This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 20th, Blas Minor and Walter Schmidt

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one who spent nine seasons in a Pirates uniform.

Walter Schmidt, catcher for the 1916-24 Pirates. It took him nine seasons of minor league ball before he made his big league debut with the Pirates in 1916 at 29 years old. He debuted at age 20 in the Class-B Three-I League in 1907, playing for the Cedar Rapids Rabbits (stats are unknown for that year). Schmidt played for four different teams in four different leagues during his first four seasons of pro ball. He dropped down two levels in his second season, playing for Helena of the Arkansas State League, where the limited available stats show that he hit .257 in 382 at-bats, with 59 runs and 24 stolen bases. In 1909, he played for Winston-Salem of the Class-D Carolina Association, hitting .260 in 89 games, with one homer. In 1910, Schmidt spent the season with Roanoke of the Class-C Virginia League, hitting .213 with two doubles and two triples in 101 games. He was drafted by the Cleveland Naps (Indians) after the 1909 season and by the Philadelphia Athletics after the 1910 season, but both teams cut ties with him before he could attend Spring Training with the club.

Some players showed power in the minors that didn’t translate to the majors, but Schmidt never hit for any power at any level of baseball. He finally settled down with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, where he spent the 1911-1915 seasons, averaging 127 games played per year. Schmidt hit .265 in 87 games in 1911, with eight doubles and one homer. The PCL was considered to be Class-A in 1911, then it moved up to Double-A in 1912, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. Schmidt hit .262 that second year in 134 games, with 24 doubles and a triple. In 1913, he batted .249 in 144 games, with 44 runs, 15 doubles, three triples, one homer and 33 steals. In 1914, he put up a .262 average in 142 games, with 12 doubles and five triples. In his final season with San Francisco, Schmidt hit .245 in 127 games, with ten doubles, two triples and two homers. His signing with the Pirates in September of 1915 was an interesting one to say the least. He had to buy his own release from San Francisco, just so he could sign a deal with the Pirates. Schmidt hit .190 over 64 games in his first season with Pittsburgh, with two homers in 184 at-bats. Both home runs had significance. The first came off of the all-time great Christy Mathewson, while the second one would be his last home run until late in the 1924 season, two weeks away from the end of his Pirates career. Following his rookie year, his hitting improved to the point that he never hit less than .238 in any season. His .486 OPS in 1916 was easily the worst of his career.

In 1917, Schmidt hit .246 with seven doubles and 17 RBIs in 72 games, nearly splitting the catching in half with primary starter William Fischer. He scored just nine runs all year, though the Pirates barely did better, scoring just 464 runs all season. They finished with a 51-103 record. He finished with 202 plate appearances in each of his first two seasons. Schmidt became the starting catcher during the shortened 1918 season (due to the war). He batted .238 in 105 games, with 27 RBIs and 31 runs scored. His .556 OPS that year was the second worst of his career. He threw out 59.1% of runners attempting to steal that year, which led the National League. He received more starts than any other catcher in 1919, playing 85 games, with a .251 average, 23 runs, 11 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs and a 23:9 BB/SO ratio. He finished second in the league with a 51.9% success rate throwing out runners. Schmidt saw his average go up to .277 in 1920, though all of baseball saw an increase in offense due to rules that helped the batters (certain pitches were made illegal, while new baseballs were put in play more often). He finished with 22 runs, 20 RBIs and 24 walks in 94 games.

Schmidt had his best season in 1921 when offense continued to rise around baseball, hitting .282 in 114 games, breaking the 100-hit barrier for the only time in his career. He set a high with 38 RBIs and ten stolen bases. He threw out 57.1% of runners that year, and he led the league with a .986 fielding percentage. During Spring Training in 1922, he held out from signing his contract, looking for a two-year deal. Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss wouldn’t budge on the contract he sent Schmidt to sign, so he ended up missing the first 99 games of the season before finally rejoining the team. He caught almost every day after returning and managed to hit .329 in 40 games. His .748 OPS in the half year was well above his second best career total set back in 1920. Schmidt had the busier part of a platoon with Johnny Gooch in 1923. Schmidt batted .248 in 97 games, with 37 RBIs and a career high of 39 runs scored, though it came with a .581 OPS, due to a low walk rate and nine extra-base hits in 335 at-bats. Gooch took over as the primary catcher in 1924, and then Earl Smith was acquired mid-season when both Gooch and Schmidt were injured. In his final season with the Pirates, Schmidt batted .243 in 58 games. His third career home run came on September 16th in Philadelphia and it was a grand slam off of Johnny Couch. That year he led the league by throwing out 56% of runners attempting to steal.

Schmidt finished his Major League career as a backup for the 1925 St Louis Cardinals, which was unfortunate timing on his part twice, as the Pirates won the 1925 World Series and the Cardinals won it all in 1926. The Pirates released him on December 16, 1924, giving him his unconditional release, which allowed him to sign anywhere. Part of the reason that the Pirates cut ties with him was that he was among the highest paid catchers in baseball, pulling down a $12,000 salary. He batted .253 with nine runs and nine RBIs in 37 games during that final season spent with the Cardinals. He played in the minors for four more seasons before retiring, spending his last year back in San Francisco. Schmidt threw out 51% of runners attempting to steal during his career, and he would lead National League catchers in games caught twice, assists twice, caught stealing percentage twice, fielding percentage once and putouts once. In 729 games with the Pirates, he hit .257 with 225 RBIs and 207 runs scored. His brother Charles “Boss” Schmidt, played six seasons in the majors with the Tigers and was the opposing catcher to the Pirates during the 1909 World Series

Blas Minor, pitcher for the 1992-94 Pirates. He was drafted four times, twice by the Philadelphia Phillies, before he finally signed with the Pirates in 1988. Minor was first selected out of Merced College in the January draft in 1985, taken in the 11th round by the Kansas City Royals. When June rolled around and he had not signed, the Phillies took him in the fifth round. He passed on that selection, only to have the Phillies take him again seven months later in the first round, going 24th overall. Minor balked at that deal in order to attend Arizona State, where he was chosen in the sixth round in 1988 by the Pirates. He was a closer during his first year in rookie ball with Princeton of the Appalachian League, where he had a 4.41 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 16.1 innings, while picking up seven saves in 15 appearances. Minor then jumped to Salem of the Class-A Carolina League for his first full season in 1989, pitching 86.2 innings with a 3.63 ERA and 62 strikeouts. He made four starts among his 39 appearances that season. He spent the 1990 season at Double-A Harrisburg of the Eastern League, where he had 38 appearances (six as a starter), with a 3.06 ERA, 100 strikeouts, and five saves in 94 innings. He got one appearance with Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association that year and he allowed one run in 2.2 innings. Minor struggled his first full season at Triple-A with a 5.75 ERA in 36 innings in 1991, while also seeing some brief time (12.2 innings) back in Double-A with Carolina of the Southern League. He made five starts and 15 relief appearances that season. Despite the poor stats in Triple-A, he got a non-roster invite to Spring Training in 1992. Minor put it all together that season in Buffalo, posting a 2.45 ERA in 45 games (seven starts), with 18 saves in 96.1 innings.

During the middle of that 1992 season, Minor made his Major League debut, pitching two innings on July 28th. It would be his only big league appearance that year, but the following season he made the Pirates Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. In 65 games as a reliever in 1993, Minor went 8-6 4.10 with two saves and 94.1 innings pitched. He had a strong BB/SO ratio, striking out 84 while walking just 26 batters. In 1994, he pitched extremely poor, lasting only nine games before being sent back to Triple-A. He was recalled in mid-June, but was demoted again after just one month, and then never returned to the Pirates, partially due to the strike that ended the season in mid-August. He finished the year with an 8.05 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP in 19 innings over 17 appearances. He did well during his time in Buffalo that season, with a 2.98 ERA in 51.1 innings. Minor was put on waivers in November of 1994, where he was picked up by the New York Mets. The 1995 season was his last full year in the majors, despite putting up solid results once the strike ended and they started playing in late April. He had a 3.66 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 46.2 innings over 35 appearances. He began 1996 with the Mets, posting a 3.51 ERA in 25.2 innings over 17 appearances, before he was traded to the Seattle Mariners on June 9th. Minor split the rest of the season between the majors and Triple-A, putting up a 4.97 ERA in 25.1 innings with the Mariners. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Houston Astros. In his final big league stint in 1997, which lasted from early June through mid-July, Minor gave up six earned runs in 12 innings over 11 appearances. He spent the next two seasons in the minors with the Milwaukee Brewers, before finishing his pro career by playing in Mexico in 2000. With the Pirates, he went 8-7, 4.76 in 115.1 innings over 83 appearances. In his big league career, he finished with a 13-10, 4.40 record and 184 strikeouts in 225 innings over 157 appearances, all in relief. He had five saves spread out over four seasons.

Rick Langford, pitcher for the 1976 Pirates. He was drafted by the St Louis Cardinals in the 11th round in 1971 and the Cleveland Indians in the 36th round in 1972, but did not sign with either club. The Pirates signed Langford as an amateur free agent in June 1973, after he pitched for Manatee Junior College (now called State College of Florida), which is located just outside of the Pirates Spring Training home in Bradenton, Florida. He pitched just ten innings that first year in the Gulf Coast League, though he didn’t allow an earned run. He moved up to Class-A in 1974, playing with Salem of the Carolina League, where he had an 11-7, 2.69 record and 125 strikeouts in 174 innings. He pitched seven complete games that year and threw three shutouts. Langford split 1975 between Double-A Shreveport of the Texas League and Triple-A Charleston of the International League, going 12-4, 3.45 in 107 innings, with similar results in both stops. Langford began 1976 in Charleston, before he was called-up in June to make his big league debut. He pitched ten games before he was returned to Charleston, where he won nine of his 16 starts that year, with a 3.20 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 121 innings. He returned to the Pirates in September for two more appearances, finishing his first big league season with a 6.26 ERA in 23 innings. During Spring Training of 1977, the Pirates sent him to the Oakland A’s in a nine-player deal that brought Phil Garner to Pittsburgh. Langford would go on to play ten seasons in Oakland.

The A’s were extreme bad when Langford first joined the team. He was put in the starting rotation and compiled a 4.02 ERA in 208.1 innings, which resulted in an 8-19 record, which led the American League in losses. While he had three seasons with more innings pitched, his 141 strikeouts in 1977 stood as his career high that he never approached in any other season. He split the 1978 season between starting (24 games) and relief (13 appearances), finishing 7-13, 3.43 in 175.2 innings. Back to starting full-time in 1979, he posted his highest full-season ERA (4.28) in 218.2 innings. His 12-16 record that year was actually good compared to the 42-92 record the team had when he didn’t record a decision. The A’s had an incredible turnaround in 1980, adding 29 wins to their total, finishing with a winning record one year after a 54-108 season. Langford was a big part of that with his best career season. He went 19-12, 3.26, while leading the league with 28 complete games and 290 innings. His 102 strikeouts that year gave him his second highest season total. He threw 22 straight complete games at one point, and had a crazy record during June and July when he lost every start in June and won every start in July. He was headed for a similar season in 1981 before the strike knocked 50+ games off of the schedule. Langford finished that year 12-10, 2.99 in 195.1 innings, once again leading the league in complete games (18). The A’s locked him up for six years prior to the 1981 season, which turned out to be a very bad decision for them. That 1981 campaign turned out to be his last strong season, and then the 1982 season turned out to be his last healthy season.

Langford went 11-16, 4.21 in 237.1 innings in 1982, then spent the next four years battling to stay healthy. He had a 12.15 ERA in seven starts in 1983, missing time early and late due to right elbow tendinitis, which resulted in surgery that kept him completely out of action until a rehab appearance in May of 1984. It appeared as if he would soon return to action with the A’s, but multiple setbacks limited him to three minors league starts over the first five months of that season. He ended up pitching just 8.2 innings for the A’s in 1984, returning to the club in September, going 13 1/2 months between big league appearances. He had a 3.51 ERA in 1985, but he was limited to 59 innings due to elbow issues keeping him out until June. He was released in the middle of the 1986 season after going 1-10, 7.36 in 55 innings. He pitched for the New York Yankees in Triple-A in 1988 before retiring. In his career, he went 73-106, 4.01 in 1,491 innings, with 196 starts, 85 complete games, ten shutouts and 64 relief appearances. Since 1996, he has held multiple jobs with the Toronto Blue Jays, including coaching jobs at the Major League level.

Tom Stankard, infielder for the 1904 Pirates. He was a highly sought after player while still in college, before deciding to sign with the Pirates on December 10, 1903, with the understanding that he would finish school first. In March of 1904, it was said that the Pirates expected Stankard to join the team in June, right after his term at Holy Cross ended. He was the captain of their baseball team and had a reputation as a slugger, who could play almost any position. His big league career consisted of just two games, both of them off of the bench. He went 0-for-2 at the plate and saw some innings at third base and shortstop, handling two chances in the field without issue. Stankard played his only two games 24 days apart in July of 1904. He officially debuted with the Pirates on July 2nd, but he actually started a game with them on June 30th, three days after he reported to the team. It was an in-season exhibition game against a local team called Homestead, and he batted eighth and played first base. He went 0-for-3 with a run scored and he handled ten plays in the field without issue. His actual pro/big league debut was as a ninth inning replacement at shortstop for Honus Wagner, who suffered a minor injury two innings earlier in a 14-2 game. Stankard then played the final five innings of a game on July 26th, getting put in at third base by acting manager Tommy Leach, who was standing in for Fred Clarke, who was out due to typhoid fever. The Pirates let Stankard go just two days after his last game, although the same report said that he never signed with the team and was just there on trial. He immediately joined Jersey City of the Class-A Eastern League, where he finished off the season. He batted .222 with a double in 14 games for Jersey City.

Stankard never made it back to the majors, but he would go on to play another ten years in pro ball after the 1904 season. Much of that minor league time was spent in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he played during the 1906-08 and 1913-14 seasons. Nine of his ten years were spent in the northeast, with the only outlier being his 1909 season playing for Denver of the Class-A Western League. He was with Montpelier-Barre of the Northern New York League in 1905, then joined Springfield of the Class-B Connecticut State League for the next three season. Stankard hit .319 with 29 doubles and nine triples in 96 games during the 1906 season. He then followed it up with a .297 average in 111 games in 1907, and a .296 average, 36 extra-base hits and 30 steals in 122 games in 1908. In his one season in Denver, he hit .294 with 20 doubles, ten triples and seven homers in 142 games. The 1910 season was split between Brockton of the Class-B New England League and New Britain of the Connecticut State League. He hit just .220 with 22 extra-base hits in 113 games that year. Despite hitting .192 with Brockton in 1910, he was back there for part of 1911 and hit .325 with 25 extra-base hits in 68 games. He returned to the Connecticut State League for the other part of that season, hitting .247 in 51 games with Waterbury. In 1912, Stankard played for his fourth team in that same league, batting .279 with 32 extra-base hits for Holyoke. In 1913, he played for Meriden and Springfield of the Class-B Eastern Association, collecting a total of 160 hits and 49 extra-base hits in 138 games. He finished up with a .265 average, 45 runs, 31 extra-base hits and 16 steals in 122 games for Springfield in 1914. Stankard was a two-sport star at Holy Cross prior to joining the Pirates. In football, he was an All-American in 1903, playing fullback and defensive end.

Pete McShannic, third baseman for the 1888 Alleghenys. He began his pro career in the minors in 1885 at 21 years old, playing for Chattanooga of the Southern League, where he hit .130 in 13 games. In 1886, McShannic split the season between Altoona of the Pennsylvania State Association and St Paul of the Northwestern League. Just his limited Altoona stats are available, and they show a .300 average and four doubles in 11 games. By age 23 in 1887 he was a player/manager for a team from Johnstown, PA. that played out of the Pennsylvania State Association. He batted .338 with 32 runs in 32 games for Johnstown. He also played 16 games and hit .269 for Zanesville of the Ohio State League that year, and he appeared briefly with Binghamton of the International Association. He was a player-manager for the Zanesville Kickapoos of the Tri-State League in the early parts of 1888. At the end of the season, he latched on with the Alleghenys, playing his first big league game on September 15, 1888. Starting third baseman Elmer Cleveland asked to be released just before the Alleghenys game started on September 13th, stating that he was tired and worn down from the season and wanted to get an early start to his off-season. He played the game that day and then was let go. McShannic was already practicing with the team and was immediately signed by manager Horace Phillips to play out the season of the season after Cleveland asked to be released.

The scouting report on McShannic given during that first day said that he did a great job of moving runners along with the bat. He was an excellent base runner and he did admirable work at third base. He played 26 games for Pittsburgh that year over 29 days (season ended on October 13th), hitting .194 with one walk, three stolen bases and five RBIs in 98 at-bats. McShannic played all 26 of his games at third base and he was an above average fielder. At the end of the season in 1888, teams were required to submit a reserve list of players for the 1889 season and McShannic was one of 15 players on their list for Pittsburgh. He was given his release in early February so he could sign with Hamilton of the International League, which turned out great for the Alleghenys because he played poorly in the minors. He gave up a $1,500 contract with Pittsburgh to take $1,300 with Hamilton, although the minor league season started later and ended earlier, making it a better paying job per day. He played two more seasons (1889-90) in the minors before retiring from baseball. That was partly due to his performance with Hamilton in 1889, where he hit just .188 in 54 games. On October 11, 1889, he joined a local amateur team to take on the Alleghenys in an exhibition game, but his presence didn’t help the East Enders squad, which lost 25-3 that day. Two weeks later, he had two hits in a benefit game for manager Horace Phillips against the Alleghenys in which his team won 9-7. He finished out his career with Saginaw-Bay City of the International Association in 1890, hitting .205 over his final 20 games of pro ball. He was playing semi-pro ball in Pittsburgh prior to joining Saginaw in late April. Despite spending just one month with the Alleghenys in 1888, when the franchise opened up Forbes Field 21 years later, the Pirates invited McShannic (and a handful of other former players) to witness the opening of the new stadium. He was a Pittsburgh native, who became a local artist after his playing career was over, though he did some artwork prior to retiring from baseball.