Today is a busy date in Pittsburgh Pirates history. Eight former players born on this date. Before we get into the former players, current shortstop Kevin Newman turns 28 today.
Steve Bieser, outfielder for the 1998 Pirates. He was a 32nd round draft pick in 1989 of the Philadelphia Phillies out of Southeast Missouri State. He spent his first two seasons of minor league ball with Batavia of the New York-Penn League, where he struggled at the plate hitting .231 in 1989 and .240 the next, with just one home run over those two seasons. Bieser had a utility role in 1991 in Low-A, playing everywhere on the field, while hitting .244 with 17 stolen bases in 60 games. He split the 1992 season between High-A and Double-A, batting .281 with 11 doubles, nine triples and 16 steals in 106 games. The next year was split between Double-A and Triple-A. He hit .292 in 79 games with his first homer since his rookie season. The next two years were spent in Triple-A and he had nearly identical averages, but much better results in 1995. He had a .268 average in 93 games in 1994, with a .663 OPS. He hit just one point higher on the average in 95 games in 1995, but he had a .731 OPS thanks to both a better OBP and slugging percentage. In 1996, Bieser became a free agent and signed a minor league deal with the Montreal Expos. He spent the whole year in Triple-A, where he hit .322 with 29 extra-base hits and 27 steals in 123 games. He played all three outfielder spots and caught 33 games that year. He signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets in 1997 and struggled in Triple-A, hitting .146 in 41 games. However, eight years after being drafted, he made his Major League debut with the 1997 Mets, hitting .246 in 47 games with four RBIs. He actually made the Opening Day roster and stayed around through the end of June. He played all three outfield spots and went behind the plate for two games during his first taste of the majors. The Pirates signed Bieser as a free agent that off-season, sending him to Triple-A, where he hit .257 in 84 games, with most of his defensive time spent behind the dish. He was called up in early July and played 13 games that month, all off the bench. Bieser went 3-for-11 at the plate, getting into two games in the outfield, before returning to the minors. He remained in the Pirates organization until the middle of the 1999 season, splitting his time between Double-A and Triple-A. Bieser played minor league ball for another two seasons with the St Louis Cardinals before retiring. He played 13 years of pro ball and played every position multiple times, including six chances on the mound.
Ruben Rodriguez, catcher for the 1986 and 1988 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1981 as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic at 17 years old. He spent the first seven seasons of his pro career (1982-88) in the Pittsburgh system, twice getting called up to the majors in September. Rodriguez got a very advanced placement from the Pirates in his first year, still just 17 years old at the beginning of the year, he was placed in the Low-A South Atlantic League with Greenwood, where he hit .248 with one homer in 69 games. He was moved up to the Carolina League in 1983, and he hit .228 with 14 doubles and four homers in 79 games for Alexandria. The 1984 season saw him spend the entire year with Nashua of the Double-A Eastern League. Rodriguez batted .219 with 13 doubles and four homers in 87 games. He repeated the level in 1985, though he saw his OPS drop 48 points, as he hit .214 with 16 extra-base hits in 104 games. He split the 1986 season between Double-A and Triple-A and combined to post a .541 OPS, with much better results in Triple-A, though the hitter-friendly environment of Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League helped his case. Rodriguez played two games for the Pirates in both 1986 and 1988, starting once each year, while coming in as a defensive replacement in the other two games. During the 1987 season the Triple-A club moved to Vancouver and he had a .534 OPS in 88 games. Rodriguez got some criticism at the time for basically being a one-tool player, who had a cannon for an arm, but the rest of his defense was mediocre and the stats showed that he couldn’t hit Triple-A pitching. Despite that report, he was added back to the 40-man roster prior to the 1988 season and played most of the year back in Double-A. He put up his best offensive season with the Pirates that year, though the result was still just a .623 OPS. During Spring Training of 1989, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Lou Thornton. Rodriguez remained in pro ball until 1995 (he didn’t play in 1990), never making it back to the majors. After a brief stint in the Detroit Tigers system in 1991, he spent the rest of 1991 and the next three years in the minors for the Boston Red Sox. His last year of pro ball was spent in Mexico. His only Major League hit was an RBI triple off of Scott Sanderson
Bill Schuster, shortstop for the 1937 Pirates. He had a five-year big league career, with the large majority of his time coming during the war years (1943-45) while with the Chicago Cubs. Schuster began his pro career in 1935, playing three season in the Class-A New York-Penn League with Scranton and Albany. He debuted at 22 years old and hit .266 with 22 extra-base hits in 133 games. The next year he hit .283 in 138 games, with 27 doubles and nine triples. That was followed by a .302 average and 28 extra-base hits in 125 games in 1937. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 30, 1936 from Scranton for $2,500 under a working agreement with the team that they could pick any player off of their roster for that amount. Word at the time was that the choice was between Schuster and pitcher William Gilvary, who never made the majors. Schuster was a late September addition to the 1937 Pirates, making his Major League debut on September 29th as a pinch-runner, and he scored a run. He got into both games of a doubleheader four days later as the starting shortstop, going 3-for-6 at the plate. He was back in the minors the next year, hitting .318 for Montreal of the International League, but he did not play in the majors again until September of 1939, this time as a member of the Boston Bees (Braves). The Pirates held his rights until June 15, 1939, which was the trading deadline at the time. They sent him to Boston along with cash (said to be $15,000-$20,000) for first baseman Elbie Fletcher. That second trial was even more brief than the first, as he went 0-for-3 in two games. After spending three years in the minors, mostly playing for Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League Schuster then spent three years with the Chicago Cubs. He batted .294 in 13 late-season games for the Cubs in 1943, then played his first game before September in the majors in 1944 when he was the starting shortstop for a short time. He ended up playing 60 games that season, hitting .221 with one homer and 14 RBIs. In 1945 he hit .191 in 45 games, getting just 56 plate appearances and 15 starts. Schuster returned to minor league ball from 1946 until 1952, ending his 18-year pro career with over 2,250 games played.
Homer Blankenship, pitcher for the 1928 Pirates. He began his big league career at 19 years old with the 1922 Chicago White Sox, where he pitched for parts of two season alongside his older brother Ted. Homer was pitching for Okmulgee of the Western Association when his contract was purchased by the White Sox on August 17, 1922. He pitched four games for Chicago in September and had a 4.85 ERA in 13 innings. The next year he pitched four games in June and allowed three earned runs in 4.2 innings. On July 25th he was released to Galveston of the Texas League. After eight appearances over two seasons with Chicago, Homer (which was his real first name) went three years before he played pro ball again, resurfacing in the Texas League, where he pitched three seasons for Shreveport and Dallas. Blankenship won 43 games over that time and averaged 224 innings pitched per season, leading to a September trial with the 1928 Pirates. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 25th from Dallas, but he was allowed to finish out the minor league season before reporting to Pittsburgh. In two starts and three relief outings for the Pirates, he went 0-2, 5.82 in 21.2 innings, losing both of his starts. His final big league outing was a start in the final game of the season in which he allowed six runs over five innings against the sixth place Brooklyn Robins. Blankenship went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1929, but quickly developed a sore arm, and on March 13th he was sold outright back to Dallas. He returned to the minors for three more seasons without making it back to the big leagues, spending those first two years with Dallas, before winding up his career in the Western League in 1931. He played semi-pro ball during the 1932-33 seasons. His brother Ted pitched nine years in the majors, winning 77 games for the White Sox.
Cliff Lee, catcher/outfielder for the 1919-20 Pirates. He spent five seasons in the minors, beginning his career as a 17-year-old in 1914, before making his Major League debut with the 1919 Pirates. Lee played his first four seasons in the Class-D Central Association. He was with a team called the Muscatine Buttonmakers during the 1914-15 seasons, hitting .229 in 65 games as a rookie, followed by a .255 average and 35 extra-base hits in 117 games in 1915. The next two seasons were spent with the Marshalltown Ansons (Cap Anson’s hometown team), where he batted .260 in 125 games in 1916 and .269 in 95 games in 1917. He also played part of 1917 with Portland of the Pacific Coast League, a full four levels higher in the minor league system. He batted .274 in 29 games with Portland. The 1918 season was also spent in Portland, though this time it was in the Pacific Coast International League, which was a Class-B league, where he hit .359 in 49 games. The Pirates acquired him in the September Rule 5 draft from Portland and he reported to Pittsburgh the following season after spending some brief time in the Army.
For two years in Pittsburgh, Lee was a backup catcher, who occasionally played outfield, hitting .213 in 79 games, with ten RBIs in exactly 200 plate appearances. He hit .196 in 42 games in 1919 and then batted .237 in 37 games in 1920. Before he played a game for the 1921 Pirates, he was taken off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies, where he spent four seasons as a first baseman/outfielder. Lee had much better success in Philadelphia, where he batted .308 with 22 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs and 31 runs scored in 88 games in 1921. The next year he hit a career best .322, while setting career highs with 29 doubles, 17 homers, 77 RBIs , 65 runs scored and 122 games played. In 1923 he batted .321 in 107 games, with 20 doubles, 11 homers and 47 RBIs. He saw limited playing time through early June of 1924, when he was put on waivers. Lee played briefly for the Cincinnati Reds at the end of the 1924 season, getting into six games, then spent the next two years with the Cleveland Indians, prior to returning to the minors for four more seasons. He hit .322 in 77 games for the Indians in 1925, but he played just 25 games in 1926 and had a .175 average. Lee was a .300 career hitter in 521 Major League games, with 38 homers, 216 RBIs and 216 runs scored.
Lew Moren, pitcher for the 1903-04 Pirates. A lifelong native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Duquesne University, he made his Major League debut with the Pirates on September 21, 1903 as a starting pitcher. He was pitching with a local semi-pro team from Millville that season. His debut was the second game of a doubleheader against Brooklyn, at home, with the Pirates already wrapping up the 1903 pennant days earlier. Moren gave up seven runs in six innings, but it was said that he still pitched well and looked like a good pitcher for the future. Not long after that debut, he was back with Millville to finish their season. On October 16, 1903 the Pirates signed Moren for the following season, with manager Fred Clarke requesting that Moren’s father be present for the signature because he didn’t want to sign the 20-year-old without his father’s consent. The scouting reports at the end of Spring Training in 1904 spoke highly of Moren, saying that he only lacked experience and strength, otherwise he had good control, a nice fastball and he threw some good curves. The local newspaper must’ve really liked him, because in an early season 1904 game, in which Moren came in to relieve for Deacon Phillippe, The Pittsburgh Press said “he pitched remarkably well” despite giving up six runs in four innings. The Pirates did not agree with the praise given to Moren and he never pitched again in Pittsburgh. That two outings were his only games with the Pirates.
The Pirates released Moren to the Baltimore Orioles of the Eastern League in mid-May of 1904, but the Orioles released him almost immediately without ever seeing him pitch, with the announcement of his release coming the day after he joined the team. Moren spent the next two years in the minors before coming back to the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1907 for four seasons. He went 17-14 for Atlanta of the Southern Association in 1905 and 16-13 in 251 innings for Jersey City of the Eastern League in 1906. With the Phillies in 1907, he went 11-18, 2.54 in 255 innings. He completed 21 games and had three shutouts. In 1908 he was 8-9, 2.92 in 154 innings, with four shutouts. The 1909 season was his best in the majors. Moren had a 16-15, 2.65 record in 257.2 innings, with a career high of 110 strikeouts. He was 13-14, 3.55 in 205.1 innings in 1910. He went 48-56 over those four years, posting a 2.88 ERA in 872 innings. Moren had arm troubles and never pitched again after 1910, although he attempted a comeback with the 1914 Phillies.
Paddy O’Connor, catcher for the Pirates from 1908 until 1910. He was a veteran of seven minor league seasons prior to joining the Pirates in 1908. He spent the previous six years playing for the Springfield Ponies of the Connecticut State League, after debuting with Bristol of the same league at 21 years old in 1901. Halfway through his time in Springfield, the league went from a Class-D level of play to Class-B. He was a consistent hitter during that time, though the available stats are very limited. His highest average was .274 in Springfield, and he never went below the .248 mark. O’Connor was taken by the Pirates in the September 1907 Rule 5 draft and he played his first game with the team in 1908. He was a backup catcher to George Gibson for three years, during a time when Gibson played 145 games per year and the schedule was 154 games long. The team also carried a third catcher named Mike Simon, so playing time for O’Connor was sporadic at best. In his three seasons with the Pirates, he played 27 games total, getting 38 plate appearances. Most of that limited time was as a pinch-hitter, spending just eight games behind the plate. Paddy (first name was Patrick) batted once during the 1909 World Series, striking out in his only chance. O’Connor was sick during Spring Training in 1911 with the flu. On April 1, 1911 he was sold to Kansas City of the American Association, where he spent the 1911-13 seasons. It was said that he asked to be sold east to be near his home, but the only team interested was Boston (National League), and they refused to pay the $1,500 waiver fee for his rights. At the same time, there was word that O’Connor tried to get out of Pittsburgh before the 1910 season, but there were no takers. His reason was that he wasn’t getting any playing time. After three seasons in Kansas City, O’Connor came back to the majors with the 1914 St Louis Cardinals. He didn’t get much of a chance to play that year either, going 0-for-9 in ten games. O’Connor returned to Pittsburgh in 1915 as a member of the Rebels, playing in the Federal League, which was considered a Major League at the time. He hit .228 in 70 games during that season, the only consistent playing time he saw in the majors. He played off and on in the minors until 1921, while playing one more Major League game with the 1918 New York Yankees. O’Connor batted .225 in 108 big league games.
Jake Beckley, first baseman for the 1888-89 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, and the 1891-96 Pirates. In his eight seasons with the Pirates franchise, Beckley hit .300 in 930 games, with 664 RBIs and 701 runs scored. Five times he drove in 96 or more runs and six times he scored over 90 runs. Beckley scored 123 runs during the 1894 season, which ranks as the 15th highest season total in team history. Beckley’s 19 triples in 1895 is tied for 15th best in team history, tied with 13 other seasons, including Jake Beckley in 1891, 1892, 1893 and 1894. Yes, he finished with 19 triples in five straight seasons. His 122 RBIs in 1894 ranks ninth best in franchise history. He also has two other top 50 seasons (111 in 1895 and 106 in 1893). Beckley held the top three spots on the team’s single season hit-by-pitch list until Jason Kendall was hit 20 times in 2001. Beckley held those three top spots for 106 years. He was the Pirates career home run leader from mid-1892 through late 1908 until being topped by Honus Wagner.
Beckley’s pro career started with Leavenworth of the Western League at 18 years old in 1886. Stats aren’t available for that season, but it’s known that he had an outstanding 1887 season split between Leavenworth and Lincoln (also the Western League). Beckley hit .420 in 109 games, with 33 doubles, 26 triples and 16 homers, along with an incredible total of 163 runs scored. He started the 1888 season with the St Louis Whites of the Western Association, but he quickly joined Pittsburgh when they purchased him and teammate Harry Staley for $4,500 in mid-June. Beckley batted .319 with 20 extra-base hits in 38 games with St Louis. He took over first base full-time as soon as he joined Pittsburgh and hit .343 in 71 games as a rookie with the Alleghenys in 1888. In his first full season, Beckley batted .301 in 123 games, with 91 runs scored and 97 RBIs. Like most of his teammates, he jumped to the Player’s League for the 1890 season and he stands as the league’s all-time leader with 22 triples. He hit .323 with 110 runs scored, 69 extra-base hits and 123 RBIs in 124 games. When the Alleghenys and the Pittsburgh Player’s League team formed a brand new consolidated club for the 1891 season, Beckley was back at first base, where he hit .292 with 94 runs scored and 79 RBIs in 133 games. The schedule expanded in 1892 and he played 151 games. He average plummeted to .236, but he was still a threat with runners on base, collecting 96 RBIs. He had 50 extra-base hits, scored 102 runs and stole 30 bases.
In 1893, Beckley rebounded with a .303 average in 131 games. He had 56 extra-base hits, 106 runs scored and 108 RBIs. The 1894 season was a huge year for offense in baseball and Beckley was among the better hitters that season, batting .345 in 132 games, with 62 extra-base hits, and setting career highs with 123 runs scored and 122 RBIs. He followed that up with a .328 average in 1895, with 55 extra-base hits, 111 RBIs and 104 runs scored. He got off to a slow start in 1895, batting .253 in the first 59 games of the season. On July 25, 1896, the Pirates traded him to the New York Giants in exchange for first baseman Harry Davis and cash, in what was a very unpopular deal. Beckley batted .302 with 38 RBIs and 37 runs scored in 46 games with the 1896 Giants. Just like the Pirates, the Giants made the unwise decision of letting go of him, though they didn’t get anything back. He was released in May and signed with the Cincinnati Reds days later. After hitting .250 in 17 games in New York, he batted .345 with 76 RBIs and 76 runs scored in 97 games with the 1897 Reds.
Beckley hit .294 in 118 games with the Reds in 1898, with 86 runs scored and 72 RBIs. He hit .333 in 135 games in 1899, with 99 RBIs and 87 runs scored. He raised that average to .341 in 1900, with 94 RBIs and 98 runs scored in 141 games. Beckley batted .307 in 1901, with 36 doubles and 13 triples. His RBI and runs scored totals dropped over the next few years, but that was more of a product of the deadball era than his own production. Beckley batted .330 in 129 games in 1902, then hit .327 in 120 games in 1903 and after being sold to the St Louis Cardinals, he hit .325 in 142 games in 1904. He averaged 80 runs scored and 72 RBIs per season during that time. Beckley played three more years with the Cardinals, but never approached those totals as age and the deadball era did him in. He was still an above average hitter in the league when he batted .286 with 31 extra-base hits in 134 games in 1905. He played just 87 games in 1906, batting .247 with 22 extra-base hits and 44 RBIs. He played just 32 games in his final year and hit .209 before being released.
Beckley finished his career with 2,934 hits, 1,602 runs, 1,578 runs scored and a .308 average. His 244 career triples ranks fourth all-time and no first baseman in baseball history has recorded more putouts. Beckley has 2,056 more putouts than the second highest total all-time at first base. In fact, he’s the Major League all-time leader in putouts, regardless of position. He played five seasons in the minors after his Major League career was over, adding more than 600 hits to his resume, which doesn’t include a 234-hit season in 1887 prior to making the majors. As a pro, he had at least 3,840 hits, 998 going for extra bases. Beckley was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971 by the Veteran’s Committee.