This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 18th, Pirates Get Greenberg

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a transaction involving a Hall of Famer.

The Transaction

On this date in 1947 the Pittsburgh Pirates purchased all-star first baseman Hank Greenberg from the Detroit Tigers for $75,000. He led the American League in both homers and RBIs in 1946 at the age of 35, but the Tigers put him on waivers anyway, where he was picked up by the Pirates. Not only did they pay a high price to acquire him, he was also paid $100,000 for the season, the first player to reach that six-figure salary level. He would hit just .249 with 25 homers and 74 RBIs for the Pirates, but he was able to lead the National League in walks with 104, despite missing 29 games throughout the season. That was his only year for the Pirates, as he retired after the season, although he contributed to the team for years to come thanks to his help with a young Ralph Kiner, who credited Greenberg with making him a better hitter. Greenberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956.

The Players

Eddie Moore, utility fielder for the 1923-26 Pirates, including the 1925 World Series winning team. He started his pro career in the minors in 1922, playing two full seasons before the Pirates made him a September call-up in 1923, getting him into six late seasons games. Moore debuted in pro ball at 23 years old, splitting that 1922 season between Class-C St Petersburg of the Florida State League, and Class-A Atlanta of the Southern Association. He batted .324 with 25 extra-base hits in 61 games with St Petersburg, and he hit .251 with 13 extra-base hits in 87 games for Atlanta. He was still playing for Atlanta when Pirates scout Bill Hinchman purchased his contract on July 18, 1923 for $20,000, a huge price at the time. Moore was said to be joining the Pirates at the end of Atlanta’s season in early September, though by mid-August, the Pirates were trying to get him sooner so they could get a better look at him. He finished that minor league season with a .268 average and 33 extra-base hits in 156 games. After joining the Pirates and debuting on September 25th, he hit .269 with six runs in six games.

Moore made the 1924 Pirates Opening Day roster, but he was seldom used until the Pirates decided to bench a struggling Pie Traynor. In a move that ultimately helped the Pirates, Moore got injured in the middle of a hot streak, allowing Traynor to get back in the lineup, and he obviously went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Moore played just 16 of the team’s first 51 games that season, all of them off of the bench. He then hit .373 over 13 starts before the injury. In late August, they decided to throw him out in right field and he batted .385 over the next month, before ending quietly over the final week of the season. In 72 games in 1924, Moore hit .359 with 47 runs scored and a .901 OPS. Moore was the starting second baseman during the 1925 campaign, though he also made 15 starts in right field and three at third base. The Pirates went on to the World Series and he did his part with a .298 average, and career highs of 29 doubles,  eight triples, six homers, 19 steals, 77 walks, 77 RBIs and 106 runs scored in 142 games. In the World Series, he hit .231 with a homer and five walks.

In 1926, Moore was hitting .227 through 43 games when the Pirates sold him to Boston Braves. It seemed like they were giving up on him quickly, but he was not well liked among the Pirates management for numerous reasons, including poor play, an argument with bench coach Fred Clarke, plus they didn’t like the way he handled his contract signing. After going to Boston, he finished the season by hitting .266 in 54 games. After setting all of those career highs in 1925, his final 1926 stats showed a .250 average in 97 games, with 36 runs, 14 extra-base hits and 34 RBIs. Moore hit .302 with 53 runs, 19 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs and 39 walks in 112 games during the 1927 season, while serving in an utility role that had him playing six different positions. He struggled in a limited role in 1928, batting .237 in 68 games, then was sold to the minors prior to the 1929 season. The Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) purchased his contract in May of 1929 and he hit .291/.365/.371 over 187 games during the 1929-30 seasons. It seems like he rebounded by those numbers, but those two seasons were huge years for offense. He put up just 1.1 WAR total during that time, which included above average defensive numbers.

After his run in Brooklyn, Moore’s big league time was limited to 37 games with the 1932 New York Giants and 27 games for the 1934 Cleveland Indians. He spent the 1931 season with Oakland of the Pacific Coast League and hit .315 with 45 extra-base hits in 138 games. Moore batted .264 with a .674 OPS during his time with the Giants, while spending part of that season with Montreal of the International League. His 1933 season was spent down in A-Ball with New Orleans of the Southern Association, where he batted .309 with 50 extra base hits (40 doubles) in 154 games. His time with the 1934 Indians came during the first half of the year, but he was let go after putting up a .154 average. Moore joined Atlanta of the Southern Association, and he was there for four years as a player-manager.  He played minor league ball until age 41 in 1940, finishing off in Class-D ball, though he was also the manager at that time. He spent six seasons in the minors as a player-manager and then returned in 1947 to manage for one final season. Moore was a .301 hitter in 263 games with the Pirates and he finished his nine-year career with a .285 average in 748 games, with 360 runs and 257 RBIs. He had 272 walks and 121 strikeouts.

Laurin Pepper, pitcher for the 1954-57 Pirates. He was a bonus baby signing, as the Pirates paid $35,000 for him to keep him from playing in the NFL where he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a halfback. Under the rules of the time, a bonus baby signing had to spend two years on the Major League roster before he could be sent to the minors. Bonus Baby players usually signed right out of high school, but Pepper was already 23 years old, attending college at the University of Southern Mississippi, and serving in the military before signing on June 15, 1954, two days before he got married. Pepper rarely pitched during those first two seasons, getting in a total of 70.2 innings over 28 games, nine as a starter. He pitched poorly mostly due to a lack of control, but the Pirates were cellar dwellers at the time, losing 195 games combined over those two seasons. He had a combined 1-6, 8.66 record during the 1954-55 seasons, with 68 walks and just 24 strikeouts. He pitched 50.2 innings in 1954, posting a 7.99 ERA, while getting eight of those nine starts. He saw just 14 games in 1955 and had a 10.35 ERA in 20 innings. Pepper actually allowed just one run in 5.2 innings through May 1st, then went four weeks between appearances and ended up allowing 23 runs over his final 14.1 innings.

In 1956, Pepper had better overall Major League results, but the control problems were still a major issue, with 25 walks in 30 innings. While his ERA was a respectable 3.00 that season, those 30 innings were over seven starts and four relief appearances, meaning that the walks shortened his outings. His longest start was 5.1 innings in a loss to the Milwaukee Braves on July 15th. The Pirates were still forced to keep him on the active roster during the early part of the season because the Bonus Baby rule covered two full years from the date the player joined the team, not the first two seasons. Pepper didn’t pitch in the majors after August 4th. He was optioned to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League on August 8th. The Pirates recalled him on September 1st, but an eye injury kept him from pitching.

Pepper pitched with the Pirates for one month during the 1957 season, his last year in the majors. He had an 8.00 ERA over nine innings during that final season. He began the year back in Hollywood, getting optioned on April 8th after failing to make the club in Spring Training. Pepper was recalled on May 3rd and made all of his appearances between May 7th and June 6th. On June 8th he was optioned back to Hollywood and did not return in September. He was with the Pirates in Spring Training of 1958, but he got cut on April 1st. He then lasted a day longer during Spring Training in 1959, getting cut on April 2nd after giving up three runs over ten innings during the spring. Pepper finished his pro career in the minors in 1963. He put up solid stats in Triple-A in 1961, going 15-11, 3.45 in 227 innings for Dallas-Fort Worth or the American Association, but it didn’t lead to another big league chance. He ended up playing for three different teams in 1962, before finishing his career with a 6.19 ERA in 48 innings for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League in 1963. With the Pirates, he went 2-8, 7.06 in 109.2 innings over 17 starts and 27 relief appearances. He finished with 98 walks and 40 strikeouts. His full name is Hugh McLaurin Pepper III, meaning he went by part of his middle name.

Charlie Eden, outfielder for the 1884-85 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. When he joined Pittsburgh in 1884, he had already played National League ball for the Chicago White Stockings in 1877 and the Cleveland Blues two years later. Eden debuted in pro ball at 22 years old in 1877, playing for two teams in the League Alliance, during what was the first year of minor league ball. He played 15 games that first season with the White Stockings, hitting .218 with nine runs and five RBIs. His only extra-base hit was a triple. In 1879, Eden led the National League with 31 doubles and 41 extra-base hits. He batted .272 that season in 81 games, with 40 runs scored and 34 RBIs. His 31 doubles stood as an NL record for three seasons. Despite that strong performance, he has no known pro ball records for the 1880-82 seasons, playing independent ball instead, just like he did during the 1878 season. Eden played for Grand Rapids of the Northwestern League for all of 1883 and the first half of the 1884 season before the club folded in early August. He was hitting .280 with 16 doubles, eight triples, four homers and 51 runs in 58 games at the time. The Alleghenys picked him up a little later in 1884, after he played an exhibition game for the Buffalo Bisons of the National League. Pittsburgh manager Horace Phillips promised to pay Eden double his salary offered by Buffalo, so he left for the bigger paycheck.

For Pittsburgh in 1884, the lefty hitting Eden batted .270 with 12 runs and 12 extra-base hits in 32 games. He played 31 as the center fielder, plus one as a starting pitcher. He played in each of the final 32 games of the season. In his debut on August 25th against Baltimore, he had three hits and made an outstanding catch near the center field wall as he got entangled with left fielder Conny Doyle. With only one umpire at the time, Eden was asked by umpire John Kelly if he actually made the catch and Eden gave him his word that he did, so the out was called. His lone homer in Pittsburgh came on August 27, 1884 against Pete Meegan, who would be his teammate for the 1885 Alleghenys. It came during the one game that Eden pitched that season and he lost 7-5, while batting second in the lineup. In 1885, he took over full-time in left field and hit .254 in 98 games, with 18 doubles, six triples, 38 RBIs and 57 runs scored. Eden was again used as an emergency pitcher, starting once and pitching in relief three times. In November of 1885, it was announced that he was retiring from baseball, but he actually finished his career in 1886 playing independent ball. He tried out for Indianapolis of the National League in 1887, but while attempting to get into shape in late May, he suffered soreness in his knee, which was bothering him since a base running mishap years earlier. The Hoosiers were actually trying to sign him as an extra pitcher. He had a job working for the railroads and was only willing to sign if they promised him that he could take his railroad job back after the season. In 226 big league games, he hit .261 with four homers, 77 RBIs and 118 runs scored.

Justin Thomas, pitcher for the 2010 Pirates. He was a fourth round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2005 amateur draft out of Youngstown State. He began his first full season of his pro career as a starter, before switching to the bullpen in 2009. Thomas started with Everett of the short-season Northwest League in 2005, where he went 3-3, 3.81 in 59 innings over six starts and 12 relief outings. Switching to full-time starter in 2006, he had a 14-9, 3.73 record in 166.1 innings over 28 starts, with 162 strikeouts. He had a 3.10 ERA in 11 starts with Wisconsin of the Low-A Midwest League, then posted a 4.10 ERA in 17 starts with Inland Empire of the High-A California League, which was a bigger offensive league than the Midwest League. In 2007, Thomas made 24 starts in Double-A for West Tennessee of the Southern League. He went 4-9, 5.51 in 119.1 innings. After the season, he attended the Arizona Fall League, where he gave up three runs over five innings. The 2008 season started back with West Tennessee. Thomas went 7-7, 4.32 with 106 strikeouts in 118.2 innings, then moved up to Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he had six relief appearances and one start. He had a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings, with 21 strikeouts.

Thomas made his MLB debut in September of 2008 for the Mariners, pitching eight times in relief. He had a 6.75 ERA in four innings with nine hits and two walks allowed in his brief time with Seattle. The entire 2009 season was spent back in Tacoma. He made 53 relief appearances, posting a 4.48 ERA in 60.1 innings, with 53 strikeouts. On October 29, 2009, Thomas was selected off waivers by the Pirates. During the 2010 season he had a few different stints with the Pirates, making a total of 12 appearances in which he compiled a 6.23 ERA in 13 innings. The rest of the year was spent with Indianapolis of the International League, where he went 5-0, 2.48 in 54.1 innings over 40 appearances. He spent all of 2011 in Indianapolis, pitching 63 games with an 8-2, 3.89 record in 69.1 innings. After becoming a free agent at the end of the season, he signed with the Boston Red Sox in late November and pitched a total of 11 more big league games, split between Boston and the New York Yankees during that 2012 season. Thomas struggled in his limited time in both spots, posting a 2.57 WHIP in seven appearances with the Red Sox, while allowing three runs over three innings with the Yankees. He split the 2013 season between 16 starts in Triple-A for the Oakland A’s, and nine games in Japan. He had a similar story in 2014, pitching for the Los Angeles Angels in Triple-A (20 starts) and ten games in Korea. Thomas finished his pro career in China in 2015, where he had a 3.83 ERA in 22 starts. His big league career amounted to 24.2 innings over 31 appearances, with an 0-2, 6.93 record.

Wandy Rodriguez, pitcher for the 2012-14 Pirates. He signed with the Houston Astros as an international free agent out of the Dominican days before his 20th birthday in January of 1999. Despite signing at a late age, it still took him six full seasons and the first part of 2015 before he made his Major League debut. Rodriguez pitched his first two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, making him one of the oldest players in the league by the end of his second year. He jumped to the U.S. in 2001, going to the short-season Appalachian League, where he went 4-3, 1.58 in 74 innings over 12 starts. In 2002, Rodriguez went to Lexington of the Class-A South Atlantic League. He had an 11-4, 3.78 record in 159.1 innings over 28 starts, with 137 strikeouts. In 2003, he moved up to Salem of the High-A Carolina League, where he had an 8-7, 3.49 record in 111 innings over 20 starts. His slow climb continued in 2004 with a full season at Double-A, playing for Round Rock of the Texas League. Rodriguez put up an 11-6, 4.48 record in 142.2 innings. Round Rock became a Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League in 2005 and he made eight starts there, putting up a 3.69 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 46.1 innings, before making his big league debut on May 23rd. The Astros put Rodriguez in their starting rotation and stuck with him for two full years of poor pitching before he began to pay off for them.

Rodriguez had a 10-10, 5.53 record in 22 starts and 128.2 innings as a rookie in 2005. He then saw a slight tick up to a 5.64 ERA in 135.2 innings in 2006, finishing the year with a 9-10 record in 24 starts and six relief outings. He began a steady improvement in 2007, when he went 9-13, 4.58 in 31 starts and 182.2 innings. After failing to crack the century mark in strikeouts during his first two seasons, he picked up 158 strikeouts in 2007. That ERA improved to 3.54 in 2008, though he missed a handful of starts, limiting him to 137.1 innings. He had a 9-7 record and struck out 131 batters. Rodriguez finally put everything together in 2009 and had his best season. He went 14-12, 3.02 in 33 starts and a career best 205.2 innings, while also setting a high with 193 strikeouts.

While his win/loss record was mediocre over the next two years, Rodriguez has a nice ERA to go along with the full workhorse workload. He went 11-12, 3.60, with 178 strikeouts in 195 innings in 2010, then nearly repeated those numbers in 2011, going 11-11, 3.49 in 191 innings, with 166 strikeouts. His walk and hit totals were nearly identical as well. He gave up 183 hits in 2010 and 182 in 2011, with 68 walks (2010) compared to 69 in 2011. Prior to joining the Pirates in 2012, he was 7-9, 3.79 in 130.2 innings over 21 starts. On July 24, 2012, the Pirates gave up prospects Robbie Grossman, Colton Cain and Rudy Owens in a trade to get Rodriguez. While they didn’t get what they hoped from their new pitcher due to injuries, the players they gave up didn’t amount to much. Cain was a young lefty, who threw harder in high school than he did in pro ball. Owens had multiple injuries after the deal and only pitched one big league game. Grossman became a big league regular, but he had his first season in the majors above 1.5 WAR in 2021, nine years after the trade.

After joining the 2012 Pirates, Rodriguez went 5-4, 3.72 in 75 innings in 12 starts and one relief outing. He tied his career best with 205.2 innings that season, though he finished with 139 strikeouts. Things went downhill from there. He pitched well when healthy in 2013, but that was just 12 starts. He went 6-4, 3.59 in 62.2 innings and didn’t pitch after early June. He had a flexor strain in his pitching (left) elbow. A knee injury contributed to poor results through six starts in 2014, which led to the Pirates designating him for assignment in May. He was released on May 30th. Rodriguez went 11-10, 4.16 in 30 starts and one relief appearance for the Pirates. He pitched eight years for the Astros and had an 80-84, 4.06 record in 218 starts and nine relief appearances. He last pitched in the majors for the 2015 Texas Rangers, going 6-4, 4.90 in 86.1 innings, though he signed with the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles and Astros between August 2015 and April 2016, and only saw a handful of minor league appearances from those three teams combined. After his last game in the Royals system in 2015, he pitched three seasons of winter ball in the Dominican Republic, finally retiring after the 2018-19 off-season. In his 11-year career, he went 97-98, 4.10 in 1,557.1 innings over 263 starts, with 1,281 strikeouts. He threw two complete games in his career and both were shutouts.

Gift Ngoepe, infielder for the 2017 Pirates. When he made it to the Pirates on April 26, 2017, he became the first player born in Africa to make it to the Major Leagues. He was joined by pitcher Tayler Scott in that select group in 2019. Ngoepe was signed by the Pirates as an international amateur free agent at 18 years old in 2008 out of South Africa. He worked his way slowly through the minor league system, getting added to the Pirates 40-man roster during the same off-season that he would have reached minor league free agency. He played in the Gulf Coast League during his rookie season as a pro in 2009 and hit .238 in 47 games, with one homer and 13 steals. He moved up to the New York-Penn League in 2010, playing for State College, where he hit .205 with 19 extra-base hits, 11 steals and 36 walks in 64 games. Ngoepe was injured (hamate) for most of 2011, when he was limited to 27 games total, including two rehab games. He moved to High-A Bradenton of the Florida State League in 2012, where he hit .232 in 124 games, with 66 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 22 steals (in 36 attempts) and 63 walks, though he also struck out 131 times. He then saw action in the Arizona Fall League after the season, putting up a .783 OPS in 16 games. Ngoepe really struggled with the jump to Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League in 2013. He hit .177 in 72 games, with a .560 OPS. He also saw brief time that year with Bradenton and did well, posting an .851 OPS in the pitcher-friendly league. Ngoepe then went back to the AFL in the fall and hit just .078 in 17 games. He was a gifted defensive player at the time, with some power and speed, but the low average and high strikeout rates, limited his prospect potential. In his second run at Double-A, he hit just .238 with 135 strikeouts in 131 games, but he showed decent power (35 extra-base hits), a nice walk rate (51 walks) and he stole 13 bases.

Ngoepe was back in Altoona for a third season in 2015, and better results led to him being promoted to Triple-A. In 71 games for Altoona, he put up a .260/.338/.362 slash line. In 21 games for Indianapolis of the International League, he batted .246, with a .625 OPS. He would spend the entire 2016 season in Indianapolis, hitting .217 in 102 games, with 20 doubles and eight homers. He was likely going to be a September call-up, but a bar fight and altercation with police after a game, led to a suspension and him attending the Fall Instructional League instead of playing for the Pirates. Pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas was also in that fight and he too was on the same path as Ngoepe before costing himself a September chance with the Pirates. The two would be linked together again in 2017. In mid-April, Neverauskas was called up and became the first Major League player ever who was born in Lithuania. Just days later, Ngoepe joined him in the majors as another first for his country (South Africa) as well as the entire continent. Ngoepe got off to a great start with three hits and two walks in his second game for the Pirates, before the strikeouts quickly caught up to him. He went 8-for-49 with 25 strikeouts in his next 26 games, before playing his final game with the Pirates on May 31st.  After the season, he was sold to the Toronto Blue Jays, who gave him a stint in the majors in 2018. Ngoepe went 1-for-18 with 12 strikeouts during his short big league time in Toronto, which is currently his final time in the majors, though he’s still active. He spent the start of 2019 in the minors with the Philadelphia Phillies, then got released and signed with the Pirates. He was around for just 31 days, but a .100 average in Altoona cut short his time. He played winter ball in Australia in the 2020-21 off-season, then played independent ball in 2021. Ngoepe’s actual first name is Mpho’, but Gift is his middle name. His younger brother Victor spent four seasons in the Pirates system.

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