A Snapshot in Time: Ten New Players for the 1901 Pirates

The October 8, 1900 issue of The Pittsburgh Post had a long story about ten new players who were put on the reserve list for 1901 Pittsburgh Pirates. A total of 32 players were put on the reserve list at that time, but 22 of those players had already played for the Pirates. The other ten weren’t all new to the club, but none of them had played for the Pirates up to that point. One of the things that really sold me on turning this particular newspaper article into a subject for a Snapshot in Time article is the prediction by the newspaper about one of the players. The player who they singled out as “surprise if he proves to be successful”, turned out to be the best player in the bunch. I saved him for last in the summary below. Here’s a look at all ten players at the time, and how they turned out for the Pirates.

Charles Doyle – The Pirates got him as part of the 1899 trade with the Louisville Colonels known as the Honus Wagner deal, where they picked up Wagner, Fred Clarke, Deacon Phillippe, Rube Waddell, Tommy Leach, Claude Ritchey and seven other players in exchange for five players and cash. Part of that trade included a stipulation where if Louisville was dropped from the National League, the Pirates would get their other reserved players, though Louisville sold off a few of those players before that second part happened, so the Pirates didn’t get everyone. One player who they eventually got was Doyle. He was allowed to play on the west coast in 1900, and then he never left the coast, so his name never appeared in a Major League game. It has to make you wonder if he knew ahead of time that playing in the majors would change his fame years later , if he would have at least put in one season to get his name in the record books (although I’m talking about him 122 years later right now, so touche, Charles Doyle, well played). Playing for the 1901 Pirates definitely would have helped his fame, as he would have been a piece of their first championship season. He had a great 1901 season in California, winning 20 games and batting .292 in 128 games. However, the Pirates decided not to send him a contract for 1901, which was basically giving up their rights to the player.

William Reidy – He had two stints in the majors and a lot of minor league experience at the time of that October 1900 article. He pitched 13 innings for the 1896 New York Giants and seven innings for the 1899 Brooklyn Superbas. Reidy went 19-9 and threw 286 innings for the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League in 1900. That was a minor league team at the time, but they became a Major League team in 1901 (current day Baltimore Orioles) and Reidy stayed there, going 16-20, 4.21 in 301.1 innings. The Pirates didn’t exactly need pitching at the time, with Sam Leever, Deacon Phillippe, Jack Chesbro, Rube Waddell and Jesse Tannehill. You’re basically talking about five strong starters when most teams would use a four-man rotation. The Pirates broke ties with Reidy when they didn’t send him a contract, allowing him to stay in Milwaukee.

Robert Wicker – The papers were blunt with saying that Wicker (and two others) were unlikely to play with the Pirates in 1901. He was 23 years old at the time, and he had two years of pro experience at the lower levels. It was predicted that he would return to Dayton of the Central League for more seasoning and that’s exactly what happened, as the Pirates returned three players back to Dayton. However, it wasn’t predicted that he would end up in the majors by the middle of the 1901 season with the St Louis Cardinals, after they signed him in mid-July. He ended up pitching six years in the majors, going 64-52, 2.73 in 1,036.2 innings. He had a 20-win season in 1903, but the Pirates did just fine without him (could have used him in the World Series…).

John McGee – This is a really odd name to reserve for the 1901 season because there’s almost nothing out there about him. He was one of those players on Louisville, who had his rights transferred to the Pirates in February of 1900, but the Pirates immediately loaned him out “to an Eastern League” team. They got his rights back, but a March 10, 1901 article says that he was released quite some time ago. There is no John McGee in baseball history, but Louisville liked him enough to sign him, the Pirates liked him enough to reserve him, but not enough to keep him for the entire winter. I can find plenty of mentions of “John D McGee” in local papers (Louisville and Pittsburgh), but there’s no record of him in pro ball. The answer lies in some deep research, which found him playing for Meriden of the Class-F Connecticut State League in 1898 and 1899, with a local (Meriden) article saying that he signed with Louisville in late 1899. From there I was able to find him listed on two separate Baseball-Reference pages as Jack Magee and J.D. McGee, with the former also playing there in 1900, though a late April article puts him on Montreal of the Eastern League to start the season, then he joined Meriden mid-season. He also reportedly played for Worcester of the Eastern League in 1901 (again, from a local Meriden paper), which is interesting because they had a player named Bill Magee who was there all season, and also a pitcher. Bill Magee is a real player, but it makes you wonder if some of their stats got combined, assuming John/Jack McGee/Magee actually played there.

Harry Smith – He actually ended up with the Pirates for a long time, but injuries mostly kept him on the sidelines. Smith played 178 games in six seasons with the Pirates. He was mostly a backup catcher during the 1902-04 seasons, then on the sidelines a lot during the other three years. The interesting thing here is that even though he was reserved to the Pirates, he jumped to the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League in 1901, then decided to return to the Pirates in 1902, just in time to play for the best team in franchise history. You can read his full bio here.

Charles Buelow – He was a third baseman who the Pirates got through the minor league draft from Cleveland of the American League. He has limited stats for 1899 and 1900, but he hit .331 and .354 those seasons. The Pirates acquired him for $1,000 and it was said that they paid him $300 in advanced money. On March 18, 1901, he was sold to the New York Giants for what was said to be “a good figure paid for his services”, which was then followed by saying that New York must have paid at least $1,300 to get him. He ended up playing just 22 big league games in 1901, then spent the rest of his career in the minors at Class-B ball, where he took up a role as a player-manager for some time.

John Burns – He was a 22-year-old infielder when the Pirates got him and two of his teammates from Dayton of the Class-B Interstate League in 1900. By January of 1901, it was said that he was returned to Dayton. Burns played 136 games during the 1901 season split between Dayton and Louisville of the Class-A Western Association. He then played in San Francisco for a time before joining the Detroit Tigers in September of 1903. He remained there through April of 1904, playing a total of 15 games during the 1903-04 seasons. That ended up being his entire big league time. He played regularly in the minors through the 1909 season, then had some time as a player-manager in 1913.

John Gochnaur – In October of 1900, he was a 25-year-old infielder with mediocre at best stats in the lower levels of the minors over five seasons. This definitely wasn’t the most exciting pickup on paper. He was another Dayton player who was returned to Dayton in January of 1901. Gochnaur ended up in the majors with Brooklyn by the end of the 1901 season, getting there in time for three games. He jumped to the American League and played for Cleveland (called the Bronchos in 1902 and Naps in 1903), where he hit .185 in both 1902 and 1903, playing a total of 261 games during that time. He somehow managed to also hit 16 doubles, four triples and no homers in both seasons, as if the identical average wasn’t enough. That would be his last big league experience. He was a strong defensive player, which is probably why the Pirates wanted him after the 1900 season.

Fred Ketchum – He was another player who eventually came over from Louisville. He played three years with Cortland of the New York State League before debuting in the majors in September of 1899 with Louisville, where he hit .295 in 15 games. The Pirates had a loaded outfield in 1900, so they sent him to Wilkes-Barre of the Atlantic League. When that league disbanded, the Pirates sent him to Milwaukee of the American League. Ketchum ended up being one of three players traded by the Pirates to Syracuse of the Eastern League for pitcher Lewis “Snake” Wiltse on January 1, 1901. Ketchum played five early-season games for the 1901 Philadelphia Athletics, then played out his career in the minors, playing until 1907 before passing away of heart disease in a hotel room in March of 1908 at 32 years old.

William Bransfield – The 25-year-old Bransfield, better known by the nickname “Kitty” now, played five games for the Boston Beaneaters in 1898. The Pittsburgh Post said “It will be a surprise if Kitty Bransfield proves successful in the National League. Twice he was given a chance by Boston and each time he failed”. Bransfield ended up as the starting first baseman for the 1901-04, helping them to three straight National League titles. They traded him after the 1904 season, and then he played another seven years in the majors. As a rookie for the 1901 Pirates, he hit .295 with 92 runs, 26 doubles, 16 triples and 91 RBIs. He was a .270 big league hitter in 1,330 games, with 529 runs, 637 RBIs and 175 steals, while playing his career during the deadball era. Not only did he not fail to catch on with the Pirates, he ended up as the best player from this group.

This definitely wasn’t an exciting group, with the Pirates getting production from just two players, and one of them was a backup. That’s what made it interesting though, as the papers were quick to dismiss the best player in the group. It would have been nice if the Pirates kept Robert Wicker, or convinced Charles Doyle to play for them, but I’m not sure how much they could have helped three straight pennant winners. Wicker would have been nice for the 1905 season when they lost the pennant by nine games, but I doubt he makes up the difference by himself. The Pirates also had a 2.86 ERA, so he would have been taking away innings from someone who was already pitching well.