Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, starting with the most recent first.
Joe Martinez, pitcher for the 2010 Pirates. He was a 12th round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2005 out of Boston College, who made his Major League debut in 2009. Martinez debuted in short-season ball after the draft and didn’t exactly impress, putting up a 4.30 ERA in 69 innings for Salem-Keizer of the Northwest League. He moved up to Low-A Augusta of the South Atlantic League the next year and went 15-5, 3.01 in 167.2 innings over 27 starts. He spent the entire season in High-A in 2007, going 10-10, 4.26, with 151 strikeouts in 162.2 innings, while playing in the high offense environment in San Jose of the California League. That was followed by the exact same 10-10 record the next year in Double-A with Connecticut of the Eastern League, except that came with a 2.49 ERA in 148 innings. His strikeout rate dropped from 8.4 per nine innings in 2007, down to 6.8 in 2008. Martinez made the big league Opening Day roster in 2009 without any Triple-A experience. He went 3-2, 7.50 in nine games that season for the Giants, five as a starter. In his second game in the majors on April 9, 2009, he was hit in the head by a liner from Mike Cameron, which caused him to miss nearly half of the season. Martinez went four full months between Major League appearances, returning to the Giants on August 5th to give up three runs over five innings in a win over the Houston Astros. In between big league appearances, he ended up making ten rehab appearances before his return. He then went to the Arizona Fall League after the season to make up for some lost time.
Martinez spent most of the first four months of the 2010 season in the minors with Fresno of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he went 5-3, 3.32 in 81.1 innings over 13 starts and a relief outing. He pitched just four games for the Giants over three separate stints, posting a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings. At the July 31st trade deadline, he was sent to the Pirates, along with John Bowker, in exchange for relief pitcher Javier Lopez. Martinez first reported to Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League, then joined the Pirates when the rosters expanded in September, posting a 3.12 ERA in 8.2 innings over five relief appearances. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians after the season and pitched at Triple-A all of 2011, going 8-9, 4.04 in 118 innings over 16 starts and 19 relief appearances for Columbus of the International League. Martinez pitched one game with the 2012 Arizona Diamondbacks after signing there as a free agent, giving up one run in one inning of work. His big league time ended with two games for the 2013 Indians, after signing as a free agent during the 2012-13 off-season. He allowed one run over five innings. He became a free agent again on October 1, 2013, but didn’t sign until getting a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Angels on March 4, 2014. Just seven weeks later, after posting a 16.36 ERA in three starts with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League, he decided to retire. Martinez went 4-3, 5.82 in his four big league seasons, making six starts and 15 relief appearances, with 55.2 innings pitched. He threw over 1,100 innings during his minor league career.
George Kopacz, first baseman for the 1970 Pirates. He signed his first pro contract in 1960, yet prior to joining the Pirates in 1970, he had just six games of Major League experience, all with the 1966 Atlanta Braves. He started out with a solid first year of pro ball at 19 years old, playing at the lowest level of the minor league system (Class-D Davenport of the Midwest League), where he hit .275/.353/.379 in 120 games, with 15 doubles, 14 triples, 61 RBIs and 54 walks. He moved up one level in 1961 and hit .327 with 32 doubles, 11 homers, 88 RBIs, 58 walks and 105 runs scored in 127 games for Boise of the Pioneer League. Kopacz moved up one level again in 1962 and saw a slight dip in his production across the board, though it was coming in a more pitcher-friendly league. With Yakima of the Class-B Northwest League, he hit .284 in 138 games, with 86 runs, 39 extra-base hits, 66 RBIs and 58 walks. He made what appeared to be a big move towards making the majors in 1963 while playing in the Double-A Texas League with Austin. Kopacz batted .321 in 140 games, with 102 runs scored, 31 doubles, eight homers and 86 RBIs. He had a very odd 1964 season that was a setback, playing for three different Triple-A clubs and then back at Double-A with Austin at one point, with mediocre results at both levels. Combined that year, he hit .237 in 120 games, with very low power numbers and 53 walks.
That off year in 1964 led to Kopacz returning to the Texas League in 1965 for the entire season, where his .711 OPS in 128 games was well below his .809 mark two years earlier. He batted .268 with 57 runs, 30 extra-base hits and 46 RBIs. Back in Austin again in 1966, he put up an .819 OPS in 94 games, then had a .744 OPS in 19 games in Triple-A Richmond of the International League, before getting called up to the majors in mid-September. He went 0-for-9 with a walk and run scored in six games for the Braves. Kopacz spent most of 1967 and 1968 back in Double-A, with average results each year. With Austin in 1967, he hit .258 in 108 games, with 50 runs, 44 RBIs and a .714 OPS. He also hit .172 in nine games with Richmond. With Shreveport of the Texas League in 1968, he batted .239 in 100 games, with 43 runs, 14 homers, 39 RBIs and a .771 OPS. He played 21 games with Shreveport and 41 games with Richmond during the first half of the 1969 season. Pittsburgh acquired him in July of 1969 in exchange for outfielder Shaun Fitzmaurice, who had nine big league games to his credit, all coming in 1966. Kopacz remained in Triple-A after the deal and didn’t do much in 33 games with Columbus of the International League, but his second push to the majors was just ahead of him. In 95 total games in 1969, he hit .243 with 47 runs, nine doubles, 11 homers, 37 RBIs and 47 walks.
In Columbus in 1970, Kopacz hit .310 with 19 doubles, 29 homers, 110 RBIs, 71 walks and 100 runs scored, winning the International League MVP and earning a September call-up to the Pirates. He went 3-for-16 in ten games, with two starts at first base and the rest of his appearances as a pinch-hitter. He returned to the minors in 1971 and played three more seasons, the first two as a member of the Pirates organization. The Pirates actually sold Kopacz to the Milwaukee Brewers on October 17, 1970, but he was returned to the Pirates on March 25, 1971 after a poor showing during Spring Training. While he didn’t approach his big numbers from 1970, he had solid seasons while with Pittsburgh’s new Charleston affiliate in the International League, putting up an .879 OPS with 19 homers and 86 RBIs in 1971, and an .830 mark in 1972, when he hit .304 with 25 doubles, 12 homers, 71 RBIs and 79 walks in 136 games. His final year was spent with the New York Yankees affiliate in Syracuse (International League), where he saw a large drop in his production at 32 years old. The Pirates traded him to the Yankees on March 1, 1973 for Tony Solaita, a younger first baseman, with one game of big league experience. Kopacz batted .238 during his final season, with 17 doubles, seven homers, 57 RBIs and 63 walks in 132 games. In 1,728 minor league games, he hit 144 homers and drove in 834 runs. His big league time amounted to a .120 average in 16 games, with two runs, no extra-base hits or RBIs, and one walk.
Vic Janowicz, catcher for the Pirates in 1953-54. He was a Heisman winner in College at Ohio State, who the Pirates signed as a bonus baby. His high bonus amount (reported first as $25,000, though it was apparently more like $10,000) meant that the Pirates had to keep him on their Major League roster for two full seasons before he could be sent to the minors, or they would lose the rights to his contract. It was announced in October of 1952 that he would attend Spring Training with the 1953 Pirates, but he didn’t actually sign with the team until December 2nd, shortly after being released from the Army. An article from a Pittsburgh paper in February of 1950 noted that the Cleveland Indians were interested in signing Janowicz, but Pirates owner had a hand in him going to Ohio State, suggesting almost three full years before he signed with the team that he would eventually join the Pirates. Janowicz played just one game of college baseball, but he saw plenty of baseball action while serving in the Army. He saw limited playing time during his two seasons in Pittsburgh, despite the fact the Pirates lost over 100 games each year. He was a catcher during his first season, then saw most of his playing time in 1954 at third base. In 83 career games he hit .214 with two homers and ten RBIs, though he did much better during his first season. Janowicz batted .252 in 42 games in 1953, seeing most of that time from July 10th until the end of the season. He played just six of the first 85 games that year, three as a starter, and he had just one complete game during that time. His first game was the 40th game of the season. Over the final 69 team games, he started 29 games behind the plate.
In 1954, Janowicz started a late April game in left field and he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. He didn’t start another game, or even play an inning in the field, until July 5th. Over a 63-game stretch between starts, he pinch-hit seven times and pinch-ran six times. From July 5th until July 24th, he was the everyday third baseman, but he batted just .158 during that stretch. After July 24th, he played just nine more games and made one start. The Pirates used seven different starters at third base in 1954, with six of them making more than ten starts. The Pirates released Janowicz after the 1954 season, though they didn’t have much choice because he signed a lucrative two-year deal to play in the NFL for the Washington Redskins, with his contract noting that he couldn’t play baseball. He never played a single inning of minor league ball. Unfortunately for Janowicz, a car accident in 1956 ended his playing career. He played 22 games for the Redskins, seeing time as their running back and their kicker, while also being used as a punter once, and he threw six passes as well. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976. We recently posted a Card of the Day article looking at his 1954 Topps card.
Preacher Roe, lefty pitcher for the 1944-47 Pirates. He was originally signed by the St Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1938 for a $5,000 bonus. He pitched one game in the majors that season at 22 years old and he allowed four runs in 2.2 innings. It would be six years later before he reached the majors again. On September 30, 1943 the Pirates sent two players and cash to the Cardinals for Roe. He had pitched the previous five seasons in the upper minors, getting into 150 games, 85 as a starter, although he never topped 167 innings pitched. During the 1939 season, he went 7-4, 4.35 in 118 innings over 11 starts and 21 relief appearances for Rochester of the Double-A (highest level at the time) International League. With Rochester again in 1940, Roe went 5-8, 3.94 in 128 innings over 15 starts and 16 relief appearances. He spent the next three years with Columbus of the Double-A American Association, where he went 11-9, 3.57 in 1941, with 20 starts, ten relief appearances, and 159 innings pitched. In 1942, Roe had a 6-11, 3.02 record in 158 innings over 17 starts and 16 relief appearances. He had his best year with Columbus in 1943, going 15-7, 2.37 in 167 innings, with six shutouts and 16 complete games in 22 starts. That would be his last time in the minors.
For the 1944 Pirates, Roe went 13-11, 3.11 in 39 games (25 starts) with 185.1 innings pitched. He would win 14 games in 1945, upping his innings pitched to 235, while throwing 15 complete games in 31 starts. He led the National League in strikeouts that year with a career high of 148, and his 2.87 ERA ranked sixth in the league. An off-season fight prior to 1946 led to a skull fracture that severely hampered his last two seasons in Pittsburgh. Roe asked for a received a substantial raise for the 1946 after a brief holdout in January, but just two weeks later, he was mixed up in a brawl that happened while he was coaching a basketball game on February 9th. He got a late start during Spring Training that year and pitched only in relief for the first month, before starting his first game on May 9th. Roe ended up going 3-8, 5.14 in 70 innings over ten starts and 11 relief appearances in 1946. The next year saw him go 4-15, 5.25 in 144 innings over 22 starts and 16 relief appearances. He had just 59 strikeouts that season, two years after leading the league in strikeouts. In December 1947 he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in a six-player deal that turned out awful for the Pirates, mainly due to Roe’s contributions in Brooklyn.
Roe would pitch seven seasons in Brooklyn, going 93-37 for a team that would make three World Series appearances during his time there. His success in Brooklyn was immediate. In 1948 he went 12-8, while posting a career best 2.63 ERA in 177.2 innings over 22 starts and 16 relief appearances. He went 15-6, 2.79 in 212.2 innings in 1949, then threw a shutout in game two of the World Series. Roe made the All-Star team that season for the first of four consecutive years. He also received mild MVP support each year, topping out with a fifth place finish in 1951. During the 1950 season, he went 19-11, 3.30 in 250.2 innings. He had an incredible win-loss record in 1951 at 35 years old, going 22-3, 3.04 in 257.2 innings, with 19 complete games in 33 starts. He set a career high in innings and he had his only 20-win season that year. Roe’s workload dropped over his final three seasons, but he was still effective, and the Dodgers made it to the World Series in 1952 and 1953. He went 11-2, 3.12 in 158 innings in 1952, then won game three of the World Series. He was also used in relief twice during the postseason. Despite a 4.36 ERA in 1953, he still had an 11-3 record, which was helped by playing for a first place team. He lost his only start during the World Series that year. Despite a 2.54 ERA in 28.1 innings over three World Series, the Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees all three seasons. In his final season, Roe was used sparingly, mostly as a spot starter. He had a 5.00 ERA in 63 innings over ten starts and five relief outings. He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles after the season, but decided to retire instead. In his career, he went 127-84, 3.43 in 1,914.1 innings. He made 261 starts, 72 relief appearances, threw 101 complete games and 17 of those games were shutouts. With the Pirates, he went 34-47, 3.73 in 634.1 innings. His first name was Elwin, but he went by the Preacher nickname that he picked up as a child.
Walter “Jack” Hammond, second baseman for the 1922 Pirates. He first played minor league ball in 1909 before attending Colgate University, splitting 62 games during his pro debut between two teams in the Class-B New England League. Hammond returned to the minors in 1914 with Springfield of the Class-B Eastern Association and he hit .261 with 33 extra-base hits and 41 steals in 124 games. He then played with the Cleveland Indians, making their 1915 Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. In 35 games, he hit .214 with four RBIs and a .485 OPS. He played his final games during a July 13th doubleheader, before finishing the season in the minors with Portland of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .261 in 27 games. He remained in the minors until 1922 when he again played briefly for the Indians. He returned to Springfield in 1916, which was now playing in the Class-B Eastern League. That year he hit .319 in 122 games. He split the 1917 season between Springfield and New London, also of the Eastern League, combining to hit .286 in 83 games. He was out of baseball during the 1918 season while working a job at Colgate, but he returned in 1919 to play the next three seasons with Pittsfield of the Eastern League. He batted .326 with 26 extra-base hits in 75 games during the 1919 season. In 1920, he hit .311 in 122 games, with 22 doubles, 11 triples and three homers. Hammond played well as the player/manager for Pittsfield in 1921, impressing with his all-around game on offense, defense and his running, as well as his leadership qualities, which earned him his second chance at the majors. He hit .351 in 151 games, with 42 doubles, 17 triples and two homers.
While Hammond got a second chance with the Indians, the second time was for just one game in late April, though an injury kept him from playing more. Cleveland needed to get their roster down to 25 men by May 15th and Hammond was one of the players let go to get to that limit. He was picked up on waivers by the Pirates on May 13th. He was used sparingly in Pittsburgh, getting just two at-bats and five pinch-running appearances during his first month. Beginning on June 14, he started three straight games at second base, going 1-for-3 in each game, and he made every play hit his way in the field. Those games would be his last in the majors. He finished his playing career the next season in the minors. On June 26th, the Pirates left him behind when they went on a short road trip (five days) to Cincinnati and Chicago. Just two days later, he was released outright to Kansas City of the American Association, ending his brief time in Pittsburgh with a .273 average in nine games. Hammond hit .321 in 76 games for Kansas City over the rest of 1922, then finished his pro career with a .300 batting average and 30 extra-base hits for Kansas City in 121 games in 1923. He played a few years of independent ball before retiring. He is one of just 15 graduates of Colgate to ever play in the majors, and out of that group, Hammond is third with 45 games played. His 13 runs scored are five more than the 12 lowest players scored combined. No Colgate graduate has played in the majors since the 1963 season. He’s referred to as “Jack” now, but his real name was Walter Charles Hammond, and he was known as Walter during his time in Pittsburgh and throughout his career. The name Jack appears to be a mix-up with some other sports figures who went by that name during the same time period.
Sam LaRocque, infielder for the Pirates/Alleghenys in 1890-91. He played in the minors from 1884 until 1907, getting in just three seasons of Major League experience along the way. LaRocque debuted with Rockville of the Connecticut State League at 21 years old in 1884. He spent part of 1885 in the same league with New Britain, which also had a team in the Southern New England League that season, where he played the majority of the year. He combined to hit .287 with 24 extra-base hits and 51 runs in 66 games. In 1886, LaRocque played for the Lynn/Newburyport team in the New England League (no stats available). From there he went to Des Moines of the Northwestern League for the 1887 season, hitting .346 in 98 games, with 36 extra-base hits, 59 steals and 108 runs scored. He played his first two games in the majors in 1888 for the Detroit Wolverines, hitting .111 (1-for-9), while also making four errors. Interestingly enough, he’s credited with four hits during those two games (it needs to be updated online), but that appears to come solely from an error in The Sporting Life, which gave him four hits in the first game, when a play-by-play of the game shows that to be wrong. Part of the year was spent back with Lynn, where he batted .339 in 64 games, with 82 runs, 21 doubles, 11 homers and 39 steals. He debuted with Detroit in July, then finished the season with London of the International Association, where he hit .290 in 38 games, with 33 runs and 17 steals. Detroit purchased his contract from Lynn for $500 on July 25th and he was released just nine days later. In a sign of the times, some newspapers were still reporting his purchase after he was already released.
LaRocque played well for Quincy of the Central Interstate League in 1889, hitting .363 in 35 games, but he hit just .210 while playing for London of the more advanced International League during the rest of the year. He next appeared in the majors with the 1890 Alleghenys, a team that would finish 23-113 on the season. LaRocque was signed on October 21, 1889 as part of a group of three players signed by the Alleghenys that day, as they tried to get good players ahead of the potential losses to the upstart Player’s League in 1890. He played 111 games for the Alleghenys in 1890, hitting .242 with 27 steals and 59 runs scored. Most of his time was spent at second base, though he did get 31 games at shortstop, including the Opening Day assignment. On June 5th, the local papers announced that he was released due to excessive drinking, which earned him a fine earlier in the season. LaRocque denied that he was released and instead said that he was too sick to play at the time. Teams still controlled players for ten days back then after releasing them and just three days later, the Alleghenys rescinded their release and brought him back. He remained through the end of the season and he was one of just three players from the 1890 club to play with the team into the next season, though his stay was short. In 1891 he played one game at third base for Pittsburgh, going 0-for-4 with two errors, before being released. He moved on to Louisville of the American Association later that season, where he hit .314 in ten games, which was his last time in the big leagues.
LaRocque moved around a lot during the rest of his career. Including his two minor league stops during the 1891 season, he played for a total of 22 minor league teams over 16 seasons, seeing time in 15 different leagues. While his minor league stats are incomplete, it’s known that he played over 1,500 games and he had at least ten seasons in which he had a .300+ average. He was a player/manager for six seasons between 1892 and 1906. LaRocque hailed from Canada and his real name was Simeon Henry Jean LaRocque. His name was often spelled LaRoque while in Pittsburgh and throughout his career. He had the nickname “Larry” when he joined Detroit.