Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, and the second biggest transaction in team history behind the deal that brought in Honus Wagner and company in 1899.
On this date in 1954, the Pirates selected 20-year-old outfielder Roberto Clemente with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, taking him from the Brooklyn Dodgers. It’s considered to be the best Rule 5 pick in baseball history, but at the time most of the press put emphasis on the MLB players selected in that draft because he was a virtually unknown player. Clemente batted .255 in 124 games as a rookie in 1955. Prior to his selection by the Pirates, he had one year of pro experience, playing for Montreal of the International League, where he hit .257 in 87 games. Many scouts saw him play more often in winter ball in Puerto Rico, so his overall abilities were known around the baseball inner circles, even if his game was still rough around the edges during his first season in Pittsburgh. Clemente of course went on to huge things in his Hall of Fame career, spent all with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Dick Bartell, shortstop for the 1927-30 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates at 19 years old prior to the 1927 season and he needed just one year in the minors to convince them that he was big league ready. Playing for Bridgeport of the Class-A Eastern League, he hit .280 with 35 extra-base hits in 148 games. He debuted with the Pirates by playing one game in 1927, which was the final game of the season, right before the Pirates went to take on the New York Yankees in the World Series. Bartell then hit .305 in 72 games during the 1928 season, finishing with 36 RBIs and 27 runs scored. He saw more time at second base than he did at shortstop in 1928, but that changed the next year. He saw regular playing time in 1929 and responded with a .302 average, 101 runs scored and 55 extra-base hits, including his first of three season with at least 40 doubles. He also set a career high with 13 triples, which he would tie the next season. Bartell then put up a career best .845 OPS in 129 games during the 1930 season. He batted .320 in 129 games, with 69 runs scored, 45 extra-base hits and 75 RBIs.
Despite his success, the Pirates sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies on November 5, 1930 for infielder Tommy Thevenow and pitcher Claude Willoughby. The Pirates wanted to improve their defense and add depth to their pitching. It turned out to be a disaster for the Pirates, as Willoughby lasted 25.2 innings before being released, while Thevenow saw a slip in his defense after his first year and his bat was very weak. The Pirates got a combined -2.4 WAR from their return, while Bartell had 35.9 WAR left in his career. He was also outplaying Thevenow on defense by their second seasons with their new team. We posted an in depth article on Bartell’s time with the Pirates here. In four seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .308 with 168 RBIs in 348 games. He went on to play a total of 18 years in the majors, collecting 2,165 hits and scoring 1,130 runs, while receiving MVP votes in six seasons. He also missed two years serving during WWII, which may have cost him a chance at the Hall of Fame.
In 1931, Bartell had a down year, which made this trade seem okay for a time. Even though he got mild MVP support, his .717 OPS in 135 games was a career low at the time. However, he turned this trade around completely in 1932, partially due to the improved defense, but also because he hit .308 in 154 games, with 118 runs scored, a career high 48 doubles, 53 RBIs and 64 walks. He led the league with 35 sacrifice hits. In 1933, the first All-Star game was played and Bartell was elected to the team. He hit .271 in 152 games, with 78 runs scored, and he led the league with 37 sacrifice hits. His .675 OPS set a new low, but he still received mild MVP support. In 1934, he hit .310 in 146 games, with 102 runs scored, 30 doubles and 64 walks. On November 1, 1934, Bartell was traded to the New York Giants for four players and cash. He hit .262 in 137 games during his first season in New York, with 60 runs scored, 28 doubles and a career high 14 homers. He received mild MVP support in 1936 after hitting .298 in 145 games, with 71 runs scored, 31 doubles and eight homers. His 3.8 dWAR that season was a career best.
In 1937, Bartell had his best season in the majors. He hit .306 in 128 games, with 91 runs scored, 38 doubles, 14 homers and 62 RBIs. He was an All-Star for a second time and he had his best MVP finish, ending up sixth in the voting. His 6.6 WAR was a career best. In 1938, he slipped to a .262 average in 127 games, with 67 runs, 36 extra-base hits, 55 walks and 49 RBIs. After the season, Bartell was shipped to the Chicago Cubs in a six-player deal, with three players going each way. In his only season in Chicago, he hit just .238 in 105 games, missing time due to multiple injuries. Exactly one year after acquiring him, the Cubs shipped him to the Detroit Tigers in December of 1939. Bartell hit .233 in 139 games in 1940, with 76 runs scored, 53 RBIs and a career high 76 walks. He received mild MVP support. Despite what was considered a solid season, Detroit released him after five games in 1941. He signed back with the Giants four days later and hit .303 in 104 games, with a .791 OPS, while splitting time between third base and shortstop, which he also did for the next two seasons. Bartell played 90 games in 1942, hitting .244 with 44 walks and 53 runs scored. He batted .270 in 99 games in 1943, with 48 runs scored and 47 walks. Bartell joined the war effort after the 1943 season and that may have cost him his Hall of Fame shot through the veteran’s committee. He was still an effective player going into 1944-45, and while he was getting up there in age, the talent level in the league was dropping due to all of the players serving in the war. So he likely would have been able to play regularly and compile more stats to pad his resume. When he returned in 1946, he lasted just five games and then was released after the season. He was mostly serving as a coach. He finished his career with 40.5 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. Bartell had six seasons in which he was among the top four defensive players (by dWAR) in the National League. He finished as a .284 hitter in 2,016 games, with 1,130 runs scored, 2,165 hits, 442 doubles, 710 RBIs and 784 walks.
Mike Benjamin, infielder for the 1999-2000 and 2002 Pirates. In three seasons in Pittsburgh (he was injured for all of 2001), he batted .239 in 311 games and played five different positions. He was a career .229 hitter, but his defense kept him around for 13 seasons in the majors. He was in San Francisco for seven seasons, though he high for at-bats was 186 during that time and he had four seasons with fewer than 100 plate appearances. In 1985, Benjamin passed on signing as a seventh round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins while attending Cerritos College. Two years later after he transferred to Arizona State, he was a third round pick of the San Francisco Giants. He debuted in pro ball in Class-A ball with Fresno of the California League, where he batted .241 with a .715 OPS in 64 games. He played 89 games with Shreveport of the Double-A Texas League in 1988, while also seeing 37 games with Phoenix of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Benjamin hit .236 with 30 extra-base hits and 14 steals with Shreveport, but his average dropped to .170 in Triple-A. His minor league season in 1989 was spent in Phoenix, where he hit .259 in 113 games, which came with a low walk rate and mediocre power, which led to a .667 OPS. It took him just two years to make the majors, though he had a very small bench role during his time in 1989, batting six times in 14 games.
In 1990, Benjamin had nearly an identical season in Phoenix, putting up a matching .667 OPS in 118 games. He batted .214 in 22 games with the Giants and had a .665 OPS that year. He saw more big league time in 1991, though he still played 94 games in Triple-A, where his OPS dropped to a .628 mark. In 54 big league games that year, he hit .123 in 106 at-bats, with a .396 OPS. He finally put up strong numbers in Phoenix in 1992, posting a .306 average and a .777 OPS in 31 games. He had a limited bench role with the Giants, hitting .173 in 75 at-bats over 40 games. The 1993 season was spent in the majors, where he hit .199 with four homers and 16 RBIs. Benjamin improved on offense during the strike-shortened 1994 season, though he continued the limited bench role. He hit .258 in 38 games that year. He played 68 games in 1995, hitting .220 with low walk/power numbers that led to a .557 OPS. After the season, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he played 35 games in 1996, missing time due to a wrist injury in Spring Training and a neck injury in July. He became a free agent and signed with the Boston Red Sox, where he played just 49 games in 1997, before he got his first real shot at playing full-time. At 32 years old in 1998, he played 124 games for the Red Sox, hitting .272 with 46 runs scored, four homers and 39 RBIs, which were all career highs. He also added 23 doubles, which was a career best at the time.
The Pirates signed Benjamin for two years at $700,000 a year in November of 1998, then traded Tony Womack to make room at second base. It was a move that paid off for both players. Womack went on to win a World Series ring, while Benjamin played full-time (when healthy) and put up the better stats (2.4 WAR vs 0.8 WAR for Womack in 1999-2000 combined). The Pirates got better production for 1/3 of the cost. He played 110 games in 1999, hitting .247 with 42 runs scored, 26 doubles and ten stolen bases. In 2000, he hit .270 in 93 games. The Pirates signed Benjamin to a two-year extension in August of 2000, but only got one year out of him. In 2001, he had an elbow injury when he came to Spring Training and tried to play through it, but he was shut down just before Opening Day and he had surgery in May, which cost him the entire season. He played 108 games in his final season, but he made just 23 starts and received a total of 130 plate appearances. Benjamin hit .150 that year, and his main role was replacing the defensively-challenged Aramis Ramirez at third base late in games. He retired after the 2002 season and he has recently (2015-18) managed for four season in the minors for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Benjamin hit .229 in 818 games in the majors, with 227 runs scored, 24 homers, 169 RBIs and 44 steals.
John Morlan, pitcher for the 1973-74 Pirates. He was drafted four times before he signed, including twice in the first round by the Pirates. He was first drafted out of high school in 1965 by the Cleveland Indians in the eighth round. Two years later at Ohio University, the Pirates took him 12th overall, but could not reach an agreement to sign. The Cleveland Indians selected him in the fourth round in 1968, then the Pirates took him fifth overall in the amateur free agent draft over the 1968-69 off-season (called the January Secondary draft) and signed him to a deal for 1969. He was an outfielder at the time, but he made his mark in pro ball as a pitcher. Morlan played 25 games in the short-season New York-Penn League in 1969, and another nine games for Salem of the Class-A Carolina League. He combined to hit .195 with two homers and a .583 OPS. In 1970, he hit .222 with six homers and 30 RBIs for Gastonia of the Class-A Western Carolinas League. He saw limited work at the plate over the rest of his career, and he finished with a .200 average in the minors and a .111 average during his brief big league time. After two years of poor results at the plate in the lower levels, Morlan switched to pitching in 1971. He split the year between the Western Carolinas League and the New York-Penn League, combining to go 3-6, 5.50 in 72 innings over 13 starts. He played for Salem in 1972, where he went 4-3, 2.47 in 62 innings over ten starts, with 68 strikeouts.
Morlan skipped right over Double-A in 1973 and it took him just three months to reach the majors. He made 17 starts with Charleston of the International League and had an 11-5, 2.09 record in 125 innings, with 107 strikeouts. Morlan debuted with the Pirates on July 20th, and he went 2-2, 3.95 in 41 innings over seven starts and three relief appearances for the 1973 Pirates. He spent the entire 1974 season in the majors, making 39 relief appearances, posting a 4.29 ERA in 65 innings. In seven starts and 42 relief appearances with the Pirates, he had a 2-5, 4.16 record in 106 innings, which ended up being his entire big league career. Morlan spent the next three years in Triple-A with Charleston (Columbus in 1977) and saw a huge drop in his effectiveness, finishing with 13 runs over five innings in his final season. He had to have elbow surgery after the 1974 season and he was slow to return to form, which led to him being an early cut in Spring Training. He had a solid 1975 season, going 8-12, 3.43 in 134 innings, but that ERA dropped down to 5.78 in 120 innings in 1976. Morlan had ties to the two teams that drafted him twice. His uncle was a scout for the Indians, and also played minor league ball for the Indians. His father also played in the minors, including time under Joe L Brown, who was the general manager of the Pirates both times that the younger Morlan was drafted.
Walt Tauscher, pitcher for the 1928 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1924 at 22 years old, playing most of the year at Okmulgee of the Class-C Western Association. He went 12-4, 3.41 in 124 innings there, while also pitching 81 innings for Shawnee of the Class-D of the Oklahoma State League and another six innings for Oklahoma City of the Class-A Western League. The next two full seasons were played with Williamsport of the Class-B New York-Penn League, where he had plenty of success. He went 20-11, 3.63 in 285 innings in 1925, then had a 17-15, 2.97 record in 297 innings.
The Pirates purchased Tauscher from Williamsport on August 18, 1926. At the same time that they also purchased his teammate Adam Comorosky, who went on to big things in the majors. Tauscher remained with Williamsport through the end of their season. He was with the Pirates for Spring Training in 1927 and had some strong moments, but they sent him to Columbia of the Class-B South Atlantic League, where he went 12-19, 3.04 in 287 innings. He actually made the Opening Day roster, but didn’t pitch in a game before being shipping out on April 23rd, nine games into the season. Tauscher also returned on September 7th and didn’t appear in any of the final 26 games. He was with the Pirates for all of 1928, but often went 2+ weeks in a row without making an appearance. Tauscher was often used in a mop up role, with the Pirates losing 15 of his 17 appearances. He pitched the final two innings of a one-sided win on August 3rd.In 17 appearances as a 26-year-old rookie in 1928, he had a 4.91 ERA in 29.1 innings. His only other big league experience was six relief appearances for the 1931 Washington Senators. In 23 seasons in the minors between 1924 and 1948, he won 263 games. He went to Spring Training in 1929, but he was released to Dallas of the Texas League on April 8, 1929, ending his time with the Pirates as a player.
Tauscher went 9-10, 4.63 in 204 innings in 1929, then had a 13-16, 4.89 record in 254 innings for Dallas in 1930. That led to his shot with the Senators at the beginning of the 1931 season, but he made his final big league appearance on May 5th. He ended up spending most of the year with Chattanooga of the Class-A Southern Association. He pitched for Baltimore of the International League in 1932-33, then joined Minneapolis of the American Association during the 1933 season and stayed there through the 1941 season. During the 1934 season, he had a 21-7 record. He was 39 years old at the time, but he still had five years left, pitching through the war years. He pitched a total of 23 years in pro ball and put together a 263-200 record in the minors, with 4,028 innings pitched over 865 games. Tauscher was a manager in the minors for five seasons, including four years (1948-51) in the Pirates system.