This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 16th, The Great Paul Waner

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, one trade to talk about and one Opening Day to mention. We start with one of the all-time greats in team history.

The Players

Paul Waner, outfielder for the 1926-1940 Pirates. If the Pirates ever created a Mount Rushmore for players, Waner has a strong case to be included there. He retired with a .333 career average, 1,627 runs scored, 3,152 hits, 1,091 base on balls and 1,377 RBIs. With the Pirates, he ranks first all-time in batting average with a .340 mark (Jake Stenzel hit .360, but had less than 2,000 PAs). He also ranks first in doubles with 558 (career he ranks 11th all-time). He is sixth in games played, second to Honus Wagner in both runs scored and triples, third in hits and walks, and fifth in RBIs. When he left the Pirates, he was the team’s all-time leader in home runs. Among all Major League right fielders, he is first in putouts, fourth in assists and second in games played. He holds the Pirates single season record with 237 hits. He’s also tops on the doubles list with 62, and he’s first in RBIs with 131. He has five of the top ten single season batting averages in team history, four of the top ten in hits, and two of the top ten seasons in runs scored. He led the National League in games played three times, runs twice, hits twice, doubles twice, triples twice, RBIs once and he won three batting crowns. He was the NL MVP in 1927 and finished second in the voting in 1934. Waner batted .333 during the 1927 World Series. He was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1952, then was joined there by his brother Lloyd in 1967, although Paul had passed away two years earlier. The Pirates retired his jersey number 11 in 2007. The Waner brothers combined for 5,611 hits.

Waner debuted in pro ball at 20 years old in 1923 and spent his first three seasons playing for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League. He was probably big league ready after his first season when he hit .369 in 112 games, with 30 doubles, four triples and three homers. He batted .356 the next year, while collecting 46 doubles, five triples and eight homers. His best was still ahead. During the 1925 season, Waner hit .401 with 75 doubles (also had seven triples and 11 homers) and 280 hits in 174 games. Pirates scout Joe Devine recommended that the Pirates acquire Waner, which they did on October 12, 1925. At the same time, they also received infielder Hal Rhyne, with the reported price for both being $100,000 and three players. Waner made an easy transition to the majors as a rookie, hitting .336 with, 101 runs scored, 35 doubles, 79 RBIs, 66 walks and a league leading/career high 22 triples. He finished 12th in the MVP voting that season. He was even better the next year in helping the Pirates to the 1927 World Series.  He led the league with a .380 average, 342 total bases, 237 hits, 131 RBIs and 18 triples. He also added 42 doubles and 114 runs scored. The RBI and hit totals are single-season Pirates records. All of that led to an MVP award. That was the first MVP award in team history, and the only one a Pirates player won prior to the 1960 season. We posted a detailed recap of his 1927 season here. In 1928, Waner led the league with 142 runs scored and 50 doubles. He also added a .370 average,  223 hits, 77 walks, 19 triples and 86 RBIs. His .992 OPS this season was the best of his career, six points higher than his MVP season. Despite those strong stats, he finished just 15th in the MVP voting. During the 1929 season, he batted .336 with 100 RBIs, 131 runs scored and 89 walks. He had 43 doubles, 15 triples and a career high 15 homers.

In 1930, offense was up all around baseball. Waner put up a .368 average and 115 runs scored, along with his fourth straight 200+ hit season. He had 58 extra-base hits, 77 RBIs, 57 walks and set a career high with 18 stolen bases. His 1931 season looks like a down year compared to the surrounding seasons, though offense dropped around baseball. He hit .322 and scored 88 runs, the only time he didn’t reach 90 runs in a season during his first 12 years in the majors. He also had 51 extra-base hits, 70 RBIs and 73 runs scored. Waner finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1932 after setting a Pirates record with 62 doubles. He hit .341 with 215 hits, 107 runs scored and 82 RBIs. His 80 extra-base hits that year are a career high and the sixth best mark in ten history, just ten behind the record held by Willie Stargell. Waner finished fourth in the MVP voting that year.

Waner was an All-Star for the first time in 1933 (first year of the All-Star game) when he batted .309 with 38 doubles, 16 triples, 70 RBIs, 60 walks and 101 runs scored. He led the league with 154 games played for the second straight season. He had an outstanding second All-Star campaign in 1934, winning his second batting title with a .362 average. He also led the league with 122 runs scored and 217 hits. Waner finished with 32 doubles, 16 triples, 14 homers, 90 RBIs and 68 walks. Those strong stats led to a second place finish in the MVP voting. The 1935 season saw Waner make his third straight All-Star appearance. He batted .321 in 139 games, with 98 runs scored and 78 RBIs. He received mild MVP support that year, finishing 24th in the voting. He had his best season according to WAR in 1936 (7.1 WAR) when he won his third batting title with a .373 average. Waner had 218 hits, 53 doubles, 107 runs scored, 94 RBIs and 74 walks. He didn’t make the All-Star team that year, though he did finish fifth in the MVP voting.

While he played until 1945, Waner had one final big season left in 1937 before his stats slipped to mere mortal numbers. That year he hit .354 with 219 hits, 43 extra-base hits, 74 RBIs, 63 walks and 94 runs scored. He was an All-Star for a final time this season and he received MVP support for the last time, ending up with a strong eighth place finish He still provided positive value in each of the next seven seasons (he batted once in 1945), but he was far from the superstar player. Waner hit .280 in 1938, with 77 runs scored, 31 doubles and 69 RBIs in 148 games. This was the last season that he was an everyday player, though the lower game totals were a combo of injuries and performance slipping after this year. He had a solid season in 1939, that gets lost due to the lower game totals.  He was a .328 hitter in 125 games that year, with 62 runs, 39 extra-base hits, 45 RBIs and an .813 OPS. He was benched in late June and didn’t start again until August 2nd, due to a slump at the plate. He was hitting .291 at the time, so that seems to have been a quick decision with no regard to prior performance. It probably helped him though, as once he started playing again, he had an .881 OPS in his final 63 games.

Waner batted .290 over 89 games in 1940, finishing with a .731 OPS that was 29 points over league average. He was released by the Pirates after the season and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His stay in Brooklyn was over in May when he was released, but he quickly signed with the Boston Braves, Waner hit .267 in 106 games that season, with 45 runs, 50 RBIs and 55 walks. He hit .258 in 114 games with the Braves during the 1942 season. Thanks to his 62 walks, he finished with a strong .376 OBP that year. He got released in January of 1943 and quickly signed back with Brooklyn, where he had a fine season in a part-time role, putting up a .311 average and an .802 OPS in 82 games. He hit .287 through 83 games in 1944 (mostly as a bench player), before being released on September 1st. He signed with the New York Yankees that same day and took a pinch-hitting role. Waner went 1-for-7 with two walks to finish out the season. He batted once in 1945, drawing a walk, before being released in early May when he retired. His pro career ended the next year in the minors at age 43 when he hit .325 in 63 games for Miami of the Class-C Florida International League. Waner was an incredible contact hitter during his career, not quite on the level of his brother, who was one of the toughest players to strike out ever, but still elite. He finished his career with 1,091 walks and 376 strikeouts in 10,762 plate appearances.

Tyler Bashlor, pitcher for the 2020 Pirates. He was an 11th round draft pick of the New York Mets out of South Georgia College in 2013. He spent that first season with Kingsport of the short-season Appalachian League, where he had a 5.74 ERA in 15.1 innings over 13 relief appearances. Bashlor had Tommy John surgery in mid-May of 2014 without pitching that season. He ended up having some minor setbacks during his return in mid-2015 and never took the mound that season either. He returned in 2016 with Columbia of the Low-A South Atlantic League, where he had a 2.50 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 50.1 innings. He moved up to High-A St Lucie of the Florida State League that year and had a 5.06 ERA in four appearances. In 2017, Bashlor spent most of the season with St Lucie, going 2-2, 4.89 with ten saves and 61 strikeouts in 35 innings. He moved up to Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League for 12 games, where he dominated, throwing 14.2 scoreless innings with 23 strikeouts. He started 2018 in Binghamton, going 0-3, 2.63, with seven saves and 30 strikeouts in 24 innings. He skipped over Triple-A and went right to the majors in late June, going 0-3, 4.22 in 32 innings over 24 games with the Mets. In 2019, he pitched 33 games for Syracuse of the Triple-A International League, and 24 games with the Mets. Bashlor had a 3.41 ERA in 37 innings in the minors, and a 6.95 ERA in 22 innings with the Mets. During the shortened 2020 season, the Pirates purchased his contract from New York on August 2nd without him appearing in a game for the Mets. He pitched eight games for the Pirates, giving up eight runs in 8.1 innings. He was released in April of 2021, then rejoined the Pirates in Triple-A with Indianapolis, where he spent the entire season. Bashlor had a 2.39 ERA, six saves and 45 strikeouts in 37.2 innings over 37 appearances. He became a free agent after the season and signed a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins in March of 2022. Going into 2022, he has a 0-6, 5.78 big league record in 56 appearances and 62.1 innings.

Keone Kela, pitcher for the 2018-20 Pirates. He was originally drafted in the 29th round in 2011 out of high school by the Seattle Mariners. He went Everett Community College instead and was drafted in the 12th round in 2012 by the Texas Rangers. He didn’t get in a lot of time during that first season, posting a 1.59 ERA in 11.1 innings over nine appearances in the rookie level Arizona League. In 2013, he pitched at three different levels, throwing a total of 39 innings over 27 games. His best work came at his highest level that season, when he posted a 2.41 ERA in 18.2 innings with Hickory of the Low-A South Atlantic League. He pitched briefly in the Arizona Fall League after the season, then spent time in Venezuela during winter ball. In 2014, Kela pitched eight games for Myrtle Beach of the High-A Carolina League, and 36 games for Frisco of the Double-A Texas League. He combined to go 2-2, 2.02, with ten saves and 68 strikeouts in 49 innings. With no Triple-A experience, he began the 2015 season in the majors, going 7-5, 2.39, with 68 strikeouts in 60.1 innings over 68 relief appearances.

Kela missed nearly three full months of the 2016 season due to elbow surgery in April. He managed to put together a 5-1 record that year, despite a 6.09 ERA in 34 innings over 35 games. He struck out 45 batters. A shoulder problem sidelined him for a time during the 2017 season. That year he went 4-1, 2.79 in 39 games, picking up two saves and 51 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. In 2018, he started the year by going 3-3, 3.44 in 36.2 innings over 38 outings. He had 24 saves and 44 strikeouts. The Pirates acquired him at the trade deadline for two minor league prospects, Taylor Hearn and Sherten Apostel. After the trade, Kela had a 2.93 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 15.1 innings over 16 games. During the 2019 season, he went 2-0, 2.12 in 32 games, with 33 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. Once again he missed a stretch of time due to a shoulder injury. During the shortened 2020 season, he pitched just three games, allowing one run in two innings. Forearm tightness cost him a majority of the season, though he started late due to a positive COVID test. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the San Diego Padres, where he pitched 12 games and had a 5.06 ERA in 10.2 innings before needing Tommy John surgery in mid-May. He’s out until at least June of 2022, but he signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Through his first seven seasons in the majors, he is 23-13, 3.33 in 243 appearances, all in relief. He has 28 saves and 279 strikeouts in 227.1 innings.

Babe Phelps, catcher for the 1942 Pirates. While with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1935 until 1941, Phelps was a strong hitting catcher who made three All-Star appearances. Twice he batted over .360 in a season, and he had a .315 average in 581 games with Brooklyn. His time with the Pirates was brief and a bit rocky. Phelps started off in pro ball at 22 years old in 1930, playing Class-D ball for Hagerstown of the Blue Ridge League, where he hit .376 in 115 games, with 38 doubles, 15 triples and 19 homers. He moved up one level in 1931 and put up a .408 average and 53 extra-base hits in 115 games while playing in the Class-C Middle Atlantic League for a Hagerstown franchise that moved twice during the season. That performance earned him a brief look with the Washington Senators in September of 1931. In three games, he went 1-for-3 at the plate in his first big league cup of coffee. Phelps played Class-B ball in 1932 for Youngstown of the Central League, where he put up a .373 average and 47 doubles, eight triples and 26 homers in 135 games. He played for Albany of the Double-A International League in 1933, which was a top minor league at the time. Phelps hit .293 in 122 games, with 38 extra-base hits, earning a trip to the majors with the Chicago Cubs in September. He didn’t get much of a chance in his second trial, going 2-for-7 with two RBIs in three games, though he remained in the majors through the 1942 season.

Phelps was a backup catcher to Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett in 1934, playing just 44 games, with eight starts all year. Phelps hit .286 with 12 RBIs in 70 at-bats that year. He was selected off waivers by the Dodgers in January of 1935 and he hit .364, with a .986 OPS in 47 games that first season, serving as a backup to Al Lopez, a Hall of Fame manager, who was a top notch catcher as well. Phelps began to play more often in July, but on July 22nd, in the cruelest of ironies, a foul ball off of the bat of Gabby Hartnett, broke his thumb and ended his season. The guy who kept him on the bench with the Cubs, put him back on the bench for the season with the Dodgers. It was a minor setback in the long run, as Phelps got a bigger role in 1936 and responded with a .367 average in 115 games (67 starts). He finished with 30 extra-base hits, 57 RBIs and a .920 OPS in 349 plate appearances. That performance led to an 18th place finish in the MVP voting.

Phelps batted .313 in a career high 121 games (111 starts) in 1937. He drove in 58 runs and set a career best with 37 doubles, while compiling an .826 OPS. His 1938 season was limited due to a fractured thumb suffered on July 1st, which kept him out of action for the next 46 days. He batted just .255 after returning, finishing the year with a .308 average and an .836 OPS in 66 games. He was named an All-Star that year, but could not participate in the game. Phelps was an All-Star again in 1939 when he .285, with 29 extra-base hits and 42 RBIs in 98 games, finishing with a career low .754 OPS. He received his third straight All-Star selection in 1940 when he batted .295 in 118 games, while setting career highs with 47 runs scored, 13 homers and 61 RBIs. His .841 OPS that year was the best of his career after his huge 1936 season.

Phelp’s last season in Brooklyn was marred by health problems, injuries and a suspension, leading him to play just 16 games in 1941. The Pirates acquired him a four-for-one deal on December 12, 1941 in exchange for Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan. After the trade, Phelps platooned at catcher once again with Al Lopez in 1942. He hit .284 with nine homers and 41 RBIs in 95 games that season. In April 1943, Phelps was put on the voluntary retired list by baseball for failing to sign his contract for that season within ten days after the start of the schedule. The Pirates tried trading him in May, but the commissioner held up the deal due to his status. They finally dealt Phelps to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with cash, in exchange for first baseman Babe Dahlgren on December 30, 1943. Phelps never reported to the Phillies, instead deciding to retire after 11 seasons in the majors. In his career, he batted .310 in 726 games, with 239 runs, 143 doubles, 54 homers, 345 RBIs and an .835 OPS.

Piggy Ward, left fielder for the 1891 Pirates. He made his Major League debut just after his 16th birthday, playing one game for the 1883 Philadelphia Quakers (Phillies). Six years later he returned to the majors, this time playing seven games for the 1889 Quakers. In between that time, he bounced around teams in Pennsylvania. Ward was born in Chambersburg, PA and lived out his later years in Hollidaysburg, PA, so he was able to land jobs with many local/in-state clubs throughout his career in pro ball. His one game for the Quakers in 1883 was his pro debut and his only pro game before 1887. He went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in that game and was described as being very slow and weak at the bat, but he played a good game at third base. He next showed up in 1887, seeing time with Johnstown of the Pennsylvania State Association (15 games) and Shamokin of the Central Pennsylvania League (45 games). He played in that same Central Pa. league in 1888 with Shenandoah, as well as Allentown of the Central League, where he hit .266 with 28 steals in 30 games, along with being one of the top fielders at third base. In 1889, Ward batted .309 with 37 steals for Hamilton of the International League, and .301 in 30 games for New Orleans of the Southern League, where he was playing when picked up by the Quakers, who agreed on June 4th to pay him $300 per month for the rest of the season. He also saw time with York of the Middle States League in 1889. His big league time did not go well, as he hit .160 with no walks and when Philadelphia tried him in the outfield, it was said afterwards that he had no business being out there. Interestingly enough, when the Quakers signed him, there was no mention of his earlier time with the team.

Ward split the 1890 season between Spokane of the Pacific Northwest League and Galveston of the Texas League, hitting a combined .357 in 116 games, with 145 runs scored, 26 doubles, 16 triples and six homers. He stole 82 bases. The 1891 season saw him playing for four minor league teams in four different leagues, including a return trip to Spokane, and two other west coast clubs. He bounced around a lot during his career, playing for five different Major League teams in six seasons and at least 30 different minor league teams during his 21-year career. He joined the Pirates for a brief six-game trial in late August, with all five of his starts in left field. It was said that owner J. Palmer O’Neil thought highly of Ward and purchased his contract from Minneapolis of the Western Association on August 8, 1891. O’Neil, along with his business partners with the Pirates, tried to purchase the Minneapolis team outright  after it was revealed that they were near the point of folding due to finances. Ward returned his signed contract to the Pirates days before he arrived with the club and well after he was expected to arrive, taking extra time to get to them from Minneapolis. That decision to arrive late likely cost him a lot of money.

Ward was originally signed to replace third baseman Charles Reilly, but Reilly started hitting the ball well just before Ward arrived. It was revealed that Ward stopped at his home in Altoona for a few days before reporting to the Pirates and he didn’t play right away because he had a sore back “from a few days earlier” according to the August 24th Pittsburgh Press. He ended up coming off the bench late and playing center field in his debut on August 25th. On August 26th it was said that Ward would play third base and Reilly would go out to right field. That didn’t happen, but Ward did debut in left field that day in his first start with the Pirates. He had three hits the next day, and two hits and two runs on August 29th. He played his final game on August 31st, going 0-for-4 at the plate.

Ward hit .333 for the Pirates in 18 at-bats with six singles, two RBIs, three runs scored and three stolen bases. The local newspaper at the time was critical of his defense, suggesting he should play third base because he was too slow to cover ground in left field. However, they did like the hitting that he added to the team during his brief stay. His time with the team ended due to illness, which came on just as Reilly’s bat cooled off. Reilly ended up hitting just .219 with a .561 OPS in 1891. Ward was released after he couldn’t come to an agreement with the team on his salary. They offered to pay him half of his salary while he was out of action due to illness, but he wanted his full paycheck through the end of October, so the club gave him his release instead, which came with ten days pay at the full rate. His defense was often maligned outside of Pittsburgh, with numerous disparaging remarks saying that he could hit well, but couldn’t field at all. July 23, 1893 St Louis Dispatch probably summed up his defense the best when they said “Ward shows the happiest faculty for muffing, fumbling and wild throwing from any man masquerading in a league uniform and drawing a salary”.

After leaving Pittsburgh, Ward batted .290 with a .795 OPS in 56 games for the 1892 Baltimore Orioles, one of three teams he played for that season, though his only big league stop. He then split the 1893 season between the Orioles and Cincinnati Reds, hitting .271 with 55 runs scored in 53 games that year. He also managed to play a total of 48 games for three minor league teams that season, including a return to New Orleans, and a brief stop near his home with Altoona. Ward finished out his big league career with the 1894 Washington Senators, where he hit .303 with 80 walks, 86 runs scored and 41 steals in 98 games. That was the first time in his career that he played for one team all year. He repeated that feat the next year with Scranton of the Class-A Eastern League (highest level of the minors at the time), where he hit .357 with 96 runs in 104 games. He played for Scranton and Toronto (also Eastern League) in 1896, then spent all of 1897 and 1898 with Lancaster of the Class-B Atlantic League. Stats aren’t available for the latter season, but he hit .280 with 105 runs and 45 steals in 129 games in 1897. He split 1899 between 94 games with Lancaster, and a stint with Mansfield of the Interstate League. Over his final six seasons (1900-1905), in which he batted over .300 three times, Ward played for eight teams in eight leagues, including stops in Lancaster again, three seasons with Butte in two different leagues, and parts of two seasons with Birmingham of the Southern League. He batted over .300 in all three seasons with Butte, playing a total of 334 games in the city.

While he did an excellent job of getting on base in the majors (.419 OBP), Ward hit just one big league home run. In 221 games in the majors, he hit .286 with 172 runs, 40 extra-base hits, 90 RBIs and 86 steals. He also had 156 walks and 73 strikeouts. His minor league stats are far from complete at this time, with a few seasons totally missing and others incomplete, but he is still credited with over 1,600 minor league hits. His first name was Frank. His nickname came from a combo of his weight, running and the way he chatted up the game in the coaching box, with one early source saying he sounded like a catarrhal cow. As an interesting side note, he was said to have a wiry frame and weigh 159 pounds (5’9″) when he was acquired by Philadelphia in 1889, but his playing weight was 196 pounds or more later in his career.

The Trade

On this date in 1937, The Pittsburgh Pirates traded first baseman/right fielder Earl Browne to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitcher Joe Bowman. Browne was a September call-up for the Pirates in both 1935 and 1936. He was 26 years old at the time and hit .273 in 17 total games for the Pirates. Bowman was also 26 years old, and coming off of a season in which he went 9-20, 5.04 in 203.2 innings. It was his fourth season in the majors and he had a 21-35 career record. The trade worked out decent for the Pirates in that they got five seasons out of Bowman. He had a 33-38, 4.35 record in 629.2 innings for Pittsburgh. He pitched 134 times, 78 as a starter. Browne was a regular for the Phillies in 1937, playing all three outfield positions and first base. He hit .292 with 52 RBIs in 105 games. The Phillies sold him to the St Louis Cardinals just over a month into the 1938 season and he never played in the majors again.

The 1903 Season Opener

On April 16, 1903, the Pirates played their season opener against the Cincinnati Reds. Pittsburgh had won the last two National League pennants and they looked to make it three in a row. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the 1903 season wouldn’t just end with an NL pennant. The Pirates would go on to play a postseason series against the the American League champions Boston Americans, in what would be the first modern day World Series. The Pirates opened up the 1903 season with an easy 7-1 win against the Reds, on their way to sweeping the four-game series. The starting lineup for the Pirates that day was as follows:

CF Ginger Beaumont

LF Fred Clarke

3B Tommy Leach

SS Honus Wagner

1B Kitty Bransfield

RF Jimmy Sebring

2B Claude Ritchey

C Ed Phelps

P Deacon Phillippe

That same lineup would start game one of the World Series, with the only change being Ritchey and Sebring were switched in the order. Here is the boxscore courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

We also have a Game Rewind feature from the time the 1885 Alleghenys, while still in the American Association, played a great exhibition game against the Buffalo Bisons of the National League