This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 23rd, the Great Sam Leever

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including one of their best pitchers ever.

Sam Leever, pitcher for the Pirates from 1898 to 1910. He didn’t make the majors until he was 26 years old, but he stayed around Pittsburgh long enough to be considered one of their best pitchers ever. On the Pirates all-time list for pitchers, he ranks fourth in ERA with a 2.47 mark, tied for second in wins with 194, sixth in both innings pitched (2,660.2 IP) and games started with 299. He ranks fourth in complete games with 241 and second in shutouts with 39. He won 20 games four times and three times led the National League in winning percentage. He helped the Pirates to four pennants from 1901 to 1909. He had just one season in which his ERA was over 3.00, and that was during his first full season. The Pirates were his only big league team during his 13-year career.

Leever made his first mark in pro ball in 1897 for Richmond of the Atlantic League, where he had a 21-18 record in 316 innings. He was 25 years old at the time, spending his earlier years as a school teacher, while playing club ball for Cincinnati amateur teams. He spent 1896 playing for Clarksville in the Blue Grass League, which was an independent minor league at the time. Former Pirates catcher Billy Earle (1892-93) discovered Leever and moved him from the amateurs to pro ball. That one minor league season in Richmond was enough to get him a look with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Earle’s own scouting report of Leever at the time said that he plenty of speed, commanded his pitches, and “he had plenty of baseball pluck and gameness”. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 15, 1897 and he joined the team the following spring. He was with the club early in the year before returning to Richmond on June 1st, then rejoined the Pirates in mid-September. Leever played just five games total for the Pirates, but he had a 2.45 ERA in 33 innings and earned a job for the following season. In 1899, Leever went 21-23, 3.18 in 379 innings, a workload total he never came close to matching in any of his other seasons (his second highest was 284.1 innings in 1903). His record was below .500 and the Pirates played just above .500 for the season (76-73), but his ERA was 43 points lower than the team’s average (that includes his own ERA bringing that number down). That 3.18 ERA was over 30 points higher than his second worst season ERA during his career. He led the league with 51 games pitched (39 starts) and had a career high 35 complete games, which included four shutouts. His 121 strikeouts that year were a career high, though he also set a high with 122 walks.

The Pirates improved with the additions of Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Deacon Phillippe, Claude Ritchey, Tommy Leach, Rube Waddell and others from the Louisville club in December of 1899, and that in turn helped Leever. He went 15-13, 2.71 in 232.2 innings during his first season with that group, completing 25 of his 29 starts. That record improved to 14-5, 2.86 in 1901 when the Pirates won their first National League  pennant. He pitched 176 innings that season, completing 18 of his 20 starts, while leading the league with a .737 winning percentage. The Pirates were even better in 1902 (the best team in franchise history with a 103-36 record) and Leever was a big part, going 15-7, 2.39 in 222 innings. He completed 23 of 26 games and he tossed four shutouts. The 1903 season was his best in the majors and he helped the Pirates to the first World Series, although he was dealing with a sore arm during the World Series and he struggled in his two starts, taking the losses in both games. The regular season was great though, as he finished up with a 25-7, 2.07 record in 284.1 innings. He led the league in ERA, winning percentage (.781) and shutouts with seven, which was his career best.

Leever went 18-11, 2.17 in 253.1 innings in 1904, while completing 26 of his 32 starts. He then he went 20-5, 270 in 229.2 innings in 1905. It was the third time that he led the NL in winning percentage, finishing with an .800 mark. In 1906, Leever went 22-7, 2.32 in 260.1 innings, while throwing six shutouts. Pittsburgh went 93-60 that season, yet they finished in third place, 23.5 games behind the record-setting Chicago Cubs. His best season might have been the 1907 campaign when he had a 1.66 ERA in 216.2 innings. That ERA was only the fourth best in the NL that season, though the other five spots in the top six in ERA that year belonged to Chicago Cubs pitchers (they had a team ERA of 1.73 that year!). He had a 14-9 record that season and threw five shutouts, which means that he was 9-9 when he didn’t throw shutout ball. Leever went 15-7, 2.10 in 192.2 innings in 1908, with 20 starts, 18 relief appearances, 14 complete games and four shutouts. He was limited in 1909 due to a very strong pitching staff ahead of him, but he still pitched well when called upon. He was 8-1, 2.83 in 70 innings over four starts and 15 relief appearances. The Pirates won their first World Series that year, but he did not make an appearance in the postseason. He finished up his big league career with a 2.76 ERA in 111 innings in 1910, then played a bit of minor league ball in 1911 and briefly in 1913, before retiring. He was also a manager during the 1913 season. His 194-100 record gave him a .660 winning percentage, which is second best among all Pirates pitchers with at least 50 wins.

Sam Frock, pitcher for the 1909-10 Pirates. He began his pro career in 1905 at 22 years old, pitching for Concord in the Class-B New England League. The next two seasons were spent in the same league, playing for Worchester. While the stats are limited from that time, we known that he debuted with a 19-9 record, then followed it up with a 20-7 record in 1906 and a 23-12 record in 1907. He won those 23 games before joining the Boston Doves (Braves) in late August 1907, where he went 1-2, 2.97 in five games, three as a starter. Despite the nice MLB debut and three strong seasons in the minors, he returned to the minors for the entire 1908 season. For Providence of the Eastern League that year he went 24-14 in 47 games, pitching 325 total innings. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 23, 1908 from Providence after owner Barney Dreyfuss personally went to see him pitch. He was purchased that same day by Dreyfuss, though Frock remained with his minor league team through the end of the season, so he didn’t appear in a game for the Pirates until the following season.

Frock was a seldom used reserve for the 1909 Pirates making just four starts and four relief appearances all season. The team had a deep pitching staff that year, with seven quality starters who combined to go 107-40 that season. He went 2-1, 2.48 in 36.1 innings and he did not appear in the World Series. He was traded to the Doves on April 28, 1910, along with first baseman Bud Sharpe, for pitcher Kirby White. In his lone appearance for the 1910 Pirates, Frock allowed four runs over two innings, though just one run was earned. Boston was a very poor team in 1910 (53-100) and he got plenty of time on the mound, going 12-19, 3.71 in 255.1 innings. He was back in the minors for good in 1911, after posting a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings during the first month of the season for Boston. He only had 15 wins in his MLB career, but he was quite an accomplished minor league pitcher, winning 203 games. He had four 20+ win seasons. Part of his later minor league success came from dropping down in competition. Just one year after his last big league game, he was back in Class-B ball, playing in the New York State League, three levels from the majors. He remained in that league until the 1918 season when he moved up to Binghamton of the Double-A International League for his final season (his team actually moved up two levels to join a better league). Frock won 16 games for Utica in 1913, then followed it up with seasons of 17, 16, 16 and 21 wins before going 9-9 in his final season. He managed for at least one season in the minors (1922) after his playing career ended.

Albert “Cozy” Dolan, outfielder/third baseman for the 1913 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 22 years old in 1905, playing in the Class-D Wisconsin State League, where he spent his first three season, mostly playing in Osh Kosh. Stats aren’t readily available for those years, though we know that he hit .230 in 111 games in 1907. In 1908, Osh Kosh moved to the Wisconsin-Illinois League (Class-D) and he batted .248 in 443 at-bats, with 68 runs scored. He stayed in the same league with a team from Rockford in 1909 and hit .334 in 76 games, which led to a shot with the Cincinnati Reds, where he played three games. In 1910, Dolan was with Denver of the Class-A Western League, where he batted .296 in 153 games, with 33 doubles, 13 triples and 18 homers. In 1911, he played for Jersey City of the Class-A Eastern League, where he hit .260 with 34 extra-base hits in 146 games. He joined the New York Yankees in September and hit .304 with 19 runs and 12 steals in 19 games. Despite that success, the Yankees gave up on him after just 18 games in 1912, and he spent the majority of the season with Rochester of the Double-A International League, where he posted a .354 average and 38 extra-base hits in 120 games. At the end of the season, he joined the Philadelphia Phillies, where he hit .280 in 11 games.

Dolan opened the 1913 season with the Phillies and hit .262 in 55 games, though low walk/power numbers led to a .567 OPS. He was acquired by the Pirates from the Phillies on August 22, 1913 in exchange for Bobby Byrne and Howie Camnitz. The Pirates also received cash in the deal. Dolan was just 23 years old at the time of the trade and both Camnitz and Byrne were star players on the downside of their careers. The two teams were playing a doubleheader right before the trade was made between the two managers of the clubs. Pirates manager Fred Clarke said that he needed a speedy infielder and he believed Dolan could soon be among the best defensive third basemen. In the last 35 games of that 1913 season Dolan hit .203 with 14 stolen bases. Shortly after the season ended, the Pirates traded Dolan in an eight-player deal with the St Louis Cardinals that went horribly wrong, when two of the three returning players jumped to the Federal League after one year. The Pirates also gave up first baseman Dots Miller to get the centerpiece in the deal, first baseman Ed Konetchy, and then Miller finished fourth in the National League MVP voting. Dolan ended up as a regular in the Cardinals lineup and he had his two best seasons in the majors, while seeing significant time at four different positions. He batted .240 in 126 games in 1914, with 76 runs scored, 32 RBIs, 42 steals and 55 walks. In 1915, he hit .280 in 111 games, with 53 runs scored, 25 extra-base hits, 38 RBIs and 17 steals.

Despite the 1915 season being his best year, Dolan ended up in the minors for the next three years. He was a manager in the minors in 1919, then coached with the New York Giants from 1922 to 1924. During that 1922 season, seven years after his last big league game, he appeared as a pinch-runner on July 7th in an 18-inning game against the Pirates. He was a .252 hitter in 379 big league games spread out over seven seasons, with 210 runs scored, 111 RBIs and 102 stolen bases. Dolan got the nickname “Cozy” the 19th century way. There was a player named Patrick “Cozy” Dolan, who played nine years from 1895 until 1906. Whenever a player came along with the same last name as someone before him, he was likely to inherit that player’s nickname. You can find numerous instances throughout the early years of baseball, including four Buck Freemans. Dolan’s baseball career ended unfortunately when he reportedly suggested a player take a bribe at the end of the 1924 season. He was banned from baseball and never returned.

Shawn Chacon, pitcher for the 2006-07 Pittsburgh Pirates.Chacon was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in third round of the 1996 draft out of high school in Greeley, Colorado, which is approximately one hour away from Coors Field, home of the Rockies. Despite going to high school so close to his hometown team, he was actually born in Alaska, one of just 12 Major League players born in that state. He split his debut season between the Rockies Arizona Summer League team and Portland of the Northwest League, posting a 6.86 ERA in four starts for Portland, after having a 1.60 ERA in 56.1 innings over 11 starts in Arizona. In 1997, he moved up to Class-A Asheville of the South Atlantic League, where he went 11-7, 3.89 in 162 innings, with 149 strikeouts.The 1998-99 seasons were spent with Salem of the High-A Carolina League. He made 12 starts each year, posting a 5.30 ERA in 56 innings in 1998, followed by a 4.13 ERA in 72 innings the next season. That season ended early when he was suspended for the rest of the season in mid-July. Chacon pitched the entire 2000 season with Carolina of the Southern League, where he went 10-10, 3.16 in 173.2 innings over 27 starts, with 172 strikeouts. After four starts in Triple-A Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League, he debuted in the majors on April 29, 2001 for the Rockies. He went 6-10, 5.06 in 160 innings over 27 starts, with 134 strikeouts.

In 2002, Chacon made 21 starts in the majors and four in Triple-A. For the Rockies, he had a 5-11, 5.73 record in 119.1 innings. In 2003, he went 11-8, 4.60 in 137 innings over 23 starts and made his only All-Star appearance. He was 11-4 at the All-Star break and made just six starts after the mid-season classic, losing all four decisions. He missed the last six weeks of the season with elbow tendinitis. He moved to the bullpen full-time in 2004, where he became the closer. He had 35 saves, but it came with a 1-9, 7.11 record in 63.1 innings over 66 games. He didn’t have any big implosions that season, though he did allow runs in nearly half of his outings. Chacon then went back to the rotation in 2005, only to get traded to the New York Yankees at the 2005 trading deadline. Before the deal, he had a 1-7, 4.09 record in 72.2 innings. After the deal, he went 7-3, 2.85 in 79 innings. He went through a rough patch to start the 2006 season in New York. Despite a 5-3 record, he had a 7.00 ERA in 63 innings over 11 starts and six relief appearances. That year he was hurt by two implosions, with two games in which he went 1.1 innings and allowed seven earned runs each time.

Chacon came to the Pirates in the middle of the 2006 season from the Yankees in exchange for Craig Wilson. His actual time with the Yankees was one year and three days. He was put right into the starting rotation for the Pirates and he went 2-3, 5.48 in 46 innings over nine starts. In 2007, Chacon moved to relief, making 60 appearances out of the bullpen, while getting just four starts. He went 5-4, 3.94 and pitched 96 innings. He left via free agency after the season and moved on to the Houston Astros the next year, but a physical confrontation with the GM ended his year early and finished his big league career. He was released in June of 2007 and didn’t played at all during the following year. Chacon played Independent ball in 2009 and also had a brief stint that year with the Oakland A’s Triple-A team. He finished with a 45-61, 4.99 record over eight seasons in the majors, with 922 innings pitched. He made 134 starts and 135 relief appearances.

Rick White, pitcher for the Pirates from 1994-95, then again in 2005. White began his 12-year big league career with the Pirates, four seasons after they drafted him in the 15th round of the 1990 amateur draft out of Paducah Community College at 21 years old. He debuted in pro ball in short-season ball, playing in the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League during that 1990 season. He had an 0.76 ERA in 35.2 innings in the GCL, followed by a 3.26 ERA in 38.2 innings in the NYPL. In 1991, White went 6-7, 3.70 on 109.1 innings, split between Low-A Augusta of the South Atlantic League and Salem of the High-A Carolina League. In 1992, he went 7-9, 3.80 in 120.2 innings over 18 starts with Salem, then moved up to Carolina of the Southern League, where he had a 1-7, 4.21 record in ten starts. In 1993, White was 4-3, 3.50 in 69.1 innings over 12 starts for Carolina, then had a 3.54 ERA in 28 innings for Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association. The entire 1994 season was spent in the majors. He went 4-5, 3.82 during his rookie season, pitching a total of 75.1 innings over five starts and 38 relief appearances. The next year he made nine starts and six relief appearances, going 2-3, 4.75 in 55 innings, while spending half of the season back in Triple-A (Calgary of the Pacific Coast League).

The Pirates let White go in December of 1995, but he quickly re-signed on a minor league deal. He had reconstructive elbow surgery earlier in December and there was a chance that he could miss the entire 1996 season. He ended up making it back before the minor league season ended, though he was limited to 18.1 innings over five games. He was let go after the season ended and signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1997, though he spent that entire season in Double-A. White made it back to the majors in 1998 after nine Triple-A starts. He went 2-6, 3.80 in 68.2 innings over three starts and 35 relief appearances for Tampa Bay that season. In 1999, he had a 5-3, 4.08 record in 108 innings over 63 games (one start). The Devil Rays traded him to the New York Mets during the 2000 season. White combined to go 5-9, 3.52 in 99.2 innings over 66 appearances, 44 of those games coming before the trade. With the 2001 Mets, he had a 4-5, 3.88 record in 69.2 innings over 55 games. He signed a free agent deal with the Colorado Rockies for 2002, but he finished the year with the St Louis Cardinals after being released in early August. He had a 6.20 ERA in 41 games with the Rockies, and an 0.82 ERA in 22 innings over 20 games with the Cardinals.

In 2003, White signed a free agent deal with the Chicago White Sox, but he finished the season with the Houston Astros after being released in early August (nearly the same date as his release one year earlier). He had a 6.61 ERA in 47.2 innings in Chicago, followed by a 3.72 ERA in 19.1 innings with Houston. He signed with the Cleveland Indians for 2004 and managed to stay there for the entire season. After going 5-5, 5.29 in 78.1 innings over 55 relief appearances in 2004 with the Indians, the Pirates signed White as a free agent. He went 4-7, 3.72 in 75 innings over 71 appearances in 2005, all out of the bullpen. After leaving the Pirates via free agency for the second time, White split the 2006 season between the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, going 4-1, 5.15 in 64.2 innings over 64 games. He then split the 2007 season between the Seattle Mariners and the Astros, struggling for both teams. He finished with a 7.79 ERA in 34.2 innings. In his career over 12 seasons, he went 42-54, 4.45 in 858.2 innings over 18 starts and 595 relief outings. White is one of two players to wear uniform number “00” with the Pirates. Pitcher Joe Page in 1954 was the other.

Dave May, pinch-hitter for the 1978 Pirates. He had a nice 12-year career in the majors, but his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates consisted of only five plate appearances, all as a pinch-hitter. May began his career by signing with the San Francisco Giants at 17 years old in 1961. He debuted in pro ball the next season and it took him five years to make the majors, playing his first game while with the Baltimore Orioles on July 28, 1967. His first season was spent in the Class-D Appalachian League, where he hit .379 with 23 extra-base hits, 41 RBIs and 53 runs scored. The Orioles acquired him from the Giants in the first-year draft after the 1962 season. In 1963, he split the year between two Class-A teams, playing for Fox Cities of the Midwest League and Stockton of the California League. May combined to hit .293 with 37 extra-base hits and 27 steals in 111 games. In 1964, he spent the entire year with Fox Cities, batting .368 in 122 games, with 111 runs scored, 26 doubles, eight triples, 14 homers, 74 RBIs, 36 steals and 67 RBIs. He played for Tri-City of the Class-A Northwest League in 1965, hitting .335 in 139 games, with 129 runs scored, 24 doubles, nine triples, 23 homers, 105 RBIs, 32 steals and 98 walks.

May moved up to Triple-A Rochester of the International League in 1966 and hit .274 in 119 games, with a .736 OPS that was 259 points lower than the previous season. He improved the next season in Rochester before making his big league debut in late July, hitting .317 with 17 doubles and 11 homers in 93 games at Triple-A. With the Orioles that season, he hit .235 with one homer in 36 games. May batted .310 in a little more than a month of the 1968 season at Rochester, then spent the rest of the year in Baltimore, where he hit .191 with no homers and a .555 OPS in 84 games. He spent the entire season in the majors in 1969, mostly coming off of the bench. May hit .242 in 78 games, with three homers and ten RBIs. The Orioles went to the World Series that season but he played just three postseason games and pinch-hit each time, going 0-for-2 with a walk. It ended up being his only postseason time in the majors. In 1970, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on June 15th. May combined to hit .236 in 125 games, with 42 runs scored, 37 RBIs and 48 walks.

May played 144 games in 1971, hitting .277 with 74 runs scored, 20 doubles, 16 homers, 65 RBIs, 15 steals and 50 walks. The next year saw him bat .238 in 143 games, with 31 extra-base hits, 49 runs and 45 RBIs. His best season came with the Brewers in 1973, when he hit .303 with 25 homers, 93 RBIs and 96 runs scored, while making his only All-Star appearance. He also finished eighth in the MVP voting, the only time that he received MVP votes. In 1974, May hit .226 in 135 games, with 15 doubles, ten homers and 42 RBIs. His time with the Brewers ended with a trade on November 2, 1974, and it made him a household name at the time. He was sent to the Atlanta Braves, along with a player to be named later, in a trade for the great Hank Aaron, just seven months after Aaron set the career home run record. In his first season in Atlanta, May hit .276 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs in 82 games. He played more in 1976, but things didn’t go as well. He hit .215 in 105 games, with three homers and 23 RBIs. In December of 1976, May was one of five players and cash traded to the Texas Rangers for Jeff Burroughs. In 1977, May hit .241 in 120 games, with 46 runs scored, 14 doubles, seven homers and 42 RBIs.

May began the 1978 season as a member of the Rangers. Before he played a game for them, he was sold to the Brewers, where he hit .195 with two homers in 39 games. The Brewers then sold him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in September to help with their playoff push and he went 0-for-4 with a walk as a pinch-hitter. That was the end of his big league career, though he played a year in the minors before retiring. He played a total of 1,252 Major League games, hitting .251 with 462 runs scored, 96 homers and 422 RBIs. His son Derrick May spent ten seasons in the majors, mostly with the Chicago Cubs.