Today in Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have two transactions of note, including one that brought the franchise its all-time winningest pitcher. We also have three players born on this date from three different eras.
On this date in 1959, the Chicago White Sox traded minor league third baseman Bob Sagers and veteran outfielder Harry Simpson to the Pirates for slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski. The Pirates traded for Kluszewski two years earlier after he had a down year for the Cincinnati Reds. The one time prodigious home run hitter was bothered by a bad back, which sapped his ability to hit the long ball. After topping 40 homers in three straight seasons (1953-55), Big Klu managed just six in 160 games for the Pirates. Simpson was a 33-year-old journeyman outfielder, who played some first base as well. The White Sox were his second team in 1959 and he was seeing limited action. He was an All-Star in 1956, driving in 105 runs, but had been in decline since that season. Sagers was a 25-year-old infielder, with a solid bat and no Major League experience. After the deal, the Pirates received very little return, getting nine games from Simpson and one minor league season from Sagers. The White Sox got a nice batting average (.294) from Kluszewski, who had 318 at-bats for them between 1959-60. He never regained his power, hitting just seven homers total in Chicago. The White Sox lost him after the 1960 season to the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft. He played his last season in Los Angeles, hitting 15 homers in 107 games.
On this date in 1912, the Pirates acquired their all-time leader in wins, pitcher Wilbur Cooper. He began the year playing for Columbus of the American Association, where he had a 16-9 record and threw 218.2 innings. Cooper was just 20 years old at the time, with no previous Major League experience. He debuted on August 29th and he went 3-0, 1.66 in four starts and two relief appearances. He threw a total of 38 innings and pitched two shutouts. Cooper ended up playing 13 years for the Pirates. Over his last eight seasons, he won at least 17 games every year. He had four seasons with 20+ wins, on his way to 202 wins in a Pittsburgh uniform. The Pirates also purchased the rights to pitcher George Sisler at the same time that they acquired Cooper from Columbus. Sisler wasn’t playing pro ball at the time. He was in college and didn’t want to ruin his amateur status. He never played for the Pirates, and eventually moved to first base, where he carved out a Hall of Fame career. While this transaction was originally called a purchase, the price eventually came in the form of players sent to Columbus to complete the deal. The Pirates reportedly outbid eight teams for Cooper, with most of those offers being cash purchases.
Gary Matthews Jr, center fielder for the 2001 Pirates. Before he had his one standout season with the Texas Rangers in 2006, Matthews Jr. jumped around the majors during his career, playing for five teams his first five seasons in the majors, including two stops in San Diego. He was originally drafted in the 38th round in 1992 out of high school by the Minnesota Twins. He went to Mission College and was eligible for the 1993 draft, where he was selected in the 13th round by the San Diego Padres. Matthews was a draft-and-follow signing, who debuted in short-season ball in 1994, where he hit just .209 with no homers. In 1995, he played in Low-A, hitting .238 with two homers and 28 steals in 128 games for Clinton of the Midwest League. In 1996, he moved up High-A and was helped out by the high offense environment of the California League. He hit .271 with 39 extra-base hits in 123 games. The 1997 season was split between High-A and Double-A, though he missed some time during the year, playing 97 games, with a .288 combined average, 34 extra-base hits and 13 steals. In 1998, Matthews once again missed some time. He played the year in Double-A, hitting .307 with 55 walks, 51 RBIs and 62 runs scored in 72 games. The 1999 season saw him make his big league debut. He put up a .739 OPS in 121 games with Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League. In 23 games with the Padres that year, he hit .222 with no extra-base hits.
Matthews was traded to the Chicago Cubs at the end of Spring Training in 2000. He played 80 games in the majors that year, mostly off of the bench. He hit .190 with four homers and a .562 OPS. He played 106 games for the Chicago Cubs in 2001, hitting .217 with a .684 OPS. The Pirates picked him up off waivers on August 10, 2001, giving him a chance as their everyday center field for the rest of the year. He hit .245, with five homers and 14 RBIs in 46 games. The New York Mets purchased his contract from Pittsburgh just after Christmas and he continued his journey around MLB, which eventually led to a big contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Matthews played just two games for the Mets before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles. He hit .275 with 35 extra-base hits and 15 steals in 111 games in 2002. He began 2003 with the Orioles, hitting just .204 with two homers in 41 games. From there he went back to San Diego, who took him off of waivers on May 23, 2003. He hit .271 with four homers and 12 steals in 103 games for the 2003 Padres.
The Padres lost Matthews on waivers to the Atlanta Braves, who released him at the end of 2004 Spring Training. He signed with Texas, where he hit well playing in the high-offense park. He batted .275 with 11 homers and an .811 OPS in 87 games in 2004. That was followed by a .255 average and 17 homers in 131 games in 2005. A big 2006 season that saw him hit .313 with 102 runs scored, 44 doubles and 19 homers. The season was highlighted by an All-Star appearance and an amazing catch to rob a home run that I’m sure you’ve seen before, which all led to a 5 year/$50 M contract with the Angels. It turned out to be a disastrous deal for Anaheim, who got one good year and two down years from him, before dealing Matthews Jr back to the Mets. Matthews batted .252 with 18 homers and 18 steals during his first year with the Angels, then it was downhill from there. He hit .242 with a .675 OPS in 127 games in 2008, then followed it up with a .250 average and four homers in 103 games in 2009. While the Angels paid most of his contract after the trade to New York, the Mets got a .190 average and one RBI in 36 games from him before he was released. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds and played a month in Triple-A before being released again, ending his playing career. In 12 seasons, he was a .257 hitter in 1,281 games, with 108 homers and 484 RBIs. His father Gary Matthews carved out a strong 16-year career in the majors, with over 1,000 runs scored, 900+ RBIs and walks, 234 homers and over 2,000 hits.
Jim Suchecki, pitcher for the 1952 Pirates. He was originally signed as a 15-year-old in 1943 by the Boston Red Sox. He pitched briefly for two lower levels teams that year, throwing a total of 36 innings, allowing 24 runs (earned runs aren’t available), 18 walks and he had 32 strikeouts. The next season he was up in the Class-A Eastern League with Scranton, where he went 5-10, 4.05 in 111 innings. He saw brief time with Scranton at the start of 1945 and Lynn of the Class-B New England League at the end of 1946. Those two seasons were both interrupted by service in the Navy during WWII. Suchecki played semi-pro ball for the 1947 and part of the 1948 seasons due to earning a better salary with the semi-pro team. He returned during the 1948 season to play for Roanoke of the Piedmont League, where he had a 7-2, 2.01 record in 76 innings. In 1949, he moved up to Double-A Birmingham of the Southern Association, where he went 10-11, 2.77 in 172 innings.
Suchecki made his debut in Boston in May of 1950, throwing four games in relief, before finishing the season with Louisville of the American Association. His minor league time that year was limited to five games due to an arm injury. He would be traded early in the 1951 season to St Louis Browns, where he had a rough season. In 29 games for the Browns, Suchecki went 0-6, 5.42 in 89.2 innings, making six starts and 23 relief appearances. During Spring Training in 1952, the Pirates bought his contract from St Louis. He made the Opening Day roster and would pitch five times through early May, all in relief. After a scoreless Pittsburgh debut, Suchecki gave up runs in each of his next four appearances. On May 5th, he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox off waivers, ending his brief time with the Pirates. He actually did well in the minors after leaving Pittsburgh, going 14-7, 3.62 in 189 innings for Memphis of the Southern Association, but he never played for Chicago. Suchecki never made it back to the majors, finishing his career in 1954, with two partial seasons for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League and a short stint with Nashville of the Southern Association. His big league record shows and 0-6, 5.38 record in 103.2 innings.
Tony Boeckel, third baseman for the 1917 and 1919 Pirates. He played five years of minor league ball, the last four in the Northwestern League, before the Pirates brought him to the majors for the first time. Boeckel debuted at 20 years old in 1913 with Stockton of the Class-D California League, where he hit .268 in 115 games. He spent part of the 1914 season with Stockton and batted .364 in 36 games. The rest of the year was spent with Tacoma of the Class-B Northwestern League. In 1915, his records show just 14 games for Tacoma, with a .283 average. He was released in early May when it was said that he was drinking a lot after games, though the local papers called that nothing more than a rumor, and then noted that he ended up with a better paying job playing semi-pro ball. From there it was on to Great Falls of the Northwestern League, where he batted .313 in 60 games in 1916, and he was hitting .299 in 278 at-bats when the Pirates came calling.
Boeckel’s deal with the Pirates was an odd journey. It was announced on June 11th that he was acquired by the Pirates for $1,500 and a player to be named later. He was also supposed to report to the Pirates at once. That didn’t happen, and on July 4th it was announced that he was sold to the St Louis Browns after the Pittsburgh deal was canceled. On July 14th, it was announced that he was sold to the Pirates and he would leave after the following day’s game. That turned out to be correct, with no mention of what happened to the deal with the Browns. He joined Pittsburgh on July 23, 1917, making his debut at third base. His first game didn’t last long. After one at-bat he was overcome by the extreme heat that day and had to be pulled from the game. Things got better for Boeckel, as he took over the hot corner for the rest of the season, hitting .265 with 23 RBIs in 64 games. He didn’t play in 1918 due to WWI (he enlisted in the Navy), but he returned to the Pirates as their starting third baseman the next season. Boeckel played every day through the middle of June of 1919, hitting .250, with 16 RBIs in 45 games. The team put him on waivers, despite the fact they had won seven straight games at that point. Seldom-used Walter Barbare took over at third base and Boeckel was picked up by the Boston Braves, who were coming into town.
The Pittsburgh front office said they didn’t think Boeckel was giving full effort on the field. It sure seemed that they were right by the way he played in Boston, where he hit .286 with 27 homers and 298 RBIs in 668 games, after batting .259 with no homers for the Pirates in 109 games. He finished off the 1919 season by batting .249 with one homer in 95 games. He led the National League with 140 games played that season. In 1920, he hit .268 with 70 runs scored and 28 doubles in 153 games. He had his best season in 1921 when he batted .313 in 153 games, with 93 runs scored, 20 doubles, 13 triples, ten homers and 84 RBIs. Boeckel hit .289 in 119 games in 1922, with 31 extra-base hits and 61 runs scored. In 1923, he batted .298 in 148 games, with 43 extra-base hits, 79 RBIs and 72 runs scored.
Boeckel wasn’t a superstar at the time, but he was a solid hitter who would probably be better known if his career had a chance to play out. Unfortunately, he died at age 30 after the 1923 season from injuries he received in a car accident. Also involved in the accident was Bob Meusel, a star outfielder for the Yankees, who escaped uninjured. Boeckel was the first active Major League player to die in an automobile accident. Boeckel’s final career totals show a .282 average in 777 games, with 337 RBIs and 372 runs scored.