This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: February 16th, Six Obscure Former Pirates

There have been six former Pittsburgh Pirates who were born on this date. Combined they played just 62 games for the Pirates, 51 from one player.

Jorge Rondon, pitcher for the 2016 Pirates. Prior to joining Pittsburgh, he played a total of 11 big league games over two seasons with three different teams. He was originally signed by the St Louis Cardinals at 18 years old in July of 2006 as an international amateur free agent out of Venezuela. His first two seasons were spent in the Venezuelan Summer League, where he had a 6.46 ERA in 15.1 innings in 2006, followed by a 4.74 ERA in 62.2 innings in 2007. In 2008, he saw action with Johnson City of the short-season Appalachian League, and Quad Cities of the Low-A Midwest League. Rondon combined to go 3-2, 3.82 with six saves, throwing 30.2 innings over 29 appearances. In 2009, he played with Quad Cities and Palm Beach of the High-A Florida State League, going 1-6, 5.09 in 69 innings. After pitching only in relief in 2008, he made 12 starts and six relief appearances in 2009. Rondon spent the 2010 season in Quad Cities, where he made 19 starts and ten relief appearances. He had a 4-8, 5.30 record in 108.2 innings, with a 65:76 BB/SO ratio. In 2011, he pitched strictly in relief, splitting the year between Palm Beach and Springfield of the Double-A Texas League. He combined to go 2-13, 7.03, with 13 saves in 58 appearances, with 46 walks and 57 strikeouts in 64 innings. He pitched winter ball in Venezuela for the first time during the 2011-12 off-season.

Rondon showed huge improvements during the 2012 season, which he split between Springfield and Memphis of the Pacific Coast League. With similar results in each place, he finished with a 3.49 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 49 innings over 46 outings. After seeing plenty of work in the winter, he spent 2013 with Memphis, going 3-5, 3.06 in 51 games, with 67.2 innings pitched. After playing winter ball again, he spent almost all of 2014 with Memphis, where he had a 3.03 ERA and ten saves in 62.1 innings, though he also got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. Rondon made his Major League debut on June 29, 2014 with the St Louis Cardinals and he threw a shutout inning. That ended up being his only big league game that season. After the season, the Colorado Rockies picked him up on waivers. Rondon lasted two games with the Rockies and had absolutely awful results in both games. He allowed three runs over one inning in his debut, then had one of the worst outings in big league history. Rondon faced eight batters on May 1, 2015 against the San Diego Padres and all eight batters scored, seven of the runs were earned. He was put on waivers a short time later and he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles by May 10th, leaving him with a 90.00 ERA during his time in Colorado. Rondon debuted for Baltimore with 3.1 shutout innings on August 2nd. It was a short stint, but he was back by the end of the month to finish out the season. He threw two shutout innings in his first game back, then gave up 15 runs over eight innings in his last six appearances combined.

Rondon was selected off waivers by the Pirates on October 26, 2015. He lasted just two games with the 2016 Pirates, where he allowed seven runs on nine hits in 3.2 innings. His first appearance was much better than the second one. On June 19th, he allowed one run over two innings in a loss to the Chicago Cubs. Two days later, he gave up six runs over 1.2 innings in a 14-5 loss at PNC Park to the San Francisco Giants. That game ended up being his final game in the majors. He actually did really well in the minors that season, posting a 2.67 ERA and 12 saves in 57.1 innings over 47 games. He became a free agent after the season and signed a free agent deal with the Chicago White Sox, though he ended up playing in Japan in 2017. Rondon is still active, most recently playing winter ball in his home country of Venezuela, though he hasn’t played in the minors since a 2018 stint in Double-A with the White Sox. He only played winter ball during the 2019-20 seasons, but he pitched in Mexico during the summer of 2021.

Luis Figueroa, second baseman for the 2001 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Rico at the age of 23 in 1997. He split that first season of pro ball between the two A-ball teams, seeing 71 games with Augusta of the Low-A South Atlantic League and 26 games with Lynchburg of the High-A Carolina League. That year he batted .240 with 50 runs, 13 doubles (no triples or homers), 42 walks and 23 stolen bases. The next season he spent the entire year in Double-A with Carolina of the Southern League, hitting .249 with 54 runs, nine doubles, three triples and 71 walks in 117 games. His stolen base total saw a huge decline as he went 6-for-11 in steals that year. He repeated Double-A in 1999 (Pirates switched affiliates to Altoona of the Eastern League) and saw a slight improvement in his stats, batting .263 with 61 runs, 23 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs and 52 walks in 131 games, while going 9-for-18 in steals. The fact that Figueroa was 26 years old and starting the 2000 season back in Double-A for a third year, didn’t look too good for his future. After hitting .284/.356/.345 in 94 games for Altoona in 2000, he earned his first promotion to Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League late in the year, where he hit .250 in 23 games. He combined that year to finish with 51 runs, 19 extra-base hits, and 16 steals in 22 attempts.

Figueroa would begin the 2001 season in Nashville, where he hit .300 over 92 games, putting up a .729 OPS. The Pirates called him up to the majors on June 27, 2001 to replace an injured Pat Meares. Figueroa, who was batting .298 at the time, had to be added to the 40-man roster, and the Pirates dropped Andy Barkett to create roster space. Figueroa played four games off of the bench for the Pirates, going 0-for-2 at the plate. He finished three of those games on defense at second base, despite playing about 90% of his minor league games up to that point at shortstop. He was sent back down after the July 2nd game, so the Pirates could activate John Wehner from the disabled list. Six weeks later, Figueroa was put on waivers, where he was picked up by the New York Mets. He remained at Triple-A with New York and stayed in the minors for quite some time after the move. He was with the Mets until early 2002, then joined the Montreal Expos for the rest of the season and all of 2003. He was with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004 and the Boston Red Sox in 2005. Figueroa finally made it back to the majors in 2006 with the Toronto Blue Jays, getting an eight-game trial in May/June. He went 1-for-9 at the plate during that stint, collecting a double as his first big league hit. In 2007, he played six games in June with the San Francisco Giants, which ended up being his final big league time. He went 1-for-5 at the plate with the Giants, leaving him 2-for-16 during his big league time. Figueroa would go on to play in the minors with the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs, then back with Toronto. He also played in Mexico and in independent ball. He remained active in the minors through 2012 and he played winter ball until 2016 at age 41. Figueroa played 18 MLB games and 1,617 minor league games and 400+ winter league games (full stats are missing for two seasons). In total, he had over 2,100 hits and over 1,000 runs scored. Figueroa is the cousin of Jose Hernandez, who played shortstop for the Pirates in 2003 and 2006, making them one of 26 groups of relatives to play for the Pirates.

Jerry Hairston, outfielder for the 1977 Pirates. He was a third round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox out of high school in Alabama in 1970, and he played for them until the Pirates purchased his contract on June 13, 1977. Hairston started his pro career in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .333 in 56 games, with 37 runs, 11 extra-base hits and 51 walks. In 1971, he moved up to Appleton of the Class-A Midwest League, where he had a .268 average in 121 games, with 86 runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 14 steals and 76 walks. By 1972, he was in Double-A with Knoxville of the Southern League. That year he hit .292 in 132 games, with 82 runs, 19 doubles, nine triples, ten homers and 61 walks. He hit just one homer combined over his first two seasons, so that year was a huge increase in power. He began 1973 with Iowa of the Triple-A American Association, where he batted .347 in 84 games, with 33 extra-base hits and 61 walks. Hairston made it to the majors after just three years, debuting in late-July of 1973 as a left fielder/first baseman, who put up a .271 average, 11 doubles, 33 walks and a .371 OBP in 60 games as a rookie. He was with the White Sox through late June in 1974, spent two months back in Iowa, then returned in late August to finish out the season. Hairston was a bench player, mostly seeing time in left field and off of the bench. He batted .229 in 45 games during his sophomore season.

In 1975, Hairston once again split the season between Triple-A (Chicago switched affiliates to Denver of the American Association) and the White Sox. He had a .407 OBP in 69 games, mostly due to a high walk rate, but he also had a .283 average, though it came with no power, as all eight extra-base hits were doubles. He had a decent walk rate again in 1976, but it came with a .227 and he had no power or speed to his game, putting up a .629 OPS in 44 games. Four years into his career, he had no homers and two stolen bases. Hairston did well in abbreviated time in 1977 before joining the Pirates, batting .308 in 13 games. He played 51 games for the Pirates over the last 3 1/2 months of the 1977 season, hitting .192 in 52 at-bats. Two weeks after he joined the team, he hit his first career home run as a pinch-hitter off of Tug McGraw of the Philadelphia Phillies. Exactly two weeks later, he homered again off of Jerry Koosman. Hairston’s contract was sold to a team from the Mexican League in Spring Training of 1978. He started just five games for the Pirates, playing a total of 67 innings on defense. His full stats are unavailable for his 3 1/2 seasons in Mexico, but his line from 1978 shows a .363 average and 122 walks in 144 games, resulting in a .485 OBP. He had a .966 OPS during the 1980 season.

Hairston returned to the majors in September of 1981 with the White Sox and played until 1989, spending 13 of his 14 Major League seasons with Chicago.  While he average 100 games played per year over a five-year span (1982-86), Hairston never had more than 271 plate appearances in a season. He started 85 games in the field during that nine-year stretch, as well as another 84 games at DH. He became known as a top pinch-hitter during his day and he 434 of his 859 games came in that role. He had a .736 OPS as a pinch-hitter, which was better than the .733 mark he put up in all of his other plate appearances. From 1982 through 1987, he hit five homers in a season five different times. He also finished with somewhere between 18 and 26 RBIs each season during that stretch, showing amazing consistency. Hairston barely played during his final two seasons in the majors, but that was by design. He was just short of having ten years of service time in the majors, which comes with extra benefits. The White Sox signed him as a pinch-hitter in September of 1988 and he played three games, then added him again in 1989. Despite spending all of that time in the majors prior to that point, he was working a regular job in the summer. He was 31 days short of the pension going into 1989 and that’s exactly how many days he was on the active roster.

In his big league career, Hairston was a .258 hitter in 859 games, with 216 runs, 91 doubles, 30 homers and 205 RBIs. Despite a few double-digit stolen base totals in the minors and Mexico, he went 4-for-9 in steals during his big league career. He comes from a huge baseball family, one of a handful of three generation families in big league history. His dad Sam Hairston played five years in the Negro Leagues and another year for the 1951 White Sox. His brother John Hairston played for the 1969 Chicago Cubs,  and his sons Jerry and Scott played a combined total of 27 seasons in the majors.

Ray Harrell, pitcher for the 1940 Pirates. Prior to joining the Pirates as a waiver pickup in January 1940 (at a cost of $7,500), he played parts of four seasons in the majors with three different teams, compiling a 9-20 record in 104 games. Harrell did not have a strong debut in pro ball after getting noticed for his earlier work in semi-pro ball. Playing in Class-B in 1933 at 21 years old, he had a 10-16, 6.04 record and 161 walks in 210 innings while playing for Quincy of the Mississippi Valley League. He moved up to Rochester of the Double-A International League in 1934 and showed massive improvements, with a 12-9, 4.06 record in 184 innings, while putting up a much lower walk rate. Harrell debuted with the St Louis Cardinals at the start of the 1935 season and had a 6.67 ERA in 29.2 innings over 11 outings, before spending the final three months of the season in the minors back at Rochester. He spent all of 1936 at Rochester, posting a 14-13, 4.80 record in 212 innings. He then spent all of 1937 with the Cardinals, where he had a 5.87 ERA in 96.2 innings over 15 starts and 20 relief appearances. He did slightly better in a limited role in 1938, putting up a 4.86 ERA in 63 innings, while making three starts and 29 relief appearances. Harrell was sold to the Chicago Cubs after the 1938 season, then traded to the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1939 season. He had a 5.87 ERA that year in 12 starts and 14 relief appearances, with most of that time coming with the Phillies, after posting an 8.31 ERA in 17.1 innings with the Cubs.

After joining the Pirates in January of 1940, Harrell pitched three games during his only season with the team. All of his appearances were in relief, all in losses, and all came within a four-day stretch in early May. He allowed five runs in 3.1 innings before being sent down to the minors, where he posted a 6-23, 3.77 record pitching for Portland of the Double-A Pacific Coast League.  When the Pirates released him to Portland on May 14th, they did it with an agreement in place that allowed them to purchase Portland catcher Ed Fernandes by September 6, 1940. Fernandes was playing for the Pirates just four weeks later. Usually when you see a player from the 40’s with a big gap in their Major League career it is because they served during WWII, but Harrell actually played in the minors the whole time until getting a brief shot with the 1945 New York Giants, which ended up being his last season in the majors. He pitched 12 times in relief that season, posting a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings. Most of that time between big league appearances was spent with San Francisco of the PCL, where he won 20 games and threw 300 innings in 1944. He won 162 games during his 15-season minor league career, which wrapped up in 1950 playing for Fitzgerald of the Class-D Georgia-Florida League. He was the player-manager that year, going 15-10 on the mound. His final big league record stands at a 9-20, 5.70 record in 330 innings over 31 starts and 88 relief appearances.

Skip Dowd, pitcher for the Pirates on July 5, 1910, which ended up being his only Major League game. He came to the Pirates right after he graduated from Holy Cross College. Dowd actually wasn’t pitching during his last year at college due to an early season arm injury. He was still playing though, seeing time at first base and in center field. Prior to that season, he was already recognized as being a strong hitter, who played in the field when he wasn’t pitching. He was also considered to be one of the top college pitchers of the day, plus he played forward for the school’s basketball team. The Pirates originally signed him in March of 1910, but nothing was announced so that he was able to play his final season of college ball. Before his deal was announced in mid-June, it was believed that he would sign with the Cincinnati Reds, who made him a strong offer to sign, though no one knew that Barney Dreyfuss already had his signature on a deal after putting in a better offer. The local press in Pittsburgh knew that a “mysterious collegian pitcher” signed in March, but they didn’t learn his identity until June 15th. He reported to the Pirates on June 29th after graduating. Pitcher Bill Powell started for the Pirates on July 5th against the Chicago Cubs, which ended up being his last start for the Pirates. Unlike Dowd, he was able to pitch 15 games for the team before they gave up on him. Dowd came in to finish off an 11-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs that day. The last four runs by Chicago were all scored against him, though none of them were earned runs. He pitched to 13 batters in his two innings, giving up four hits, two walks and he hit a batter.

Dowd ended up spending four weeks with the Pirates, despite pitching just one game. He would be sold to Indianapolis of the Class-A American Association on July 25th, which happened to be the same day the Pirates let loose Bill Powell. Dowd’s stay in Indianapolis was short as well in 1910, though it was assumed that his arm injury limited his effectiveness and Indianapolis brought him back in 1911.  He spent six seasons (including 1910) in the minors before retiring as a player. He played the 1912-13 seasons with Utica of the Class-B New York State League, then played the next two years for Montreal of the International League. At 26 years old in 1915, he had a 14-9 record and pitched 231 innings, yet that ended up being his final season under odd circumstances. Just before the year ended in Montreal, his contract was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds. He was allowed to finish the season in Montreal, then had to report to the Reds in the spring of 1916. Local papers even touted him as being the possible ace of the pitching staff, but he did so poorly in his chances that the Reds parted ways with him after his appearance on March 19th, 24 days before the opening of the season. His contract was sold back to Montreal, but shortly after he arrived there, his father passed away and Dowd took over the family business. He retired, but played some semi-pro ball close to home after that point. He is one of 77 players from Holy Cross to make it to the majors, although none have appeared in a game since 1977. His real name was James Joseph Dowd.

John Sullivan, catcher for the 1908 Pirates. His big league time was very brief and spread over two seasons. He played in the minors from 1900 until 1910. He didn’t debut in pro ball until he was 27 years old, though when the Pirates brought him up eight years later, he was referred to as “young” during the recap of his first game. He debuted in pro ball at a high level, playing for Kansas City of the Class-A American League in 1900, one year before the league was elevated to Major League status. When he was signed by Kansas City in January of 1900, it was said that he played catcher and first base in San Francisco in 1899. He also saw time with Denver of the Class-B Western League, where he would spend the 1901 season (then reclassified as Class-A). In 1902, Sullivan spent the season with Helena of the Class-B Pacific Northwest League, where he hit .254 in 115 games. The next season was spent with St Paul of the Class-A American Association, where he stayed until his big league debut at the start of the 1905 season. Sullivan hit .230 with 14 extra-base hits and 41 runs in 120 games in 1903. He then batted .250 with 13 doubles in 108 games in 1904, which helped earn him an Opening Day job in 1905 with the Detroit Tigers. Sullivan played 13 games for the Tigers over the first two months in 1905, then returned to St Paul for the rest of the season. That was his only Major League experience before his brief stint with the Pirates.

In 1906, Sullivan spent most of the year with Kansas City of the American Association, but he hit just .163 in 88 games. He also played for Topeka of the Class-C Western Association that year. In 1907, he was with Kansas City for the entire season, hitting .223 in 121 games, with 27 runs, 11 doubles and 12 steals. Prior to joining the 1908 Pirates, he was playing for Kansas City, where he hit just .211 with four extra-base hits in 90 games. Sullivan and his teammate, pitcher Chick Brandon, were purchased on August 29, 1908 (the same day they acquired Bill Powell) and joined the Pirates on September 2nd, three days before his debut with the team. The pair was asked to report early when Pirates pitcher Bob Vail become ill and was unable to pitch, although Vail happened to be the starting pitcher during Sullivan’s only game, so he recovered fairly quickly it appears. Sullivan came into the game in the sixth inning and caught Sam Leever for the final four innings of an 11-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on September 5, 1908. It would be his only game for the Pirates. He went 0-for-1 at the plate with a walk and he threw out the only runner that tried to steal against him, which happened in the ninth inning with the score already 11-0. Apparently it was okay to attempt a stolen base late in a blowout back then, but the 35-year-old Sullivan had a strong arm and still got his man. He went 19-for-36 throwing out runners during his short time in the majors.  After his one game with the Pirates, Sullivan was soon sent back to Kansas City because he refused to finish out the season for a salary of $350, which would have been his total pay from September 2nd through October 4th. He left the Pirates on September 11th without ever signing a contract. He played for Kansas City for all of 1909 and part of 1910, while also seeing time with two teams from the New England League in 1910, which was his final season of pro ball.