Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, plus one trade of note.
Tommy Helms, infielder for the 1976-77 Pirates. He already had 12 seasons in at the Major League level before joining the Pirates for the 1976 season. Helms was the 1966 NL Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove winner during his career, but he was near the end when joining the Pirates. He was originally signed at 18 years old in 1959 by the Cincinnati Reds. He played his first two years with Palatka of the Florida State League, a Class-D level at the time. Helms hit .252 with four extra-base hits and a .572 OPS in 56 games during his first season. He did much better the second year, hitting .292 in 137 games, with 119 runs, 33 doubles, 69 RBIs and a .715 OPS. He moved up two levels to Topeka of the Class-B Three-I League in 1961, where he hit .277 with 86 runs scored, 25 extra-base hits and 57 RBIs in 121 games. Helms moved up to Macon of the Class-A South Atlantic League in 1962, hitting .340 with 102 runs, 38 doubles, seven triples, 50 RBIs and 15 steals in 139 games that season. He was up in Triple-A in 1963, but really struggled with the jump, batting just .225 with 26 extra-base hits and a .553 OPS in 138 games for San Diego of the Pacific Coast League. He repeated the level in 1964 and turned things around, hitting .309 with 41 extra-base hits in 142 games, adding 204 points to his OPS over the previous season. That was followed by a cup of coffee in the majors, getting one at-bat in two late season games. He had a brief early season stint with the Reds in 1965, then returned in late August after putting up a .319 average and a .788 OPS in 96 games with San Diego. Helms hit .381/.435/.524 in 21 games with the 1965 Reds, which earned him a spot for 1966 and beyond. As mentioned, he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1966. He did it by hitting .284 with 72 runs scored, 23 doubles, nine homers and a .695 OPS in 138 games, while playing slightly above average defense at third base.
Helms was an All-Star in 1967 when he hit .274 with 40 runs, 27 doubles and 35 RBIs in 138 games, while splitting his time between shortstop and second base. His OPS was .661 that season, down slightly from his rookie year. He made the All-Star team again in 1968 as the regular second baseman for the Reds. He hit .288 with 28 doubles and 47 RBIs in 127 games, finishing with a .668 OPS. Despite adding 14 points to his average that year, his OBP remained the same (.305) due to a low walk rate. Helms was great at putting the ball in play, which led to low walk and strikeout totals every season in his career. He didn’t hit the ball hard though, so his average/OBP suffered over the next few years. He hit .269 in 138 games in 1969, with 38 runs, 20 extra-base hits and 18 walks, leading to a .613 OPS. He batted just .237 in 150 games in 1970, with 22 extra-base hits, 21 walks and a .543 OPS, his lowest mark as a regular. However, his defense was strong that season, with a league best .983 fielding percentage, leading to a Gold Glove at second base. It was even better in 1971 when he put up 2.4 dWAR, which was the third best mark for all fielders in the National League. He won his second straight Gold Glove award and posted a league best .990 fielding percentage. At the plate in 1971, he hit .258 in 150 games, with 40 runs, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs. After the season, Helms was part of a seven-player trade with the Houston Astros that included Hall of Famer Joe Morgan coming to the Reds.
In his first season with Houston, Helms hit .259 in 135 games, with 45 runs, 30 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs, which was a career high that lasted one season. In 1973, he hit .287 and drove in 61 runs, while also setting highs with 28 doubles and 32 walks. His .694 OPS that season was his highest since his Rookie of the Year season, which was just one point higher. His last season as a regular in the majors was 1974 when he batted .279 with 21 doubles, five homers and 50 RBIs in 137 games. Helms saw his average drop to .207 in 64 games in 1975, along with two extra-base hits (both doubles) and ten walks, leading to a .488 OPS. Pittsburgh acquired him from the Houston Astros for a player to be named later in December of 1975. That player turned out to be Art Howe. In 1976, Helms was used as a pinch-hitter and the backup at both second base and third base. He hit .276 with 13 RBIs in 102 plate appearances. The Pirates sold him to the Oakland A’s on November 5, 1976, only to reacquire him on March 15, 1977 before he played with his new team. He was with the Pirates through the middle of June in 1977 and was used strictly as a pinch-hitter, getting 14 plate appearances, going 0-for-12 with two sacrifice hits. He was released by Pittsburgh on June 14th and signed quickly with the Boston Red Sox, where he hit .271 in 21 games.
Helms went to Spring Training with Boston in 1978, but was released in late March, ending his career. He played 1,435 big league games over 14 seasons, hitting .269 with 223 doubles, 34 homers, 477 RBIs and 414 runs scored. Despite some double-digit stolen base seasons in the minors, he went 33-for-73 in steals in the majors. He became a coach after his playing career was over and even had two managerial stints with the Cincinnati Reds during the 1988-89 seasons. He also managed two years (2000-01) of independent ball. His nephew Wes Helms played 13 seasons in the National League between 1998 and 2011.
Jose Pagan, third baseman for the Pirates from 1965 until 1972. He signed with the New York Giants as 20 years old in 1955 out of Puerto Rico. Pagan debuted in the Cotton States League with El Dorado that year, a Class-C level league, where he hit .273 in 97 games, with 60 runs, 16 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs. He moved up to Class-B Danville of the Carolina League in 1956. He hit .283 with 44 extra-base hits, 67 RBIs, 54 walks and 92 runs scored in 147 games that season. Pagan spent the next two seasons playing for Springfield of the Class-A Eastern League. After batting .264 with 67 runs and 35 extra-base hits in 133 games during his first season, he improved to a .298 average, 39 extra-base hits and a .738 OPS in 126 games in 1958. He scored 68 runs and had 77 RBIs that season. He moved up to Triple-A Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League in 1959, where he hit .312 with 79 runs, 29 doubles, 19 homers and 55 RBIs in 105 games, which earned him an August call-up to the majors. He struggled with the Giants (by then in San Francisco) over the final two months, batting .174 in 31 games, with just one extra-base hit (a double) and two walks, leading to a .404 OPS.
Pagan spent most of 1960 back in Triple-A (Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League), and didn’t do as well as in 1959, but did much better during his shot in the majors. In 18 games with the Giants, he hit .286 with two doubles and two triples, putting up a .708 OPS. Pagan spent the entire 1961 season in the majors and batted .253 in 134 games, with 38 runs, 22 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs and a .638 OPS. The Giants went to the World Series in 1962 and he batted .259 with 73 runs, 25 doubles, six triples and seven homers in 164 games. That game total is the second highest all-time (tied with five players), but it didn’t even lead the league because that’s the year Maury Wills set the record with 165 games played. Teams used to replay ties and both games counted in the stats, so it was possible to play more than 162 games. In the World Series that year, Pagan hit .368 in seven games, with a homer, two runs scored and two RBIs. He led all National League shortstops with a .973 fielding percentage and had a 1.6 WAR on defense in 1962. That was easily a career best, and the rest of his career shows a combined -0.7 dWAR.
In 1963, Pagan batted .234 in 148 games, with 46 runs, 19 extra-base hits, 39 RBIs and a .577 OPS. It was a drop in performance, but things got worse in 1964. That year he hit .223 with 33 runs, 12 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs in 134 games, leading to a .553 OPS. Pagan got off to a slow start in 1965, hitting .205 in 26 games with the Giants. On May 22nd, the Pirates acquired him in a one-for-one deal with San Francisco in exchange for veteran infielder Dick Schofield. With the Giants, Pagan was a .242 hitter in 655 games, spending most of his playing time at shortstop. He didn’t see much playing time his first year in Pittsburgh, getting only 41 plate appearances in 42 games to finish out the 1965 season. His playing time increased greatly his first full year with the team, playing 109 games, with most of his time spent at third base. He hit .264 with 25 extra-base hits, 54 RBIs and 44 runs scored that season. His runs, RBIs and games played were all season highs during his eight years with the Pirates, though his .662 OPS was surpassed in four of the next six seasons.
In 1967, Pagan started 15+ games at third base, shortstop and left field. Before 1967, he had made just five starts in the outfield during his career. He ended up hitting a career high .289 that season, albeit in just 211 at-bats. Despite the high average, he had low walk and power numbers, leading to a .674 OPS. After hitting .221/278/.350 and seeing limited time (184 plate appearances in 80 games) in 1968 at five different positions, Pagan bounced back with a strong season in the utility role the next year. He hit .285 with 29 runs, 11 doubles, 42 RBIs and a career high nine homers. He played 108 games that year and batted 298 times. His .778 OPS was his career best. He hit .265 with 22 extra-base hits and 29 RBIs in 95 games in 1970, while mostly playing third base, helping the Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 1960. He went 1-for-3 with a walk in his only playoff game.
The Pirates would win it all in 1971 for their fourth World Series title. Pagan saw limited time during the regular season, putting up a .653 OPS 158 at-bats over 57 games, and then just one at-bat during the NLCS. He then got four starts during the World Series, playing in all of the odd numbered games. That included a game seven start in which he drove in what ended up being the game/series winning run. Pagan played one more season in Pittsburgh, hitting .252 with three homers and eight RBIs in 137 plate appearances over 53 games, before being released in October of 1972. He played one final season for the Philadelphia Phillies before his playing career ended. The Pirates appeared to cut ties with him at the right time, as he had a .482 OPS in 46 games during that final season in Philadelphia. While with the Pirates, he hit .263 in 625 games with 189 RBIs and 168 runs scored. In his 15-year career, Pagan played a total of 1,326 games, hitting .250 with 138 doubles, 52 homers, 372 RBIs and 387 runs scored. He had a career 5.7 WAR, with 3.5 coming while with the Pirates.
Gene Curtis, left fielder for the 1903 Pirates. The 1903 Pirates clinched their third straight National League pennant on September 19th, which was then followed by an off-day. With just six games left before the first World Series was to take place, the Pirates rested some regulars. One of those regulars rested was left fielder/manager Fred Clarke, who injured his leg late in the year. Gene Curtis was a 20-year-old recruit up from the minors, playing his first season of pro ball. He went into left field for Clarke and played the last five games of the season. He batted .421 in 19 at-bats, with two runs scored and three RBIs. When the season ended, so did his Major League career. Curtis played six more years in the minors, then managed for two seasons without ever getting another big league call. His last two seasons were spent in the Class-C Ohio-Pennsylvania League, where he batted .303 in 120 games in 1909, then hit .313 in 118 games in 1910.
The local paper was impressed with his play on the first day with the Pirates, although they said he has “some superfluous flesh” which was a nice(?) way of saying he needed to lose some weight. That first game he went 2-for-2 with a walk, batting sixth in a lineup that was also missing Honus Wagner, who was out with a badly hurt thumb. The Pittsburgh Press had a quote that said he was the Hans (Honus) Wagner of the Central League in 1903. Curtis hit .315 in 98 games for Wheeling of the Class-B Central League that season, one of three teams he played with during the year. He also saw time with Des Moines and Colorado Springs of the Class-A Western League. The local Wheeling papers noted on September 16th that the team had at least four offers for Curtis. Two days later, the Pittsburgh Press said that Curtis had been drafted by Boston (National League) and he would be playing for them. Two days later, Curtis was with Wheeling still when they played a Sunday exhibition game against the Pirates, one in which he collected three hits off of veteran pitcher Brickyard Kennedy, though the papers said that Barney Dreyfuss completed his signing before the game, so his performance didn’t help his cause. The headlines the next day said that “Clarke Signs Curtis”, noting that Pittsburgh paid a heavy fee to sign him. He left with the Pirates, as they returned home for the final six games of the season.
After the season, the papers said that it was unlikely that Curtis would return to Pittsburgh in 1904, with one paper saying that his poor defense in the outfield was the reason he won’t stick. In mid-February it was announced that he signed back with Wheeling for 1904, although he was coaching with Bethany College in the spring first before joining his new team. They also mentioned that he lost nearly 30 pounds, so his conditioning was much better. The Pirates apparently tried to trade him to the Philadelphia Phillies, who declined, then tried to sell him to Indianapolis of the American Association, only to have Wheeling block the move. Curtis batted .269 in 63 games for Wheeling in 1904, while also seeing time with Wilmington of the Tri-State League. He then bounced around a lot over the next three years, playing for Springfield and Terre Haute in the Central League in 1905, four teams at three levels/leagues in 1906, and then three other teams in the Central League in 1907. By the end of that year, he had played for six of the eight Central League clubs. He played his last game of pro ball at 27 years old in 1910 and was out of baseball two years later, retiring after the team he was managing in 1912 folded mid-season. He passed away on January 1, 1919 of the Spanish Flu at 35 years old.
On this date in 1956, the Pirates traded pitcher Max Surkont to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Luis Arroyo. The Pirates had acquired Surkont two years earlier in a six-for-one deal with the Milwaukee Braves in which they gave up young second baseman Danny O’Connell. He went 16-32, 4.92 in 69 games, 51 as a starter while with the Pirates, playing for some really bad teams. Arroyo was 11-8, 4.19 in 159 innings in 1955 for the Cardinals as a 28-year-old rookie. He also made the All-Star team that season.
After the trade, the Pirates got two mediocre seasons out of Arroyo, using him mostly in relief. He pitched a total of 159.1 innings between 1956-57, going 6-14, 4.69, with 11 of those losses coming in 1957 when he had an 0-6 record as a starter. Arroyo spent all of 1958 in the minors before the Pirates traded him to the Cincinnati Reds that December. He ended up pitching against the Pirates, while with the New York Yankees, during the 1960 World Series.
Surkont didn’t last long in St Louis. He pitched poorly in five relief outings before being sold to the Boston Red Sox less than a month after the Pirates trade. Before the end of the year, he would be sold again, this time to the New York Giants. He pitched briefly for NY in 1957 and made a total of just 18 Major League appearances after leaving Pittsburgh.