Nine former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Famer who got away.
Joe Cronin, infielder for the 1926-27 Pirates. He signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent in 1924 at 18 years old and played two seasons for the Pirates (1926-27) making his debut on April 29, 1926 at the age of nineteen. Still 18 years old in 1925, he debuted in pro ball in the Class-C Middle Atlantic League, where he hit .313 with 32 extra-base hits in 99 games for Johnstown. He made the Pirates roster out of Spring Training in 1926, but he was sent to the minors in early May of that season after just four games. In 66 games for New Haven of the Class-A Eastern League, Cronin batted .320 with 21 extra-base hits. When he returned the majors in late August, he almost immediately became the team’s starting second baseman in the middle of a pennant race. The Pirates would lose the division to the St Louis Cardinals but Cronin played well, hitting .265 in 38 games. In 1927 the Pirates got Cronin into just 12 games and hit .227 in 22 at-bats. That’s despite being healthy and on the active roster all season.
Just prior to the 1928 season started, the Pirates decided to sell Cronin to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association which obviously proved to be one of the worst ideas in franchise history. Just three months later the Washington Senators bought his contract and he was on the way to his Hall of Fame career. In 20 total seasons split between the Pirates, Senators and the Boston Red Sox, Cronin hit .301 over 2,124 games. He was a seven time All-Star despite the fact that the All-Star game wasn’t first played until his eighth season in the majors. He was also a player-manager for 13 seasons and managed another two years, leading his teams to the AL pennant in 1933 and 1945. Here’s an in depth article covering Cronin’s time with the Pirates.
Cronin didn’t perform well offensively with Kansas City in 1928, so it didn’t look like a bad decision immediately, though he was just 21 years old at the time. After batting .245 with 18 extra-base hits in 74 games, he put similar numbers with Washington, batting .242 with 14 extra-base hits in 63 games. They were smart enough to stick with him, though they too cut bait too soon. Cronin hit .281 with 72 runs scored, 47 extra-base hits and 84 walks in 145 games in 1929. During the offensive explosion year in 1930, he set career highs with a .346 average, 127 runs scored, 126 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. He led the league with 154 games played and he had 203 hits, which was the only time he topped the 200-hit mark. Offense returned to normal standards in 1931, and Cronin hit .306, while matching his 126 RBIs from the previous season. He scored 103 runs, while picking up 44 doubles, 13 triples, 12 homers and 81 walks. He played in all 156 games to lead the league. He finished seventh in the MVP race.
In 1932, Cronin hit .318 in 143 games, with 95 runs, 43 doubles, a league leading 18 triples, and 116 RBIs. He finished sixth in the MVP voting. In 1933, he hit .309 with 89 runs, a league leading 45 doubles, 118 RBIs and 87 walks. That led to a second place finish for the MVP and his first All-Star appearance (also the first year that the All-Star game was played). He also took over as the manager and led the Senators to a first place finish. He was just 26 years old at the time and held that player-manager title for the rest of his playing career. In 1934, Cronin batted .284 in 127 games, with 46 extra-base hits and 101 RBIs. The Senators traded him to the Boston Red Sox in the off-season for veteran shortstop Lyn Lary and $225,000, which was a huge sum for the time. It proved to be a bad decision, as the 1934 season was just a down year. Cronin batted .295 with 60 extra-base hits and 95 RBIs in 1935, his third straight All-Star season. He missed time in 1936, playing just 81 games, while hitting .281 with 43 RBIs and 36 runs scored. He was healthy in 1937 and returned to form, hitting .307 with 40 doubles, 18 homers, 110 RBIs, 84 walks and 102 runs scored. He finished seventh in the MVP voting and made his fourth All-Star appearance.
In 1938, Cronin had another seventh place MVP finish and All-Star appearance. He batted .325 and set career highs with 51 doubles (led the league) and 91 walks, while adding 17 homers, 94 RBIs and 98 runs scored. His .964 OPS that year was a career high. In 1939, he hit .308 with 33 doubles, 19 homers, 107 RBIs, 97 runs scored and 87 walks. He was an All-Star and received mild MVP support. Cronin wasn’t an All-Star and he didn’t receive MVP votes in 1940, but it was still a strong season, with a .285 average, a career high 24 homers, 111 RBIs, 35 doubles, 83 walks and 104 runs scored in 149 games. In 1941, he hit .311 with 38 doubles, 16 homers, 95 RBIs and 98 runs scored in 143 games. That season was his last big season in the majors and his last as a full-time player, though he still hit for average as a bench player. He batted .304 in 45 games in 1942, then hit .312 in 59 games in 1943, driving in 29 runs in 77 at-bats. He played a lot of first base in 1944, hitting just .241 in 76 games. He played just three games in 1945, going 3-for-8 at the plate. Cronin hit .301 in his career, with 1,233 runs scored and 1,424 RBIs. He had 515 doubles, 118 triples and 170 homers. He was a strong defensive player, three times finishing with the best dWAR in the American League, for a career 14.3 mark. For position players, he’s 96th all-time in WAR. For all of his accomplishments, the baseball writers really made him wait for the Hall of Fame, as he gained election on his 11th ballot. If he still ranks 96th now in WAR, you can imagine how high he ranked when he was first eligible for voting in 1947. He was also a manager for the last 13 years of his playing career and two more years after his final game. He had just two first place finishes, his first year and then 1946. He career record was strong though, ending up 1,236-1,055.
JT Riddle, infielder for the 2020 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in 2010, taken in the 35th round. Riddle decided to attend college, where the Miami Marlins took him in the 13th round in 2013 out of Kentucky. He debuted in the New York-Penn League and put up a .603 OPS in 59 games. The next year saw the Marlins place him at Low-A Greensboro of the South Atlantic League, where he hit .280 with 30 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and 65 runs scored in 103 games. Riddle split the 2015 season between High-A Jupiter of the Florida State League, and Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League. He hit .283 that season in 90 games, though low power/walk numbers led to a .691 OPS. He batted .217 in 12 Arizona Fall League games after the season. In 2016, he played 101 games in Jacksonville and 15 games at Triple-A New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .276, with similar power/walk numbers to the previous season, which led to a .001 difference in his OPS. Despite mediocre hitting results, Riddle spent most of the 2017 season with the Marlins. He hit .250 in 70 games as a rookie, with 17 extra-base hits and 31 RBIs. The 2018 season saw a similar time split between the majors and minors, though he played more often with the Marlins. He hit .231 in 102 games, with ten doubles, four triples, nine homers and 36 RBIs. In 2019, Riddle missed about half of the year with a right forearm strain, while spending the rest of the year split between the minors and majors. He hit .189 with six homers in 51 games with Miami. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Pirates. During the shortened 2020 season, he batted .149 in 23 games, with one RBI coming on a solo homer. He missed part of the season with an abdominal strain. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Minnesota Twins, where he’s had another majors/minors/injured split to his season. With the 2021 Twins, he went 2-for-6 in four games. In 250 big league games over five seasons, he’s a .223 hitter with 19 homers, 80 RBIs and 72 runs scored.
Casey McGehee, first baseman for the 2012 Pirates. He was a tenth round draft pick out of Cal State in 2003 by the Chicago Cubs, though he had his best years with the Milwaukee Brewers. McGehee debuted in full-season ball, playing for Lansing of the Midwest League in 2003, where he hit .272 with three homers in 64 games. He moved up to the Florida State League (High-A) in 2004, hitting .261 with 30 doubles and ten homers in 119 games for Daytona. In 2005, he was in Double-A, with West Tennessee of the Southern League. McGehee hit .297 in 124 games, with 31 doubles, eight homers and 72 RBIs. That off-season he played his first of four straight winters in Mexico. He moved up to Triple-A Iowa of the Pacific Coast League in 2006, where he batted .280 with 28 doubles, 11 homers and 68 RBIs in 135 games. Despite some success, most of the next season was spent back in Double-A, with 18 games at Triple-A. He hit .261 with 28 doubles and ten homers in 123 games. He was back in Triple-A in 2008 and he ended up spending part of the season in the majors. McGehee hit .296 with 30 doubles, 12 homers and 92 RBIs in 133 games with Iowa, while hitting .167 in nine games for the Cubs. He was placed on waivers shortly after the season ended, where he was picked up by the Brewers.
In 2009, McGehee finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, after batting .301 with 20 doubles, 16 homers and 66 RBIs in 116 games. In 2010, he hit .285 with career highs of 70 runs scored, 38 doubles, 23 homers and 104 RBIs. He saw a major drop in production in 2011, with a .223 average, 24 doubles, 13 homers and 67 RBIs in 155 games. The Pirates acquired him in the winter of 2011-12 in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers for reliever Jose Veras. In 92 games with the Pirates, he hit .230 with eight homers, before being traded to the New York Yankees at the 2012 trade deadline for veteran reliever Chad Qualls. He batted just .151 with one homer in 22 games with the Yankees. He spent the 2013 season playing in Japan, then returned to the majors in 2014 with the Miami Marlins. He hit .287 in 160 games, with 29 doubles, four homers, 76 RBIs and a career best 67 walks. McGehee was traded to the San Francisco Giants after the season, but when they released him in early July, he re-signed with the Marlins. He hit just .198 with two homers in 109 games, and actually had better results with the Giants. He signed with the Detroit Tigers as a free agent in 2016 and batted .228 in 30 games, with one RBI. Most of his final big league season was spent in Triple-A. He ended up going back to Japan for the 2017-18 seasons before retiring. McGehee batted .258 with 67 homers, 360 RBIs and 285 runs scored over 850 games and eight big league seasons, spending time with seven different clubs. While most of his playing time with the Pirates came at first base, he played just 41 games at first base during the rest of his career. He played 625 games at third base.
Joe Trimble, pitcher for the 1957 Pirates. He was a member of the Pirates system before making his big league debut with the Boston Red Sox. Trimble was originally with the Cincinnati Reds, but he was released before making the majors. He debuted in 1949 at 18 years old, going 6-10, 5.09 in 129 innings, while splitting his time between two affiliates of the Reds. In 1950, he played for Muskogee of the Class-C Western Association, where he went 9-10, 4.79 in 173 innings. He was out of pro ball during the 1951-53 seasons, partially due to an arm injury that caused the Reds to release him, but mostly due to his service time during the Korean War. He joined the Pirates system in 1954, playing for their Class-B affiliate, Burlington-Graham of the Carolina League. Trimble went 9-12, 3.02 in 185 innings over 15 starts and 28 relief outings, with 146 strikeouts. The Red Sox took him in the Rule 5 draft after the 1954 season, then gave up on him on May 11, 1955 after he threw two shutout innings in his only two appearances. He was sold by Boston to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, which was a Pirates affiliate at the time.
Trimble went 11-4, 3.27 in 135 innings over 18 starts and 19 relief outings for Hollywood in 1955. The Pirates purchased his contract on October 8, 1955. He went to Spring Training in 1956, but right elbow soreness caused him to miss time in March/April. Without making an appearance, he was optioned to Hollywood on May 16th. He ended up posting a 4.50 ERA in 124 innings in the minors that year. Trimble appeared to be making the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1957, but a minor knee surgery kept him out of action for two months. His five appearances for the Pirates came between June 26th and July 14th. The final six batters he faced in the majors all reached base, four of them being former/future Pirates (Gus Bell, Jerry Lynch, Smoky Burgess, Ted Kluszewski). He made four starts and a relief appearance during his one season in Pittsburgh, going 0-2, 8.24 in 19.2 innings. Trimble spent 1958 in the minors with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League before retiring. He was with the Pirates in Spring Training before getting cut on April 5th.
Erv Brame, pitcher for the 1928-32 Pirates. He had a five-year career with quite a peak and drop. Playing only for the Pirates during his time in the majors, he finished with a 52-37, 4.76 record in 791.2 innings. His pro career began in 1922 at 20 years old for Hopkinsville of the Class-D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League. He ended up back in that same town/league 13 years later as his playing career was winding down. He played in an outlaw league in 1923, which got him suspended from organized baseball. He was reinstated in February of 1925 and played for Newark of the International League, where he had a 4.66 ERA in 87 innings. That next year was split between Reading and Jersey City of the International League. He had a 9-21 record and he threw 246 innings in 42 appearances. In 1927, he went 18-9, 3.11 in 243 innings for Jersey City. In late August of 1927, the Pirates were said to be one of three big league teams trying to sign him, though the New York Giants were considered to be the favorites. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 13, 1927 and the initial press release said that he would report right away, but he didn’t join the team until Spring Training in 1928. He impressed in the spring and made the Opening Day roster, remaining with the club until June 2nd when he was released outright to Indianapolis of the American Association as part of a deal to acquire veteran pitcher Bill Burwell. Brame went 4-1, 2.29 in 51 innings over six starts with Indianapolis. Exactly one month after the Pirates/Indianapolis deal, Burwell was returned to Indianapolis in exchange for Brame, who would finish his rookie season in Pittsburgh with a 7-4, 5.08 record in 95.2 innings over 11 starts and 13 relief appearances.
Brame’s peak was during the 1929-30 seasons, which is one of the best stretches for offense in baseball history. He went 16-11, 4.55 in 229.2 innings over 28 starts and nine relief appearances in 1929. That ERA sounds high, but the league ERA that season was 16 points higher. The 1930 season was one of the best for offense/worst for pitchers in big league history. Brame went 17-8, 4.70 in 235.2 innings, with 28 starts and four relief outings. His 22 complete games led the league. In 1931, which offense returning to near normal standards, he went 9-13, 4.21 in 179.2 innings over 21 starts and five relief outings. His big league career was over by the end of 1932, after he had a 7.41 ERA in 51 innings that season, while mostly pitching in relief. The Pirates released him to Toronto of the International League on February 14, 1933. Brame finished up his pro career with three minor league seasons. It was said that his decline in 1931 was due to the flu, which kept him sidelined for six weeks, and he never fully recovered, losing velocity on his fastball. Brame was a two-pitch pitcher and his fastball was his best pitch, with a curve that was average at best. He was an outstanding hitting pitcher, which helped him stick around as long as he did. Brame batted .306 in 396 big league at-bats, with eight homers and 75 RBIs. While he is known as Erv now, a large majority of his mentions (more than 95%) used his full name (Ervin) and he was actually called Erwin more times than Erv.
Jimmy Burke, infielder for the 1901-02 Pirates. Burke’s pro career began at 21 years old in 1896 for Peoria of the Class-B Western Association. Most of the 1897 season was spent with Peoria, where he hit .269 with 25 extra-base hits and 41 steals in 116 games. His 1898 season was a wild one that saw him end in the majors with the Cleveland Spiders, where he didn’t debut until October 6th. He played for Peoria for part of the season, as well as Milwaukee and Minneapolis of the Class-A Western League. He hit just .105 with a double and two walks with Cleveland. The owner of Cleveland also had interest in the St Louis Perfectos and he moved all of his best players to one team, which created an 84-67 team in St Louis and the worst team in baseball history in Cleveland. Burke played just two big league games in 1899, spending the rest of the year with Rochester of the International League, where he hit .294 with 33 steals in 113 games. In 1900, he played with Milwaukee in the American League, which existed for one season as a minor league. He hit .246 with 47 runs scored and 23 steals in 127 games.
Burke joined the Pirates late in the 1901 season and hit .196 in 14 games. He began the year in the American League, playing for the Milwaukee Brewers (current day Baltimore Orioles) first, and then the Chicago White Sox, where he played until September 13th before joining the Pirates four days later. The White Sox parted ways with him because former Pirates player Frank Shugart was returning from a suspension and Chicago was at their roster limit (15 players at the time). Combined between all three stops, he hit .225 with 51 RBIs, 48 runs scored and 17 steals in 120 games. When the Pirates were busy having their best season in franchise history in 1902, winning their second straight National League title, Burke split his time between five positions, hitting .296 in 60 games. That was well above his career marks in seven years in the majors, as he finished his career with a .295 OBP and .289 slugging percentage. The Pirates traded him after the 1902 season back to the St Louis Cardinals and he played three years as a regular in the majors. He hit .285 with 55 runs scored, 42 RBIs and 28 steals in 115 games in 1903, splitting his time between third base and second base. Burke played 118 games in 1904, hitting .227 with 37 runs, 37 RBIs and 17 steals. In his final season in the majors, he hit .225 with one homer, 30 RBIs and 35 runs scored in a career high 122 games. That one homer, which was an inside-the-park homer, was significant because it was the only homer of his big league career. He played 550 games in the majors, batting .244 with 187 RBIs, 87 steals and 200 runs scored. He went to Kansas City of the American Association in 1906 and stayed in the league for four years, playing with three different teams. His final minor league games came with Fort Wayne of the Central League in 1910 and 1913. Burke managed part of the 1905 season in St Louis, then in 1918, he moved across town and managed the St Louis Browns for three seasons. He also managed in the minors and coached in the majors.
Charlie Morton, outfielder for the 1882 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. While he has no stats listed prior to 1882, he was playing/managing semi-pro baseball in Ohio (Cleveland/Akron) for at least three years before his debut with the Alleghenys at 27 years old. He debuted in the majors with the first Major League team in Pittsburgh history. Morton was in the lineup for the first game in Pittsburgh Pirates franchise history on May 2, 1882. For the Alleghenys that year, he batted .282 in 25 games, while spending most of his time in center field. He was said to be a shortstop when he signed and was there for the first few exhibition games, but only played two innings at shortstop during his time in Pittsburgh. Morton was listed at 5’9″, 150 pounds, and when the Alleghenys first got together for Spring Training, he was singled out as the smallest player in the group. He finished the year as a member of the St Louis Brown Stockings, where he had just two hits in 32 at-bats. After spending 1883 with Toledo of the Northwestern League as a player-manager, he played parts of two more seasons in the majors, seeing time with the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, and the 1885 Detroit Wolverines of the National League. He managed Toledo in 1884, while also penciling his name in the lineup 32 times, despite a .162 batting average. The next season he was the Opening Day manager of the Wolverines, leading the team to a 7-31 record before he was let go. Morton batted .177 in 22 games that season. That ended up being his last Major League time. He hit .194 career in 87 big league games with no home runs, 34 runs scored, 18 walks, seven doubles and eight triples.
Morton managed a total of three season in the majors and off and on in the minors until 1898. After leaving the Wolverines, he managed Savannah of the Southern League in 1886. In 1887, he played for three different teams and managed with two of the clubs, including a brief time with Savannah. Morton was a player-manager for Des Moines of the Western Association in 1888 and Toledo of the International League in 1889. He returned to Toledo as a manager in 1890 when they were part of the American Association, leading the team to a 68-63 record. His final time as a player came when he played one game each for Rochester of the Eastern Association in 1891 and Minneapolis of the American Association in 1892, two teams he was managing at the time.
Charles “Pop” Smith, shortstop for the 1885-89 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He was the Opening Day shortstop for the 1887 Alleghenys, the first year that Pittsburgh played in the National League. He debuted in pro ball in 1877 during the first year of minor league baseball, playing for the Binghamton Cricket of the League Alliance. From there he went to Utica of the International Association in 1878. His first stats show up with Springfield of the National Association in 1879, where he hit .224 with 24 runs scored in 46 games. Smith made it to the majors in 1880 with the Cincinnati Reds of the National League, a different franchise than the current team by the same name. He hit .207 in 83 games as a rookie, with 35 runs scored and 27 RBIs. In 1881, he played briefly for three different National League teams, seeing time with the Cleveland Blues, Buffalo Bisons and Worcester Ruby Legs. Smith hit just .081 in 24 games. In 1882, he hit just .105 in 23 games while seeing time with the Philadelphia Athletics and Louisville Eclipse of the American Association. Four years into his big league time, he was with his seventh team, but he found his hitting stroke with the Columbus Buckeyes of the American Association in 1883. He hit .262 in 97 games, with 82 runs scored and a league leading 17 triples. The next year saw him hit .238 with 34 extra-base hits and 78 runs scored in 108 games.
Smith joined the franchise in October 1884 when he was purchased from the Columbus Buckeyes of the American Association. The Alleghenys received a total of ten players from Columbus, as the club folded. In fact, the Alleghenys were often referred to as the old Columbus team in 1885, so much so that articles from other cities often cited their teams performances against Columbus in the past instead of Pittsburgh. Smith stayed with the Alleghenys until he was sold off in July of 1889. He hit .249 in 1885, with 11 doubles, 13 triples, 35 RBIs and 85 runs scored in 106 games. In Pittsburgh’s last season in the American Association, he hit .217 with 31 extra-base hits, 57 RBIs, 38 steals and 75 runs scored. In the National League in 1887, Smith hit .215 with 69 runs scored, 54 RBIs and 30 steals in 122 games. His average dropped to .206 in 131 games in 1888, as he added 61 runs scored, 52 RBIs and 37 steals. He was let go during the 1889 season, sold to Boston after the Alleghenys played a game against the Chicago White Stockings on July 29th. It was said at the time that Smith only lasted as long as he did in Pittsburgh that season because of injuries. It was also noted that his sale was likely part of a deal completed about ten days earlier when Pittsburgh acquired Boston pitcher Bill Sowders, in what was originally reported as just a cash deal.
Smith was hitting .209 in 72 games when he was let go, then batted .260 with 32 RBIs in 59 games for Boston. He remained with Boston in 1890 when many players were jumping to the Player’s League. That year he hit .229 with 53 RBIs and 82 runs scored in 134 games, setting career highs with 38 steals and 80 walks, though he also led the league with 81 strikeouts. He played briefly in the majors in 1891, hitting .178 in 27 games for the Washington Statesmen of the American Association, then continued his pro career in the minors, playing until 1899. He also served as a player/manager for three seasons in the minors.
In his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Smith hit just .220 over 557 games, but he had very good speed and played strong defense in the middle of the diamond, splitting his time between shortstop and second base. Smith was one of the first players born in Canada to play in the majors. He lasted 12 seasons in the big leagues playing 1,112 games, hitting .222 with 87 triples and 643 runs scored. He led all second basemen in assists in 1884 and 1885, then moved to shortstop in 1886 and led the league in fielding percentage. The Alleghenys parted ways with him at the perfect time. In 1890, he led NL second basemen in errors and he led the league in strikeouts as well.
Frank Ringo, catcher for the 1885-86 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Ringo bounced around a lot during his brief career, playing for five big league teams in four years. He appeared in the National League during all four of those seasons and also spent parts of three of those seasons in the American Association. He debuted in pro ball in the majors, and ended up playing just 251 games total in his pro career, with most of them coming in the majors. In 1883, Ringo spent the entire year with the Philadelphia Quakers of the National League. He hit .190 in 60 games, with 24 runs scored, ten doubles and 12 RBIs. In 1884, he split the season between the Quakers and their American Association counterpart, the Philadelphia Athletics. He hit just .124 in 28 games and scored four runs. He began the 1885 season with the Detroit Wolverines, playing for the aforementioned Charlie Morton. Detroit released him that season because of a drinking problem. He then played for Augusta of the Southern League for 13 games, where it was said that he hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since his early season incident. Ringo joined the Alleghenys on September 26th when the Augusta team disbanded for the season. He was joined by teammate/pitcher John Hofford in Pittsburgh.
Ringo caught three games (all of Hofford’s starts) over the final six days of the 1885 season, going 2-for-11 at the plate. In 1886, he played 15 games for Pittsburgh, splitting his time between first base and catcher. Those games at first base were the only ones he played there during his Major League career. Ringo hit .214 with five RBIs in 56 at-bats for the 1886 Alleghenys. On August 3rd, manager Horace Phillips released both Ringo and Hofford due to having too many men on the payroll at the time. They used just 20 players all season and not all of them were with the team on August 3rd. Ringo finished that season with the Kansas City Cowboys in the National League, hitting .232 in 16 games. That was the end of his big league career. Ringo played two more seasons in the minors, including 1887 with Kansas City in the Western League with Hofford as his teammate. He played the 1888 season with St Paul of the Western Association. That was before his life came to a tragic ending. Just before Opening Day in 1889, Ringo committed suicide by ingesting a lethal amount of morphine. He was just 28 years old.