This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 26th, Baseball Returns from the Strike

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and an Opening Day of note.

The Players

Sean Rodriguez, utility player for the 2015-18 Pirates. He was drafted out of high school by the Anaheim Angels in the third round of the 2003 draft. Rodriguez took five years before he made his big league debut and then he didn’t stick in the majors until two years after that point. After putting up a .712 OPS over 54 games in his first season of pro ball in the rookie level Arizona League, he had a huge 2004 season. He began the year in Low-A with Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League, then moved to short-season ball mid-season. Rodriguez had a .726 OPS in 57 games in Low-A, then exploded for a 1.055 OPS in 64 games in the Pioneer League with Provo. He combined to hit .297 with 99 runs, 22 doubles, eight triples, 14 homers, 23 steals and 69 walks. He was in Cedar Rapids for all of 2005, where he hit .250 with 86 runs, 29 doubles, 14 homers, 78 walks and 27 steals in 124 games. He spent most of 2006 with Rancho Cucamonga in the high offense environment of the High-A California League, but also saw 18 games in Double-A with Arkansas of the Texas League and one game in Triple-A with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League. In all three stops combined, Rodriguez hit .307 with 94 runs, 34 doubles, 29 homers, 86 RBIs, 58 walks and 15 steals in 135 games. He spent all of 2007 in Arkansas, hitting .254 with 84 runs, 31 doubles, 17 homers, 73 RBIs, 54 walks and 15 steals in 136 games. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League after the season and put up a .695 OPS in 23 games.

In 2008, Rodriguez spent about half of the year in Triple-A with Salt Lake City and put up big numbers in a hitter-friendly park, batting .306 with 68 runs, 19 doubles, 21 homers and a 1.042 OPS in 66 games. He had three separate stints with the Angels that year, hitting .204 with three homers and a .593 OPS in 59 games. After doing well in winter ball in the Dominican during the 2008-09 off-season, Rodriguez put up big numbers in Salt Lake City again in 2009, while also seeing a small amount of big league time. He had a 1.017 OPS, .299 average, 81 runs, 17 doubles, 29 homers and 93 RBIs in 103 games at Salt Lake City, while hitting .200 in 12 games in the majors. On September 1, 2009, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, though he didn’t debut in the majors for them until 2010. He finished out the season in Triple-A with Durham of the International League. He played seven different positions during his first season with Tampa Bay, while hitting .251 in 118 games, with 53 runs, 15 doubles, nine homers, 40 RBIs, 13 steals and a .705 OPS.

Rodriguez played five positions in 2011 and his average dropped to .223 in 131 games. He saw 49 starts at shortstop and 40 at second base. Despite the average going down 28 points, his OPS dropped just 26 points, and he actually had a much better OBP in 2011. He had 45 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 11 steals and a career high 38 walks. He was also hit by 18 pitches, more than double any other season in his career. His average dropped again in 2012, though so did his playing time, while splitting his work between shortstop, second base and third base. He hit .213 with 21 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs and a .607 OPS in 112 games. Rodriguez saw more time in left field than anywhere else in 2013, while playing 96 games for the first of two straight season. He put up a .246 average in 2013, with 21 runs, 16 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs and a .704 OPS. In 2014, he hit just .211 with ten walks, resulting in a .258 OBP. He had a respectable .701 OPS due to 13 doubles and 12 homers, to go along with 41 RBIs.

The Pirates acquired Rodriguez in a trade with Tampa Bay during the 2014-15 off-season for minor league pitcher Buddy Borden. Despite playing four consecutive seasons for the Pirates, he wasn’t with the team during the middle of that run. He played 139 games in 2015, though most of it was off of the bench, so he accumulated just 240 plate appearances. He batted .246 with 25 runs, four homers and 17 RBIs, while seeing most of his time at first base. He managed to walk just five times all season, leading him to a .642 OPS. Rodriguez hit .270 with 49 runs and 16 doubles in a career high 140 games in 2016, while  also setting career highs with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. He left via free agency following the 2016 season, but returned in an August trade with the Atlanta Braves. Due to a Spring Training car accident, he was limited to 15 games with Atlanta before returning to Pittsburgh. Rodriguez hit .167 with five homers, eight RBIs and a .572 OPS in 54 games that season between both stops. Rodriguez hit .167 with five homers and a .591 OPS in 66 games in 2018 before being released on September 1st. He played 76 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019, mostly off of the bench, hitting .223/.348/.375 in 139 plate appearance. He then got into four games for the Miami Marlins in 2020, going 2-for-13 with two singles and no walks. With the Pirates, he hit .230/.304/.399 in 384 games, with 107 runs, 34 doubles, 30 homers and 97 RBIs. Rodriguez played every position with the Pirates except pitcher and catcher. In 12 big league seasons, he hit .226/.302/.380 hitter over 1,099 games, with 344 runs, 124 doubles, 81 homers, 298 RBIs and 42 steals. More than half of his career steals came during his first two seasons with Tampa Bay.

Francisco Cordova, pitcher for the 1996-2000 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates in January of 1996 at 23 years old (turned 24 in April) and went right to the majors after spending four seasons pitching in his home country of Mexico. He played for the Mexico City Reds, a team that had a working agreement with the Pirates at the time. Cordova would be joined on the Pirates in 1997 by his Mexico City teammate Ricardo Rincon, who he is now forever linked with in Pirates history. While stats aren’t available now, it was said at time that Cordova had a 40-6, 3.03 record in Mexico City, including 13-0 in 1995. The Pirates GM at the time (Cam Bonifay) said that he threw 89-93 MPH and had a chance to be a quality middle reliever in the majors. He was competing for a job at the back of the bullpen and earned it on the last day of roster cuts by putting up a 2.57 ERA in 14 Spring Training innings. Cordova pitched mostly out of the bullpen as a rookie in 1996, making 59 total appearances (six starts) and posting a 4-7, 4.09 record, with 12 saves and 95 strikeouts in 99 innings. He moved to the starting role in 1997 and had a memorable season that year. He went 11-8, 3.63 in 29 starts and 178.2 innings. On July 12th he threw nine hitless innings against the Houston Astros. The game was tied after nine and Ricardo Rincon finished off the no-hitter in the tenth, as the Pirates won the game on a three-run homer from Mark Smith. Cordova also threw two shutouts that season and had a streak of six straight starts in which he allowed 0-1 earned runs each game. He actually had a 1.99 ERA through early June, then posted a 4.99 ERA over his final 17 starts.

Cordova had his best season in 1998, going 13-14, 3.31 in 33 starts, setting career highs with with 220.1 innings pitched and 157 strikeouts. He had a split similar to the previous season, posting a 2.12 ERA through early June, followed by a 4.11 ERA in his final 20 starts. He couldn’t match those 1997-98 numbers in either of his next two seasons and he saw his pitching time decrease and his ERA increase. In 27 starts in 1999, he went 8-10, 4.43 in 160.2 innings. He missed five weeks early in a season due to shoulder soreness and actually pitched better shortly after he returned, posting a 3.98 ERA in his final 23 starts. That followed an 8.44 ERA in his first four starts, covering 16 innings. Cordova made 17 starts and one relief appearance in 2000, going 6-8, 5.21 in 95 innings. He made his last start on August 8th, then missed the rest of the season with an elbow injury, which put him on the disabled list twice earlier in the season. Cordova had surgery for a bone spur in his elbow on August 18th. After missing almost all of 2001 with elbow issues, except for two mid-season minor league appearances, he pitched back in Mexico until 2011. He had reconstructive elbow surgery in early September of 2001 and opted for free agency after the season. He was expected to miss all of 2002, but he pitched 22 games in relief in Mexico, albeit with very poor results (8.78 ERA). During his five years in Pittsburgh, he went 42-47, 3.96 in 753.2 innings over 166 games, 112 as a starter, with seven complete games and four shutouts.

Curtis Wilkerson, infielder for the 1991 Pirates. He spent six seasons with the Texas Rangers and another two with the Chicago Cubs before signing with the Pirates as a free agent on January 9, 1991. Wilkerson was a fourth round draft pick out of high school in 1980 by the Rangers. He moved fairly quickly through the minors, despite a slow start in pro ball. He batted .191 with two extra-base hits (both doubles) in 37 games in the Gulf Coast League as a 19-year-old in 1980. He wasn’t much better in A-Ball in 1981 with Asheville of the South Atlantic League, hitting .204 in 106 games, with 45 runs, ten extra-base hits and 12 steals. He split 1982 between Burlington of the Class-A Midwest League  and Double-A Tulsa of the Texas League, putting up better results at the higher level, while stealing 33 bases on the season. He combined to bat .261 with 50 runs, 17 extra-base hits and a .631 OPS. That was a 119 point increase in OPS over his previous season. Wilkerson batted .312 with 51 runs, 27 extra-base hits, 14 steals and a .798 OPS in Oklahoma City of the Triple-A American Association in 1983, which earned him a trip to the majors in September, where he batted .171 in 16 games.

Wilkerson made the Opening Day roster of the Rangers in 1984 and started 102 games at shortstop and another 42 at second base. He batted .248 in 153 games, though it came with just 22 walks and only 13 extra-base hits, leading to a .561 OPS. He stole 12 bases, but he was caught ten times. He had a similar role the next season and put up very similar stats, with a .241 average, 17 extra-base hits and 22 walks in 139 games. He also stole 14 bases (caught stealing seven times) and improved to a .601 OPS. Wilkerson’s playing time dropped in 1986, as his low OBP/slugging numbers continued. He had a .578 OPS, along with a .237 average, 11 walks and he went 9-for-16 in steals. He played 110 games, making 35 starts at second base and 28 at shortstop. The playing time slipped again in 1987, though he put up a .700 OPS, which was 99 points better than his previous high. He batted .268/.308/.391 in 85 games, with 32 starts all season. Wilkerson had his best career season in 1988, hitting .293 in 117 games, with a career best .703 OPS. His .345 OBP was 37 points higher than his second best mark. The Chicago Cubs acquired him from Texas in a nine-player trade that off-season, a deal that included Jamie Moyer, Rafael Palmeiro and Mitch Williams.

Wilkerson played 77 games during each of his two seasons for the Cubs, with most of his games coming as a third baseman, though he also played four other positions. He hit .244 with a .591 OPS in 160 at-bats in 1989, followed by a  .220 average, with 16 RBIs in 186 at-bats in 1990. His OPS dropped to .507 that season, as he finished with six extra-base hits and seven walks. He reached free agency after the season and signed 2 1/2 months later with Pittsburgh. For the Pirates, Wilkerson was the backup at three infield positions (everything except first base), seeing most of his time at second base. He hit .189 with 18 RBIs and a .520 OPS in 85 games in Pittsburgh. He homered twice that year, tying a career high. The home run he hit on September 19th was a special one. With the score tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, he hit a walk-off grand slam against Hall of Famer Lee Smith. In the post-season that year, he batted four times in the NLCS, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

Following the 1991 season, Wilkerson left via free agency. He played two years for the Kansas City Royals, hitting .250 with a career high 18 steals in 111 games in 1992, followed by his final 12 big league games in 1993. His season ended on May 16th due to a broken ankle, which was originally supposed to cost him 8-12 weeks, but he couldn’t start baseball activities/rehab until late August. Wilkerson finished his career in the minors, playing for the Royals and Seattle Mariners in 1994, and the Montreal Expos in 1995. He later managed for six seasons in the minors and Independent ball, including three years for the Pirates, taking over Williamsport in 1999-2000 and Lynchburg in 2001. In his 11-year big league career, Wilkerson hit .245 with 179 RBIs, 272 runs scored and 81 steals in 972 games. He hit eight career homers and finished with 109 extra-base hits. He was considered to be above average defensively, finishing with a career 3.7 dWAR mark, compared to 0.9 overall WAR.

Amos Otis, outfielder for the 1984 Pirates. He was a fifth round draft pick out of high school by the Boston Red Sox in 1965. He batted .329 with 35 extra-base hits in 67 games as an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League with Harlan during his first season of pro ball. He moved up to the Class-A New York-Penn League with Oneonta the next season and saw a 248 point drop to his .948 OPS from the previous season. In 116 games, he hit .270 with 54 runs, 27 extra-base hits and 14 steals in 15 attempts. Back when the Fall Instructional League kept stats, he batted .360 in 34 games after the 1966 season. Otis was taken by the New York Mets in the 1966 minor league draft a short time later, and then made his Major League debut nine months later. He was skipped to Triple-A in 1967 and hit .268 with 62 runs, 21 extra-base hits and 29 steals in 126 games for Jacksonville of the International League. He put up a .220 average and a .547 OPS in 19 games with the Mets and was thrown out on all four stolen base attempts. After spending all of 1968 back in Jacksonville, where he hit .286 with 76 runs, 15 homers, 70 RBIs, 50 walks and 21 steals in 139 games, Otis played 48 games for the 1969 Mets, hitting .151/.202/.204 in 93 at-bats. He made the Opening Day roster, but was sent down to the new Triple-A affiliate (Tidewater of the International League) after hitting .136 through June 15th. He went down to the minors for three months, hitting .327 in 71 games, then returned in mid-September. The Mets won the World Series that year, though he didn’t make his first postseason appearance until seven years later.

New York traded Otis in December of 1969, along with pitcher Bob Johnson, to the Royals for third baseman Joe Foy. The trade turned out to be a disaster for the Mets, as Foy played one season in New York and Otis established himself as a star in Kansas City, spending 14 seasons in a Royals uniform. Johnson had one solid season in Kansas City, before he was dealt to the Pirates in a six-player trade.  Otis played in five All-Star games and won three Gold Glove awards in center field during his time in Kansas City. He played the third most games in Royals history and ranks in the franchise’s top four in hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, RBIs and stolen bases.

Otis was given a chance to play full-time right away and he was an instant star, making his first All-Star appearance in 1970. He batted .284 with 91 runs scored and a league-leading 36 doubles in 159 games. He had 69 walks and stole 33 bases in 35 attempts. In 1971, he was an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and he finished eighth in the MVP voting. Otis batted .301 and led the league with a career best 52 steals. He had 80 runs scored, 45 extra-base hits, 79 RBIs and a .789 OPS. He made his third straight All-Star appearance in 1972, thanks to a .293 average in 143 games, with 75 runs, 41 extra-base hits, 54 RBIs, 50 walks and 28 steals, resulting in a .765 OPS. He received mild MVP support, finishing 32nd in the voting. He had an outstanding 1973 campaign, with another All-Star game, another Gold Glove, and a third place finish in the American League MVP race. He hit .300, with a career high 26 homers. Otis had 93 RBIs, 89 runs scored and 63 walks. His .851 OPS was his highest mark during his first ten seasons in the majors. He won his third Gold Glove in 1974 when he hit .284 with 52 extra-base hits, 73 RBIs, 58 walks, 18 steals and 87 runs scored in 146 games. Tonsillitis cost him three weeks during the middle of the 1975 season when he hit .247 in 132 games, though he had 39 steals, 66 walks and 87 runs scored. His .727 OPS was his lowest mark during his first ten seasons in Kansas City.

The Royals won their division in 1976 and Otis was an All-Star again, while finishing seventh in the MVP voting. He batted .279 and led the league with 40 doubles, while adding 18 homers, 86 RBIs, 55 walks, 93 runs scored and 26 steals. That year was the only time he struck out 100 times in a season and he finished with exactly 100. Unfortunately for Otis, who played 153 regular season games that year, he sprained his ankle in the second inning of the postseason and never returned during the series, which the Royals lost. The Royals returned to the playoffs in 1977, with Otis hitting .251 with 20 doubles, eight triples, 17 homers, 78 RBIs, 85 runs scored and a career high 71 walks. He hit .125 that postseason in five games. His best year in the majors was 1978, when the Royals won their third straight AL West pennant and he finished fourth in the MVP voting. He hit .298 with 74 runs, 30 doubles, seven triples, 22 homers, 32 steals, and a career high 96 RBIs in 141 games. He also hit .429 in the postseason, though Kansas City lost their third straight series to the New York Yankees. He had 7.4 WAR that season, a figure he didn’t approach any other year. Despite winning three Gold Gloves, Otis does not rate well as a center fielder, finishing with a career -3.7 dWAR, including a -1.3 mark during his second Gold Glove season. However, he had 1.8 dWAR in 1978, well above his second best season (0.7 in 1971).

Otis had another big season in 1979, hitting .295 with a career high 100 runs scored. He hit 28 doubles, 18 homers, stole 30 bases, walked 68 times and drove in 90 runs. Kansas City went to the World Series in 1980, finally beating the Yankees in the postseason, but they lost the title to the Philadelphia Phillies. Otis was limited to 107 games during the regular season and he had a .699 OPS, which was a career low to that point. A finger injury right before Opening Day caused him to miss the first 39 games of the season. He was a star in the postseason that year, hitting .333 in the ALCS, followed by a .478 average, three homers and seven RBIs in the World Series. Otis hit .269 with 49 runs, 22 doubles, nine homers, 57 RBIs and 16 steals in 99 games during the strike-shortened 1981 season. He then batted .286 with 39 extra-base hits, 88 RBIs and 73 runs scored in 125 games in 1982. He stole just nine bases that year, his first full-season without double-digit steals.

In 1983, Otis hit .261 with 35 runs, 23 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs in 98 games during his final season for Kansas City, posting a .669 OPS that was his low with the Royals. After the season he was granted free agency and signed with the Pirates on December 19, 1983. He was the Pirates starting left fielder in April, but saw his playing time decrease, and he spent time on the disabled list twice before being released on August 5th, ending his playing career. Otis ran into an outfield wall during the first play of the game on May 18th and bruised his ribs, causing him to miss a month. On July 13th, he injured his knee, which had him out for two weeks. He played just two games after returning. Otis played 40 games for Pittsburgh, hitting .165 with ten RBIs in 109 plate appearances. In his sixth game with the team, he hit a two-run single that gave him 1,000 RBIs. He finished his career just two games shy of the 2,000 mark. He was a career .277 hitter, with 374 doubles, 193 homers, 341 stolen bases, 757 walks, 1,092 runs scored and 1,007 RBIs. He finished with a career 42.8 WAR.

The Season Opener

On this date in 1995, the Pirates played their first game since August 11, 1994, due to the strike that canceled the end of the season and the entire postseason. The April 26th opening date was the latest the Pirates began their season since 1893, when they opened on April 27th. The Pirates lost this game 6-2 at home against the Montreal Expos, with starter Jon Lieber allowing all six runs in his 4.2 innings of work. Jay Bell had the Pirates only extra base hit that day, a fourth inning solo home run. The Pirates lineup that day was as follows:

Jacob Brumfield, CF
Carlos Garcia, 2B
Al Martin, LF
Jeff King, 3B
Jay Bell, SS
Orlando Merced, RF
Rich Aude, 1B
Mark Parent, C
Jon Lieber, P

Here’s the boxscore courtesy of Baseball-Reference.