This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 18th, Steve Blass and an Opening Day Doubleheader

Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one Opening Day of note.

The Game

On this date in 1886, Pittsburgh played its fifth opener in franchise history. The team was called the Alleghenys then and that season would be their last in the American Association before they moved to the National League. That Opening Day was like no other in franchise history. It remains as the only time that Pittsburgh has ever played a doubleheader on Opening Day. The Alleghenys lost both games that day to the St Louis Browns, the eventual champions of the AA that season. Pittsburgh lost the opener 8-4 with Ed “Cannonball” Morris as the starter, and then lost 10-5 in the second game with future Hall of Fame pitcher James “Pud” Galvin starting. The two teams were scheduled to open up on April 17th, but that game was postponed due to the weather and it was said that the league schedule that year had very few open dates to make up the game. They ended up playing a split doubleheader with separate crowds. The first game started at 10:45 AM and ended just before 12:30 PM. Game two started at 3:30 PM and took two hours to play.

The Alleghenys also opened up their season in 1885 on this date. It was the first time in team history that they played a regular season game in the month of April. That day, Ed Morris shutout the Browns by a 7-0 score.

The Players

Steve Blass, pitcher for the 1964 and 1966-74 Pirates. The Pirates signed Blass right out of high school in 1960 for $4,000 and sent him to the low minors, where he compiled a 5-4, 4.32 record in 73 innings, with 92 strikeouts, splitting the season between two Class-D teams, Kingsport of the Appalachian League and Dubuque of the Midwest League. He broke out the next year as a 19-year-old, going 13-6, 3.32 in 160 innings for Batavia of the Class-D New York-Penn League. He had 21 starts (two relief appearances), finishing with ten complete games and three shutouts. Blass picked up 227 strikeouts that year, which he would top the next season. He moved up to the Class-B Carolina league for 1962 and went 17-3, 1.97 in 23 starts, with 209 strikeouts in 178 innings, earning a late season promotion to A-ball for Asheville of the South Atlantic League. Although he didn’t pitch well in his brief trial for Asheville, a 7.20 ERA in 30 innings, with 25 strikeouts (234 total on the season), he was still moved up to Triple-A Columbus of the International League to start the 1963 season. After going 11-8, 4.44, with 141 strikeouts in 152 innings over 24 starts that year, it took just two more starts with Columbus in 1964 to earn him a promotion to the big leagues.

Blass went 5-8, 4.04, with 67 strikeouts in 104.2 innings during his rookie season at 22 years old with the 1964 Pirates, making 13 starts and 11 relief appearances. Despite solid stats, he returned to Triple-A for the entire 1965 season, going 13-11, 3.07 in 164 innings for Columbus. He was a regular in the Pirates starting rotation in 1966, going 11-7, 3.87 in 155.2 innings. He made 25 starts and nine relief appearances. During a time when complete games were fairly common, he had just one that year. The Pirates had 35 complete games that season. Blass had more of a swing role during the 1967 season, making 16 starts and 16 relief appearances. He had a 6-8 record, though it came with a respectable 3.55 ERA in 126.2 innings. The 1968 season would be his breakout season in the majors, though the lower ERA was partially due to offense being down all around baseball before the mound height was changed in 1969. He won 18 games in 1968, while posting a 2.12 ERA in 220.1 innings, and he led National League pitchers with a .750 winning percentage. After throwing just six complete games in his first 54 starts in the majors, Blass picked up 12 complete games and a career high seven shutouts. That shutout mark is tied for the sixth most in team history and no one has thrown more since 1920. He received mild MVP support that year, finishing 22nd in the voting.

Fortunately for Blass, the 1969 Pirates were a strong team, because his season wasn’t a good one compared to his other peak years. He pitched 210 innings and set a career high with 147 strikeouts, though he had a 4.46 ERA (the worst on the team for any pitcher with more than 35 innings). He was still able to go 16-10 thanks to great run support. For comparison, Dock Ellis that season had an 11-17 record with an ERA almost a run lower. Those tables turned on Blass the next season when he had a 3.52 ERA in 196.2 innings, yet he ended up with a losing record (10-12) on a team that won the National League East with 89 wins. He did not get to pitch in the postseason, but he would make up for that missed opportunity the next year. The 1971 season was a magical one for the Pirates and for Blass. He went 15-8, 2.85 in 240 innings during the season, leading the NL with five shutouts. After struggling in two NLCS starts against the San Francisco Giants, allowing ten runs over seven innings, he won both of his World Series starts against the Baltimore Orioles. Both were complete game victories, the second game being game seven of the series, a 2-1 victory.

Blass had his best season in 1972, winning a career high 19 games, making the All-Star team for the only time in his career and finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting and 18th in the MVP voting. He had a 2.49 ERA in 249.2 innings. When Blass came back for the 1973 season the control on his pitches was gone, without any injuries or explanation. He couldn’t throw strikes and his record that season was a dismal 3-9, 9.85 with 84 walks (versus just 27 strikeouts) in 88.2 innings. Things got so bad the next season, that he spent the year in the minors, where he pitched just as poorly. He made one big league start that season, allowing eight runs and seven walks in five innings. In Triple-A, he had a 9.74 ERA in 17 starts, with 103 walks in 61 innings. He was released in the spring of 1975, ending his baseball career. Blass had a 103-76, 3.63 record over 1,597.1 innings in ten seasons with the Pirates. He had 231 starts, 51 relief appearances, 57 complete games and 16 shutouts. He retired from baseball in 2019 after his 60th seasons as a player/announcer with the Pirates, though he was with the team as a guest instructor during 2020 Spring Training.

Angelo Encarnacion, catcher for the 1995-96 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1990. He played his first season at 21 years old in the Dominican Summer League, then jumped up to the short-season New York-Penn League with Welland in 1991, where he batted an empty .254, with just five walks and five extra-base hits in 50 games, leading to a .571 OPS. He had a similar season in Low-A Augusta of the South Atlantic League in 1992, putting up a .255 average, with a slight uptick in both walks and power, leading to .638 OPS (67 point jump from the previous year). Encarnacion spent the majority of the 1993 season in High-A Salem of the Carolina League, where he once again added one point to his previous year’s average by hitting .256 in 70 games. His OPS saw the slightest increase as well to a .647 mark, though it came from a increase in power (16 extra-base hits) and a decrease in walks (13). He played briefly at Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association that year, getting into three games. In 1994, he hit .291, with 17 doubles, three homers and 32 RBIs in 67 games. he also threw out 43% of baserunners attempting to steal, while spending the season with Double-A Carolina of the Southern League.

Those 1994 numbers earned Encarnacion a spot on the 1995 Pirates in early May when Don Slaught went down with a hamstring injury. He only missed the first five games of the season that year with the schedule starting late due to the strike that wiped away the end of the 1994 season. The injury to Slaught wasn’t thought to be long-term when it happened, but Encarnacion spent all but one month of that 1995 season in Pittsburgh, hitting .226 with 18 runs, 11 extra-base hits and ten RBIs in 58 games (45 starts). He spent part of June/July in Triple-A (Calgary of the Pacific Coast League) until Slaught went down with a second hamstring injury. Encarnacion began the 1996 season in Calgary, hitting .319 in 75 games, with 18 doubles, four homers and 31 RBIs. The Pirates recalled him for a four-week span beginning in mid-July when Keith Osik was placed on the disabled list, and he hit .318 in seven games before being sent back down when Osik returned. Just prior to the start of the 1997 season, he was traded along with young outfielder Trey Beamon to the San Diego Padres in a four-player deal that brought Mark Smith to Pittsburgh. Encarnacion didn’t appear in the majors with the Padres, but he played 11 games for the Anaheim Angels that season after an August 23rd trade sent him to the American League. He batted .412 with a double and a homer during that five-week stint to end the season. He returned to the minors to start 1998, and remained there through his retirement in 2003. He spent those final six seasons in the minors playing for the Angels (1998), Cleveland Indians (1999), Chicago Cubs (1999-2000), Boston Red Sox (2000-01) and four independent league teams during the 2000 and 2002-03 seasons. Encarnacion batted .253 in 76 big league games, with ten doubles, three homers and 15 RBIs. He threw out 36% of runners during the 1995 season, but he caught just two of 15 runners in his final two big league stints.

Larry Foss, pitcher for the 1961 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent at 19 years old in 1955, then spent the first seven seasons of his career in the minors. He had a rough intro to pro ball while playing for the Dublin Irish of the Class-D George State League in 1955, where he had a 5.51 ERA in 80 innings, while issuing 82 walks. He moved up a level to Douglas of the Class-C Arizona-Mexico League in 1956, where he showed just a slight improvement in his control. He went 11-8, 5.26 in 142 innings, with 123 walks and 136 strikeouts. Foss missed the first three months of the 1957 season and ended up pitching just 15 games split between two teams, spending most of that time with Missoula of the Class-C Pioneer League. While there, he had a 5.85 ERA, 48 walks and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings. His 1958 season went basically the same, with missed time in the middle of the year leading to him pitching 15 games split between two teams. Both years he appeared briefly for Lincoln of the Class-A Western League (six games total), but the majority of the 1958 season was spent with San Jose of the Class-C California League, where his control improved. He went 3-4, 3.20 in 59 innings, with 29 walks and 45 strikeouts. Foss was healthy in 1959, when he pitched in relief for Wilson of the Class-B Carolina League. He went 5-4, 2.25 in 60 innings that season over 35 appearances, finishing with 51 walks and 70 strikeouts.

Foss was with the Pirates for all of Spring Training in 1960 before being sent to Salt Lake City of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. His stay there lasted just three games before he was sent to Savannah of the Class-A South Atlantic League, where he went 9-5, 3.08 in 146 innings over 17 starts and 14 relief outings, with 65 walks and 128 strikeouts. Foss went to Spring Training again with the Pirates in 1961, though he was cut two weeks earlier than he was in 1960. The Pirates finally called him up to the majors in September of 1961 after he went 10-7, 3.59 in 143 innings, splitting the year between A-Ball (Asheville of the South Atlantic League) and Double-A (Macon of the Southern Association). Foss made three starts for the 1961 Pirates, winning his Major League debut over the St Louis Cardinals on September 18th by going seven innings and allowing two earned runs. He ended up with a 5.87 ERA in 15.1 innings. He spent most of the 1962 season back in Asheville, where he pitched well with a 3.67 ERA in 125 innings, though when he was called up to Triple-A Columbus of the International League, he was hit very hard. In nine innings over three starts and two relief appearances, he allowed 19 earned runs. The Pirates put him on waivers in early September and he was picked up by the expansion New York Mets. Foss pitched five games for the Mets during that 1962 season, posting a 4.63 ERA in 11.2 innings. Early in the 1963 season, the Mets traded him to the Milwaukee Braves, who sent him to Denver of the Pacific Coast League, where he went 6-4, 4.68 in 98 innings. He played in the independent Western Canada Baseball League in 1964 to finish out his pro career. During his big league career, he had a 5.33 ERA and an 18:12 BB/SO ratio in 27 innings.

Bob Linton, catcher for the 1929 Pirates. He spent the entire 1929 season with the Pirates, but never started a single game. Linton came off of the bench 17 times that year, eight times to finish the game behind the plate, and the other nine times he was used as a pinch-hitter. He only batted more than once in a game one time, on August 20th when the Pirates sat their regular catcher after they went down 8-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies in the third inning. Linton spent the rest of his career in the minors, playing 14 more seasons before finally retiring after the 1945 season. He joined the Pirates in Spring Training of 1927 after playing independent ball in the Butte Mines League for a team from Anaconda. His pro career began in 1927 at 25 years old when he hit .279 with 31 extra-base hits in 121 games for Columbia of the Class-B South Atlantic League. He played for the Pirates during Spring Training of 1928, before he got injured and returned to the minors. He spent that season playing for Decatur of the Class-B Three-I League, where he posted a .305 average and 28 extra-base hits in 109 games. He won the third-string catching job for the 1929 Pirates during his third Spring Training with the club. Linton beat out Roy Spencer, who caught for the Pirates from 1925-27, and John O’Connell, who caught three games over two seasons (1928-29), to earn that third-string position behind veteran starter Charlie Hargreaves and his backup, 22-year-old Rollie Hemsley.  After his one season in the majors, Linton was released to the Baltimore Orioles of the Double-A International League (highest level of the minors at the time) on December 11, 1929 as partial payment for catching star Al Bool, who lasted just one season with the Pirates.

Linton spent the 1930-33 seasons with Baltimore, but just one of those seasons (1933) was a full year. He spent time with five other teams during the 1930-32 seasons, yet he returned to Baltimore each year. He combined to hit .292 with 20 extra-base hits while playing for three teams in 1930, spending a majority of his time with New Haven of the Class-A Eastern League. The 1931 season saw him hit .304 with 33 extra-base hits in 23 games for Baltimore and 103 games with Wilkes-Barre of the Class-B New York-Penn League. In 1932, Linton batted .283 with 14 extra-base hits in 32 games for Baltimore. He also has incomplete stats for Hazelton and York of the New York-Penn League that year. With Baltimore in 1933, he hit .285 with 11 doubles and a career best 14 homers in 88 games. He then played two seasons for Galveston of the Class-A Texas League (1934-35), hitting .248 with 24 extra-base hits in 103 games in 1934, followed by a .277 average in 113 games in 1935, collecting 26 extra-base hits.

Linton spent the next three seasons (1936-38) with Toledo of the American Association (Double-A), where he hit .289 with 15 doubles and 13 homers in 105 games in 136, followed by a .314 average in both the 1937 and 1938 seasons when he saw slightly limited play. Linton then served three years as a player/manager for Forth Worth of the Texas League during the 1939-41 seasons, averaging 80 games played per year. His stats really fell off during this time, topping out at a .238 average in his first year, when he had 21 extra-base hits. He combined for 21 extra-base hits during his final two seasons. Linton finished his career with Minneapolis of the American Association in 1942 and actually had a big season, hitting .306 with eight doubles, 12 homers and 43 RBIs in 81 games. He could have possibly made it back to the majors off of those stats, especially with players leaving for the service during WWII, but he himself joined the war effort for the next two years. After his stint in the Navy, he played for Landis of the North Carolina State League in 1945, which was his last season of pro ball. During his college days at Louisiana Tech and the University of Wyoming, he was a star athlete in baseball, football and boxing. His first name was Claud (often spelled Claude), but he was known more by the nickname “Bob” during his pro career.

Jack Scott, pitcher for the 1916 Pirates. He made his Major League debut for the Pirates as a pinch-hitter, before making his pitching debut in relief of starter Elmer Jacobs in the first game of a doubleheader on September 19, 1916. Scott pitched five innings that day, allowing six earned runs on five hits and three walks, with four strikeouts. He debuted in the majors on September 6th and drew a walk, then struck out three days later in his second (and final) pinch-hitting chance. Scott had just the one shot on the mound for the Pirates. Just nine days after his pitching debut, he was released back to Macon of the Class-C South Atlantic League. It was announced at that time that he was just with the Pirates on trial and they didn’t feel that he was ready yet for the majors. The team had to get down to 35 players by September 28th, so Scott got the ax to get them to that limit. He was purchased from Macon on August 13th, though it wasn’t decided at the time whether or not he would join the Pirates that fall. As it turned out, he joined the Pirates just 12 days later because they wanted to make sure that they had enough pitchers to cover them during a string of doubleheaders coming up on the schedule. His pitching debut ended up coming 25 days after he joined the team. Scott was 24 years old when he debuted with the Pirates, but he had almost no pro experience at the time. He pitched five games for Portsmouth of the Class-C Virginia League in 1916 before joining Macon. He went 3-0, 4.66 in 29 innings. Then with Macon, the limited stats show that he had an 8-12 record, though the reports say that he was pitching well for the team.

In 1917, Scott pitched for Macon briefly, while spending the majority of the season with Nashville of the Southern Association, compiling a 14-11, 2.44 record in 221 innings. In mid-August, his contract was purchased by the Boston Braves. He ended up pitching four seasons for the Braves, one game for the Cincinnati Reds in 1922, then six years for the New York Giants. He went 1-2, 1.82 in 39.1 innings for the 1917 Braves. A freak injury while starting his car caused him to miss the entire 1918 season. He went 6-6, 3.13 in 103.2 innings in 1919, making 12 starts and seven relief appearances. He then had a 10-21 record in 1920, despite a decent 3.53 ERA in 291 innings. He pitched 44 times that year, with 33 starts, 22 complete games and three shutouts. His 94 strikeouts that year were a career high, and he finished eighth in the league in innings. Boston went from 62-90 in 1920 to 79-74 in 1921 and Scott’s record benefited from being on a better team. His ERA actually went up slightly to 3.70 in 233.2 innings, but he had a 15-13 record. He led the league with 47 games pitched, made 28 starts and completed 16 games, three by shutout. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds over the off-season and he was given his release due to an arm injury after pitching just one inning. He went through a tryout with the Giants and debuted for them on August 1st. Over the final two months, he went 8-2, 4.41 in 79.2 innings, then pitched a complete game shutout over the New York Yankees in game three of the World Series, which was won by the Giants.

Scott went 16-7, 3.89 in 220 innings in 1923, helping the Giants back to the World Series, This time he struggled in the postseason, giving up five runs in three innings. Despite the solid regular season, he was traded to the minors over the winter. He spent the entire 1924 season with Toledo of the Double-A American Association (highest level of the minors at the time), going 20-20, 3.25 in 341 innings. He returned to the Giants in 1925 and had a 14-15, 3.15 record in 239.2 innings, with 18 complete games in 28 starts. He was a workhorse in 1926, leading the National League in games pitched (50), making 22 starts and 28 relief appearances. Scott went 13-15, 4.34 in 226 innings. Long before it was an official stat, he picked up five saves that season, while also throwing 13 complete games. After the 1926 season, he was part of a three-team trade that included five players, one of them being Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Scott pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1927 and led the National League with 21 losses (with nine wins), while posting a 5.09 ERA in 233.1 innings. He led the league with 48 games pitched that year, making 25 starts.

After starting the 1928 season in the minors back with Toledo, Scott returned to the Giants in August and stayed there through the 1929 season. He went 4-1, 3.58 in 50.1 innings in 1928, making three starts and 13 relief appearances. In 1929, he had a 7-6, 3.53 record in 91.2 innings over six starts and 24 relief appearances. After his final big league game, he spent another two seasons in the minors before retiring, returning to Toledo for a third time during the 1930-31 seasons, before finishing with Wilkes-Barre of the Class-B New York-Penn League. Scott had a 103-109, 3.85 career record in 356 games over 12 seasons in the majors. He made 195 starts, 161 relief appearances, finishing with 115 complete games, 11 shutouts and 19 saves. He was a lifetime .275 hitter and he pinch-hit over 50 times during his career. He was traded twice for Hall of Fame pitchers, the first time was for Rube Marquard in 1922 and the other was for Burleigh Grimes during the 1926-27 off-season. He was born in Ridgeway, North Carolina and had the nickname “The Ridgeway Giant” when he joined the Pirates due to his somewhat large stature for the time, standing 6’2″, 201 pounds. He was the tallest player on the Pirates in 1916.

Jack Rothfuss, first baseman for the 1897 Pirates. He spent his first two seasons of pro ball (1896-97) playing for his hometown team, the Newark Colts of the Atlantic League. He got a late start in pro ball, debuting at 24 years old, but it was said that he played baseball all of his life, including time spent with the Newark Ironsides, a semi-pro team. He certainly looked like his had plenty of prior experience by batting .351 in 123 games in 1896, with 72 extra-base hits and 87 stolen bases. The Atlantic League was considered to be a Class-A league in 1896, which was the highest level of the minors at the time, but it was reclassified to Class-B in 1897. Rothfuss was acquired by the Pirates on July 29, 1897 and  joined the team two days later after batting .323 with 43 extra-base hits and 21 steals in 89 games for Newark. It was said that he would be given a trial at once and if he proved that he could play in the big leagues, he would be a fixture at first base. He debuted on August 2nd and played well with the Pirates, hitting .313 with 18 RBIs in 35 games during the last two months of the season. He was supposed to be the Pirates starting first baseman for 1898, but he contracted dysentery and was too sick to play the first three months of the season. The Pirates sold his contract to the Kansas City Blues of the Class-A Western League shortly after the 1898 season started.

Rothfuss ended up playing semi-pro ball in 1898 once he was better, returned to pro ball in 1899, and stayed in pro ball until 1908 without returning to the majors again. He played for 12 different teams during those final ten seasons in the minors, though he spent three full seasons (1902-04) with Kansas City of the Class-A American Association. He joined the Kansas City Blues when he returned in 1899, then played for three teams in the northeast in 1900, including Toronto and Syracuse of the Class-A Eastern League. No stats are available for those two seasons, but we know that he hit .305 with 24 extra-base hits in 48 games for Grand Rapids of the Class-A Western Association.

Rothfuss batted .309 with 35 extra-base hits in 138 games during the 1902 season in his first year with Kansas City of the American Association, then hit .285 with 40 doubles, 31 steals and 116 runs scored in 139 games in 1903. In 1904, he hit just .214 in 55 games, with a steep drop in his slugging percentage. He’s credited with 27 games played for Rochester of the Eastern League in 1905, along with a stint in the independent Tri-State League with Lancaster. He stayed in that same league in 1906 with Harrisburg in 1906, though records only show him playing 19 games. In 1907, he hit .249 in 74 games with Hartford of the Connecticut State League, then he finished his career with two teams in the Union Association in 1908. Right before he joined the Pirates, Rothfuss was a teammate on Newark with his older brother Adam, who caught seven seasons in the minors before a foul ball that broke two bones ended his career in 1902. In April of 1921, a nephew of Jack Rothfuss named Harry Rothfuss got a trial with the Pirates and played one season in the minors.

Editor’s Note: Some research along with a fellow historian uncovered an April 18th birthday for Sam Nicholl, outfielder for the 1888 Alleghenys. For now I am leaving his bio in the April 20th article (with a note about the discrepancy) because that is where anyone would search for his name here, since he is listed everywhere as being born on April 20, 1869. There will be more on the research on Tuesday.