Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date and one game of note.
Chris Leroux, pitcher for the 2010-13 Pirates. Leroux was drafted out of high school in Canada by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the ninth round of the 2002 draft. He decided to attend Winthrop University in South Carolina, where he was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 draft by the Florida Marlins. He debuted in pro ball as a starter in 2006 and struggled at three lower levels (Gulf Coast League to Low-A), posting a combined 6.06 ERA over 32.2 innings. Leroux switched to relief in 2007 and had a 4.14 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 71.2 innings over 46 appearances at Low-A Greensboro of the South Atlantic League. He moved to High-A for 2008 and had a 3.65 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 74 innings over 57 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with Jupiter. Despite having just mild success, along with his lack of upper level experience, he made his MLB debut in May of 2009. Leroux ended up having three separate stints in the majors that year, though he only pitched five games total, spending the rest of the season in Double-A with Jacksonville of the Southern League. He gave up eight runs in 6.2 innings with the Marlins, and he had a 2.70 ERA in 60 innings with Jacksonville.
Leroux was in the majors at the beginning of 2010, and remained there until mid-May when he was placed on the disabled list with a right elbow strain. He made a few rehab appearances before being assigned to Triple-A New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League, where he pitched poorly in 21 games, posting a 6.95 ERA in 22 innings. He returned to the majors when the rosters expanded on September 1st and allowed three runs in three innings before the Marlins designated him for assignment. The Pirates picked him up on waivers on September 13, 2010 after he posted a 7.00 ERA in 18 innings over 17 appearances for the Marlins. After making six appearances for Pittsburgh in 2010, with three runs allowed over 4.2 innings, Leroux began the 2011 season in Triple-A with Indianapolis of the International League, and even spent a short stint with Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League in May. He pitched well in both spots, combining for a 2.68 ERA in 68 innings. He was recalled in July, and appeared in 23 games for the Pirates, finishing with a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings, though he missed some time with a right calf injury. He was placed on the 60-day DL at the start of the 2012 season with a strained right pectoral muscle. Leroux ended up pitching 66.2 innings in the minors (mostly Indianapolis), and he had just ten games in the majors that year after returning in September, posting a 5.56 ERA in 11.1 innings.
Leroux played his final two games for the Pirates at the start of the 2013 season, giving up three runs in four innings. He was let go on April 17th, one week after his last game with Pittsburgh. He finished out the 2013 season pitching in Japan, where he struggled with both the big league club and the minor league club of the Yakult Swallows. He played winter ball in the Dominican over the 2013-14 off-season. He finished his MLB time with two games for the 2014 New York Yankees, giving up five runs over two innings. That time with the Yankees was strange, as he had three different stints with the team and he was designated for assignment at the end of each stint. He pitched twice during the first one in late April/early May that lasted one week. The other two came in late July and mid-August, both lasting just two days, and he didn’t appear in a game either time. He pitched in the minors for another two seasons before retiring, seeing time with the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays organization. He played a total of five seasons of winter ball between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 off-seasons, playing in both Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. With the Pirates, he had a 4.20 ERA in 45 innings over 41 appearances. In his six big league seasons, he went 1-3, 6.03 in 71.2 innings over 65 relief appearances.
Kyle Farnsworth, pitcher for the 2013 Pirates. He was a 47th round draft pick out of high school by the Chicago Cubs in 1994. Despite that low draft status, Farnsworth ended up playing 16 years in the majors. He was known as a reliever with 100+ MPH heat, but he actually began his Major League career as a starting pitching in 1999. He debuted in pro ball with the Gulf Coast League Cubs in 1995, going 3-2, 0.87 in 31 innings of relief work over 16 appearances. He moved up to Rockford of the Class-A Midwest League in 1996 and had a 9-6, 3.70 record in 20 starts, with 112 innings pitched. In 1997, Farnsworth played for Daytona of the High-A Florida State League, going 10-10, 4.09, with 105 strikeouts in 156.1 innings over 27 starts. The next year was split between 13 starts for West Tennessee of the Double-A Southern League, and 18 starts for Iowa of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He had significantly better results at the lower level, going 8-2, 2.77 in 81.1 innings, compared to 5-9, 6.93 in 102.2 innings with Iowa. He combined for 156 strikeouts. Farnsworth needed just six starts with Iowa in 1999 before he was in the majors for the rest of the season.
As a rookie for the 1999 Cubs, Farnsworth went 5-9, 5.05 in 130 innings, making 21 starts and six relief appearances. He switched to relief the next year, making just five starts, to go along with 41 relief appearances. He struggled that sophomore season, going 2-9, 6.43 in 77 innings, while spending part of the year back in Iowa, where he worked in the closer role. Farnsworth was on top of his game in 2001, putting up a 2.74 ERA in 88 innings over 76 appearances. He had 106 strikeouts and picked up two saves. He got roughed up in 2002, to the tune of a 7.46 ERA in 46.2 innings over 45 games. However, a stress fracture in his right foot derailed his season, then things went downhill two weeks after he returned. He threw shutout ball in his first three appearances, then missed two full months. He had a 1.04 ERA through ten appearances, then an 8.76 ERA the rest of the way.
Farnsworth was a solid bullpen arm for the Cubs in 2003 with a 3.30 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 76.1 innings and 77 appearances. His ERA dropped to 4.73 in 2004 in 66.2 innings over 72 appearances. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2005, who in turn traded him to the Atlanta Braves in July. He had an outstanding season that got better as it went along, combining in the two stops to put up a 2.19 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 70 innings, with 16 saves. He finished with 72 appearances for the second straight year. Farnsworth became a free agent after the season and signed with the New York Yankees, where he continued his off and on seasons, though he didn’t rebound in the odd number year this time. He had a 4.32 ERA in 66 innings in 2006 (third straight year with 72 games pitched) and then put up a 4.80 ERA in 2007, throwing 60 innings in 64 appearances. He was doing slightly better in 2008 before a mid-season trade back to the Tigers, where a poor showing left him with a 4.48 ERA in 60.1 innings for the season. He had a 3.65 ERA in 45 games before the trade, and a 6.75 ERA in 16 games after the deal. Farnsworth signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent prior to the 2009 season. He went 1-5, 4.58 in 37.1 innings over 41 appearances, then had strong results in the first half of 2010, putting up a 2.42 ERA in 44.2 innings. In July, he was traded to the Braves, where he posted a 5.40 ERA in 20 innings to finish the season.
Farnsworth signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2011 season. He had an excellent first year, posting a career best 2.18 ERA in 57.2 innings, with 25 saves in his 63 appearances. As you probably figured out, that success did not carry over. He was moved out of the closer role in 2012 and finished with a 4.00 ERA in 34 games and 27 innings pitched. He missed the first three months of that season due to a right elbow strain. He re-signed with the Rays for 2013, but he was released after a 5.76 ERA in 39 games through early August. The Pirates signed him five days later to help with their playoff run and he gave up just one run over 8.2 innings and nine appearances in September. He did not appear in the postseason, and became a free agent at the end of the year. Fansworth split his final season in the majors (2014) between the New York Mets and Houston Astros, who released him in June, which ended his big league career. He had a 4.40 ERA in 28.2 innings that year. He spent his final two seasons of pro ball pitching in Mexico before retiring. In the majors, he had a 43-66, 4.26 record and 57 saves in 988.2 innings over 893 games. His postseason experience was a lot like his career. He threw shutout ball in four different series over the years, but he had a career 5.06 ERA in postseason play.
John Van Benschoten, pitcher for the 2004 and 2007-08 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick of the Pirates in 2001 out of Kent State University, the eighth overall pick in the draft. Van Benschoten hit 31 homers his last season of college, the most in the country, but he was drafted as a pitcher. As a reliever for Kent State in 2001, he had a 2.77 ERA in 48.2 innings. He reported to the New York-Penn League after signing and posted a 3.51 ERA in nine starts. The Pirates limited his pitch count, so he finished with 25.2 innings. He was also given some time as a DH, hitting .227 with five doubles, eight RBIs and a .596 OPS in 32 games. He spent his first full season of pro ball at low-A ball, playing for Hickory of the South Atlantic League, where he went 11-4, 2.80 in 27 starts, striking out 145 batters in 148 innings. After the season, Baseball America rated him as the 24th best prospect in baseball. Van Benschoten split the 2003 season between High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League and Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League, going 13-6, 3.17 in 26 starts, while striking out 127 batters in 139 innings. Most of his time was spent with Altoona (17 starts), though he had better results at the lower level (2.22 ERA in 48.2 innings). He was rated as the 38th best prospect after that season. After going 4-11, 4.72 in 131.2 innings over 23 starts with Triple-A Nashville of Pacific Coast League in 2004, he was called up to the majors for the first time in August. He made five starts for the Pirates and one relief appearance. Van Benschoten went 1-3, 6.91 in 28.2 innings over the final six weeks of the season. Against the Houston Astros on September 10th, he allowed just one run in eight innings, picking up his first career win. He last start eight days later saw him give up six runs in the first inning and leave due to shoulder soreness, ending his season two weeks early.
Van Benschoten needed to have surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2005, followed shortly by surgery on his left shoulder, which caused him to miss the entire season. He had to have left shoulder surgery again in 2006 and didn’t make his season debut until August in the minors. He was limited to five starts and 22.2 innings of rehab work. He began 2007 in Triple-A (Indianapolis of the International League), going 10-7, 2.56 in 19 starts, with 79 strikeouts in 109 innings. Van Benschoten joined the Pirates that season in mid-June and remained in the rotation for a month. He then returned to Indianapolis until September, when he once again rejoined the Pirates. He made nine starts and two relief appearances for the Pirates with extremely poor results that year, going 0-7, 10.15 in 39 innings with a 2.15 WHIP. He actually had a respectable 3.92 ERA in his first four starts, then gave up 35 runs over his final 18.1 innings.
Van Benschoten began 2008 in the minors, getting recalled for the first time in late April. After one start and three relief appearances, he was sent back to Indianapolis. The Pirates called him up for a second time in late June, giving him four starts before sending him down again for the remainder of the season. He finished with a 1-3, 10.48 record, allowing 28 runs and 20 walks in 22.2 innings. Pittsburgh let him go after the season and he signed with the Chicago White Sox after pitching winter ball in Mexico. He spent the 2009 season in the minors with Charlotte of the International League, where he had a 2-8, 6.35 record. He spent 2010 in the minors with the New York Yankees, splitting six starts and 19 relief appearances between four affiliates. The 2011 season was spent at Triple-A Tuscon of the Pacific Coast League in the San Diego Padres system, along with a stint in independent ball with York of the Atlantic League. Van Benschoten was released by the Padres during the end of Spring Training in 2012 and he didn’t pitch again. He was 2-13, 9.20 in 90 innings with the Pirates. He had a 3.84 ERA in 811.1 innings in the minors.
Bill Luhrsen, pitcher for the 1913 Pirates. He was a spitball pitcher who began his career in the minors in 1908 at 24 years old after playing semi-pro ball for a time. He played for three different teams in the Class-D Arkansas State League that first year, posting a 16-17 record (no other stats are available) in the lowest level of the minors at the time. He remained in Arkansas in 1909, playing for the Marianna Brickeys of the Class-D Northern Arkansas League (no stats available), then split the 1910 season between two lower level teams, putting up a combined 17-10 record with Great Bend of the Class-D Kansas State League and El Reno of the Class-C Western Association. Despite solid results and three years of pro experience, he remained in Class-D ball in 1911, playing for Superior of the Nebraska State League, where he went 9-5 in 19 appearances. He spent the 1912 season in Class-D again, playing for Huntsville of the Southeastern League. His time spent in the low levels leaves us with very little in the way of stats from his first five seasons of pro ball. That changed the next year when he started the season with Selma of the Class-D Cotton States League, where he pitched 160 innings during the first half of the season. He was picked up by the Pirates from Albany of the Class-C South Atlantic League in August of 1913 after going 17-8 between two teams. His ERA isn’t available from that year, but in 243 innings of work, he allowed 2.04 runs per nine innings.
Albany paid Selma $500 for Luhrsen’s contract just one month before being sold to the Pirates. On August 8th, he picked up a no-decision in a scoreless game called after 13 innings, in which he allowed seven hits. Four days later, he threw a shutout, with nine strikeouts in his nine innings of work. He reported to the Pirates on August 19th in New York and threw batting practice for the team so manager Fred Clarke could check him out. Just two days before his debut, the local press said that it was unlikely that he was see any work because he was “crude in a big league way”, though the players noted that his changeup was a very good/puzzling pitch. He made his Major League debut during the second game of a doubleheader on August 23, 1913 in Philadelphia, coming in during the second inning after the starter Wilbur Cooper allowed four runs in the first. Luhrsen would pick up the victory that day when the Pirates ended up scoring 13 runs. He pitched eight innings, allowing four runs. He got his first start ten days later, winning 5-2 over the Cincinnati Reds. Four days later he beat the St Louis Cardinals for his third straight win, before picking up a loss a week later against the New York Giants with Christy Mathewson on the mound. He lasted just two innings that game due to wildness, in what would be his last Major League game.
Just days after his last game with the Pirates, Luhrsen’s contract was sold to Columbus of the American Association, where he pitched a few more times before the season ended. The local papers critiqued his small stature (5’9″, 157 pounds) and his lack of refinement on the mound, saying he could be good with more experience, but he wasn’t ready for the majors. That was despite a 2.48 ERA in his 29 big league innings. There was truth behind the critique, as he walked 16 batters and hit two others in his short time. Luhrsen played two more years in the minors before retiring. He signed with Columbus in February of 1914, but ended up playing for five other teams over his final two years. Despite pitching his final pro game in 1915, he was still a draw in his home state of Arkansas, where he made headlines in 1923 for pitching part of a tripleheader. He was pitching as late as 1927 in semi-pro games when he was 43 years old. He was occasionally referred to in print as “Wild Bill”, but it seemed to have nothing to do with his control as a pitcher.
George Merritt, outfielder/pitcher for the 1901-03 Pirates. He had a 15-year career in the minors, splitting his time between the outfield and pitching. The Pirates brought him to the majors for the first time when they purchased his contract from the Utica Pentups of the Class-C New York State League on September 4, 1901. Merritt, who debuted in pro ball in 1900 at age 20, played just 39 games for Utica in 1901, but he put up a .328 average during that time (his pitching stats are unavailable, though a newspaper report said that he won 22 of his 26 starts). His 1900 stats are unavailable, but he played at the highest level that first year, seeing time with Toronto of the Class-A Eastern League, as well as Newark of the Atlantic League, which wasn’t a classified league. Just 11 days before he joined the Pirates, it was announced that he signed with the New York Giants after he defeated them in an exhibition game, but Utica sold his contract to the Pirates instead.
Merritt made his big league debut on September 6th during the second game of a doubleheader and won 13-4 over the Giants, getting two hits of his own, including a triple. Despite making a strong impression on the mound (after a shaky first inning) Merritt did not make another start for 18 days. His debut was the last game of three straight doubleheaders the Pirates played, and the they were in a pennant race at the time. When he next started on the 24th, the Pirates had a nine-game lead with 11 to go in the season. Merritt would throw a complete game over the Giants in his second start, winning 14-9, although he didn’t pitch as bad as nine runs would sound. The fielding behind him was described as “sloppy once the Pirates had a big lead.” His third start of the year came in the final game of the season against the Chicago Orphans (Cubs), exactly one month after his debut. Merritt improved his record to 3-0 thanks to nine runs by the Pirates and nine errors by the Orphans. In between his final two starts, he was used once as a pinch-hitter. The Pirates played a barnstorming tour after the season to make a little extra money, but Merritt wasn’t in on the tour due to his late arrival with the club. The limited roster allowed all of the regulars to get a bigger cut of the money pool.
Merritt would spend the 1902 season in the minors with Worcester of the Eastern League, where he hit .285 in 64 games and won 11 games on the mound. He was actually with the Pirates until May 15th without playing a game, then got released outright. He was re-signed by the Pirates on August 18th, though he was to remain with Worcester through the end of their season. That day before he joined the Pirates, he played right field in an exhibition game for Worcester against the Pirates. He rejoined Pittsburgh with just five games left in the schedule. He started in left field on September 27th and collected three hits. He only got into the game because the regular left fielder/manager Fred Clarke, was visiting his sister, who was ill. When Tommy Leach couldn’t play due to his own illness, and regular first baseman Kitty Bransfield got injured before the game, the Pirates had to empty the bench just to play the game, which they still ended up winning 13-6. The next day the Pirates were also without regular second baseman Claude Ritchey, so they went even further down the bench, this time losing 3-2 to the Reds. Merritt went 0-for-4 and then didn’t play in any of the last three games of the year. Once again the team played postseason exhibition games and Merritt was not part of the group, but he played with the team during their annual Field Day at Exposition Park on October 6th.
In 1903, Merritt was with the Pirates as a backup outfielder early in the year. He would hit just .148 in nine games and he made one appearance on the mound in relief, allowing one earned run in four innings. He broke a bone in his foot on a slide on May 26th and that ended up being the end of his big league career. The Pirates sent him to Worcester once he was healthy, but he was returned to the Pirates a short time later. Instead of reporting back to the Pirates, he was released, and ended up finishing the year with Jersey City of the Eastern League. Despite the fact he played just 15 Major League games, he was a member of three National League pennant winners. Merritt went 3-0, 4.50 in 28 innings for the Pirates, and he batted .213, with a .608 OPS in 53 plate appearances. His minor league career ended 12 years after his last Major League game. He played eight straight seasons for Jersey City (1903-10), then remained in the league with Buffalo during the 1910-11 seasons. He batted .301 with 21 extra-base hits in 92 games in 1904. He never approached that average or his .398 slugging percentage in any of his other seasons with Jersey City. After he saw a drop in his hitting, he moved back to pitching full-time in 1909 and won 14 games. In between 1903 and 1909, his online stats only show him pitching in 1906, when he had a 1-4 record in 43 innings over five games. He has no 1912 stats available, though he was playing for Buffalo of the Eastern League late in the year and with Memphis of the Class-A Southern Association earlier in the year. He then he played for three different teams in the Southern Association during the 1913-15 seasons to wrap up his pro career.
On this date in 1925, the Pirates opened up their season at Wrigley Field in Chicago with an 8-2 loss. Emil Yde, who went 16-3 in 1924, made the start for the Pirates, while 38-year-old future Hall of Famer Grover Alexander made the start for the Cubs. For Alexander, it was the 301st win of his career. Pittsburgh would go on to win the National League pennant and the World Series during that 1925 season. The Pirates lineup that day featured three Hall of Famers, batting in the two, four and five spots in the order:
LF Carson Bigbee
CF Max Carey
2B Eddie Moore
3B Pie Traynor
RF Kiki Cuyler
1B George Grantham
SS Glenn Wright
C Earl Smith
P Emil Yde
Here’s Wilbur Miller’s recap of the game.