This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 9th, The PNC Park Opener and the Pirates Trade a Hall of Fame Pitcher

One trade of note, a signing, a game of note, and one former Pittsburgh Pirates player born on this date.

The Transactions

On this date in 1930, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded away Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes to the Boston Braves in exchange for veteran pitcher Percy Jones and cash. It was the second time that they had traded away Grimes. The Pirates reacquired Grimes in February of 1928 for pitcher Vic Aldridge and it worked out well. In 1928, he led the National League in wins (25) innings pitched (330.2) complete games (28) and shutouts with four. He went 17-7, 3.13 in 232.2 innings in 1929. Grimes was 36 years old at the time of the 1930 trade, while Jones was 30 years old. Jones had pitched eight season in the majors prior to 1930. In 1929 he went 7-15, 4.64 for the last place Braves. The year before, he had a 10-6, 4.03 record for the Chicago Cubs. Grimes was a holdout that season, as he demanded a two-year deal worth $20,000 per season, and the Pirates were unwilling to spend that much. They believed Jones could be a good pitcher on a better team and noted that the Cubs tried to change his pitching style to include mostly off-speed pitches and he was a better fastball pitcher, so they would encourage him to go with his strength.

This trade didn’t work out well for the Pirates except for the cash part of the deal I’d guess. It wasn’t announced how much they received, but it was said to be the second largest amount paid by the Braves behind the $100,000 they gave up in a trade a year earlier. Grimes wasn’t a star pitcher anymore, but Jones lasted just two months in Pittsburgh and never pitched in the majors again. In nine games, two as a starter, he went 0-1, 6.63 in 19 innings. Grimes lasted another five years, although he had just two good seasons left in him. He won 16 games in 1930, then 17 the next year, but was 12-23 the last three season combined. The last eight games of his career were spent with the Pirates in 1934. The Braves only got three wins from Grimes before they shipped him to the St Louis Cardinals for two pitchers in June of 1930.

On this date in 1992, the Pirates tried to help their bullpen for a third straight pennant run by signing veteran lefty Jerry Don Gleaton as a free agent. He was released a day earlier by the Kansas City Royals, who signed him as a free agent in January. The 34-year-old Gleaton was coming off of a season in which he posted a 4.06 ERA in 75.1 innings over 47 appearances with the Detroit Tigers. For the Pirates, they got what they should have expected, but they still ended up releasing Gleaton at the end of July. He had a 4.24 career ERA in 11 seasons before joining the Pirates, then posted a 4.26 ERA in 31.2 innings over 23 appearances while in Pittsburgh. The Pirates also released pitcher Jeff Robinson on the same day as Gleaton and neither one of them pitched in the majors again.

The Player

Claude Passeau, pitcher for the Pirates on September 29, 1935. He pitched four seasons in the minors before making his Major League debut for the Pirates on the last day of the 1935 season. He did well in his pro debut in 1932 at 23 years old, though he was pitching in the low levels. For Moline of the Class-D Mississippi Valley League, he went 8-4, 2.85 in 123 innings. He also pitched 60 innings for Decatur of the Class-B Three-I League that season, which didn’t go as well. His ERA isn’t available, but he was 2-5, with 5.85 runs per nine innings. In 1933, Passeau split the season between Shreveport of the Class-C  Dixie League and Beaumont of the Class-A Texas League. He combined to go 8-10, 4.50 in 158 innings. His record was much better with Shreveport (7-4), but there wasn’t a big difference in ERA. In 1934, he pitched for three teams, spending most of his time with Charleston of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League, where he went 10-7, 3.91 in 168 innings. He also put in 53 innings with Grand Rapids of the Class-B Central League and allowed 4.42 runs per nine innings, and he had one rough inning with Williamsport of the Class-A New York-Penn League, in which he’s credited with giving up four hits and four walks.

The 26-year-old Passeau pitched for Des Moines of the Western League in 1935, going 20-11 in 244 innings, allowing 3.54 runs per nine innings. In his big league debut, the Pittsburgh paper at the time referred to him in the game recap and boxscore as Passo, saying he also goes by the name Passeau. The 6″3 righty lasted just three innings before he was chased from the game. He took the loss, allowing seven hits, four runs, two walks and he struck out one batter. Shortly after the season ended, the Pirates traded him, along with catcher Earl Grace, to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Al Todd. The deal would not work out well for the Pirates. Passeau had 162 wins in his career, including ten straight seasons with double digit win totals. He ranks sixth among pitchers in most wins after leaving the Pirates. The leader in that category is the aforementioned Burleigh Grimes.

Passeau was a solid pitcher from the start after the deal, though it didn’t show in his record because the Phillies averaged 99 losses per season during his three full seasons with the team, which was a little worse back then with 154-game schedules. He went 11-15, 3.48 in 217.1 innings in 1936, making 21 starts and 28 relief appearances. That was followed by a 14-18, 4.38 record in 1937, when he led the league with 34 starts and 292.1 innings pitched. He also finished fifth in the league with 135 strikeouts. Passeau went 11-18, 4.52 in 239 innings in 1938. That year he had 33 starts, 15 complete games and 11 relief appearances. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs early in the 1939 season and that turned things around for him. He went 2-4, 4.22 in eight starts before the deal, then finished the season by going 13-9, 3.05 the rest of the way. He finished as the league leader with 137 strikeouts, and he threw a total of 274.1 innings over 35 starts and seven relief appearances.  In 1940, he went 20-13, 2.50 in 280.2 innings, with 20 complete games. It was his only 20-win season, and up to that point, his best ERA. He made 31 starts, 15 relief appearances, and he had four shutouts and five saves. He had 124 strikeouts that season, good for second in the league. It was the last time he reached triple digit strikeouts in a season, though he still managed to finish among the top ten strikeout pitchers during each of the 1942-45 seasons. He received mild MVP support during that 1940 season, finishing 16th in the voting.

Passeau went 14-14, 3.35 in 1941, and he made his first of three straight All-Star appearances. He pitched 231 innings over 30 starts and four relief appearances, finishing with 20 complete games and three shutouts. He had a strong season in 1942, going 19-14, 2.68 in 278.1 innings, with a career high of 24 complete games, which included three shutouts. He finished tenth in the MVP voting. He remained consistent over the next four seasons, while seeing a slight decline in his work as he got older. That coincided with the talent level declining in baseball as more players served in the military during WWII. In 1943, Passeau posted a 15-12, 2.91 in 257 innings, with 18 complete games in 31 starts. He went 15-9, 2.89 in 227 innings in 1944, then matched that inning total in 1945, when he had a 17-9, 2.46 record. He threw five shutouts that season, which led the National League. Not only did he have the same inning total each year, he had 27 starts and seven relief appearances both seasons. He almost matched the complete game totals as well, with 18 in 1944 and 19 in 1945.

In 21 starts in 1946, the 37-year-old Passeau went 9-8, 3.13 in 129.1 innings. He made his fourth an final All-Star appearance that year. It was also his first full season without any relief appearances. Slowed by a back injury in 1947, he didn’t make his first appearance until late June, and he struggled throughout the remainder of the year. He went 2-6, 6.25 in 63.1 innings over six starts and 13 relief appearances. Passeau finished his pro career with two seasons in the minors as a player-manager. He had a 162-150, 3.32 big league record in 2,719.2 innings. He had 331 starts, 113 relief appearances, 188 complete games, 26 shutotus and 21 saves. He hit 15 homers during his career and he was known as an excellent fielder, once going four straight seasons without an error, handling 264 chances during that time. For more on Passeau with the Pirates, check out our The One Who Got Away article on his time in Pittsburgh.

The Game

On this date in 2001, the Pirates opened up PNC Park against the Cincinnati Reds. They had spent the last 31 seasons playing their home games at Three Rivers Stadium. The Pirates opened the 2001 season by going 3-3 on the road before coming home for their season opener in Pittsburgh. On that Monday afternoon, 36,954 fans showed up to see the Pirates lose to the Cincinnati Reds by an 8-2 score. Chris Reitsma and three relievers shutdown the Pirates that day. Pittsburgh would win their first game at the new stadium two nights later, coming back from 3-0 and 5-3 deficits to win 6-5. The mood wasn’t all festive before the opening game. Earlier that day Willie Stargell passed away at age 61.

The Pirates lineup that day was:

Adrian Brown CF

Derek Bell RF

Jason Kendall C

Brian Giles LF

Aramis Ramirez 3B

Kevin Young 1B

Pat Meares 2B

Jack Wilson SS

Todd Ritchie P

Here’s the boxscore courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

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