This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History, September 22nd, Murtaugh Comes Up Big Again

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including a member of the 1990 NL East champs and another that played for the 1960 World Series champs. We also have two games of note. Before we get into them, current Pirates minor leaguer Hunter Owen turns 28 today. He debuted in the majors earlier this year and played three games with the Pirates.

Wally Backman, infielder for the 1990 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the New York Mets, taken 16th overall in 1977 out of Aloha HS in Oregon. He had a strong debut in the New York-Penn League at 17 years old, hitting .325 with an .844 OPS and 20 steals in 69 games. In 1978, he moved up to Lynchburg of the Carolina League and hit .302 with 74 walks, 42 steals and 86 runs scored in 132 games. He was in Double-A by age 19 in 1979, hitting .282 with 23 steals in 110 games, though with lower walk/power numbers, he had a mediocre .695 OPS. Backman moved up to Triple-A in 1980 and hit .293 with 87 walks and 11 steals in 125 games. He joined the Mets in September and batted .323 in 27 games. Despite that instant big league success, he spent part of 1981 in the minors and he was mostly a bench player during his time with the Mets that year, batting just 42 times in 26 games. He had a bigger role with the 1982 Mets, hitting .272 with 49 walks and 37 runs scored in 96 games. The next year was very similar to 1981, except he saw more Triple-A time. He played 26 games for the 1983 Mets and had a .419 OPS in 45 plate appearances.

A switch flipped in 1984 and Backman became a regular in the lineup for three years. He hit .280 with 56 walks, a career high 32 steals and 68 runs scored in 128 games in 1984. The next season saw him play a career high 145 games, while hitting .273 with 30 steals. He set career highs with 77 runs scored, 24 doubles and 38 RBIs. Backman helped the Mets to the 1986 World Series title by hitting .320 during the season and .333 in the World Series. He played 124 games that year and scored 67 runs. He was down to a platoon role in 1987, despite the team and personal success in 1986. Backman hit .250 with a .593 OPS in 94 games in 1987, then followed it up with a .303 average, 41 walks and 44 runs scored in 99 games in 1988. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins in December of 1988 and in his only season with the team, he batted .231 in 87 games, with a .591 OPS and just one stolen base.

Backman was signed by the Pirates as a free agent in January of 1990 and he hit .292 in 104 games, with 62 runs scored and 28 RBIs. His .771 OPS that season was a career best. Backman went 1-for-7 with a walk and stolen base in the NLCS. He spent most of his time on defense that year at third base while occasionally starting at second base. In his ten seasons prior to joining the Pirates, he was mostly used at second base.  After the season, he became a free agent and signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .243 in 94 games in 1991, seeing more time off of the bench than as a starter. He was seldom used in 1992, getting just 55 plate appearances over 42 games. Backman signed with the Atlanta Braves for the 1993 season, but they released him on April 1st. He ended up signing with the Seattle Mariners, though he lasted just ten games before being released in May, which ended his playing career. In his 14-year career he was a .275 hitter, with 482 runs scored, ten homers, 240 RBIs and 117 stolen bases in 1,102 games. He became a minor league manager in 2000 and he’s currently in his 19th season as a manager, working independent ball in 2021.

Harry Bright, third baseman for the 1958-60 Pirates. Bright debuted in the majors with the Pirates in 1958, but he put in a lot of work to get to that point. He really had a career worthy of some praise for battling it out to reach his dream. He was originally signed in 1946 by the New York Yankees. His first two years of stats are incomplete, but it’s know that he played Class-C ball in 1946 for Twin Falls of the Pioneer League, followed by splitting the 1947 season between three teams in three different leagues of Class-D ball. He had a .568 OPS in 41 games with Houma of the Evangeline League that season. The Yankees released him during that season and he didn’t play pro ball in 1948. He played Class-D ball in 1949 for Miami of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League, hitting .286 with 45 extra-base hits and 96 RBIs in 122 games. Bright was in the Chicago Cubs farm system for the 1950-52 seasons, but he never advanced above Class-C, playing for four different teams during those three years. That’s a bit surprising because he hit .397 with 20 homers in 111 games in 1950. He batted .330 with 44 extra-base hits in 109 games in Class-C in 1951, yet he ended up in Class-D ball for the entire 1952 season, where he hit .325 with 51 extra-base hits in 109 games for Janesville of the Wisconsin State League.

Bright was in the Chicago White Sox system in 1953 and jumped to Double-A, moving up four levels in one season. He did well too, with a .295 average and a .797 OPS in 140 games for Memphis of the Southern Association. The Detroit Tigers took him in the Rule 5 draft after the 1953 season and he split 1954 between Double-A and Triple-A, combining to hit .304 with 42 extra-base hits in 116 games. He was sold to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League during the 1955 season, and he stayed there until joining the Pirates. Bright hit .305 with 46 extra-base hits in 120 games for Sacramento in 1955, then batted .284 with 40 extra-base hits in 131 games in 1956. During the 1957 season, he hit .263 with 31 extra-base hits in 146 games. With his stats dropping each season, you would have thought that would put his big league dreams out of reach, but he ended up playing in the majors during each of the next eight years.

The Pirates purchased Bright from Sacramento on July 21, 1958 for a price that was said to have exceeded $25,000, which was the cost of drafting a player from the Pacific Coast League at the time. Despite the price and the fact that he left for Pittsburgh right away, he played just 55 games during his first two seasons with the Pirates. Bright played 15 games in 1958, posting a .250 batting average. He matched that .240 average in 1959 when he had 54 plate appearances over 40 games, starting just three games all season, all of them happening in June. He batted 21 times in the final 79 games of the season. He was only used four times during the 1960 season, all coming as a pinch-hitter in September. He spent the rest of the season with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .313 with 31 doubles, 13 triples, 27 homers and 119 RBIs in 153 games. Bright was part of a four-player deal with the expansion Washington Senators after the 1960 season, one of three players going to Washington for pitcher Bobby Shantz. Bright hit .237 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 59 games for the Pirates.

During his time in Pittsburgh, Bright mostly played third base. He remained at third base in 1961 for Washington, but he moved to first base in 1962 and ended up seeing more time there over during his eight-season career than he did at the hot corner. He was with an expansion team, which allowed him to see a decent amount of playing time in 1961. He hit .240 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 72 games that year. He saw even more time in 1962 and responded with what ended up easily being his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with 55 runs scored, 17 homers and 67 RBIs in 113 games. Bright was traded to the Cincinnati Reds over the off-season, then got sold to the New York Yankees after playing just one game in 1963. He hit .236 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 60 games with the 1963 Yankees. He spent most of the 1964 season in the minors, playing just four games with six at-bats for the Yankees. He was released after the season and signed with the Chicago Cubs, where he hit .280 in 27 games, getting used strictly as a pinch-hitter. Bright saw regular playing time in the minors in 1966, then played sporadically as a manager in the minors over the next five years. He was a career .255 hitter in 336 games, with 32 homers, 126 RBIs and 99 runs scored. He played a total of 20 seasons in the minors and spent 12 years as a minor league manager, including 1952 as a player/manager, six years before he debuted as big league player

Ira Flagstead, outfielder for the 1929-30 Pirates. He spent a total of 13 seasons in the majors and was a .290 hitter, who twice led the league in outfield assists. Flagstead didn’t debut in pro ball until he was 23 years old in 1917, but he was in the majors during that first season, playing four games for the Detroit Tigers. He spent the 1918 season with Chattanooga of the Southern Association, where he hit .379 in in 49 games, with his season ending early due to military service during WWI. By 1919, he was with the Tigers full-time. He batted .331 with 30 extra-base hits and 43 runs scored in his first full season in the majors. In 1920, his average dropped to .235 in 110 games, and his OPS fell by 241 points. He rebounded a bit in 1921 by hitting .305 in 85 games, with a .753 OPS, while playing games at six different positions. He was a backup outfielder in 1922, back when Detroit had Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Harry Heilman, along with star outfielder Bobby Veach, which didn’t leave much playing time for Flagstead. He hit .308 with a .939 OPS that season, but he got into just 44 games. The Tigers traded him early in the 1923 season to the Boston Red Sox, where he was able to play full-time.

For the 1923 Red Sox, Flagstead hit .312 with 35 extra-base hits and 55 runs scored in 109 games. He hit .307 in 149 games in 1924, with 35 doubles, 77 walks and 106 runs scored. He set career highs in the latter two categories. He received MVP votes for the first time, finishing 15th in the voting. In 1925, he batted .280 with 38 doubles, 84 runs scored, 61 RBIs and 63 walks. He finished seventh in the MVP voting. The next year, Flagstead hit .299 in 98 games, with 31 doubles and 65 runs scored. Despite the limited play, he still received mild MVP support. In 1927, he hit .285 in 131 games, with a career high 69 RBIs. He had 57 walks and 63 runs scored. He finished 18th in the MVP voting. The 1928 season saw him receive MVP support for the fifth straight season, plus he set a career high with 41 doubles. He hit .290 with 60 walks and 84 runs scored in 140 games.

The Pirates acquired him as a waiver pickup from the Washington Senators in July of 1929. The 35-year-old Flagstead started that season with the Red Sox, where he hit .306 in limited time. His time in Washington was brief, hitting .179 in 18 games. For the 1929 Pirates, he batted .280 with six RBIs in 26 games. In 1930, he was a backup on a team that included two Hall of Fame outfielders (the Waners) and Adam Comorosky, who had a season for the ages, reaching extra-base hit marks that no player has ever duplicated. Then there was the veteran Flagstead, who split the backup time between all three spots and he hit .250 with two homers and 21 RBIs in 44 games. He spent 1931 playing in the Pacific Coast League before retiring as a player. In 1,218 big league games, he batted .290 with 40 homers, 456 RBIs and 644 runs scored. He had 467 walks and 288 strikeouts during his career.

The Games

On this date in 1909, the Pirates won 12-7 over the Boston Doves (Braves) to improve their lead in the National League to ten games, which was their largest lead of the season. It was the Pirates 13th win in a row on their way to 16 straight wins. The top six batters in the Pirates lineup all scored two runs apiece. Honus Wagner had a double and home run, while Dots Miller had three hits. Here’s the boxscore, which notes that just 1,364 people showed up at Forbes Field that day.

On this date in 1949, Danny Murtaugh had a big hit off of star pitcher Johnny Sain in a 1-0 victory walking it off in the ninth with an RBI single. It wasn’t the first time that Murtaugh had a big hit against Sain, he was developing a pattern against him at that point. A year earlier he got him with a two-out single in the ninth for a 3-2 win, then a short time later, Murtaugh drove in the only run late in a 1-0 game against Sain. Here are the full details in our Game Rewind article.