This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: September 4th, A Long Losing Streak is Broken and a Doubleheader Sweep

On a slow day for Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have two players born on this date and one very minor trade. We also have a note on someone who played for the Pirates in the middle of the 1917 season. We also have a Game Rewind article from a doubleheader in 1901, the year the Pirates won their first National League pennant. Finally, there’s a note on a game that will be recapped in full later today in a new Game Rewind article that will be up on the site.

The Trade

On this date in 1954, the Pirates traded first baseman Jack Phillips to the Chicago White Sox, in exchange for infielder Jim Baumer and cash. While this trade was an insignificant one at the time, Baumer had an interesting Major League career. In 1949, he came up to the majors with the White Sox as an 18-year-old and hit .400 in eight games. That would be his only Major League experience prior to this trade five years later. After the trade, he played six seasons in the Pirates minor league system without playing a big league game. In November of 1960, the Cincinnati Reds took him in the Rule 5 draft, returning him to the majors for the first time in 12 years. He would play just ten early season games before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, never returning to the big leagues again. In 1963, he began a five-year career in Japan that ended with his retirement from baseball. Phillips, who will be featured here in two days (born on September 6th), played 158 games over four seasons for the Pirates, last seeing the majors in 1952 for one game. He would go on to be dealt to the Tigers three months later without playing a game for the White Sox, then spent parts of three seasons in Detroit before he retired. Despite putting up a .301 average in Detroit, he was seldom used, playing just 123 games during the 1955-57 seasons.

The Players

Jack Gilbert, left fielder for the 1904 Pirates. He had a pro baseball career that lasted from 1894 until 1910, but he played just 28 Major League games. He debuted in pro ball at 18 years old, playing for two different teams in the Class-B New York-Penn League. He spent part of the 1895 season in the New England League, where he would also play during the 1897 and 1898 seasons before his big league debut. While none of his early 1894-97 stats are complete, what the partial stats show is that he didn’t hit for a high average or show any power, but he stole bases (76 in 158 games between the 1897-98 seasons) and scored a decent amount of runs. He began his big league career by playing three late season games in 1898, two for the Washington Senators and one for the New York Giants. He actually debuted on September 11th for Washington against the Giants, then played five days later for the Giants after the Senators weren’t impressed with his play. It would be another six years until he made the majors again, coming back in 1904 with the Pirates. In between he had a strong 1899 season with Newport of the New England League, hitting .311 with 53 steals. In 1900 he spent the season in the Class-B Interstate League. From there it was four seasons spent with Little Rock of the Southern Association, where he debuted in 1901 with a .324 average in 120 games. That average dropped to .285 in 1902, but was up to .305 in 119 games in 1903.

Gilbert had his best season with Little Rock in 1904, which led to his final big league trial. There he hit a team high .328 in 132 games. He was drafted by the Washington Senators (the American League team, not his previous club) on September 1, 1904, but Gilbert had a contract clause that stated he was free to sign elsewhere, which was rare during those days, but it occasionally happened to star players, as a way for minor league teams to sign them. It gave them the incentive to sign for minor league money, knowing that they could leave at any time to sign a big league deal. That mix-up with his contract led to Washington fighting the league over his contract, a case in which they lost in late October after they had already paid the $1,500 drafting fee, which they received back.

Gilbert joined the Pirates with 25 games left in the season and he started every game in left field. The team had nine doubleheaders over the final three weeks of the season and his actual time spent with the club was just 20 days. He replaced player/manager/Hall of Famer Fred Clarke, who missed the end of the season due to illness. Gilbert hit .241 with three RBIs and 13 runs scored, drawing 12 walks. He did not play well in the field, committing five errors in 35 chances, with no assists. The Pittsburgh Press declared in a big headline on October 2, 1904 that “Jack Gilbert has shown that he is big league caliber”. That was 17 games into his time with the team, just a week before the season ended. He signed a deal with the Pirates for 1905, but in early January of 1905 he was sold to the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association, a team filled with former and future Pirates players. He returned to Little Rock in 1906 for another two seasons, then eventually finished his career in 1910 for the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the New York State League. While his minor league records are incomplete at this time, it is known that he collected over 1,400 hits, and that’s with three full seasons missing.

Elmer Horton, pitcher for the 1896 Pirates. He didn’t debut in pro ball until he was already 28 years old in 1895, spending his early years playing amateur ball. His minor league stats are limited during the 1895-96 seasons, but it’s known that he played for three different teams, seeing action with Rockford of the Class-B Western Association during both seasons, while playing for Albany/Toronto of the Eastern League prior to his big league debut. He was with Rockford early in 1896 before joining the Pirates on July 14th, a few days after they purchased his contract. On July 18th, he struck out 15 men in an 11-inning game, while pitching for a local semi-pro team called Braddock. Pittsburgh manager Connie Mack wanted to get a look at him and used the local team to get him some work instead of throwing him right into the fire against a big league club. The headline that day called him “Herky Jerky Horton”, a nickname he picked up in 1895 with Rockford due to his wild windup before delivering the ball. The very next day the Pirates farmed him to Albany, which then moved to Toronto later in the season. He didn’t return until after the minor league season was over.

His first Major League game came on September 24, 1896 for the Pirates and was called by the local paper, “a farce” due to the poor play by everyone involved. Horton was facing a St Louis Browns team that had a 38-89 record, with just three games left to the season. He did not pitch well, giving up 11 runs over eight innings, on 13 hits and five walks. The game featured a combined 12 errors between the two teams. Two days later, Horton started the last game of the season, again facing the Browns. It was quoted in The Pittsburgh Press, that the Pirates “went into the game expecting to see Horton’s pitching get punished, with little hope of victory.”  The amazing part about that, was that the Pirates were facing their former pitcher Bill Hart, who already clinched the National League lead with his 29 losses. Hart finished his career with a 66-120 record, so he wasn’t a pitcher who should’ve struck fear in a team prior to the opening pitch of the game. The Pirates lost that day 7-3, with the game called in the seventh inning. Horton pitched his second complete game in three days.

Horton was said to have nerves of steel in the pitcher’s box. The paper also noted that a few players had previously seen him throw harder than he was during his two-game trial. The Pirates at the time were playing with just two pitchers, Pink Hawley and Horton, partly because pitcher Frank Killen, a 30-game winner that season, went home a week before the season ended. In an emergency, the Pirates had former pitcher-turned-outfielder, Elmer Smith, who had not pitched at all in two years, and had not pitched regularly in four seasons. After the regular season ended, the Pirates went on a barnstorming tour and Horton pitched a strong game against a top Independent League club from Cambridge, Ohio, winning 3-2 on a four-hitter. The Pirates then picked up a pitcher named “Collins” while on the trip, and gave him chances to show what he had. Horton was included in six-player deal with the Baltimore Orioles in November of 1896, as the Pirates gave up their all-time batting leader Jake Stenzel in return for center fielder Steve Brodie and third baseman Jim Donnelly. Baltimore had tried to sign Horton just months earlier, but the Pirates were able to beat them to the punch. He would spend the entire 1897 season in the minors, seeing time with two different club, then open the 1898 season in the Brooklyn Bridegrooms rotation. It didn’t take long for them to give up on him. Horton started the second game of the season and allowed 13 runs in a complete game loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. That game ended up being the last of his Major League career. He pitched in the minors until 1905 and served as a player/manager for parts of three seasons. He played for eight different teams over his final eight seasons in the minors.

The Event

On this date in 1918, 22-year-old Marcus Milligan passed away from injuries suffered a day earlier in a plane crash while training as an aviator in the Army. He was signed by the Pirates in 1916 and played one exhibition game for the team during the 1917 season before being sent to the minors. He spent part of 1917 Spring Training with the Pirates, but he was in the Army a year later during Spring Training in 1918. Milligan tossed the final four innings of an exhibition game on June 3, 1917 against a semi-pro team from Ohio called the Bakos. The Pirates won 3-2 and both opposing runs came against Milligan. That ended up being his only appearance in a big league uniform. He tossed a no-hitter on August 9, 1917 while with Birmingham of the Southern Association.

The Games

On this date in 1901, the Pittsburgh Pirates swept a doubleheader over the New York Giants by scores of 12-6 and 10-3. The Pirates got a lot of punch that day from manager/left fielder/Hall of Famer Fred Clarke, who collected seven hits. Here’s a Game Rewind article detailing both games of the sweep.

On this Date in 1890, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys returned home for the first time in 23 days and snapped a 23-game losing streak with a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Spiders. It was supposed to be a three-game homestand, but the next two days were rained out and the team went back on the road after one game. The club actually lost 24 games in a row, but at some point during history, a game on September 2nd against Cleveland was declared to be an exhibition game, despite rules against playing in-season exhibition games against teams with games between those teams still remaining on the schedule. The club also recognized the loss at the time (old records show a 23-114 final record instead of 23-113) and the local papers called it a “championship game”, which is old baseball lingo for a regular season game, meaning a game played towards the league championship. There will be more on the 6-2 win in a Game Rewind article today.