Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus we have a transaction of note, that involved a future Hall of Fame manager and a special pitching performance.
On this date in 1919, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielder Casey Stengel to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for utility fielder Possum Whitted. Stengel was not popular in Pittsburgh. His high salary demands and crazy antics didn’t get him on the good side of Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss. He was a good player though, hitting .280 with 55 RBIs and 51 walks in his 128 games with the Pirates. Whitted was 29 years old, playing in his eighth season in the majors, batting .249 with 32 runs scored and 32 RBIs at the time of the deal. He had played every position in the majors at some point, except catcher and pitcher. Whitted hit .389 in 35 games after the trade, then spent the next two years as a solid regular in the Pirates lineup, before they sold him to Brooklyn during the spring of 1922. He batted .286 with a .733 OPS and 158 RBIs in 277 games with Pittsburgh. Stengel refused to report to Philadelphia after the deal, demanding a salary raise, which was actually a somewhat common occurrence during his career. He sat out the rest of 1919, then reported to the team in 1920 and hit .294 in 153 games before being dealt to the New York Giants during the 1921 season. Stengel hit .368 in limited time in 1922, then batted .339 in 79 games the next year.
Matt Morris, pitcher for the 2007-08 Pirates. At one time, Morris was an All-Star pitcher for the St Louis Cardinals, winning 22 games in 2001 at 26 years old. However, by the time he reached the Pirates in July of 2007, he was coming off a season in which he posted his highest season ERA with the San Francisco Giants. Morris was originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 26th round in 1992 out of high school. He decided to attend Seton Hall University, where he turned into a first round pick of the Cardinals in 1995. His minor league time was brief before making his MLB debut on the Opening Day roster in 1997. He had eight starts in 1995, the last six in High-A, where he had a 2.38 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 34 innings. In 1996 he had 27 starts in Double-A and one in Triple-A. Morris went 12-13, 3.86 in 175 innings. He was with the Cardinals for the entire 1997 season, going 12-9, 3.19 in 217 innings over 33 starts. His innings total that year would end up as his career high. He missed some time in 1998 with a shoulder injury, which limited him to 17 big league starts and five rehab appearances in the minors. He pitched well with the Cardinals that year, posting a 7-5, 2.53 record in 113.2 innings. Morris lost the entire 1999 season due to Tommy John surgery.
In 2000, Morris returned healthy in a relief role to help limit his innings during his return from surgery. In 31 games, he had a 3.57 ERA in 53 innings. He returned to starting in 2001 and went 22-8, 3.16 in 216.1 innings. He led the league in wins and made his first All-Star appearance. He also set a career high with 185 strikeouts. In 2002, Morris went 17-9, 3.42 in 210.1 innings over 32 starts, and he made his second All-Star appearance. The next year he 11-8, 3.76 in 172.1 innings, while leading the league with three shutouts. In 2004, he posted a 15-10 record, but it came with a 4.72 ERA in 202 innings. The Cardinals went to the World Series that season, so playing for a 105-win team helped his record. In his final season in St Louis in 2005, he had a 14-10, 4.11 record in 192.2 innings. The Giants signed him to a three-year deal, which was back-loaded with much higher salaries during the 2007-08 seasons. Morris went 10-15, 4.98 in 207.2 innings in his only full season in San Francisco.
During the 2007 season with San Francisco, Morris was 7-7, 4.35 in 21 starts through the end of July. He also had a low strikeout rate that seemed concerning. In fact, Morris saw a decline in his SO/9IP rate every season since 2001, slowly dropping from 7.7 per 9IP, down to 4.8 at the time of the trade that brought him to Pittsburgh. On July 31, 2007, the Pirates gave up outfielder Rajai Davis and minor league pitcher Steve MacFarland to acquire Morris. It was said years later that the Giants were just trying to dump him for nothing in return, while being willing to take on some of his remaining salary, so Pirates GM Dave Littlefield made a huge overpay. He would make 11 starts for Pittsburgh in 2007 and pitch poorly, going 3-4, 6.10 in 62 innings pitched. The next season turned out to be a disaster. Despite being owed just over $10 M for the season, the Pirates pulled the plug on Morris after five starts. He went 0-4, 9.67 with a 2.15 WHIP. With his release from Pittsburgh, his career was over, finishing with a 121-92, 3.98 record in 1,806 innings over 11 seasons. He was a two-time All-Star, who finished third in the 2001 National League Cy Young voting and second in the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Pat Mahomes, relief pitcher for the 2003 Pirates. He was once a highly rated pitcher in the Minnesota Twins system, who couldn’t put it together in the majors during his first trial. He was drafted out of high school in the sixth round in 1988 by the Twins. He made 13 starts in rookie ball that year, posting a 3.69 ERA in 78 innings, with 93 strikeouts. He played for Kenosha of the Midwest League at 18 years old in 1989, where he went 13-7, 3.28 in 156.1 innings, with 167 strikeouts. Mahomes moved up to High-A Visalia in 1990, where he went 11-11, 3.30 in 185.1 innings, with 178 strikeouts. He got off to a great start in Double-A in 1991, posting a 1.78 ERA in 116 innings, with 136 strikeouts. He moved up to Triple-A to finish the year, where he had a 3.44 ERA in nine starts. Mahomes split the 1992 season between Triple-A and the majors, with a 3.41 ERA in 111 innings in the minors, and a 5.04 ERA in 69.2 innings over 13 starts and one relief appearance. He spent more time in Triple-A in 1993 than he did in the majors. He had a 3.03 ERA in 115.2 innings in the minors and a 7.71 ERA in 37.1 innings. The Twins kept him in the majors for the entire strike-shortened 1994 season and he made 21 starts, going 9-5, 4.73 in 120 innings, with 53 strikeouts. In 1995, he went 4-10, 6.37 in 94.2 innings, making seven starts and 40 relief appearances. The 1996 season saw him split the year between the majors and minors before being traded to the Boston Red Sox at the end of August. He had a 5.84 ERA in 12.1 innings with the Red Sox and a 7.20 ERA in 45 innings with the Twins.
In 1997, Mahomes went to Japan to pitch two seasons after being released by the Red Sox in June. He had an 8.10 ERA at the time. His Major League record at the time stood at 21-28, 5.88 in 135 games, 51 as a starter. When he returned to the states in 1999, Mahomes signed with the New York Mets, where he went 8-0, 3.68 in 63.2 innings over 39 relief appearances. His ERA rose to 5.46 in 2000, when he made 53 appearances (five starts) and threw 94 innings. He then had a 5.70 ERA in 107.1 innings over 56 appearances in 2001 while with the Texas Rangers. In 2002, he spent part of the year with the Chicago Cubs, posting a 3.86 ERA in 32.2 innings over 16 appearances, while spending the rest of the season in Triple-A. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent for the 2003 season, pitching most of the year out of the bullpen with Triple-A Nashville. For the Pirates, he pitched nine times, once as a starter, going 0-1, 4.84 in 22.1 innings. He left via free agency after the season, and played for the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins in the minors, before briefly returning to the Pirates minor league system at the end of 2004. Mahomes never returned to the majors after his time with the Pirates in 2003, but he pitched minor league ball until 2009, with his last four years spent mostly in Independent ball. He also saw time in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals organizations. He went 42-39, 5.47 in 709 innings in the majors, and he won 139 minor league games. Mahomes pitched over 800 games in pro ball during his 22-year career.
Roman Mejias, outfielder for the 1955 and 1957-61 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in 1953 as an amateur out of Cuba. Mejias hit well his first year of pro ball, playing Class-D ball, batting .322 with 48 extra-base hits in 117 games. Moving up to Class-B the next season, he did even better, hitting .354 with 76 extra-base hits in 139 games. That earned him a spot with the 1955 Pirates. Mejias was a part-time player during his rookie season, getting most of his playing time either off the bench or in left field. He hit .216 in 71 games, with a .585 OPS and 21 RBIs. The next season he spent the entire year at Triple-A, playing for Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .274 with 15 homers, 71 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. Mejias would make the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1957, spending most of the season in the majors (he played 28 games at Triple-A). He batted .275 in 58 games for Pittsburgh that year, his highest average while with the team.
Over the next two seasons, Mejias would serve as the team’s backup outfielder at all three spots. He hit .268 in 76 games in 1958, then saw his most action with the Pirates in 1959, when he played in 96 games, hitting .238 with seven homers, 28 RBIs and 28 runs scored. Mejias would spend most of the next two seasons in the minors, but during the 1960 season, when the Pirates won the World Series, he was briefly a member of that team. During a span of a week in May, he pinch-ran twice and pinch-hit once, scoring one run and striking out in his only at-bat. He played four games for the Pirates in 1961, again striking out in his only plate appearance. Mejias also hit 21 homers in Triple-A that season, which was his high in the minors, but he would soon top that number in the majors. In October of 1961, the Pirates lost him to the Houston Colt .45’s in the expansion draft. He played full-time that season and hit .286 with 24 homers and 76 RBIs. He would be traded to the Boston Red Sox that off-season and in two years in Boston, he hit .229 with 13 homers in 176 games, with a bulk of the time coming during the 1963 season. Mejias finished his career with a year in the minors, followed by spending 1966 playing in Japan. With the Pirates, he hit .245 with 17 homers and 83 RBIs in 308 games. In his nine seasons in the majors, he hit .254 with 212 runs scored, 54 homers and 202 RBIs in 627 games. Mejias turns 91 years old today.
On this date in 1976, John Candelaria pitched a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers, as the Pirates won 2-0. The game occurred at Three Rivers Stadium and it was the first no-hitter by a Pirates pitcher at home since 1907. The 22-year-old southpaw disposed of the Dodgers in one hour and 45 minutes, with 8,960 fans in attendance. He allowed one walk and the Pirates committed two errors. It was the fifth official no-hitter in team history, though the Pirates also had two no-hitters shortened in their history, which were official at one point. Here’s the boxscore.
John Fredland, who has contributed articles here in the past, has written up a full game summary on the SABR website for this game. Here’s John’s intro, followed by the link to his recap:
The Society for American Baseball Research’s (SABR) Baseball Games Project publishes articles on baseball games with historical significance. This spring, I decided to write about John Candelaria’s 1976 no-hitter after AT&T Sports Pittsburgh replayed its Monday Night Baseball broadcast.
Candelaria’s gem always seemed like a “big deal” among Pirates games, mostly because it stood for 21 years as their most recent no-hitter, through near misses by (among others) Bruce Kison, Jose DeLeon, and Doug Drabek, until Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon held the Astros hitless in July 1997. Remarkably, it was their first no hitter at home in almost 69 years, since Nick Maddox no-hit Brooklyn at Exposition Park in September 1907.
My main resource was a video of the Monday Night Baseball broadcast, available on YouTube. The photo quality was poor, but it was enough to get a good idea of what each play looked like. I also reviewed coverage from Pittsburgh and Los Angeles newspapers. Bob Smizik, who covered the Pirates the Pittsburgh Press in 1976, documented many good quotes from Candelaria, Duffy Dyer, and Al Oliver.
For further detail, I interviewed Al Oliver and Lanny Frattare. Both of them had lots of memories of the night. Oliver also provided background of some of the players, including Candelaria’s emergence as a major-league pitcher and his own experiences facing Los Angeles starter Doug Rau. Hearing Lanny’s voice over the phone took me back to 1983 and listening to KDKA-AM on the front porch of my boyhood home; I especially appreciated his account of setting up a rare on-field postgame interview with Candelaria.