Eight former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one transaction of note.
On this date in 1969, the Pirates signed Omar Moreno as an amateur free agent out of Panama. He was 16 years old at the time and it took him six years to make his debut in the majors with the Pirates. Moreno was a starter by 1977, and he played a big part in the 1979 World Series winning season by playing all 162 games, while scoring 110 runs and stealing 77 bases. He also batted .311 with seven runs scored in the postseason. He played eight seasons with the Pirates and a total of 12 years in the majors. In 944 games with Pittsburgh, he batted .255 with 412 stolen bases and 530 runs scored. Moreno set a team record with 96 stolen bases in 1980. He led the National League in steals during the 1978 and 1979 seasons. He ranks third in team history in steals, only trailing Hall of Famers Max Carey and Honus Wagner.
Dan Runzler, pitcher for the 2017 Pirates. He pitched four seasons for the San Francisco Giants, twice playing on World Series winning teams. Runzler was 32 years old and five years removed from his last big league appearance when he signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent prior to the 2017 season. He was originally drafted in the 17th round in 2006 by the Seattle Mariners out of the University of California Riverside. He decided to return to school and moved up to the ninth round the next year, getting selected by the Giants. He played short-season ball his first season of pro ball, seeing almost all of his time in the Arizona League, where he had a 3.44 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings over 15 appearances. Runzler made one appearance that year for Salem-Keizer of the Northwest League and allowed a run in his only inning. He then had a 2.10 ERA in 30 innings with Salem-Keizer in 2008, but he struggled with a promotion to Low-A Augusta of the South Atlantic League, posting a 5.47 ERA in 24.2 innings over 20 appearances. Despite that high ERA, he was just a year away from making an incredible leap through the Giants system. Runzler pitched for all four full-season teams in 2009, followed by a September trial with the Giants. His ERA was under 1.00 with all four teams, though his Double-A and Triple-A time amounted to eight games. He pitched 19 times for Augusta and 19 more for San Jose of the High-A California League. He had an 0.76 ERA and an 0.80 WHIP, with 83 strikeouts in 59 innings over 47 appearances in the minors. After joining the Giants, he gave up one run in 8.2 innings over 11 outings in the majors.
Despite a high walk rate, Runzler had a strong 2010 season in San Francisco as a lefty specialist. He posted a 3.03 ERA in 32.2 innings over 41 games. He dislocated his knee in a game in early July and missed exactly two months of the season before returning in early September. He ran into a rough patch in 2011, with a 6.26 ERA in 27.1 innings over 31 games. He spent half of the season in Triple-A with Fresno of the Pacific Coast League, getting time as a starting pitcher. He made just 15 starts in his 13-year pro career and ten came during that stint in the minors. Runzler played a bit part during their 2012 World Series winning season, getting into six games in September without allowing a run. Despite playing for two World Series winning teams, he never pitched in the postseason. He played for the Giants in Triple-A for all of 2013 and 2014, with poor results the first year (5.68 ERA in 52.1 innings), followed by a solid 3.30 ERA in 46.1 innings in 2014. Part of that 2014 season was spent in Japan. He then spent the next two seasons seeing time in independent ball (Sugar Land of the Atlantic League) and Triple-A for the Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks. Runzler signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent on November 2, 2016. He spent the 2017 season with Indianapolis, posting a 3.05 ERA in 41.1 innings, before getting a surprise call up in September. He made eight appearances with the Pirates, giving up four runs (two earned) in four innings. Runzler spent the next two seasons pitching in the minors as part of the Boston Red Sox system (2019) and independent ball (2018-19). He also signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for a time, but never appeared in a game for them. He did not play during the 2020 season, officially ending his career. In five big league seasons, he had a 4-2, 3.89 record and 82 strikeouts in 76.1 innings over 97 games.
Mike Johnston, pitcher for the 2004-05 Pirates. He was drafted by the Pirates in the 20th round of the 1998 amateur draft, taken out of Garrett Community College in Maryland. To this date, he’s the last player from that school to get drafted and the only one to make the majors. Johnston began his minor league career as a reliever, switching to the starting role full-time in 2001 and for part of 2002. He had a 3.41 ERA in 31.2 innings at 19 years old in 1998, mostly pitching in the Gulf Coast League. He moved up to the short-season New York-Penn League to end the 1998 season (played for Erie), then remained in the league with Williamsport in 1999, where he went 3-2, 4.25 in 42.1 innings over two starts and 12 relief appearances. In 2000, he pitched for Hickory of the Low-A South Atlantic League and he struggled in a long relief role, putting up a 6.22 ERA in 25 appearances, though he did have 52 strikeouts in 50.2 innings. That was followed by the move to the starting rotation, which paid off. Between 16 starts in Hickory and another ten in High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League (plus one relief appearance), Johnston had an 8-9, 3.36 record and 124 strikeouts in 155.1 innings. He spent the entire 2002 season in Lynchburg, though he was limited to ten starts and five relief appearances. He had a 3.63 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 57 innings. Those would be his final career starts in pro ball.
Johnston made his Double-A debut (Altoona of the Eastern League) in 2003 and had a 2.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 72.1 innings over 46 relief appearances. He was added to the 40-man roster after the season. The Pirates skipped him over Triple-A, right to the majors to open up the 2004 season and he didn’t allow a run in his first nine outings, while posting a 1.84 ERA through his first two months. Things went downhill from there as his ERA rose to 4.37 three weeks later and he was returned to the minors, where he put up an 8.40 ERA in 19 appearances for Nashville of the Pacific Coast League. Johnston pitched well in Triple-A (affiliated moved to Indianapolis of the International League) in 2005, but during his only big league game on June 24th, he gave up four hits, four runs and two home runs in one inning. He pitched in the minors all of 2006, putting up a 5.74 ERA in 42.1 innings with Indianapolis, before being released by the Pirates. He missed the entire 2007-08 seasons with a torn labrum, then made a brief comeback in the Chicago White Sox system in 2009, allowing just one run in 16.1 innings. He had a final comeback in 2012 with Lancaster of the Atlantic League, where he had a 4.13 ERA in 24 innings. Johnston worked with a hard fastball that routinely hit 95+ MPH, along with a strong slider as his secondary pitch. He suffered from Tourette’s syndrome, which caused him to drop out of high school, but the condition was less severe as he got older. He had to play American Legion ball and get a GED so he could attend college, where he was drafted four years after leaving high school.
James “Ripper” Collins, first baseman for the 1941 Pirates. He played seven seasons in the minors before getting his first chance at the big league level. He played just 13 games total in 1923, split between two Class-B teams, then didn’t play in the minors in 1924. In his first full season of minor league ball in 1925 at 21 years old, Collins hit .327 with 54 extra-base hits in 99 games for Johnstown of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League. He basically matched those stats the next season while still in Johnstown, hitting .313 with 48 extra-base hits in 102 games. He also saw four games for Rochester of the Double-A International League that year and had an identical .313 average in his short time. His 1927 stats are incomplete, as he bounced around playing for three different teams. It’s known that he hit .246 with six extra-base hits in 45 games for Rochester, but his stats from his stints with Jacksonville and Savannah of the Class-B Southeastern League are unknown. Collins spent most of 1928 playing for Danville of the Class-B Three-I League, where he hit he hit .388 with 28 doubles, 15 triples and 19 homers in 124 games. He also spent 14 games with Rochester and hit .375 with four homers. He finally stuck with Rochester in 1929 and responded with a .315 average in 154 games, with 38 doubles, 12 triples and 38 homers. Offense was up all around baseball due to new baseballs being used, so while those are big numbers, they didn’t earn him a shot until after he had another big season for Rochester in 1930. That season, Collins hit .376 with 40 homers, 34 doubles and 19 triples in 167 games.
The St Louis Cardinals brought Collins to the majors for the first time in 1931, and while he hit .301, he didn’t show any of the home run power he had the previous two seasons in the minors. He still finished with an .838 OPS due to 20 doubles and ten triples in his 89 games, but he hit just four homers. That changed in 1932 when he hit 21 homers and drove in 91 runs, though with the extra homers, he saw a drop in his OPS down to an .802 mark. He batted .279 in 149 games, with 82 runs, 28 doubles and eight triples. He saw most of his time at first base that year, but saw plenty of time in right field and left field as well. His performance led to a 21st place finish in the MVP voting. In 1933, Collins hit .310 in 132 games as the regular first baseman for the Cardinals. He had 66 runs, 26 doubles, seven triples, ten homers, 68 RBIs and an .816 OPS. That led up to his best season in the majors. In 1934, he hit a league-leading 35 homers, while adding 116 runs, 40 doubles, 12 triples, 128 RBIs and a .333 average. He also led the National League with 154 games played, a .615 slugging percentage, 369 total bases, and a 1.008 OPS. He finished sixth in the MVP voting.
Collins couldn’t keep up those big numbers from 1934 for long, but he followed it up with another strong season. He hit .313 with 109 runs, 36 doubles, ten triples, 23 homers, 122 RBIs and a career high 65 walks in 1935, while making the NL All-Star team for the first time (the first All-Star game was played just two years earlier). He also finished 21st in the MVP voting. While his .915 OPS was a large drop from his big season, it was still the sixth best mark in the league that year. His production was down just slightly in 1936, then really dropped off each of the next two seasons, although he did make the All-Star team again in 1936-37. Collins batted .292 with 13 homers in 103 games in 1936. He finished with the odd stat line of 48 runs, 48 RBIs and 48 walks. He was actually healthy all season, but his games were limited after a slow start to the year, followed by him moving to a pinch-hitting role during the second half of the season. He followed that up with a .274 average, 16 homers and 71 RBIs in 115 games with the Chicago Cubs, joining his new team in a three-player deal completed just days after the 1936 season ended. His .765 OPS was the worst of his career to that point. Collins batted .267 with 13 homers and 61 RBIs in 143 games for the Cubs in 1938, finishing with a .768 OPS.
Collins was returned to the minors in 1939 at age 35, spending two seasons in the Double-A Pacific Coast League (highest level of the minors at the time) as a member of the Cubs affiliate in Los Angeles. He hit .334 with 26 homers and 128 RBIs in 1939, then followed it up with .327 average, 18 homers and 111 RBIs in 1940. The Pirates purchased his contract on March 25, 1941 for $5,000 and he was used as a bat off of the bench for much of that season. The Pirates reportedly brought him in an insurance for first baseman Elbie Fletcher, who had a knee injury earlier in his career. Collins himself helped broker the deal, in part because Los Angeles tried to cut his salary from $1,100 a month down to $800 a month. It also helped that Pirates manager Frankie Frisch was his manager for four season in St Louis when Collins was at his peak. He started just six games all year with the Pirates, two of them in right field during a doubleheader in May. Collins batted .210 with 11 RBIs in 70 at-bats over 49 games. He was released by Pittsburgh that November under his own request so he could take a player-manager job for Albany of the Eastern League, a position he held for five seasons. Collins managed a total of ten seasons in the minors. He played his final games at 43 years old in 1947 for San Diego of the Pacific Coast League. While his minor league stats aren’t completely known, it is known that he had over 2,900 hits in pro ball, while hitting over 300 homers. His big league stats show a .296 average in 1,084 games, with 615 runs, 205 doubles, 65 triples, 135 homers and 639 RBIs over nine seasons.
Hal Rhyne, infielder for the 1926-27 Pirates. He played four seasons for San Francisco of the Double-A Pacific Coast League before the Pirates acquired him for 1926. Rhyne debuted in pro ball with Des Moines of the Class-A Western League in 1921 at 22 years old. He hit .311 in 111 games, with 28 doubles, five triples and no homers. He moved up to San Francisco in 1922 and hit .285 in 189 games (they played extended schedules in that league). He had 39 doubles and eight triples, but he was still looking for his first home run going into 1923. That year he batted .296 in 168 games, with 26 doubles, four triples and five homers. He played 196 games in 1924 and he collected 224 hits. Rhyne batted .298 with 34 doubles, two triples and two homers. That was followed up by his best year in 1925, when he hit .315 in 188 games, with 228 hits, 48 doubles, three triples and three homers. After that big season, the Pirates swung a cash deal for Rhyne and Hall of Famer Paul Waner, which reportedly cost them $100,000 on October 12, 1925, completing the deal on the same day as game five of the World Series, which was won by the Pirates.
Rhyne had his doubters among scouts, who all praised his strong defense at shortstop, but they said that he had trouble hitting a curve ball and wouldn’t hit in the majors. He was said to have average speed and no power, but he was a very smart player. For the Pirates, he played 66 games at second base and 44 at shortstop as a rookie in 1926. He hit .251 with 19 extra-base hits, 39 RBIs and 46 runs scored in 366 at-bats. In 1927 he was the Pirates starting second baseman during the first three weeks of the year, then sat on the bench until Pie Traynor got injured, allowing Rhyne more playing time. He was the starting second baseman again for most of August, but then he played only five of the last 39 games, getting just four plate appearances during that stretch. He batted .274 in 62 games, with 21 runs, five doubles (no triples or homers) and a .633 OPS. He started at second base in game three of the World Series, going 0-for-4 at the plate. Rhyne beat out 20-year-old Joe Cronin for the second base job during Spring Training of 1927, which turned out to be an awful decision on the part of the Pirates. Cronin would play just 12 games all season with the Pirates, then move on to the Washington Senators in 1928, where he would turn himself into a Hall of Fame player.
Rhyne was sold back to the San Francisco Seals on February 9, 1928, where he spent the 1928 season. After batting .312 with 37 doubles and six homers in 185 games, he then returned for five more season in the majors with the Boston Red Sox (1929-32) and Chicago White Sox (1933). Rhyne batted .251, with 41 runs, 24 doubles, five triples and 38 RBIs in 120 games in 1929, seeing most of his playing time at shortstop. The 1930 season was a huge year for offense in baseball, but Rhyne managed to hit just .203 in 107 games. His .533 OPS that year was 239 points below league average, which left him with a -0.7 WAR for the season, despite above average defensive numbers. He had his best big league season at the plate in 1931, which combined with his strong defense, led to a 14th place finish in the MVP voting. Rhyne hit .273 in 147 games, with 75 runs, 34 doubles, 51 RBIs and 57 walks. He had a .685 OPS that year, which stood as his career high. He led all American League shortstops in assists and fielding percentage that season.
Rhyne’s hitting dropped off the next year, down to a .227 average in 71 games, though the OPS drop was just 41 points due to a comparable slugging percentage. He then he played just 39 games for the 1933 White Sox over the course of the entire season, batting .265 with nine runs and ten RBIs. He returned to San Francisco in 1934, spending his last seven seasons of his career in the minors on the west coast. From 1938-40, Rhyne was a player/manager for Tacoma of the Class-B Western International League. During his big league career, he was a .250 hitter in 655 games, with 192 RBIs and 252 runs scored. Rhyne hit just two big league homers, both with the Pirates in his rookie season, and both were inside-the-park homers. He played 1,730 minor league games and had over 1,800 hits, along with a .291 average.
Ed Sicking, second baseman for the 1927 Pirates. He was an accomplished minor league player, who was never able to put together a strong showing in the majors. Sicking had over 2,500 minor league hits during a 16-year career but his Major League career barely lasted 200 games. He played one game for the 1916 Chicago Cubs, debuting in the majors as a 19-year-old pinch-hitter on August 26th. That season was also his first year in pro ball. He spent the year in the Class-C Virginia League with Norfolk, where he hit .267 with 20 extra-base hits in 96 games. Sicking spent all of 1917 in the minors with San Antonio of the Class-B Texas League, where he hit .277 in 160 games, with 17 doubles, 12 triples and three homers. He was with San Antonio for part of 1918 before returning to the majors. He hit .308 with 18 extra-base hits in 63 games before joining the New York Giants. He hit .250 in 46 games in New York in 1918, splitting his time between third base and second base. He finished with a .563 OPS due to low walk/power numbers. He played six games with the Giants early in 1919 before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on May 4th. Sicking hit .216 in 61 games for the 1919 Phillies, with two doubles, one triple and eight walks, resulting in a .490 OPS. He was back with the Giants in 1920, but after hitting .172/.235/.209 in 46 games, he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. He finished the year with the Reds, hitting .268 in 37 games. He then spent all of 1921-26 in the minors playing for the Indianapolis Indians of the Double-A American Association.
Sicking hit between .285 and .320 each season with Indianapolis, but it took until 1927 for him to get another shot at the majors. He averaged 158 games per year with Indianapolis, showing a decent amount of doubles and triples, but he homered just 12 times during those six years. In the year before he joined the Pirates, he batted .300 with 27 doubles, seven triples and one homer in 162 games. He had a higher slugging percentage in each of his three previous seasons. The 1927 Pirates went on to win the National League pennant and Sicking was around for the first three weeks, getting seven at-bats in eight games before returning to the minors. Just like the aforementioned Hal Rhyne, Sicking played second base for the 1927 Pirates. In fact, Sicking was acquired early in the season because the Pirates wanted a veteran presence to take turns at second base, forcing the 20-year-old Joe Cronin to a deep bench spot. Pirates new manager Donie Bush spent the 1924-26 seasons managing Indianapolis, where Sicking was his everyday second baseman all three seasons. The Pirates purchased his contract on April 6th from Indianapolis, just eight days after naming Hal Rhyne the starting second baseman. Sicking couldn’t play regularly with the Pirates due to an arm injury. The Pirates asked waivers on him on May 8th, but before his ten days were up, he was told to report back to the Pirates by May 23rd. He did just that, though nine days later he was outright released to Indianapolis without playing another game, ending his big league career. He ended up batting eight times in six games with the Pirates, going 1-for-7 with a walk. He made just two starts, which ended up being his final two big league games.
From 1927 until 1931, Sicking batted over .300 every season in the minors while playing one step from the majors in the American Association, yet he never got another chance at the majors. He batted .275 for Minneapolis (American Association) in 1932, then dropped down to Class-B Keokuk of the Mississippi Valley League, where he hit .321 in his final season. He retired after 1933 with a .306 minor league batting average in 2,189 games. In his five seasons in the majors, he hit .226 in 203 games, with 51 runs, 13 doubles, two triples, no homers, 59 RBIs and 14 steals. Modern defensive metrics credit his as being slightly above average. He played 85 games at second base, 56 at shortstop and 54 at third base.
Dutch Meier, outfielder/shortstop for the 1906 Pirates. He was a well-known football and baseball player from Princeton, who never played pro ball until the Pirates convinced him to sign in November of 1905. It was said in the newspaper on the day Meier signed that he had already played for the Pirates “last Summer” under as assumed name. They were exhibition games (teams used to play those during the season) and he went by the name Koch. The local paper later surmised that “Koch” was believed to be Meier. He played his first exhibition game with the Pirates on September 14, 1905 against a team from Springfield of the Class-B Three-I League and failed to collect a hit while playing the entire game in left field. A local Pittsburgh paper the next day called him “the recruit from nobody-knows-where”. By his next game, there were already rumors that Koch was Dutch Meier. On September 18th against a minor league team from Newark, NJ, Koch/Meier started at shortstop and had two hits, while also getting robbed of another hit. The next day in Youngstown, Ohio, Meier hit a home run that was the highlight of the 6-0 Pirates win. The crowd was initially disappointed that Honus Wagner wasn’t starting at shortstop, but Meier delighted the crowd in Wagner’s place, playing shortstop and hitting third. The very next day, the Pirates played another exhibition game and Wagner returned, with Meier heading over to first base, where he failed to get a hit against the local semi-pro Braddock team, but he handled all eight plays in the field without issue.
Dutch (his first name was Arthur) was with the Pirates for the entire 1906 season, getting into 82 games, splitting his time between each of the three outfield positions and some shortstop. He batted .256 with 32 runs, 11 doubles, four triples, no homers, 16 RBIs and four stolen bases. He was above average defensively in the outfield, but his .899 fielding percentage at shortstop was well below average. Meier got a stretch of 17 straight starts in left field beginning on May 16th, after Fred Clarke injured his shoulder making a catch. That one season was Meier’s only pro experience, minors or majors. On February 7, 1907, it was said that he signed with a semi-pro team in Chicago called the Spaldings (a team named after Hall of Famer Al Spalding), which would have got him banned from baseball for jumping his contract. However, four days later, he sent a note to the Pirates saying that he was retiring from professional baseball. In a letter to owner Barney Dreyfuss, Meier said that his relatives talked him out of playing professional baseball and the life of a Major League player wasn’t for him, but he would still play semi-pro ball. He had previously played with the Spaldings before joining the Pirates, Before his time with the Spaldings, Meier played college ball at Princeton, where he was heavily recruited by a handful of Major League teams. Meier eventually took up coaching at Princeton after leaving the Pirates. He was very hesitant to play pro ball from the start due to family objections, so it is no surprise that he only played one season, and it took the persuasion of his college teammate Homer Hillebrand (who was with the Pirates) to convince him to finally play. Meier was still reserved for the 1908 season at one point, which effectively meant that if he decided to return to pro ball, he was still property of the Pirates.
George Van Haltren, outfielder for the 1892-93 Pirates. While with the Pirates, he was a member of one of the deepest, most talented outfields the team ever had. The 1893 Pirates had Jake Stenzel, Elmer Smith and Patsy Donovan in the outfield and all three were star players of the day. They were alongside Van Haltren, who was the best of the bunch. He was involved in three trades with the Pirates and all three of them went poorly. Full details of the trades can be read here (highly recommended click), but the quick summary shows that they traded Van Haltren in 1887 for veteran pitcher Jim McCormick, who had 252 wins over nine seasons, then watched McCormick struggle in his lone season with Pittsburgh, while Van Haltren turned into a strong outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings. The Pirates then reacquired Van Haltren very late in the 1892 season in exchange for young outfielder Joe Kelley, who eventually turned into Hall of Famer Joe Kelley. The final deal was the sale after the 1893 season for $2,500, which was even meager by 1893 standards for a player sale. Van Haltren went on to put up 25.0 WAR with the New York Giants after the deal. If the Pirates held on to him, then the deal for Kelley wouldn’t have been so one-sided.
Van Haltren started out as a pitcher on the west coast and signed with the Alleghenys just prior to the 1887 season. His only pro experience came at 19 years old in 1885 for Oakland of the California State League, though he did pitch in 1886. Pittsburgh manager Horace Phillips noted that even though he was only 20 years old, he was a very smart pitcher, who had good control of his pitches and plenty of speed. Phillips went as far as saying that his inexperience was actually a good thing, as he didn’t have a lot of wear on his arm. However, shortly after signed, Van Haltren received a higher offer and attempted to back out of his deal with Pittsburgh. When he didn’t report, he was traded to Chicago for McCormick, who was also holding out at the time. Just 21 years old at the time, Van Haltren was acquired for his arm, but he soon turned into a quality outfielder. In 1887, he went 11-7, 3.86 in 161 innings, and he batted .203 in 45 games, with three homers and 12 steals. In 1888, he went 13-13, 3.52 in 245.2 innings and threw four shutouts. He batted .283 in 81 games, 57 of those games coming as an outfielder (six games he played both pitcher and outfield). He had a .767 OPS, 46 runs, 21 steals and 27 extra-base hits, including 14 triples.
Van Haltren moved full-time to the outfield in 1889, seeing most of his time in left field, before switching more to center field for the rest of his career in 1892. He hit .322 with 39 extra-base hits, 81 RBIs, 28 steals, 82 walks and 126 runs scored in 1889. His .862 OPS ranked seventh in the league. In 1890, he jumped to the Player’s League, playing for Brooklyn, where he hit .335, with 84 runs, 54 RBIs and 35 steals in 92 games, while also going 15-10, 4.28 in 223 innings. He didn’t pitch at all in 1889, and the 1890 season was the last time that he saw regular pitching work, though he pitched another 15 games in the majors split over six seasons. In 1891, Van Haltren played for Baltimore of the American Association, after the Player’s League lasted just one season. He hit .318 with 14 doubles, 15 triples, nine homers, 83 RBIs, 71 walks, 136 runs scored and 75 stolen bases. Baltimore moved to the National League in 1892 and he hit .302 with 39 extra-base hits, 105 runs, 49 stolen bases and 70 walks in 135 games.
The Pirates acquired Van Haltren for Kelley at the end of the 1892 season and he batted .200 in 13 games. He was a .338 hitter during his only full season with the Pirates, before their poor decision to sell him off to the Giants. That year saw a spike in offense that peaked in 1894 due to the new rules for pitchers that limited their movement and slightly increased the distance. They used to pitch from inside a box laid out on the ground, but they had to throw from a pitching rubber instead. The distance was said to be increased 10 1/2 feet to the current 60 foot 6 inch distance, but the old 50 foot distance was measured from the front of the box to the middle of the plate, while the current distance is pitching rubber to the back of the plate. Since they had to deliver pitches from inside the box before, the stride towards the plate off the rubber (plus plate measuring differences) didn’t make it as big of a difference as it seems. Along with his high average, Van Haltren scored 129 runs, drove in 79 runs, stole 37 bases and walked 75 times in 1893.
Van Haltren wasn’t known as the best fielder, even though he covered a lot of ground and had a strong arm. He did not have reliable hands in the outfield, which is one of the reasons that the Pirates wanted to move on from him. The other was the crowded outfield situation. In his first year in New York, he hit .331 with 109 runs, 43 steals and a career best 105 RBIs. He also led the league with 139 games, the first of three times he led the league in that category. Those seem like great numbers, but his .827 OPS was just slightly over league average. He was better the next year, which was actually much better by league standards due to offense around baseball starting to trend back to normal numbers. He hit .340 with 113 runs scored, 23 doubles, 19 triples, eight homers, 103 RBIs, 32 steals and 57 walks in 1895. Van Haltren set a career high with a .911 OPS that season. The next year he set career highs with a .351 average and 21 triples, with the latter leading the league. He also tied a career high with 136 runs scored. He had 18 doubles, five homers, 74 RBIs, 39 steals and 55 walks. Van Haltren led the league in at-bats during each of the next two seasons. He hit .329 with 119 runs scored, 34 extra-base hits, 64 RBIs, 50 steals and 42 walks in 1897. He then batted .312 with 129 runs scored, 28 doubles, 16 triples,68 RBIs, 36 steals and 59 walks in 1898. He set a career high with 204 hits that year, while leading the league with 156 games played.
In 1899, Van Haltren hit .301 with 27 extra-base hits, 58 RBIs, 31 steals, 75 walks and 118 runs scored in 152 games. He batted .315 in 1900, with 114 runs scored and a league best 45 stolen bases, winning his first and only stolen base crown at 34 years old. Van Haltren also set a career high with 30 doubles, in addition to adding 51 RBIs and 50 walks. He hit .335 during the 1901 season, while “only” scoring 82 runs, breaking a string of ten straight 100+ runs scored seasons. His .801 OPS was the highest of his final seven seasons in the majors. League OPS was down to .669 that season as the deadball era was kicking in, so he was actually well above league average at the time. He began the 1902 season off slow before he suffered a broken leg/ankle while sliding into second base on May 22nd. It ended his season and he wasn’t the same when he returned in 1903. Vab Haltren was hitting .250 with a .665 OPS in 26 games in 1902, then finished his career by hitting .257 in 84 games, with a .613 OPS in 1903. While his big league career was done, he was far from done as a player. He spent the next six seasons playing in the Pacific Coast League, retiring at 43 years old.
In 17 seasons in the majors, Van Haltren was a career .316 hitter in 1,990 games, with 1,642 runs scored, 2,544 hits, 1,015 RBIs and 583 stolen bases. He ranks 38th all-time with 161 triples. He had 871 walks, versus 498 strikeouts. He also had over 1,000 hits in the minors, giving him over 3,500 career hits in pro ball. It’s hard to figure out why he hasn’t received more attention for the Hall of Fame, especially when you add in the three decent seasons of pitching stats. He finished his big league pitching career with a 40-31, 4.05 record in 689.1 innings. His defensive numbers probably hurt his overall value, though he led the league three times in outfield assists and his 349 career assists ranks fourth all-time. After his playing days were over, he became a west coast scout for the Pirates, and once went over five years without signing a single player. He was actually praised for his scouting work because he told the Pirates not to sign numerous players who came highly recommended and ended up going nowhere. However, his string of non-signings ended with a deal for pitcher Walter Nagle, who lasted just eight games with Pittsburgh.
Tom Burns, third baseman for the 1892 Pirates. He played twelve seasons with the Chicago White Stockings before joining the Pirates for one last season in the majors. His pro career began during the first season of minor league ball in 1877. He has only partial stats for his three seasons of minors, which were spent at 20 years old in 1877 with Auburn of the League Alliance, Hornellsville of the International Association (1888) and Albany of the National Association in 1889. That final year he hit .262 with 51 runs scored in 49 games. Burns debuted in the majors as a shortstop in 1880 at 23 years old. He moved to second base for a time, then back to shortstop, before playing third base for his final seven seasons, including his lone year with the Pirates. He debuted with a .309 batting average in 1880, which ended up being his career high. In 85 games, he had 47 runs, 17 doubles, three triples and 43 RBIs. In 1881, Burns hit .278 in 84 games, with 41 runs, 20 doubles, three triples, four homers and 42 RBIs. The next year saw his average drop to .248, though his run production was better, with 55 runs, 23 doubles, six triple and 48 RBIs. His best overall season at the plate came in 1883, when he hit .294 in 97 games and set career highs with a .750 OPS and 37 doubles. He also had 69 runs scored and 67 RBIs, which were high marks up to that point, but he would soon top them as the league expanded the schedule to include more games.
The White Stockings saw a jump in their offense during the 1884 season because the ground rules in their smaller park changed, counting balls hit over the fence as homers for the first time. It was just 180 down the left field line and 196 down the right field line, though a very high fence/netting kept a lot of balls in the park down the right field line. Burns watched his teammates succeed as a group that year (and it hurt their pitchers) but he put up a .631 OPS, which was well below the team’s .770 mark. He had a .245 average, with 54 runs and 44 RBIs in 83 games. With the regular rules in place for 1885 (balls over the fence counted as doubles), Burns batted .272, with 82 runs, 23 doubles, nine triples, seven homers and 71 RBIs in 111 games. In 1886, he hit .276 in 112 games, with 64 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 65 RBIs and 15 steals. The next year he hit .264 in 115 games, with 57 runs, 20 doubles, ten triples, 60 RBIs and 32 steals. He wasn’t much for drawing walks early in his career, then he set a high with 34 in 1887. Part of that was due to the fact that a pitcher had to throw eight balls, then six balls for a walk early in his career, though it was down to five by 1885 and the standard four by 1888. During that 1888 season, he hit just .234, but he drove in 70 runs and stole 34 bases. Surprisingly, his walks dropped to 26 that year, while also playing more. He played 134 of the team’s 136 games that year, then led the National League with 136 games played in 1889 and 139 games in 1890. In an era where players didn’t wear gloves and third basemen saw a lot more work than they get now, he managed to play all but two games over a three-year period.
In 1889, Burns hit .257 with 64 runs scored, 27 doubles, six triples, four homers, 66 RBIs, 18 steals and 32 walks. During that 1890 season, as one of the few big name players not to jump to the Player’s League, he set career highs with 86 RBIs, 86 runs scored, 44 steals and 57 walks. His .707 OPS was the highest of his final seven seasons in the majors. In 1891, Burns hit .226 with 17 RBIs in 59 games, which his worst season in the majors up to that point and his final season with the White Stockings. Burns hit .266 in 1,239 games with Chicago, driving in 679 runs and scoring 715 times. The Pirates purchased his contract on May 17, 1892 and he played just 12 games for them over a two-month span. He didn’t get into any early season games with Chicago due to an arm injury that kept him behind in his training. It was still bothering him at the time of the deal with the Pirates, but as part of the agreement, it was said that he signed a binding three-year deal that would allow him to manage the team and make player transactions, which was a fairly common practice for managers back then. In his brief playing time with Pittsburgh, Burns hit .205 in 39 at-bats, with eight singles and four RBIs. He played eight games at third base and made nine errors.
The Pirates made Burns the manager during most of his short stint with the team, taking over for Al Buckenberger, who started the year with a 15-14 record. After Burns went 27-32 at the helm, the team replaced him with Buckenberger, who worked in the front office when he wasn’t managing that season. Just days later on July 29th, Burns was outright released. It was said that he was clearly done as a player (his final game came seven days earlier) and the team was out of control off of the field with him in charge. Burns went to the minors in 1893 and was a player/manager for the Springfield Ponies for three seasons, before only managing during the 1897 season. He then managed the Chicago Colts (new name for the White Stockings/Cubs) for two seasons (1898-99), before managing two more seasons (1900-01) in the minors. Burns passed away suddenly during the 1901-02 off-season from a heart attack and age 45. As a big league manager, he had a 187-170 record. He was known as a strong defensive player and it shows in modern metrics, which give him positive defensive WAR numbers during every season in Chicago. During the 1888-89 seasons, he led all National League third basemen in both put outs and assists each year, though he also led the league in errors in 1889.
In January of 1893, the Pirates were forced to pay Burns $1,500, an amount that was said to be owed to him for the previous season. The court case revealed that the Pirates only took on Burns because Pittsburgh owner/president William Temple worked out a five-year deal for $15,000 a year with Cap Anson that would start during the 1893 season. As part of the agreement, Temple agreed to pay Burns $4,500 during the 1892 season. Anson obviously never joined the Pirates, though the report never said whether or not he backed out on the deal, or Temple did due to the high salary for the time. Burns talked about a lawsuit against the team before the Pirates even released him because he was insistent that his three-year contract was binding, whether he remained with the team or not. Guaranteed contracts were almost unheard of back then.