This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 16th, Two Transactions and Four Birthdays

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including the third baseman during the first National League game in franchise history. We also have two recent free agent signings.

The Players

Ron Villone, pitcher for the 2002 Pirates. The Pirates are one of the twelve teams Villone pitched for in his 15-year Major League career that stretched from 1995 until 2009. He was a first round draft pick out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1992 by the Seattle Mariners, selected with the 14th overall pick. Villone started his moving around during his first season, debuting with the Mariners in late April of 1995, before getting traded to the San Diego Padres on July 31st. He was in San Diego for exactly one year before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Barely more than a year later, the Brewers traded him to the Cleveland Indians. Villone remained with the Indians until right before Opening Day in 1999, when he got released. Just three days later, he signed with the Cincinnati Reds. After the 2000 season, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent on February 16, 2002. He was granted free agency after the 2002 season and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who released him before he pitched a game (they’re not even included on his 12-team list). He was picked up by the Astros again and he continued playing pro ball until 2011, making stops with Houston (2003), Seattle (2004-05), Florida Marlins (2005), New York Yankees (2006-07), St Louis Cardinals (2008) and Washington Nationals (2009). He also spent part of Spring Training in 2009 with the New York Mets.

Villone debuted in pro ball in 1993 and he was a top 100 prospect in baseball at the time. He also received a top 100 prospect ranking before the 1994 and 1995 seasons. He started with Riverside of the High-A California League and finished his first season in Double-A with Jacksonville of the Southern League. He combined to go 10-8, 4.29 in 147 innings over 27 starts, with 103 walks and 148 strikeouts. In 1994, he spent the entire year at Jacksonville and switched to relief. In 41 appearances (five starts), he had a 6-7, 3.86 record in 79.1 innings, with eight saves and 94 strikeouts. In 1995, Villone had an 0.61 ERA in 22 appearances for Triple-A Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. He actually made the Opening Day roster that year, but got sent down after posting a 7.91 ERA in 19.1 innings over 19 games. He was in the minors when he was traded to the Padres, but came to the majors and had a 4.21 ERA in 25.2 innings over 19 games. His 1996 season had a similar split, with 23 games for Las Vegas of the PCL, 21 games for the Padres, then 23 games for the Brewers after his second trade in a year. Villone had a 2.95 ERA in 18.1 innings for the Padres, and a 3.28 ERA in 24.2 innings with the Brewers.

In 1997, Villone went 1-0, 3.42 in 52.2 innings over 50 appearances for the Brewers. After joining the Indians in his third trade in two years, he struggled and spent half of the 1998 season in Triple-A. With the Indians that year, he had a 6.00 ERA in 27 innings over 25 outings. He joined the Reds in 1999 as a free agent and pitched 18 times in relief in the minors, then moved to a starting role in the majors. Villone went 9-7, 4.23 in 142.2 innings, with 22 starts and seven relief appearances. He remained in the starting role for most of 2000, but did poorly, going 10-10, 5.43 in 141 innings over 35 games (23 starts). He was traded once again, this time to the Rockies prior to the 2001 season, though his fifth trade happened in late June that year when he was sent to the Houston Astros. After he went 6-10, 5.89 in 53 games (12 as a starter) between both stops in 2001, he signed with the Pirates as a free agent.

For the 2002 Pirates, Villone began the year as a starter and had a 2-4, 6.81 record after seven games, then was switched to the bullpen for the rest of the season. He finished the year with a 4-6, 5.81 record in 93 innings over 45 games. After being released by the Diamondbacks following 15 appearances in Triple-A, he signed with the Astros four days later. He made five minor league starts for Houston and had a 1.23 ERA, then joined the big league club for 19 starts over the final 3 1/2 months of the 2003 season. He went 6-6, 4.13 in 106.2 innings, with 91 strikeouts. In 2004, he made ten starts and 46 relief appearances for the Mariners, going 8-6, 4.08 in 117 innings. He put up strong stats for the 2005 Mariners as a full-time reliever, with a 2.45 ERA in 40.1 innings over 52 games. After getting traded to the Marlins on July 31, 2005, Villone had a 6.85 ERA in 23.2 innings over 27 outings. His 79 appearances that year were easily a career high, but he approached that number twice during his final three seasons.

With the 2006 Yankees, Villone went 3-3, 5.04 in 80.1 innings over 70 games. He made 37 appearances during the 2007 season and had no record, with a 4.25 ERA and 42.1 innings pitched. He signed a free agent deal with the 2008 Cardinals and had a 1-2, 4.68 record in 50 innings over 74 games. After spending Spring Training with the Mets in 2009, he signed as a free agent with the Nationals and had a 5-6, 4.25 record in 48.2 innings and 63 appearances. Between March 2009 and March 2011, he signed four free agent deals with the Nationals, but after 2009, he only pitched for their Triple-A team for part of the 2010 season, then finished his career in independent ball in 2011 with Somerset of the Atlantic League. In his 15-year Major League career, Villone went 61-65, 4.73 in 1,168 innings over 717 games, with 93 starts and eight saves. He pitched in the playoffs just three times in his career, with his team getting eliminated in the first round each time. Villone pitched once in each series and he didn’t allow any runs.

Alfredo Amezaga, shortstop for the 2005 Pirates. He played 584 Major League games over nine seasons and three of those games came while he was with the 2005 Pirates. He was born in Mexico, but went to school in the United States. Amezaga was drafted three times before he finally signed his first pro deal. The Colorado Rockies selected him in the 36th round out of high school in 1997. The next year they took him again in the 44th round out of St. Petersburg College. He finally signed in 1999 when he was taken in the 13th round by the Anaheim Angels. He debuted in short-season ball in 1999 and saw time with two teams, combining to hit .318 in 56 games, with 63 runs scored, 14 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs and 20 steals. In 2000, Amezaga played for Lake Elsinore of the High-A California League, where he batted .279 in 108 games, with 90 runs, 21 extra-base hits, 44 RBIs, 63 walks and 73 steals in 94 attempts. The 2001 season was split between Double-A Arkansas of the Texas League and Triple-A Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. He combined to hit .287 in 119 games, with 78 runs, 29 extra-base hits and 33 steals, though he was caught 21 times. He also saw a major drop in his walk rate, down to 36 walks.

Amezaga debuted with the Angels in late May for a week, and then returned in September, though he played just 12 big league games. The rest of the year was spent with Salt Lake City, where he had a .678 OPS in 128 games. That was 134 points below the team’s average OPS. He ended up going 7-for-13 with the Angels, posting a .538 average in his brief time. In 2003, he played 75 games for Salt Lake City and improved tremendously, putting up an .861 OPS. He played 37 games for the Angels and hit .210 with two homers, two steals and 15 runs scored. Amezaga also split the 2004 season between Triple-A and the majors, though he saw more big league time that year, despite a .699 OPS in Triple-A. In 73 games for the Angels that year, he batted .161 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 12 runs scored. The Colorado Rockies selected him off of waivers in December of 2004, but his time there was short.

The Pirates acquired Amezaga as a waiver wire pickup on April 20, 2005 from the Rockies. He had played two games that season before being put on waivers. His stay in Pittsburgh was just as short. He played three games in 15 days, all off the bench, and he put in four innings at shortstop. Amezaga went 0-for-3 at the plate, drew a walk and stole a base. The Pirates designated him for assignment on May 5th when Jose Castillo returned from the disabled list. Amezaga went to Triple-A Indianapolis for the rest of the season after clearing waivers and ended up hitting .341 in 64 games. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Florida Marlins. From 2006-08, he saw regular playing time with the Marlins, getting into at least 125 games all three seasons. While playing seven different positions in 2006, Amezaga hit .260 in 132 games, with 42 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs and a career high 20 steals (in 32 attempts). In 2007, he played seven positions again (everything but catcher and pitcher each year). He hit .263 in 133 games, with 46 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs and 13 steals. He played just four spots in 2008 when he hit .264 in 125 games, with 41 runs, 21 extra-base hits and 32 RBIs.

Amezaga was limited to just 27 games in the majors in 2009 due to a knee surgery. He batted .217 with a .528 OPS that year. While he moved around a lot during his four-year run with the Marlins, he played center field the most during each of the four seasons. He signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2010 and played just one game all season (in the minors) due to ongoing knee issues. Amezaga played 20 games each for the Marlins and Colorado Rockies in 2011, and combined to hit .182 with one extra base hit (a double). That ended up being his final season in the majors, but he continued to play pro ball for another seven seasons. He spent time in the minors with the Chicago Cubs and the Dodgers during that time, but most of his playing time came in Mexico, where he finished up in the winter of 2017-18. Amezaga was a .247 hitter in the majors, with 12 homers, 110 RBIs, 173 runs scored and 49 stolen bases. Most of his playing time came in center field in the majors, but he played every position except catcher and pitcher, and saw 73+ games at shortstop, third base and second base.

Erskine Mayer, pitcher for the 1918-19 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1910 with Fayetteville of the Class-D Eastern Carolina League, where he put together a 15-2 record in 35 games pitched. The 1911 season saw him spend a short time with Atlanta of the Class-A Southern Association, while spending the rest of the year with Albany of the Class-C South Atlantic League. He compiled a 15-14 record that year and pitched a total of 32 games. The 1912 season was spent with Portsmouth of the Class-C Virginia League. He went 26-9 and threw 326 innings. His ERA isn’t available, but it’s known that he allowed just 2.04 runs per nine innings, which during that era means that the ERA had to be well below the 2.00 mark. After three years in the minors, Mayer started his big career with the Philadelphia Phillies in September of 1912 at 22 years old. He went 0-1, 6.33 in 21.1 innings over seven appearances (one start) during that first trial. In 1913, he went 9-9, 3.11 in 170.2 innings over 19 starts and 20 relief appearances.

Mayer had back-to-back 21 win seasons in 1914-15 when the competition in the National League was slightly watered down due to the existence of the Federal League as a Major League. He had a 2.58 ERA in 321 innings in 1914, though that also came with 19 losses for a team that finished just under the .500 mark. He dropped that down to 2.36 in 274.2 innings in 1915, helping the Phillies to their first World Series. He started two postseason games, allowing three earned runs in 11.1 innings, but they lost the series in five games to the Boston Red Sox. Mayer’s workload dropped off during the next two seasons, though he still put up solid overall numbers. He went 7-7, 3.15 in 140 innings over 16 starts and 12 relief appearances. He had an 11-6, 2.76 record over 160 innings in 1917, making 18 starts and ten relief appearances. It was the deadball era, so he was never among the top ten in ERA during this time. He went 76-61, 2.81 in seven seasons with the Phillies before they traded him to the Pirates for pitcher Elmer Jacobs on June 20, 1918. At the time of the deal, he was 7-4, 3.12 in 104 innings.

Mayer went 9-3, 2.26 in 123.1 innings over 14 starts and a relief appearance with the Pirates to finish the 1918 season. He was part of one of the best regular season games in Pirates history during that season. On August 1st, Mayer started against the Boston Braves and pitched 15.1 scoreless innings before being relieved by Wilbur Cooper, who then followed with 5.2 scoreless innings. Art Nehf was the hard luck loser in that game, pitching all 21 innings for the Braves. He allowed two runs in the 21st inning and the Braves had no answer in the bottom of the inning. In 1919, Mayer had a good record at 5-3 in 18 games (ten starts), but his ERA was just 4.48 in 88.1 innings. The Pirates put him on waivers, where he was taken by the Chicago White Sox on August 6th after every other team passed on claiming him. He actually pitched twice in relief for the Pirates while on waivers, which is a practice that no longer exists. In joining Chicago, he became a member of the team now known as the Black Sox, because they threw the 1919 World Series. He had an 8.37 ERA in 23.2 innings in Chicago, then pitched one inning in the World Series. That was his last season in pro ball. He finished with a 91-70, 2.96 record in 1,427 innings over 164 starts and 81 relief appearances. He threw 12 shutouts among his 93 games. Mayer’s brother Sam played one season in the majors with the 1915 Washington Senators

Art Whitney, third baseman for the 1884-87 Alleghenys. He debuted in the minors at 19 years old during the first season of minor league ball (1877), playing for Lowell of the League Alliance. In 1878, Lowell was in the International Association. There are no stats available for those two seasons. He then played for Worcester for two different leagues over the 1879-80 seasons, though the second move this time was a little better. After playing in the National Association in 1879, where he batted .277 with 33 runs in 47 games, Worcester got a big league club in 1880, and Whitney hit .222 with 38 runs and 36 RBIs as a rookie in 76 games. He played three years in the National League with three different teams from 1880-82, going from Worcester to Detroit to Providence. For the Detroit Wolverines in 1881, he hit .182 in 58 games, with 12 extra-base hits and 23 runs scored. Still in Detroit to start the 1882 season, Whitney batted .183 in 31 games, with no extra-base hits and one walk. He then went to the Providence Grays, where things didn’t get any better. He lasted just 11 games there and went 3-for-40 with no extra-base hits and two walks, giving him a .326 OPS in 42 games that year.

Whitney spent all of 1883 in the minors with East Saginaw of the Northwestern League. He also spent part of 1884 in the minors with Saginaw of the Northwestern League before joining the Alleghenys in mid-August, making his debut on the 22nd after rain pushed his debut back one day. In 23 games to finish out the season, he hit .298 and played strong defense at third base, earning a full time job for the next season. He was the team’s shortstop for the 1885 season and he led all American Association shortstops in fielding percentage with a .918 mark, 39 points above league average. He was strong enough defensively that he still played everyday despite a .233 average with no power or speed, finishing up with a .548 OPS in 90 games. Whitney moved back to third base for 1886. He only hit .239 in 136 games, but he had 70 runs scored, 55 RBIs and 51 walks. He once again led his position in fielding percentage, this time finishing 57 points above the league average.

The Alleghenys moved to the National League in 1887, and Whitney hit .260 in 119 games, which was the second highest average of his 11-year career. He had 57 runs scored, 51 RBIs and 55 walks. Even in the NL, which was considered to be the stronger league, he was well above average in the field, winning his third straight fielding title at his position. He held out at the beginning of the 1888 season over his contract and the Alleghenys traded him to the New York Giants for third baseman Elmer Cleveland on June 16, 1888. Whitney spent two full seasons with the Giants, then moved to the New York club during the only season of the Player’s League. When that league folded, Whitney finished his big league career back in the American Association, seeing time with two different teams. After the 1888 trade, he hit .220 in 90 games, with 28 runs, 28 RBIs and a .496 OPS. He homered a month after Pittsburgh traded him, something he failed to do in 1,409 at-bats in Pittsburgh.

With the 1889 Giants, Whitney batted .218 in 129 games, with career highs of 71 runs, 59 RBIs and 19 steals (stolen base totals aren’t available for his first four seasons). During the 1890 season in the Player’s League, he batted .219 in 119 games and tied his career high with 71 runs, while setting a personal high with 64 walks. With the 1891 Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers (named after manager Mike “King” Kelly), Whitney hit .199 in 93 games, with 42 runs, three homers and 33 RBIs. He finished up with three games for the St Louis Browns, going 0-for-11 at the plate.He led all American Association third basemen with a .902 fielding percentage that year. He continued in pro ball through the end of the 1893 season, spending his final two seasons in the minors. Whitney played 368 games for Pittsburgh and hit .248 with 194 runs and 134 RBIs. He had just six career homers in the majors and three of them came within a three-week stretch in May of 1891. He hit .223 over 978 big league games, with 475 runs and 349 RBIs. His brother Frank also played in the majors spending one season with the 1876 Boston Red Stockings.

Whitney had one of the great poses in the 1887 Old Judge set, showing him with a dog. We posted an article on that card here.

The Transactions

On this date in 2011, the Pirates signed reliever Jose Veras as a free agent. The 30-year-old right-hander has previously played parts/all of five seasons in the majors, debuting with the 2006 New York Yankees. He spent the 2010 season with the Florida Marlins, where he had a 3.75 ERA over 48 innings and 48 appearances. For the Pirates in 2011, he set career highs with 79 appearances and 71 innings. Veras had a 2-4, 3.80 record and recorded one save. Following the season, the Pirates traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for corner infielder Casey McGehee. Veras ended up posting a 3.63 ERA in 2012 and a 3.02 mark in 2013, while coming to make 139 appearances.

Exactly one year before signing Veras, the Pirates signed free agent reliever Brendan Donnelly. Just like Veras, Donnelly spent his previous season with the Marlins. He had a 3-0, 1.78 record in 25.1 innings over 30 appearances in 2009. The 38-year-old Donnelly was three years removed from a strong run with the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, where he made an All-Star appearance and won a World Series ring. He struggled with the Pirates, in what ended up being his final big league season. Donnelly went 3-1, 5.58 in 30.2 innings over 38 appearances. He was released by the Pirates on July 29th and never pitched again. Donnelly actually spent a week with the Pirates at the end of the 1999 season, three years before he made his big league debut.

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