Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a manager to mention. Starting with the most recent first and working our way back.
Ian Snell, pitcher for the 2004-09 Pirates. The Pirates drafted him out of high school in 2000, selecting him in the 23rd round. He went by the last name Oquendo (his father’s last name) during the first few years of his pro career before switching it to Snell (his mother’s last name). He pitched just 7.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League in 2000. Playing at two levels of short-season ball in 2001, he went 10-0, 1.18 in 83.2 innings. Snell spent the entire 2002 season with Low-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League, where he posted an 11-6, 2.71 record in 139.2 innings, with 149 strikeouts. He then went 14-3, 3.00, with 145 strikeouts in 153 innings in 2003, splitting his season between High-A Lynchburg (20 starts) and Double-A Altoona (six starts), with better stats after the promotion. Snell spent the 2004 minor league season in Altoona, where he had an 11-7, 3.16 record in 26 starts, with 142 strikeouts in 151 innings pitched. He debuted in the majors on August 20, 2004, though he still made 18 starts at Triple-A in 2005 before sticking in the majors. He had a 7.50 ERA in his brief trial in 2004, making one start and two relief appearances. He went 11-3, 3.70 in 18 starts at Indianapolis of the International League in 2005, with 104 strikeouts in 112 innings. Snell joined the Pirates as a reliever in late June, and remained in that role until mid-August. After returning to the minors for a month, he returned in mid-September to make three starts. He finished that season with a 5.14 ERA in 42 innings over 15 appearances.
In 2006, Snell spent the entire season in the majors, going 14-11, 4.74 with 169 strikeouts in 186 innings over 32 starts. His best year in the majors was 2007, though it didn’t show in his record, mostly due to the fact that the Pirates finished with a 68-94 record. He had a 9-12, 3.76 record in 32 starts, setting career highs with 208 innings and 177 strikeouts. He had a dramatic drop-off in production in 2008, going 7-12, 5.42 in 164.1 innings over 31 starts. He allowed 201 hits and issued a career high 89 walks, while picking up 135 strikeouts. Things didn’t get any better in 2009 when he started the season 2-8, 5.36 in 80.2 innings over 15 starts. The Pirates optioned him to Triple-A in late June of 2009, where he struck out 17 batters in his first start at Indianapolis. The Pirates sent him to the Seattle Mariners at the 2009 trade deadline, along with veteran shortstop Jack Wilson, in exchange for five players. Snell went 33-46, 4.75 in 693 innings over 116 starts and 12 relief appearances in his six seasons with the Pirates. He had a 4.20 ERA in 12 starts after the trade for the 2009 Mariners, but he went 0-5, 6.41 in 46.1 innings in 2010, before spending the second half of the season in Triple-A. He became a free agent after the season and signed a deal with the St Louis Cardinals in January of 2011, but they released him three months later without pitching a regular season game. Instead, he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Triple-A during the 2011 season, where he had an 11.05 ERA in 22 innings. After not playing in 2012, he pitched 50 games as a reliever in independent ball in 2013, then finished out his pro career by playing winter ball in Puerto Rico during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 off-seasons.
Houston Jimenez, infielder for the 1987 Pirates. He played parts of four seasons in the majors, though 108 of his 158 games came with the 1984 Minnesota Twins. Jimenez began his pro baseball career at 16 years old in Mexico in 1974. He played in the Mexican League that year, which was considered to be on the same level as Triple-A baseball, just not affiliated with any big league teams. He batted .212 in 20 games with Puebla during that first year. At 17 years old in 1975, he played for the Chicago Cubs affiliate in the Florida State League, where he hit .215 with 24 extra-base hits and 105 walks in 132 games. The next five years were spent back with Puebla, with one brief stint back in the Cubs system in 1978 for 13 games. Jimenez was signed by the Minnesota Twins in 1980, though he didn’t debut in their system until 1982. He had no stats listed for the 1981 season, but on April 1, 1981, he was sold to a team in the Mexican League, where the Twins purchased him back from in July of 1982. It took just a brief time in the minors with the Twins before he made his big league debut at 25 years old. Jimenez hit .226 in 37 games for Toledo of the International League in 1982, then batted .250 with three homers in 22 games at Toledo in 1983, before making his Major League debut on June 13, 1983. He batted .134 in 36 games with the Twins that season.
The scouting report on Jimenez said that he was a great fielder, but the back lagged behind. He said shortly after joining the Twins that the umpires in Mexico had a very inconsistent strike zone, so he went from a patient hitter (those 105 walks in 1975 at 17 years old), to someone who swung at everything. In his own words, once he got used to the strike zone in the U.S., he thought he would be a .250 hitter in the majors. The 1984 season was his only full year in the majors. Jimenez played 108 games and made 101 starts at shortstop. He had a rough time at the plate, batting .201 with no homers, 15 walks and a .483 OPS. He then spent the entire 1985 season back in Toledo, with just a slight improvement in his stats. He hit .223, with a .573 OPS. He was released by the Twins in April of 1986 and went back to Mexico, before joining the Pirates as a minor league free agent (with an invite to Spring Training) on January 20, 1987. His playing time in Pittsburgh was very limited, though he stayed with the team from May 4th until May 31st. When he was called up to replace infielder Denny Gonzalez, who was being sent to Triple-A, Jimenez had a .209 average in Triple-A. He played just five games with the Pirates as the backup to Rafael Belliard, going 0-for-6 with a walk, while starting once at shortstop. He went back to Triple-A to finish the year and was released after the season. He played briefly for the Cleveland Indians in 1988, going 1-for-21 at the plate in nine games, in what ended up being his last year in the majors. Jimenez played pro ball in Mexico until 2001, including time as a player-manager during the 1999-2001 seasons. He managed for 12 seasons in Mexico and was still active in that role as late as 2018. His real first name was Alfonso, but he preferred “Houston”, a nickname given to him because he watched a lot of westerns (movies) when he first arrived in the U.S. He was one of 17 children in his family.
Lee Tunnell, pitcher for the 1982-85 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick in 1981 out of Baylor University, who made it to the majors just 15 months later, debuting with the Pirates on September 4, 1982. He made one start in the Gulf Coast League to begin his career and he threw four no-hit innings. He then jumped to Double-A with Buffalo of the Eastern League, where he had a 4.44 ERA in 71 innings over 12 starts to finish the season. He spent his first full season of pro ball in Triple-A in 1982, going 12-9, 3.46 in 189.2 innings, with nine complete games and two shutouts. The Pirates called him up when rosters expanded in September and he made three starts and two relief appearances, posting a 3.93 ERA in 18.1 innings, though he struck out just four batters. Tunnell won an Opening Day job in 1983, and he went 11-6, 3.65 in 177.2 innings over 25 starts and ten relief appearances. He threw five complete games and two were shutouts. He finished ninth in the Rookie of the Year voting. That would end up being his best season by far in the majors.
Tunnell struggled as a starter in 1984 and was moved to the bullpen for most of the season. He finished 1-7, 5.27 in 68.1 innings over six starts and 20 relief appearances. He missed time in July due to a sore shoulder, and a slow start, plus rain outs, led to him pitching just two games in May. Tunnell returned to starting in 1985, though he went 4-10, 4.01 in 132.1 innings and saw some Triple-A time early in the season. He had a 2.31 ERA in seven starts for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League, which led to him returning to the majors. He spent all of 1986 in Triple-A, where he posted a 6.01 ERA in 142.1 innings, while working full-time as a starter. The Pirates released him after the season, though he was eventually re-signed and then sold to the St Louis Cardinals on April 6, 1987. Tunnell finished 17-24, 4.06 in 57 starts and 33 relief appearances for the Pirates in four seasons. His only other big league experience was with the 1987 Cardinals and a brief stop with the 1989 Minnesota Twins. He went 4-4, 4.84 in 74.1 innings over nine starts and 23 relief appearances during his season with the Cardinals. After spending all of 1988 as a starter in Triple-A for St Louis, he signed a free agent deal with the Twins in February of 1989. His final big league season amounted to a 6.00 ERA in ten relief appearances. Despite pitching his last big league game in June of 1989, he was active in pro ball until 1995. After pitching for the Houston Astros in Triple-A during the 1990-91 seasons, Tunnell spent 2 1/2 seasons pitching in Japan (1991-93). He returned to the U.S. in 1994 and played in the minors for the Colorado Rockies during his first season back, then finished up his career in Triple-A with the Detroit Tigers.
Bobby Bragan, manager for the 1956-57 Pirates. He had a 102-155 record at the helm of the Pirates before being replaced mid-season in 1957 by Danny Murtaugh. Bragan managed a total of seven seasons in the majors and also had a seven-year career as a player, while missing two years due to WWII. His played three seasons in the minors (1937-39) before debuting in the majors with the 1940 Philadelphia Phillies at 22 years old. After three seasons in Philadelphia and two with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Bragan missed the 1945-46 seasons during the war. He returned to the Dodgers in 1947 and played a total of 34 games over his last two seasons in the majors. He topped 100+ games played each season in Philadelphia, then never reached that number with the Dodgers. As a rookie, he hit .222 in 132 games, with seven homers and 44 RBIs. With the 1941 Phillies, he played a career high 154 games, missing just one game all year. He batted .251 that season, with career highs of 37 runs scored and 69 RBIs. His playing dropped to 109 games in 1942, due in part to a .218 average and a .548 OPS. Bragan was traded to the Dodgers in March of 1943 and he hit .264 in his first year with Brooklyn. He batted .267 in 1943, but he had just 486 at-bats combined over those two seasons. He batted .188 in his final 34 games after his return from the service. He finished out 1948 in the minors and played pro ball full-time until 1955. He had a brief return in the minors in 1959. He began managing in 1948 during his return to the minors. and he was a player/manager for four seasons (five if you count his brief return in 1959).
The Pirates under Branch Rickey (who was in Brooklyn with Bragan), hired Bragan to manage their minor league affiliate in Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League in 1953. After three season at the helm in the minors, he moved up to the majors for the 1956 season. He went 66-88 in his first year with the club, then was let go after the team started 36-67 in 1957. Danny Murtaugh was his coach at the time and took took over the managerial role. Bragan led the Cleveland Indians to a 31-37 record during the first half of the 1958 season. He then had three straight winning season with the Milwaukee Braves (1963-65) and he was their manager during their first season in Atlanta before being let go mid-season with a 52-59 record. He finished with a career 443-478 record in seven seasons as a manager. As a player, he batted .240 with 15 homers, 172 RBIs and 136 runs scored in 597 games. Bragan came up as a shortstop, then started catching in his third season in the majors. He ended up catching 107 games total, while playing 415 games at shortstop. He saw action at third base in five of his seven seasons, but he played just 24 games total at the position.
Tony Ordenana, shortstop for the 1943 Pirates. He was a Cuban-born player who played 11 seasons of pro ball, though just one of those games came while in the majors. On October 3, 1943, in the final game of the season for the Pirates, he went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs, then never played in the majors again. He was with the Pirates for Spring Training in 1944 and even made the team, though on May 5th he was released outright to Portsmouth of the Class-B Piedmont League without getting into a game. Ordenana was purchased on September 7, 1943. He was recommended by scout Carlton Molesworth, which led the Pirates field director Bob Rice to go see him for himself and sign him. The scouting reports were mostly about his speed and defense, with a comparison to Pie Traynor mentioned, which was clearly a stretch, but the Pirates also got Traynor from Portsmouth, so there was a natural connection. He joined the Pirates from Portsmouth on September 21, 1943 and was called the Havana Antelope due to his speed and defense at shortstop. The Pirates had him working with Honus Wagner, who was a coach with the team at that time. It was noted at the time that manager Frankie Frisch wanted to use Ordenana, but the Pirates were playing for second place and that was no time to throw in a rookie. A second place finish back then came with a bonus for the players, with the money coming out of the World Series splits.
Ordenana debuted in pro ball at 23 years old in 1942, playing a total of 27 games, split between two teams. With Portsmouth in 1943, he batted .249 with 17 doubles, six triples, 30 steals and 80 runs scored. After being let go by the Pirates, he ended up with Toronto of the International League, where he hit .229 in 132 games, with a .535 OPS. He moved down a level in 1945 to Atlanta of the Southern Association, where he put up a .303 average in 108 games. From there, he went to Mexico for part of 1945 and all of 1946, then rejoined Atlanta for the 1947 season, where he hit just .206 in 54 games. He dropped down in action again, this time going back to Portsmouth for the 1948 season, where he hit .243 in 138 games. Over the next three seasons, Ordenana played for seven teams in six different leagues, playing every level from Class-D to Class-A. He returned to pro ball briefly in 1954 to play for Morristown of the Class-C Mountain States League. While there are a small amount of stats from the lower levels missing from his career, he doesn’t have a single home run to his credit in 758 games of pro ball. His most common nickname was Mosquito, and he was just 5’9″, 158 pounds.
Lefty Wilkie, pitcher for the 1941-42 and 1946 Pirates. He spent his entire big league career with the Pirates, missing 1943-45 due to WWII. Wilkie went 8-11, 4.59 in 194 innings, with most of those stats coming before he missed time. He gave up nine runs over seven outings and 7.2 innings after returning from WWII, then spent the next 5 1/2 seasons in the minors. He debuted in pro ball at 22 years old in 1937, playing for Tacoma of the Western International League, where he went 15-13, 3.91 in 237 innings. He moved up two levels to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League in 1938, where he went 1-8, 3.93 in 110 innings, working mostly in relief. Wilkie saw less time in 1939 in a similar role with San Francisco, going 3-1, 6.32 in 57 innings. He pitched four games in 1940 for Oklahoma City of the Texas League, while spending the rest of the year with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, where he went 13-5, 2.69 in 144 innings over 19 starts and nine relief outings. The Pirates acquired Wilkie from Seattle on August 28, 1940 for one future player and “a sum of money” that was in the five-figure range. He remained with the Seattle club to finish the season, then joined the Pirates during the following Spring Training.
The Pirates used Wilkie mostly in relief during his first two seasons, giving him six starts each year. He went 2-4, 4.56 in 79 innings over 26 appearances in 1941. He saw a little more work in 1942, posting a 6-7, 4.19 record in 107.1 innings over 35 games. He began working a wartime job on October 19, 1942 and didn’t plan on playing in 1943, but that decision was made for him when he was inducted into the Army. Wilkie announced to the Pirates in late November of 1945 that he would soon be discharged from the Army and he would be rejoining the Pirates. He was in Europe at the time. He was mostly doing mop up work in 1946, pitching just seven times in the first six weeks of the season. While he posted a 10.57 ERA during that time, he threw shutout ball in five of his seven appearances. Wilkie was optioned to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League on June 14, 1946. The Pirates officially parted ways with him on May 8, 1947, when he was sent to Oakland of the Pacific Coast League as part of the payment for the contract of Wally Westlake. Wilkie’s final two seasons of pro ball were spent right back where he started, spending the 1950-51 seasons in the Class-B Western International League. He was born in Canada and his real first name was Aldon, which is how he was commonly referenced in the local press.
Pete Conway, pitcher for the 1889 Alleghenys. He pitched for four teams over a five-year career that ended at 22 years old due to injury. Conway never pitched minor league ball. He debuted in pro ball in the majors with the Buffalo Bisons, a National League team at the time, pitching his first game when he was 18 years old in 1885. He went 10-17, 4.67 in 210 innings. It sounds like he was a regular on the team, but he didn’t debut until August 10th, less than a month after Pud Galvin was sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. The two would be teammates during the 1889 season in Pittsburgh. Conway split the 1886 season between two National League teams, playing for the Kansas City Cowboys and the Detroit Wolverines, combining to go 11-20, 4.95 in 271 innings, with much better stats during his shorter time in Detroit. He improved to a 2.90 ERA in 146 innings with the Wolverines in 1887, though his record stood at 8-9 that season in 17 starts. Conway joined Pittsburgh after going 30-14, 2.26 in 45 starts and 391 innings for Detroit. He started 45 games that season, completed 43 of those contests, and he threw four of his five career shutouts. Detroit folded after the 1888 season (just one year after winning the NL championship) and the Alleghenys were able to purchase a few of their players after the season.
Conway won his first two starts with the Alleghenys, then injured his arm in his third game, which ultimately ended his career. Pittsburgh signed him for two years, $7,000 total, but he only got paid a small portion of that amount. The team suspended him for being out of shape, even though his issue was injury related. Despite being 22 years old at the time of his suspensions, he managed to throw 1,040 innings in the majors. In mid-June while working out with the team in an attempt to return to action, it was said that he “snapped a cord” in his arm and would be out of action for several weeks or longer. That “longer” turned out to be the entire season. Prior to the 1890 season, Conway asked for $500 advance on his salary during the second year of his contract. That happened often during those days when players made low salaries. The Alleghenys balked at the request, though they offered to give him $100, which was upped to $150. Conway dropped his final offer to $250 and the two sides decided to part ways. He then signed to play in the newly-formed Player’s League in late March, agreeing to a deal with the Brooklyn Ward’s Wonders. Conway said in December of 1889 that he would have signed to play in the PL, but the fact that he had a two-year contract meant that he wasn’t eligible. He originally asked for his release from the Alleghenys, which wasn’t granted at the time, then noted that he would honor his league (NL) deal for one season, then join the PL. Unknown at that time was that the PL would last just that one season, so he never had a chance to make good on that promise.
Conway was with Brooklyn for two months without pitching due to the fact that the other pitchers on the team were doing so well, but he was practicing with the club and said to be in great shape. Shortly after that point, he contracted malaria and had to return home, where he ended up staying due to a setback when he started to get back into shape. Conflicting reports said that he didn’t draw a salary at all during the season, but it appears that he was only paid for about half of the season. After the PL folded, Conway’s rights were still held by the Alleghenys, though he never returned to pro ball. They released him in mid-February and he began coaching baseball at the University of Michigan. His brother Jim Conway pitched three seasons in the majors, playing for three different clubs in the American Association.