This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 15th, Rambo and Abbaticchio

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one minor trade mentioned below.

The Players

Adeiny Hechavarría, infielder for the 2018 Pirates. He was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Cuba, just days before his 21st birthday in 2010. Hechavarria defected from Cuba after playing three years of pro ball there. The Blue Jays signed him to a four-year deal worth $10,000,000. He didn’t play in 2009, so it took some time for him to get back into the swing of things. He had poor stats with Dunedin of the High-A Florida State League in 2010, putting up a .193 average and a .509 OPS in 41 games. He then played for Double-A New Hampshire of the Eastern League, where he hit .273 and had a .665 OPS in 61 games. That was followed by a brief trip to the Arizona Fall League that lasted just two games. Hechavarria returned to Double-A in 2011 and posted a .622 OPS in 111 games, then exploded on offense when he reached Triple-A late in the year, though he was playing in the very hitter-friendly Las Vegas (Pacific Coast League) at the time. He had a .968 OPS in 25 games. That was followed by another trip to the Arizona Fall League after the season, this time hitting .250 with a .752 OPS in 19 games.  In 2012, he opened the year back in Las Vegas and had a .788 OPS in 102 games before being promoted to the majors in August. For the 2012 Blue Jays, he hit .254 in 41 games, while playing three infield spots. The Blue Jays kept him just under the Rookie of the Year qualifications so he was eligible for the award in 2013. However, he was traded to the Miami Marlins as part of a huge 12-player deal in November of 2012.

Hechavarria was the starting shortstop for the Marlins from day one in 2013. He played solid defense, but he put up a .565 OPS in 148 games during his first season, gaining no Rookie of the Year support. He finished with a .227 average and 25 extra-base hits. His hitting improved slightly each of the next two years, though he was still below average overall. He hit for a higher average after his rookie season, putting up a .276 mark in 2014 and a .281 mark in 2015, but he had limited power and low walk totals, which kept his overall production down. Hechavarria played 146 games in 2014, finishing with 53 runs, 31 extra-base hits and 34 RBIs, along with a .664 OPS. That OPS went up to .689 in 2015, when he had 54 runs scored, 28 extra-base hits and 48 RBIs in 130 games. His stats slipped off in 2016 when he played a career high 155 games, and he finished the year with a .594 OPS. That year he batted .236, with 52 runs, 26 extra-base hits and 38 RBIs. Despite the weak offense, he was well above average defensively, resulting in 4.8 WAR during the 2014-16 stretch.

Hechavarria was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2017 season and did well after the deal, posting a .701 OPS in 77 games. He was actually doing well by his standards before the deal, putting up a .277 average and a .672 OPS in 20 games. He had a .621 OPS through 61 games played in 2018 when he was traded to the Pirates for minor league pitcher Matt Seelinger on August 6th.  Hechavarria hit .233 with a homer in 15 games for the Pirates before he was sold to the New York Yankees on August 31st, ending his time in Pittsburgh after just 25 days. He batted .194 in 18 games with the Yankees to finish out the season. He signed with the New York Mets as a free agent in 2019 and hit .204, with 20 runs, 12 extra-base hits and 18 RBIs in 60 games before he was released in August. He signed with the Atlanta Braves just two days later and put up a 1.039 OPS in his final 24 games of the season. Hechavarria remained with the Braves during the shortened 2020 season, putting up a .607 OPS in 27 games. He ended up signing in Japan in 2021 and is currently playing there during the 2022 season. In nine seasons in the majors, he hit .253 in 922 games, with 37 homers, 273 RBIs, 35 stolen bases and 311 runs scored. During the 2015 season, he was rated as the sixth best defensive player in the National League, finishing with 2.0 dWAR.

Jeromy Burnitz, right fielder for the 2006 Pirates. He already had 13 seasons of Major League experience when the Pirates signed him to a one-year contract on January 9, 2006. He had played for five different teams over the five previous seasons at the time of the signing. Burnitz was originally drafted out of high school in 1987 by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 24th round. While he didn’t sign with the Brewers then, he would eventually end up there for the best years of his career. He attended Oklahoma State University, where the New York Mets selected him in the first round (17th overall) in 1990. He spent most of his first season with Pittsfield of the short-season New York-Penn League, while also getting in time (11 games) in the Florida State League with St Lucie. Combined in 62 games, he hit .278 with 43 runs, 18 extra-base hits, 13 steals and 52 walks. Burnitz had a huge first full season in pro ball, despite a .225 batting average. Playing in Double-A with Williamsport of the Eastern League, he was a 30/30 players, with 31 homers and 31 steals, while also drawing 104 walks. He added 80 runs, 16 doubles, ten triples and 85 RBIs. He moved up to Tidewater of the Triple-A International League in 1992 and struggled, so he had to repeat the level to begin the 1993 season. Burnitz batted .243 in 121 games in 1992, with 56 runs, 21 doubles, eight homers, 30 steals and 33 walks, 71 fewer than the previous season. The Mets moved their Triple-A affiliate to Norfolk of the International League and he hit .228 in 65 games, with 26 extra-base hits and a .702 OPS.

In late June of 1993, the Mets called Burnitz up to the majors. He batted .243 with 49 runs, ten doubles, six triples, 13 homers and an .814 OPS in 86 games as a rookie. A slow start in 1994 landed him back in Triple-A for 2 1/2 months in the middle of the season, then he lost the end of the year due to the strike. Burnitz hit .238 with three homers in 45 games for the Mets, and he had a .792 OPS in 85 games for Norfolk. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians in November and he played just nine big league games in 1995, going 4-for-7 at the plate. The rest of the year was spent with Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association, where he had an .862 OPS in 128 games. In 1996, he got off to a strong start and then was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in an August trade. He combined to hit .265 with 38 runs, 14 doubles, nine homers and 40 RBIs in 94 games that season, spending his first full season in the majors. Burnitz would take off the following year when he batted .281 with 85 runs, 37 doubles, eight triples, 27 homers, 85 RBIs, a career high 20 steals and 75 walks. He finished with a .934 OPS. He received mild MVP support for the first time in his career. He set career highs in 1998 with 38 homers and 125 RBIs, to go along with a .263 average in 161 games, with 92 runs, 28 doubles and 70 walks. Once again, he received mild MVP support again for his effort. His 19th place finish in the voting was his highest finish of the three years he received votes.

Burnitz was an All-Star for the only time in 1999 when he hit .270 with 87 runs, 33 doubles, 33 homers, 110 RBIs and 91 walks in 130 games. His .963 OPS was the best of his career. He saw his average drop to .232 in 161 games in 2000, but he still had 29 doubles, 31 homers, 98 RBIs, 99 walks (career high) and 91 runs scored. In his final season in Milwaukee in 2001, he batted .251 with 32 doubles, 34 homers, 100 RBIs, 80 walks and a career high 104 runs scored. In January of 2002, Burnitz was traded to the Mets in a three-team deal that involved 11 players. He did poorly in his only full season back with the Mets, hitting .215 with 19 homers and 54 RBIs in 154 games. His .677 OPS was his lowest for a full season in the majors. He was doing well during the 2003 season, putting up a .974 OPS in 65 games, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in mid-July. He batted just .204 with a .643 OPS after the deal. He combined to hit .239 with 63 runs, 22 doubles, 31 homers and 77 RBIs. Burnitz signed a one-year free agent deal with the Colorado Rockies after the season and moving to Coors Field was to his liking. He batted .283 with 94 runs, 30 doubles, 37 homers and 110 RBIs. He had a 1.057 OPS at home and a .757 mark on the road. He finished 23rd in the MVP voting that year.

Burnitz signed a free agent deal with the Chicago Cubs in 2005. That year he hit .258 with 84 runs, 31 doubles, 24 homers, 87 RBIs and 57 walks in 160 games. He signed with the Pirates on January 9, 2006 and ended up hitting .230 with 35 runs, 12 doubles, 16 homers, 49 RBIs and a .711 OPS in 111 games, making 84 starts in right field. His first home run of the season was the 300th of his career, becoming just the third player (after Willie Stargell and Ralph Kiner) to hit his 300th homer while wearing a Pirates uniform. Burnitz retired following the 2006 season. For his career, he hit .253 with 298 doubles, 315 homers, 981 RBIs, 739 walks and 917 runs scored in 1,694 games. His finished with a career .826 OPS.

Mike Diaz, utility player for the 1986-88 Pirates. He was a 30th round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1978 out of high school in California. He debuted that season in the Gulf Coast League and hit .279 with one homer in 26 games. He remained in short-season ball in 1979 and had a .312 average and an .875 OPS in 63 games in the New York-Penn League with Geneva. Diaz moved up to Class-A Quad Cities of the Midwest League in 1980 and hit .293 in 105 games, with 51 runs, 17 doubles, eight homers and 47 RBIs. He advanced to Double-A for the 1981 season, though he ended up repeating the level in 1982. He batted .264 with 56 runs, 19 doubles, ten homers and 60 RBIs in 110 games during his first season with Midland of the Texas League, then came back with a .289 average, 54 runs, 23 doubles, 22 homers and 75 RBIs in 121 games in 1982. Diaz moved up to Triple-A Iowa of the American Association in 1983, where he hit .324 with 43 runs, 13 doubles, 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 74 games. He made it to the majors for the first time in 1983 for six September games, all of them off of the bench, going 2-for-7 with a double.

Chicago traded Diaz to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 1984 season and he spent the entire year in Triple-A with Portland of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .270 with 15 doubles, 14 homers and a .773 OPS in 105 games. Early in the 1985 season, the Pirates traded for Diaz, giving up minor league catcher Steve Herz in the deal. Diaz spent the year at Triple-A Hawaii (after ten games with Portland), hitting .312 in 128 games, with 29 doubles, 22 homers and 85 RBIs. He then made the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1986 without appearing in a big league game during the previous two season. In his first year with the Pirates, he hit .268 with 22 runs, nine doubles, 12 homers, 36 RBIs and an .814 OPS in 97 games (52 starts). He followed that up with a .241 average, 28 runs, eight doubles, 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 103 games (62 starts) during the 1987 season, finishing with an .816 OPS. He was playing mostly off the bench through August of 1988, when the Pirates traded him to the Chicago White Sox for Gary Redus. He had a .637 OPS in 90 plate appearances over 47 games with the Pirates before the deal. After the trade, he hit .237 in 40 games, with three doubles, six homers and 12 RBIs. He never had high walk totals, but he drew just five walks in Chicago in 158 plate appearances, leading to a .266 OBP.

Diaz was released at the end of 1988 by the White Sox and he spent the last four seasons of his pro career in Japan. He hit 39 homers and drove in 105 runs in 130 games in 1989, then hit .311 with 33 homers and 101 RBIs in 128 games in 1990. Diaz was a career .247 hitter in the majors, with 70 runs, 27 doubles, 31 homers and 102 RBIs in 293 games. He hit .250 with 28 homers in 247 games with Pittsburgh. He was never much of a speed guy, though he did go 11-for-12 in steals during the 1980-81 seasons. He ended up stealing just one base in the majors. While with the Pirates, he split the majority of his time between first base and left field, though he also saw time at right field, catcher and third base. Diaz came up through the minors as a catcher, but his big league career saw him play just 13 games behind the plate, and only two of those games were starts (both for the 1987 Pirates).  He had the nickname “Rambo” after the movie Rambo came out starring Sylvester Stallone, who Diaz shared many characteristics with, including looks and how he talked.

Bill Pierro, pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. He was a hard-throwing sidearm right-handed pitcher, with strong minor league stats, but his Major League career was ended by illness shortly after it started. Pierro was signed by the Pirates at 20 years old as an amateur free agent in 1947 and he struggled with his control in the low minors (Class-D) that first season while splitting his time between Bartlesville of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League and Tallahassee of the Georgia-Florida League. His 8-9 record and 4.30 ERA weren’t that bad, but he walked 159 batters in 134 innings, to go along with 180 strikeouts. On August 22nd, he made headlines when he picked up 15 strikeouts in a game. He turned it around quickly while at Bartlesville in 1948, posting a 17-8, 2.15 record in 230 innings. He was still wild (145 walks) but he was also very hard to hit, allowing just 114 hits all season. Newspapers quote his strikeout total as being 300 for the regular season (he helped his team to the playoffs) and they called him the “Strikeout King”. He was also called by some as the hardest thrower in all of baseball. Pierro moved up to Class-B for the 1949 season and continued his success with the Waco Pirates of the Big State League. He went 18-11, 2.96 in 255 innings that season, lowering his walks to 126 for the season, while increasing his innings pitched. He finished with 275 strikeouts.

In 1950, Pierro moved up to Triple-A with the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association, going 8-3, 2.60 in 25 games, with 59 walks and 75 strikeouts in 104 innings, before getting called up to the Pirates on July 12th, when the made a flurry of roster moves during a year in which they would finish with a 57-96 record. He had a rough go with the Pirates, posting a 10.55 ERA in twelve games, three as a starter. Those three starts were his first three games and none of them went well, though he did pitch eight innings in his debut. In a total of 14.1 innings, he allowed 18 runs on 20 hits and 15 walks, issuing five free passes in each of his starts. He pitched 29 innings total for the 1950 Pirates, allowing 33 hits and walking 28 batters, while picking up just 13 strikeouts. He had some success against the New York Giants in three appearances, giving up one run on two hits over five innings. Pierro pitched just once in the last 31 games of the season, allowing three runs over three innings in a one-sided loss to the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 19th. As the 1951 Spring Training schedule was wrapping up, Pierro started complaining of a gastritis attack and dizziness. Just days later (on his birthday), he was rushed to the hospital with what turned out to be inflammation of the brain. He was listed in critical condition and the first few days it didn’t look good for him. He eventually recovered and lived out a full life passing away in 2006, but the brain issue marked the end of his baseball career. The Pirates officially released him in April of 1952, though they paid him his full salary in 1951 and covered his hospital bills during that time, which he said were over $4,000.

King Cole, pitcher for the 1912 Pirates. He had minimal experience in pro ball prior to his big league debut on October 6, 1909. Cole pitched briefly in semi-pro ball in 1908, then spent the 1909 season playing for Bay City of the Southern Michigan League, where he posted a 21-17 record. He was acquired by the Chicago Cubs at the end of the season for $2,000 and threw a shutout in his Major League debut against the St Louis Cardinals on the final day of the season. He had an amazing rookie season in 1910, going 20-4 with a league leading 1.80 ERA in 239.2 innings. He threw 21 complete games in 29 starts and had four shutouts. There was a bit of a red flag despite the stats, as he finished second in the league with 130 walks. He had 114 strikeouts, which ranked seventh in the league. Cole’s record was almost as good his second season, going 18-7, though his 3.13 in 221.1 innings in the middle of the deadball era was 23 points above average for the team. His control was only slightly better with 99 walks, but he led the league with 11 wild pitches. Cole’s pitching quickly went downhill in 1912, going 1-2, 10.89 in eight games through the end of May. The Pirates and Cubs hooked up on a four-player trade on May 30th, with Tommy Leach and Lefty Leifield going to Chicago and Cole and Solly Hofman coming back to Pittsburgh. King (first name was Leonard) went 2-2, 6.43 in 12 games for the Pirates, making five starts and pitching 49 innings. In his final game with the Pirates on September 1, 1912, he allowed 11 runs on 12 hits over eight innings in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Cole was healthy, but never got into a game during the final month of the 1912 season. When the Pirates went on their final road trip on September 28th, they allowed eight of their 28 players to go home, including Cole. Coincidentally, they were on their way to play the Chicago Cubs and Cole was living in Chicago over the winter, so he actually attended at least one game during that series. On October 24, 1912, he was sold to the Columbus Senators of the Double-A American Association as a partial payment for the Pirates acquiring pitcher Wilbur Cooper and Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler (who never joined the Pirates, long story for another time) earlier in the fall. Cole went 23-11 in 46 games for Columbus in 1913, throwing a total of 341.2 innings. The New York Yankees took him in the 1913 Rule 5 draft and he spent two seasons in New York to finish his pro career. In 1914 he did well in a swing role, going 10-9, 3.30 in 141.2 innings spread over 15 starts and 18 relief appearances. He saw limited time in 1915, with a 3.18 record in 51 innings over six starts and four relief appearances. Late in 1915 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and he passed away on January 6, 1916 at the age of twenty-nine. Cole had a career record of 54-27 with a 3.12 ERA in 730.2 innings. He made 86 starts and 43 relief appearances, finishing with 47 complete games and nine shutouts.

Ed Abbaticchio, infielder for the 1907-1910 Pirates. He made his MLB debut with the 1897 Philadelphia Phillies, playing parts of two seasons in Philadelphia before spending the next four years in the minors. With no previous professional baseball experience, the 20-year-old Abbaticchio played three September games for the Phillies in 1897 before he got injured, breaking a bone in his right hand. He went 3-for-10 with a walk in that first big league stint. In 1898, he batted .228 with nine runs, four doubles, no homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games for Philadelphia. He played for Minneapolis of the Class-A Western League in 1899 (no stats available), then spent the 1900 season in the American League with Minneapolis and Milwaukee, one season before the league reached Major League status. He is credited with hitting .231 with 13 doubles, nine triples and 52 runs scored in 117 games. Abbaticchio moved on to Nashville of the Class-B Southern Association in 1901, where he put up a .363 batting average in 108 games. Back in Nashville for 1902 (a Class-A team that year), he hit .353 in 99 games, with 15 doubles, 18 triples and two homers. He returned to the majors with the Boston Beaneaters in 1903 and became the first Italian-American star in baseball, and possibly the first Italian-American ever in the majors (a former Pittsburgh player named Lewis “Buttercup” Dickerson has questionable heritage). He was Boston’s everyday second baseman for most of the 1903 season, seeing some time at shortstop as well. He batted .227 in 136 games, with 24 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs, 52 walks, 23 steals and 61 runs scored.

Abbaticchio became the everyday shortstop in 1904 and played 154 games that year. He batted .256 with 76 runs, 18 doubles, ten triples, 54 RBIs, 24 steals and 40 walks. He played 153 games in 1905 and led the National League with 610 at-bats. He had his best season at the plate, batting .279 with 40 extra-base hits, 30 stolen bases and 70 runs scored, leading to a career best .700 OPS. Abbaticchio sat out the 1906 season to manage a hotel in Pittsburgh owned by his family. Boston traded him to Pittsburgh on December 11, 1906 in exchange for three players, Ginger Beaumont, Claude Ritchey and Patsy Flaherty. That deal did not work out for the Pirates, though they were still a strong team after the deal. Ritchey and Abbaticchio were basically the same player after the deal and Beaumont outplayed both of them, while Flaherty was a steady presence in the Boston rotation for two seasons.

Abbaticchio was mostly a shortstop with Boston, but with Honus Wagner at shortstop in Pittsburgh, he moved to second base. In his first season he hit .262 with 63 runs, 23 extra-base hits, 82 RBIs, 65 walks and 35 stolen bases in 147 games. In the field he led the league in errors for second baseman. During the 1904 and 1905 seasons, he also led the National League in errors among shortstops, so what happened in 1908 was probably a surprise. Abbaticchio hit .250 with 43 runs, 24 extra-base hits, 61 RBIs, 22 steals and 58 walks in 146 games that season, plus he had the best fielding percentage among NL second baseman. Just five games into the 1909 season, Abbaticchio lost his starting job to rookie Dots Miller, forcing him to the backup middle infielder role. In 36 games that year, he hit .230 with 16 RBIs and 19 walks. His only extra-base hit was a homer. He saw just one at-bat in the postseason, as the Pirates won their first World Series title. In 1910, Abbaticchio played just three games for the Pirates through the end of June, leading to Pittsburgh selling him back to Boston on July 1st. He hit .247 with a .587 OPS in 52 games that season with Boston, then got released at the end of the season, ending his baseball career. He was a gifted athlete who also excelled at football during his baseball career, and he also played some basketball. In nine big league seasons, he hit .254 in 855 games, with 355 runs, 99 doubles, 43 triples, 11 homers, 324 RBIs and 142 steals.

Bill Gray, third baseman for the 1898 Pirates. He made his pro debut with his hometown Philadelphia Phillies in 1890 as a teenager. He hit .242 with 20 runs and 21 RBIs in 34 games and played seven different positions during his brief time, seeing time everywhere except pitcher and shortstop. He had a similar season at 20 years old in 1891 with the Phillies, hitting .240 in 23 games, with 11 runs and seven RBIs, while playing five different positions. After two seasons with Philadelphia, he spent the next three years in the minors. He played for two teams in the Eastern League in 1892 (Philadelphia and Providence), moved to the Pennsylvania League in 1893 (he also played for a semi-pro team in May’s Landing NJ), then played for Indianapolis of the Western League in 1894, where he hit .318 with 50 extra-base hits and 117 runs scored in 115 games. Gray returned to the majors in a utility role with the Cincinnati Reds in 1895 and hit .304 in 52 games, with 24 runs, 22 extra-base hits and 29 RBIs. His average dropped down to .207 in 46 games in 1896, with his OPS dropping from .822 (in 1895) down to a .554 mark. That performance would lead to him spending the 1897 season back in the minors with Indianapolis, where he batted .347 with 56 extra-base hits and 131 runs scored in 125 games.

On November 10, 1897, the Reds traded Gray, along with Billy Rhines, Pop Schriver, Jack McCarthy and Ace Stewart, to the Pirates for outfielder Mike Smith and pitcher Pink Hawley. The Pirates were giving up two of their better players and they didn’t get a lot from the five-player return. Gray was the everyday third baseman for the Pirates in 1898 (technically the team was named Patriots that season), and he hit .229 with 22 extra-base hits, 67 RBIs and 56 runs scored in 137 games. His defense was below average and he committed the second most errors among National League third baseman. It ended up being his last season in the majors. The Pirates traded him that December of 1898 to Milwaukee of the Western League in exchange for Ginger Beaumont, who went on to become a star center fielder for the Pirates for eight seasons. Gray finished his career two years later in the minors, spending his final season (1900) with Detroit and Indianapolis in the American League, the year before it became recognized as a Major League. He was a .242 hitter in 292 big league games, with 59 extra-base hits, 141 RBIs, 23 steals and 126 runs scored. His lone big league home run came in August of 1895 in the ninth inning of a game his team was losing 15-0 at the time.

The Trade

One minor deal to mention from this date. In 2009, the Pirates acquired second baseman/outfielder Delwyn Young from the Los Angeles Dodgers for two players to be named later. The Pirates later sent minor league pitchers Eric Krebs and Harvey Garcia to Los Angeles to complete the deal. Young played 234 games for the Pirates during the 2009-10 seasons, hitting .255 with 14 homers and 71 RBIs, while neither Krebs nor Garcia played for the Dodgers in the majors, and both were soon out of baseball after the deal. Young’s time with the Pirates, and in the majors, ended when he became a free agent after the 2010 season, though he ended up playing another six years of pro ball.