1 loss to the New York Giants. Esper was released eight days later so that he could sign with the Philadelphia Phillies to finish the season, which turned out to be a bad decision by the Alleghenys. In five starts with the Phillies, he went 5-0, 3.07 in 41 innings and remained with the team through the first half of the 1892 season.

In 1891, Esper went 20-15, 3.56 in 296 innings. He had an 11-6 record through early August of 1892, when he rejoined the Pirates. The Phillies released him in late July and it was said at the time that he was out of game shape due to spending a lot of time with his ill wife at her bedside He was signed on July 28th, but didn’t report to Pittsburgh until a week later. Duke (first name was Charles) made three starts for a much better Pittsburgh team, going 2-0 with one complete game. He debuted on August 8th, but ended up returning home due to his own illness. He joined the Pirates for starts on August 29th and September 6th. During that final game he was very wild and got removed in the third inning, in what ended up being his final start of the season. The next two seasons proved just how much of an effect a bad team can have on a pitcher’s record, and vice-versa for a good team. Esper went 12-28, 4.71 in 334.1 innings in 1893 for the Washington Senators, a last place team in the 12-team National League. Those 28 losses led the league. The next year he was purchased by the first place Baltimore Orioles mid-season, where he went 10-2, 3.92 in 101 innings over 16 games, after going 5-10, 7.45 in 116 innings for Washington. His 1895 season with the Orioles is a hard one to figure out. His ERA was exactly the same as the previous year and the Orioles were again a first place team, but Duke went 10-12 in 25 starts and nine relief appearances. To make matters even stranger, he went 14-5 (with a slightly lower ERA) in 1896, as the Orioles took their third straight National League pennant. Esper pitched two more years in the majors for the 1897-98 St Louis Browns, going 4-11, 5.64 in 126 innings. He finished with a 101-100, 4.39 record in 1,727.1 innings over nine seasons.

Bill Day, pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Right after the Alleghenys gave Duke Esper his last start in 1890, they brought in another pitcher from Philadelphia in the person of Bill Day (they were both born in 1867). Day had a 1-4, 4.01 record in 42.2 innings over parts of two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, prior to coming over to the Pirates in a two-for-one exchange for outfielder Billy Sunday on August 22, 1890. That one win he had came on July 15, 1890 in an 8-4 triumph over the Alleghenys. Day joined the Alleghenys eight days after the trade was completed and he got his first start on September 2nd in Brooklyn, which was a 5-4 loss. He almost won his debut, taking a 4-2 lead into the ninth, but a fielding error by right fielder Bill Wilson allowed two runs to score and Day took the tough loss. He ended up making six starts for the Alleghenys over a 32-day stretch and all six resulted in losses, including the 113th loss of the season for Pittsburgh. The last loss of the season was a 10-4 defeat, giving the Alleghenys a Major League record for single season losses that stood for nine seasons and has been topped just five times, even with expanded schedules. For Day, his Major League career was done at that point, although his pro career was far from over, pitching in the minors for another ten seasons before retiring. The Alleghenys reserved him for the 1891 season, and he was still reserved as late as February 15, 1891, but he wasn’t around for Spring Training. On April 30, 1891 it was announced that he signed with Troy of the Eastern Association. Day played all around the northeast until his last season in 1900. His only known playing time prior to joining the 1889 Phillies at 22 years old was a brief stint with Wilmington of the Delaware State League earlier that season.

The Game

On this date in 2001, the Pirates scored seven runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Houston Astros by a 9-8 score. Trailing by six with veteran reliever Michael Jackson on the mound, the Pirates had two outs before they had their first base runner. Kevin Young doubled, followed by a Pat Meares homer to make it 8-4. A single and a walk, set up an RBI single by Jack Wilson, made it an 8-5 game and brought on closer Billy Wagner. He hit Jason Kendall to load the bases, which brought up Brian Giles, who put a grand slam into the right field bleachers for the walk-off win. Here’s the boxscore. Here’s the homer.