This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 8th, A Good Date for Baseball Families

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date. Three of them had brothers in the majors, two of those sets were teammates with the Pirates, while the other siblings had a more impressive pairing during the 1942-43 seasons:

Gene Freese, infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-58 and 1964-65. He was signed as an amateur free agent at 19 years old by the Pirates prior to the 1953 season. He played that year with two teams in the lower levels, spending most of that year with Brunswick of the Class-D Georgia-Florida League, where he hit .309 with 94 runs, 44 extra-base hits and 89 RBIs. He then moved up to Double-A New Orleans of the Southern Association in 1954, where he hit .332 with 30 doubles, 16 homers and 98 RBIs in 145 games. That earned him an Opening Day spot for the 1955 Pirates. He played just over half of his games at third base that rookie season and the rest at second base, hitting .253 with 21 doubles, 14 homers and 69 runs scored in 134 games. Freese started off slow in 1956, hitting .209 through July 4th when he was sent back to the minors, this time going to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. He returned to the Pirates in late September for six games, going 2-for-11 at the plate. In 1957, he was on the bench to start the year, but by late May he was in the lineup regularly, mostly at third base. He hit a career high .283 in 114 games, with 44 runs scored and 26 extra-base hits. Despite that solid season, he began the next year on the bench. Freese started just one game through the first two months before the Pirates traded him along with infielder Johnny O’Brien to the St Louis Cardinals for infielder Dick Schofield.

Freese played for four different teams before the Pirates purchased him from the Cincinnati Reds in November 1963. He spent the rest of 1958 in St Louis, combining between both teams to hit .249 with 11 doubles and seven homers in 79 games. He then got traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of the 1958 season. Freese hit .268, with 60 runs scored, 23 homers and 70 RBIs in 132 games during his only season in Philadelphia. He then got traded again in the off-season, this time going to the Chicago White Sox. He batted .273 with 60 runs, a career high 32 doubles, 17 homers and 79 RBIs in 127 games, then got flipped to the Reds at the end of the season. In his three years in Cincinnati, Freese hit .261 with 32 homers and 114 RBIs in 236 games. Most of that came during his first season there in 1961 when he hit .277 in 152 games, with 78 runs scored, 27 doubles, 26 homers and 87 RBIs. The runs, homers and RBI totals were all career highs. He broke his ankle during Spring Training in 1962 and he was limited to 18 big league games that season, with some time spent in the minors as well. In 1963, Freese played 66 games and batted .244 with nine doubles, six homers and 26 RBIs. The Pirates purchased his contract on November 26, 1963.

After rejoining the Pirates, Freese played 99 games and hit .225 with 13 doubles, nine homers and 40 RBIs in 1964. He saw limited action for the 1965 Pirates, getting into 43 games before he was sold to the White Sox on August 23rd. He batted .263 with four doubles (no triples or homers) before the deal, then hit .281 with one triple, one homer and no doubles after the deal. He finished his career in 1966, spending his final 21 games in the majors with the Houston Astros. Freese hit .254 with 429 runs, 161 doubles, 115 homers and 432 RBIs in 1,115 big league games. With the Pirates, he was a .247 hitter, with 170 runs, 65 doubles, 33 homers and 139 RBIs in 472 games. He played two seasons in the minors after his final big league game, then managed during the 1973-74 seasons for Shreveport of the Texas League. He actually put himself in the lineup for a few games during the 1973 season at 39 years old. His brother George Freese played parts of three seasons in the majors, including the 1955 season with the Pirates, where he was splitting time at third base with Gene for a short time.

John Gilbert, shortstop for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. His story of how he entered the baseball encyclopedia is an interesting one. The 1890 Alleghenys were an extremely bad team, going 23-113. Someone actually wrote a book about how bad they were that year. They were also bad enough to give two brothers, John and Harry Gilbert, a chance to be a double play combo for one day in the majors, despite the fact they were both playing for a semi-pro team at the time with no prior big league experience. On June 23rd, the Alleghenys had a scheduled doubleheader in Philadelphia and a new double play combo, Harry at second base and John at shortstop. John Gilbert went 0-for-8 at the plate, but fielded both games cleanly, handling all nine chances that came his way. His younger brother Harry collected two singles in his eight at-bats and also played the field flawlessly. The Pirates won the second game that day, which was the only day in the majors for the Gilbert brothers. Some of the papers identified John as “N. Gilbert”, which was for the nickname “Nan” which actually belonged to his brother.

The Gilberts are the first set of siblings to play together in Pittsburgh Pirates history. The 21-year-old Harry Gilbert was the better prospect of the two players, while the 26-year-old John was a solid player for their Pottsville semi-pro team. There was the thought among the local Pottsville fans weeks before their day with the Alleghenys that Harry would end up playing in the majors at some point, but his brother got to tag along for his big day. Just two days after their only day in the majors, both were back playing for Pottsville, serving as the double play combo, while batting 1-2 in the lineup, with John hitting lead-off. His only other known pro experience came in 1889 for Hazelton of the Middle States League, and no stats are available for that team. The Alleghenys hired a scout named James Randall, who recommended numerous players for the team, including the Gilberts. While there wasn’t a lot of praise for the double play siblings, they were better than Fred Clement, who lasted just two innings the following game before the Alleghenys had seen enough of his play and his big league career was over. The second game of the doubleheader on June 23rd included the debut of Sumner Bowman, who was the only player from Randall’s new group to last more than one day.

Walker Cooper, catcher for the 1954 Pirates. He was already a 39-year-old veteran of 14 seasons when the Pirates signed him as a free agent in February of 1954. Cooper was a top catcher of his era, an eight time all-star who had finished in the top ten in the National League in batting average three times and four times he finished among the league leaders in slugging percentage. He had also received MVP votes in four different seasons, including 1943 when he finished second in the voting. While with the St Louis Cardinals in the early 1940s he was not only the catcher for his brother Mort Cooper, who had three straight 20-win seasons, but the pair started the 1942 and 1943 All-Star games for the NL. The Cardinals won the World Series during the 1942 and 1944 seasons, while also making the series in 1943.

Walker Cooper debuted in the majors in 1940 with the Cardinals, six years after signing as an amateur. He played his first games at 19 years old with Springfield of the Class-C Western Association. The following season was spent a level lower with Rogers of the Arkansas State League, where he hit .359 with 44 extra-base hits in 91 games. Cooper returned to Springfield in 1936 and hit .280 with 42 extra-base hits in 129 games. He would spend the 1937 season three levels higher with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League, where he batted .266 with 18 extra-base hits in 83 games. He played for three different teams in 1938, seeing brief time with Sacramento, but he played in both Class-A and Class-B for the rest of the year, combining to hit .266 with 29 extra-base hits in 106 games. The 1939 season was spent with Asheville of the Class-B Piedmont League, where he hit .336 in 130 games, with 22 doubles, 15 triples and eight homers. He returned to Double-A (then the highest level of the minors) in 1940 with Columbus of the American Association. Cooper hit .302 in 131 games, with 44 extra-base hits. That earned him a shot with the Cardinals, where he played in the final six games of the season. He remained in St Louis until 1946 when he was sold to the New York Giants for a huge sum of money at the time ($175,000).

For the 1941 Cardinals, Cooper batted .245 in 68 games, with 20 RBIs and a .606 OPS. He saw full-time work in 1942 and made the All-Star team, while finishing 11th in the MVP voting. He batted .281 in 125 games that year, with 58 runs, 32 doubles, seven triples, seven homers and 65 RBIs. In 1943, he made the All-Star team again and finished second in the MVP voting behind teammate Stan Musial. Cooper hit .318 in 122 games, with 52 runs, 30 doubles, nine homers and 81 RBIs. He struck out just 19 times in 476 plate appearances. In 1944, he hit .317 in 112 games, with 56 runs, 25 doubles, 13 homers and 72 RBIs. He made his third straight All-Star appearance, and he finished eighth in the MVP voting. The Cardinals made it to the World Series during the 1942-44 seasons and Cooper batted .300 over 16 games, with five runs and six RBIs. They won the title in 1942 and 1944. He played just four games in 1945 before his season was interrupted due to military service. He was back in 1946, but as a member of the Giants. In his first year in New York, he made his fourth All-Star appearance. Cooper hit .268 in 87 games, with 19 extra-base hits and 46 RBIs.

Cooper had a career year in 1947 while making his fifth straight World Series appearance. He hit .305 with 79 runs, 24 doubles, eight triples 35 homers and 122 RBIs that year. He received mild MVP support, finishing 18th in the voting. He was an All-Star again in 1948 when he hit .266 in 91 games, with 40 runs, 16 homers and 54 RBIs. He started off very slow in 1949, hitting .211 with a .608 OPS in 42 games for the Giants. After 3 1/2 seasons in New York, Cooper was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Ray Mueller, a former and future Pirates catcher at the time. He finished the year by hitting .280 with 16 homers and 62 RBIs in 82 games for the Reds. He made the All-Star game that year. Cooper spent 11 months in Cincinnati before being traded to the Boston Braves. He batted just .191 in 15 games before the deal, then exploded afterwards, batting .329 with 36 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs in 102 games after the trade, which led to his eighth All-Star appearance. Cooper hit .313 in 109 games in 1951, with 18 homers and 59 RBIs. His .884 OPS that year was the second best of his career, but he didn’t make the All-Star team.

In 1952, Cooper saw a slide in his production. He hit .235 with ten homers and 55 RBIs in 102 games. He was with the Braves through their move to Milwaukee in 1953, but they released him just days before he signed with the Pirates in 1954. During his final season with the Braves, he hit .219 with three homers in 53 games. He lasted just 14 games for Pittsburgh, pinch-hitting in 12 of those games, going 3-for-15 with two doubles. He was put on waivers in May and the Chicago Cubs picked him up. He played well for them in a limited role, hitting .310 in 158 at-bats. He played three more seasons before retiring, 1955 with the Cubs, then back to St Louis for the 1956-57 season. He hit .279 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in 111 at-bats over 57 games in 1955. He batted 72 times in 40 games in 1956 and hit .265 with 14 RBIs. In his final year, he batted 85 times in 48 games, hitting .269 with three homers. One of the more under-appreciated catchers of all-time, Cooper received as many as 14.4% of the votes needed for Hall of Fame induction, last appearing on the ballot in 1977. He may have had a better shot if he didn’t most almost all of the 1945 season due to service in the Navy during WWII. He finished as a .285 hitter in 1,473 games, with 573 runs scored, 173 homers and 812 RBIs. He was an average defensive player during his career, finishing with 2.5 dWAR, with no real high/low seasons. He threw out 45% of runners in his career.

Brian Boehringer, relief pitcher for the Pirates from 2002-04.  He was a fourth round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1991 out of UNLV. He was originally taken in the tenth round in 1990 by the Houston Astros, but he decided to return to college.  Boehringer played seven seasons in the majors before joining the Pirates. He debuted with a 4.02 ERA in 31.1 innings of short-season ball in 1991, actually putting up much better numbers in the New York-Penn League versus his brief time in the lower Gulf Coast League. In 1992, he made 15 starts for South Bend of the Class-A Midwest League, where he went 6-7, 4.38 in 86.1 innings. In 1993, Boehringer went 10-4, 2.80 in 119 innings for Sarasota of the High-A Florida State League, then went 2-1, 3.54 in 40.2 innings for Birmingham of the Double-A Southern League. He was acquired by the New York Yankees in a trade in March of 1994, then spent the entire season with Double-A Albany-Colonie of the Eastern League. Boehringer had a 10-11, 3.62 record in 171.2 innings, with 145 strikeouts. He started the 1995 season in Triple-A Columbus of the International League, then debuted in the majors in April. In three separate stints with the Yankees, he went 0-3, 13.75 in 17.2 innings. He had a 2.77 ERA that year in 104 innings with Columbus.

In 1996, Boehringer went 11-7, 4.00 in 153 innings over 25 starts with Columbus, while posting a 5.44 ERA in 46.1 innings, with the Yankees, with three starts and 12 relief appearances. In 1997, he missed some time due to an elbow injury. His minor league time that year was on rehab. He made 34 relief appearances for the Yankees, posting a 3-2, 2.63 record in 48 innings, with 53 strikeouts. After three seasons split between the minors and majors in New York, he was taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1997 expansion draft. Just ten days later, the Devil Rays traded him to the San Diego Padres. In 1998, Boehringer went 5-2, 4.36 in 76.1 innings over 56 games. He made 11 starts and 22 relief appearances in 1999, going 6-5, 3.24 in 94.1 innings. His big league time in 2000 was limited to 15.2 innings due to a shoulder injury that sidelined him twice. He was released in 2000 and re-signed with the Yankees as a free agent. Boehringer split 2001 between the Yankees and San Francisco Giants, going 0-4, 3.65 in 69 innings over 51 appearances. He became a free agent on December 21, 2001 and signed with the Pirates as a free agent five weeks later.

Boehringer’s best season for the Pirates came in 2002 when he had a 3.39 ERA in 79.2 innings over 70 games. In 1993 he went 5-4, 5.49 in 62.1 innings over 62 appearances. He split the difference in the 2004 season, posting a 4.62 ERA in 25.1 innings over 25 outings. He was limited due to an early season shoulder injury. After leaving Pittsburgh via free agency following the 2004 season, he joined the Yankees for a third time, though the 2004 season ended up being his final time in the majors. He struggled through nine outings at three levels in 2005. Besides the Yankees, Beohringer also tried to make it back to the majors with the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers in 2006, getting released by all three teams between March and September. He also played independent ball in 2006, before finishing his pro career in indy ball in 2007, playing for Bridgeport of the Atlantic League both years. Boehringer pitched 356 games in the majors (21 starts), going 26-32, 4.36 in 534.2 innings. He pitched 167.1 innings over 153 games in Pittsburgh putting together a 10-9, 4.36 record with one save. He won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1996, then was on the losing end of the World Series in 1998 against the Yankees, while playing in San Diego.

Marv Rickert, outfielder for the 1950 Pirates. He spent parts of six seasons in the majors and missed all of 1943-45 serving in the Coast Guard during WWII. He debuted in pro ball in 1938, playing parts of four years for Tacoma of the Class-B Western International League before being acquired by the Chicago Cubs in 1941. He was just 17 years old at the time and he batted .200 in 19 games. Most of the 1939 season was spent a level lower with Boise of the Pioneer League, where he hit .354 with 39 extra-base hits in 100 games. He batted .500 in eight games with Tacoma that year. In 1940, Rickert spent the entire season with Tacoma, hitting .288 with 39 extra-base hits in 128 games. The 1941 season saw him bat .267 with 36 extra-base hits in 125 games, with 87 games at Tacoma and 38 games with Tulsa of the Class-A Texas League. The 1942 season was spent with Tulsa, where he hit .310 with 49 extra-base hits in 152 games, which earned him a trip to the majors. Rickert hit .269 in eight games for the Cubs in 1942 after joining the team in September.

After three years of service in WWII, Rickert played 111 games for the 1946 Cubs, hitting .263 with 28 extra-base hits and 47 RBIs. He slumped badly in 1947, hitting just .146 in 71 games, mostly playing off the bench. He batted 154 times all season and his only two extra-base hits were doubles. He was sold to the Cincinnati Reds immediately after the 1947 season ended, then a month into the 1948 season, the Reds traded him to the Boston Braves. He played just three games with Boston, while spending the rest of the year with Milwaukee of the Triple-A American Association. He was in the majors for all of 1949 and did well, batting .292 in 100 games, with 27 extra-base hits and 49 RBIs. The Pirates purchased his contract from the Boston Braves in December of 1949. In 17 games in Pittsburgh, mostly as a pinch-hitter, he went 3-for-20 with four RBIs. He played in the field just three times with the Pirates, all in right field, and only once as a starter. On May 29, 1950, the Pirates sold him to the Chicago White Sox, where he finished his Major League career later that year by hitting .237 with four homers and 27 RBIs. Rickert played two more years in the minors before retiring from pro ball.  He hit .247 over 402 games in the majors, with 139 runs scored, 19 homers, 145 RBIs and a .653 OPS. In 1951 while playing for Baltimore of the International League, he hit .321 with 35 homers and 104 RBIs. He was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies at the time, but never got a shot with them in the majors.