This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: August 20th, Hall of Famer Al Lopez, Plus Two Trades of Note

We have four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including one who went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. There are also two trades of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1913, the Pirates traded pitcher Howie Camnitz and third baseman Bobby Byrne to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for third baseman Cozy Dolan and cash. Almost four years to the day, the Pirates had traded for Byrne to help them with their 1909 pennant run. Up until 1912, Camnitz had gone 110-67 with the Pirates, but that 1913 season was a disaster for his overall record, as he was 6-17, 3.74 at the time of the trade. At 31 years old, he was one year removed from his third 20-win season, so it was a huge drop-off in performance. Camnitz went 3-3, 3.67 in 49 innings for the Phillies after the deal, then jumped to the Federal League, where he went 14-19, 3.23 in 262 innings in 1914. He pitched just four more big league games after 1914. Byrne was 28 years old and still doing well offensively and defensively, while the younger Dolan (23 years old) was never a full-time player during his four seasons in the majors. Dolan filled in for the Pirates at third base for the rest of the year, then was traded in the off-season as part of the disastrous eight-player deal with the St Louis Cardinals that included Dots Miller and Chief Wilson. Byrne ended up playing another four years with the Phillies as a steady third baseman, though his hitting fell off from his Pirates days. He hit .243 with one homer in 311 games in Philadelphia. The big part of the deal from the Pirates side seems to be the money part. That was not only the amount the Pirates cut in salary, but also what they got back in the deal, while the second place Phillies were trying to catch the New York Giants in the standings at the time.

On this date in 1981, the Pirates traded first baseman John Milner to the Montreal Expos for first baseman Willie Montanez. Milner was 31 years old at the time, in his fourth season with the Pirates. He was a big part of the 1979 World Series winning club, hitting .276 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs in 326 at-bats. His saw a slight drop in his playing time in 1980, then by 1981, he was a seldom used bench player. Montanez was basically playing the same role in Montreal, except he was two years older and he didn’t see the occasional outfield time that Milner saw. The two clubs were exchanging veteran left-handed hitting first baseman, who were filling pinch-hitting roles with similar results. The basic reason for the deal was that Montreal wanted more power off the bench, while Montanez provided better defense at first base. In the end, the trade did little of anything for either club. Milner stuck around until the middle of 1982, hitting three homers in 104 at-bats, while Montanez barely played in Pittsburgh over parts of two seasons. He started four games at first base and came in as a defensive replacement in nine others. The Pirates released Montanez during the 1982 season, then re-signed Milner after he was released by the Expos.

The Players

Al Lopez, catcher for the Pirates from 1940 until 1946. He was in pro ball by the age of 16, playing in 1925 for Tampa of the Class-D Florida State League. He was from Tampa, so he was able to play for his hometown team. Lopez hit .224 in 51 games as a rookie in pro ball. The next year he batted .315 with 31 extra-base hits in 116 games with Tampa. He would move up to Jacksonville of the Class-B Southeastern League in 1927 and hit .276 with 23 extra-base hits in 128 games. From there it was to Macon of the South Atlantic League, another Class-B club. In 1928 he hit .326 in 114 games, with 14 doubles, eight triples and 14 homers. In September he got a shot in the big leagues. Lopez made his Major League debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27, 1928, going 0-for-12 in three games, in what was the start of a 19-year big league career that often gets overlooked due to his 17-year career as a manager that got him elected into the Hall of Fame. He didn’t stick right away though. He spent the entire 1929 season with Atlanta of the Southern Association, hitting .327 with 40 extra-base hits, before rejoining Brooklyn for the 1930 season.

In his first full season in the majors, Lopez hit .309 with 57 RBIs and 60 runs scored, setting career highs in all three categories. That’s not completely surprising, as 1930 was a huge year for offense in baseball and stats dropped off around the league immediately in 1931. That second full year with Brooklyn, Lopez hit .269 with 40 RBIs in 111 games. He batted .267 in 1932, with 43 RBIs and 44 runs scored in 126 games. He led all National League catchers with 82 assists. He also played 126 games in 1933, hitting .301 with 41 RBIs and 39 runs scored, while stealing a career high ten bases. Once again he led NL catchers in assists (84). In 1934, Lopez batted .273 with 54 RBIs and 58 runs scored. He set a career best with 23 doubles. He led all NL catchers with 137 games caught. He made his first All-Star team and received mild MVP support. The next year he led the league with 126 games caught. He batted .251 with 39 RBIs and 50 runs scored.

Lopez was traded to the Boston Bees (Braves) in a six-player deal after the 1935 season. In his first year in Boston, he led NL catcher with a 61.2% caught stealing rate and 107 assists. He hit .242 with 24 extra-base hits, 46 runs scored and 50 RBIs. In 1937 he played 105 games, his lowest mark during a full season up to that point. He hit just .204 with a .551 OPS. Lopez played 71 games in 1938, batting .267 with eight extra-base hits. He played 131 games during the 1939 season, hitting .252 with 22 doubles and 49 RBIs, while setting a career high with eight homers. On June 14, 1940, the Pirates traded catcher Ray Berres and cash to the Boston for Lopez. Prior to the trade, Lopez was hitting .294 in 36 games with Boston. After the deal, he hit .259 in 59 games with the Pirates. In his first full season in Pittsburgh, he was an All-Star for the second (and final) time in his career. He batted .265 with five homers and 43 RBIs in 114 games in 1941. That was followed up by a .256 average in 103 games in 1942, when he had 34 walks and 17 strikeouts. Lopez saw more playing time the next two years as the Pirates started to lose players to the war effort. In 1943 he played 118 games, his high while in Pittsburgh. He hit .263 with 39 RBIs and 40 runs scored. His hitting dropped off a bit the next year, with a .230 average and a .584 OPS in 115 games. In 1945, he hit just .218 in 91 games, but his defense was so well respected that he received mild MVP support.

As a 37-year-old in 1946, Lopez batted .307 in 56 games. A finger injury kept him out of action until May 19th, and a hand injury cost him the last month of the season. On December 7, 1946, the Pirates traded him to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for outfielder Gene Woodling.  He played one season in Cleveland, batting .262 in 61 games, then began to manage in the minors in 1948 (player/manager), before getting a Major League job in 1951 with the Indians. Over 17 seasons with Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox, he went 1,410-1,004, with an American League pennant title while with each team. As a player, Lopez hit .261 with 613 runs scored and 652 RBIs in 1,950 games. With the Pirates, he hit .254 in 656 games, with 214 walks, against 128 strikeouts. From 1942-44, he led the league in caught stealing percentage all three seasons. In 1940 and 1942-44, he led the National League in fielding percentage each season. He has the fourth highest caught stealing percentage (52.2) of all-time. He received MVP votes in seven different seasons during his career. Between the minors and majors, he caught over 2,400 games. Up until 1987, his 1,918 games caught was a Major League record.

Matt Hague, first baseman for the 2012 and 2014 Pirates. He was originally an 11th round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2007 out of the University of Washington, but he signed as a ninth round pick in 2008 with the Pirates after he transferred to Oklahoma State. He spent most of that first season in Low-A, after a brief stop in the New York-Penn League. Hague hit .322 with 17 doubles and six homers in 64 games in 2008. The next year he was with Lynchburg of the Carolina League, where he batted.293 with 30 doubles and eight homers in 122 games. He moved up to Double-A Altoona the next year and hit .295 in 135 games, with 30 doubles, 15 homers, 90 runs scored, 86 RBIs and 61 walks. He played winter ball in Mexico briefly after the 2010 season. In 2011, Hague hit .309 with 37 doubles, 12 homers and 75 RBIs in 141 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. After that season, he played 42 games of winter ball in the Dominican.

Hague made the majors in 2012, debuting in early April. After a brief stint, he was in the minors until late May. He returned to Pittsburgh for almost two full months before being sent down again. Hague played 30 games during that rookie season, batting .229 with no homers and seven RBIs in 70 at-bats. He batted .283 in 91 games with Indianapolis that year. He spent all of 2013 in Triple-A, batting .283 with 47 extra-base hits, 69 RBIs and 71 walks in 142 games. He spent nearly all of 2014 in Triple-A as well, except for a week in July that he spent with the Pirates, where he pinch-hit three times without a hit. The Pirates lost him on waivers to the Toronto Blue Jays late in the 2014 season, which he finished in Triple-A. He played another 42 games in the Dominican that winter, then got another shot at the majors at the end of the 2015 season. He went 3-for-12 with two walks, in what turned out to be his final big league chance. Hague played in Japan in 2016 and spent the 2017-18 seasons in the minors with the Minnesota Twins, Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners before retiring. He batted .226 in 43 big league games, and he was a .298 hitter in 1,118 minor league games.

Bull Smith, outfielder for the 1904 Pirates. He began getting playing time with the Pirates in early September of 1904 after they tried out another rookie in the outfield named Harry Cassady. The Pirates were having injury problems in late August and they have dropped well back in the standings to the New York Giants, so they were trying out new players at the time. On August 29, 1904, Pittsburgh purchased Smith’s contract for $1,000 from Wheeling of the Central League. He was said to be one of the best hitters and fastest outfielders in the league. It was also noted that he would ask not to play left field because he was much more comfortable in the other two spots. He played baseball and football (fullback) at West Virginia University prior to starting his pro career. Bull (first name was Lew) was put into the lineup right away and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts to start his career. His second game was much better, a single and a triple, while showing off a good arm in the outfield. The Pirates played a string of three straight doubleheaders from Sept. 5-7, and Smith played every game. During his 13th game of the year, he became ill, and was replaced in the field. It was an unlucky number for Bull, who didn’t play in any of the last 31 games left in the season. Pittsburgh departed on a long road trip after that game and he didn’t accompany the team. He would end up playing just one more Major League games, appearing with the Chicago Cubs on April 16, 1906 as a pinch-hitter. Despite saying he would ask not to play left field, he ended up making nine starts there for the Pirates. He batted .143 for the Pirates in 42 at-bats. In late December of 1904 it was announced that he would be returning to Wheeling. For the longest time he was credited with one game for the Washington Senators on August 30, 1911, but there was no record of him playing that day. He was a player-manager for a semi-pro team in Clarksburg, WV at the time. He also managed Clarksburg as a minor league team in 1907 and 1910.

Robert Gibson, pitcher for the 1890 Alleghenys. He was a local kid and a student at Penn State. His time with the Alleghenys was rough to say the least. With a 23-113 record, they were the worst team in franchise history. Gibson made his Major League debut with the Chicago Colts that year on June 4th and won a complete game, giving up just one unearned run. That would be his only game for Chicago and it just happened to be in Pittsburgh and against the Alleghenys, who must’ve liked what they saw from the young right-hander. It was said that Chicago was looking to sign a hitter at the time, so they cut ties with him after one game. Nearly two months later, Pittsburgh took Gibson with them on a trip to Brooklyn, then Cincinnati. He pitched with Wheeling of the Tri-State League between his big league stints, and it was said that he became a much better hitter, but he was coming to Pittsburgh as a pitcher. They intended to give him a shot to see what he had, and it was not a good sight. One day after joining the club, he pitched the second game of a doubleheader on August 1st, after the Alleghenys lost the opener 7-3 to Brooklyn. He did not last long on the mound, as Pittsburgh was down 11-1 after just one inning. Undeterred, they went back to Gibson just three days later, and again he faced Brooklyn. He threw a complete game and gave up 16 runs, but that comes with the huge asterisk in the boxscore that shows 11 fielding errors by Pittsburgh that day. He still deserves most of the blame, as he allowed 13 hits and nine walks.

Pittsburgh gave him one more chance, possibly feeling sorry for the lack of defense behind him three days earlier and more likely due to the fact that he was there and they were already 18-67, how much worse could things get? The Alleghenys put 17 runs on the board that day against Cincinnati, but it wasn’t enough. They lost 23-17 and for the second time, Gibson finished the game in right field, while outfielder Fred Osborne came in and pitched the rest of the game. That was it for the Major League career of Robert Gibson. His ERA with Chicago stood at 0.00, while three games with Pittsburgh shows an 0-3, 17.25 record, with 24 hits and 23 walks allowed in 12 innings of work. He is incorrectly credited with two complete games during his time in Pittsburgh. He pitched in the minors during the 1890-92 seasons, though he’s credited with a 2-7 record in 1891 for Jamestown of the New York-Penn League in 1891, and one game for Memphis of the Class-B Southern Association in 1892 in which he allowed 13 runs on 19 hits and eight walks in eight innings (complete game).