This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 11th, Dock Ellis

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one transaction of note that tied into yesterday’s history.

The Transaction

One day after trading relief pitcher Neal Heaton to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Kirk Gibson, the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates signed free agent veteran pitcher Dennis Lamp. The 39-year-old Lamp had 15 seasons of MLB experience at the time, pitching the previous four seasons for the Boston Red Sox. He was still a strong bullpen option in 1989, when he posted a 2.32 ERA in 112.1 innings, but he saw a decline in his performance during the 1990-91 seasons before joining the Pirates. Lamp had a 4.68 ERA in 1990 in 105.2 innings, followed by a 4.70 ERA in 92 innings in 1991. He didn’t do well during his time in Pittsburgh, though the results were skewed a bit by his final outing. Lamp was released in early June after giving up five earned runs over 3.2 innings on June 6th. That gave him a 5.14 ERA over 28 innings and 21 appearances. He had a 4.07 ERA going into that final game, which ended up being his last big league game. He finished with a 96-96, 3.93 record in 163 starts and 476 relief appearances, throwing a total of 1,830.2 innings.

The Players

Dock Ellis, pitcher for the 1968-75 and 1979 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in January of 1964 and sent him to Batavia of the Class-A New York-Penn League, where he made 16 starts during his first season, going 6-7, 3.20 in 121 innings, with 130 strikeouts. He then moved to Kinston of the Class-A Carolina League for 1965, going 14-8, 1.98 in 186 innings, with 149 strikeouts. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A (Columbus of the International League) for one start. Ellis pitched in Double-A with Asheville of the Southern League in 1966, where he had a 10-9, 2.76 record and 145 strikeouts in 24 starts and 160 innings. He struggled in his first extended stint at Triple-A Columbus in 1967, going 5-7, 4.59 in 100 innings over 17 starts and three relief outings. He also made three starts that year for Macon of the Southern League, posting a 2.81 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 16 innings. Ellis then moved to the bullpen in 1968, pitching 19 times with a 2.35 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 23 innings before getting called up to the majors. Once he got to the majors he was there for good, getting in 12 seasons before he retired after the 1979 season.

For the 1968 Pirates, Ellis made ten starts and 16 relief appearances. He went 6-5, 2.50 and threw 104.1 innings. He was moved to a full-time starting role in 1969 and would make just 12 more relief appearances over the rest of his career. The 1969 Pirates had an 88-74 record, but Ellis managed to post a record of just 11-17, despite a respectable 3.58 ERA in 218.2 innings pitched (league ERA was 3.59 that year). He set a career high with 173 strikeouts that season. He turned that record around in 1970, going 13-10 while lowering his ERA to 3.21 in 30 starts and 201.2 innings pitched. He threw a career high four shutouts that season, including a special one mentioned below. The Pirates won the World Series in 1971 and Ellis helped get them there with his 19-9, 3.06 record and 11 complete games in 31 starts. He led the team in wins and was second in innings pitched to Steve Blass with 226.2, which was his career high for a season. In the postseason he won his only NLCS start but was hit hard in the opener of the World Series and didn’t pitch again. He started the All-Star game for the National League that year, which ended up being his only All-Star appearance. He also finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.

Ellis had a strong 1972 season, going 15-7, 2.70 in 25 starts and 163.1 innings. He allowed just four homers that season, giving him the lowest home run rate for all NL pitchers. Despite the lower innings total, he was pitching regularly throughout the year, never going more than 18 days with a start at any point of the season. Ellis finished the year throwing shutout ball in his final three outings, totaling 21.2 innings. He lost his only start in the NLCS that year, despite not allowing an earned run during his five innings of work. He followed up that strong season with a 12-14 record in 1973, although his ERA was just 3.05 in 192 innings. While his ERA was well below team average, the Pirates finished with an 80-82 record that year. He started off really slow in 1974, going 3-8, 4.54 through his first 15 starts. His last 11 starts saw him go 9-1 while cutting his ERA down to 3.16 by the end of the season. His year ended early when he got hit in the pitching hand by a line drive. He was not the same pitcher in 1975, going 8-9, 3.79 in 140 innings over 24 starts and three relief outings. The Pirates traded him in a three-for-one deal to the New York Yankees that brought back Doc Medich. That trade turned out to be a disaster for the Pirates, as Medich ended up being the third best pitcher in the deal and the Pirates also gave up 21-year-old Willie Randolph, who put up a career that deserves a Hall of Fame look.

Ellis has a big year with the Yankees in 1976, helping them to the World Series by going 17-8, 3.19 in 211.2 innings. Despite his success that year, he finished with more walks (79) than strikeouts (65), something he never came close to doing in the majors before. He won his only ALCS start, but lost his only World Series start against the Cincinnati Reds. Ellis split the early part of the 1977 season between the Yankees and Oakland A’s, where he was sent in an April 27th trade. He had a 1.83 ERA in three starts with the Yankees, who looked like they moved on at the right time, but Ellis turned his season around after another move. He went 1-5, 9.69 in seven starts with Oakland, who sold him to the Texas Rangers on June 15th. There he had a 10-6, 2.90 in 167.1 innings. In 1978, he made 22 starts for the Rangers, going 9-7, 4.20 in 141.1 innings. His time with the Rangers lasted exactly two years. On June 15, 1979, he was traded to the New York Mets after going 1-5, 5.98 in 46.2 innings to start the season.

Ellis had a brief stint with the Mets, before returning to the Pirates in late September of 1979. He struggled in New York, posting a 6.04 ERA 85 innings. He was acquired for the last ten days of the season to help the Pirates bullpen as they trailed by a half game in the standings to the Expos with 11 games left. Pittsburgh ended up winning the division by two games and went on to win the World Series. Ellis gave up two runs over seven innings during his brief final stint in Pittsburgh. He finished with a career 138-119 record in 345 games, 317 as a starter, while posting a 3.46 ERA in 2,128 innings. He won 96 games in a Pirates uniform, the 19th highest total in team history, and only John Candelaria has won more games for the Pirates since Ellis made his debut in 1968.

On June 12, 1970 Ellis became just the fourth pitcher in Pirates history to throw a complete game no-hitter when he performed that feat against the San Diego Padres in the first game of a doubleheader. He walked eight batters and hit another, facing 36 batters in the game. It’s a game made famous by his later claim that he did it while on LSD, though his teammates all denied the story, so it’s unlikely to be true, but it still makes a good story.

Salomon Torres, pitcher for the 2002-07 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Francisco Giants in 1989 out of the Dominican Republic. He made his MLB debut four seasons later, getting eight late season starts for the 1993 Giants. He debuted in pro ball in the Dominican Summer League in 1990. He became a top ranked prospect after going 16-5, 1.41 in 28 starts with Clinton of the Class-A Midwest League as a 19-year-old in 1991. That year he had 214 strikeouts in 210.1 innings of work, which would be an overheard of total for a teenager now. In 1992, Torres spent the year with Shreveport of the Double-A Texas League, where he had a 6-10, 4.21 record in 162.1 innings, with 151 strikeouts. The 1993 seasons saw him go 14-8, 3.15 in 26 starts split between Shreveport (2.70 ERA in 12 starts) and Triple-A Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League (3.50 ERA in 105.1 innings), prior to making his big league debut in late August. Torres had 166 strikeouts in 188.2 innings before adding to those totals with the Giants. In that first big league trial, he went 3-5, 4.03 in 44.2 innings, with 27 walks and 23 strikeouts.

Torres was in the minors each of the next four seasons (1994-97), struggling in the big leagues when he got his chances. He got a longer look with the Giants in the strike-shortened 1994 season, though he finished with a 2-8, 5.44 record in 84.1 innings, making 14 starts and two relief appearances. Torres was traded mid-season in 1995 to the Seattle Mariners. He saw his stats slip again, dropping down to a 3-9, 6.30 record in 80 innings over 14 starts and six relief appearances between both stops. He had a 9.00 ERA in eight innings with the Giants before the deal. While his ERA improved in 1996, his playing time at the big league level with the Mariners was limited. He posted a 4.59 ERA in 49 innings, which was actually an improvement on the 5.29 ERA he had in 134.1 innings with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. Torres was placed on waivers in mid-April of 1997 after giving up ten runs in 3.1 innings. He was picked up by the Montreal Expos, where he didn’t fare much better, posting a 7.25 ERA in 22.1 innings. He retired after 1997 to coach, before returning to organized ball in 2001, playing briefly that year in the Korea.

The Pirates signed Torres as a free agent in December of 2001 and sent him to Triple-A, where he posted an 8-5, 3.83 record in 162.1 innings for Nashville of the Pacific Coast League. He was called up in September and pitched well in five starts, putting up a 2.70 ERA in 30 innings. He made 16 starts and 25 relief appearances for the Pirates in 2003 and posted a 7-5, 4.76 record in 121 innings, before being moved to the bullpen full-time. From 2004 until 2006, Torres averaged 85 appearances a year, making a total of 256 appearances during that stretch. He went 7-7, 2.64 in 92 innings over 84 games in 2004, finishing third in the league in games pitched. In 2005, he had a 5-5, 2.76 record in 94.2 innings over 78 games, making the fourth most appearances in the league. Torres led the league with 94 games pitched in 2006, when he went 3-6, 3.28 in 93.1 innings. He moved to the closer role in late 2006 and picked up 12 saves, but lost the job after pitching poorly through early June of 2007. He had a 5.47 ERA and 12 saves in 52.2 innings over 56 appearances during that 2007 season. That December, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for two minor league pitchers, Kevin Roberts and Marino Salas. Only Salas made the majors, and he lasted just 13 games in 2008 during his only big league season. Torres pitched one season for the Brewers before retiring, though it was an impressive season for a last year in the majors. He had a 3.49 ERA in 80 innings over 71 appearances, with 28 saves. In six seasons with the Pirates, he had a 26-28, 3.63 record in 358 games (21 starts) with 29 saves. His 94 appearances in 2006 tied Kent Tekulve (1979) for the most single season games pitched in franchise history. For his career, he went 44-58, 4.31 in 847.1 innings, with 57 saves, 497 appearances and 64 starts.

Ed Fernandes, catcher for the 1940 Pirates. Despite being just 22 years old when he made his Major League debut with the 1940 Pirates, he was already in his sixth season of pro ball. He had hit .300 in five of his first six seasons in the minors, including a .333 average in 55 games for Portland of the Double-A Pacific Coast League in 1940 (the highest level of the minors at the time), when the Pirates acquired him. Fernandes debuted at 17 years old in 1935 with Butler of the Class-D Pennsylvania State League, where he hit .305 in 66 games, with seven doubles, 11 triples and five homers. He remained in the same league for part of 1936 with Monessen, while also seeing 12 games a level higher with Zanesville of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League. He hit .336 with 18 extra-base hits in 36 games that year. In 1937, he hit .305 in 129 games for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. That year he had 22 doubles, five triples and nine homers. In 1938, Fernandes batted .282 in 112 games for Seattle, finishing with 40 runs, 17 doubles, three triples, four homers and 34 RBIs. He moved to Portland of the PCL for the 1939 season and hit .329 in 111 games, with 20 doubles and two homers.

On May 31, 1940, Fernandes was the player to be named later in a trade made two weeks earlier, with the Pirates sending veteran pitcher Roy Harrell and cash to Portland. Fernandes was the backup catcher over the rest of the season for the Pirates, usually catching the end of blowout games. He had 40 plate appearances in 29 games, with 20 of those trips to the plate coming in the last two weeks of the season. He hit .121 for the 1940 Pirates, collecting seven walks, one double and two RBIs. The Pirates sold him to the Chicago White Sox during Spring Training of 1941. After 1940, his big league career consisted of just 14 more games, all for the 1946 White Sox. With that type of gap, you might expect a long stint serving in the military during WWII, but Fernandes spent the 1941-44 seasons in the minors, playing for three different teams in three different leagues. In 1941, he spent the year with St Paul of the Double-A American Association, hitting .269 in 102 games, with 21 extra-base hits and 89 walks, leading to a .458 OBP. In 1942, he struggled with Toronto of the Double-A International League, hitting .216 with 16 extra-base hits in 79 games. However, his 68 walks led to a .443 OBP.

Fernandes was actually property of an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs in 1943-44 (Los Angeles of the PCL), but the White Sox got him back in the minor league draft in November of 1944. Los Angeles tried to trade him to Macon of the South Atlantic League in early 1943, but he didn’t want to play on the east coast and the league shut down due to WWII anyway. He ended up hitting just .189 in 30 games in 1944, seeing limited time due to his performance. In 1944, he hit .280 in 130 games, with 69 runs, 30 extra-base hits, 57 RBIs and 85 walks, which led to his second big league chance. Before he played a game for the White Sox, he entered the service and missed all of 1945. Fernandes returned to the White Sox during Spring Training in 1946 and served as a backup catcher through early July. His final game with the team was an exhibition game played on July 9th, but he remained with the club through the end of the year. He batted just 40 times in 14 games that season, hitting .250 with eight walks. His big league time officially ended on December 6, 1946 when he was sold to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. He played in the minors until 1954, playing for nine teams over his last seven seasons, never staying anywhere more than one year. He was a .285 career hitter in 1,190 minor league games over 17 seasons. During his final two seasons of pro ball, he served as a player/manager in the Class-C Pioneer League.