This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 17th, Various Opening Days in Pirates History

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus some Opening Days that occurred on April 17th in Pirates History.

The Players

Deolis Guerra, pitcher for the 2015 Pirates. He was signed by the New York Mets at 16 years old in 2005 as an international free agent out of Venezuela. The Mets had him in full season ball at 17 years old, splitting the season between Low-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League and High-A St Lucie of the Florida State League, combining for a 2.53 ERA in 89 innings over 19 starts. He remained with St Lucie for all of 2007, posting a 4.01 ERA in 89.2 innings, while making 20 starts and one relief appearance. Guerra was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 2008 and stayed in the Florida State League with Fort Myers, where he had an extremely high 5.47 ERA in 130 innings, playing in a pitcher-friendly environment. Despite that ERA, he managed to put together an 11-9 record in his 25 starts and one relief outing. Guerra finally made it out of High-A during the 2009 season, though his results weren’t much better. Between Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain of the Eastern League that year, he had 12-11, 4.89 record in 149 innings, over 26 starts and two relief appearances. He had a rough go of it in 2010, posting a 2-10, 6.24 record in 102.1 innings over 19 starts with New Britain, and an 0-3, 6.84 record in 25 innings at Triple-A with Rochester of the International League. He switched to relief during the 2011 season and had a 5.59 ERA in 95 innings back with New Britain, making ten starts and 27 relief appearances. For the third time in his career, he pulled off a winning record (8-7) despite a poor ERA.

After a strong seven-game stint in New Britain in 2012 (one run and 15 strikeouts in 12.2 innings), Guerra moved back up to Triple-A Rochester at the end of April and posted a 4.87 ERA in 57.1 innings over 29 games. A shoulder issue limited him to just three games in 2013, but he was able to play winter ball after the season. He became a free agent at the end of the year, but re-signed with the Twins, where he played the 2014 season in Rochester, putting up a 4.33 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 52 innings over 36 appearances. Guerra was signed by the Pirates as a minor league free agent prior to the 2015 season, and he made his Major League debut on June 27, 2015. He pitched ten games for the Pirates that year, posting a 6.48 ERA in 16.2 innings. He was re-signed as a minor league free agent after the 2015 season, but the Pirates almost immediately lost him to the Los Angeles Angels in the Rule 5 draft. Guerra had a 3.68 ERA in 63 games for the 2016-17 Angels, seeing most of that time with the 2016 club, when he posted a 3.21 ERA in 53.1 innings. His 2017 time was limited to 19 games, despite the fact that he had a 1.98 ERA in 41 innings with Salt Lake City of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, which was a very high offense ballpark.

Guerra spent the 2018 season with the Texas Rangers in Triple-A with Round Rock of the PCL, where he had a 3.79 ERA in 59.1 innings over 40 appearances. During the 2019 season, he pitched one big league game, allowing four runs while recording just two outs for the Milwaukee Brewers. The rest of the season was spent in Triple-A with San Antonio of the PCL, where he dominated during a high offense year in the league (due to new baseballs). Guerra had a 1.89 ERA in 66.2 innings over 45 games for San Antonio. In the shortened 2020 season, he spent part of the year with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he gave up nine runs over 7.1 innings and nine appearances. He signed a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s in 2021 and dominated in Spring Training, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, but did not make the team on Opening Day. He got called up early in the season and ended up making 53 big league appearances, putting together a 4-1, 4.11 record in 65.2 innings. Through the end of 2021, he has a 12-6, 4.54 record in 168.2 innings over 136 appearances. Guerra has played 12 seasons of winter ball in Venezuela.

Andy Barkett, outfielder/first baseman for the 2001 Pirates. His Major League career was brief, spending one month with the Pirates in the middle of the 2001 season. Despite getting just 17 games in the big leagues, Barkett put up a .304 batting average and a .786 OPS. He mostly played left field, but also saw time at first base and in right field. He played 11 seasons of pro ball (1995-2005) and signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent prior to 2001. He was never drafted and didn’t even start pro ball with an affiliated team. He signed with Butte of the Pioneer League at 22 years old in 1995 after attending North Carolina State University. Barkett didn’t last long without a team. After hitting .333 in 45 games, he was purchased by the Texas Rangers, who sent him to Low-A Charleston of the South Atlantic League to finish the season, hitting .218 in 21 games, with a .592 OPS. He played his first full season of pro ball in the High-A Florida State League with Port Charlotte in 1996, where he hit .286 in 115 games, with 57 runs, 22 doubles, six homers, 54 RBIs, 57 walks and a .783 OPS. He moved up to Double-A in 1997, playing for Tulsa of the Texas League, where he batted .299 with 82 runs, 50 extra-base hits, 65 RBIs and 63 walks in 130 games.

Barkett appeared to be right on the doorstep of the majors in 1998. After hitting .268/.376/.389 in 43 games with Tulsa, he spent the rest of the year in Triple-A Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League, where he batted .314 in 80 games, with 38 runs, 26 extra-base hits, 36 RBIs, 35 walks and an .859 OPS. He ended up spending the entire 1999 season at Oklahoma, hitting .307 in 132 games, with 70 runs, 47 extra-base hits and 76 RBIs. Despite those results over two seasons, he was released just 13 games into the 2000 season without getting a shot in Texas. Barkett signed with the Atlanta Braves to finish out the 2000 season, spending the rest of the year in Triple-A with Richmond of the International League. Between the two stops, he combined to hit .233 in 88 games, with 19 doubles, six homers, 39 RBIs and a .638 OPS. The Pirates called up Barkett on May 28th, as he took the roster spot of pitcher Don Wengert, who was designated for assignment. The start of Barkett’s big league career marked the end of Wengert’s career. Barkett’s time in the majors ended when the Pirates called up reliever Mike Lincoln on June 25th. When they needed to call up an infielder Luis Figueroa two days later, he needed to be added to the 40-man roster and Barkett was designated for assignment, though he went unclaimed and stayed with the Pirates. When he wasn’t in the majors for the Pirates in 2001, he played for Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League, where he batted just .242 in 91 games, with 37 runs, 17 doubles, six homers, 42 RBIs, 37 walks and a .705 OPS.

Barkett put up similar numbers to his 2001 performance for the Seattle Mariners in 2002, though they dropped him down to Double-A San Antonio of the Texas League, where he hit .249 in 115 games, with 55 runs, 34 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and 55 walks. He was back in Triple-A in 2003, still with the Mariners, where he posted a .242 average and a .707 OPS in 112 games, while playing in hitter-friendly Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League. Barkett bounced back with a strong season in Triple-A Toledo of the International League for the Detroit Tigers in 2004, posting an .842 OPS in 114 games, thanks to a .283 average, 29 doubles, 19 homers and 66 RBIs. At 32 years old in 2005, he wrapped up his playing career with 37 games for the Atlanta Braves in Triple-A back in Richmond. He hit just .203 with a .600 OPS that season. Since retiring as a player, Barkett has managed nine seasons in the minors, including 2017 with Indianapolis, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pirates. He was also an assistant minor league hitting coordinator for the Pirates. Barkett was the assistant hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox in 2018, helping them to a World Series victory. In 2021-22 he was working as hitting advisor in the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Bob Osborn, pitcher for the 1931 Pirates. He was born the day after Pirates all-time great (and his teammate for one season) Paul Waner. Osborn began his pro baseball career in the majors at 22 years old, making one September appearance for the 1925 Chicago Cubs in which he allowed two unearned runs on six hits in two innings. The next season he saw plenty of time on the mound, both as a starter and as a reliever. He went 6-5, 3.63 in 136.1 innings that season, making 15 starts and 16 relief appearances. In 1927 he had the same role, although he didn’t pitch as well and saw less time. He made 12 starts and 12 relief appearances, going 5-5, 4.18 in 107.2 innings. He spent all of the 1928 season and most of 1929 in the minors. Osborn played in the Double-A Pacific Coast League (highest level of the minors at the time) in 1928 for Los Angeles, where he had a 5-9, 5.70 record in 120 innings. In 1929, he was with Reading of the Double-A International League, where he went 11-14, 4.10 in 182 innings. He rejoined the Cubs in September of 1929, making three appearances over the final three weeks of the season, allowing three runs in nine innings. He was in the majors for the entire 1930 season, getting 13 starts and 22 relief appearances for Chicago. Osborn went 10-6, 4.97 in 126.2 innings. That ERA sounds high but it was actually one of the best years for offense in baseball history. The Cubs team ERA was 4.80, which ranked fourth in the National League.

The Pirates lost pitcher Steve Swetonic in Spring Training with an arm injury in 1931, so they purchased Osborn from the Cubs on April 22nd to replace him. He did not pitch in any of the first season games of the season before joining Pittsburgh. He was seldom used by the Pirates, appearing in eight games in relief during his first two months. In the middle of July he made two starts, then became a mop-up man out of the pen. He pitched in nine straight losses, seven times coming during doubleheaders. On September 3rd, he took over for a struggling Larry French in the second inning. Osborn threw 7.1 innings of shutout ball and the Pirates made a comeback to get him the victory. That game was the only Pirates victory he pitched in during the final two months of the season. After five more relief appearances in losing efforts, his big league career was over. He went 6-1, 5.01 in 64.2 innings for the Pirates. He finished with nine strikeouts total, which included a season high of two strikeouts in his final big league game. Osborn would be traded, along with catcher Eddie Phillips, to Kansas City of the American Association for pitcher Billy Swift on January 29, 1932. While they don’t show up on his online stats, he played for two different American Association teams during the 1932 season (Kansas City and Columbus), then two lower level teams in 1933 (Elmira of the New York-Penn League and Springfield of the Mississippi Valley League), before playing out his baseball career in semipro ball. In the majors, Osborn went 27-17, 4.32 in 446.1 innings over 78 relief appearances and 43 starts. He threw 11 complete games. His name was actually John Bode Osborn, but he went by Bob.

The Openers

The first time the Pirates opened the season on April 17th was in 1902, in what turned out to be the best season in team history. The Pirates shut out the Cardinals that day 1-0 behind the pitching of Deacon Phillippe. He pitched a seven-hit shutout and the only run of the game was scored by Tommy Leach, who collected three hits, including Pittsburgh’s only extra-base hit. The Pirates went 103-36 that year, winning their second straight National League pennant.

The next April 17th opener was in 1923 when the Pirates took on the Chicago Cubs. Pittsburgh walked away with a 3-2 win courtesy of a fine pitching performance from Johnny Morrison. He pitched a complete game and both runs scored off him were unearned. The Pirates lineup that day included three future Hall of Fame players. Shortstop Rabbit Maranville and center fielder Max Carey batted 1-2 in the lineup, while third baseman Pie Traynor hit sixth during his second full season in the majors. He moved up to fifth in the lineup in May, then moved to the cleanup spot in early August, before hitting third for the final 33 games.

In 1934 the Pirates opened up in St Louis and dropped their opener by a 7-1 score. The opposing pitcher that day was the great Dizzy Dean. He shut down a Pittsburgh team that had five future Hall of Famers at the top of the lineup. Lloyd Waner, Freddie Lindstrom, Paul Waner, Pie Traynor and Arky Vaughan hit one through five in the order that day. The Pirates also used Waite Hoyt in relief, another HOF player. The Cardinals lineup, besides Dean, also had Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick and Leo Durocher in it, making it ten Hall of Famers who participated in that game. The Cardinals were known as the Gashouse Gang that season when they went on to win the World Series.

The 1939 Pirates opened their season in Cincinnati with a 7-5 victory over the Reds. Cy Blanton of the Pirates faced off against Johnny Vander Meer that day. Lloyd Waner batted lead-off for the Pirates, Arky Vaughan batted cleanup and Paul Waner got a pinch-hit in his only at-bat. Another Pirates Hall of Famer joined the fun that day as Heinie Manush got to pinch-hit for catcher Ray Mueller in the 8th inning. Manush spent two seasons with the Pirates, but he accumulated just 28 plate appearances during that time.

Another April 17th opener in Cincinnati occurred during the 1945 season. The game didn’t have the firepower of previous openers, with many good players serving in the military during WWII. The managers for each team went on to make the Hall of Fame, and so did one of the players, who made it as a manager. Frankie Frisch was at the helm for Pittsburgh, a HOF second baseman mentioned above in the 1934 opener. His catcher that day was Al Lopez, who was still six seasons away from beginning his HOF managerial career. The opposing manager,and third HOF’er, was a former Pirates infielder named Bill McKechnie. He already filled out his Hall of Fame resume by leading the 1925 Pirates and 1940 Reds to World Series titles. The Pirates lost the game 7-6 in 11 innings. Reds lead-off hitter Dain Clay drove in five runs, four of which came on a fifth inning grand slam off  of Pirates starter Fritz Ostermueller. It was the first home run of Clay’s career.

The last time the Pirates opened up their season on April 17th was in 1956, when the New York Giants defeated the Bucs 4-3 at the Polo Grounds. Hitting third that day and playing right field for the Pirates was Roberto Clemente, who made his Major League debut exactly one year earlier. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Dale Long hit a two-run homer for the Pirates and Bob Friend pitched a complete game, taking the loss.   The great Willie Mays was batting third for the Giants that day, but the hitting star was pitcher Johnny Antonelli, who tied the game up in the seventh inning with a solo homer.