Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus three transactions of note.
Tim Foli, shortstop for the 1979-81 and 1985 Pirates. He was drafted first overall in the 1968 amateur draft by the New York Mets and he made his Major League debut just two years later at the end of the 1970 season. At 17 years old in 1970, he spent most of his first season in the short-season Appalachian League, but the Mets brought him to Double-A for five games. Foli hit .278 with 17 extra-base hits, 42 runs scored and 37 RBIs in 68 games as a rookie in pro ball. The next season he spent the entire year with Visalia of the Class-A California League, where he batted .303 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 95 games. In 1970, he hit .261 with 20 extra-base hits and 63 runs scored in 103 games for Triple-A Tidewater of the International League. He also went 4-for-11 in five games for the Mets that season. In 1971, Foli batted .226 with 24 RBIs and 32 runs scored in 97 games for the Mets. He played just one full season in New York before being traded to the Montreal Expos in a four-player deal that included three other big names (Rusty Staub, Mike Jorgenson and Ken Singleton). Foli played in Montreal until 1977.
In 1972, Foli took over the starting shortstop job in Montreal and hit .241 in 149 games, with 45 runs scored and 35 RBIs. He played slightly less often in 1973, but he matched his .561 OPS from the previous season. He batted .240 with 36 RBIs and 37 runs scored in 126 games that year. In 121 games in 1974, Foli batted .254 with 41 runs scored and 39 RBIs. He played a career high 152 games in 1975, and hit .238 with 64 runs scored, 25 doubles, 29 RBIs and career highs of 13 steals and 36 walks. He had one of his best hitting seasons in 1976 when he batted .264 in 149 games, and set career highs with 36 doubles and six homers. He had 54 RBIs and 41 runs scored. In 1977, the Expos traded him to the San Francisco Giants after a very slow start to the season. He ended up batting .221 in 117 games, with 32 runs scored, 30 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs. In December of 1977, he was sold back to the Mets, where he played 113 games in 1978, finishing with a .257 average, 37 runs, 21 doubles and 27 RBIs.
After being acquired by the Pirates in early April 1979 for Frank Taveras, Foli had his best career season in 1979, helping the Pirates to their fifth World Series title. He batted .291 and set career highs with 70 runs scored and 65 RBIs. In the NLCS, he batted .333 and drove in three runs over three games. Then in the World Series, he hit .333 in the seven-game series, with six runs scored and three RBIs. In 1980, he hit .265 in 127 games, with a .623 OPS, 61 runs scored and 38 RBIs. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he batted .247 with 32 runs scored and a .582 OPS. Foli was traded to the California Angels after the 1981 season in exchange for Brian Harper. In 1982, Foli played 150 games and hit .252 with 46 runs scored and 56 RBIs. He put up a nearly identical slash line in 1983, matching his .252 average, but he played just 88 games due to a shoulder injury suffered in early August. He clashed with the team after he left early during a rain delay in September, which led to him being traded to the New York Yankees after the season. Foli ended up batting .252 for a third straight season in 1984, though he was limited to 61 games.
On December 20, 1984, the Pirates gave up Dale Berra and minor leaguer Jay Buhner as part of a five-player trade to get Foli (and Steve Kemp) back. Foli’s second stint in Pittsburgh was not a successful one. He was released on June 17, 1985 after batting .189 in 19 games, which ended up being his final stint in the majors. He was a .251 career hitter over 16 big league seasons and 1,696 games, with 576 runs scored, 241 doubles, 501 RBIs and 81 stolen bases. He struck out just 399 times during his career, including a total of 14 strikeouts in 597 plate appearances during the 1979 season. With the Pirates, he hit .269 in 365 games. He led National League shortstops in fielding percentage in 1980 and he’s rated as one of the top 100 defensive players ever, with a 16.5 dWAR. While his defense made him a solid player over his career, his offense was consistently average at best. He finished with -0.3 WAR on offense, which included the 1.8 offensive WAR he accumulated with the 1979 Pirates. His second best offensive season was the 0.5 WAR he put up during the 1980 season.
As a side note, Foli is featured here in one of our earliest Card of the Day articles. It highlights a future throwback jersey (if I ever get my way)
Jose Contreras, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. He finished his 11-year big league career with the Pirates in 2013, giving up five runs in five innings over seven appearances. The Cuban-born Contreras signed with the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in February of 2003, four months after he defected from Cuba during a tournament. He was a star pitcher in his home country, who was already 31 years old when he first signed. His stay in New York was short and it included some minor league time. A s a rookie in 2003, he went 7-2, 3.30 in 71 innings, with nine starts and nine relief appearances. He had 72 strikeouts. In 2004, he made 18 starts for the Yankees before being traded to the Chicago White Sox for Esteban Loaiza on July 31st. Contreras went 8-5, 5.64 before the deal and he had a 5-4, 5.30 record in 74.2 innings over 13 starts after the deal. In 2005, he pitched a career high 204 innings, while posting a 15-7, 3.61 record in 32 starts, with a career high 154 strikeouts. He never received any Cy Young votes during his career, but he did get mild MVP support in 2005.
Contreras made his lone All-Star appearance in 2006, when he went 13-9, 4.27 in 196 innings over 30 starts. He had a rough 2007, going 10-17, 5.57 in 189 innings. He managed to throw two of his three career shutouts that season. He didn’t bounce back from that until 2010 when he moved to a relief role for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2008, Contreras went 7-6, 4.54 in 20 starts for the White Sox. He split the 2009 season between Chicago and the Colorado Rockies, where he moved to relief work initially. Contreras went 5-13, 5.42 in 21 starts for the 2009 White Sox, and he had a 1.59 ERA in 17 innings for Colorado. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Phillies, where he had a 3.34 ERA and four saves in 56.2 innings over 67 appearances. Contreras made 17 appearances for the Phillies in 2011 and 2012, missing time each year with an injury. He signed with the Pirates on February 23, 2013 and was released in mid-July. He had an 0.93 ERA in Triple-A that season for the Pirates, but his big league time was limited to five runs in five innings over seven outings. After being released, he spent a month in Triple-A for the Boston Red Sox, then signed a 2014 deal with the Texas Rangers, though he was cut late in Spring Training. He finished his career playing in Mexico (2014-16) and China (part of 2015). Counting his time in pro ball in Cuba, he won 192 games over 24 seasons and he pitched just over 2,700 innings. His big league time shows a 78-67, 4.57 record in 1,173 innings over 175 starts and 124 relief appearances.
Adam Hyzdu, outfielder for the 2000-03 Pirates. He debuted in the majors at 28 years old, but still managed to put in seven seasons total, including his first four years with the Pirates. He was a first round pick of the San Francisco Giants out of high school in 1990, ten years and three months before his MLB debut. His pro debut came with Everett of the short-season Northwest League, where he batted .245 with six homers in 69 games. In 1991, Hyzdu played with Clinton of the Class-A Midwest League, batting .234 in 124 games, with five homers and 64 walks. The next season saw him go to San Jose of the High-A California League, where he hit .278 with 39 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and 55 walks in 128 games. He split 1993 between San Jose and Shreveport of the Double-A Texas League, combining to bat .233 with 28 doubles, 19 homers and a .734 OPS. The results were extremely better in High-A that year, with a 452 point difference in his OPS. In December of 1993, he was taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the Rule 5 draft, but he didn’t make the team, so they worked out a trade to keep him. Hyzdu played over three levels in 1994, going from High-A to Triple-A. He combined to hit .261 with 23 doubles and 18 homers in 105 games. In 1995, he spent the entire season with Double-A Chattanooga of the Southern League, where he put up a .263 average and an .801 OPS in 102 games. The Reds let him go at the end of the season and he signed a minor league deal with the Boston Red Sox.
In 1996, Hyzdu played for Trenton of the Double-A Eastern League, where he batted .337 with 24 doubles, 25 homers, 80 RBIs, 56 walks and a 1.042 OPS in 109 games. In 1997, he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket of the International League, where he hit .276 with 21 doubles, 23 homers, 84 RBIs and 72 walks in 119 games. He became a free agent at the end of the season and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His 1998 season was split between Triple-A and time in the Mexican League. The Pirates signed him to a minor league deal and sent him to Altoona of the Double-A Eastern League, where he quickly became a fan favorite. In 1999 he hit .316 with 26 doubles, 24 homers and 78 RBIs in 91 games, while also seeing brief time in Triple-A. In 2000, he re-signed with the Pirates and went back to Altoona, where he crushed the ball, batting .290 with 39 doubles, 31 homers, 106 RBIs, 96 runs and 94 walks in 142 games. That September the Pirates called him to the majors for the first time. He hit .389 in limited at-bats over 12 games. In 2001, Hyzdu split the season between Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League and a bench role in the Pirates. He batted 77 times for the Pirates in 51 games, hitting .208 with five homers and nine RBIs.
Hyzdu split the 2002 season between Nashville and the Pirates again, though this time he got more at-bats in Pittsburgh and he had a solid year thanks in part to just two days. On July 19, 2002, he went 3-for-5 with a grand slam in a win over the St Louis Cardinals. The next day he did even better, going 4-for-5 with two homers and seven RBIs. He finished that season hitting .232 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs in 59 games. That was easily his best season in the majors. In his other six big league trials combined, he hit eight homers and drove in 27 runs. Hyzdu had another Nashville/Pittsburgh split in 2003 and he was back to a bench role in the majors, hitting .206 with one homer and a .653 OPS in 75 plate appearances. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Boston Red Sox, where he did the Triple-A/MLB split in 2004, getting just 11 plate appearances in 17 games for Boston. The 2005 season saw him get traded to the San Diego Padres mid-season, only to get dealt back to the Red Sox. He hit .194 with no homers in 29 games between both stops. His big league career ended with two games for the 2006 Texas Rangers. His pro career ended in 2007 with a season in Japan. Hyzdu hit .231 with 18 homers and 55 RBIs in 173 games with the Pirates. He played a total of 18 years of pro ball and hit 299 homers (though that’s missing his 1998 stats in Mexico), with the last seven coming while he was playing in Japan. He hit .229 in 221 big league games, with 19 homers and 61 RBIs.
Frank Luce, outfielder for the 1923 Pirates. His big league career consisted of nine games at the end of the 1923 season and just one of those was as a starter. Despite the brief career, he went 6-for-12 at the plate, drove in three runs and stole two bases. Luce played 11 seasons in the minors and batted over .300 six times. His time with the Pirates was closer to the beginning of his career, which stretched from 1921 until 1931. Luce debuted with Greensboro of the Class-C Piedmont League in 1921 at 24 years old, getting a late start due to playing semi-pro ball earlier in his career. In 1922, he played for Flint of the Michigan-Ontario League, where he batted .334 in 124 games, with 30 doubles, 24 triples and ten homers. During the 1923 season, Luce hit .382 with 19 triples, 15 homers and 17 stolen bases for Flint. He joined the Pirates on September 15th and he debuted just two days later. He took over for Carson Bigbee, who was trying to play through a leg injury suffered a day earlier. In the fourth inning, Luce hit for Bigbee and reached on a scratch single. Unfortunately, he was picked off of first base, so his first big league hit didn’t end well.
While his big league career on paper didn’t amount to much, he still made quite an impression with the team during his brief stay. In an exhibition game in Lima, Ohio, he homered twice, including one that was called the longest homer seen at that park. He had two hits and two stolen bases in his second exhibition game, then hit two triples against Columbus of the American Association. A quote after the third game, which looks ridiculous now, started that Luce would give Kiki Cuyler a run for a starting outfield spot in 1924. Luce was in Spring Training with the Pirates in 1924 and he got some press for hitting the first Pittsburgh home run of the spring. He was getting a lot of praise for hitting the ball harder than anyone else in camp, while also providing some solid defense in the outfield. He was still around on Opening Day, but he didn’t play in any games and the Pirates released him outright to his team in Flint on April 25th, ten days into the 1924 season. He batted .299 with 18 doubles, seven triples and 23 homers for Flint in 1924. He then went to Milwaukee of the Double-A American Association, where he spent the next five seasons. Luce batted at least .315 in each of his first four seasons in Milwaukee, before dropping down to a .295 average in 1929. He averaged 19 doubles, ten triples and 12 homers per season during that stretch. In 1930, he played for Nashville of the Class-A Southern Association, where he hit .280 in 94 games. His final season was split between New Orleans of the Southern Association and Peoria of the Class-B Three-I League. He hit just .248 with three homers in 95 games that season.
Walter Mueller, outfielder for the 1922-24 and 1926 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1915 at 20 years old, but he has no other pro records until the 1921 season. That first year was spent with Freeport of the Bi-State League (Class-D), where he hit .298 with 17 extra-base hits in 45 games. He was supposed to play for a team from Hannibal, Mo. in 1916, but he was released early in the season. He made the majors as an outfielder, but he was a shortstop early in his career. In 1920, he was playing semi-pro ball in the Missouri-Illinois Trolley League, where he won the batting title with a .386 average. In 1921, Mueller hit .324 with 60 extra-base hits in 165 games with Joplin of the Class-A Western League. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 16th, though he stayed with Joplin until the end of their season. During the 1922 season, Mueller didn’t debut until the 20th game of the season, then hit a three-run homer off of Hall of Famer Grover Alexander on the first pitch he saw in the majors. Mueller was sent to the minors on June 28th by manager George Gibson, despite hitting .270 with two homers and 18 RBIs in 32 games. When Bill McKechnie replaced Gibson as manager days later, one of the first things he did was bring Mueller back. Mueller was nursing an upper back/neck injury at the time and ended up playing just one more game that season on July 5th as a pinch-hitter.
Mueller was buried deep on the bench during the 1923 season. Through the first 92 games of the season, he played eight times, all off of the bench, batting a total of nine times. He didn’t make his first start until August 12th, then ended up making 23 starts over the rest of the season. Mueller batted .306 in 40 games that season. In 1924, his playing time was spread out more over the whole season, though the bulk of his at-bats came in June when he made six of his eight starts. Mueller retired during the 1925 season to help run a family business in St Louis with his brothers. He ended up returning late in the 1926 season and saw a lot of September action, hitting .242 in 19 games. He retired again in 1927 for the family business, playing sandlot ball on the weeks to get his fill of baseball. His only other playing time after that point was 19 games for Indianapolis of the American Association in 1928. In four seasons in the majors, all spent with the Pirates, he hit .275 with two homers and 49 RBIs in 121 games. He never played more than 40 games in a season, and split his time evenly between left and right field, making 41 appearances at each spot. He also played center field five times. His son Don Mueller spent 12 seasons as an outfielder in the majors, putting in most of his time with the New York Giants. I’ve seen him listed in a few places as being the brother of outfielder Heinie Mueller, who spent 11 seasons in the majors, but many sources don’t back that information up.
Tun Berger, utility player for the 1890-91 Alleghenys/Pirates. In 104 games for the worst team in franchise history, he hit .266 with 40 RBIs and 64 runs scored. As a bench player in 1891, he hit .239 and played five positions. He was one of just three players from the 1890 Alleghenys who was still around for the 1891 season (including Sam LaRocque, who lasted one game in 1891). His time in Pittsburgh ended shortly after the 1891 season ended, when the Pirates signed catcher Grant Briggs for a decent sum of money, though he was allowed to sign elsewhere just three months later. Berger played everywhere for Pittsburgh during his two seasons except pitcher and first base. His only other big league time was 26 games with the 1892 Washington Senators, in which he hit .144 with a .396 OPS, while mostly playing shortstop. He had three years of pro ball before joining Pittsburgh, and he played minor league ball during the 1892-98 seasons. Berger signed with the Alleghenys in November of 1889, as part of a group of eight new players added to the team at one time. He was a reserve at the beginning of the season in 1890 and didn’t travel with the team until they released two other players in early May and gave him a chance to play. The local papers gave very little details about him prior to the season, sometimes just listing his name, other times calling him a virtual unknown. Berger’s salary in 1890 was $250 per month. His career highlight was an August 8, 1890 game in Cincinnati in which he had four hits and made four above average defensive plays in left field, including one catch that earned him a standing ovation from the home crowd.
Berger’s minor league career began in 1887 at 19 years old, and it included very brief stints for two teams, seeing 12 games total with Steubenville of the Ohio State League, and Johnstown of the Pennsylvania State Association. around this time, he played semi-pro ball in McKeesport, Pa. In 1888, he played for Mansfield of the Tri-State League, then moved to Canton of the same league in 1889, before joining the Alleghenys. In 1889 he batted .289 and led all catchers in the league with a .965 fielding percentage. Half of his 1892 season was spent with Indianapolis of the Class-A Western League, where he hit .229 with ten extra-base hits in 50 games. He played for Erie of the Eastern League in 1893-94, hitting .260 with 24 extra-base hits in 78 games during his first season, followed by a .314 average with 26 extra-base hits and 50 runs scored in 67 games in 1894. In 1895, he hit .288 with 56 runs scored in 84 games for Rochester of the Eastern League, while also playing 24 games for St Paul of the Western League, where he batted .261 with 17 runs scored. Very few stats exist from his final three seasons. Berger was with Scranton of the Eastern League in 1896. He played for Rochester again in 1897, while also seeing time with Cortland of the New York State League (Class-C). He spent the 1898 season between Newark and Norfolk of the Class-B Atlantic League. He played a little in 1899, then played semi-pro ball in 1900, which appears to be his last season of baseball. He went by the nickname “Tun” at times, but his first name was John. A preseason introduction to the 1890 Alleghenys listed his as being 5’6 1/2″, 178 pounds.
On this date in 1983, the Pirates traded outfielder Mike Easler to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher John Tudor. Easler hit .313 with 27 homers and 91 RBIs in his first year with the Red Sox. The next season, both his average and power numbers dropped off, and he finished with a .737 OPS. He moved on to the Yankees the following season in an even up trade for Don Baylor, as the two rivals exchanged designated hitters. Tudor went 12-11, 3.27 in 212 innings and 32 starts for the Pirates, then moved on to the St Louis Cardinals and helped them to the World Series in 1985, where he won two games over the Kansas City Royals. This was initially a solid deal for the Pirates, but they turned that around by acquiring George Hendrick and his large contract for Tudor, which was a lopsided deal. In his first season out of Pittsburgh, Tudor finished second in the Cy Young voting after picking up 21 wins and posting a 1.93 ERA.
On this date in 1988, the Pirates signed 28-year-old pitcher Neal Heaton as a free agent. He had seven seasons of big league experience prior to joining the Pirates. Heaton went 3-10, 4.99 in 11 starts and 21 relief appearances for the Montreal Expos in 1988, so his signing didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. He spent three years in Pittsburgh, making 43 starts and 71 relief appearances. Despite never posting an ERA under 4.00 prior to joining the Pirates, he had a 3.05 mark during the 1989 season in 147.1 innings. He was an All-Star in 1990 and helped the Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 11 years. He went 12-9, 3.45 in 146 innings that season. In 1991, he switched from full-time starter to full-time relief and saw a decline in his production, posting a 4.33 ERA in 68.2 inning. Heaton went 21-19, 3.46 in 362 innings for the Pirates before being dealt in early 1992 to the Royals in an even up trade for Kirk Gibson.
On this date in 1990, the Pirates re-signed 30-year-old lefty starter Zane Smith as a free agent. The Pirates traded for Smith in the middle of the 1990 season and he pitched well, going 6-2, 1.30 in 11 games. The paid a big price to get him, giving up prospect Moises Alou, so it was lucky for them that he decided to re-sign, otherwise that deal would look much worse. Smith ended up playing another four years in Pittsburgh, then moved to Boston for one season, before finishing his career with the 1996 Pirates. In six seasons with the Pirates, he went 47-41, 3.35 in 768.1 innings. His signing looked great in 1991 when he helped the Pirates to their second straight playoff appearance. He went 16-10, 3.20 in 228 innings. A left shoulder injury limited him to 22 starts in 1992, and shoulder surgery led to just 14 starts in 1993. When he was healthy during the strike-shortened 1994 season, he went 10-8, 3.27 in 157 innings.