Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including one of the all-time great pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.
Luis Tiant, pitcher for the 1981 Pirates. His time in Pittsburgh was short, but over a 19-year career, he won 229 games during his career, including four season with 20+ victories. He debuted in pro ball at 18 years old in 1959, pitching his first three seasons in the Mexican League for Mexico City, where he had a 34-35 record and average 170 innings per season. In 1962, Tiant pitched for Charleston of the Class-A Eastern League, where he went 7-8, 3.63 in 139 innings. In 1963, he played for Burlington of the Class-A Carolina League. He had a 14-9, 2.56 record in 204 innings, with 207 strikeouts. The 1964 season started with Triple-A Portland of the Pacific Coast League, where he went 15-1, 2.04 in 137 innings, with 154 strikeouts. He joined the Cleveland Indians in mid-July and finished with a 10-4, 2.83 record in 127 innings. In his first full season in the majors, Tiant went 11-11, 3.53 in 196.1 innings over 30 starts and 11 relief appearances. In 1966, he had a 12-11, 2.79 record in 155 innings. He led the league with five shutouts, despite starting just 16 games. He pitched 30 times in relief and had eight saves.
Tiant became a full-time starter in 1967. He went 12-9, 2.74 in 213.2 innings, with 219 strikeouts. He had a true breakout season in 1968, going 21-9, 1.60 in 258.1 innings, with 264 strikeouts and a league high nine shutouts. He won his first of two ERA crowns that season. He was an All-Star for the first time, but he didn’t receive any Cy Young support. That was the year that Denny McLain won 31 games, and he got all of the first place votes for the Cy Young, back when they only voted for one player. Tiant finished fifth in the MVP voting that season. In 1969, his fortunes turned around, and he finished 9-20, 3.71 in 249.2 innings. He led the league in losses, walks and home runs allowed. In December of 1969, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins in a six-player deal. He lasted just one season before being released near the end of Spring Training in 1971. Tiant went 7-3, 3.40 in 92.2 innings during his lone season in Minnesota. He signed with the Atlanta Braves for 1971 and got released before making a big league appearance. He then signed with the Boston Red Sox and had a 1-7, 4.85 record in 72.1 innings. Despite those numbers, the Red Sox held on to him and then decision paid off.
In 1972, Tiant went 15-6, 1.91 in 179 innings, leading the league in ERA for a second time. He finished sixth in the Cy Young voting and eighth in the MVP voting. In 1973, he had a 20-13, 3.34 record in 272 innings, with 206 strikeouts. His 1.085 WHIP was the best in the league, long before that was a known stat. During the 1974 season, Tiant set a career high in wins and innings, going 22-13, 2.92 in 311.1 innings, with a league leading seven shutouts. He made his second All-Star appearance, while finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting and 11th in the MVP voting. The Red Sox made it to the World Series in 1975 and he was a big part of that team. Tiant went 18-14, 4.02 in 260 innings. He then had a 3-0 record in four postseason starts. In 1976, he went 21-12, 3.06 in 279 innings. He was an All-Star for the third (and final) time, while finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting, and he received mild MVP support. Despite a 12-8 record in 1977, he had a 4.53 ERA in 188.2 innings. He bounced back in 1978, going 13-8, 3.31 in 212.1 innings. Tiant signed with the New York Yankees for 1979 and posted an identical 13-8 record, this time with a 3.91 ERA in 195.1 innings. He pitched with the Yankees in 1980 as well, going 8-9, 4.89 in 136.1 innings.
The Pirates signed Tiant as a free agent in February of 1981 and he made 21 starts in Triple-A that season, going 13-7, 3.82 in 46 innings. He joined the Pirates after the mid-season player strike ended, debuting on August 13th. He made nine starts over the rest of the season, going 2-5, 3.92 in 57.1 innings.The Pirates released Tiant right after the season ended and then he finished his big league career with the California Angels in 1982, where he had a 5.76 ERA in 29.2 innings. He played in Mexico in 1983, pitching for Mexico City 24 years after he debuted there. In 19 seasons, he went 229-172, 3.30 in 3,486.1 innings. He ranks 21st all-time with 49 shutouts and 48th all-time with 2,416 strikeouts. He ranks 66th all-time in wins and 44th all-time for WAR among pitchers. His highest finish in the Hall of Famer balloting was 30.9% in his first year on the ballot. His father who is also named Luis Tiant, played ten years in the Negro Leagues from 1930-47, which is now considered to be Major League Baseball.
Jose Gonzalez, outfielder for the 1991 Pirates. He was signed out of the Dominican by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1980 before his 16th birthday. He made it to the majors five years later, though he had just 144 at-bats during his first four seasons combined. The Dodgers brought him to the U.S. in 1981 and he had a rough season playing for Lethbridge of the short-season Pioneer League, where he was clearly over his head against much older competition. He hit .136 with a .384 OPS in his first season. He repeated Lethbridge in 1982 and had an impressive season considering that he was still just 17 years old. He hit .301 in 55 games, with 14 doubles, four homers, 47 RBIs and 11 steals. In 1983, he moved up to Lodi of the Class-A California League, where he batted .294 with 27 extra-base hits and 21 steals in 76 games. He remained in the same league in 1984, though the Dodgers switched their affiliate to Bakersfield. There he hit .221 with 26 doubles, 11 homers, 59 RBIs, 49 stolen bases and 58 walks. In 1985, Gonzalez moved up to San Antonio of the Double-A Texas League. He hit .306 in 128 games, with 82 runs scored, 41 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs, 34 steals and 60 walks. He saw his first trial with the Dodgers that September and got into 23 games, though he received just 12 plate appearances.
In 1986, Gonzalez had his first of four straight seasons that he split between the majors and Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League. During that time, he played 339 games in the minors and 208 games with the Dodgers. During that 1985 season, he hit .215 with two homers in 57 games for the Dodgers. The 1987 season was his best year in the minors during this four-year stretch, but it was also the season in which he saw the least time in the majors. He had an .863 OPS in 116 games with Albuquerque, and he batted .188 in 19 games with the Dodgers. He batted just 18 times, but he managed to go 5-for-5 in steals. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1988 and Gonzalez had a rough season as a bench player, mostly getting used as a defensive replacement or pinch-runner. He hit .083 in 37 games, though it was only 24 at-bats. He played in nine of the 12 playoff games, and scored two runs, though he went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts in his only plate appearances. In 1989, he finally played regularly after joining the Dodgers from Triple-A. In 95 games, he hit .268 with 31 runs scored, 16 extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and nine stolen bases. He played 106 games in 1990, but he went from 286 plate appearances in 1989 down to 108 in 1990. He hit just .232, but better power numbers led to a nearly exact same OPS as the year before (.686 vs .684).
Gonzalez began the 1991 season with the Dodgers and had some incredible bad luck at the plate. He played 42 games (just three starts) and went 0-for-28, with two walks. He joined the Pirates in a July 3, 1991 trade with the Dodgers, which saw Pittsburgh give up veteran outfielder Mitch Webster. Gonzalez went 2-for-20 at the plate for the Pirates with a home run in his 16 games with the team. Six weeks after joining the team, he was lost on waivers on August 15th to the Cleveland Indians. He hit just .159 in 33 games with the Indians, though he was mostly starting, so a majority of his at-bats that season came in the final six weeks. Over the full season, he batted .111 in 91 games. Gonzalez finished his big league career playing 33 games for the 1992 California Angels, where he hit .182 in 55 at-bats. In eight big league seasons, he hit .213 in 461 games, with 95 runs scored, nine homers and 42 RBIs. He went 33-for-42 in stolen bases during his big league career, including an 8-for-8 mark during the 1991 season. Following his time with the Angels, he played briefly in China and spent two partial seasons in independent ball, playing his final game of pro ball in 2001.
Dale Sveum, infielder for the 1996-97 and 1999 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick out of high school by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982. He debuted with Pikesville of the short-season Appalachian League, where he hit .233 in 58 games, with a .627 OPS. In 1983, he played 135 games for Stockton of the Class-A California League, hitting .261 with 70 runs scored, 36 extra-base hits, 70 RBIs and 15 steals. He failed to reach double digits in steals during any of his other 17 seasons in pro ball, and he stole 50 bases total between the majors and minors. In 1984, Sveum played for Double-A El Paso of the Texas League, where he hit .329 with 92 runs scored, 41 doubles, eight triples, nine homers and 84 RBIs. In 1985, he moved up to Triple-A to play for Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League. He hit just .236 in his first season at the level, finishing up with a .652 OPS. He improved to a .759 OPS in 28 games in 1986, which led to him debuting with the Brewers in mid-May. He put together a decent rookie season in 91 games, hitting .246 with 35 runs scored, 35 RBIs and 22 extra-base hits. He then hit .252 with 86 runs scored, 27 doubles, 25 homers and 95 RBIs during his first full season in the majors in 1987. Sveum saw a major drop in production in 1988, hitting .242 with 27 extra-base hits and 41 runs scored in 129 games. He suffered a broken leg late in the 1988 season and never fully regained his pre-injury success. The injury was so bad that it cost him nearly the entire 1989 season. His only playing time was 17 rehab games in the minors.
In 1990, Sveum split the season between Triple-A and the majors. For the Brewers that season, he hit just .l97 with one homer in 48 games. During the 1991 season, he spent the entire year with the Brewers, where he batted .241 with 19 doubles and four homers in 90 games. The Brewers traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies in December of 1991, and the Phillies traded him to the Chicago White Sox on August 10, 1992. He combined to hit .197 in 94 games, with 13 doubles, four homers and the interesting trio of 28 runs, 28 walks and 28 RBIs. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Oakland A’s, who released him in mid-June. Ten days after being let go, Sveum signed with the Seattle Mariners and remained there through the end of the 1994 season, though he mostly saw minor league time each year. In fact, he played just ten games in the majors during his year and three months with the Mariners. He hit .177 with two homers in his 30 games with the A’s. In November of 1994, Sveum signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent. He played for Calgary of the Pacific Coast League in 1995, where he actually spent the previous two seasons with the Mariners. He switched to the Pirates during the same year Calgary switched affiliates to the Pirates. He hit .284 with 34 doubles, 12 homers and 70 RBIs in 118 games that season, but didn’t get a shot at the majors until the next year.
The Pirates signed Sveum as a free agent in February of 1996 and he hit .300 with 23 homers for Calgary. He ended up playing 12 games with the Pirates in September of 1996 and hit .353 in 34 at-bats. His best season after his severe leg injury was with the 1997 Pirates when he hit .261 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs in 126 games. He left the Pirates via free agency after the season and played part of 1998 for the New York Yankees, who won the World Series that season. He was released in August of 1998, signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks and remained there through early May of 1999, though he never played in the majors with them. Eight days after being released, he re-signed with the Pirates and hit .211 in 49 games, mostly off of the bench. On August 18, 1999, he homered from both sides of the plate, then managed to hit just one more career home run.That year was the end of his big league career. In three seasons with the Pirates, he hit .260 with 16 homers over 187 games. While he saw more time at shortstop during his career, he saw more time at third base while with the Pirates. In 862 games over 12 seasons in the majors, Sveum was a .236 hitter with 69 homers, 340 RBIs and 305 runs scored. Sveum managed in the minors for the Pirates, taking the helm of the Altoona Curve during the 2001-03 seasons. He also managed in the majors with the 2008 Brewers and 2012-13 Chicago Cubs. He is a cousin of John Olerud, who played 17 seasons in the majors.
Rich Sauveur, pitcher for the 1986 Pirates. He saw MLB action over six seasons in his career, but he had only one set of back-to-back seasons in the majors. In his six years, he played for six different teams, seeing action with the 1986 Pirates, 1988 Montreal Expos, 1991 New York Mets, 1992 Kansas City Royals, 1996 Chicago White Sox and 2000 Oakland A’s. The Pirates originally drafted him in the 11th round of the 1983 January draft out of Manatee Community College (Now know as the State College of Florida). He decided to remain in college, but when the Pirates came calling again in June, he signed as a fifth round pick. It took him just three years to make the majors, though he was never able to stick for more than ten games in a season.He pitched a total of 34 games in the majors between 1986 and 2000. Sauveur debuted in pro ball in 1983 with Watertown of the short-season New York-Penn League, where he had a 2.31 ERA in 93.2 innings. He moved up to Prince William of the Class-A Carolina League in 1984, posting a 3.13 ERA in ten starts. He also made ten starts that season for Nashua of the Eastern League, where he put up a 2.93 ERA in 70.2 innings. The entire 1985 season was spent with Nashua. He had a 9-10, 3.55 record in 157.1 innings.
Sauveur had a 1.18 ERA in five starts with Nashua in 1986. He also went 7-6, 3.03 in 92 innings for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League that season. He made the majors that season, debuting on July 1st, though he played his final game with the Pirates just ten days later. He made three starts, posting a 6.00 ERA in 12 innings, with no decisions. Those three starts turned out to be the only three starts of his career. He spent the 1987 season in Double-A (Pirates switched affiliates to Harrisburg that year), where he went 13-6, 2.86 in 195 innings. He had 160 strikeouts that season, which was 58 more than his second highest total in 18 seasons of pro ball. The Pirates lost him to the Expos in the 1987 Rule 5 draft. He switched to relief in 1988 and split the season between Double-A, Triple-A and a brief shot at the majors, where he pitched three innings over four relief appearances. He was limited to just eight appearances in 1989, all in Triple-A. Sauveur actually came back to Pittsburgh as a free agent signing in December of 1989, though he was cut at the end of Spring Training in 1990. He re-signed with the Expos and spent most of the season back in Triple-A. In 1991, he signed with the Mets and had a 2.38 ERA in 42 appearances at Triple-A, and he allowed four runs over 3.1 innings in six outings in the majors.
Sauveur signed with the Royals for 1992 and had a 3.22 ERA in 117.1 innings for Triple-A Omaha of the American Association, while posting a 4.40 ERA in 14.1 innings with the Royals. He spent the next three seasons in Triple-A for the Cincinnati Reds, failing to get a big league shot despite an ERA between 1.82 and 2.82 during each of those three seasons. He signed with the White Sox for 1996 and had a 3.70 ERA in 61 appearances in Triple-A, along with three outing in the majors that saw him allowing five runs in three innings. The 1997 season was spent in Triple-A with the Chicago Cubs, then he pitched briefly for the Reds again in Triple-A in 1998. However, most of the 1998 season and all of 1999 was spent with Nashville of the Pacific Coast League, which was the Triple-A affiliate of the Pirates. In 2000, Sauveur signed with the A’s and did some starting in the minors, where he had a 4.57 ERA in 82.2 innings for Sacramento of the PCL. He got his final big league shot that year and had a 4.35 ERA in 10.1 innings over ten relief outings. That was his final season in pro ball. He went 0-1, 6.07 in 46 innings over 34 games in the majors. While his big league time was mostly unsuccessful (other than making it in the first place), Sauveur certainly earned his big league looks over the years, posting a 2.91 ERA in 1,536.1 innings in the minors. Since Indianapolis switched affiliates from the Expos to the Reds during his career, he ended up playing parts of seven seasons there between 1988 and 1998.
Grady Wilson, shortstop for the 1948 Pirates. His entire big league experience was 12 mid-season games for the 1948 Pirates. Wilson played a total of 12 seasons in the minors, beginning his career at age 23 in 1946, and playing until 1959. He also had six seasons of managing in the minors, including one season (1957) as a player-manager. He got a late start in pro ball due to his four years of service during WWII. Wilson began his pro career with the Boston Red Sox, but he moved on to the St Louis Cardinals after one season in the 1946 minor league draft. He hit .314 with 37 extra-base hits and 24 steals in 124 games for Milford of the Class-D Eastern Shore League during that 1946 season. In 1947, he moved up to the Class-B Interstate League, playing for Allentown, where he batted .304 with 42 doubles, 11 homers and 65 RBIs in 125 games. He also saw brief time with Houston of the Double-A Texas League that season. Exactly one year after being selected by the Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies picked up Wilson in the Rule 5 draft. He never played for the Phillies because the Pirates purchased his contract for $10,000 on April 5, 1948. He made the Opening Day roster, but he didn’t debut until May 15th in the 22nd game of the season. He had just one more appearance over the next 17 days and that was as a pinch-runner. Wilson played eight games in June and he had two pinch-running appearances in July, playing his final game on the 15th. On July 21st, he was sent to New Orleans. On September 28th, he was released to Indianapolis of the American Association.He went 1-for-10 at the plate with the Pirates, collecting a double as his only hit.
After leaving the Pirates, he played for four different teams during the 1949 season, including three Triple-A clubs. His performance really slipped off in 1950 with Mobile of the Southern Association (Double-A), where he batted .194 with five extra-base hits in 71 games. He dropped down the minor league ladder again in 1951 and stayed there, spending four seasons in the Class-A South Atlantic League. His stats improved, but he was now three levels away from the majors, just three years after his time with the Pirates. After two seasons with Montogomery (1951-52), Wilson spent the 1953 season with Charleston, which was an affiliate of the Pirates, though he was property of Charleston, not the Pirates. He was named as an All-Star that season and hit .254 with 51 RBIs and 51 runs scored. In an odd report, the only time he made the papers in Pittsburgh that season was when they announced in early July that he broke his leg and was out for the season, which didn’t happen. He played 115 games that year. Wilson played four more years after 1953, but his only season with regular playing time was 1958 when he hit .250 in 111 games for Little Rock of the Double-A Southern Association.
Bubber Jonnard, catcher for the 1922 Pirates. He played a total of six seasons in the majors from 1920 until 1935, only once playing in back-to-back seasons. He is one of ten pairs of twins to play in the majors. His brother Claude was a pitcher, who also played a total of six seasons in the majors from 1921 until 1929. Not only were they twins, but they were both given the nickname “Bubber” in the minors, making research confusing for the pair. Jonnard debuted in pro ball at 19 years old in 1917, playing for Talladega in the Class-D Georgia-Alabama League. The next year he moved up to San Antonio of the Class-B Texas League, where he hit .175 in 35 games, with one extra-base hit. He moved down a level to Norfolk of the Virginia League in 1919. There he batted .216 in 82 games (only limited stats are available). In 1920, Jonnard spent his first season with Nashville of the Class-A Southern Association. He hit .244 with 17 extra-base hits in 88 games. That earned him a late-season look with the Chicago White Sox, where he went 0-for-5 at the plate in two October games. He was in Nashville again in 1921, where he improved to a .277 average and 33 extra-base hits in 127 games.
The Pirates acquired Bubber (his real first name was Clarence) as a Rule 5 pick on October 15, 1921. A dispute over his contract kept him in the majors for all of 1922 with the Pirates. His contract was originally purchased in the draft from Nashville over the off-season. The Pirates tried to send Jonnard to the minors (Memphis) in May, but Nashville blocked the deal, saying that if he was sent to the minors, he had to play for them. An article in early January confirmed this fact and showed that Nashville was already expecting the Pirates to attempt to send him elsewhere to play. Prior to May 1st, the Nashville owner offered to refund the Pirates $1,500 of their original purchase price ($4,000) if they would send Jonnard to them. Owner Barney Dreyfuss refused the offer when Nashville refused a stipulation saying that the Pirates could recall him at any time on a ten-day option. A short time later, the Pirates declared that they were keeping him all season, refusing a return of 75% of their purchase price in the process. He played just ten games with the 1922 Pirates, hitting .238 with a triple and two RBIs. Jonnard remained with the Pirates though May 28, 1923 before he was sent to Wichita Falls of the Texas League (then considered to be Class-A), where he would spend the next three seasons. Despite being a backup for the 1923 Pirates for the first 36 games of the season, he didn’t play a single game.
Jonnard remained in Wichita Falls through the end of the 1925 season. He improved on his prior Class-A stats, hitting for a slightly higher average, with a little more power. That led to a spot with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1926. That year he hit .118 in 19 games, getting just 38 plate appearances all season. He saw more time with the 1927 Phillies, hitting .294 in 53 games, with a .662 OPS. He returned to the Texas League for the 1928 season, then came back to the majors for 1929 with the St Louis Cardinals. He had a similar role to his 1926 season in Philadelphia, hitting .097 in 31 at-bats over 19 games with the Cardinals. Jonnard played the next three years in the International League (Double-A), mostly spent with Rochester. He returned to the Texas League for a third time in 1933 with Dallas, then stayed there in 1934 with Fort Worth. His pro career ended in the majors with one at-bat for the Phillies as a late-inning replacement on May 15, 1935 in a 20-5 loss. He was basically a bullpen catcher/coach that season, but he had an odd highlight to the year when he had four hits in a mid-August exhibition game. He had two more hits two weeks later in another exhibition game. He also caught an exhibition game in June. On July 5th, he was removed from the active roster and remained on as a coach. He was officially released by the Phillies on January 12, 1936. He took up coaching that season in the Texas League.
Jesse Petty, pitcher for the 1929-30 Pirates. He had a great story of perseverance that saw him pitch just nine innings in the majors before he turned 30 years old, but he ended up with a solid little big league career. Petty debuted in pro ball in 1916 at 21 years old, pitching for San Antonio of the Class-B Texas League, where he went 2-5 in nine games and pitched 64 innings. In 1917, he saw most of his time in the Texas League with Waco, where he went 6-9, 2.77 in 143 innings. He also threw 52 innings for New Orleans of the Class-A Southern Association. Petty then missed all of 1918 due to WWI, and he pitched just three games in 1919, seeing time with Milwaukee of the American Association (Double-A). The next five seasons were mainly spent in the American Association with Indianapolis, where he had a 14-14, 3.17 record in 230 innings in 1920. The next year he had a 15-17, 3.80 record in 275 innings. Petty joined the Cleveland Indians at the start of the 1921 season, but he lasted just four games before returning to Indianapolis. He threw shutout ball in his first three games, then allowed two runs in the fourth contest, finishing with a 2.00 ERA in nine innings. Since his big league time was prior to his 1921 stint at Indianapolis, he basically spent four full seasons in the minors between big league appearances.
Petty had a mediocre 11-12, 4.37 record in 212 innings in 1922, then he improved to 19-18, 4.05 in 302 innings in 1923. That wasn’t enough to get him back to the majors, but his 1924 season did the trick. That year he went 29-8, 2.93 in 328 innings. He joined the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) in 1925 and stepped right into the rotation. That year he went 9-9, 4.88 in 153 innings over 21 starts and seven relief appearances. He had a strong 1926 season for a below .500 team, going 17-17, 2.84 in 275.2 innings. That year he had the very strange combo of leading the league in losses and lowest hits per nine innings in the same season. In 1927, Petty went 13-18, 2.98 in 271.2 innings. As you might expect with that record/ERA combo, the Robins were well below .500 that season. In 1928, he had a 15-15, 4.04 record in 234 innings. Brooklyn improved to 77-76 that season, but his ERA drop led to the .500 record.
The Pirates gave up star shortstop Glenn Wright to acquire Petty from the Robins on December 11, 1928, in a deal that had very little chance of paying off for the Pirates. Petty was 34 years old at the time of the deal, with a 54-59, 3.52 in 934.1 innings over four seasons in Brooklyn, while Wright was a strong shortstop in his prime. The Pirates also got infielder Harry Riconda in the deal, but he lasted just eight games in Pittsburgh. Petty had an 11-10, 3.71 record in 184.1 innings for the 1929 Pirates, making 25 starts and 11 relief appearances. He went 1-6, 8.27 in 41.1 innings over seven starts and three relief outings in 1930 before being sold to the Chicago Cubs late in the season. His time with the Pirates started off rough, posting a 5.88 ERA though the end of July of 1929. Over the final two months, he had a 2.32 ERA in 112.1 innings, leaving hope for better things in 1930, which obviously didn’t work out. While he did well with the Cubs after being let go (2.97 ERA), he had just 39.1 innings left in his big league career after leaving the Pirates. Petty spent the next five years in the minors before retiring, mostly playing for Minneapolis of the American Association. He compiled a total of 253 wins in pro ball and pitched over 4,000 innings, including 219 innings at 40 years old in 1935. He did all that despite missing approximately two full years during service in WWI. His final big league stats in seven seasons shows a 67-78, 3.68 record in 153 starts and 54 relief appearances, with 1,208.1 innings pitched.
Chief Zimmer, catcher for the 1900-02 Pirates. He began his career in 1884 and was one of the games caught leaders early in his career, ranking as high as third all-time well after he retired. He’s second all-time in throwing out runners, with 1,208 caught stealing to his credit. He made the majors during his first year of pro ball at 23 years old in 1884. He played eight games for the Detroit Wolverines of the National League, going 2-for-29 at the plate. He spent the rest of the year playing for two teams in the Ohio State League. He retired during the 1885 season, but made the wise decision to return to baseball in 1886, which led to his second big league trial, this time seeing six games with the New York Metropolitans of the American Association. That stint didn’t go well, but he would join Cleveland of the American Association in 1887 and he remained there until the middle of the 1899 season, though the teams switched leagues during that time. In 1887, he hit .231 in 14 games and scored nine runs. He saw more time in 1888, batting .241 in 65 games, with 27 runs scored and 22 RBIs. In 1889, the Cleveland Blues became the Cleveland Spiders of the National League. Zimmer hit .259 with 47 runs scored and 19 extra-base hits in 84 games. He remained with the club in 1890 when many players were going to the newly-formed Player’s League. He got to play full-time for a very bad team that year, hitting .214 with 57 RBIs, 54 runs scored and career highs of 46 walks and 125 games. Cleveland went 44-88 that season, but they added a pitcher named Cy Young later in the year, and he would pitch to Zimmer during that year and each of the next nine seasons.
In 1891, Zimmer hit .255 in 116 games, with 55 runs scored and a career high 69 RBIs. In 1892, he hit .264 in 111 games and set career highs with 63 runs scored, 29 doubles, 13 triples and 18 stolen bases. He played just 57 games in 1893, as Cleveland had Jack O’Connor do most of the catching after playing mainly outfield in 1892. Zimmer and O’Connor would be teammates every season from 1892-1898, then again for three years with the Pirates (1900-02). Zimmer hit .308 in 1893, with an .810 OPS that stood as his second best career mark. In 1894, he batted .284 in 90 games, with 55 runs scored and 65 RBIs. He led all catchers in fielding percentage for the first of three times in his career. Many players during that era had their best season in 1894 due to changes in pitching rules that helped offense, but Zimmer had his best career year in 1895 when he hit .340 in 88 games, with 60 runs and 56 RBIs. His .884 OPS was his career best. In 1896, he batted .277 in 91 games, with 46 runs and 46 RBIs, while leading all catchers in fielding percentage. In 1897, he hit .316 in 80 games, with 50 runs, 22 doubles and 40 RBIs. In his final full season with Cleveland in 1898, Zimmer was limited to 20 games due to an arm injury.
Zimmer split the 1899 season between Cleveland and the Louisville Colonels, which helped him avoid spending the entire year with the worst team ever. Cleveland finished 20-134 that season, but he was gone by early June, signing with Louisville one day after being released. He hit .307 with 43 RBIs and 52 runs in 95 games that season, while leading all catchers with a .978 fielding percentage. Zimmer was acquired by Pittsburgh in the Honus Wagner trade on December 8, 1899, which changed the face of the Pirates. Between the 1899 and 1900 seasons, the National League decided to go from 12 teams to eight teams and Louisville was one of the clubs dropped. Hall of Fame owner Barney Dreyfuss was the owner in Louisville and he became the owner in Pittsburgh going into 1900, then traded all of his best players to the Pirates for cash and very little in return in the form of players, which ended up being only cash after Louisville’s remaining players were assigned to Pittsburgh early in 1900 before the season started. Zimmer did well in his first year in Pittsburgh at 39 years old, which made him the oldest player in the league. He batted .295 in 82 games in 1900, with 27 runs scored, seven doubles, ten triples and 35 RBIs. He led all catchers in putouts that season. He played 69 games in 1901, helping the Pirates to their first National League crown. Zimmer hit .220 with 21 RBIs and 17 runs scored that season. The Pirates put together their best record ever in 1902 and he was one of three catchers who all played between 42 and 50 games. He hit .268 with 17 RBIs that year.
On March 6, 1903, Zimmer was released to the Philadelphia Phillies. He saw sporadic playing time in his final season, though that was his own desire, as he was the manager of the team. In three seasons in Pittsburgh, he was a .262 hitter over 193 games, with 73 RBIs, though he failed to connect on a home run during his time with the Pirates. Zimmer was a .269 hitter in 1,280 games over 19 big league seasons, with 617 runs scored, 222 doubles, 76 triples, 26 homers, 625 RBIs and 151 stolen bases. He was a player-manager in the minors in 1906. His first name was Charles. His nickname came from when he was a manager in the minors of a team named the Indians. Zimmer invented a baseball board game in 1891 that was extremely popular then and is highly collectible today, receiving five-figure prices if it comes up for sale.