This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 4th, Possum, Lefty and Plesac

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Dan Plesac, pitcher for the 1995-96 Pirates. He was a lefty reliever with nine years experience when the Pirates signed him as a free agent on November 9, 1994. He ended up playing 18 seasons in the majors. Plesac was highly touted in high school, but he still turned down a second round pick by the St Louis Cardinals in 1980 so that he could attend North Carolina State. He maintained that high standing in college, getting selected in the first round by the Brewers in 1983, taken 15 picks higher than he was selected three years earlier. It took him just three years before he was in the majors for good, earning a spot on the Brewers 1986 Opening Day roster. He debuted in pro ball with Paintsville of the short-season Appalachian League, where he went 9-1, 3.50 in 14 starts, with 85 strikeouts in 82.1 innings. He made 16 starts for Stockton of the Class-A California League in 1984, and another seven starts with Double-A El Paso of the Texas League. With similar results in each spot, he combined to go 8-8, 3.36 in 147.1 innings, with 125 strikeouts. In 1985, Plesac spent the entire year with El Paso, going 12-5, 4.97 in 150.1 innings, with 128 strikeouts.

In 51 appearances as a rookie with the 1986 Brewers, Plesac had a 10-7, 2.97 record in 91 innings, with 14 saves. That was his only season in which he reached double-digits in wins. He lowered his ERA slightly each of the next three years while averaging 53 games and 29 saves per year. Plesac made three straight All-Star appearances during those seasons, which ended up being his only three All-Star appearances during his 18-year career. In 1987, he went 5-6, 2.61 in 57 games, with 23 saves and 89 strikeouts in 79.1 innings. In 1988, he had a 1-2, 2.41 record in 50 games, with 30 saves and 52 strikeouts in 52.1 innings. He received mild MVP support for the only time in his career, finishing 22nd in the voting. In 1989, Plesac finished with a 3-4, 2.35 record and 33 saves in 61.1 innings over 52 games. Despite the run of success, his ERA rose over 4.00 during the 1990-91 seasons and he lost his closer role. He went 3-7, 4.43 with 24 saves in 1990, throwing 69 innings over 66 appearances. He had a 2-7, 4.29 record in 1991, with 92.1 innings pitched over 45 games. The Brewers used him ten times as a starter that season. Plesac rebounded in 1992 with a 2.96 ERA in 79 innings over four starts and 40 relief appearances. He became a free agent after the 1992 season and signed with the Chicago Cubs.

Plesac went 2-1, 4.74 in 62.2 innings over 57 games with the 1993 Cubs. He had a 2-3, 4.61 record in 54.2 innings and 54 games for the Cubs in 1994, then reached free agency again. He signed with the Pirates on November 9, 1994. Plesac went 4-4, 3.58 with three saves in 58 games for the Pirates in 1995, striking out 57 batters in 60.1 innings. In 1996, he led all Pirates pitchers in games pitched with 73, and he had a 6-5, 4.09 record with 11 saves and 76 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. Almost two years to the day they signed him as a free agent, the Pirates traded Plesac to the Toronto Blue Jays in a nine-player deal that brought back six players to Pittsburgh, with Orlando Merced and Carlos Garcia going Toronto, while the Pirates received Craig Wilson, Abraham Nunez, Jose Silva and three minor league players who failed to make the majors.

Plesac played another seven seasons in the majors after the trade. After Pittsburgh, he pitched for the 1997-99 Blue Jays, the 1999-2000 Arizona Diamondbacks, then back to Toronto for 1 1/2 seasons, before finishing up with the 2002-03 Philadelphia Phillies. He went 2-4, 3.58 in 50.1 innings over 73 games in 1997. For the 1998 Blue Jays, Plesac had a 4-3, 3.78 record and four saves in 50 innings over a career high 78 appearances. He posted an 8.34 ERA in 30 appearances with Toronto in 1999, before being traded on June 12th to the Diamondbacks. After the deal, he had a 3.32 ERA in 21.2 innings. In 2000, Plesac went 5-1, 3.15 in 40 innings and 62 outings. Back with Toronto as a free agent in 2001, he went 4-5, 3.57 in 62 games, with an incredible 68 strikeouts in 45.1 innings. After posting a 3.38 ERA in 19 games with the 2002 Blue Jays, he was traded to the Phillies, where he had a 4.70 ERA in 23 innings over 41 appearances. He had a 2.70 ERA in his final season, though he was strictly a lefty specialist at the time, pitching a total of 33.1 innings over 58 appearances. He finished his 18-year career with 1,064 games pitched, 1,072 innings, 1,041 strikeouts and 158 saves, to go along with a 65-71 record. His nephew Zach Plesac is a starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.

Doug Slaten, relief pitcher for the 2012 Pirates. He was drafted three times from three different schools before he finally signed. In 1998, the Baltimore Orioles took him in the 29th round out of high school. He went to Glendale Community College in 1999 and he was once again selected by the Orioles, this time dropping to the 34th round. Just one year later, Slaten was selected in the 17th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks after transferring to Los Angeles Pierce College. He was a starting pitcher during his first four seasons of pro ball (2000-03), but he didn’t make it to the majors until three years later as a full-time reliever. Slaten debuted in pro ball in the rookie level Arizona League, getting in just 9.1 innings, with one run allowed, during that 2000 season. In 2001, he jumped to High-A ball for the entire season, playing for Lancaster of the California League, a high-offense park/league. Slaten went 9-8, 4.79 in 157.2 innings over 27 starts (one relief outing). He had 110 strikeouts that year, which was the only time he topped 100 strikeouts in a season. In 2002, he was limited to eight starts for Lancaster and seven relief appearances for the Low-A South Bend Silver Hawks of the Midwest League. He struggled in both spots, combining for a 7.66 ERA in 49.1 innings. Slaten was with Lancaster in 2003, where he made 19 starts and 13 relief appearances. He went 6-7, 6.03 in 119.1 innings. He moved into full-time relief and dropped down to South Bend in 2004, where he pitched well, posting a 2.25 ERA in 44 innings. However, when he was jumped to Double-A El Paso of the Texas League, he gave up 13 runs over nine innings in 11 appearances.

In 2005, Slaten pitched the entire year with the new Double-A affiliate of Arizona, Tennessee of the Southern League. He went 2-2, 4.26 in 58 games, with 72 strikeouts in 61.1 innings. After the season, he was sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 6.28 ERA in 14.1 innings. His 2006 season was split between Tennessee and Tuscon of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He dominated at both levels, but he was even better in Triple-A, combining to go 4-4, 1.43 with ten saves in 58 games, picking up 80 strikeouts in 63 innings. Slaten was a September recall in 2006 and he pitched nine games in short relief for the Diamondbacks, throwing a total of 5.2 shutout innings. That was followed by spending the entire 2007 season in the majors, where he had a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 innings over 61 appearances, mostly serving in the lefty specialist role. That year ended up being his only full season in the majors. His ERA went up to 4.73 in 32.1 innings over 45 appearances in 2008. He spent only six games in Triple-A that year, but that big league-minor league time would flip in 2009. Slaten had a 7.11 ERA in 11 appearances that season, totaling just 6.1 innings. He moved on to the Washington Nationals as a waiver pickup in November of 2009. During the 2010 season, he threw 17 shutout innings in Triple-A before joining the big league club for the rest of the year. Slaten had a 3.10 ERA in 40.1 innings over 49 games for the 2010 Nationals.

After going 0-2, 4.41 in 31 relief appearances during the 2011 season with the Nationals, Slaten signed with the Pirates on January 11, 2012 . He had a career record of 7-8, 3.60 in 137.2 innings over 206 appearances going into the 2012 season. For the Pirates, he pitched ten games, going 0-0, 2.71 in 13 innings, with nine hits allowed, eight walks and he recorded six strikeouts. The rest of the year was spent with Triple-A Indianapolis, where he had a 2.11 ERA in 42.2 innings, with ten saves. Slaten was let go via free agency following the season and never played pro ball again. He started 62 games in the minors, but never started a Major League game. He had just five games during his big league career in which he threw more than 1.1 innings. Three of them occurred in Pittsburgh, including his career high of three innings on June 6, 2012, and all five extended outings were during losses. He passed away at 36 years old in 2016.

Dennis Konuszewski, relief pitcher who threw his only career big league game with the 1995 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 28th round in 1989, but he decided to attend college. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Pirates in 1992 out of the University of Michigan, and he spent his entire minor league career in the Pirates farm system, throwing 207 games (33 as a starter) from 1992 until 1997. Konuszewski actually played just four games above Double-A ball ever. He spent three games in Triple-A in 1996 after his one Major League game on August 4, 1995. He debuted in pro ball with Welland of the short-season New York-Penn League, where he gave up one run over seven innings in two starts. He also pitched that season with Augusta of the Class-A South Atlantic League, and posted a 3-3, 2.31 record in 62.1 innings over eight starts and nine relief appearances. In 1993, Konuszewski spent the entire year with Salem of the High-A Carolina League. He went 4-10, 4.63 in 103 innings over 13 starts and 26 relief appearances. In 1994, he spent the entire year with Carolina of the Double-A Southern League, going 6-5, 3.59 in 77.2 innings over 51 relief outings. After pitching well in the Arizona Fall League after the 1994 season, he was added to the 40-man on November 22, 1994 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He was back in Carolina for almost all of 1995, going 7-7, 3.65 in 61.2 innings over 48 games. His only time outside of Carolina that year was his stint with the Pirates.

Konuszewski came into his one big league game on August 4, 1995 to start the seventh inning against the Houston Astros with the Pirates down 3-2 in the second game of a doubleheader. He walked the first batter he faced, gave up a single to the second hitter, then the Astros dropped down a sacrifice bunt for his lone out. That was followed by two more singles and two runs before he was pulled from the game. That left him with a career 54.00 ERA. The Pirates called him up to the majors on August 4, 1995 to take the place of pitcher Jim Gott, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Konuszewski was sent back to Double-A Carolina on August 8th when first baseman Kevin Young was activated from the disabled list. So his official big league time lasted four service days. On November 20, 1995, he was dropped from the 40-man roster. Konuszewski spent most of 1996-97 back with Carolina, except for three games during the 1996 season with Calgary of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Just like with his big league time, he didn’t have much success in Triple-A either, allowing 13 hits, 11 runs and five walks in only 3.1 innings. He actually did poorly in Double-A that year as well, posting a 6.30 ERA in 80 innings, so it was a rough year all around. After his pro career ended in 1997 when he asked for his release, Konuszewski gained a bit of a reputation as a great softball and vintage base ball player (played under rules from the mid-1800s), leading his teams to numerous league titles and personally winning some home run titles.

Steve Brye, outfielder for the 1978 Pirates. He had already played eight seasons in the majors when the Pirates signed him as a free agent on April 4, 1978. He played his first seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins, and then one year with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was a first round draft pick of the Twins in 1967, taken 17th overall out of St Elizabeth HS in Oakland, CA.  It took him just three seasons to make it to the majors as a September call-up at 21 years old in 1970. He debuted in pro ball with St Cloud of the short-season Northern League at 18 years old, where he hit .311 with 16 doubles, five triples, 13 homers, 59 runs and 46 RBIs in 67 games. In 1968, Brye spent most of the year with Orlando of the Florida State League, where he batted .333 in 49 games, with 19 extra-base hits and 31 RBIs. In 1969, he played for Red Springs of the Class-A California League. He hit .234 in 106 games that year, with 16 doubles, seven homers, 48 runs and 48 walks. Despite poor stats in A-Ball, he was less than a full year away from his big league debut. Brye played for Charlotte of the Double-A Southern League in 1970, where he hit .308 in 106 games, with 17 doubles, ten triples and three homers. He joined the Twins in September and hit .182 in nine games, collecting just 13 plate appearances. Most of 1971 was spent with Portland of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), where he had a .916 OPS. In 28 games with the Twins that year, he hit .224 with three homers and 11 RBIs.

Brye had just one season with the Twins in which he was an everyday player. In the other seasons, he was either in a platoon role or a bench role. The 1972 season was his first full year in the majors. He hit .241 in 100 games that year, with nine doubles, three triples, 18 runs and 12 RBIs in 272 plate appearances. In 1973, Brye batted 46 more times, while playing in 92 games. He hit .263 with 39 runs, 20 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and 35 walks. During the 1974 season, he hit .283 in 135 games, with 52 runs scored, 41 RBIs and 32 doubles, setting career highs in all five categories. Interestingly enough, his OPS (.683) dropped 56 points compared to the previous year. That’s due to just 22 walks, as well as one triple and two homers. He led all American League outfielders with a .997 fielding percentage. Brye set a career best with nine homers in 1975, though he manged to hit just 13 doubles. He batted .252 in 86 games that year, with 41 runs and 34 RBIs. His OPS was 55 points higher than the previous year. He batted .264 in 87 games in 1976, though it was mostly an empty average. He had 11 doubles, two homers and 13 walks, leading to a .624 OPS.

Brye was sold to the Milwaukee Brewers during Spring Training of 1977. In his only season with the club, he hit .249 in 94 games, with 27 runs, 24 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs. He played 83 games in the outfield that year without an error. For the Pirates in 1978, he played 66 games, mostly off the bench, splitting his time between all three outfield positions. He made 13 starts in left field, five in right field and five in center field. He hit .235 with nine RBIs in 130 plate appearances. He had an odd split of hitting .345 when he played left field, versus .123 in all other roles (CF/RF/PH). Brye was released shortly after the season ended and would go on to play one more season in Triple-A for the San Diego Padres before retiring as a player. He was a career .258 hitter in 697 Major League games over nine seasons, with 97 doubles, 30 homers, 193 RBIs, 237 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.

Possum Whitted, utility fielder for the 1919-21 Pirates. Whitted (first name was George) was in his eighth season in the majors when the Pirates traded an outfielder named Casey Stengel of the Philadelphia Phillies for him on August 9, 1919. Both players were 29 years old at the time and Stengel was also in his eighth big league season. Whitted debuted in pro ball at 20 years old in 1910 with two teams from the Class-C South Atlantic League. He spent part of that first season with Jacksonville, then stayed there for the next two years until joining the St Louis Cardinals in mid-September of 1912. He batted just .229 in 149 games in 1911, then improved to a .307 average in 1912, with 29 extra-base hits in 119 games. With the Cardinals, he hit .261 with seven runs and seven RBIs in 12 games. With the 1913 Cardinals, Whitted batted .220 in 123 games, with 44 runs and 15 extra-base hits. He wen 9-for-25 in stolen base attempts. He was playing sparingly in 1914 when the Cardinals traded him to the Boston Braves on June 28th. He was hitting .129 in 20 games before the deal, then batted .261 with 36 runs and 31 RBIs in 66 games after the trade. He helped the Braves get to the World Series (known as the Miracle Braves), where they won in a sweep over the Philadelphia A’s. Whitted hit .214 with two runs and two RBIs in the series.

In February of 1915, Whitted was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in a deal started two months earlier when the Braves received Sherry Magee for cash and a player to be named later. The deal paid off immediately for Whitted, who went back to the World Series, though the Phillies lost that series. He hit .281 in 128 games that year, with 46 runs, 43 RBIs and 24 steals (15 caught stealing). In 1916, he batted .281 again, this time collecting 68 runs, 20 doubles, 12 triples, 68 RBIs and 29 steals. In 1917, Whitted batted .280 in 149 games, with career highs of 69 runs and 24 doubles, while driving in 70 runs. His 1918 season lasted just 28 games before he joined the Army during WWI. Possum was hitting .249 in 78 games with the 1919 Phillies prior to the trade that sent him to the Pirates. He had never batted higher than .281 in a season, but in the last 35 games of the 1919 season for the Pirates, he had 51 hits and a .389 batting average. He took over the Pirates third base job in 1920 and hit .261 with a career high 74 RBIs in 134 games. Whitted also set a personal best with 35 walks. He had as many triples (12) as doubles (11) and homers (one) combined. In 1921 he moved back to the outfield and hit .283 with 60 runs, 37 extra-base hits and 63 RBIs in 104 games. He spent most of his time in right field, though he still got starts in left field, center field and first base. Despite those strong stats, the Pirates sold Whitted to Brooklyn for $2,500 a few weeks prior to the 1922 season. They must have known his Major League career was nearing the end because he lasted just one pinch-hit appearance with Brooklyn before going back to the minors, where he played until age 41 in 1931, and also managed for 11 years. He spent his last five years playing first base and managing for Durham of the Piedmont League, a Class-C team, which would be a level equal to someone playing Low-A ball now after their big league career was over.

Owner Barney Dreyfuss actually parted ways with Whitted because he considered him to be the ringleader of a group of players who didn’t always follow club rules for conduct off of the field. The Pirates cut his salary by $2,500 for the 1922 season, which obviously didn’t sit well with Whitted. After the trade, Whitted got himself in trouble with his Brooklyn team by attempting to burn bridges with the Pirates. He was quoted as saying that he was angry at the Pirates for demoting him to Brooklyn, which likely explains why he was sent to the minors on May 4th, ending his big league career. In 11 big league seasons, he hit .269 with 23 homers, 451 RBIs, 440 runs scored and 116 stolen bases in 1,025 games.

It was a bit surprising that the Pirates wanted Whitted in the first place, because he put up his worst career stats (by far) against Pittsburgh, hitting .247 with a .602 OPS. His second lowest mark was .646 against the New York Giants. On the other hand, maybe they figured if he didn’t have to face Pittsburgh pitching, his overall stats would improve. He did have a .733 OPS for the Pirates, and a .675 career mark, but that’s partially skewed by the uptick in offense that baseball saw during his time in Pittsburgh. After the beaning death of Ray Chapman in 1920, MLB teams allowed new baseballs to be put in play more often. That combined with the elimination of new spitball pitchers prior to the 1920 season helped raise offense across the majors.

Lefty Davis, outfielder for the 1901-02 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1896 and wasn’t signed by a Major League club until 1901, but in a three-month span from late March of 1901 until the end of June, he was a member of three different organizations. He debuted in pro ball at 21 years old in 1896 with Mobile of the Class-B Southern Association, where he hit .309 in 43 games. In 1897, Davis played for Detroit of the Class-A Western League, and Jackson of the Class-D Michigan State League. No stats are available for the lower level, but he hit .307 with 16 extra-base hits in 51 games for Detroit. In 1898, he played 122 games in the Western League split between Detroit and Minneapolis. Possibly incomplete stats show him with a .291 average, 19 extra-base hits and 26 steals. He stayed in Minneapolis for 1899 (no stats available) and then also in 1900, when it was a charter member of the American League, which was a minor league level for one season. Davis batted .282 in 101 games in 1900, with 82 runs, 14 doubles, ten triples and 22 steals.

Davis signed with the Philadelphia Athletics early in 1901, as they prepared to play their first season in American League history as a Major League. Before he ever played a game for the Athletics, he jumped to the National League to play for the Brooklyn Superbas. After hitting .209 in 25 games he was released and quickly signed with the Pirates. He started in right field for the 1901 Pirates and hit .313 in 87 games with 87 runs scored, 21 extra-base hits, 56 walks and 22 stolen bases. The Pirates won their first NL title that season. Davis returned for 1902 and hit .280 with 52 runs scored and 19 stolen bases in 59 games, as the Pirates not only won their second straight NL crown, but they also posted their best record ever by going 103-36. His season ended on July 11th when it was said that he broke his leg on a freak play at second base. He got caught between a slide and attempting to stay up on a steal of second base when he realized the throw was going into center field. As it turned out, the broken leg diagnosis from the day it happened ended up being a turned ankle. He was ready to play again by September 23rd and had been practicing at Exposition Park while the team was on the road, but owner Barney Dreyfuss decided to give him his unconditional release that day instead. Dreyfuss said that he paid Davis in full and allowed him to leave because the Pirates didn’t need him for the rest of the season (11 more days at that point). He also noted that he would have paid him for the balance of the season if he wasn’t healthy, but he was fine to play at that point. He lasted just two more season in the majors, though he ended up playing another eight years in the minors, while also managing for four seasons.

Prior to the start of 1903, Davis signed with the New York Highlanders of the American League. He hit .237 with 54 runs, 25 RBIs and 11 steals in 104 games for the Highlanders. The 1904-05 seasons were spent with Columbus of the Class-A American Association. He hit .275 in 148 games in 1904, with 29 doubles, 22 triples and five homers. He hit .279 the next year, with 31 doubles, eight triples and two homers in 153 games. He was back in Minneapolis in 1906, this time as an American Association club. He batted .333 in 149 games, with 34 doubles, ten triples and three homers, which helped get him back to the majors for one final season. Davis returned to the National League, where he hit .229 with 28 runs and 25 RBIs in 73 games for the Cincinnati Reds. His real name was Alfonzo DeFord Davis. He has a similar story to the aforementioned Possum Whitted after his big league career ended. Davis spent his last two seasons as a player/manager for a C-ball team, playing for Winona of the Northern League. While his minor league stats are slightly incomplete, he played at least 1,355 games over 13 seasons and had over 1,400 hits. He managed a total of four years in the minors. His big league stats show a .261 average in 348 games, with 232 runs, 110 RBIs, 65 steals and a 167:100 BB/SO ratio.