This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 9th, The Trainer from Traynor

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a game of note from 1937.

The Players

Tony Bartirome, first baseman for the 1952 Pirates. Before becoming the long-time trainer for the Pirates, Bartirome played one full season in the majors with Pittsburgh. He was a local kid, born and raised in Pittsburgh. He was signed as an 18-year-old by Pie Traynor, on behalf of the Pirates, early in 1951. Bartirome played just one season in the minors before joining the Pirates in 1952, making his Major League debut three weeks before his 20th birthday. For Hutchinson of the Class-C Western League in 1951, he batted .282 with 30 extra-base hits in 123 games. The jump to the majors from Class-C ball then would be considered the same jump from short-season ball to the majors now, so it’s no surprise that he didn’t excel at the plate at such a young age in Pittsburgh. Bartirome hit .220 with the Pirates and was not your typical first baseman. He had 13 extra-base hits in 124 games, none of them were homers. His low power and walk rates led to a .538 OPS. Despite the poor season at the plate, he accomplished something pretty impressive by not hitting into a double play all season. He was considered to be above average defensively in the minors, but modern metrics credit him with -0.5 WAR on defense during his only big league season. He drove in 16 runs all year and scored 32 runs.

Bartirome spent all of the 1953-54 seasons serving in the Army before returning to the Pirates in 1955. He promised at the time to fight to get back his old job at first base but he ended up spending the next nine seasons in the minors before he retired as a player. His first season back in the minors was spent at Class-B Burlington-Graham of the Carolina League, the equivalent of Low-A now. He batted .328 in 96 games, with 54 walks and 54 runs, though he had just ten extra-base hits (all doubles). Bartirome moved up a level to play for Williamsport of the Class-A Eastern League in 1956 and hit .305, with 61 runs scored, 19 doubles, seven triples, 13 steals and 58 walks in 115 games, while winning the league batting title. He spent part of that season with New Orleans of the Double-A Southern Association, where he put up a .586 OPS in 24 games. There was a thought that he might be able to make the majors again in 1957 after he followed up that solid minor league season at Williamsport by hitting .377 in Panama over the winter, where he won another batting title and an MVP award. The Pirates never even gave him a look during Spring Training though. Bartirome played in the Pacific Coast League in 1957, where he batted .316 in 71 games, at a level considered to be one step below the majors. He always hit for average, and started to draw more walks later in his career, but the fact that he hit just 11 homers in 11 seasons, including five in 1951, held him back from the majors. While he wasn’t short at 5’10”, he tipped the scales at just 155 pounds, despite attempts to put on muscle to help his case to get back to the majors.

In 1958, Bartirome spent the year with Columbus of the Triple-A International League, where he hit .252 in 132 games, with 13 extra-base hits, 38 RBIs and a .649 OPS. He had a better 1959 season, split between Columbus and Denver of the American Association. In 151 games, he hit .284 with 91 runs, 30 extra-base hits, 55 RBIs and 64 walks. His stats slipped a bit with Denver in 78 games in 1960, finishing with a .242/.333/.333 slash line. Bartirome played for Macon of the Southern Association in 1961 and hit .299 and the Double-A level, with 79 runs, 17 extra-base hits and 69 walks. He moved back up to Triple-A in 1962 with Portland of the Pacific Coast League and hit .297 in 152 games, with 70 runs, 16 extra-base hits and 79 walks. His final year was spent with a Pirates affiliate in Class-A, playing for Kinston of the Carolina League, where he had a .273 average in 99 games, with so little power that he finished with a slugging percentage just 18 points higher than his average. After he retired as a player following the 1963 season, Bartirome became a minor league trainer for three years, before joining the Pirates big league staff in 1967. It was a spot he would hold until after the 1985 season, when he moved on to the same job in Atlanta, moving along with Chuck Tanner, who was fired by the Pirates after the 1985 season. He earned World Series rings for the 1971 and 1979 seasons.

Culley Rikard, outfielder for the 1941-42 and 1947 Pirates. He had a baseball career that began at 21 years old in 1935 and it ended 17 years later, but his big league time consisted of just one full season and two partial seasons, all spent with the Pirates. Rikard debuted in the Class-C East Dixie League, where he put up a .310 average, with 20 doubles, 14 triples and four homers over 130 games in his first season. In 1936, he moved to another Class-C league, playing for Cleveland of the Cotton States League. That year he hit .327 with 46 extra-base hits in 141 games. Despite two years of solid stats, Rikard was right back in Class-C ball, playing for three different teams in 1937, seeing time with Monroe and Greenville of the Cotton States League and Texarkana of the East Texas League, where he hit .352 in 20 games. His full season stats over the three teams shows a .317 average, with 29 doubles, 12 triples and eight homers in 136 games. He didn’t advance up the ladder until playing half of the 1938 season with Memphis of the Class-A Southern Association, where he hit .288 in 70 games, with 48 runs and 18 extra-base hits. He also added a .362 average and 39 extra-base hits in 86 games for Greenville that same year. He drove in 104 runs that season. He spent the next two full seasons at Memphis, hitting well each time.

Rikard batted .323 with 39 extra-base hits in 127 games in 1939, then showed more power in 1940, hitting .301 with 50 extra-base hits in 137 games. He played seven seasons in the minors before joining the Pirates on September 20, 1941. Rikard had hit .339 in 155 games that year for Memphis, collecting 45 doubles, 14 triples and 14 homers. He started in left field during the second game of a doubleheader on his first day with the Pirates, going 2-for-4 with a double. Rikard played a total of six games that year before the season ended, going 4-for-20 with a walk and a .488 OPS. He then played 38 games during the 1942 season, with half of those games coming as a pinch-hitter. He had his arm broken by a line drive in July of 1942 when he was throwing batting practice. He returned later that season for just one game and that was only as a pinch-runner. He ended up batting .192 in 52 at-bats, with six runs, three extra-base hits, five RBIs and seven walks.

Shortly before the 1943 season started, Rikard was called to serve during WWII. He returned to baseball in 1946, spending the season with the Hollywood Stars of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He hit .325 with 68 runs, 43 extra-base hits, 68 RBIs and 82 walks in 144 games for Hollywood, then rejoined the Pirates for the 1947 season. That year he played 109 games, hitting .287 with 50 walks, 53 runs scored, 24 extra-base hits and 32 RBIs. Rikard split his playing time between right field and center field, in what would turn out to be his last season in the majors. On January 27, 1948, he was released outright to Indianapolis of the Triple-A American Association, ending his time with the Pirates. He played five more years in the minors before he retired. His first season back in the minors was a big one. Rikard drove in 107 runs for Indianapolis, adding 85 walks and 99 runs scored, to go along with a .285 average and an .840 OPS. In each of the next three years, he played partial seasons with Indianapolis, and also saw time with San Francisco of the PCL (1949), Kansas City of the American Association (1950) and Chattanooga of the Double-A Southern Association (1951), though that final year was limited to 13 games total. In his final season of pro ball at 38 years old in 1952, he dropped down to a Class-C team (Albuquerque of the West Texas-New Mexico League) and batted .353 with 54 extra-base hits in 131 games. His actual name was Culley, making him the only known Culley in the majors or minors. In his three seasons with the Pirates, he hit .270 in 153 games, with 64 runs, 19 doubles, four homers, 37 RBIs and 58 walks.

Dan Sullivan, catcher for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys on April 18, 1886. On Opening Day of the 1886 season, the Alleghenys and the St. Louis Browns played a morning-afternoon doubleheader. Sullivan caught the afternoon game, his first game with Pittsburgh. It would also be the last game he played with the team and the last of his Major League career.  He actually played a Sunday exhibition game with the Alleghenys a week after his debut. Pittsburgh just got done losing three-of-four games to the Cincinnati Red Stockings, so the two teams played an exhibition game on the scheduled off-day, with 2,500 fans still showing up. Sullivan didn’t start, but he was forced into action when outfielder Tom Brown got injured in the fourth inning running out a ball that ended up going foul.  Sullivan was released in early June without playing another game for the Alleghenys. He then played for Savannah of the Southern Association briefly in the minors that year, though his pro career ended before the season was over. He got married while in Pittsburgh, and when Savannah started having financial trouble in early August, he left the team to return home. He said at the time that he didn’t care if he got blacklisted from baseball because he was done playing. His pro career ended at 29 years old and he passed away within seven years of his last game. His obituary said of his time after baseball “He came (back) to Pittsburgh and started a saloon business without success. Then he disappeared and was not heard from again until the notice of his death.” The saloon business actually belonged to his wife, who was widowed before she married Sullivan.

Sullivan played a total of five seasons in the majors, all in the American Association. His pro career began with the New York Metropolitans of the Eastern Championship Association in 1881, the season before the American Association started up.The first 3 1/2 years (1882-85) of his big league career were spent with Louisville. Sullivan hit .273 with 44 runs and ten extra-base hits in 67 games as a rookie, putting up a .610 OPS, which would end up being his career high. He hit .214 over 36 games in 1883, finishing with eight runs, seven extra-base hits and three walks. He then batted .239 with 26 RBIs and 27 runs scored in 63 games in 1884. His 14 extra-base hits that year were a career high and they represent nearly half of his career total. Sullivan split the 1885 season between Louisville and St Louis, combining to hit .144 in 30 games, finishing with a .385 OPS. However, his .952 fielding percentage that year was 44 points over league average, back when catchers basically wore padded fingerless gloves no thicker than winter gloves now. In his only game with the Alleghenys, he went 0-for-4 with two errors. It was said in the St Louis newspapers that he had a lot of trouble handling the pitching of Hall of Famer Pud Galvin that day, which probably explains why he played just one game in Pittsburgh. Sullivan was a .233 hitter in 197 big league games, with zero home runs to his credit. He scored 86 runs, with more than half (44) coming during his rookie season.

The Game

On this date in 1937, the Pirates took on the Boston Braves (also referred to as the “Bees” during this period) at Braves Field. The managers that day were Pie Traynor (Pirates) and Bill McKechnie. Traynor was one of the greatest players in team history, while McKechnie was not only a former Pirates player, but at the time, he had led them to their last World Series title in 1925. Traynor wasn’t playing at that time and he never took the field in 1936, but he did play five more games later in that 1937 season before his Hall of Fame playing career officially ended.

The Pirates lineup included a couple other big names in Pirates history. Out in right field stood Paul Waner, while Arky Vaughan manned the shortstop position. At first base was Gus Suhr, the man who some consider to be one of the best first basemen in Pirates history.

The Braves lineup was loaded with players with Pirates connections, some before this game, some afterwards. Deb Garms, who batted lead-off  and played left field, won a batting crown while with the Pirates in 1940. Al Lopez, batting cleanup, caught for the Pirates from 1940 until 1946. Vince DiMaggio batted fifth, he played five seasons (1940-44) with the Pirates in center field. Elbie Fletcher batted sixth and played first base that day. He played seven seasons for the Pirates. Tommy Thevenow, batting seventh and playing second base, had played five seasons with the Pirates already and would rejoin the team during the 1938 season. The Braves even went to the bullpen for another former Pirates player, Guy Bush, who played for the 1935-36 Pirates.

Pittsburgh won the game that day behind the complete game of Ed Brandt, a former long-time Boston Braves pitcher. Paul Waner scored two runs, while Arky Vaughan added two hits and an RBI. The Pirates scored two runs in the third, fifth and seventh innings, while Boston scored all their runs in the first three innings, one coming from DiMaggio, who hit a solo homer. At the close of play, the Pirates stood in first place with an 11-3 record.

Here’s the boxscore.