On a busy date for Pittsburgh Pirates birthdays, we have a Hall of Fame first baseman, one of the best sluggers of the 1950’s and a player from the 1909 World Series champs, plus a local kid who made good. Also, Chad Kuhl and Phillip Evans turn 29 today. They will be added to the bios below in the future.
Neil Walker, second baseman for the 2009-15 Pirates. He was a first round pick in 2004 out of Pine-Richland HS by the Pirates, drafted as a catcher. He debuted in the Gulf Coast League and saw brief time in the New York-Penn League his first year, combining to hit .276 with 22 extra-base hits in 60 games. In 2005, he spent most of the year in Low-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League, before getting a late promotion to High-A. Walker hit .298 that season in 129 games, with 82 runs scored, 35 doubles, 12 homers and 80 RBIs. He went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and hit .265 with two homers in 17 games. In 2006, he missed a small part of the season due to injury, but still played 72 games in Lynchburg of the Carolina League (High-A) and ten games in Double-A Altoona. He also made a second trip to the Arizona Fall League. Walker hit .271 with 28 extra-base hits during the season and .290 with a .697 OPS in 18 games in the fall. He caught each of his first three seasons, then moved to third base in 2007. Walker played 117 games for Altoona in 2007 and another 19 games at Triple-A Indianapolis. He batted .277 with 33 doubles, 13 homers and 55 walks, with much better results at the lower level. He played winter ball in Mexico that off-season, where he hit .268 with four homers in 38 games.
In 2008, Walker spent the entire season in Triple-A, hitting .242 with 25 doubles, seven triples, 16 homers and 80 RBIs in 133 games. Another minor injury kept him out of action briefly in 2009, when he played 95 games in Triple-A and eight rehab games in the Gulf Coast League, followed by a 17-game trial with the Pirates in September. He hit .264 with 31 doubles and 14 homers in Indianapolis, followed by a .194 average and .497 OPS with the Pirates. Walker started the 2010 season at third base in Indianapolis before moving to second base, making the switch right before joining the Pirates in late May of 2010. Walker saw limited time with the Pirates in 2009, but once he returned to the team the following May, he became the starting second baseman. He hit .296 with 66 RBIs as a rookie in 2010, finishing fifth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. In his first full season in 2011, Walker batted .273 with 36 doubles, 12 homers and 83 RBIs in 159 games. In 2012, he hit .280 with 14 homers, and 69 RBIs, while missing three weeks late in the year with a back injury.
In 2013, Walker batted .271 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs, while having his best season of his career on defense (0.3 WAR). However, he also missed time with a finger injury and an oblique strain. He had the best offensive year of his career in 2014 when he hit .271 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs in 137 games. That output earned him his only career Silver Slugger award. Walker had a typical Walker year in 2015, batting .269 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs. After the season, with one year before he hit free agency, he was traded to the New York Mets for pitcher Jon Niese. Walker hit .272 with 93 homers and 418 RBIs in 836 games with the Pirates. In his first season in New York, he hit .282 with a career high of 23 homers, though that came with just nine doubles and 55 RBIs in 113 games. He remained with the Mets for the 2017 season, though he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in August. He combined to hit .265 with 21 doubles, 14 homers, 49 RBIs and a career high 55 walks, playing in 111 games.
Walker signed a one-year deal with the New York Yankees in 2018. He took a utility role, playing five different positions, hitting .219 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs in 113 games. He signed a free agent deal with the Miami Marlins in 2019 and mostly played first base. He hit .261 with 19 doubles, eight homers and 38 RBIs in 115 games. In 2020, he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he saw sporadic work during the shortened season, hitting .231 in 18 games. Walker retired after the 2020 season with a .267 career average in 1,306 games over 12 seasons, with 149 homers, 609 RBIs and 611 runs scored. He is the son of Major League pitcher Tom Walker (1972-77) and the nephew of Chip Lang, pitcher for the 1975-76 Expos.
Chad Hermansen, outfielder for the 1999-2002 Pirates. He was a first round pick of the 1995 Pirates, selected tenth overall out of high school. He was a highly rated prospect at the time, getting ranked by Baseball America among their top 54 prospects five times from 1996 through 2000. Coming up through the minors he was always young for the level, but he struck out a lot and never hit for a high average, so the hype was more potential/tools than just results based. He debuted at 17 years old, splitting his time between the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League. Hermansen hit .284 with 31 extra-base hits in 68 games that season. In 1996, he split his time between the two A-Ball levels, combining to hit .264 with 22 doubles, six triples, 24 homers and 16 steals in 128 games. He spent 1997 in Double-A, hitting .275 with 31 doubles, 20 homers and 18 steals. He set a minor league high with 69 walks, but also struck out 136 times. In 1998, Hermansen spent the entire season in Triple-A, hitting .258 with 26 doubles, 28 homers, 21 steals and 50 walks, though he also had 152 strikeouts in 126 games.
Hermansen spent the entire 1999 minor league season in Triple-A Nashville as well, hitting .270 with 27 doubles and 32 homers, while cutting down his strikeouts to 119, though his walks also dropped to 35 in 125 games. He joined the Pirates in September and hit .233 with one homer in 19 games. In 2000, he was with the Pirates on Opening Day through late May, then returned for a short time in July. The rest of the time was spent in Triple-A. In 33 games with the Pirates, he hit .185 with two homers and a .522 OPS. In 2001, his big league time consisted of 22 games in which he hit .164 with two homers. In 2002, Hermansen finally got an extended look, playing 65 games through the end of July, before he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs for Darren Lewis. He hit .206 with seven homers and seven steals with the Pirates, then finished that season with the Cubs by hitting .209 with one homer in 35 games. Hermansen then played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, hitting .160 in 11 games over two stints with the team. He played his last Major League season with the 2004 Toronto Blue Jays, where he got into four early season games, going 0-for-7 at the plate. He played in the minors until 2007, finishing with 192 minor league homers. For the Pirates, he hit .199 in 139 games, with 12 homers and 29 RBIs. He was a .195 hitter in 189 big league games, with 13 homers and nine steals.
Bob Garber, pitcher for the 1956 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur in 1948, pitching well in the low levels of the minors for three years before serving in the military during the Korean War, missing all of the 1951-52 seasons. He debuted at 18 years old with Greenville of the Class-D Alabama State League League, going 14-7, 3.48 in 155 innings. The next year he started in Greenville, then moved up to Class-B Davenport of the Three-I League mid-season. He combined to go 20-11, 2.63 in 240 innings, with 207 strikeouts. In 1950 he moved up to the Class-A South Atlantic League, where he had a 15-9, 4.11 record for Charleston in 219 innings. When he returned in 1953, Garber pitched for three different teams over three different levels. He pitched a total of 106 innings, with strong results in Charleston, but a 6.83 ERA in 29 innings with New Orleans of the Double-A Southern Association. He returned to form the next year, going 19-8, 3.18 in 221 innings for Denver of the Western League. He was moved up to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League in 1955 and won 20 games, posting a 2.84 ERA in 291.2 innings, but didn’t pitch with the Pirates until the following season. Pirates manager Bobby Bragan was asked in August of 1955 if Garber would join the Pirates soon and he said that Hollywood was competing for the Pirates, while the Pirates were in last place, so he would remain in the minors to help with the playoff push.
Garber had a sore arm during Spring Training in 1956, as he competed for a job with the Pirates. He pitched winter ball that year and it was said that he pitched about 700 total innings over 1954-55, when winter ball stats were figured into the mix. He appeared in two game for the 1956 Pirates, both in relief and both games ended up being suspended and finished at a later date. The first was in May, when he threw one scoreless inning during a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on May 13th. He was optioned to Hollywood three days later. The other game came in September, when Garber pitched three innings against the Brooklyn Dodgers, allowing one run on a solo homer. In this contest he pitched when the game was resumed. He went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1957, but on March 31st he was traded to Hollywood along with infielder Spook Jacobs in exchange for catcher Hardy Peterson. Garber pitched at Hollywood in 1957, where he went 10-8, 3.56 in 154 innings, then split his final pro season (1958) between affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs organizations in the Pacific Coast League.
Brandy Davis, outfielder for the 1952-53 Pirates. The Pirates signed him out of Duke University in 1951 at 23 years old, and it didn’t take long for Davis to make the majors. After spending all of 1951 in the minors, splitting his time between three different teams while batting .313 with 16 homers, Davis made the Pirates 1952 Opening Day roster. He would be sent to the minors in early June, going to Waco of the Class-B Big State League for 66 games, before returning two months later for the rest of the season. Brandy (real name was Robert Brandon Davis) started 21 of the 55 games he played that season for the Pirates, seeing time at all three outfield spots. He hit .179 with 14 runs scored and one RBI in 108 plate appearances. He was batting .214 with six singles and six walks in 28 at-bats before he was sent to the minors, then hit .164 after he returned. Davis went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1953, but he was among a group of cuts eight days before Opening Day. He spent 1953 with New Orleans of the Southern Association, where he hit .272 with four homers in 136 games. He came back to the Pirates as a September call-up and hit .205 in 12 games, which ended up being his last big league experience. He went to Spring Training again in 1954, but he was cut right before the season opener on April 13th. He was called back on April 26th from Charleston of the American Association, only to be optioned to Burlington-Graham of the Carolina League six days later. Davis played for Pirates affiliates until 1956, and he remained in the minors until 1960, finishing with a .292 minor league average in 911 games. He batted .187 with three RBIs and nine steals in 67 big league games.
Ted Kluszewski, first baseman for the 1958-59 Pirates. He started his Major League career in 1947 with the Cincinnati Reds, and 11 years later he had amassed a .302 average with 251 homers and 886 RBIs. Kluszewski was a four time All-Star from 1953-56, hitting at least 35 homers and driving in over 100 runs each season. He debuted in pro ball in 1946 at 21 years old, playing for Columbia of the Class-A South Atlantic League. It didn’t take him long to make the majors. He debuted with a .352 average, 40 extra-base hits and 87 RBIs in 90 games. In 1947 he hit .377 with 48 extra-base hits in 115 games for Memphis of the Southern Association. He got a look with the Reds that year, though he went 1-for-10 in nine games. In his first full season in 1948, Kluszewski hit .274 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 113 games. The next year he hit over .300 for the first of seven times in the majors. In 136 games in 1949, he hit .309 with eight homers and 68 RBIs. He finally grew into his power in 1950, when he hit .307 with 37 doubles, 25 homers and 111 RBIs in 134 games. That showing earned him mild MVP support (18th place finish), but he dropped off significantly the next year. In 1951, Kluszewski hit .259 with 35 doubles, 13 homers and 77 RBIs in 154 games. The average returned in 1952, but the power was still one year away. He hit .320 with 24 doubles, 11 triples and 16 homers in 135 games in 1952, which led to a 17th place finish in the MVP voting.
Kluszewski broke out in a big way in 1953 and put together an incredible four-year run. He batted .316 with 40 homers, 108 RBIs and 97 runs scored in 1953, which helped him to a seventh place finish in the MVP voting. In 1954 he led the National League in homer (49) and RBIs (149) while hitting .326, which was the fifth highest average in the league. All three of those totals were career highs. He finished second in the MVP voting behind Willie Mays. In 1955, Kluszewski hit .314 with 47 homers, 113 RBIs and a career high 116 runs scored. His 192 hits were also a career high, and it led the NL. He finished sixth in the MVP voting that season. During his fourth straight All-Star year in 1956, he hit .302 with 35 homers, 102 RBIs and 91 runs scored. He had mild MVP support that year, finishing 14th in the voting. The amazing part of his 1953-56 streak of 35 home run seasons, was the fact he had more home runs than strikeouts in all four seasons.
Before coming to Pittsburgh, Kluszewski began to suffer back problems that really limited his power. It showed in his 1957 stats when he hit .268 with six homers in 69 games. The Pirates acquired Kluszewski from the Reds on December 28, 1957 in exchange for first baseman Dee Fondy. Pittsburgh didn’t get the power hitting first baseman they hoped to get. Kluszewski played 160 games for the Pirates over two seasons, hitting .284 with just six homers and 54 RBIs. He was able to hit .292 during the 1958 season, but his .408 slugging percentage was well below his career mark. The Pirates traded him to the Chicago White Sox on August 25, 1959 in exchange for outfielder Harry Simpson and a minor leaguer. He batted .297 with two homers in 31 games after the trade in 1959. Kluszewski played with the White Sox until 1960, batting .293 with five homers and 39 RBIs during his only full season with the team. He then finished his big league career with the 1961 Los Angeles Angels, an expansion team that year. He hit 15 homers in 1961, more than he had hit the previous three seasons combined. In his 15-year career, he hit .298 with 279 homers, 1,028 RBIs and 848 runs scored in 1,718 games.
George Kelly, first baseman for the 1917 Pirates. He saw limited time with the New York Giants for parts of three years before the Pirates purchased his contract in early August of 1917. Pittsburgh was having injury problems at the time and they needed the 21-year-old Kelly to fill in for Honus Wagner at first base. They also had two other injuries that created a need for a player and Kelly was at the end of the bench for the Giants when they were at Forbes Field for a five-game series. Before joining the Pirates, he had barely played for the 1917 Giants, going 0-for-5 in nine games. He also spent part of that season in the minors, hitting .300 in 32 games for Rochester of the International League. Before that season, he hit .158 for the Giants during both the 1915-16 seasons, playing 66 games total, though he had just 122 plate appearances. He had a total of 240 minor league games before joining the Giants, spending parts of two seasons in the Class-B Northwestern League. For Pittsburgh in eight starts at first base, he went 2-for-23 with a triple and nine strikeouts. When Wagner was ready to play again, Kelly was sent back to the Giants. Despite returning him to New York right away, the Pirates had been high on Kelly for quite some time. The decision to return him ended up being a bad one, Kelly went on to have a Hall of Fame career. From 1920 until 1925, he averaged 108 RBIs per season, twice leading the league. From 1921 until 1926, he batted over .300 every season.
Kelly’s success in New York didn’t come right away after leaving the Pirates. He was barely used after he got returned to New York in 1917, then he spent the 1918 season in the military due to WWI. He went back to Rochester when he returned and hit .346 with 50 extra-base hits before joining the Giants in August. Over 32 games with the 1919 Giants, he hit .290 with 14 RBIs. That led to a full-time job in 1920 at first base. During that 1920 season, he led the league with 155 games played and 92 strikeouts. However, he also led the league with 94 RBIs, while batting .266 with 44 extra-base hits. In 1921, the Giants started a four-year run of World Series appearances, in which they picked up titles during the 1921-22 seasons. He contributed greatly to those teams, starting in 1921 when he hit .308 with 42 doubles, nine triples, a league leading 23 homers, 122 RBIs and 95 runs scored. In 1922 he batted .328 with 33 doubles, eight triples, 17 homers, 107 RBIs and 96 runs scored. During the 1923 season, Kelly hit .307 with 16 homers, 103 RBIs and 82 runs scored. In the final year of the pennant run, he hit .324 with 37 doubles, nine triples, 21 homers, a league leading 136 RBIs and 91 runs scored. What’s most interesting about that RBI total is that it would be a Pirates single-season record. Despite the regular season success, he had a .580 OPS in 26 World Series games.
In 1925, Kelly hit .309 with 20 homers and 99 RBIs. That led to his best finish in the MVP voting. He finished sixth in the voting in 1924 and received mild MVP support in 1926, but the 1925 season saw him finish third. In 1926, he hit .303 with 13 homers, 80 RBIs and 70 runs scored. The Giants traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in February of 1927 in a deal for fellow Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Rousch. Kelly hit .270 in 1927, though he played just 61 games, serving more in a utility role. In 1928, he hit .296 with 43 extra-base hits in 116 games. He played 147 games in 1929 and managed to drive in 103 runs, while putting up a .293 average. Kelly was released by the Reds in 1930, went to the minors, then joined the Chicago Cubs later in the year. Despite the release/demotion, he finished the season with a .308 average in 90 games. He played minor league ball in 1931, then returned to the majors for 64 games with the Brooklyn Robins, which ended up being his last season in the majors. He saw some brief time in the minors in 1933 before retiring.
He was a career .297 hitter in 1,622 games, driving in 1,020 runs, while scoring 819 times. Kelly was also a fine fielding first baseman, leading the league in assists three times, putouts three times, range four times and fielding percentage twice. Late in that 1917 season, after being returned to the Giants, Kelly pitched for the only time in his career, throwing five shutout innings in a win over the Philadelphia Phillies. He came from a big baseball family with Major League ties. His uncle was Bill Lange, a .330 career hitter in seven seasons during the 1890’s. George’s brother Ren Kelly pitched for the 1923 Athletics and his cousin Rich Chiles played six years in the majors during the 1970’s. We posted a full article here on Kelly’s time with the Pirates. His nickname “High Pockets” came from the fact that he was 6’4″ back in the 1920’s when not many players reached that height.
Kid Durbin, pinch-runner for the Pirates on June 30, 1909. When the Pirates traded for Durbin on May 28, 1909, they sent pitcher Ward Miller to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal that included the stipulation that said if Miller played good for the Reds, Cincinnati would send money back to the Pirates. As it turned out, all Pittsburgh received from the player part of the deal was one pinch-running appearance by Durbin. On June 30, 1909, during the first game ever at Forbes Field, the Pirates trailed 3-2 in the ninth inning. Catcher George Gibson walked to start the inning, he was replaced on the bases by Durbin, who was sacrificed to second base, then moved to third base on an infield error. That is where he would stay, as a shallow fly ball and ground out to shortstop ended the game. Not only did Durbin not play for the Pirates again, he never played in the majors again. On July 7th, he was sold to Scranton of the New York State League.
Durbin debuted in pro ball at 17 years old in 1904, in what did not look like the start of a career that would lead to three seasons in the majors. Playing for Fort Scott of the Class-C Missouri Valley League, he had a .194 average, which was actually better than his 5-26 record as a pitcher. He spent the majority of the 1905 season with Joplin of the Class-C Western Association, where he had a 13-18 record in 293 innings (no batting stats are available). He remained in Joplin for 1906, where he hit .277 in 58 games and posted an incredible 32-8 record as a pitcher. The Chicago Cubs drafted him from Joplin in September and he debuted in the majors in 1907. Kid (first name was Blaine) played two years with the Cubs, seeing very limited playing time (25 games combined, five as a pitcher). He had a 5.40 ERA in 16.2 innings for the 1907 Cubs, while hitting.333 in 18 at-bats. The next year he played 14 games total, all of them coming in June/July, though he was healthy and with the team for the entire season. When the Cubs won the World Series that year, he received just a 1/3 share of the prize money. which amount to $500. In January of 1909 he was traded to the Reds, who used him six times as a pinch-hitter before the trade to the Pirates. Durbin played in the minors until 1912 before he retired. The Cubs won the World Series in each of his first two seasons and the Pirates won during his third year, though Durbin never played a postseason game. He had the nickname “Danny Dreamer” while in Chicago.
On this date in 1934, the Pirates had a lineup with six future Hall of Famers. Lloyd Waner, Freddie Lindstrom, Paul Waner, Arky Vaughan and Pie Traynor were batting in the top five spots, while Waite Hoyt was on the mound. There was a seventh Hall of Famer who came into the game later for the Pirates, and he picked up a significant achievement for his career. Here’s the Game Rewind.