This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 18th, Dick Littlefield and Elbie Fletcher

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players and a manager were born on this date.

Brian Fisher, pitcher for the 1987-89 Pirates. He was born in Hawaii and became the 17th player from that state to make the majors when he debuted in 1985. Fisher was drafted out of high school in Colorado at 18 years old in 1980, taken in the second round by the Atlanta Braves. While he never played in the majors with the Braves, he was in their minor league system for five seasons before the New York Yankees acquired him in December of 1984 in a trade for veteran catcher Rick Cerone. Fisher was a starter in the minors for the Braves, spending one full season at five different levels, as he worked his way up to Triple-A in 1984. His draft year saw him go 5-3, 3.84 in 61 innings over 12 starts, with 53 walks and 48 strikeouts for the Gulf Coast League Braves. In 1981, he went 6-8, 4.26 in 152 innings, with 152 strikeouts for Anderson of the Class-A South Atlantic League. His best minor league season happened in 1982 with Durham of the Class-A Carolina League, when he had a 2.77 ERA in 104 innings, with 123 strikeouts. He also walked just 43 batters that year, significantly improving his control for a second straight season.

Fisher struggled in Double-A Savannah of the Southern League in 1983 with a 5.22 ERA in 150 innings over 27 starts. After striking out more than a batter per inning over the previous two seasons combined, he had just 103 strikeouts in 1983. Despite the poor results, he still got the call to Triple-A to start 1984. He responded with a 9-11, 4.28 record in 29 starts and 183 innings pitched for Richmond of the International League. He saw his strikeout rate take a small drop again, down to 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 1984. After the trade to the Yankees, Fisher needed just a month at Triple-A in 1985 before he made the majors. He had an impressive rookie season as a reliever, going 4-4, 2.38 in 98.1 innings over 55 appearances. The Yankees even used his as a closer for a time, during which he picked up 14 saves. The sophomore jinx hit Fisher hard and he even spent a brief time at Triple-A in 1986. He made 62 appearances for the Yankees that year and threw 96.2 innings, posting a 9-5 record with six saves. Those are all nice numbers, but he had a 4.93 ERA that year, which was the highest full-season mark during his big league career. He really didn’t pitch poorly throughout the year, just had a few implosions here and there until mid-August. Over a five-week stretch (August 15 – September 17) he posted a 10.38 ERA in 17.1 innings. Fisher had a 3.86 ERA prior to that rough patch.

He spent two years in the Yankees bullpen without a start before the Pirates acquired him in a six-player deal on November 26, 1986 that also brought Doug Drabek back to Pittsburgh. The Pirates moved Fisher to a starting role in 1987 and he responded with an 11-9, 4.52 record in 185.1 innings over 26 starts and 11 relief appearances. He tossed three shutouts that year, though he finished with four career shutouts. He had similar results the following season, going 8-10, 4.61 in 146.1 innings, but his strikeout total dropped from 117 to 66 and his WHIP went up from 1.39 to 1.46 in 1988. He had knee and shoulder surgery over the 1988-89 off-season. Fisher started 1989 on the disabled list, then pitched poorly when he returned. He went on the DL again and required another knee surgery, which prompted the Pirates to send him to Triple-A to finish the year after he returned. Following the season he was released. He went 0-3, 7.94 in 17 innings over three starts and six relief outings. Fisher pitched in pro ball until 1993 but he played just 26 Major League games after leaving the Pirates. He had four relief appearances for the 1990 Houston Astros, giving up five runs over five innings, and he got released in August. He spent 1991 in Triple-A for the Milwaukee Brewers, then signed a free agent deal with the Pirates, who cut him from big league camp in mid-March and released him at the end of Spring Training. He then spent half of that 1992 season in Triple-A for the Cincinnati Reds, before they traded him to the Seattle Mariners, where he went to the majors and made 14 starts and eight relief appearances, going 4-3, 4.53 in 91.2 innings, while posting a 47:26 BB/SO ratio. Fisher finished his career in Triple-A with the San Francisco Giants in 1993. He went 19-22, 4.72 in 348.2 innings with the Pirates. In his seven-year career, he went 36-34, 3.49 in 640 innings over 65 starts and 157 relief appearances.

Dick Littlefield, pitcher for the Pirates from 1954 until 1956. He began his pro career with Oneonta of the Class-C Canadian-American League in 1946 at age 20. He had a 3-7, 5.45 record in 66 innings, with 67 walks and 42 strikeouts. In 1947, Littlefield went 13-4, 1.97 in 155 innings for Wellsville of the Class-D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. He went from a walk per inning as a rookie down to 53 walks and 141 strikeouts that season. In 1948, he moved up to Roanoke of the Class-B Piedmont League, where he had a 15-11, 3.29 record in 227 innings, with 164 strikeouts. In 1949, he played with Scranton of the Class-A Eastern League, where he had a 12-8, 3.40 record in 180 innings, with 90 walks and 133 strikeouts. From there he went to Birmingham of the Double-A Southern Association and had a 10-3, 2.90 record in 121 innings, which earned him his first shot at the majors in July of 1950. Littlefield began his big league career in 1950 with the Boston Red Sox at 24 years old. He posted a 9.26 ERA in 23.1 innings, with 24 walks. He made two starts and 13 relief appearances. In December of 1950, he was part of a five-player trade that sent him to the Chicago White Sox. He had an 8.38 ERA in four appearances with the 1951 Chicago White Sox, while spending the rest of the season back in the Southern Association with Memphis. In November of 1951, he was part of an eight-player trade with the St Louis Browns. Just three months later, the Browns traded him to the Detroit Tigers in a six-player deal. Exactly six months later in the middle of August, the Browns reacquired him in an eight-player deal.

Littlefield split the 1952 season between the Tigers, a brief stint at Triple-A, and the Browns, seeing his first bit of success at the big league level. He posted a 3.54 ERA in 94 innings over six starts and 29 relief appearances that season, doing much better in St Louis, where they used him as a starter. He made 22 starts and 14 relief appearances in 1953 for the Browns, going 7-12, 5.08 in 152.1 innings. His 104 strikeouts that year were a career high. The Browns went 54-100 that season, then moved to Baltimore for the 1954 campaign. The Pirates acquired Littlefield from the Baltimore Orioles on May 25, 1954 in exchange for veteran outfielder Cal Abrams. It was the fifth time Littlefield was traded since 1950. Prior to joining the Pirates, he had 12 career wins in 93 games (32 starts). For the Orioles in 1954, he had a 10.50 ERA in three relief appearances before the trade. He nearly equaled his career win total in his first four months in Pittsburgh, going 10-11, 3.60 in 155 innings over 21 starts and two relief outings. The record was impressive because the Pirates lost 101 games that year back during the days of the 154-game schedule. Like most of the Pirates pitchers in 1955, he struggled on the mound, posting a 5-12, 5.12 record in 130 innings, making 17 starts and 18 relief appearances. Three other regular pitchers on that staff had a higher ERA and only Bob Friend (14-9) had a winning record.

Early in the 1956 season, the Pirates traded Littlefield and young outfielder Bobby Del Greco to the St Louis Cardinals for young outfielder Bill Virdon.  Prior to the trade, Littlefield made two starts and four relief appearances for the Pirates, posting a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 innings. He spent 28 days with the Cardinals before they traded him to the New York Giants, after posting a 7.45 ERA in 9.2 innings. In New York, he went 4-4, 4.08 in 97 innings to finish out the 1956 season. He was involved in ten trades during his nine-year career including being traded from the Giants to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Jackie Robinson in December of 1956. After the deal, Robinson refused to report to the Giants, and the deal was voided when he decided to retire. Four months later, the Giants traded Littlefield to the Chicago Cubs in a four-player deal. He went 2-3, 5.35 in 65.2 innings over 48 appearances (two starts). The Cubs sold him to the Milwaukee Braves in March of 1958, but he didn’t last there long, making just four appearances. He played in the majors until May of 1958, then returned to the minors where he finished his career in 1962. He had a 91-69 minor league record.  Littlefield finished with a 15-23, 4.29 record in 297.2 innings with the Pirates, making 40 starts and 24 relief appearances. He had a career 33-54, 4.71 record in 761.2 innings in the majors, with 83 starts, 160 relief appearances, 16 complete games, two shutouts (both with Pittsburgh) and nine saves.

Elbie Fletcher, first baseman for the 1939-43 and 1946-47 Pirates. Fletcher debuted in the majors at 18 years old, seeing eight September games for the 1934 Boston Braves. He had just 82 games of minor league experience at that point, playing the early part of the 1934 season with Harrisburg of the Class-A New York-Penn League, where he hit .291, with 23 extra-base hits. He spent most of the 1935 season back in the minors, before rejoining Boston in mid-August. Playing for Wilkes-Barre of the New York-Penn League that year, he hit .365, with 29 extra-base hits in 71 games. He then batted .236 with one homer and nine RBIs in 39 games for Boston. Fletcher spent the entire 1936 season in the minors, playing for Buffalo of the Double-A International League (highest level of minors at the time), where he hit .344 with 67 extra-base hits in 154 games. The 1937 season was his first full year in the majors and he put up mediocre stats, especially for a position where teams usually get power. He batted .247 with one homer in 148 games, posting a .629 OPS. He had 56 runs, 22 doubles, 38 RBIs and 56 walks. He improved the next year, hitting .272 with 71 runs, 37 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs and 60 walks in 147 games. He added exactly 100 points to his OPS that season.

The Pirates acquired Fletcher from the Boston Bees (the team name changed in 1936) in exchange for infielder Bill Schuster on June 15, 1939.  Fletcher was hitting .245 with no homers in 35 games prior to the trade. He would end up playing 916 games in Pittsburgh while the Bees got just two games out of Schuster. Fletcher stepped right into the starting first baseman role and hit .303 with 23 doubles, 71 RBIs, 48 walks and an .869 OPS in 102 games that first year, which led to a 25th place finish in the MVP voting. In 1940 he started a streak of three straight seasons with over 100 walks, while leading the National League in OBP each season. He not only walked 119 times in 1940 to lead the league, he also drove in 104 runs and scored 94 times. He batted .273 with a .418 OBP, 22 doubles, seven triples, 16 homers and for good measure, he also led the league with nine hit-by-pitches. That all led to a 19th place finish in the MVP voting. We posted a full recap of his 1940 season here.  In 1941, Fletcher had an NL leading 118 walks, scored 95 runs and drove in 74 while hitting a career high 13 triples and 29 doubles. His .421 OBP helped him to a career best .878 OPS, which led to a 14th place finish in the MVP voting. He had a .289 average and 105 walks in 1942, which led to his league leader .417 OBP. He also had 86 runs scored, 34 extra-base hits and 57 RBIs, finishing the year with his fourth straight season of an .800+ OPS (he had an .810 mark that year).

Elbie (his first name was Elburt) made his only All-Star appearance in 1943. That year he led all NL first baseman in assists, putouts and fielding percentage, while batting .283 with 95 walks, 91 runs scored, 24 doubles, nine homers and 70 RBIs. He just missed his fifth straight .800+ OPS, finishing with a .791 mark. His season performance led to a 21st place finish in the MVP voting. Fletcher would lose the next two years while serving in the military (Navy) during WWII, returning to the Pirates in 1946 and picking up where he left off. He drew 111 walks, drove in 66 runs and scored 72 times. He batted .256 with 37 extra-base hits and a .739 OPS. His numbers and playing time dropped in 1947, as he was a bench player early. Through 47 games that year, he made one start and he was 0-for-14 at the plate. After that point, he put up a .757 OPS in 57 games, with 35 starts. Following the season, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for veteran first baseman Les Fleming. Fletcher spent the 1948 seasons in the minors before getting one more year at the big league level right back where he started, spending the 1949 season with the Braves. He batted .262 in 122 games in 1949, with 57 runs, 19 doubles, 11 homers, 51 RBIs and 84 walks. He finished his pro career in the minors in 1950. For the Pirates, Fletcher hit .279 with 625 walks and 464 RBIs in 916 games. In his 12-year career, he hit .271 in 1,415 games, with 723 runs, 228 doubles, 79 homers, 616 RBIs and 851 walks. He had a .384 OBP and a .774 OPS.

Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan, manager for the Pirates during the 1916-17 seasons. He was a long-time player before taking up a second shorter career as a manager. Callahan started his pro career as a pitcher in 1894 with the Philadelphia Phillies, making nine big league appearances before playing his first minor league game. He then spent two full years in the minors before spending the next nine seasons in Chicago. Callahan played four years (1897-1900) in the National League with the Colts/Orphans (Cubs), then five more years (1901-05) with the White Sox in the brand new American League. He had a 20-10, 2.46 record in 1898, then followed it up with a 21-12, 3.06 record in 1899, throwing a career high 294.1 innings. In his final year in the NL, he went 13-16, 3.82 in 285.1 innings. In his first year with the White Sox, Callahan had a 15-8, 2.42 record, and he batted .331 in 118 at-bats, with an .849 OPS. In his final year as a full-time pitcher, he went 16-14, 3.60 in 1902. From 1897 to 1902, he averaged 257 innings pitched. Callahan was one of the better hitting pitchers in baseball, which led to more playing time in the field on his days off from pitching. He took over at third base full-time for the White Sox in 1903 and pitched his final three games that season. He batted .292 that year in 118 games, with 26 doubles, 56 RBIs, 24 steals and a .711 OPS, which was well above average during the early years of the deadball era. By 1904, he was the starting left fielder, and he played a career high 132 games. Callahan batted .261 that year, with 66 runs, 23 doubles, 54 RBIs and 29 steals. In 1905, he hit .272 in 96 games, with 50 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, 26 steals, and a .704 OPS.

After the 1905 season, Callahan purchased a semi-pro team and took five years off from the majors. Due to the fact his team was considered an outlaw team, he was put on the MLB ineligible list. To clear his name he had to pay a heavy fine so he could play again when the 1911 White Sox came calling. Despite the long layoff, and the fact he was 37 years old at the time, Callahan hit .281 with 64 runs, 60 RBIs and 45 stolen bases in 120 games in 1911. Callahan batted .272 in 1912, with 45 runs, 52 RBIs and 19 steals in 111 games. His final season saw him get limited time as a pinch-hitter, starting just one game in August, which ended up being his final game. He retired after 1913 with a .273 batting average, 442 runs, 394 RBIs and 186 steals in 923 games. He had a pitching record of 99-73, 3.39 in 1,603 innings over 195 games pitched. He completed 169 of his 177 starts.  Nixey (a childhood nickname) was a player/manager for the White Sox in 1903-04 and 1912-14. He had a 309-329 record over those five seasons, with three winning seasons, though he was 11 games over .500 during those years. He worked in the White Sox front office in 1915 then took over the Pirates managerial job to start 1916. Under Callahan, the Pirates went from fifth place in 1915 down to sixth place in 1916. The team record dropped from 73-81 down to 65-89 in his first year with the team. Pittsburgh was even worse in 1917, and after a 20-40 start, he was replaced by Honus Wagner. It was the last job in baseball for Callahan, who became a successful contractor later in life.

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