This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: September 1st, Three Losses in One Day

There have been five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a player that did not endear himself to the team in his only big league inning.  We also have one transaction of note and a crazy day from long ago.

The Transaction

On this date in 1981, the Pittsburgh Pirates sold pitcher Grant Jackson to the Montreal Expos for the reported sum of $50,000. At the time of the deal, he had a 2.51 ERA in 32.1 innings over 35 appearances. He was in his fifth season with the Pirates. With the Expos over the final month of the season, the 38-year-old Jackson posted a 7.59 ERA in 10.2 innings and ten appearances. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the off-season, but returned to the Pirates in September of 1982 to pitch one final big league game.

The Players

Dave Rucker, lefty reliever for the 1988 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of high school in 1975, taken in the 19th round by the Philadelphia Phillies. He decided to attend the University of La Verene, where he was a 16th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1978. That’s a school that has produced six big league players, though none of them have been drafted since 1980. Rucker went on to play seven years in the majors split between four different teams. His pro career began in the Appalachian League in 1978, though most of that season was spent higher up in the Florida State League, where he had a 3.19 ERA in 31 innings. In 1979, he spent most of the year in Double-A, going 4-7, 4.59 in 96 innings for Montgomery of the Southern League. He also made two starts in Triple-A, allowing four runs in 13 innings. Rucker spent the entire 1980 season in Triple-A and switched to a relief role. He made 52 appearances (six as a starter), going 7-8, 3.42 in 92 innings. He made his big league debut at the start of the 1981 season with the Tigers, but Detroit sent him down after just two games, the second being a rocky two-inning outing. The rest of the year was spent back in Triple-A, where he had a 7-4, 3.76 record in 35 appearances and 67 innings pitched. He split the 1982 season between Triple-A and the majors. Rucker went 5-6, 3.38 in 64 innings, with four starts and 23 relief appearances.

In 1983, Rucker saw brief time in the majors and bullpen time in Triple-A, before moving on to the St Louis Cardinals in a July trade. Between the two big league stops, he had a 6-5, 5.28 record in 46 innings over 38 appearances. His 1984 season was the only year that he spent the entire campaign in the majors and he earned it. In 50 games for the Cardinals, he posted a 2.10 ERA, throwing a total of 73 innings. Rucker was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies just prior to the start of the 1985 season, and he struggled with his new team. In two seasons, he posted a 4.66 ERA in 58 games, with a 1.64 WHIP, while also spending time each season in Triple-A. He was released following the 1986 season, then spent all of 1987 in the minors with the Texas Rangers, before signing with the Pirates in February of 1988. He began that year at Triple-A and posted an 0.88 ERA in his first 16 outings. The Pirates called him up in early June, using him 31 times out of the bullpen over the rest of the season. In 28.1 innings, he was 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA. Rucker spent the 1989 season in Triple-A for the Pirates before retiring. The Pirates had an 85-75 record during his only season with the team, but in appearances by Rucker, they went 6-25. He finished his MLB career with a 16-20, 3.94 record in 319.2 innings over 206 games, with ten starts and one save.

Vic Barnhart, shortstop for the 1944-46 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1940, sending him to play for the London Pirates of the Class-D Penn-Ontario-NY League (PONY League) for his first two seasons. He played just 17 games that first year at 17 years old, then came back in 1941 to hit .301 with 30 extra-base hits in 87 games. He moved up to Class C ball in 1942, hitting .311 in 128 games for Hutchinson of the Western Association. Barnhart was then called into service during WWII. He missed the entire 1943 season before returning. He reported to Albany of the Eastern League in 1944, and picked up right where he left off, batting .310 in 138 games, with 40 extra-base hits. The Pirates called him up late in the year and got him into one game, the last game of the season. He started at shortstop and went 1-for-2 with a walk. In 1945, Barnhart was with the big league team for the entire season. He didn’t see much time until taking over the shortstop job on June 1st, holding that spot down for three months, before losing it in early September. He hit .269 with 19 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 71 games, His .928 fielding percentage at shortstop was well below league average.

Barnhart made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1946, but he was soon returned to Albany after just two games off of the bench. He never played in the majors again, despite doing very well after his return to the minors. He hit .309 with 41 extra-base hits, 96 RBIs, 75 runs scored and 63 walks in 135 games for Albany in 1946. Barnhart actually was a big leaguer for the first 11 days of the 1947 season, but he was optioned to the minors before he got into a game. He split the 1947 season between Albany (99 games) and Indianapolis of the American Association (13 games), combining to hit .283 with 30 extra-base hits and 73 RBIs. On December 3, 1947, the Pirates traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in return for second baseman Monty Basgall. Barnhart played four more seasons in the minors after the trade before he retired. He played for five teams over that time, seeing action with Toronto of International League in three of those seasons, while wrapping up his career back in Albany. His big league career stats show a .270 average with 19 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 70 games. He is the son of Clyde Barnhart, who played nine seasons for the Pirates (1920-28) as an outfielder and third baseman.

Jim Hopper, pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He pitched semi-pro ball until 1942 prior to signing his first pro deal with the Landis Senators of the Class-D North Carolina State League at 22 years old. He pitched well there, going 15-9, 3.49 in 201 innings. When the league disbanded, his contract was purchased by the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, which was four levels higher in the minor league system. Hopper went 15-9, 2.63 in 219 innings in 1943. He was purchased by the Pirates on September 1, 1943, though they left him with his minor league team for the duration of the season. The manager was Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes, who called Hopper the best recruit the Pirates had at the time. Unfortunately for the Pirates, before they were able to bring him to the majors, he was lost to the war effort for the entire 1944-45 seasons. The Pirates didn’t think they would lose him to the draft, being that he had three young kids at home. He signed his deal for 1944, then a few days before Spring Training started in early March, he was drafted into the Army. He returned in 1946 after missing two full seasons and went right to the majors, starting the fifth game of the season for Pittsburgh. In three innings, he allowed five runs on five hits and two walks, taking the loss against the Cincinnati Reds. He didn’t pitch again for nearly a month, only then appearing in a game that the Pirates were already losing 15-6 in the sixth inning. Hopper threw 1.1 scoreless innings, in what ended up being his last Major League appearance.

Hooper was optioned to Columbus of the American Association on June 5, 1946, but after a poor showing in four starts, he was returned to the Pirates on July 3rd, then sent to Birmingham of the Southern Association five days later. Birmingham released him on August 24th and he was supposed to return to Pittsburgh. When he didn’t show up after a week, he was suspended by the Pirates on August 30th. On December 20, 1946, he was traded to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, as one of two pitchers in a deal for pitching prospect Dewey Soriano. Neither of those players appeared with their new team. Hopper spent 1947 with Augusta of the South Atlantic League, then moved to Mooresville of the North Carolina State League in 1948, after the league returned following a two-year hiatus during the war. He finished his pro career in 1949 right back where it started, pitching with Landis of the North Carolina State League.

Fred Nicholson, outfielder for the 1919-20 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1913, and jumped around a lot before getting his first big league shot in 1917. At 18 years old in his first season of pro ball, Nicholson hit .299 in 124 games with Wichita Falls of the Class-D Texas-Oklahoma League. He also saw brief time with Dallas of the Class-B Texas League that year. He split the 1914 season between two clubs in the Texas-Oklahoma League, then spent most of the 1915 season with Denison of the Class-D Western Association, where he batted .291 with 45 extra-base hits and 30 steals in 117 games. Once again he saw brief time in the Texas League, this time with San Antonio. In 1916, Nicholson batted .308 with 48 extra-base hits for Charlotte of the Class-D North Carolina State League. For a third time in four years, he also saw brief time at a higher level, this time playing 13 games of Class-A ball with Chattanooga of the Southern Association. Nicholson got a brief trial for the 1917 Detroit Tigers at the start of the season and hit .143 in nine games. He went to St Paul of the American Association and hit .285 with 45 extra-base hits in 113 games, then returned to Detroit for four September games, including starting both games of a doubleheader on the final day of the season. He then served during the war, returning to the Tigers in 1919, although they had no playing time for him. Nicholson was sold to the Pirates for $2,500 (waiver price for American League players) on June 30, 1919, and joined the team right away. Despite being three months into the season, he didn’t debut in 1919 until he joined the Pirates. In 30 games, he hit .273 with a homer and six RBIs. He got 14 starts, with ten in left field and four in right field. He also played center fielder and first base off of the bench.

In 1920, Nicholson saw almost no playing time during the first month, then started from mid-May until early June, raising his average to .351, before returning to the bench. For over a month, he served as a pinch-hitter, and was unsuccessful in the role, seeing his average drop to .307 by the 21st of July. He then began to start again and went on a tear, raising his average to .390 in early September. Although he fell short of qualifying for the batting title, it was still the highest average in the National League at the time. A late season slump eventually landed his average at .360 in 99 games. On January 23, 1921, the Pirates traded Nicholson, along with future Hall of Famer Billy Southworth, to the Boston Braves for Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville. Nicholson hit .327 in his first year in Boston, with an .860 OPS. He was still a platoon player, starting 55 of his 83 games played, even with the strong numbers on offense. The next year that offense went downhill quick and his defense was well below average. He hit .252 in 78 games, with 12 errors. Nicholson returned to the minors in 1923, playing another 13 years without a return trip to the big leagues. He spent his first nine years back in the American Association, playing three years for Toledo and six seasons for Kansas City. By his final three seasons, the former big league player was playing Class-C ball, five steps below the majors. He collected nearly 2,500 hits during his 18-year minor league career. As a Major Leaguer, he hit .311 in 303 games, with 12 homers, 108 RBIs, 112 runs scored and an .819 OPS.

Sam Brenegan, catcher for the Pirates on April 24, 1914. He played just one inning of one Major League game for a very good reason, he dogged it on the field. After the Pirates went down in the score early to the St Louis Cardinals at home, manager Fred Clarke pulled starting catcher George Gibson for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, he sent Brenegan in for his Major League debut. The Cardinals got a runner on base, which was followed by a passed ball from Sam (his real name was Olaf Selmar Brenegan). He walked after the ball behind him as the runner moved up, irritating him manager. In the next inning, after already being charged with a second passed ball, a wild pitch hit his finger and split it open. After slowly retrieving the ball again, he walked over to the bench and left the game. He was replaced by backup catcher Jake Kafora. Some game recaps said that he had one passed ball and two were wild pitches. One noted that he couldn’t catch the sinker of pitcher Joe Conzelman.

The Pirates left the next day for a road trip in Chicago and Brenegan was left behind. The local paper said that the rookie showed an “undeniable inclination to quit” and guessed that he didn’t know base runners could move up on passed balls. Brenegan had already played at least three years of minor league ball as a catcher, so his lack of interest during his Major League debut was hard to explain. He debuted in pro ball in 1909 with Regina of the Western Canada League at 18 years old. In 1911 he was spotted playing semi-pro ball for a team from Warrenton, North Carolina. Prior to joining the Pirates, he was with Petersburg of the Virginia League for two seasons, which was a Class-C level of play, so the jump to the majors was a large one. He hit .211 in 49 games during his first season there (1912), then returned to Petersburg for 1913, and hit .275 with 17 extra-base hits in 89 games. The Pirates drafted Brenegan on September 20, 1913 under the recommendation of scout Frank Dobson. He did well during Spring Training of 1914, earning a spot on the club that was not guaranteed. Not long after his dreadful pro debut, he returned to the minors, where he remained until 1919, before retiring from baseball. The Pirates sold his contract to Portland of the Pacific Coast League on May 8th.

The Games

On this date in 1890, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys lost all three games of a tripleheader to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The first game was played in the morning and Brooklyn carried a 10-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth (road team was batting last in this game). The Alleghenys put together nine runs, all scoring with two outs, before George “Doggie” Miller was thrown out at home plate to end the game as he was trying for an inside-the-park grand slam (full recap here). The two teams then played an afternoon doubleheader and Brooklyn squeaked out a 3-2 win, this time the Alleghenys had the tying run thrown out at home in the ninth for the second out. In the third game, Brooklyn won 8-4, scoring seven runs early. Pitcher Dave Anderson threw both afternoon games for the Alleghenys. The total game time for the three games was four hours and 48 minutes.