This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 5th, Pirates Get Chuck Tanner and Sure Shot

This is a busy day with four Pittsburgh Pirates transaction and five former Pirates born on this date.

The Players

Harry Gumbert, pitcher for the 1949-50 Pirates. He came to Pittsburgh at the end of his 15-year career. He won 143 games in the majors after debuting a month before his 26th birthday, topping out at 18 victories during the 1939 season with the New York Giants. He debuted in pro ball in 1930 at 20 years old, spending most of the year with Charleroi of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League, where he went 13-12, 3.79 in 225.1 innings. He also saw brief time that year three levels higher in the minors with Baltimore of the International League. In 1931, he pitched a majority of the season with York of the Class-B New York-Penn League, where he had an 11-6, 2.88 record in 144 innings. He also saw brief time in Baltimore again, which resulted in an 8.27 ERA in 37 innings. Gumbert pitched part of 1932 with Binghamton in the NYPL, and he saw increased time that year with Baltimore. He had a 4.76 ERA in 123 innings between both stops, with better results at the lower level. Baltimore used him just once in 1933 and he threw three shutout innings, but the rest of the year was spent with Williamsport of the NYPL, where he went 12-15, 3.51 in 246 innings. The upside here was that the NYPL was considered to be Class-A this season, so he pitched better while technically moving up in competition.

Gumbert played in the Class-A Texas League in 1934, going 18-12, 3.09 in 245 innings for Galveston. He spent the 1935 season back in Baltimore, where he put together a 19-10, 3.31 record in 245 innings, which earned him his shot in the majors. He didn’t pitch minor league ball again until after his big league career was done 15 years later. Gumbert debuted with the New York Giants in September of 1935 and remained with the team through early 1941. He didn’t have a strong start, posting a 6.08 ERA in 23.2 innings in 1935. However, he began to have success in his first full season in the majors, going 11-3, 3.90 in 140.2 innings, with 15 starts and 24 relief outings. In 1937, he was 10-11, 3.68 in 200.1 innings for the National League champs. Gumbert got roughed up in the 1936-37 World Series, giving up a total of 12 runs over 3.1 innings in four appearances. Despite the postseason troubles, he was a solid rotation piece during his time in New York.

In 1938, Gumbert went 15-13, 4.01 in 235.2 innings. He was never a big strikeout pitcher, and his 84 strikeouts in 1938 was his career high. In 1939, he went 18-11, 4.32 in 243.2 innings. He had 81 strikeouts and he started a career high 34 games. In 1940, Gumbert went 12-14, 3.76 in 237 innings. For the third straight season, he completed 14 games, which stood as his career high, and it was a mark that he would reach again in three years. He was traded to the St Louis Cardinals in May of 1941 and remained there until he was sold mid-1944 to the Cincinnati Reds. He had a 4.45 ERA with the 1941 Giants, then improved to 10-5, 2.84 in 133 innings after joining the Cardinals. After being on the losing end of two World Series in New York, he won a title with the Cardinals in 1942. Gumbert went 9-5, 3.26 in 163 innings, making 19 starts and 19 relief appearances. He was used twice in relief in the postseason, recording two outs, while allowing an unearned run. In 1943, he went 10-5, 2.84 in 133 innings. He was doing well in 1944 before being sold to the Reds, posting a 2.49 ERA in 61.1 innings in St Louis that season, followed by a 10-8, 3.30 record in 155.1 innings in Cincinnati.

Gumbert missed the 1945 season due to serving during WWII. He returned to the Reds in 1946 and stayed there until he selected off waivers by the Pirates in late July of 1949. A large majority of his 1935-44 time in the majors was spent in the starting role, but in he switched to a relief role in 1946 and didn’t start any games during his final four seasons. He was 6-8, 3.25 in 119 innings in 1946, with ten starts and 26 relief appearances. In 1947, he went 10-10, 3.89 in 90.1 innings, with 46 appearances and ten saves. While saves weren’t an official stat at the time, Gumbert was retroactively credited with 17 saves in 1948, which led the league. He had a 10-8, 3.47 record in 106.1 innings, and he led the league with 61 appearances. His numbers slipped in 1949 before joining the Pirates. He had a 5.53 ERA in 40.2 innings over 29 games with the Reds. After joining the Pirates, Gumbert pitched 16 games in relief over the rest of the season, posting a 5.86 ERA in 27.2 innings. His stint with the 1950 Pirates lasted one game. On April 29th, he allowed three runs (one earned) in 1.2 innings. He was released by the Pirates on May 7th and finished his career in the minors the next season.

Gumbert played a total of 21 seasons in pro ball and won 244 games. He finished his big league career with a 143-113, 3.68 record in 2,156 innings over 235 starts and 273 relief appearances, with 46 saves to his credit. He was an excellent fielding pitcher, leading the league three times in assists, five times in range and twice in fielding percentage. The Pirates had a great-nephew/great-uncle relationship recently with Al Luplow and Jordan Luplow, but Gumbert has that pair beat. His great-uncles Ad and Billy Gumbert both pitched for the Pirates back in the 1890’s.

Ralph Birkofer, pitcher for the 1933-36 Pirates.  He was originally given a tryout by the New York Yankees in late August of 1927, but that went nowhere. At the time he was considered to be a great amateur pitcher in Cincinnati, who threw a no-hitter earlier in the year and it was said that he was the leading strikeout pitcher. He played his first pro game in 1929, debuting at 20 years for two teams in the Class-D Mississippi Valley League. He had an 8-13 record and pitched 212 games that season. Birkofer worked his way to the Class-A Western League in 1930, one of the top minor leagues of the time. He went 13-12, 4.83 in 177 innings that year. In 1931, he struggled with Des Moines and also spent time with Quincy of the Class-B Three-I League. Things got better in 1932 when he joined Tulsa of the Western League, where he put together a 15-10 record in 206 innings. He led the league with 186 strikeouts, but he also issued 122 free passes. Birkofer was sold late in the year to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, where he pitched another 34 innings. The Pirates acquired him on January 16, 1933 in a cash deal with Kansas City.

The Pirates used Birkofer once in April of 1933 before sending him to the minors until they got him back in August. In between, he went 16-8, 3.81 in 196 innings for Toronto of the American Association. Birkofer made eight starts that season for the Pirates and won four times, finishing his first big league season with a 2.31 ERA in 50.2 innings. In 1934, he spent the entire season in Pittsburgh, making 23 starts and 18 relief appearances. He went 11-12, 4.10 in 204 innings. In 1935, Birkofer had a 9-7, 4.07 record in 150.1 innings, making 18 starts and 19 relief appearances. In his last season in Pittsburgh, he made 13 starts and 21 relief appearances, throwing a total of 109.1 innings. Birkofer saw his ERA rise to 4.69, while managing to post a winning record again (7-5). The Pirates sent him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a deal for pitcher Ed Brandt on December 4, 1936. The trade worked out well on the pitching side of things, but Pittsburgh also included young infielder Cookie Lavagetto, who turned into an All-Star and made it a one-sided deal for the Dodgers.

Birkofer’s only other big league experience outside of Pittsburgh saw him put up a 6.67 ERA in 29.2 innings for the 1937 Dodgers. After his brief stint with the Dodgers, he finished his career in the minors, playing until 1940. The Dodgers actually traded him to the Detroit Tigers in July of 1937, but he went to the minors, where he spent two years with Toledo of the American Association, one partial year with Nashville of the Southern Association, then his final two seasons (1939-40) with Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He split his time in Pittsburgh fairly evenly between starting (62 starts) and relieving (59 appearances). Birkofer had a 34-26, 4.04 record in 514.1 innings for the Pirates. His son (also named Ralph) was a minor league pitcher for eight seasons, and his other son James played four seasons (1954-57) in the minors. His grandson Kevin played two years of minor league ball with the Montreal Expos, and his great-grandson Jeff Birkofer briefly played minor league ball in 2015 after a college career at Morehead State.

Jack Wisner, pitcher for the 1919-20 Pirates. The Pirates acquired him from Saginaw of the Michigan-Ontario League on August 7, 1919, though he was allowed to stay with his minor league team for another month before reporting to the Pirates on September 7th. It was his first season of pro ball and he won 22 games, while throwing 263 innings.  He had a strong late season debut in the majors with the Pirates at 19 years old, posting an 0.96 ERA in 18.2 innings. His big league debut was two shutout innings on September 12, 1919 against the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a strong outing, especially after his first big league pitch plunked a batter. Wisner spent the entire 1920 season with the Pirates, though he never pitched more than four times in any month. He ended up making two starts and 15 relief appearances, with a 3.43 ERA in 44.2 innings. The Pirates optioned him to Rochester of the International League on February 28, 1921 before the start of Spring Training, then sold him to Rochester on February 15, 1922 for $4,000. He pitched well in Rochester, which was a high level of play at the time, so it’s a bit surprising that it took him so long to get back to the majors. In 1921, he had a 22-11, 3.44 record in 288 innings. In 1922, he went 22-8, 3.20 in 256 innings. That was followed up by a 26-15, 3.04 record in 338 innings. His worst season in Rochester ended up getting back to the majors. Wisner went 18-13, 4.58 in 275 innings in 1924. He won 88 games over four seasons in Rochester before joining the New York Giants for the 1925 season.

Wisner was used almost exclusively in a mop-up role with the Giants. In his 25 appearances, the Giants had a 4-21 record. When he didn’t pitch, they went 84-45, which speaks more to his role than his pitching. He had a 3.79 ERA in 40.1 innings. He pitched his final five big league games during the first month of the 1926 season, before being released unconditionally to Indianapolis on May 17th. He put together two strong starts to begin the season, going 2-0, 1.29, then allowed eight runs in his next seven innings, which led to him being cut, which got the Giants a lot of bad press at the time. He never made it back to the majors though, spending the rest of 1926 in Indianapolis, before playing for five different teams over the next three years to end his pro career. Wisner was huge for his time, standing in at 6’4″, 205 pounds according to the bio written up in the papers after his acquisition (he’s listed at 6’3″, 185 on Baseball-Reference). He finished his big league time with a 4-5, 3.21 record in 131.2 innings over six starts and 45 relief appearances.

Tom McNamara, pinch-hitter for the 1922 Pirates. His only big league game consisted of one pinch-hit at-bat. He batted for starter Hal Carlson in the fifth inning that day and grounded out to second base. His Pirates debut was also his pro debut out of Princeton University. He was actually forced to resign as the captain the Princeton team two months before his pro debut because of questions surrounding gifts/loans to multiple players. Despite coming to the Pirates from college, he was actually 26 years old at the time of his one big league game. McNamara was expected to join the Pirates during a series at the Polo Grounds played on June 14-17, then it was said that he would show up when the team was in Brooklyn over the next four days. However, his arrival came after the team returned home on June 23rd, and his lone game came on June 25th. McNamara remained with the team until July 5th before being assigned on option to the Flint Vehicles of the Class-B Michigan-Ontario League. His total time with the Pirates ended up being 13 days, which includes the day he arrived and the day he left.

While he didn’t play in the field at all in the majors, McNamara was tried out in right field by Pirates manager George Gibson in practice. The only scouting report on his outfield play during practice was that he “showed a pretty fair arm”. The Pirates changed managers in the middle of McNamara’s time, with Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie taking over the team on July 1st. The Pirates also had a scout named Tom McNamara back at this same time, but there was no relation between the player and scout. McNamara the player only spent 19 games with Flint due to a knee injury that ended his career in August, so his entire pro career consisted of 20 games. His obituary notes that he played semi-pro ball in addition to his high school/college career, seeing both outfield and infield time. He was considered to be an excellent fielder. McNamara served in the Navy during WWI and he had an extensive coaching record after his 20-game baseball career, starting in 1925 with St John’s University, where he also coached football. After 17 years, he became a high school baseball coach.

Tommy Sheehan, third baseman for the 1906-07 Pirates. His pro career began in 1899 at 21 years old and he spent six of his first seven seasons playing for either Sacramento (his hometown) or Tacoma in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues. There are no stats available for his 1899-1900 seasons, but we know he did enough to earn a big league look. He went to Spring Training with the St Louis Cardinals in 1900. Prior to joining the Pirates in 1906, his only big league game came six years earlier for the New York Giants when he went 0-for-2 and played shortstop. He spent the early part of the year with Worcester of the Eastern League, and he stuck around New York a little longer than one game would indicate, but he didn’t get any other chances. In 1901, he returned to the west coast for three years with Sacramento. His best season was 1903 when he hit .263 in 193 games (the team leader played 211 games), with 27 doubles and four triples. He did better with Tacoma in 1904, hitting .292 in 216 games, with 47 doubles and nine triples. Sheehan batted just .229 with Tacoma in 1905 before joining the Pirates, but he was supposedly the best third baseman on the west coast at the time. He was a Rule 5 draft pick in 1905, who was discovered by manager Fred Clarke while on a scouting trip to check out Sheehan’s teammate Joe Nealon, who ended up playing first base for the 1906-07 Pirates.

Sheehan hit .241 in 95 games as a rookie in 1906, with 28 runs scored, 34 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. He hit just one big league home run and it was an inside-the-park homer on July 1, 1906 against the St Louis Cardinals. In 1907, he was the starting third baseman for three weeks in June and all of August, while playing sparingly the rest of the season. He batted .274 in 75 games, with 23 runs scored, 25 RBIs, ten steals and he struck out just six times all season. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, he batted .255 with one homer and 59 RBIs in 170 games.  After being sold to the Brooklyn Superbas in December of 1907, he played 146 games in 1908, hitting .214 with 45 runs scored, 18 doubles, 29 RBIs, nine steals and 53 walks. Sheehan then spent the next four seasons playing minor league ball in his home state of California before retiring following the 1912 season. The reports about his defense were accurate. He was an above average defender in all three full seasons in the majors. His finished his big league time with a .235 average in 317 games, with 96 runs scored, 88 RBIs and 32 stolen bases.

The Transactions

On this date in 1976 the Pirates traded catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000 to the Oakland A’s in exchange for Chuck Tanner. Tanner first managed in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, getting the job late in 1970, and he lasted there until the end of the 1975 season, posting a 401-414 overall mark. He took over the A’s job from Al Dark, who won the World Series in 1974 and recorded 98 wins in 1975. The 1976 A’s posted an 87-74 record for a second place finish. That’s not bad for most teams, but that season broke a run of five straight AL West titles.

Tanner would have plenty of success in Pittsburgh winning 96 games during his first year. He had two straight second place finishes before leading the 1979 Pirates to the World Series title. He was the Pirates manager for another six seasons, posting three winning seasons during that time including a second place finish in 1983. He won 711 games in Pittsburgh, the fourth highest total in franchise history behind Fred Clarke, Danny Murtaugh and Jim Leyland. Sanguillen’s stay in Oakland would be brief. He lasted just one full season before the Pirates reacquired him for three players prior to the start of the 1978 season. Sanguillen would end up being a well used bat off the bench for Tanner during the 1979 season. He started just ten games all year, but played 56 games total, with 43 coming as a pinch-hitter. He pinch-hit three more times in the playoffs and drove in the winning run in the ninth inning of game two of the World Series.

On that very same date as the Tanner/Sanguillen trade, the Pirates and Athletics also made another transaction. The Pirates sold infielder Tommy Helms to the A’s, setting off a strange chain of events. The Pirates traded to get Helms back before he even played a game with the A’s, and then after just 12 at-bats (without a hit) they released him. Helms had won the Rookie of the Year award, made two All-Star appearances and won two Gold Gloves, but he was nearing the end of his career when the Pirates traded Art Howe for him in January 1976. He was with the Pirates the entire 1976 season, although he made just 16 starts. He hit .276 with 13 RBIs in 87 at-bats. The second trade that sent him back to Pittsburgh on March 15, 1977 had many big names with Phil Garner, Tony Armas, Dave Giusti and Doc Medich among the nine total players involved.

Also on this date in 1922, the Pirates picked up 33-year-old righty pitcher Jim Bagby off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Bagby was just two years removed from a 31-win season in 1920, when he helped lead the Indians to their first World Series title. He was worked hard that season, setting career highs and leading the league in innings pitched and complete games. He had a career 106-70, 2.59 record going into 1921, but he had an ERA over 5.00 in his last two years combined in Cleveland, and his inning totals/work dropped significantly. Bagby was with the Pirates the entire 1923 season, seeing limited innings and just six starts all year. He pitched 68.2 innings and had an ERA of 5.24, He played another seven seasons in the minors, retiring in 1930 with 151 minor league wins and 127 wins in the majors. His son Jim Bagby Jr pitched for the 1947 Pirates.

On this date in 1887, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys purchased second baseman Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap from the Detroit Wolverines. He was a good hitter with a strong glove, leading the league four times in assists and fielding % by a second baseman. He was also the first of a total of five star players from that 1887 Wolverines team who the Alleghenys would purchase over a 16-month period. Dunlap hit .262 hit first year in Pittsburgh and played just 82 games, although his defense remained strong. In 1889 the batting average dropped to .235 in 121 games, though he was able to add strong defense. His 65 RBIs were second most on the team. Dunlap also briefly managed the team in 1889, but they did not play well in his 17 games. He was one of the few players to stay with the Alleghenys when most of the league jumped to the Player’s League in 1890. However, he lasted just 17 games and hit .172 before being released. After leaving Pittsburgh, Dunlap played just eight more Major League games over two seasons before retiring. His career was sidetracked/ended early by two broken legs late in his big league time.

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