There have been five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, two were involved in major trades in the franchise’s early history. We also have two trades of note.
On this date in 1996, the Pirates traded pitcher Denny Neagle to the Atlanta Braves for two minor leaguers and a player to be named later. The Pirates got first baseman Ron Wright and catcher Corey Pointer right away, then picked up Major League pitcher Jason Schmidt two days later. Neagle had his first strong season for the Pirates in 1995, going 13-8, 3.43, while leading the league in innings pitched, and making the All-Star team. In 1996, the 27-year-old left-hander went 14-6, 3.05 prior to the trade. Schmidt was a 23-year-old righty, with a 5-6, 6.45 record over two seasons in the majors, making 13 starts and nine relief appearances. Wright was a power-hitting 20-year-old, with 68 homers over two seasons in the low minors. Pointer was just 20 years old as well, showing signs of power at the plate, though it came with a low average.
After the deal, Pointer hit for power in the Pirates organization, slugging 33 homers between two seasons at High-A ball. His career stalled out due to a very low average, coupled with a very high strikeout rate. Wright was up with the Pirates at the end of 1997, but never played due to a wrist injury. A back injury then limited his playing time over the next two years, then a home plate collision nearly ended his career. He played just one Major League game for the 2002 Seattle Mariners, and it did not go well. He struck out, then hit into a triple play, followed by a double play, making six out in his three at-bats. Schmidt made up for the other two players though, winning a total of 44 games for the Pirates over six seasons (four full years), with 34 wins coming during the 1997-99 seasons. Neagle pitched very poorly right after the deal, then went 20-5 in 1997 for the Braves. He also pitched well in 1998, then moved on to the Cincinnati Reds, before eventually signing a disastrous deal with the Colorado Rockies. After leaving Pittsburgh, Neagle went a combined 81-66, playing until 2003. He was signed for 2004, but he missed the entire year.
On this date in 1988, the Pirates acquired third baseman Ken Oberkfell from the Atlanta Braves for a player to be named later. Four days later, Pittsburgh sent outfielder Tommy Gregg to Atlanta. The Pirates also received cash in this deal. Oberkfell was a decent hitting infielder, usually batted around .275 with good plate patience, but not much power. He was also a good glove man, three times leading his position in fielding. His time in Pittsburgh did not go well, and then early in the 1989 season he was traded to the San Francisco Giants. He played a total of 34 games for the Pirates, hitting .181 with four RBIs. Gregg, who had played 24 games for the Pirates over two seasons, had just turned 25 years old. He hit .345 in 11 games with the Braves after the trade in 1988, then spent three seasons as a pinch-hitter/backup outfielder, occasionally playing first base. After 1991, Gregg played a total of 113 games in the majors spread out over the next six years, with the majority of his time coming for the 1995 Florida Marlins. He had a career .663 OPS in 446 games.
T.J. Beam, pitcher for the 2008 Pirates. He was originally a tenth round draft pick in 2003 by the New York Yankees, coming out of the University of Mississippi. He was drafted in the 11th round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2002, but decided to return to school. Beam was a 6’7″ right-handed pitcher, who made it to the majors in 2006. He debuted in pro ball by splitting his first season between the New York-Penn League and Low-A, going 4-2, 3.93 in 55 innings over ten starts and four relief outings. He played for the same two teams in 2014, putting up a combined 4-9, 3.25 record in 108 innings over 19 starts and four relief outings. Beam switched to relief in 2005 and pitched the year between Low-A and High-A, putting up a 1.99 ERA in 77 innings over 47 games. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League after the season and had a 1.53 ERA in 17.2 innings. He started the 2006 season in Double-A, where he dominated, with an 0.86 ERA in 42 innings. He had a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings in Triple-A, and made his big league debut in mid-June, though he didn’t stick. Beam pitched a total of 18 innings for the Yankees, posting a 2-0, 8.50 record. He went to the AFL again after the season and had an 0.60 ERA in 15 innings. He missed a small part of the 2007 season, spending the year playing four games of rookie ball on rehab, then 29 games at Triple-A, where he had a 3.59 ERA in 47.2 innings. The Yankees granted him free agency at the end of the season, and six days later he signed with the Pirates. Beam began the 2008 season in Triple-A, throwing 43.2 innings over thirty relief appearances, with a 3.09 ERA and five saves. He joined the Pirates in late June, getting into a total of 32 games over the rest of the season. He had a 2-2, 4.14 record, with one save and 45.2 innings pitched. In February of 2009, the Pirates lost him on waivers to the Toronto Blue Jays. He pitched affiliated ball in the minors until 2010, then spent the 2011 season in independent ball, but never made it back to the majors. He went 8-4, 5.42 in 119.2 innings at Triple-A with Toronto, who used him as a starter for part of the season. Beam spent 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a Triple-A reliever, posting a 6.33 ERA in 54 innings. After playing winter ball in Venezuela, he finished his pro career with Lancaster of the Atlantic League.
Mark Ryal, outfielder for the 1990 Pirates. He played parts of six seasons in the majors, spending time with five different teams. He was drafted in the third round in 1978 by the Kansas City Royals as a 17-year-old. He went to the Gulf Coast League that first season and hit .241 in 27 games, with one extra-base hit, which was a triple. He was jumped to the Florida State League the next year and struggled at a young age versus the tougher competition, hitting .219, with a .555 OPS in 107 games. He improved while repeating the level in 1980, batting .266 with 29 extra-base hits and 60 runs scored in 123 games. In 1981, Ryal moved up to Double-A, while also having a six-game stint in Triple-A. He hit .265 that year in 129 games, with 14 homers, 70 RBIs and 14 steals in 16 attempts. He made in to the majors briefly for Kansas City in 1982, playing six September games after hitting .285 with 27 doubles and 20 homers at Triple-A Omaha of the American Association. Despite getting a shot at the majors, Ryal spent the entire 1983-84 seasons back in Omaha. He hit .260 with 42 extra-base hits in 132 games in 1983, and then dropped to .237 in 131 games in 1984, picking up just 31 extra-base hits. He was released at the end of the 1984 season and signed three months later with the Chicago White Sox.
Ryal was limited to 12 big league games during the 1985 season with the White Sox. That year he had a .721 OPS in 106 games at Triple-A. He was let go in October and signed with the California Angels in January. He did well in 13 September games for the 1986 Angels, hitting .375 with two homers, which helped land him a bigger role in 1987. That second year in California ended up being his best big league season. He played a career high 58 games, though just 18 of those games came as a starter. Ryal hit .200 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 104 plate appearances. He was released by the Angels at the end of Spring Training in 1988 and signed a month later with the St Louis Cardinals, who kept him in Triple-A all season. Ryal spent the 1989 season with the Philadelphia Phillies organization, getting into 29 big league games, where he started just two games and batted .242 in 33 at-bats. He was granted free agency in October of 1989 and signed with the Pirates exactly three months later. Ryal spent most of the 1990 season in Triple-A, where he hit .334 in 109 games. He was called up for a week in early August, then came back in September for the last month of the season. He played nine games for the Pirates, going 1-for-12 at the plate, getting one start in left field. He went to Japan after the season, playing two years there, plus 12 games for the Rangers at Triple-A in 1992, before retiring. His final big league stats in six seasons show a .211 average in 127 games, with seven homers, 31 RBIs and a .599 OPS. His son Rusty Ryal played two years for the Arizona Diamondbacks (2009-10).
Wally Roettger, outfielder for the 1934 Pirates. He debuted at a high level of pro ball in 1925 at 22 years old, playing his first season with Syracuse of the International League. Roettger hit .275 with 35 extra-base hits in 129 games. He improved the next season back in Syracuse, hitting .305 with 55 extra-base hits in 130 games. He moved to Houston of the Texas League in 1927, which was considered a step down in the level of play. However, he began the season with the St Louis Cardinals, getting into two early season games before returning to the minors. He hit .337 in 82 games with Houston and came back to St Louis for three September games. After a brief trial in 1927, Roettger hit .341 with 44 RBIs in 68 games for the 1928 Cardinals. His season ended on July 4th due to a leg injury that kept him out for the rest of the year. His numbers fell off the next season, hitting .253 with 17 extra-base hits in 73 games. He began a tour of the National League over the next six years. He went to the New York Giants in 1930 and hit .283 in 129 games, with 51 runs scored and 51 RBIs. Those sound like decent numbers, but that was a huge year for offense in baseball and his hitting was actually well below league average. He was sold to the Cincinnati Reds in October of 1930, before going back to St Louis in a trade on June 15, 1931. During the 1931 season, he hit .321 in 89 games, with much better results with Cincinnati.The Reds would then purchase him back from the Cardinals in December of 1931. Roettger batted .277 with 24 extra-base hits and 43 RBIs in 106 games for the 1932 Reds. His average dropped to .239 in 1933 and he was seeing less playing time, getting into 84 games total, with a majority of his stats coming during the first half of the season. The Pirates acquired him, along with pitcher Red Lucas, on November 17, 1933 in exchange for outfielder Adam Comorosky and second baseman Tony Piet.
Roettger didn’t see much playing time with the Pirates, especially during the middle of the season. He started some early season games in right field, then finished with seven starts in left field during the final two weeks of the season. In between, from July 9th until September 20th, he didn’t make a single start, playing just 15 games off of the bench. He hit .245 with 11 RBIs in 47 games, in what turned out to be his final season of baseball. He was placed on the voluntarily retired list on November 9, 1934 so he could accept a coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Illinois. In eight seasons in the majors, he batted .285 with 19 homers, 245 RBIs and 192 runs scored in 599 games. Roettger led all National League center fielders in fielding percentage in 1930, then two years later, he turned this same trick while playing left field. He also coached college basketball at that time. He had a brother named Oscar, who played parts of four seasons in the majors.
Charlie Grimm, first baseman for the 1919-24 Pirates. He had two brief trials in the majors, 1916 for the Philadelphia A’s and 1918 for the St Louis Cardinals, before finally catching on with the Pirates. Grimm debuted in pro ball with the 1916 A’s while he was still just 17 years old. He played 12 games that season and went 2-for-22 with two walks. The next year he was in the minors, playing Class-D ball for Durham of the North Carolina State League. In 1918, he began the year with Little Rock of the Southern Association and hit .298 in 56 games before joining the Cards for 50 games. Grimm hit .220 with seven doubles and a .531 OPS in his second big league trial. He played for Little Rock again in 1919, where he hit .285 with 34 extra-base hits in 131 games. He was sold to the Pirates on August 21, 1919, but wasn’t asked to report until September 1st. Pittsburgh used Grimm for 14 games in September of 1919, and saw him hit .318 in 44 at-bats. He would be their starting first baseman the next year, a job he would hold for five seasons. The Pirates stuck with Grimm, despite watching him hit .227, with a .562 OPS, in 148 games during his first full season. His glove is what kept him around initially, though his bat would come around and make his a solid Major Leaguer for a long time. In his five full years with Pittsburgh, he led all National League first baseman in fielding percentage three times. The other two seasons, he finished second.
In 1921, Grimm batted .274 with 45 extra-base hits, 71 RBIs and 62 runs scored in 151 games. He followed that up with a .292 average in 1922, with 28 doubles, 13 triples, 76 RBIs and 64 runs scored in 154 games. His best season at the plate came in 1923, when he hit .345 with 49 extra-base hits, 99 RBIs and 78 runs scored in 152 games. That batting average ranked him sixth in the NL and he finished seventh in RBIs. During his final season in Pittsburgh, Grimm hit .288 with 63 RBIs and 53 runs scored in 151 games. On October 27, 1924, the Pirates made a six-player deal with the Cubs, giving up the three biggest names in the trade. They sent Grimm to Chicago, along with Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville and Wilbur Cooper, the team’s all-time leader in wins. For the Pirates, Grimm hit .286 with 369 RBIs and 301 runs scored in 770 games. He played at least 148 games each year from 1920-24.
The Cubs made out big time with the acquisition of Grimm, getting 12 seasons out of their new first baseman. He batted .306 with 29 doubles, ten homers, 76 RBIs and 73 runs scored in 141 games in 1925. That performance earned him a 13th place finish in the MVP voting. He batted .277 with 30 doubles and 82 RBIs in 147 games in 1926. Grimm followed that up with a .311 average in 1927, with 74 RBIs and 68 runs scored in 147 games. He finished with exactly 147 games for a third straight season in 1928. Grimm hit .294 that year, with 35 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs and 67 runs scored. Offense was up in baseball in 1929 (it peaked in 1930) and he hit .298 with 28 doubles, ten homers, 91 RBIs and 66 runs scored in 120 games. He finished 14th in the MVP voting. Despite offense peaking all around baseball in 1930, Grimm saw a drop in his stats. He hit .289 with 35 extra-base hits, 58 runs scored and 65 RBIs in 120 games. His best career season came in 1931 as offense started to normalize. He hit .331 with 48 extra-base hits and a career best .851 OPS in 146 games. That led to his best finishing in the MVP race, ending up in eighth place.
In 1932, Grimm helped lead the Cubs to the World Series with a .307 average, 80 RBIs and a career high 42 doubles. He became the team manager during the 1932 season, sticking around for seven seasons in that role, winning two NL pennants. His role as a player started to diminish during the 1933 season when he hit .247 in 107 games. He played a total of 116 games over his final three seasons, with a majority of that time coming in 1934 when he hit .296 in 75 games. In 1,334 games with the Cubs, he hit .296 with 696 RBIs and 596 runs scored. He returned to the Cubs helm in 1944 for another six seasons, winning another NL pennant. Grimm later managed the Boston/Milwaukee Braves for five years, then he briefly took over the Cubs again during the 1960 season. He had a 1,287-1,067 record as a manager and was a .290 hitter in 2,166 games, with 1077 RBIs.
Bill Stuart, shortstop for the 1895 Pirates. He was a local boy from Boalsburg, Pa., who attended Penn State University and played two seasons of minor league ball close to Pittsburgh, seeing time in the Iron and Oil League and the Pennsylvania State League during the 1894-95 seasons (stats are incomplete from those leagues). Stuart joined the Pirates in the middle of August in 1895, stepping right into the starting shortstop position. He was signed on August 8th, on the same day he committed four errors while at shortstop Franklin of the Iron and Oil League. It was said that he might not report until the following spring, but he made his Pirates debut one week later. He collected 19 hits in 19 games, batting .247 with ten RBIs. Star outfielder Patsy Donovan spoke highly of Stuart after his first week, saying that he was a natural hitter, who he expected among the league leaders within a couple years. Connie Mack spoke highly of his defense, commenting that he was a better fielder than they had seen in Pittsburgh in quite some time, although he arm wasn’t the strongest. Through his first eight games, he collected 12 of those 19 hits, batting .313 at the time. His ninth game was a rough one though, committing three errors. The next game he collected two hits, but was injured and was sent back to Pittsburgh, while the team continued on for another 11 days with their road trip.
Stuart rejoined the team when they got back to Exposition Park, going right back into his starting role at shortstop. About that time, flaws in his game arose, namely that he was timid during plays at the bag and he was too slow afoot. When the team returned to the road for their last nine games, they took just 12 players with them, leaving Stuart to go home for the winter. In 1896, he returned to minor league ball, where he would spend the next four seasons, one year as a player/manager. Stuart’s pro career ended in the majors (his only other big league game besides his time with the Pirates), playing a September 1899 game for the Giants at second baseman, going 0-for-3, with two strikeouts and a flawless day in the field. In a 1908 issue of The Sporting Life, they said that Stuart wanted to umpire during spring games, calling him “the millionaire umpire” due to the large wealth he accumulated in the oil industry since he stopped playing baseball. He was a star football player during his early years at Penn State. He also did scouting for the Pirates in the early years of the 1900s.
As an interesting side note to Stuart signing with the Pirates. He was said to be the best shortstop in the Oil and Iron League at the time. One writer said that once Stuart left, the best shortstop title belonged to Claude Ritchey, who would end up helping the Pirates to the 1901-03 National League pennants, but only after he spent time in the majors with the Louisville Colonels.