Seven Pittsburgh Pirates have been born on this date, including one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history. There’s also a major trade of note.
Ralph Kiner, outfielder for the 1946-53 Pirates. The Pirates signed Kiner as an amateur free agent in 1941, but partly due to the war (he missed the 1944-45 seasons), he did not make his Major League debut until the 1946 season. He debuted in pro ball at 18 years old in 1941 with Class-A Albany of the Eastern League, where he batted .279 with 23 doubles, seven triples and 11 homers in 141 games. He played 141 games with Albany in 1942 as well, hitting .257 with 27 doubles, seven triples and 14 homers. In 1943, he moved up to Toronto of the International League, where he got in 43 games before he was inducted into the navy. Despite missing 2 1/2 seasons, he went right from the service to the majors after making the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1946. As a rookie, Kiner led the National League with 23 homers, which also tied the Pirates single season record. He batted .247 with 74 walks, 81 RBIs and 63 runs scored in 144 games. He played more center field in 1946, but moved to left field for good the next year.
The Pirates helped out their newest attraction by moving in the left field fences, which led to some huge home run totals for the young slugger. Kiner led the NL in homers for seven straight seasons with the Pirates to start his career, and he did that while also averaging 110 walks per season. In 1947, he set the club record with 51 homers, while adding a .313 average, 98 walks, 127 RBIs and 118 runs scored in 152 games. He led the league with a .639 slugging percentage and a 1.055 OPS. He led the league with 156 games played in 1948 when he hit .265 with 40 homers, 123 RBIs, 104 runs scored and 112 walks. In 1949, Kiner etched his name into Pirates history by setting the franchise record with 54 homers. He broke his own record he set two years earlier when he put up the only other 50-homer season in club history. He led the league with 127 RBIs, 117 walks, a .658 slugging percentage and a 1.089 OPS. In 1950, Kiner hit .272 in 150 games, with 112 runs, 47 homers, 118 RBIs and 122 walks. The 1951 season saw him lead the league with 124 runs scored, 42 homers, a career best 137 walks, which is also a single-season record for the Pirates. He also led with a .452 OBP, a .627 slugging percentage, and a 1.079 OPS. He batted .309 that season with 31 doubles and 109 RBIs.
Kiner began to show some signs of slowing down in his last full season with the Pirates, but it was still a big year. He batted .244 with 37 homers, 87 RBIs, 90 runs scored and a league leading 110 walks. His .884 OPS was his lowest since his rookie season. In 1953, the Pirates traded Kiner to the Chicago Cubs in a huge deal that was more about clearing money than getting player value in return. The Pirates gave up four players total for six players, while also getting $150,000 back, which was a huge sum for the day. Kiner was making half of that amount in 1953, so cutting his salary was part of the deal. The Pirates lost 112 games in 1952 and 104 in 1953, so they weren’t exactly getting rid of their chance of competing, which didn’t exist at the time. The deal could have been much worse but his back injury kept his value down after leaving Pittsburgh. He was hitting .270 with seven homers in 41 games at the time of the deal and finished the season by hitting .283 with 28 homers and 87 RBIs in 117 games for the Cubs. In 1954, he hit .285 with a career best 36 doubles, along with 73 RBIs and 76 walks in 147 games. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians prior to the 1955 season, and hit .243 with 18 homers and 54 RBIs in 113 games that season, which ended up being his last in the majors.
Kiner was an All-Star each season from 1948 until 1953, somehow missing the game during his 51-homer season in 1947. He received MVP votes during all seven of his full seasons in Pittsburgh, with five straight finishes in the top ten during the 1947-51 seasons. His best finish was fourth place in 1949. For the Pirates, he ranks second in OPS in a season (1.089 in 1949) and he holds the second/third spots in both total bases (361 in 1947/49) and RBIs (127 in 1947/49). His .567 slugging percentage and .971 OPS both rank second to Brian Giles in team history, with Kiner compiling 1,600 more plate appearances to reach his marks. Kiner also ranks fifth in walks and seventh in RBIs. His 301 homers with the Pirates ranks second all-time to Willie Stargell. Kiner’s #4 is retired by the Pirates.Despite the offensive dominance during his peak, he didn’t make the Hall of Fame until 1975. Kiner went on to have a long career in broadcasting for the New York Mets.
Charlie Kuhns, third baseman for the Pirates on June 7, 1897. He had a nine-year minor league career, but his Major League career consisted of seven games with the 1899 Boston Beaneaters and his big league debut (and only game) with the 1897 Pirates. Just 20 years old at the time, Kuhns made his pro debut with the Pirates on June 7th, which ended up being less than a week prior to his first minor league game. He actually got into a Major League game three days earlier, but the stats don’t reflect that. On June 4th, the Pirates were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. After a bad call by the umpire in the top of the fourth inning, Pirates manager Patsy Donovan came to argue the play. Donovan was also the right fielder that day and he argued the call again prior to his scheduled at-bat, which got him ejected. Kuhns came in to replace him and grounded out to end the inning. Before the bottom of the fourth inning, the umpire called the game a forfeit, declaring that the Pirates players were still arguing the call and not taking their position. Since they didn’t play long enough for it to be an official game, the stats were erased from the record books. Kuhns got his official game in three days later, going 0-for-3, with a walk and two errors in six fielding chances at third base.
The Pirates first got wind of Kuhns in the fall of 1896 after former owner William Chase Temple scouted him playing local semi-pro ball for a team from Freeport, Pa., which was his (Kuhns) hometown team. The Pirates extended an invitation to Kuhns to join them for Spring Training, but they never actually saw him until the day that he showed up in Pittsburgh to sign his contract. It was announced that they would give him a chance to tryout in March in 1897, but that tryout almost didn’t happen, as Donovan was unimpressed with the look of his new player, who was described as a “short, dumpy little fellow”, on the day they met. Kuhns did so well that he made the team out of Spring Training. Even before the team broke for the season, manager Donovan said that he planned to keep Kuhns even if he had no room for him to play. It was also noted that Donovan was worried that he was wasting money by bringing him to Spring Training, but his performance eased those concerns. Kuhns was with the Pirates for the entire time before his unofficial debut on June 4th in the 34th game of the season. By June 13th, six days after his one game for the team, he was already in the lineup of the Fall River Indians of the New England League. On June 11th, Donovan said that Kuhns wasn’t fast enough for the league, which was the early baseball way of saying that a player belonged in the minors.
Kuhns batted .305 in 21 games for Fall River in 1897, then spent the 1898 season with Bradford of the Iron and Oil League. He moved up to Worcester of the Class-A Eastern League in 1899 and hit .326 in 113 games, with 84 runs scored, 28 extra-base hits and 17 steals. That earned him his second trip to the majors. In his seven games for the Boston Beaneaters, he hit .278 with three RBIs, splitting his starts between third base and shortstop. Kuhns was back in Worcester for part of the 1900 season, one of five teams in the Eastern League that he played for during the 1900-05 seasons. While his full stats aren’t available during his last seven seasons in pro ball, they show that he hit .300 for Hartford of the Eastern League in 1901, then batted .263 in 142 games for Indianapolis of the American Association in 1902. He was back in the Eastern League with Toronto in 1903 and hit .259 in 117 games. Over his last three seasons, he played for six different teams in four different leagues.
Ed Albosta, pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1938, playing briefly for Beckley of the Class-D Mountain State League at 19 years old. In 1939, he moved up to Class-C Hot Springs of the Cotton States League, where he went 10-10, 5.52 in 189 innings. Albosta threw hard, and he piled up 192 strikeouts in the minors in 1940 with Dayton of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League. He also had 112 walks in his 213 innings of work, putting together a 9-11, 3.21 record. His only other big league experience besides his year with the Pirates was two starts for the Brooklyn Dodgers at the end of the 1941 season. He began the year with Durham of the Class-B Piedmont League, where he went 15-5, 1.73 in 192 innings. In his brief time with the Dodgers, he allowed nine runs in 13 innings. Albosta spent the 1942 season with Montreal of the International League (Double-A), where he went 9-7, 3.53 in 130 innings.
Albosta missed the 1943-45 seasons due to service during WWII. The Pirates acquired him in the Rule 5 draft after the 1942 season, so he was part of their organization during his time in the war. His strikeout total dropped to 79 in 130 innings during that 1942 season, though he was still considered by some to be the top player taken in the 1942 Rule 5 draft. Just two months after his selection, he was drafted into the Army. He was released from the Army in late October of 1945 and joined the Pirates for Spring Training in 1946. Despite the limited usage in 1946 (39.2 innings), he was with the Pirates for the entire season. He went 0-6, 6.13 in six starts and 11 relief appearances during his only season in Pittsburgh. He sprained his ankle in Spring Training of 1947, hurting his chances of making the team. The Pirates sent him to Indianapolis on March 27th, then he was moved on the Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. Albosta at first didn’t want to report to the minors because he thought he deserved a big league spot, but manager Billy Herman talked him into going. Albosta remained in the minors until retiring after the 1954 season without another shot at the majors. He pitched two years for Hollywood (1947-48), where the Chicago White Sox purchased his contract in October of 1947, before releasing him back to Hollywood after he couldn’t make the big league team during Spring Training in 1948. He then played for Toledo of the American Association in 1949. The 1950-51 seasons were spent with Saginaw of the Central League, before finishing his career with three seasons in the unaffiliated Manitoba-Dakota League, where he was a player-manager for the last two seasons.
U L Washington, infielder for the 1986-87 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent out of college in 1972 by the Kansas City Royals, and he debuted five years later in the majors. At 19 years old in 1973, he played in the short-season Appalachian League, where he hit .283 with 23 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs and 20 steals in 68 games. In 1974, he played half of the season in the Class-A California League and the other half in Double-A, with Jacksonville of the Southern League. Washington combined to hit .252 with 31 extra-base hits and 44 steals in 115 games. In 1975, he spent his first of three straight seasons in Omaha of the Triple-A American Association. He hit .238 his first year, with a .632 OPS, 145 strikeouts and 22 steals in 34 attempts. He also committed 46 errors. He started switch-hitting in 1976 and was doing well early in the experiment until he broke his leg, which limited him to 30 games for the entire season. Back at Omaha in 1977, Washington hit .255 with 82 runs scored, 39 steals and 25 extra-base hits in 131 games. He made it to the Royals for ten games and batted .200, but he was there to stay.
In 1978, Washington batted .264 with 12 steals in part-time work for the Royals in the middle infield, getting 142 plate appearances in 69 games. In 1979, he saw more work, leading to a .254 average, 19 extra-base hits, 25 RBIs and ten steals in 101 games. He was the everyday shortstop in 1980 and responded by hitting .273 with 33 extra-base hits, 53 RBIs, 20 steals and career high 79 runs scored in 153 games. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Washington batted .227 with 41 walks and 40 runs scored in 98 games. He had ten steals but he was caught ten times as well. In 1982, he set a career high with a .286 average, to go along with 32 extra-base hits, 64 runs scored and a career high 60 RBIs, while playing 119 games. In 1983, he hit .236 in 144 games, with 76 runs scored and a career best 40 stolen bases. Washington was limited to 63 games in 1984 due to a broken hand and a shoulder injury. He lost the starting job to Onix Concepcion, who would end up finishing his big league career with the 1987 Pirates, just like Washington.
Washington spent his first eight seasons in the majors with the Royals, then moved on to the Montreal Expos in 1985. He hit .249 in 68 games for the Expos, while mostly playing second base. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent in November of 1985 and he spent the first two months of the 1986 season in the minors. He hit .207 over 82 games in two partial seasons with the Pirates, with most of that time coming in 1986 when he played 51 games at shortstop and 72 games total. The Pirates released him in November of 1986, but he returned to the club on January 20, 1987 on a minor league deal. His big league time in 1987 consisted of ten games as a September call-up, in which he went 3-for-10 at the plate and he made just one start (at shortstop). Washington was released after the 1987 season, which basically ended his career as a player. He managed one season in the minors for the Pirates in 1989, going 32-44 for Welland of the New York-Penn League. He played senior professional ball for two years, then took up coaching for the Royals and later the Boston Red Sox. In 1992, he played one game in Double-A for the Memphis Chicks, where he was coaching. Washington hit .251 with 358 runs scored, 255 RBIs and 132 steals in 907 games over 11 seasons in the majors. His actual first name is U L, which isn’t short for anything.
Mike Dunne, pitcher for the 1987-89 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick (seventh overall) in 1984 by the St Louis Cardinals out of Bradley University. He didn’t debut in pro ball until 1985, but he went right to Double-A, where he had a 4-9, 3.08 record in 146 innings over 23 starts for Arkansas of the Texas League. Dunne went to Triple-A Louisville of the American Association for the entire 1986 season. He had a 9-12, 4.56 record in 185.2 innings, with 28 starts and seven complete games. The April 1, 1987 trade between the Pirates and Cardinals brought in long-term pieces in Andy Van Slyke and Mike Lavalliere for Pittsburgh in exchange for veteran catcher Tony Pena, but Dunne looked like a strong third piece in the deal shortly after it happened. He made nine starts at Triple-A with the Pirates that year and had a 3.31 ERA before making his big league debut on June 5, 1987. Despite being in the minors for the first two months of the season, he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1987, going 13-6, 3.03 in 163.1 innings over 23 starts. His .684 winning percentage was tops in the National League that season. It was fleeting success at the big league level for Dunne, who had an average ERA in a full season at the big league level in 1988, followed by a quick drop in his results in subsequent seasons.
Dunne dropped down to 7-11, 3.92 in 170 innings over 28 starts (and two relief appearances) in 1988, despite the Pirates finishing second with 85 wins that season. He then lasted just three starts in 1989 before he was traded to the Seattle Mariners in a five-player deal on April 21, 1989. He had a 7.53 ERA before the trade. Dunne went 2-9, 5.27 in 85.1 innings over 15 starts for the Mariners after the deal, then was selected in the 1989 Rule 5 draft by the San Diego Padres. He went 0-3, 5.65 in 28.2 innings over six starts and four relief appearances for the 1990 Padres. After spending all of 1991 in the minors for the Chicago White Sox as a free agent signing, his last big league experience came with the 1992 White Sox. He made one start and three relief appearances, finishing with a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 innings. Dunne pitched in the minors with the White Sox in 1993, then made his final six pro starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in Triple-A in 1994. Despite being a high draft pick with instant success in the majors, he played just ten seasons of pro ball. In five seasons in the majors, he finished 25-30, 4.08 in 474.1 innings, with 225 walks and 205 strikeouts.
Jason Johnson, pitcher for the 1997 Pirates. The Pirates signed him out of college in 1992 as a non-drafted free agent. He worked his way slowly through the minors while proving that win/loss records don’t mean much. He went 2-9 in 1993, 2-12 in 1994, 4-9 in 1995 and 5-8 in 1996, yet still moved up and debuted in the majors in 1997, then went on to have an 11-year big league career. He was a starter in the majors from 1998 until 2006, then spent 2007 in Japan, before returning as a reliever for one final season in 2008. His debut in 1992 was limited to 7.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League. In 1993, he split the season between the GCL and Welland of the New York-Penn League, making a total of 15 starts, with a 3.24 ERA in 89 innings. The 1994 season was spent with Augusta of the Low-A South Atlantic League, where he went 2-12, 4.03 in 102.2 innings. In 1995, Johnson split the year evenly between Augusta and High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League. He combined to go 4-9, 4.64 in 108.2 innings over 21 starts, with significantly better results at the lower level. The next year saw him play for the same two teams, each for half of the season. He went 5-8, 4.28 in 128.1 innings, with 110 strikeouts, which was easily his career high to that point.
Johnson started back in Lynchburg in 1997, where he went 8-4, 3.71 in 17 starts before being promoted to Carolina of the Double-A Southern League. He made his Major League debut with the Pirates in August of 1997 without playing a single game in Triple-A. He had a 4.08 ERA in nine Double-A starts prior to his call-up, and he finished the minor league season with 155 strikeouts. He gave up four runs over six innings in his only three games with the Pirates, pitching in relief each time. He was lost in the November 1997 expansion draft to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Johnson had a 5.70 ERA in 13 starts for Tampa in 1998. He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles just before the start of the 1999 season, which led to him seeing plenty of work over the next eight seasons. He went 8-7, 5.46 in 115.1 innings for the 1999 Orioles. The next year he struggled as a starter and saw relief time, finishing the year 1-10, 7.02 in 107.2 innings. The Orioles stuck with him in 2001 and he responded with his best season, going 10-12, 4.09 in 196 innings over 32 starts. Johnson suffered along with the 95-loss Orioles in 2002, going 5-14, 4.59 in 131.1 innings. In his final season in Baltimore in 2003, he was 10-10, 4.18 in 189.2 innings.
Johnson became a free agent and signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers, where he went 8-15, 5.13 in 196.2 innings over 33 starts. He picked up 125 strikeouts, which was his big league best. In 2005, he went 8-13, 4.54 in 33 starts, setting a personal best with 210 innings. He signed with the Cleveland Indians as a free agent for 2006, then got sold to the Boston Red Sox after 14 starts. He was released by the Red Sox two months later and finished the season with the Cincinnati Reds. Johnson had his issues in all three stops, going 3-12, 6.10 in 115 innings. After pitching in Japan in 2007, he returned to the U.S. with the Los Angeles Dodgers for one final season. He went 1-2, 5.22 in 29.1 innings over 16 games with the Dodgers, while also seeing some time in the minors. Johnson pitched 11 years in the majors, posting a 56-100, 4.99 record in 1,357 innings, seeing time with eight different teams. He pitched in the minors in 2009 with the New York Yankees, then played independent ball in 2011 and 2013.
Jon Niese, pitcher for the 2016 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick of the New York Mets out of high school in 2005. It took him just three seasons to reach the majors, though he didn’t earn a full-time job until 2010. From 2010 until 2015, he started at least 24 games each season, topping out at 30 three times. Niese debuted in the Gulf Coast League and posted a 3.65 ERA in 24.1 innings. He spent most of 2006 in Low-A, pitching for Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League, where he went 11-9, 3.93 in 123.1 innings, with 132 strikeouts. In 2007, he spent the entire year with St Lucie in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, where he had an 11-7, 4.29 record in 134.1 innings. Niese split the 2008 season between Double-A (22 starts) and Triple-A (seven starts) with solid results at both levels. He combined to go 11-8, 3.13 in 164 innings, with 144 strikeouts. He finished the year with three starts with the Mets, posting a 7.07 ERA in 14 innings. He made 16 starts for Triple-A Buffalo of the International League in 2009, while also starting five times for the Mets, putting together a 4.21 ERA in 25.2 innings. In 2010, Niese spent nearly the entire year in the majors, except for one Triple-A start. He went 9-10, 4.20 in 173.2 innings over 30 starts, with 148 strikeouts.
Niese went 11-11, 4.40 in 157.1 innings in 2011, with 26 starts and 138 strikeouts. He had his best season in 2012, with a 13-9, 3.40 record in 190.1 innings, with 155 strikeouts. He sent career highs in wins, innings and strikeouts. The ERA was a low that he would later match. In 2013, Niese missed a brief amount of time, which resulted in his making three minor league rehab starts. He still made 24 starts for the Mets, going 8-8, 3.71 in 143 innings. In 2014, he matched his career best ERA and his high for starts as well, going 9-11, 3.40 in 187.2 innings over 30 starts. In the year before joining the Pirates, he had a 9-10, 4.13 record in 176.2 innings over 29 starts. The Pirates acquired Niese on December 9, 2015 in an even up deal for Neil Walker, with both players having one season remaining before free agency. Niese went 3-0 during his first month with the Pirates, though it came with a 5.08 ERA. He lowered his ERA to 3.82 in May, then had a rough June, before being moved to the bullpen in July. He had an 8-6, 4.91 record in 18 starts and five relief appearances for the Pirates before being traded late in the season back to the Mets for reliever Antonio Bastardo and cash. After his trade to the Mets, he allowed 14 runs in 11 innings, in what ended up being his final big league time. Niese signed minor league free agent deals with the New York Yankees (2017), Texas Rangers (2018) and Seattle Mariners (2019), but his actual minor league mound time during that stretch amounted to just 70.1 innings. He finished his career with a 69-68, 4.07 record in 1,189.1 innings over 197 starts and 14 relief appearances.
On this date in 1924, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs completed a six-player trade with three players from each team involved. The Pirates received pitcher Vic Aldridge, infielder George Grantham and first baseman Al Niehaus in exchange for pitcher Wilbur Cooper, shortstop Rabbit Maranville and first baseman Charlie Grimm. The Pirates gave up the three most well-known players in this deal, but they ended up with the better end of the deal, which helped them go on to win the 1925 World Series and 1927 National League pennant. Grantham in particular is one of the most under-appreciated players in team history. He posted a .901 OPS in seven seasons with the Pirates, which is the fifth best OPS in franchise history. In fact, the only player with at least 3,500 plate appearances and a better OPS for the Pirates is the aforementioned Ralph Kiner. Aldridge won 15 games during the 1925 and 1927 seasons, then he was used as a trade piece for Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes in a one-for-one deal. Niehaus was traded early in 1925 for Tom Sheehan, who was a solid bullpen piece for the World Champs.
Cooper is the Pirates all-time leader in wins with 202, but he added just 14 more in his career, so they definitely cut bait at the right time with him. Grimm has a nice run with the Pirates as their everyday first baseman for five years, and he hung around for 12 years with Chicago, but his time was only worth 10.2 WAR, so he didn’t even average 0.9 WAR per season. Maranville had one down year in Chicago, playing just 75 games, before he was lost on waivers in November of 1925. The Cubs got rid of him early, as he received MVP votes in five seasons between 1928 and 1933.