This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 4th, Five Former Players

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one who played one game for the first Pirates team to go to the World Series.

Jason Michaels, outfielder for the 2008 Pirates. He was drafted four times before he signed to play pro ball, first getting selected by the San Diego Padres in the 49th round in 1994 out of high school. He attended Okaloosa-Walton College, where he was selected in the 44th round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1996. He decided to transfer to the University of Miami, where he was a 15th round pick of the St Louis Cardinals in 1997. He finally signed after the Philadelphia Phillies selected him in the fourth round in 1998 at 22 years old. Michaels put up an .874 OPS in 67 games with Batavia in the short-season New York-Penn League during that 1998 season. He batted .268 with 45 runs, 14 doubles, 11 homers, 49 RBIs and 40 walks. He moved up to High-A in 1999, where he hit .306 with 91 runs, 51 extra-base hits, 65 RBIs and 68 walks in 122 games for Clearwater of the Florida State League. He finished with an .890 OPS and a .396 OBP. The next year in Double-A with Reading of the Eastern League, he batted .295 with 71 runs, 44 extra-base hits and 74 RBIs in 113 games, though his walk rate was cut in half, leading to a 61 point drop in his OBP and a 102 point decrease in his OPS. The 2001 season was mostly spent in Triple-A with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he hit .261 with 58 runs, 19 doubles, 17 homers, 69 RBIs and 11 steals in 109 games. Michaels saw his walk rate drop again, while his strikeout rate increased, adding 39 strikeouts over the previous season, while batting 14 fewer times. He got a brief chance with the Phillies in April when they lost two outfielders to injuries in the same week. He played six games off of the bench and went 1-for-6 at the plate. He did not rejoin the team later in the year.

Michaels spent most of the 2002 season in the majors, where he hit .267 with an .823 OPS in 81 games, though he made just 11 starts all season and batted a total of 121 times. He had a similar role in 2003, though he missed the first two weeks of the season due to a strained oblique. Michaels did great off of the bench when he returned, hitting .330 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 76 games (14 starts and 125 plate appearances). He saw a much bigger role in 2004 when he batted .274 with 44 runs, 12 doubles, ten homers, 40 RBIs and 42 walks in 115 games (69 starts). He had the same role in 2005, with 68 starts and 105 games total. Michaels hit .304/.399/.415 in 343 plate appearances that year, finishing with 54 runs, 22 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs and 44 walks. In January of 2006, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Arthur Rhodes. Michaels was Cleveland’s starting left fielder in 2006, hitting .267 with 32 doubles, nine homers, 55 RBIs and 77 runs scored, compiling a .717 OPS. He set his career highs in most categories that season, including doubles, runs scored, RBIs and hits. The 2007 season saw him take a role similar to his time in Philadelphia. He played 105 games, with 65 starts. He batted .270 with 43 runs, 11 doubles, seven homers and 39 RBIs.

Michaels was in his eighth season in the majors when the Pirates acquired him from the Indians four days after his 32nd birthday in 2008. Michaels was hitting .207 with no homers and nine RBIs in 21 games for Cleveland prior to the deal. He played 102 games with Pittsburgh, seeing time at all three outfield positions. He hit .228 with 25 runs, nine doubles, eight homers and 44 RBIs in 228 at-bats for the Pirates. On June 2nd, he hit a game-tying pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh inning against the St Louis Cardinals, a game won 5-4 by the Pirates. In his next at-bat, three days later, he hit a three-run home run. Following the season he left via free agency. He signed with Houston Astros and played three seasons with them before signing with the Washington Nationals during the 2011-12 off-season. He had a bench role in Houston all three seasons, putting up solid stats his first two years with a .752 OPS in 102 games in 2009 and a .778 OPS in 106 games in 2010. His stats really dropped off in his final season, with a .199 average and a .551 OPS in 89 games. He started a total of 79 games with the Astros over those three seasons, hitting .231/.296/.400 in 297 games, with 50 runs, 35 doubles, 14 homers and 52 RBIs. Michaels played 35 games in Triple-A Syracuse of the International League for the Nationals in 2012 before his pro career ended. He was signed by the Nationals as a player/hitting coach for the 2013 season, but he never got into any games that year. He was a career .263 hitter in the majors with 140 doubles, 59 homers, 299 RBIs and 332 runs scored in 1,031 games. He was a .225 hitters with seven homers in 431 games as a pinch-hitter.

Ken Oberkfell, infielder for the 1988-89 Pirates. He was signed by the St Louis Cardinals in 1975 as an amateur free agent on his 19th birthday. He had a great first season of pro ball, hitting .352 in 17 games for Johnson City in the short-season Appalachian League, followed by a .351 average in 41 games for St Petersburg in the Class-A Florida State League. He had just 11 extra-base hits (nine doubles), but managed to post a 36:19 BB/SO ratio. He moved up to Double-A the next year with Arkansas of the Texas League and batted .287 in 128 games, with 64 runs, 24 extra-base hits and more walks (61) than strikeouts (45). Oberkfell saw a decline in his production in Triple-A with New Orleans of the American Association in 1977, putting up a .688 OPS in 120 games. However, he stole 19 bases, after just six steals in his first two seasons combined. He also had a similar walk rate and lower strikeout rate over the previous season. He finished with 67 runs, 27 extra-base hits and 32 RBIs. In late August of 1977, he joined the Cardinals, where he went 1-for-9 at the plate in nine games. Oberkfell spent half of 1978 back in Triple-A (Springfield of the American Association) and posted a .285 and an .802 OPS in 64 games, then had a limited bench role in the majors during the second half of the season, hitting .120 in 24 games, with 14 starts at second base. Things took quite a turn in 1979, as he had a full-time big league job, mostly playing second base. In 135 games, he batted .301 with 53 runs, 25 extra-base hits and 57 walks, leading to a .784 OPS.

While he played 19 fewer games in 1980, Oberkfell batted 51 times more. He hit .303 and posted a .794 OPS. He had 27 doubles, six triples and three homers. The triples would stand at a career high, while the other two totals wouldn’t be topped until much later in his career. He moved to third base in the strike-shortened 1981 season and hit .293 in 102 games, with 45 runs, 43 RBIs and 13 steals, setting a career high in the latter category. The Cardinals won the World Series in 1982 and Oberkfell batted .289 with 55 runs scored, 29 extra-base hits and .715 OPS in 137 games. He put up a career best 1.2 WAR on defense that season. During the postseason, he batted .200 (.400 OPS) during the NLCS and he hit .292 with four runs scored in the World Series. Oberkfell set a career high with 151 games played in 1983. He batted .293, with 26 doubles, 12 steals, 61 walks and 62 runs scored. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves mid-1984 and had a huge split in his results while playing 50 games in each city. He had a .773 OPS before the deal and put up a .598 mark in Atlanta. Combined he hit .269 with 38 runs, 22 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs. After three straight seasons with double-digit steal totals, he went 2-for-7 in stolen bases that year.

In 1985, Oberkfell had a typical season, putting up a .718 OPS in 134 games. He hit .272 with 26 extra-base hits, 51 walks, 30 runs and 35 RBIs. He hit .270 in 1986, though it came with a career high of 83 walks, 22 more than any other season in his career. He had 62 runs, 24 doubles and set a high with five homers. He also set a high with 48 RBIs, which he would tie the next year. In addition, he tied his career high with 151 games played and his 596 plate appearances that year are his single-season high. Oberkfell batted .280 in 135 games in 1987, setting a career best with 29 doubles that season. He had 59 runs, 48 RBIs and 48 walks, finishing with a .704 OPS. He was in his 12th season in the majors in 1988 when the Pirates acquired him from the Braves on August 28, 1988 in exchange for young outfielder Tommy Gregg. Atlanta was using him at third base in 1988, but he saw plenty of time at second base throughout his career. When he got to Pittsburgh, they ended up using him at all four infield positions, with most of his time spent at second base. After hitting .277 with 42 runs, 27 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs in 120 games for the Braves, Oberkfell hit .222 with two RBIs in 20 games for the Pirates. In 1989 he was being used at both 1B/2B through the first 31 games of the season, when Pittsburgh dealt him to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for pitcher Roger Samuels on May 10th. Oberkfell was hitting .125 at the time of the deal. He ended up playing in the majors through the 1992 season. He finished out the 1989 season strong, hitting .319 in 83 games, putting up a .798 OPS that was higher than any of his single-season totals, though with the Pirates stats included, he finished at a .675 mark.

Oberkfell was a bench player for the Houston Astros during the 1990-91 seasons, hitting a combined .214 with one homer in 130 games. He batted exactly twice as much during the first season in Houston(168 vs 84), starting 32 of his 77 games. He started just 11 games in 1991. He finished his big league career with the 1992 California Angels, hitting .264 in 41 games (22 starts). In his 16-year career, Oberkfell finished with a .278 average and 1,354 hits in 1,602 games. He hit 237 doubles, 29 homers, drove in 446 runs and scored 558 runs. He finished with 546 walks and 346 strikeouts. Twice during his career he led National League third baseman in fielding percentage, something he also accomplished once (1979) at second base. He had a career 5.4 WAR on defense, though his total took a real hit during his later years when he had a combined -1.6 dWAR over his final six seasons. Overall he had 22.4 WAR.

Zip Collins, outfielder for the 1914-15 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 19 years old in 1911, playing a total of 91 games for two different teams (Mansfield and New Castle) in the Class-C Ohio-Pennsylvania League. His stats are incomplete, but they show a .243 average with 13 doubles, five triples and 41 runs scored. He joined the San Antonio Bronchos of the Class-B Texas League in 1912, though his minor league stats show just ten games that season. He then hit .256 with 21 doubles and three triples in 137 games for the Bronchos in 1913. He played five games for Buffalo of the Double-A International League (highest level of the minors at the time) that season, but ended up back with San Antonio in 1914. On July 21, 1914 the Pirates purchased Collins from San Antonio. He was hitting .312 with 27 extra-base hits and 27 steals in 99 games at the time. According to Pirates scout Howard Earle, Zip (real name was John Edgar Collins) was the best player in the Texas League at the time. Ten days after being purchased by Pittsburgh, Collins played his first Major League game. He collected one hit and impressed the crowd with his speed in the field and on the bases, as well as with his heads up play and strong throwing arm. He played 49 games that season, hitting .242 with 15 RBIs. He failed to hit a home run and only stole three bases. At the same time the Pirates brought in Collins, they also had two other young outfield prospects named Pete Falsey and Ralph Shafer, so the three of them were competing for one job. Collins won the battle hands down, as Falsey batted once in three games and Shafer was used as a pinch-runner in his only big league game.

In 1915, Collins hit .294 with 51 runs in 101 games, but he was a singles hitter (14 extra-base hits), who wasn’t using his speed on the basepaths, going 6-for-13 in stolen base attempts. Despite the high average, he had a .693 OPS. He also made a high amount of errors, finishing with the fifth most in the league, while playing just 89 games in the outfield for the Pirates. In early September of 1915, he was sold to the Boston Braves. Collins played 107 games over parts of three seasons with Boston. He played five games in 1915 after the trade, then hit .209 with 18 RBIs and 39 runs scored in 93 games in 1916. Collins played nine early season games with Boston in 1917 before being sold to Rochester of the International League on May 12, 1917. He batted just .206 with 13 extra-base hits in 125 games in the minors that season, then moved to Columbus of the Double-A American Association in 1918, where he hit .253 in 64 games during the season that was shortened due to WWI. He was with Columbus for a short time in 1919. Collins would come back to the majors in August of 1921 to finish the season with the Philadelphia Athletics, which was his last season in pro ball. He batted .282 in 24 games, with 18 starts in center field. Before joining the A’s, he was playing for an outlaw league team in Oil City. That would have normally got him suspended from baseball, but he was actually a free agent when he signed with the team, so he was allowed to sign with the A’s after his team disbanded. He finished up his big league career with a .253 average, 17 doubles, 14 triples, two homers, 63 RBIs and 124 runs scored in 281 games. Collins hit just four homers in his entire pro career (his limited 1919 stats are unknown). He was one of three Major League players born on 5/4/1892.

Vic Saier, first baseman for the 1919 Pirates. He played just one season of minor league ball in 1910 at 19 years old before making the Major Leagues. Playing with Lansing of the Class-D Southern Michigan League, Saier hit .339 in 141 games, with 39 doubles, 16 triples and three homers. That was as far as you could get from the majors while in pro ball, but he still made the jump after one season. From 1911 until 1916, Saier was a strong first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, twice earning MVP votes. He didn’t hit for a high average, but he had really good power for a dead-ball era player, and he took his share of walks. He had the tall task at 20 years old of replacing Hall of Fame first baseman Frank Chance, who was also his manager. As a rookie in 1911, Saier hit .259 in 86 games, with 42 runs scored, 17 extra-base hits and 37 RBIs. He took over the position full-time in 1912 and responded with a .288 average, 41 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs and 74 runs scored in 122 games. He had his best season in 1913 when he hit .289 in 149 games, with 50 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs and 94 runs scored. He had an .850 OPS that year, fourth best in the National League. It was the only time he cracked the .800 mark in his career, though he still finished in the top ten in the league two other times. Saier led the league with 21 triples that year, despite collecting just 15 doubles. He stole 26 bases, but he was also thrown out stealing 20 times. That season led to a sixth place finish in the MVP voting. In 1914, he saw his average drop to .240, but it came with a career high 94 walks. He hit 18 homers, stole 19 bases, drove in 72 runs and crossed the plate 87 times. His .773 OPS was the tenth best in the league. Those numbers earned him a 16th place finish in the MVP voting. In 1915, Saier hit .264 with 74 runs, 35 doubles, 11 triples, 11 homers, 64 RBIs, 64 walks and a career best 29 steals (nine caught stealing). His .795 OPS was the fifth best in the league

Saier hit .253 with 60 runs, 35 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs and 79 walks in 1916, though his .357 slugging percentage was well off of his previous four seasons. Early in the 1917 season he broke his leg and didn’t return until the very end of the season, then was released by the Cubs to make room for another player on the roster. The Pirates put in a claim on his contract, which was disputed by the Cubs, but Pittsburgh finally acquired him on December 24, 1917. After all that effort by Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss to get him, Saier ended up quitting baseball during the 1918 season to help with the war effort. When the war ended, he returned with the Pirates in 1919 as their regular first baseman. It was said at the time the Pirates officially acquired him, that due to his age (27) and the fact he lived a clean life, he should still be assured a long career. He ended up playing just 58 games for the Pirates, hitting .223 with 19 runs, eight extra-base hits, 17 RBIs and 18 walks before being released in early August, marking the end of his baseball career. Saier played 865 games in the majors, hitting .263 with 143 doubles, 61 triples, 55 homers, 396 RBIs, 121 steals, 378 walks and 455 runs scored.

Lou Gertenrich, right fielder for the 1903 Pirates. He was an amateur and semi-pro player from the Chicago area, occasionally playing for a minor league team along the way. Down two outfielders, with both Fred Clarke and Jimmy Sebring unable to play, the Pirates called upon Gertenrich to step in as the right fielder on July 21, 1903. He batted second between Ginger Beaumont and Honus Wagner. He went hitless in four trips to the plate and caught both balls hit his way. Two years earlier he played two games for the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League, the original name of the current Baltimore Orioles franchise. He started game one of a doubleheader on September 15, 1901, batting second and playing right field, then pinch-hit in the second game. Those two games were played in Chicago, so all of his big league games played were road games in his hometown. Those three games were the extent of his Major League career.  The reason Gertenrich was able to play one game for the Pirates was because they were playing local (Chicago) that day, Clarke had an arm injury days earlier and Jimmy Sebring, the regular right fielder, had left to get married. Pittsburgh played two exhibition games the next two days and they used pitchers in right field until Sebring returned, so Gertenrich was quite literally with the team for hours.

After his game with the Pirates, Gertenrich was soon back playing for a local Chicago team named the Sycamores of the Interstate League. His minor league stats show him playing in 1894 at 19 years old with Garden Citys of the Chicago City League (no stats available). His next three games of pro ball were his big league games. He then came back to the minors in 1905, where he’s credited with playing three games for Springfield of the Class-B Central League, as well as a stint (no stats) with Decatur of the Class-B Three-I League. That was followed by stints with teams from Chicago of the United States League in 1912 and Chicago of the Federal League in 1913, one year before the latter league became a Major League for two seasons. Stats are available for that latter season, and the 38-year-old Gertenrich hit .322 in 89 games, with 49 runs scored, 24 doubles, seven triples and 11 stolen bases. He was back to playing semi-pro ball near his home in 1914 and stayed involved in baseball over the next few years. After his playing days, he owned a candy company that advertised on the back of baseball cards in 1922. We featured the Babe Adams card from that set one year ago today.

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