Three former Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Fame pitcher. We also have one minor transaction of note.
Jim Bunning, pitcher for the 1968-69 Pirates. Pittsburgh gave up a lot to get the future Hall of Famer after he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting in 1967 with the Philadelphia Phillies. By the time he left via trade late in 1969, the Pirates were only able to get two marginal minor league players and cash in return. Bunning went 14-23, 3.84 in 316 innings with the Pirates. That looks like a decent ERA, though it came during a time of low offense in baseball, so it was actually a good deal higher than league average. Bunning pitched until 1971, finishing his 17-year career with 224 wins and 2,855 strikeouts. He had just one career 20-win season, but from 1962 until 1966, he finished with 19 wins four times. Bunning led the league in strikeouts three times, accomplishing that feat in both leagues (1959-60 with Detroit Tigers, 1967 with the Phillies). He’s only one of six players ever to throw no-hitters in two leagues. His second one on June 21, 1964 with the Phillies was a perfect game.
Bunning debuted in pro ball in 1950 at 18 years old, playing Class-D ball for Richmond of the Ohio-Indiana League, where he went 7-8, 3.22 in 123 innings. The next year he moved up to Davenport of the Class-B Three-I League, posting an 8-10, 2.88 record in 150 innings. He ended up in Williamsport in 1952, playing in the Class-A Eastern League. He went 5-9, 3.49 in 129 innings. The next two seasons were spent in Double-A, playing for Little Rock of the Southern Association. Bunning went 5-12, 4.56 in 158 innings, with 124 strikeouts. He improved to 13-11, 4.29 in 193 innings in 1954. He began the 1955 season with Buffalo of the Triple-A International League, going 8-5, 3.77 in 129 innings before joining the Tigers in July. He went 3-5, 6.35 in 51 innings over eight starts and seven relief appearances for the 1955 Tigers. In 1956, he spent the first half of the season with Charleston of the American Association, which turned out to be his final minor league time. Bunning had a 9-11, 3.53 record in 163 innings before rejoining the Tigers in July. He went 5-1, 3.71 in 53.1 innings over three starts and 12 relief appearances in his second big league trial.
In 1957, Bunning went 20-8, 2.69 in 267.1 innings, with 182 strikeouts. He led the American League in wins and innings pitched. He was an All-Star for the first time and he finished ninth in the MVP voting. In 1958, he had a 14-12, 3.52 record in 219.2 innings, with 177 strikeouts. He led the league in strikeouts for the first time in 1959, as he compiled a 17-13, 3.89 record, with 201 strikeouts in 249.2 innings. He was an All-Star for the second time. That 201-strikeout mark was lucky for him, as he finished with the exact same amount in 1960 to lead the league once again. Bunning went 11-14, 2.79 in 250 innings, pitched for a team that finished 12 games under the .500 mark. In 1961, he went 17-11, 3.19 in 268 innings, making his third All-Star team (technically he made his third and fourth All-Star teams, as they played two games back then). They played two All-Star games in 1962 as well, and Bunning was elected to the team for the fourth year, thanks to his 19-10, 3.59 record in 258 innings. He made the All-Star team again in 1963, when they went back to playing just one game. It was his last season in Detroit and he finished with a 12-13, 3.88 record in 248.1 innings. In December of 1963, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in a four-player deal.
Bunning went 19-8, 2.63 in 1964, with 219 strikeouts in 284.1 innings. He was an All-Star and he finished 13th in the MVP voting. In 1965, he had a 19-9, 2.60 record in 291 innings, while setting a career high with 268 strikeouts. In 1966, he was an All-Star for the seventh time (nine total games), going 19-14, 2.41 in 314 innings, with 252 strikeouts. He led the league with 41 starts and five shutouts. In his final season before joining the Pirates, Bunning went 17-15, 2.29 in 302.1 innings, with 253 strikeouts. He led the league in innings, strikeouts, starts (40) and shutouts (six). He finished second in the Cy Young voting that year. The Pirates were clearly getting a workhorse pitcher with plenty of recent success when they acquired Bunning, but he also turned 36 years old just after the 1967 season ended and his age showed almost immediately, though he got off to a strong start with the Pirates, posting a 2.43 ERA in his first seven starts. It went downhill from there, going 6-14, 4.66 over the rest of the season.
Bunning cost the Pirates future All-Stars Don Money and Woody Fryman (plus two other players), who were both very early in their career in the pre-free agency days. In his first season in Pittsburgh, Bunning went 4-14, 3.88 in 26 starts and one relief appearance, totaling 160 innings. His ERA was nearly the same in 1969, but he had a 10-9 record in 25 starts and 156 innings. With the Pirates lagging in the pennant race in August, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he made nine starts before being released after the season. He didn’t do poorly in those games, going 3-1, 3.36 in 56.1 innings. The Pirates return from the Dodgers exactly 20 months after giving up two All-Stars to acquire Bunning netted them a return of six games over two seasons from Chuck Goggins, with the other player in the deal (Ron Mitchell) failing to make the majors. In 1970, Bunning was back with the Phillies, where he went 10-15, 4.11 in 219 innings. During his final season, he went 5-12, 5.48 in 110 games. He went 224-184, 3.27 in 3,760.1 innings, with 519 starts, 151 complete games and 40 shutouts.
Billy Sullivan, catcher for the 1947 Pirates. When he played in the 1940 World Series with the Detroit Tigers, he became part of the first father-son combo to play in the World Series. His father, also named Billy Sullivan, was a catcher for 16 years in the majors. He was the starter for the 1906 Chicago White Sox, a team that went on to win their first World Series title that year. The younger Sullivan debuted in the majors with the White Sox in 1931 at 20 years old. He played there three seasons, spent 1934 in the minors, then returned to the majors for the next eight seasons. From 1935-42, he played for five different big league clubs, spending two full seasons each with the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and St Louis Browns. He was with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1942 and remained with them during his war years, but in 1947 after the war ended, he was released and signed shortly after with the Pirates, where he played in the majors for the first time in five years. He hit .255 over 38 games in 1947, in what ended up as his last season in the majors. Sullivan retired following his one season in Pittsburgh. He was a career .289 hitter over 962 big league games, with 29 homers, 388 RBIs, 346 runs scored and twice as many walks (240) as strikeouts (119). He led all American League catchers in fielding (.990) in 1938, while also being the toughest batter to strikeout in the league (ten strikeouts in 401 plate appearances).
Sullivan debuted in pro ball in the majors and his only minor league experience ever was the 1934 season with Milwaukee of the American Association. He went right from Notre Dame to the majors and he appeared to be ready for that big jump. As a rookie in 1931, he batted .275 with 23 extra-base hits and 33 RBIs in 92 games. He didn’t catch often at first, spending most of his time at the two corner outfield spots. The next season saw him bat .316 in 93 games, with 16 doubles and 45 RBIs. In 1933, he hit just .192 in 54 games and his only extra-base hit was a triple. After his one season in Milwaukee, he came back with the Cincinnati Reds in 1935, where he hit .266 in 85 games. Sullivan was sold to the Indians in January of 1936 and he began to catch regular that season. He broke out with the bat in 93 games, hitting .351 with 32 doubles, 48 RBIs and an .890 OPS. His average dropped down to .286 in 72 games in 1937, and he collected just 18 extra-base hits. In February of 1938, Sullivan was traded to the Browns, where he would get his most playing time. In 1938, he hit .277 with 16 doubles, seven homers and 49 RBIs in 111 games. He set a career high with 118 games in 1939, as he hit .289 with 27 extra-base hits and career highs of 50 RBIs and 53 runs scored.
Sullivan was traded to the Detroit Tigers in January of 1940. He hit .309 with 21 extra-base hits, 41 RBIs and 35 runs scored in 78 games. He started four of the seven World Series games that year. Detroit lost the series and Sullivan hit just .154, though he did have a single, walk and run scored in the 2-1 finale. In 1941, he batted .282 with 19 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs, 29 runs scored and a career high of 35 walks. He was sold to Brooklyn in March of 1942 and he hit .267 with one homer and 14 RBIs in 43 games. He voluntarily retired prior to the 1943 to work on a construction business he owned, though he enlisted in the Navy that summer. Before joining the Pirates officially, he worked out with the team so they could see if he still had big league ability. He ended up signing right before appearing in the fifth game of the season.
Lave Winham, lefty pitcher for the 1903 Pirates. Winham pitched five late season games for the first World Series team in Pirates history. He went 3-1, 2.25 in 36 innings. His only other big league experience was a three-inning relief appearance for Brooklyn in 1902. The Pirates purchased him from his minor league team in Montreal on August 5, 1903, though he was allowed to stay with the club for a short time. Winham joined the Pirates a week later and his first appearance was on August 16th in an in-season exhibition game against a minor league team from Troy. He allowed two homers, but won 6-3. His next appearance was his Pirates regular season debut five days later and he allowed three runs over four innings. Four days later, he started game two of a doubleheader and threw a six-inning shutout in a game shortened due to excessive heat. He ended up making three more starts and won the first two, before allowing nine runs in his last game, which turned out to be his final big league game. In between his last win and his last game, Winham pitched for a local pro team from Washington, Pa., who reportedly paid $100 to use Winham and catcher Art Weaver on loan for one game. Despite adding two Major League players, the team lost 15-0 and Winham allowed all 15 runs. He was let go in early 1904 after the Pirates failed to tender him a contract. He finished his pro career the next season in the minors with Wilmington of the Tri-State League, but he played semi-pro ball the next year and did some pitching on and off after that season.
Winham has a dubious Pirates team record that will likely never be broken. In his final big league game, he committed four errors. That’s a team record for errors by a pitcher and it has only been exceeded once in baseball history by a pitcher. That was Ed Doheny, who was a teammate of Winham’s in 1903. Doheny committed five errors with the New York Giants in an 1899 game.
Winham’s real name was Lafayette Sharkey Winham and his current “Lave” nickname appears to be no more than an error. A search of old print shows the name just once during his playing days, and he was actually referred to as “Lafe” or by his full first name. His recognized nickname now appears to be nothing more than a spelling error from 1905. He pitched in the amateur ranks as early as 15 years old in 1897, but he debuted in the minors at 18 years old for Statesville of the North Carolina Association, a league that lasted just one season. The next year he pitched for the Hempsteads of the South Side League, a semi-pro league in New York at the time. After the 1901 season, Brooklyn signed him by making a better offer than Montreal of the Eastern League. That’s not surprising because Winham was born and raised in Brooklyn, but after his one appearance in Brookyln on April 21st, he ended up spending the season in Montreal, which is where the Pirates signed him from nearly 16 months later.
On this date in 1981, the Pirates purchased minor league pitcher Manny Sarmiento from the Boston Red Sox. Sarmiento had previous MLB experience, but he spent the entire 1981 season in the minors and saw limited big league action in 1980. It turned out to be an excellent short-term signing, as he had a 9-4, 3.39 record in 164.2 innings during the 1982 season, making 17 starts and 18 relief appearances. Sarmiento did well as a full-time reliever in 1983, posting a 2.99 ERA in 84.1 innings over 52 appearances. That would be the end of his big league career though, as he was injured for all of 1984 and lasted just one season in the minors when he returned to action.