Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a look back at an interesting pitching match-up on this date from 130 years ago, and a transaction of note involving a player from that game.
Max Moroff, infielder for the 2016-18 Pirates. He was a 16th round draft pick out of high school in 2012, who required an over-slot bonus to sign. Moroff debuted in the Gulf Coast League, where he batted .343 in 23 games, with 17 runs, 17 walks and seven stolen bases. He moved up to Low-A ball with West Virginia of the South Atlantic League in 2013, where he hit .233, with 75 runs, 29 extra-base hits, 65 walks and a .680 OPS in 115 games. In 2014, he played in High-A Bradenton of the Florida State League, where he hit .244 with 57 runs, 30 doubles, 54 walks and 21 steals, though he was thrown out stealing 15 times. After homering eight times in 2013, he had just one homer in 2014. He had a breakout season in 2015 at Altoona, hitting .293 in 130 games, with 79 runs, 28 doubles, six triples, seven homers and 70 walks, leading to a .783 OPS. Moroff was overly patient during his first two full seasons in pro ball, but he became much more aggressive early in the count during his big year. That plate patience was a one-year mirage, as he took too many pitches again in Triple-A with Indianapolis of the International League in 2016, which led to a .230 average and a drop in his power, though he did end up drawing 90 walks in 133 games. The walks helped him to a .716 OPS. Moroff was given a brief mid-season shot with the Pirates and struck out in his only two at-bats. He was a shortstop during his first two seasons (2012-13), then played second base in 2014-15, before becoming a utility infielder in 2016, moving around often between all three spots (not first base).
In 2017, Moroff spent more time in the majors than he did in Indianapolis, where he had a .909 OPS in 51 games. With the Pirates, he batted .200 in 56 games, with eight extra-base hits and 16 walks, giving him a .627 OPS in 140 plate appearances. He started 26 games in the majors that year, seeing time at second base, shortstop and third base. In 2018, Moroff struggled in both Triple-A and the minors. With the Pirates, he batted .186/.284/.356 in 67 plate appearances over 26 games. He was part of a five-player deal with the Cleveland Indians after the 2018 season, going to Cleveland with Jordan Luplow, in exchange for Erik Gonzalez and prospects. Moroff was limited to 61 games total during the 2019 season due to a shoulder injury in April, which led to 40 minor league games over three levels. Moroff hit .125/.177/.250 in 20 games for the Indians that year, then became a free agent after the season. He spent 2020 with the New York Mets, participating in their Alternate Site Training camp, though he never saw big league action. In 2021, he signed a minor league deal with the St Louis Cardinals and was up in the majors after just seven games in which he hit .539 with four homers and six walks. He went 1-for-16 with St Louis in six games, before a left shoulder injury ended his season in late May. As of this write up, he has not signed for the 2022 season. With the Pirates, he hit .193 with 26 runs, six homers, 30 RBIs and 23 walks in 84 games.
John Ryan Murphy, catcher for the 2020 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick of the New York Yankees out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton in 2009. Murphy played just nine games in the GCL during his first season after signing late, hitting .333 with a homer and seven RBIs. He skipped to Low-A in 2010, where he hit .255, with 24 extra-base hits, 54 RBIs and a .703 OPS in 87 games for Charleston of the South Atlantic League. He spent most of 2011 back in Charleston, batting .297 with 29 extra-base hits in 63 games. He moved up to High-A Tampa of the Florida State League and had a .259 average and a .634 OPS in 23 games. Murphy split the 2012 season between Tampa and Double-A Trenton of the Eastern League, combining to hit .248 with 62 runs, 37 extra-base hits and 44 RBIs in 110 games, with similar results at each level. He saw time with Trenton, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League and the Yankees in 2013. Murphy hit .269 with 60 runs, 29 doubles, 12 homers and 47 walks in 108 minor league games, then hit .154 in 16 games (six starts) with the Yankees. He split the 2014 season evenly between starting in Triple-A and serving as a backup in the majors. Murphy hit .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games with the Yankees that season. He spent the entire 2015 season in the majors, hitting .277 with 21 runs, nine doubles, three homers and 14 RBIs in 67 games (43 starts).
Murphy was traded to the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2016 season and he spent most of the year in Triple-A Rochester of the International League, where he batted .236 in 83 games, with a .609 OPS. He hit .146 with one homer, three RBIs and a .413 OPS in 26 games during his only year in Minnesota. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in July of 2017, after hitting just .222 in 59 games at Rochester. Arizona called him up in September and he played five games, including one start, going 1-for-7 at the plate. Murphy spent the entire 2018 season in the majors with the Diamondbacks, playing a career high 87 games. He hit .202 with 19 runs, nine doubles, nine homers and 24 RBIs, setting career highs in the latter two categories. Besides the low average, he also walked just 11 times and struck out 71 times in 208 at-bats. He was sold to the Atlanta Braves after hitting .177 in 25 games during the first half of the 2019 season. Despite the low average and limited play, he managed to homer four times in 62 at-bats. He joined the Braves in July of that season, though he played just one game for them in the majors. Murphy signed as a minor league free agent with the Pirates in January of 2020. He made the team as a backup after Luke Maile got injured for the season. Murphy hit .172/.226/.207 in 25 games for the Pirates during that shortened season. He became a free agent after the season and has since retired. In 284 big league games, he put up a .215 average, with 69 runs, 32 doubles, 18 homers and 61 RBIs. He did not attempt a single stolen base in the majors. His last minor league stolen base attempt came in May of 2013 before his big league debut.
Jack Shepard, catcher for the 1953-56 Pirates. He was heavily recruited while in college at Stanford, where he batted .399 during the 1953 season. Shepard decided to sign with the Pirates because he felt General Manager Branch Rickey had the team going in the right direction. The scout who recommended Shepard to the Pirates was Branch Rickey Jr, the son of the Pirates GM, who was scouting the College World Series for the Pirates. The Pirates signed Shepard on June 15th and brought him right to the majors two days later. He debuted two days later and got into two games off of the bench, going 1-for-4 at the plate, before being sent to the minor leagues on June 26th when they called up pitcher Jim Waugh. Shepard went to Denver of the Class-A Western League and hit .324 with 48 runs, 21 doubles, nine homers, 63 RBIs, 46 walks and a .901 OPS in 84 games. He made the Pirates out of Spring Training in 1954 and had a strong rookie season platooning with Toby Atwell behind the plate. In 82 games, Shepard hit .304 with 24 runs, 13 extra-base hits, 22 RBIs and a career best .766 OPS. The next year he got even more playing time, although his batting was nowhere near as solid as his rookie season. He hit .239 in 94 games, with 24 runs, 14 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs and a .639 OPS.
When Shepard was sent to the minors in 1953, it was said that he needed to work on his throwing to make himself a strong Major League player. He must’ve taken that to heart, as he threw out 52% of would-be base stealers in 1955. In 1956, Shepard played a career high 100 games, hitting .242 with 24 runs, 11 doubles, seven homers, 30 RBIs and a .691 OPS. He threw out 44% of base runners and his .990 fielding percentage was the third best in the league for catchers. He made 71 starts behind the plate during both the 1955 and 1956 seasons, platooning with Atwell in 1955 and Hank Foiles in 1956. Shepard signed his contract to play for the Pirates in February of 1957, but less than a month later he retired from baseball to pursue a career in business. He managed briefly for the Pirates in winter league ball in 1959, but his entire professional baseball career consisted of 362 games over four seasons. In the majors, he finished with a .260 average, 72 runs, 29 doubles, 12 homers and 75 RBIs in 278 games. In case you didn’t notice the pattern, he scored exactly 24 runs in each of his three full seasons in the majors. Of his 12 homers, the first eight he hit were on the road. His first homer at Forbes Field was hit off of Hall of Famer Warren Spahn on June 18, 1956. Shepard was a solid player on both sides of the ball, putting up positive WAR numbers on both offense and defense during each of his three seasons.
Frank Miller, pitcher for the 1916-19 Pirates. Despite winning twenty games for four straight seasons in the high levels of the minors, Miller didn’t make his big league debut until age 27 with the Chicago White Sox. He began pro ball in 1907 at 21 years old, pitching at the lowest level of the minors, Class-D ball. Full stats are incomplete from his first three seasons, but he’s credit with a 12-20 record in 1907 for Houghton of the Northern-Copper Country League, and 38 games pitched in 1908, split between Rockford and Green Bay of the Wisconsin-Illinois League. He jumped up to Class-A for Des Moines of the Western League in 1909 (highest level of the minors at the time) and had a 24-16 record in 47 games pitched. From there it was on to the San Francisco Seals of the Class-A Pacific Coast League for the next three seasons. Miller went 20-15, 2.17 in 344.1 innings in 1910. The next two years were very similar, though his record suffered due to support from his teammates. He was 20-21, 2.07 in 378.1 innings in 1911, then 20-22, 2.09 in 335.1 innings in 1912, when the PCL was reclassified as a Double-A league (it was the same level of play technically, they just added lower level teams). Miller was supposed to get a legit big league shot with the White Sox in 1913, but he became very sick over the off-season and didn’t join the team until mid-season. On July 12, 1913, the White Sox gave him one start and he pitched poorly, allowing five runs in 1.2 innings. He was sent home shortly after the game and didn’t pitch again until 1914 when he was fully recovered.
Miller went back to the minors for two full seasons before he returned to the majors again with the 1916 Pirates. He played for Montreal of the Double-A International League in 1914, going 9-13 in 188.1 innings. While ERA isn’t available for the league, Miller allowed fewer runs per game in 1915 (4.48 in 1915, compared to 5.11 in 1914) with Montreal when he posted a 15-6 record and tossed 182.2 innings. The Pirates purchased Miller and outfielder Paul Smith from Montreal on August 27, 1915, though both players were allowed to finish their season with Montreal. Smith ended up playing ten big league games, all coming with the Cincinnati Reds in 1916. In his first season in Pittsburgh, Miller went 7-10 with a 2.29 ERA in 173 innings, getting twenty starts and ten relief appearances. That ERA sounds great, but 1916 was the height of the deadball era and the National League had a combined 2.61 ERA, so he was just slightly better than average. They next year, the Pirates were awful, finishing in last place with a 51-103 record. Miller had a decent 3.13 ERA (league average was 2.70) in a career high 224 innings, but his record was just 10-19 in 28 starts and ten relief outings. He tossed five shutouts that year, including a ten-inning game against Brooklyn on August 20th. On September 17th, he went 15 innings in a complete game loss to Boston.
Miller’s 1918 season was his best overall. He had a 2.38 ERA in 170.1 innings, with a record of 11-8 in 23 starts, throwing 14 complete games, including two shutouts. His ERA ranked as the ninth best in the league. The next year he had a 3.08 ERA and won a career high 13 games. He topped the 200 inning mark for the second time and set a personal best with 16 complete games, while recording three shutouts. He had a 12-12 record going into his final start of the season, and he threw 11 innings to pick up the win that pushed him over the .500 mark. The Pirates sold him to the Boston Braves in March of 1920, but he didn’t play for them until 1922. It was said he retired due to “family and business pressure”. He went 11-13, 3.51 in 200 innings over 23 starts and eight relief appearances for the Braves during his first year back in 1922, then went 0-3, 4.58 in 39.1 innings over six starts and two relief appearances before he was released in 1923, ending his baseball career at 37 years old. For the Pirates, Miller went 41-49, 2.75 in 769 innings over 97 starts and 26 relief appearances. He threw 54 complete games and he had 12 shutouts.
Jimmy Archer, catcher for the 1904 Pirates and then again in 1918. He began his pro baseball career in the low levels of the minors in 1903 and played just 20 games that first year with Fargo of the Class-D Northern League, where he posted a .225 average and three extra-base hits (all doubles). By the following year he established himself as a prospect. That second season, he hit .299 in 72 games for Class-D Boone of the Iowa League of Professional Baseball Clubs. That was despite breaking his collarbone during the season. His calling card was a very strong throwing arm, and in September of 1904 the Pirates gave him a trial in the majors. He was secured just days earlier by scout Frank Haller, who saw Archer put on a hitting display during one of his scouting trips. He wasn’t going to join the Pirates right away, but on September 1st they needed a replacement for backup Harry Smith, who was injured with a month to go in the season. That left starter Ed Phelps as the lone catcher, with first baseman Kitty Bransfield serving as the emergency backup due to having catching experience early in his career. Archer left for the Pirates on September 1st and arrived just a couple of days before his big league debut on September 6th. He played seven games and impressed defensively (he batted just .150), but he needed more seasoning, so he was sent to Atlanta of the Class-A Southern Association for two years. The Pirates used him only in game two of doubleheaders for all seven games he caught, with the club noting that due to his inexperience, it was better that he caught the second games because they usually were called due to darkness before nine innings. As it turned out, he played just one nine-inning game. He played every inning during that time, but he caught just 47 innings total. He was originally placed on the Pirates reserve list following the 1904 season, but he was released to Atlanta on March 1, 1905.
Archer batted .254 with 21 extra-base hits in 86 games for Atlanta in 1905. His average dropped down to .224 in 93 games in 1906, though he still collected 22 extra-base hits. He actually had 72 hits each year, including three triples and one homer each season, so the only difference in his hits between both years was that one single turned into a double. On September 1, 1906, Archer was chosen by the Detroit Tigers in the Rule 5 draft. He played 18 games for the Tigers in 1907, batting .119 with no extra-base hits, then returned to the minors for the 1908 season. He batted .208 with ten extra-base hits in 82 games for Buffalo of the Class-A Eastern League that year, before being taken again in the Rule 5 draft, this time by the Chicago Cubs. He would become a solid player for the Cubs, spending nine seasons in Chicago before being released during the 1917 season. Archer was slightly above average as a hitter during the deadball era, and his defense was also above average, so he was helping his team on both sides of the ball. In 1909, he was still trying to get established on offense. He hit .230 that year in 80 games, with 31 runs, 12 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs, finishing with a .558 OPS. He split his time in 1910 between catching and first base, though he excelled behind the plate in his backup role, throwing out a league best 57.8% of base runners attempting to steal. He batted .293 in 98 games, with 36 runs, 25 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs, while adding 105 points to his OPS.
Archer caught over 100 games each year during a three-year span from 1911 through 1913. He received mild MVP support each season, starting with a 16th place finish in the voting in 1911 when he hit .253 with 27 extra-base hits 41 RBIs and 41 runs scored in 116 games. His OPS actually went down 18 points from the previous year. The next year he set career highs in all three Triple Crown categories, batting .283 with five homers and 61 RBIs. He also set highs with 109 hits and 20 doubles. He had a .715 OPS, the only time he cracked the .700 mark. Despite that being his best year, he finished lower in the MVP race that season, ending up 22nd in the voting. His best MVP finished was 13th place in 1913 when he hit .266 in 111 games, with 23 extra-base hits, 44 RBIs and 38 runs scored. Archer led the league by throwing out 52% of base runners in 1913. He slipped into more of a platoon role over the next three years, starting a total of 211 games behind the plate during that stretch. He batted .258 in 79 games in 1914, with 17 runs, 19 RBIs and a .595 OPS. Archer saw a decent amount of playing time in 1915, batting .243 with 21 runs, 16 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs in 97 games. The next year he was down to a .220 average in 73 games, with a .552 OPS. The Cubs tried to cut his salary in 1917 and that led to him holding out at the beginning of the season. He ended up playing just two games off of the bench in late May and early June before being released.
The Pirates signed Archer as a free agent on March 9, 1918. He was 35 years old and 15 years of catching had worn him down by then, so he was well past his prime. He hit .155 in 24 games before Pittsburgh released him on July 15th. They noted that he provided excellent veteran leadership, but the Pirates brought back long-time outfielder/third baseman Tommy Leach a few weeks earlier, so he assumed that role for the young players. The Pirates also had catcher Fred Blackwell back from the Army as a capable backup, so he was filling that role ahead of Archer at the time. Archer played nine games later in 1918 for the Brooklyn Robins, then another nine games for the 1918 Cincinnati Reds, before he decided to call it a career. In 847 Major League games, he was a .249 career hitter with 106 doubles, 34 triples, 299 RBIs and 247 runs scored. He hit just 16 homers in his career, though at one point four of his homers in a row came off of Hall of Fame pitchers, Christy Mathewson, Grover Alexander, Eppa Rixey and Rube Marquard. He had a 9.1 career WAR on defense according to modern metrics, with no negative seasons over 12 years in the majors. He ranks eighth all-time in caught stealing (51.8%), and none of the catchers ahead of him had more runners attempt steals.
The Pirates took on the Cleveland Spiders on May 13, 1892 with Elmer Smith on the mound. Smith was just one year away from becoming a star outfielder for the Pirates, but in 1892 he was trying to make a comeback to the majors as a pitcher. He won 34 games as a 19-year-old in 1887, yet three years later he was back in the minors for two full seasons (1890-91). The Pirates lost 6-1 on this day, although it could actually be considered a win, as Smith was hit hard. He would make just 11 more starts before becoming a full-time outfielder, then over the next five seasons for the Pirates, he would hit .336 with 152 steals, 558 runs scored and 406 RBIs.
The starter for Cleveland that day was Denton True Young. The papers referred to him as Farmer Young back then, but he is more well-known as Cy Young. The Pirates made seven errors during this game. They had two Hall of Famers in their lineup, with Jake Beckley at first base and Connie Mack was Smith’s catcher. Ed Swartwood played right field and batted sixth that day for the Pirates in one of his last Major League games. He was the first batter in franchise history ten years earlier on May 2, 1882, and he had returned to the team after an eight-year absence. He went hitless on the day, but he drew two walks. Center fielder Pop Corkhill got a lot of praise for three outstanding catches (two with multiple runners on base), which helped keep this game from being a blowout. He also drove in the only run for the Pirates.
On this date in 1901, the Pittsburgh Pirates released outfielder Elmer Smith due to the fact that they were forced to get their big league roster down to 16 players by May 14th. It was said that owner Barney Dreyfuss was hoping that the 16-man roster rule would be taken away, so he held on to Smith as long as he could before releasing him. At the time, the 33-year-old Smith was a bench player, who went 0-for-4 with two walks in four games through the first 17 games of the season. He would go on to play just 16 more big league games, all of them later that year with the Boston Beaneaters. He was signed by the Pirates as a free agent after third baseman Jimmy Williams decided to jump to the Baltimore Orioles (current day New York Yankees) of the American League, which went from minor league status to Major League status in 1901.