We have six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a Hall of Fame outfielder. We also have two trades made during the Pirates run of NL East pennants in the early 1990’s.
On this date in 1991, the Pirates sent pitchers Kurt Miller and Hector Fajardo to the Texas Rangers for third baseman Steve Buechele. Miller was taken fifth overall in the amateur draft just one year earlier. He had just turned 19 years old prior to the trade, and was ranked 24th overall among all prospects in baseball. Fajardo was just 20 years old, with two games of Major League experience. Buechele was in his seventh season in the majors, all spent with the Rangers. He was hitting .267 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs, all three categories being career highs. He played 31 games for Pittsburgh after the deal, hitting .246 while driving in 19 runs. Buechele played all seven postseason games, collecting seven hits and four walks. He re-signed with the Pirates in 1992, playing in Pittsburgh until July when he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Danny Jackson. Miller never panned out in the majors, despite four times being ranked as one of the top 62 prospects in baseball. He pitched 44 big league games over five seasons, posting a 7.48 ERA and a 2-7 record. Fajardo did just slightly better, with a 6.95 ERA in 30 Major League games over four seasons.
On this date in 1990, the Pirate sent three players to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder/first baseman Carmelo Martinez. The 29-year-old Martinez was in his ninth season in 1990, hitting .242 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 71 games for the Phillies. His best season was 1987, when he hit .273 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs for the San Diego Padres. For the Pirates, he hit .211 with two homers and four RBIs in 12 games, then batted eight times in the NLCS, picking up two doubles and two RBIs. He began the 1991 season with the Pirates, before getting traded to the Kansas City Royals in early May for Victor Cole. The Pirates sent the Phillies Tony Longmire (eighth round pick from 1986), Wes Chamberlain (fourth round pick from 1987) and Julio Peguero, a 22-year-old outfielder signed out of the Dominican four years earlier. None of them had Major League experience prior to the trade. After the deal, Peguero played just 14 big league games, while Longmire played 139 games over three seasons. Chamberlain was the best of the group, playing six years in the majors. He got into 315 games for the Phillies and 70 for the Boston Red Sox, hitting .255 with 43 homers and 167 RBIs total. Longmire wasn’t sent to the Phillies in this deal until the end of September.
This deal was made because of a waiver mix-up with Pirates General Manager Larry Doughty, who didn’t know the waiver rules. It was considered a big mistake at the time, but the three players the Pirates gave up combined for 1.7 WAR in their big league careers over 458 games. It could have been much worse if any of the prospects panned out, but when it was all said and done, the Pirates gave up almost nothing to help their 1990 playoff run.
Kiki Cuyler, outfielder for the 1921-27 Pirates. He played two years of minor league ball for the Bay City Wolves of the Michigan-Ontario League before the Pirates purchased his contract in late 1921. He didn’t debut in pro ball like a future Hall of Famer, hitting .258 with one homer and 16 steals in 69 games for the Class-B club at 21 years old. In 1921, he batted .317 with 42 extra-base hits, 32 steals and 82 RBIs in 116 games. He was signed by the Pirates in late August, but didn’t debut until five weeks later. Cuyler started in right field in the second game of a doubleheader on September 29th and he went 0-for-3 in his only game for the Pirates that season. He played one game in 1922 as well, spending the full season at Charleston of the South Atlantic League, before returning to the Pirates in September. He hit .309 with 56 extra-base hits with Charleston and his only appearance with the Pirates was as a pinch-runner. The 1923 season was very similar, though Cuyler returned to the Pirates in September with a much bigger reputation. He moved up to Nashville of the Southern Association and hit .340 with 65 extra-base hits in 149 games. The Pirates took a longer look at him that September, and he hit .250 in 11 games. Cuyler won a role with the 1924 Pirates, though he had just one appearance (as a pinch-hitter) in the team’s first 19 games. After that point he was a regular in the outfield, seeing time at all three spots at first, before settling in as the left fielder. Cuyler batted .354 in 117 games, with 32 steals and 85 RBIs. That was good enough to get him some MVP support (he finished eighth in the voting).
Our first Pittsburgh Pirates Seasons article was about his 1925 season. I picked that year because it’s arguably the best in franchise history. Cuyler led the league in games played (153), runs (144), triples (26) and hit-by-pitches (13). He finished second in the MVP voting and posted a .357/.423/.598 slash line. Cuyler set the franchise record with 369 total bases, which still stands to this day. He also scored the most runs since 1894 for the Pirates, and set a team record with 220 hits, which has since been broken. His 1.021 OPS was also a team record at the time. The Pirates made the World Series that year and Cuyler drove in six runs in the seven-game series. In the ninth inning of game seven, he broke a 7-7 tie with a two-run double against Walter Johnson.
In 1926, Cuyler led the league with 157 games, 113 runs and 35 stolen bases. He batted .321 and drove in 92 runs. In 1927, he hit .309 in 85 games. He missed time with an early season injury, but he was benched later in the year, with a series of events leading to the issue. The ultimate reason was that he failed to slide into second base on August 6th and was fined, but the Pirates were running a tighter ship during the 1927 season after a disappointing finish to the previous year. Cuyler was upset about his spot in the batting order and being moved around in the outfield and all of those things contributed to his benching, even as the Pirates were getting swept in the World Series.
After the season, the Pirates traded their star outfielder and had little leverage in their negotiations because everyone knew they wanted to get rid of him. The deal turned out to be a disaster, as he was sent to the Chicago Cubs for Pete Scott and Sparky Adams, two role players who contributed very little to the Pirates (they combined for 1.8 WAR). We posted an article here showing why it may possibly be the worst trade in team history.
Cuyler was a star player after the deal, and just reaching his prime at the time. In 1928 he hit .285 with 92 runs scored, 79 RBIs and led the league with 37 steals. That was followed in 1929 by .360 average, with 111 runs scored, 102 RBIs and 43 steals, which once again led the National League. As the offense in baseball peaked in 1930, Cuyler peaked along with it, putting up huge numbers. He batted .355 with 50 doubles, 17 triples, 13 homers, 134 RBIs and 155 runs scored, while leading the league with 37 steals. It’s interesting to note that while the Pirates didn’t have either player from their trade by the 1930 season and nothing but a small amount of cash to show from the deal, those RBI and run scored totals from Cuyler would both be franchise records for a season with the Pirates.
In 1931, offense dropped all around baseball, and Cuyler hit .330 with 58 extra-base hits, 110 runs scored and 88 RBIs. He also tied his career high (set in 1930) with 72 walks. He finished 12th in the MVP voting. During the 1932-33 seasons, Cuyler suffered leg/foot injuries that cost him some playing time and took away some of his production, especially steals/running. He hit .291 with 38 extra-base hits and 77 RBIs in 110 games in 1932, followed by a .317 average in 70 games in 1933. He was healthy in 1934 and rebounded with a strong season, hitting .338 with 42 doubles and 80 runs scored in 142 games. He made his only All-Star appearance that year (the game didn’t exist before 1933) and he finished 16th in the MVP voting. Cuyler was released in the middle of 1935 after a slow start, but he quickly caught on with the Cincinnati Reds. He spent eight years in Chicago and hit .325 with 665 runs scored, 602 RBIs and 161 stolen bases. He batted .258 with a .695 OPS in 107 games in 1935, then had a strong season with the Reds in 1936. Cuyler hit .326 with 47 extra-base hits and 96 runs scored in 144 games. His average dropped to .271 with no homers in 117 games in 1937, then he finished his career in 1938 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, hitting .273 in 82 games. Cuyler finished as a .321 hitter in 1,879 games, with 1,305 runs scored, 1,065 RBIs and 328 stolen bases. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968. While there have been many stories about it, my own research shows that his nickname “Kiki” (rhymes with guy-guy) came from a minor league manager who had a stutter pronouncing his last name and the local fans picked up on it and called him Kiki Cuyler (or if you will, Cuy-Cuy-Cuyler)
Marlon Byrd, outfielder for the 2013 Pirates. He was a tenth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies out of Georgia Perimeter College, a school that has produced seven big league players. Byrd reported to Batavia of the New York-Penn League in his first season, where he hit .296 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs in 65 games. In 2000, he put up big numbers in Low-A, hitting .309 in 133 games, with 104 runs scored, 29 doubles, 13 triples, 17 homers, 93 RBIs and 41 stolen bases. He moved up to Double-A in 2001, where he batted .316 with 22 doubles, 28 homers, 89 RBIs, 32 steals and 108 runs scored. He was named as the 26th best prospect in baseball at the time. In 2002, he hit .297 in Triple-A, with 37 doubles, 15 homers and 15 steals in 16 attempts. He made it to the Phillies in September and hit .229 with a homer in ten games. In 2003, Byrd finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .303 with 39 extra-base hits, 86 runs scored and 11 steals in 12 attempts. He struggled during the 2004 season and spent part of the year in the minors. With the Phillies that season, he hit .228 with a .608 OPS in 106 games. Byrd was traded to the Washington Nationals early in the 2005 season. He hit .266 with two homers in 79 games that year. In 2006, he batted .223 with five homers in 78 games for the Nationals.
Byrd signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent prior to the 2007 season. He hit .307 with ten homers and 70 RBIs in 109 games that first season in Texas. In 2008 he batted .298 in 122 games, with 28 doubles, ten homers and 70 runs scored. The next year he hit .283 with 43 doubles, 20 homers and 89 RBIs in 146 games. Byrd became a free agent after the season and he signed with the Chicago Cubs. He made his lone career All-Star appearance during his first season in Chicago. He hit .293 that year in 152 games, with 39 doubles, 12 homers, 66 RBIs and 84 runs scored. His numbers dropped off in 2011, when he hit .276 with nine homers in 119 games. Byrd was traded to the Boston Red Sox during the 2012 season. He was limited to 47 games that year due to a 50-game suspension for PEDs. He hit just .210 with one homer. He was released by the Red Sox mid-season and signed with the New York Mets as a free agent in the spring of 2013, six months before he joined the Pirates. When he was acquired from the Mets on August 27, 2013, Byrd was batting .285 with 21 homers and 71 RBIs in 117 games. The Pirates were in the midst of their first winning season in 21 years and Byrd provided a big bat over the final month. He hit .318 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 30 games. He homered in the Wild Card game and batted .333 with three RBIs in the NLDS against the St Louis Cardinals.
Byrd left via free agency at the end of the 2013 season. He spent 2014 back with the Phillies, where he hit .264 with 71 runs scored, 28 doubles, 25 homers and 85 RBIs in a career high 154 games. The Phillies traded him to the Cincinnati Reds on December 31, 2014. Byrd hit .237 with 19 homers in 96 games for the Reds before being traded to the San Francisco Giants in August. He hit .272 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 39 games after the deal. He became a free agent and signed with the Cleveland Indians. Byrd hit just .270 with five homers in 34 games for the Indians. He ended up playing a total of 15 years in the majors, retiring after he was suspended 162 games by MLB for a PED violation during the middle of the 2016 season. He was a .275 hitting in 1,573 games, with 159 homers and 710 RBIs. Despite strong stolen base numbers in the minors, both in total steals and his success rate, he stole 56 bases in the majors and was caught 31 times.
Luis Rivas, infielder for the 2008 Pirates. He was signed by the Minnesota Twins in late 1995 as a 16-year-old international free agent out of Venezuela, and he played the first six years of his big league career (2000-05) with the Twins, three times playing over 100 games in a season. He played mostly second base during that time, hitting .262 with 30 homers and 78 stolen bases in 565 games. Rivas debuted in pro ball in the Gulf Coast League in 1996 and he was an instant top prospect in baseball. He hit .259 with 35 steals that season while playing as a 16-year-old for the entire season. That started a string of five straight years ranking among the top 100 prospects in baseball, topping out at #55 before the 1998 season. In 1997, Rivas hit .239 with a .623 OPS in 121 games at Low-A Fort Wayne of the Midwest League. Despite mediocre stats, he moved up to Fort Myers of the Florida State League in 1998 and hit .281 with 30 extra-base hits and 34 steals in 126 games. He was in Double-A at age 19 in 1999, where he batted .254 with 44 extra-base hits and 31 steals in 132 games. Rivas made it to the majors in September of 2000 after splitting the minor league season between Double-A and Triple-A. He actually had much better numbers at the higher level, putting up an .853 OPS with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. In 16 games with the Twins, he hit .310 with eight runs scored.
Rivas was the starting second baseman for the 2001 Twins, hitting .266 with 34 extra-base hits, 31 steals and 70 runs scored in 153 games. He was hit by a pitch on his left arm in game two of the 2002 season and missed two months. In 93 games that year, he batted .256 with 31 extra-base hits and 46 runs scored. In 2003, he had a .259 average in 135 games, with 33 extra-base hits, 17 steals and 69 runs scored. That was followed up by a .256 average in 109 games in 2004. His .715 OPS that year was a career best for a full season. He set a career high with ten homers and he went 15-for-16 in steals. In 2005, Rivas played just 59 games, and hit .257 with one homer, while spending part of the year back in Triple-A.
Rivas became a free agent after the 2005 season and signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He spent that entire year at Triple-A, then signed with the Cleveland Indians for the 2007 season. Rivas spent almost that whole year at Triple-A as well, getting into just four September games with the Indians. He signed with the Pirates in December of 2007 as a minor league free agent and made the 2008 Opening Day roster with a strong Spring Training. He served as the team’s backup middle infielder, getting 22 starts at shortstop and 19 at second base. Rivas batted .218 with three homers and 20 RBIs in 79 games for the Pirates, which ended up being his last team in the majors. He left via free agency after the season, signing a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. Rivas spent that 2009 season at Triple-A in his last year of pro ball, though he did see winter league action that year and the next year in Venezuela. In 648 big league games, he was a .257 hitter, with 34 homers, 201 RBIs, 81 steals and 286 runs scored. His defense rated below average in seven of his eight seasons, which led to a career -1.5 WAR.
Johnny Lindell, pitcher for the 1953 Pirates. He went from being a pitcher early in his career, to an outfielder who played ten years in the majors, back to the mound as a knuckleball pitcher. Lindell began in the minors in 1936 as a pitcher, though he hit well too. As a 19-year-old in his first season with Joplin of the Class-C Western Association, he hit .325 in 42 games and had a 17-8, 4.03 record in 212 innings. He moved up two levels to Birmingham of the New York-Penn League in 1937 and had a 2.74 ERA in 102 innings, while batting .317 in 32 games. In 1938 he spent most of the year in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .368 in 60 games, while going 9-8, 3.42 in 166 innings. Lindell spent the 1939-40 seasons with Kansas City of the American Association, an affiliate of the New York Yankees. He struggled a bit on the mound his first season with a 4.40 ERA in 131 innings, but came back strong in 1940 with an 18-7, 2.70 record in 203 innings, to go along with a .273 average in 41 games. With Newark of the International League in 1941, Lindell hit .298 in 51 games and he went 23-4, 2.05 in 228 innings. He played one game with the Yankees that year, which came on April 18th.
Lindell spent the entire 1942 season in New York, pitching 23 games (two starts). He had a 3.76 ERA in 52.2 innings. The next year he moved to outfield and made the American League All-Star team for the only time in his career. He hit .245 in 122 games, with 51 RBIs, 51 walks and 53 runs scored. Lindell led the AL with 12 triples. In 1944, he hit .300 with career highs of in 149 games 91 runs scored, 33 doubles, 16 triples, 18 homers and 103 RBIs. He led the league in triples for a second straight time. He played another six seasons in the majors as an outfielder and never quite approached those offensive numbers again. For the 1945 Yankees, Lindell played 41 games before he had to report to the Army during WWII. He returned to the lineup in 1946 and hit .259 with ten homers and 40 RBIs in 102 games. He played 127 games in 1947, the last time he topped the century mark in games played. He hit .275 that season with 11 homers, 67 RBIs and 66 runs scored. In 1948, Lindell hit .317 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs in 88 games as a platoon player on a loaded Yankees team. In 1949, he hit .242 with six homers in 78 games, in what was his last full season with the Yankees. He split the 1950 season between the minors and majors, seeing time with the Yankees and the St Louis Browns. Lindell hit just .187 in 43 big league games that year.
In 1951, Lindell went to the minors and made the transition back to the mound. He went ten years between going 23-4 for Newark and starting again as a pitcher, and it was like he never left the role. In 1951 he went 12-9, 3.03 in 190 innings for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. He was even better in 1952, earning his way back to the majors with a 24-9, 2.52 record in 282 innings with Hollywood. On October 1st, the Pirates announced the purchase of Lindell and outfielder Carlos Bernier from Hollywood. Lindell made 23 starts and four relief appearances for the 1953 Pirates, going 5-16, 4.71 in 175.2 innings pitched. Just one day after his 37th birthday, he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he had trouble due to the catchers being unable to handle his knuckleball. His personal catcher with the Pirates was Mike Sandlock, who didn’t join him in Philadelphia until the following Spring Training. Lindell was released by the Phillies in May of 1954, before he pitched a game that year. He finished as a .273 hitter in 854 big league games, with 72 homers, 404 RBIs and 401 runs scored. As a pitcher, he had an 8-18, 4.47 record in 251.2 innings over 55 games.
Charlie Starr, infielder for the 1908 Pirates. He played over 1,100 minor league games, but his Major League career consisted of exactly 1/10th of that amount, playing 110 games total over three seasons, while with four different teams. Starr made his Major League debut with the St Louis Browns in 1905, hitting .206 in 26 games. That season was also his first season in pro ball, as his career got a late start at 26 years old. He actually played semi-pro ball for a team from Youngstown, Ohio that became a minor league club in 1905, which is where he ended up in June of 1905 after being sent there by the Browns.He spent all of the 1906-07 seasons in the minors, seeing most of his time in 1906 with Harrisburg of the Tri-State League, where he hit .251 with 16 extra-base hits in 115 games. He was back in Youngstown in 1907, hitting .267 in 137 games, while stealing 75 bases. He returned to the big leagues with the 1908 Pirates, who signed him in February of that year away from Youngstown. Starr turned down the Pirates first offer of $2,500 salary for the season, before agreeing to a deal worth more, while the Youngstown team was unable to match that salary. Starr was described as an excellent fielder, who played second base well, but wasn’t much of a hitter. He impressed the Pirates by showing up very early to Spring Training, but he received very little playing time during the season. He played 12 games at second base, five at shortstop behind Honus Wagner, and two games at third base. He hit just .186 in twenty games for Pittsburgh, though he did drive in eight runs, steal six bases and draw 13 walks. Most of his playing time came during the early part of September when he started eight straight games at second base.
After the 1908 season, Starr told the local papers that he didn’t have much fun in Pittsburgh because his job mainly consisted of coaching and he would much rather be playing every day. He was going to assume the same role for the Pirates in 1909 until Ed Abbaticchio agreed to come back to the club for a much lower salary. The next day the Pirates released Starr to the Boston Doves. He played most of the 1909 season for the Doves, before finishing the year in August with three games for the Philadelphia Phillies, who acquired him in a five-player deal with Boston in mid-July. Starr hit .219 in 64 games that year, in what ended up being his last season in the majors. He returned to the minors in 1910 for the final seven seasons of his pro career. He spent two of those years as a player/manager (1915-16), then only managed in 1917. His last five years as a player were spent in the Southern Association, seeing time with four different teams. In 110 big league games, he hit .211 with no homers, 20 RBIs, 13 steals and 33 runs scored.
Will Thompson, pitcher for the Pirates on July 9, 1892. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who attended the University of Pennsylvania and pitched one Major League game. Thompson was playing for a semi-pro in Pittsburgh team called the East End Gym, which was consistently a very strong team filled with local players, many of whom received a shot in the majors. He was said to have signed with the Pirates on July 8th and the Pirates planned to develop him into a star by 1893. Thompson was pitching well at the time and the article announcing his signing compared him to Hall of Famer/300-game winner John Clarkson. The only similarities turned out to be their first/last names both consisting of four and eight letters. On July 9, 1892, he started against Brooklyn, going three innings before he was pulled. His new Pirates teammates gave him no support on the field, making numerous errors in a poorly played third inning. Thompson was wild (it was said that he was nervous), issuing five walks. He gave up three hits and five runs, although just one run was earned. Despite being a local kid in his first big league game, the hometown crowd was harsh on him as soon as he started to struggle. That was particularly surprising because it was noted that a lot of his friends would be in attendance. He was given a three-run lead in the first (the Pirates batted in the top of the inning, a choice given to them per the rules of the time). Through two innings, he held Brooklyn to one run, then in the third, things fell apart. His control was off and his defense let him down, leading to four unearned runs. Mark Baldwin replaced Thompson in the fourth inning and finished the game, which was an eventual 7-5 loss for the Pirates.
Before the game started, the local Pittsburgh paper said that Brooklyn was too good of a team for Thompson to face in his first game, and they should’ve gave him an easier first opponent. The paper’s opinion of the matter turned out to be right and the Pirates (or any other big league team) never gave him another chance to pitch. He remained with the Pirates for another two weeks before they signed veteran Duke Esper, who took a rotation spot. Thompson was sent home by the Pirates on July 23rd, but not before he got to pitch one more game. On July 14th the Pirates played an exhibition game against a minor league team from Altoona and Thompson pitched the entire game, getting handed an 8-4 loss. His time with the Pirates officially ended on August 13th when he was released outright. His total salary with the Pirates for 37 days was $375. His only recorded minor league time consisted of three partial seasons, starting with him pitching two games for Elmira of the New York State League in 1889 at 18 years old. He also went 3-5, 3.16 in 74 innings for Johnstown of the Pennsylvania State League in 1893, and then he played for New Castle of the Iron and Oil League in 1895, though no stats are available from that time. Thompson lived to be 91 years old and passed away in Pittsburgh. He’s buried in town at the Homewood Cemetery.