Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a pair of strong third basemen and a current broadcaster for the team. We also have a 2021 Pirates player who looks like he is returning as a free agent in 2022. In 2021, the 30-year-old Yoski Tsutsugo played for three different teams in his second year in the majors, after playing ten years in Japan. He hit .268 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 43 games for the Pirates. He also played for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Richie Hebner, third baseman for the 1968-76 and 1982-83 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as a first round draft pick out of high school in 1966, selected 15th overall. He debuted with Salem of the short-season Appalachian League, where he batted .259 in 26 games, with 17 runs, 20 RBIs and a 1.059 OPS. In 1967, he moved up to Raleigh of the Class-A Carolina League, where he hit .336 in 78 games, with an .867 OPS. Back when the Fall Instructional League was an actual league that kept stats, Hebner reported there after the 1967 season and hit .333 in 40 games. He jumped up to Columbus of the Triple-A International League in 1968 and batted .276 with 31 extra-base hits in 104 games. He made the majors by 20 years old in 1968 as a September call-up, though he had just one at-bat in two games during that first cup of coffee. Hebner stuck in the majors on Opening Day in 1969 and never returned to the minors. He hit .301 in 129 games as a rookie, with eight homers, 47 RBIs and 72 runs scored. His average dropped slightly to .290 in 1970, while playing 120 games. However, he showed more power, improving his slugging percentage by 44 points. That trend continued the next season, with a .271 average in 112 games, but his slugging went up another 23 points and he finished with 17 homers. In the NLCS that season, he homered twice and drove in five runs. He then homered again in the World Series, while driving in three runs. The Pirates won the World Series that year, but it was actually his worst season (by WAR) during the 1969-74 run, most due to a -0.6 mark for defensive WAR. The 1972 season was his best year during that stretch, with a .300 average and a career best .886 OPS. He had 24 doubles, 19 homers, 72 RBIs and 52 walks in 124 games.
In 1973, Hebner hit .271 in 144 games, with 73 runs scored, 74 RBIs and 56 walks. That season he set career highs with both 28 doubles and 25 homers. In 1974, he batted .291 in a career high 146 games, with 21 doubles, 18 homers, 68 RBIs and 60 walks. He set a career high with 97 runs scored. He received mild MVP support that season for the only time in his career, finishing 21st in the voting. Hebner homered and drove in four runs in the postseason. In 1975, he hit .246 in 128 games, with 65 runs, 16 doubles, 15 homers and 57 RBIs. He batted .333 that postseason. In 1976, he saw his stats slide to a .249 average with eight homers and 51 RBIs in 132 games. After down years in 1975-76, Hebner left the Pirates via free agency after the 1976 season. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1977, where he batted .285 in 118 games, with 67 runs scored, 18 homers, 62 RBIs and a career high 61 walks. In 1978, he hit .283 in 137 games, with 61 runs scored, 22 doubles, 17 homers and 71 RBIs. Hebner moved on to the New York Mets in a trade near the end of Spring Training in 1979. He wasn’t happy about the move and it showed in his defense, which was still getting criticized years later by fans of the Mets. He had a decent season at the plate though, hitting .268 in 136 games, with 54 runs scored, 25 doubles, ten homers, 79 RBIs and 58 walks. He never approached that amount of playing time during his final six seasons in the majors.
Hebner was traded right after the 1979 season finished, getting sent to the Detroit Tigers. He played 104 games in 1980, which was the last season that he played 100+ games. He hit .290 with 12 homers and drove in a career high 82 runs. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he batted .226 with five homers in 78 games. His OPS dropped 170 points versus the previous season. The Pirates purchased him from the Tigers during the 1982 season, after he started off by hitting .274 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 68 games with Detroit. After joining the Pirates, he hit .300 in 25 games that season. Hebner batted .265 with five homers and 26 RBIs in 78 games for the Pirates in 1983. He started just 29 games that year. He left via free agency after the 1983 season and signed with the Chicago Cubs, where he spent his final two seasons. Hebner saw limited work as a bench player in 1984, though he batted .333 in 44 games. He dropped down to a .217 average in 1985, while starting just 16 of the 83 games that he played. In 18 seasons in the majors, he finished with a .276 average, 865 runs scored, 273 doubles, 208 homers and 890 RBIs in 1,908 games. In 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit .277 with 128 homers and 520 RBIs in 1,140 games. He wore #20 when he started with the Pirates, but changed to #3 in 1972 when the number was retired in honor of the great Pie Traynor.
Bob Elliott, third baseman/outfielder for the 1939-46 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1936 as a 20-year-old outfielder with Savannah of the Class-B South Atlantic League, where he played his first two seasons and most of his third year. Elliott hit .292 with 19 doubles and 12 homers in 144 games. He played 139 games in 1937, and hit .292 with 21 doubles, 16 triples and nine homers. In 1938, he spent a majority of the season with Savannah, while also seeing brief time with Knoxville of the Class-A Southern Association. He combined to hit .318 that season in 143 games, with 32 doubles, 12 triples and 12 homers. Most of the 1939 season was spent with Toronto of the International League (Triple-A), where he hit .328 with 42 extra-base hits in 115 games. He joined the Pirates in September and played full-time to finish out the season, hitting .333 with 16 extra-base hits in 32 games. As the starting right fielder in 1940, Elliott hit .292 in 148 games, with 88 runs scored, 34 doubles, 11 triples, 64 RBIs and 13 steals, which was the only time he reached double digits in steals. He was an All-Star for the first time in 1941 when he hit .273 in 141 games, with 74 runs scored, 37 extra-base hits, 76 RBIs and 64 walks.
Elliott moved to third base in 1942 and had a big season, with his second All-Star appearance and a ninth place finish in the MVP voting. That year he hit .296 in 143 games, with 75 runs scored, 42 extra-base hits and 89 RBIs. He was even batter in 1943, when he finished eighth in the MVP voting. Elliott hit .315 in 156 games that season, with 82 runs scored, 30 doubles, 12 triples, 101 RBIs and a 56:24 BB/SO ratio. He was an All-Star again in 1944 when he had his third straight top ten finish in the MVP voting. That season saw him hit .297 in 143 games, with 85 runs scored, 28 doubles, a career high 16 triples, ten homers, 108 RBIs and 75 walks. In 1945, Elliott finished 16th in the MVP voting after batting .290 with 80 runs scored, a career high 36 doubles, 108 RBIs and 64 walks in 144 games. He saw more time back in center field in 1946 when he batted .263 in 140 games, with 50 runs scored, 33 extra-base hits and 64 walks. On September 30, 1946, the Pirates sold low on him and it came back to bite them in a big way.
The trade of Elliott to the Boston Braves was a huge one at the time. The Pirates were acquiring Hall of Fame second baseman Billy Herman to be a player-manager. The also picked up three other players, while Elliott and Dolph Camelli went to Boston. It did not go well for Pittsburgh. While they were trading the big player in the deal, Elliott was even better after he left. He had 23.4 WAR in eight seasons with Pittsburgh and 25.8 WAR in five seasons with the Braves. Boston moved on from him at the right time, as he lasted just two more seasons in the majors and posted 1.4 WAR over that time. The move out of spacious Forbes Field improved his power numbers. Elliott had 50 homers with the Pirates, topping out at ten in 1944. With the Braves, he hit 101 homers, with three 20+ home run seasons. The trade went bad immediately, as Elliott won the MVP award in 1947 by hitting .317 in 150 games, with 93 runs scored, 35 doubles, 22 homers, a career high 113 RBIs and 87 walks. He made his fourth All-Star appearance that year. In 1948, he hit .283 in 151 games and led the league with a career high of 131 walks, the only year that he topped 100 walks. Elliott also set a career high with 99 runs scored that season, while adding 24 doubles, 23 homers and 100 RBIs. He was an All-Star again and finished 13th in the MVP voting.
In 1949, Elliott hit .280 in 139 games, with 77 runs scored, 29 doubles, 17 homers, 76 RBIs and 90 walks. He followed that up with .305 average in 142 games in 1950, with 94 runs scored, 28 doubles, a career high 24 homers and 107 RBIs. He received mild MVP support that season. In his final year in Boston in 1951, he batted .285 in 136 games, with 73 runs scored, 29 doubles, 15 homers, 70 RBIs and 65 walks. He made the All-Star team for the sixth and final time in his career. He was voted to the 1945 All-Star team, but there was no game that year due to wartime travel restrictions. He was traded to the New York Giants after the season for one player and $50,000, which worked out great for the Braves. Elliott hit .228 with ten homers in 98 games that season, then got released by the Giants. His final season in the majors (1953) started with the St Louis Browns, who traded him in June to the Chicago White Sox. He batted .255 with 29 extra-base hits and 61 RBIs in 115 games that year. He finished his career in the minors in 1954 with San Diego of the Pacific Coast League, where he then managed for the next three seasons. Elliott got a chance to manage in the majors in 1960 with the Kansas City A’s, where he had a 58-96 record.
Elliott had a strange career stat line with his batting average. He batted .292 during each of his first two seasons in the minors. He hit .292 in his first full year with the Pirates, and he hit .292 during his time with the Pirates. As a pro (minors/majors combined) he hit .292 in 2,614 games. During his time in Pittsburgh, he had a .783 OPS in 1,047 games, with 552 runs scored and 663 RBIs. In his 15-year career in the majors, he hit .289 with 1,064 runs scored, 382 doubles, 94 triples, 170 homers, 1,195 RBIs and a 967:604 BB/SO ratio. If you could insert one more big season into his career, he would probably be a strong Hall of Fame candidate. As it is, he has a higher career WAR than 43 Hall of Fame position players (not including Negro League players due to incomplete stats).
Bob Walk, pitcher for the 1984-93 Pirates. He picked up double digit victories in six of his 14 seasons in the majors and he was an All-Star in 1988 with the Pirates. He was drafted three times out of College of the Canyons in California before he signed as a third round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in June of 1976. He was selected the first time in January of 1975 by the California Angels in the fifth round. One year later, the Phillies took him in the fifth round, five months before selecting him again two rounds higher. He debuted in pro ball in 1977, making starts for two A-Ball clubs of the Phillies. Walk combined to go 6-11, 3.80 in 135 innings during his first season. In 1978, he made a return trip to Peninsula of the Class-A Carolina League, where he went 13-8, 2.12 in 187 innings over 26 starts, with 150 strikeouts. In 1979, he moved up to Reading of the Double-A Eastern League, where he had a 12-7, 2.24 record in 185 innings, with 135 strikeouts.
Walk started 1980 in Triple-A, but he made the majors in late May and was a big part of the Phillies World Series winning team, going 11-7, 4.57 in 27 starts and 151.2 innings. He won a World Series start, despite allowing six runs in seven innings. Just before Opening Day in 1981, Walk was traded to the Atlanta Braves even up for veteran outfielder Gary Mathews. Walk spent part of the strike-shortened 1981 season in the minors, while putting up a 1-4, 4.57 record in 43.1 innings with the Braves. He spent the entire 1982 season in the majors, where he posted an 11-9, 4.87 record in 164.1 innings. Due to struggles in Triple-A in 1983, his big league time that year was limited to one starts in the majors in which he allowed three runs in 3.2 innings. He had a 5.21 ERA in 28 starts with Triple-A Richmond of the International League that season. Walk had a 4.85 ERA in 211.1 innings over three seasons in Atlanta before being released during Spring Training in 1984. The Pirates signed him as a free agent eight days later and he remained there for ten seasons, twice re-signing with the club as a free agent.
Walk made 42 starts in Triple-A during his first two seasons with Pittsburgh. He saw just 11 appearances (all starts) total during those two seasons with the Pirates, before becoming a regular during the 1986 season. He made two starts in 1984 for the Pirates, then he went 2-3, 3.68 in nine starts in 1985. He made 15 starts and 29 relief appearances in 1986, going 7-8, 3.75 in 141.2 innings. He had a similar split role in 1987 and improved his ERA, going 8-2, 3.31 in 117 innings. Walk had his best year in 1988, throwing a career high 212.2 innings, going 12-10, 2.71 in 32 starts. He had a 13-10 record in 1989 and threw 196 innings, but it was quite different from the previous year. He had a 4.41 ERA that season, easily his highest mark during his first nine seasons in Pittsburgh. Walk saw a dip in his work during the 1990-92 playoff run for the Pirates, but he was a solid pitcher each year. He went 7-5, 3.75 in 129.2 innings in 1990, then went 1-1 in two playoff starts. He had a 9-2, 3.60 record in 115 innings over 20 starts and five relief appearances in 1991, then threw in relief three times in the playoffs and allowed two runs in 9.1 innings. In 1992, he went 10-6, 3.20 in 135 innings over 19 starts and 17 relief appearances. He threw a complete game victory in game five of the NLCS, allowing just one run.
Walk made 32 starts in 1993 and won 13 games, but he had 14 losses and a 5.68 ERA in 187 innings. He has been announcing for the Pirates since he retired following the 1993 season. In ten seasons in Pittsburgh, he went 82-61, 3.83 in 1,303 innings over 196 starts and 82 relief appearances. In his 14 years, he finished with a 105-81, 4.03 record in 1,666 innings.
Josh Smoker, lefty reliever for the 2018 Pirates. He pitched seven games with Pittsburgh during his brief stay with the team, and he also made 74 appearances with the 2016-17 New York Mets and one appearance for the 2018 Detroit Tigers during his three seasons in the majors. He was a first round draft pick of the Washington Nationals out of high school in 2007, selected 31st overall. He debuted in pro ball at 18 years old with Vermont of the New York-Penn League, getting into just two games during his first season due to signing late. He went to Low-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League in 2008 and really struggled, posting an 11.50 ERA in 18 innings over five starts. He spent the rest of the year in the Gulf Coast League, posting a 1.37 ERA in six starts. In 2009, Smoker spent the entire year back in the GCL, where he went 4-2, 3.38 in 42.2 innings. The next season he returned to Hagerstown, where he 3-10, 6.50 in 91.1 innings, with 92 strikeouts. Smoker was a starter in the minors through 2010, then switched to full-time relief in 2011 in High-A. The move paid off with a 2.31 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 50.2 innings during that first season with Potomac of the High-A Carolina League, though it still took him another five years to make it to the majors. That’s partially due to the fact that he suffered a torn labrum during the early part of 2012 and missed the entire 2013 season as well. He pitched just 9.2 innings during those seasons combined.
Smoker played independent ball in 2014 for Rockford of the Frontier League, where he had a 4.03 ERA in 29 innings over 28 appearances, with 23 walks and 28 strikeouts. He then signed with the New York Mets in 2015, and saw time at three different levels. He actually struggled during a brief time in Low-A, then had a 1.69 ERA in 14 appearances for St Lucie of the High-A Florida State League, followed by a 3.00 ERA for Binghamton of the Double-A Eastern League. He began 2016 in the high-offense environment of Las Vegas in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where his 4.11 ERA was above average. He also had 81 strikeouts in 57 innings. Smoker debuted in the majors with the Mets in August of 2016 and pitched 20 games that year, going 3-0, 4.70 in 15.1 innings, with 25 strikeouts.. He spent nearly the entire 2017 season in the majors, posting a 5.11 ERA in 54 appearances, with 64 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. The Pirates acquired him in a trade for minor league pitcher Daniel Zamora on January 31, 2018. Smoker was in the majors at the start of the season for two weeks, then again for a shorter stay at the beginning of July. He was lost via waivers to the Detroit Tigers on July 28th. He pitched once a month later, then got released in early September. During his time with the Pirates, he gave up seven runs over 5.2 innings and allowed 16 base runners. Smoker split 2019 between Triple-A (Dodgers) and independent ball, then didn’t play during the 2020 season. He had a 9.00 ERA with the Dodgers that year, and a 6.05 ERA in 19.1 innings for York of the Atlantic League. In his brief big league career, he finished with a 4-2, 5.35 record in 82 appearances, with 97 strikeouts in 79 innings.
Joe Muir, pitcher for the 1951-52 Pirates. He was a lefty pitcher, who signed at 23 years old in 1946 after serving two years in the Marine Corps. It took him four years to make the majors, though he put up some impressive stats in the lower levels during his first two seasons. A Pirates scout named Poke Whalen saw him pitching semi-pro ball in Maryland in August of 1946 and signed him to a contract for the 1947 season, saying that he was impressed with Muir’s curveball, as well as his potential to become an outfielder. Muir debuted in 1947 in the Class-D Eastern Shore League for a team called the Rehoboth Beach Pirates, where he went 13-5, 2.83 in 162 innings, with 134 strikeouts, which would end up being his career high for a season. In 1948, he pitched for York of the Class-B Interstate League, where he went 12-6, 2.54 in 163 innings, with 122 strikeouts. He moved up three levels to Triple-A Indianapolis of the American Association in 1949 and struggled during his first time through the league, posting a 4.92 ERA in 139 innings. He improved to 10-10, 3.91 in 205 innings in 1950, though he never approached that innings total in a season during the rest of his brief career. Muir made the Pirates Opening Day roster in both 1951 and 1952, though he didn’t last the whole year either season. He was with the team through mid-May of 1951, posting a 2.76 ERA in 16.1 innings over one start and eight relief appearances. The Pirates recalled him in September after the season ended in Indianapolis, but he didn’t make any appearances.
In 1952, Muir lasted with the Pirates until June, though he had a 6.31 ERA in 36.2 innings. He wasn’t much better with Hollywood that season, posting a 5.19 ERA in 52 innings. On October 11, 1952, he was part of a five-player trade with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League, which brought both Mike Sandlock and Dick Cole to the Pirates. Muir pitched for Hollywood in 1953, putting up a 2.31 ERA in 70 innings, then he retired from baseball. He was contemplating retirement before the 1953 season because he was at the age limit to join the Maryland State Troopers, so if he didn’t pass the exam then, he would have never made it in that line of work. Hollywood convinced him to show up and even upped his salary from $1,000 per month to $1,250 per month, but he left the club in June and became a state trooper. In two seasons with the Pirates, he went 2-5, 5.19 in 52 innings over six starts and 15 relief appearances. He complied a 59-40, 3.79 record in seven minor league seasons.
Bill Warwick, catcher for the 1921 Pirates. He made his big league debut on July 18, 1921 with the Pirates and caught two innings, while going 0-for-1 at the plate. It was also his first game of pro ball. That ended up being his only game for the Pirates. He also played 22 games for the 1925-26 St Louis Cardinals and finished with a .304 average. Warwick’s baseball career lasted from 1921 until 1929. His father-in-law was his manager with the Pirates, George Gibson. Warwick’s real first name was Firman, the only MLB player ever with that name. His baseball career has an interesting twist early on. He was a catcher in high school, who decided to give up the game when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. However, the team needed a catcher and the head coach remembered that Warwick played well in high school, so he was asked to play. He didn’t want to play at first, but once he did, he didn’t regret the decision. Warwick put up big numbers in college, yet still turned down offers to go pro after he graduated. He was playing for a local independent team in 1921 when the club folded, opening the door for an offer from Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss that was too good to turn down, so he signed on July 12th.
In Warwick’s only game with the Pirates, the New York Giants faked a steal attempt and he bit, sailing a throw into center field for an error. The runner (George Burns, the baseball player) then stole third base. That day, Warwick caught pitcher Drew Radar, who came in at the same time, with New York up 12-1 in the seventh. Rader was a highly touted college pitcher, but that game ended up being his only big league contest. Warwick actually caught a Pirates exhibition game on September 9th, getting the bulk of the work in that contest. He was briefly sent to Birmingham of the Southern Association for two games, but the Pirates recalled him on September 15th for the rest of the season. Warwick was sent to Columbia of the South Atlantic League in in May of 1922, then recalled by the Pirates on September 14th, though he didn’t play for the Pirates during either stint that season. He was with the Pirates in 1923 after Opening Day, then sent to Flint of the Michigan-Ontario League for the season, which eventually ended his time with the Pirates. So he was actually on the active roster during three seasons (and five stints total), but he played just one game.
With Columbia in 1922, Warwick batted .283 with 20 extra-base hits in 80 games. In 1923, he batted .328 with 21 doubles, six triples and 13 homers for Flint. Both of those teams/leagues were considered to be Class-B, so he was making quite a jump (and demotion as well) from the majors. In 1924, he spent his first of two full seasons with San Antonio of the Class-A Texas League. He hit .244 with 29 extra-base hits in 112 games in 1924, then followed it up with a .306 average, 31 doubles, five triples and 20 homers in 122 games in 1925. That performance earned him a September look with the St Louis Cardinals, where he hit .293 with an .857 OPS in 13 games. He went 5-for-14 in nine games for the Cardinals in 1926, seeing action in May, June, July and September. The Cardinals won the World Series that season and he was with the team during the postseason, but he was limited to warming up the pitchers. Warwick spent the 1927 season with Houston of the Texas League, where he hit .259 with 26 doubles and seven homers in 129 games. He split the 1928 season between Minneapolis of the American Association (Double-A) and Chattanooga of the Class-A Southern Association. He combined to hit .212 with six extra-base hits in 67 games. He was back in the Texas League for his final season, splitting time between San Antonio and Waco. He had a contract with Waco for 1930, but decided to retire because he had a job that paid well and didn’t want to give it up. Warwick ended up as a .304 hitter in his 23 big league games.
Gussie Gannon, lefty pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. He had a six-year minor league career in which he went 55-55, but his MLB career consisted of just one relief appearance. On June 15, 1895, Bill Hart started for the Pirates and got hit hard. The Pirates called upon Gannon to make his Major League debut and the rookie ended up going the last five innings. He allowed four runs (though just one was earned), gave up seven hits, two walks and he failed to strikeout a batter. Gannon struck out both times he batted. He lived until 1966, making him one of the last surviving 19th century major league players. The Pirates signed him on June 5, 1895, ten days before his debut. At the time, he was pitching for a team from Sharon, PA, where he allowed a total of eight hits in his last three starts combined. He was said to be a tall pitcher, who was 19 years old, but he turned out to be 21 years old and 5’11”. Gannon had a strong fastball and some deceiving curves. His signing announcement included the interesting fact that he was a plumber in the off-season. Gannon lasted exactly two weeks with Pittsburgh. His pay was said to be $200 per month and expenses were covered. He finished the 1895 season pitching for Syracuse of the International League on loan from the Pirates. He ended up pitching until 1900 before retiring.
Gannon debuted in pro ball in 1893, playing for three different teams that year in the Eastern League. Despite jumping around, his stats show a total of four games pitched and 38 runs allowed over 27 innings, though he’s credited with a 4.33 ERA. He played semi-pro ball for Erie and Oil City during the 1894 season, before his time with Sharon/Pittsburgh/Syracuse in 1895. He went 9-10, 3.66 in 157.1 innings with Syracuse after leaving the Pirates. In 1896, Gannon played for Buffalo of the Eastern League. In 1897, he had a 7-20, 2.20 record in 237.1 innings for the Rochester/Montreal franchise in the Eastern League. He was in the same league over the next two seasons as well, with two different teams, while also seeing time with Newport of the New England League during the 1898-99 seasons. He finished his pro career in the Class-B Interstate League in 1900 with a team that played out of Youngstown/Marion, Ohio. His actual name was James Edward Gannon and the “Gussie” nickname can be found just a few times in print during his playing days (it was mostly James or Gus), and more so afterwards.