This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 24th, Speedy Frank Taveras

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a player who was with two World Series teams.

Frank Taveras, shortstop for the 1971-79 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Pirates in January of 1968 out of the Dominican Republic, inking his deal shortly after his 18th birthday. He spent four full seasons in the minors before he got his first chance in the big leagues. He debuted in pro ball in 1968 by playing for three teams in the lower levels, getting into 14-21 games for each team. In 49 games total, Taveras hit .254 with 29 runs and 14 steals. In 1969, he played for three teams, including Geneva of the short-season New York-Penn League later in the year. Most of the season was spent in Class-A ball with Gastonia of the Western Carolinas League, where he batted .205 in 80 games, with 40 runs scored, 13 steals and 31 walks. He spent the entire 1970 season with Gastonia and hit .260 in 122 games, with 67 runs scored and 35 steals. The 1971 season was split between Double-A Waterbury of the Eastern League, and Triple-A Charleston of the International League. Taveras hit .226 in 135 games, with 71 runs scored, 21 extra-base hits and 20 steals, with better results at the higher level. The Pirates went to the World Series that season and he was given a brief shot at the majors. He played just one game for the Pirates during his first season, pinch-running for Willie Stargell during a 15-inning game against the Mets on September 25, 1971.

Taveras spent the 1972 season at Charleston, where he hit .246 in 133 games, with 52 runs scored, 14 doubles and 12 steals. He got recalled in September and played just four games with the Pirates in 1972, all of them off of the bench as a late replacement at shortstop. He then spent the entire 1973 season in Charleston, where he had a .577 OPS in 145 games, with 51 runs scored and 17 steals. Despite not getting a late season chance that year, Taveras made the 1974 Pirates Opening Day roster and started 107 games at shortstop. He batted .246 in 126 games during his rookie season, with 33 runs scored, 13 steals and just six extra-base hits all season. Taveras slumped down to .212 in 1975, but he still started 122 games. In 134 total games, he had 44 runs scored and 17 steals. He is known for some big stolen base seasons, but he didn’t break out in that department until his third full season in the majors.

Taveras received added playing time in 1976, getting nearly 150 more plate appearances than the previous year. He batted .258 and scored 76 runs in 144 games. He also stole 58 bases in 69 attempts, after stealing 30 bases during his first two full (and two partial) seasons with the Pirates. He showed speed in the minors, but that amount to 112 steals over his six full seasons, so no one likely expected his breakout year in 1976, or what happened next. In 1977, Taveras led the National League in stolen bases with 70 (in 88 attempts). He also hit his first Major League homer, which was an inside-the-park grand slam on August 5th in his 510th big league game. He batted .252 in 147 games that year, with 72 runs scored, 20 doubles and a career high ten triples. The next season, Taveras set career highs in hits (182), doubles (31) and RBIs (38). He batted .278 with 81 runs scored, and he added 46 stolen bases, but he was also caught stealing 25 times.

Just 11 games into the 1979 season, the Pirates traded Taveras to the New York  Mets for Tim Foli. Due to the timing of the trade, Taveras was able to play 164 games that season. He batted .262 with a career high of 93 runs scored, to go along with 29 doubles, nine triples and 44 steals (in 64 attempts). In 1980, he hit .279 in 141 games, with 65 runs scored, 27 doubles (no triples or homers) and 32 steals in 50 attempts. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Taveras batted .230 in 84 games, with 30 runs scored and 16 steals. He finished his career with the 1982 Montreal Expos, batting .161 in 48 games, before being released in August. He hit .255 in 1,150 career games, stealing exactly 300 bases, while hitting just two career homers. Both of his homers came in Cincinnati and the second one cleared the fence in left field. With the Pirates, he batted .253 in 724 games, with 310 runs scored and 206 steals. He was a member of both Pirates World Series teams in the 1970s, though he wasn’t with the team in the playoffs either year and he totaled just 12 games played during those seasons. He went 1-for-9 with a walk in five games during the 1974-75 playoffs. Taveras was an average defender during his career, but he was below average after the Pirates gave him up. He posted an -0.7 WAR with the Mets, while the Pirates got 2.4 WAR from Foli during the 1979 season.

Victor Cruz, pitcher for the 1981 Pirates. He was a reliever for three seasons in the majors when the Pirates acquired him from the Cleveland Indians on December 9, 1980 as part of the return in a trade for Bert Blyleven and Manny Sanguillen. Cruz began his pro career at 18 years old when he was signed by the St Louis Cardinals as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He debuted with Johnson City of the short-season Appalachian League in 1976, going 6-3, 2.03 in 80 innings, with 100 strikeouts and three shutouts. In 1977, he had 3.30 ERA in 30 innings with St Petersburg of the Class-A Florida State League, pitching mostly in relief. The rest of the year was spent with Arkansas of the Double-A Texas League, where he went 3-8, 4.99 in a starter role. He threw a total of 113 innings and had 131 strikeouts. Before he made the majors, the Cardinals traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays. He began 1978 in Triple-A with Syracuse of the International League. He went 3-2, 4.50 in 42 innings over 25 outings, with 56 strikeouts. Cruz made the majors at 20 years old with Toronto in late June of 1978 and had a great debut, posting a 1.71 ERA and nine saves in 47.1 innings over 32 relief appearances. The Blue Jays traded him to the Indians after the 1978 season in a three-player deal.

Cruz went 3-9, 4.23, with ten saves, in 78.2 innings over 61 appearances with Cleveland in 1979. In 1980,  he went 6-7, 3.45 in 86 innings over 55 games, while picking up a career best 12 saves. It appeared that the Pirates were getting a decent piece in return for a Hall of Famer and their veteran catcher, but Cruz’s time in Pittsburgh was short. He pitched just 22 games with the Pirates during the strike-shortened 1981 season, going 1-1, 2.65  in 34 innings, with one save. Cruz also pitched part of the season in Triple-A, where he made three starts, which ended up being the only starts he made during the final eight seasons of his pro career. He was traded to the Texas Rangers just prior to the start of the 1982 season in exchange for Nelson Norman. Cruz spent the entire 1982 season in the minors with Denver of the American Association, where his 3.86 ERA was 1.53 better than the team average. He then posted a 1.44 ERA and five saves in 24 innings over 17 games for the Rangers in 1983, before finishing his career in the minors. He was in Triple-A with the Rangers in 1984, and he spent 1985 with the Detroit Tigers organization. Despite the relatively short big league career, he had a 3.09 ERA in 271 innings. He went 18-31 in 187 appearances, with 37 saves.

Tim Drummond, pitcher for the 1987 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in 12th round of the January phase of the 1983 draft, taken out of Charles County Community College. He’s the only Major League player drafted from that school. He began his pro career as a starting pitcher, but he was moved to relief after the 1985 season. His debut was strong in the Gulf Coast League at 18 years old, going 7-2, 1.43 in 88 innings, though he had just 40 strikeouts. Drummond pitched two straight seasons (1984-85) for Low-A Macon of the South Atlantic League, and he saw his ERA go up during the second year. In 1984 he went 7-15, 3.90 in 154.2 innings. The next season he had an 8-11, 4.12 record in 168.1 innings. The move to the bullpen was met with mixed results during his first season, posting a 3.79 ERA and 12 saves in 73.2 innings over 47 appearances, while playing at High-A with Prince William of the Carolina League. In 1987, he skipped right over Double-A and had a strong season for the Pirates Triple-A affiliate in Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League. He posted a 2.97 ERA in 63.2 innings over 46 appearances, while picking up ten saves. After four full seasons in the minors, Drummond was a September call-up for Pittsburgh in 1987. He debuted on September 12th and pitched a total of six games in relief, allowing three runs over six innings.

Late during Spring Training in 1988, Drummond was traded to the New York Mets as one of four players involved in the Randy Milligan/Mackey Sasser trade. He spent all of 1988 in Triple-A with the Mets, where he had a 3.28 ERA in 82.1 innings for Tidewater of the International League. He began 1989 back in Tidewater and had similar results, with a 3.27 ERA in 63.1 innings. On July 31, 1989, he was one of five pitchers traded to the Minnesota Twins for Frank Viola. Drummond was called up to the Twins in late August and remained with the big league squad through the end of the 1990 season. He pitched a total of 43 games (four starts) for the Twins over two seasons, going 3-5, 4.28 in 107.1 innings. He spent the entire 1991 season in Triple-A for the Twins, then spent his final season (1992) of pro ball with the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds organizations, with most of that time being played at Double-A. He went to Spring Training with the Orioles in 1993, but never appeared in a game that season.

Lloyd Johnson, pitcher for the 1934 Pirates. His entire Major League career consist of one inning pitched for the Pirates on Saturday, April 21, 1934. He played four seasons in the minors prior to his big league game. He debuted in pro ball with Mission of the Pacific Coast League at 19 years old, which was an advanced placement for a teenager with no pro experience. He went 1-7, 7.50 in 66 innings that season. In 1931, Johnson was credited with just two games pitched all season with Mission. While it’s not in his online records, he was playing that season for Tuscon of the Class-D Arizona-Texas League, before joining Mission in late August. The 1932 season had a similar split, with most of the year spent with Albuquerque of the Arizona-Texas League, where he went 9-4, 4.14 in 174 innings. He also pitched 38 innings over 11 appearances with Mission. That set him up for a breakout season that earned him his shot at the majors. Johnson went 16-20, 4.39 in 281 innings during the 1933 season with Mission. The Pirates purchased his contract on September 9, 1933, though he was allowed to finish the season with his current team.

In February of 1934, the President of the Mission club (Joe Bearwald) gave an interview to the local Pittsburgh papers in which he said that, in his opinion, Johnson was the best left-handed pitcher to ever come out of the PCL. He also called him a late bloomer, who has developed great velocity, above average control and he’s cool under pressure, with a free and easy delivery. Johnson made the 1934 Opening Day roster despite showing a drop in his velocity, though the Pirates seemed to note that he would only be with the team for a short time before being farmed out. He was with the Pirates in their bullpen when they came to Cincinnati on April 21st for the fourth game of the year. With the Reds up 8-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning, manager George Gibson called upon Johnson to pitch to the bottom of the order. He allowed just one hit but still retired the side facing just three hitters. The last batter that Johnson faced in the majors was former Pirate Adam Comorosky. Johnson returned to the minors on option on May 8th, going back to his team in Mission, where he went 7-10, 4.80 in 148 innings. He was with the Pirates in Spring Training of 1935, but on March 25th, the Pirates released him outright to his Mission club.

The Pirates paid $9,000 when they acquired Johnson, but since he didn’t perform up to standard, pitcher Wayne Osborne was then traded to the Pirates in late 1934 to complete the deal. Osborne lasted two games with the Pirates before he was returned to Mission. Johnson played a total of 12 minor league seasons (1930-41), posting a 97-121 record. He spent the 1935-36 seasons with Mission, then played for Indianapolis of the Double-A American Association for all of 1937-39, and parts of 1940-41. He also played with St Paul of American Association in 1940-41, and saw time with Memphis of the Southern League in 1941.

Del Howard, first baseman for the 1905 Pirates. He played just one season in Pittsburgh, but he was involved in two fairly big trades. Howard had just one year of pro experience before joining the Pirates. He was a semi-pro player, who signed with the Chicago Cubs before the 1904 season, but couldn’t make the club out of Spring Training. Four months later he was a 26-year-old minor league star when the Philadelphia Phillies purchased him from Omaha of the Western League in August of 1904. Just four months after they bought him, and before he could play a single game for the Phillies, they traded him to the Pirates in exchange for three players with big league experience. The deal also had a second player (Otis Clymer) going over to the Pirates a month later, though it couldn’t be announced because Clymer wasn’t actually with the Phillies yet. Howard hit .316 in 144 games for Omaha in 1904, and then had a strong rookie season in 1905 for the Pirates, hitting .292 with 56 runs scored, 25 extra-base hits, 63 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. On May 28th, he pitched the final five innings against the Cincinnati Reds after the Pirates ran out of bench players. The team went on a one-day road trip and only brought 12 players. Starter Deacon Phillippe pitched poorly and got knocked out in the second inning. Relief pitcher Sam Leever got ejected for arguing, as did Honus Wagner. Howard was one of two bench players (besides Leever) that day and he went to the mound to finish the game. He gave up seven runs, though none were earned.

Almost a year to the date of acquiring Howard, the Pirates packaged him in a deal with two other players to acquire star pitcher/future Hall of Famer Vic Willis from the Boston Beaneaters (Braves). Howard moved to left field in Boston and  hit .261 in 147 games in 1906, with  46 runs scored, 28 extra-base hits, 54 RBIs and 17 steals. He played with Boston through the middle of 1907, then spent the next 2 1/2 seasons with the Cubs, who had to give up two players to acquire someone they gave away three years earlier. Howard was hitting .273 in 50 games before the deal, then batted .230 with a .540 OPS in 51 games for the 1907 Cubs. In 1908, he batted .279 in 96 games, with 42 runs scored and 26 RBIs. The Cubs won the World Series in both 1907-08, but he played very little in the postseason, going 1-for-6 in three games total. In 1909, Howard was the starting first baseman for almost all of May and June, but when his average dropped to .191 on June 27th, he went to the bench for the rest of the season. He batted 81 times in the last 97 games of the season, finishing with a .197 average, 25 runs scored and 24 RBIs in 69 games.

Howard was a .263 hitter, with 199 runs scored and 193 RBIs in 536 games over five seasons in the majors before he returned to the minors in 1910, where he played for six more full seasons and parts of two others. He also managed for 11 years in the minors, eight of those years as a player-manager. His brother Ivan Howard was an infielder in the American League for four seasons. Besides December 24th being his date of birth, it’s also a sad anniversary, as Howard passed away in 1956 on his 79th birthday.