This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 29th, The Hit Man

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a member of the 1979 World Series champs. We also have two transactions of note.

The Players

Mike Easler, outfielder for the 1977 and 1979-83 Pirates. He was traded nine times during his career, including four straight deals that involved the Pirates. Easler didn’t become a starter in the majors until his seventh season. He was drafted out of high school in the 14th round in 1969 by the Houston Astros. It took him four years to make the majors, though during three seasons in Houston, he played just 26 games total and had 27 at-bats. He started his career at 18 years old in the short-season Appalachian League, where he hit .319 in 33 games for Covington. In 1970, he batted .252 with one homer in 96 games for Cocoa in the Class-A Florida State League. He played in Cocoa in 1971 as well, where he hit .293 in 109 games, with 11 homers, while going 16-for-17 in steals. Easler never stole more than 12 bases in any of his other 20 seasons in pro ball. In 1972, he moved up to Columbus of the Double-A Southern League, where he batted .269 with 13 homers in 106 games. In 1973, he played 48 games for Columbus and 48 games for Denver of the Triple-A American Association. He combined to hit .297 with 22 doubles and 13 homers in 96 games, which earned him a September look with the Astros, though that amounted to nine plate appearances without a hit in six games.

In 1974, Easler hit .283 in 100 games for Denver, with 75 runs, 18 doubles, eight triples, 19 homers and 63 RBIs. He got a longer look with the Astros, but that was in May/June and all 15 of his games were pinch-hitting appearances. In 1975, he had five pinch-hitting appearances in April. The rest of the season was spent in Triple-A. He was traded to the St Louis Cardinals in June of 1975 and remained there until September of 1976. He never appeared in a game for the 1976 Cardinals, despite batting .352 with 31 doubles and 26 homers in 118 games Triple-A that season. He was traded to the California Angels on September 3, 1976 and made it into 21 September games that year. After going 1-for-27 with the Astros, he hit .241 for the Angels. The Angels traded him to the Pirates right before Opening Day in 1977. Easler batted .302 with 83 runs scored, 29 doubles, 18 homers and 76 walks for Triple-A Columbus of the International League after joining the Pirates. He then hit .444 in ten September games for the 1977 Pirates, but that wasn’t enough to earn him a job the next season. He spent the year in Columbus, where he batted .330 with 84 runs scored, 26 doubles, 18 homers, 84 RBIs and 75 walks in 126 games. The Pirates sold him to the Boston Red Sox in October of 1978, then traded to get him back five months later, though all they gave up was two minor league players who never played in the majors.

Easler was mainly used as a pinch-hitter during the 1979 season, hitting .278 in 54 at-bats spread out over 55 games. He started just three games all year and never played a full game. He pinch-hit three times in the postseason and went 0-for-2 with a walk. The bat was never an issue with Easler, but his defense kept him from playing regularly in the majors. However, he was hitting so well during the 1980 season that he forced his way into the lineup more often. That year he hit .338 with 27 doubles, 21 homers and 74 RBIs in 132 games, which included 110 starts split between left field and right field. His hitting that year earned him mild MVP support for the only time in his career. He made his only All-Star appearance in 1981, when he batted .286 with 30 extra-base hits and 42 RBIs in 96 games during that strike-shortened season. In 1982, Easler batted .276 in 142 games, with 27 doubles, 15 homers and 58 RBIs. He hit .307 in 115 games in 1983, with 17 doubles, ten homers and 54 RBIs. After the season, the Pirates traded him to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher John Tudor. That would have been a solid deal for the Pirates if they didn’t trade Tudor one year later for a poor return from the Cardinals. In six seasons with the Pirates, Easler hit .302 with 56 homers and 244 RBIs in 549 games.

Easler had a big season in 1984, batting .313 with career highs of 87 runs scored, 31 doubles, 27 homers and 91 RBIs. He was able to play every day as the DH in the American League. He saw his numbers slide the next season in 155 games, batting .262 with 29 doubles, 16 homers and 74 RBIs. His OPS dropped 155 points over the previous season. He was shipped to the New York Yankees for Don Baylor at the end of Spring Training in 1986. Easler hit .302 with 64 runs scored, 26 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBIs in 146 games in 1986. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in the off-season, then reacquired by the Yankees in June of 1987, finishing his big league career there that season. That last year saw him hit .282 with five homers and 31 RBIs in 98 games. He played his final two years of pro ball in Japan before retiring as a player. He took up a career in coaching and has had numerous jobs over the years for many organizations at all levels. In his 14-year career in the majors, he was a .293 hitter in 1,151 games, with 118 homers and 522 RBIs.

Paul Pettit, lefty pitcher for the 1951 and 1953 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates for $100,000 as an 18-year-old in early 1950. He went 2-7, 5.17 in 94 innings, with 76 walks for New Orleans of the Double-A Southern Association in 1950, which was an advanced placement for someone his age/experience. Despite the mediocre results, he made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1951, although he lasted just two games before being optioned to Indianapolis on May 14th. When he was sent down, the Pirates noted that they were expecting to lose him to the service during the Korean War, since he just recently took his Army physical. That didn’t happen, though he played just nine games total after being sent down. A knee injury limited his mound time, causing him to miss most of the summer. After the season, Branch Rickey called out Pettit without mentioning him by name, saying that once a young player gets a big bonus and has a yearly salary guaranteed, he won’t pitch as hard as he used to for fear of injury. Pettit went 15-8, 3.70 in 197 innings, with a 99:74 BB/SO ratio, for Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League in 1952, which earned him an Opening Day roster spot with the Pirates in 1953. He pitched seven games through the end of May, then spent most of the year back in the minors, returning for three more appearances in September. On the season, he had a 7.71 ERA in 28 innings for the Pirates. Pettit spent most of his minor league time in Class-A ball in 1953 for Charleston of the South Atlantic League, where he had a 2.94 ERA, but it came with a 36:16 BB/SO ratio.

Pettit never played in the majors again after 1953, spending eight more seasons in the minors, with most of that time coming as an outfielder. While the $100,000 bonus back in 1950 obviously gave him some comfort, it was also a tag that followed him throughout his career because it was the biggest signing bonus ever at that time. When his name showed up in print, the bonus amount almost always followed. In 1954 he pitched all the way down in Class-C ball, playing for Salinas of the California League, where he went 8-7, 3.61 in 132 innings and actually showed control improvements. Despite that fact, he pitched just seven more games in his career after 1954. Pettit took up hitting that season when he wasn’t pitching and did well, batting .324 with 24 doubles, 20 homers and 103 RBIs. He played most of 1955 in Mexico, with a team that had a working agreement with the Pirates. It was a high offense league and he hit .382 with 1.097 OPS in 78 games. However, when he played for Hollywood that season, one step from the majors, he had a .508 OPS in 17 games. In 1956-57, he spent both years with Hollywood, posting a .236 average and a .725 OPS in 114 games in 1956, followed by a .284 average, 31 doubles, 20 homers and 102 RBIs in 158 games in 1957. That wasn’t enough to get Pettit back to the majors, and he would split the 1958 season between two Triple-A clubs, posting an .831 OPS in 118 games. He split the 1959 season between two PCL clubs, as Salt Lake City dropped him early in 1959, then he joined Seattle, where he remained through the end of 1960. He playing career ended with two games in the PCL in 1962. All that the Pirates received from him was a 7.34 ERA in 30.2 innings, and he went 2-for-9 with two walks at the plate.

Pettit’s bonus figure was a bit misleading. He got paid $10,000 when he signed, then got ten more bonuses every January 1st from 1950 through 1959, and they were $5,000 each. For his first three years, he was given a $6,000 salary as part of the bonus amount. The rest went to his agent, his father and he got another $750 that was given to him for his honeymoon. The total came up to $100,000, but $18,000 was salary, and $21,250 went to his agent and dad. The bonus payment every January 1st helps explain why he remained in the Pirates system through the 1959 season. It was said after his time finally ended with the Pirates that he was never the same pitcher they saw in high school, and they followed him since his sophomore year, so they had plenty of looks from multiple scouts. His fastball was better in high school than it was in pro ball, which was likely due to an injury that kept him from reaching his potential.

Ed Leip, second baseman for the 1940-42 Pirates. His only other big league experience outside of three partial years with the Pirates was nine games for the 1939 Washington Senators. Leip began his career in 1936 at 25 years old, playing for York/Trenton of the Class-A New York-Penn League, where he played just 18 games during that first season. In 1937, he moved down to the Class-D Eastern Shore League, where he played two full seasons for Salisbury. During that first season, he batted .284 with 20 extra-base hits in 94 games. He also received a lot of praise for his defense at third base, with lofty comparisons made to Pie Traynor. In 1938, Leip hit .289 in 109 games, with 32 extra-base hits. His time with the 1939 Senators began in mid-September after he hit .322 with 27 doubles, 17 triples and two homers for Greenville of the Class-B South Atlantic League. With Washington, he batted .344 in nine games. Leip joined the Pirates on April 4, 1940 off waivers from the Senators, which cost the Pirates a $7,500 fee. At the time, it said that he was expected to be sent to the minors and that’s just what happened. Ten days after being acquired, he was shipped to Syracuse of the Double-A American Association for the season. He batted .228 with 34 extra-base hits in 163 games as the team’s everyday second baseman, then rejoined the Pirates in late September and played three games (one start).

Leip spent 1941 with Albany of the Class-A Eastern League, where he hit .281 with 27 extra-base hits in 131 games. He joined the Pirates in early September and saw slightly more playing time than the previous year, playing 15 games, including five starts. His big league time in 1942 consisted of three April pinch-running appearances. He was sent down on May 3rd and then recalled late in the year, but never rejoined the club because he was inducted into the Army on September 28th. He played 21 games and had 30 at-bats over his three seasons with the Pirates, hitting .200 with three RBIs.  He spent three seasons in the military  (1943-45) and another five years in the minors before retiring as a player after the 1950 season.  Leip went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1946, but he was cut on April 12th, getting sent back to Albany, where he hit .244 with no homers, 59 walks and 18 steals in 122 games. The Pirates let him return to Salisbury as a player-manager in 1947, and he put up big numbers with the drop to Class-D, hitting .302 with 86 walks in 101 games. He was a player-manager for Leesburg of the Class-D Florida State League in 1948, hitting .295 in 106 games. His final two seasons of pro ball were spent as a player for Danville of the Class-B Carolina League, where he hit .264 with 32 doubles and 105 runs scored in 135 games in 1949, followed by a .256 average in 152 games in 1950. His last name was pronounced “leap” in case you were wondering.

Marc Campbell, shortstop for the 1907 Pirates. There wasn’t much of a need at shortstop for the Pirates in 1907 due to that Wagner fella, but the 22-year-old Campbell got two games in at the end of the season and he went 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. That ended up being his only big league experience. Wagner missed the last nine days of the 1907 season with a broken hand, opening up playing time at shortstop Campbell played four seasons in the minors, finishing up in 1911 with the Fond du Lac Mudhens of the Class-C Wisconsin-Illinois League. He debuted with the Pirates on September 30th, batting seventh and playing shortstop. He collected an RBI hit and handled six plays in the field without any issues. He actually got into an exhibition games against Youngstown the day before and went hitless while committing an error. Campbell (his first name was spelled “Mark” in the papers) was called the former Interstate League player. There was no mention of him after his game on October 1st, so it’s very likely that he didn’t accompany the team to Cincinnati for the final six games of the season. They played three doubleheaders in three days, so he would have likely played if he was still with the team. Back then teams traveled light for road trips to save on travel costs.

Campbell doesn’t have any minor league stats on Baseball-Reference prior to his MLB debut, but he played at least one year with a team from Punxsutawney (his hometown) before joining the Pirates, as well as some college ball at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. A January 1907 article has Campbell signing with a team from Uniontown for that season, along with noting that he played shortstop for an independent team from Cambridge Springs in 1906. In late March of 1907, it was said that he was released by Uniontown and he would be playing for Lancaster of the Class-C Ohio-Pennsylvania League, yet there’s no record of him there. Instead he showed up with Punxsutawney, despite also signing a deal with Dubois of the same league, who refused to play a game against Punxsutawney when they had Campbell in their lineup. His performance with Punxsutawney was praised enough that it earned him a shot with the Pirates. After his brief time with the Pirates, he played for Rochester of the Class-A Eastern League in 1908, though he hit just .139 in 15 games. It was said that he signed with Rochester under the advice of Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss. In late June it was said that he signed with New Castle of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, though no records show him playing there. It’s possible that his time was very brief, as a lot of old stats for the minor leagues don’t include players who got into fewer than ten games. An April 1909 article said that he was recently playing in the Texas League. In 1909 he played for Erie of the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, where he hit .278 in 91 games. He was drafted by Zanesville of the Central League after the season, but he lasted just 13 games there in 1910, hitting .250 during that time. His last two pro seasons were spent with Fond du Lac, where he hit .321 in 86 games in 1910, followed by a .259 average in 93 games in 1911. His nickname was “Hutch”.

Bill Sowders, pitcher for the 1889-90 Alleghenys. He debuted in pro ball in 1886 with Minneapolis of the Northwestern League at 21 years old, but made his mark the next season in the same league with St Paul, where he had a 34-17, 2.14 record in 441 innings, with 266 strikeouts, 49 starts and 48 complete games. He debuted in the majors in 1888 with the Boston Beaneaters and went 19-15, 2.07 in 317 innings during his first season, but he was out of the big leagues just two years later. He completed 34 of his 35 starts. Sowders didn’t get much of a chance with Boston after his strong rookie season at 23 years old. The next season he pitched seven games for the Beaneaters before being sold to Pittsburgh for $1,000 on July 19th. The local papers weren’t impressed with the deal, saying that Boston was in need of pitching at the time, so if they were willing to let him go, then he must not be any good. Things didn’t go well after the deal in his 11 starts and two relief appearances in Pittsburgh. Sowders had a 6-5 record, but it came with a 7.35 ERA in 52.2 innings. The 1890 Alleghenys are the worst team in franchise history and while he pitched much better than he did in 1889, Sowders had a 3-8 record, with a 4.42 ERA in 106 innings.

Many of the 1889 Alleghenys jumped to the 1890 Pittsburgh team in the newly-formed Player’s League, and Sowders went back-and-forth between the two teams during the off-season before ending up on the Alleghenys. He was supposed to get $100 bonus payments during the off-season to stay in the National League after originally joining the Player’s League. He said in February that he would be joining the Player’s League again because of a missed payment, but days later his loyalty was back to the Alleghenys. On June 23rd, he was traded to Milwaukee of the Western Association for pitcher Charlie Heard. That move ended his big league career with a 29-30, 3.34 record in 517.2 innings. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, he went 9-13, 5.39 in 22 starts and six relief appearances, throwing 158.2 innings.  He would play in the minors until 1892, then returned to pro ball for the 1896 season, when he played for three teams in the Interstate League. He has no known pitching records after the 1891 season when he made his final two starts for Joliet of the Illinois-Iowa League and allowed 12 runs in 11 innings. Sowders played for eight minors league teams during his final four seasons of pro ball. He was playing in Indiana during the 1893-94 seasons, but the papers were critical of his past performances and said they didn’t think he could play pro ball anymore. At one point in 1894 he stated that he was willing to play on trial without pay to prove his worth. He had two brothers, Len and John Sowders, who each played in the majors.

The Transactions

On this date in 1989, the Pirates signed veteran right-handed pitcher Walt Terrell as a free agent. He won at least 15 games each season with the Detroit Tigers from 1985 through 1987. Terrell’s record slipped in 1988, going 7-16, though his 3.97 ERA was slightly lower than in 1987 when he went 17-10. In 1989, he split the year between the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees, finishing 11-18, 4.49 in 32 starts. His time with the Pirates was not good. He finished 2-7, 5.88 in 16 starts and was released at the end of July. He finished the 1990 season back in Detroit and remained there through the end of the 1992 season before retiring. Terrell finished his career with a 111-124, 4.22 record over 11 seasons.

On this date in 1967, the Pirates acquired catcher Chris Cannizzaro from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for minor league OF/1B Mike Derrick, who was signed by the Pirates out of high school in 1962, and spent six years in the farm system. Cannizzaro ended up hitting .241 for the Pirates over 25 games in 1968. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres in Spring Training of 1969 in a four-player deal that went poorly for the Pirates. He was an All-Star in his first season with the Padres, then put up better offensive stats in 1970. Derrick ended up briefly making the majors in 1970 with the Boston Red Sox, but he spent the rest of his 11-year pro career in the minors. This trade would have went better if they held on to Cannizzaro, but the Pirates were good behind the plate at the time with a young Manny Sanguillen just establishing himself, and Jerry May serving as a capable backup.