This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 20th, The Underrated George Grantham

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, two were teammates on the 1927-28 teams and they both played the same position.

Tony Sanchez, catcher for the 2013-15 Pirates. He was a first round pick, who had some injury issues in the minors, as well as a case of Steve Blass disease behind the plate. The Pirates made a reach for Sanchez in the 2009 draft so that they could spend big on prep pitching in the later rounds. He was a consensus first round pick, but not rated near fourth overall, which is where he was selected out of Boston College. He spent most of his first season at Low-A West Virginia of the South Atlantic League, while also playing seven games total between two other levels (State College of the short-season New York-Penn League and Lynchburg of the High-A Carolina League). Between the three stops, Sanchez hit .309 with 33 runs, 18 doubles, seven homers, 48 RBIs and a .949 OPS in 48 games during his first pro season. The next year he was limited to 58 games due to injury, as his season ended early due to a fractured jaw from a hit-by-pitch. He also had some shoulder issues that limited his effectiveness. He hit .314 with 31 runs, 17 doubles, four homers and 35 RBIs that year for High-A Bradenton of the Florida State League. He then played in the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a .687 OPS in 18 games. In 2011, Sanchez batted .241 with 46 runs, 20 extra-base hits, 44 RBIs, 47 walks and a .658 OPS in 118 games with Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League.

Sanchez had better results in 2012 while splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League. He hit .251 with 43 runs, 26 doubles, eight homers, 43 RBIs, 41 walks and a .739 OPS in 102 games. He made his big league debut in June of 2013 and hit .233 with nine runs, four doubles, two homers and five RBIs in 22 games for the Pirates. He was a Triple-A All-Star that season thanks to a .288 average, 36 extra-base hits and an .872 OPS in 76 games. He had three stints with the Pirates in 2014, hitting .267 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 26 games. The rest of the season was spent in Indianapolis, where he hit just .235 in 81 games, but nice power/walk numbers led to a .758 OPS. Sanchez played winter ball in the Dominican during the 2014-15 off-season, but his stint didn’t last long due to a .100 average in ten games. He started the 2015 season with the Pirates, but he was sent down on April 17th after playing just three games and he never returned. He spent the rest of the season with Indianapolis, where he batted .236/.342/.342 in 94 games. He played parts of three seasons with the Pirates and they made the playoffs all three years. In 51 games, he hit .259 with 14 runs, five doubles, four homers and 18 RBIs. He threw out five of 30 runners who attempted stolen bases against him.

Sanchez was let go by the Pirates after the 2015 season and went on to spend time with six other teams, though his only big league time was a single pinch-hitting appearance for the 2017 Atlanta Braves. He last played in 2019, spending time with the Braves, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers after leaving the Pirates. The 2016 season was split between the Giants and Blue Jays, seeing time with both of their Triple-A affiliates. He hit just .201 in 61 games that season, finishing with 13 extra-base hits, 25 walks and a .615 OPS. His 2017 season was spent in Triple-A with the Angels, except for his one game with the Braves, which happened on September 2nd. He was with the Braves from September 1st through September 12th, when he was designated for assignment. Atlanta brought him back on September 24th, but he didn’t play over the final eight days of the season. His time with the Reds in 2018 lasted two games in Triple-A. The rest of 2018 and all of 2019 were spent with the Rangers. Sanchez was down in Double-A (Frisco of the Texas League) for his final season, where he had a .663 OPS in 64 games. He was on the disabled list twice, while also spending time on the temporary inactive list.

George Grantham, first baseman/second baseman for the 1925-31 Pirates. The Pirates acquired Grantham in a big trade on October 27, 1924. It was one that sent Pittsburgh’s all-time wins leader Wilbur Cooper, along with Charlie Grimm and future Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Grantham, Vic Aldridge and Al Niehaus. On name power alone, the Cubs got the three most famous players in the deal, but Grantham did a pretty good holding up his end of the deal all by himself.

Grantham debuted in pro ball at 20 years old in 1920, playing in the Class-B Pacific Coast International League with Tacoma. He batted just .225 with 19 runs, nine doubles, no homers and a .600 OPS in 58 games that year. Those were mediocre stats, but it took him just one year to get his career on track. Grantham batted .325 with 38 extra-base hits in 117 games the next season, splitting him time between Tacoma (40 games) and Portland of the Double-A Pacific Coast League (77 games), which was one step below the majors at the time. He spent 1922 with Omaha of the Class-A Western League, where he hit .359 in 157 games, with 47 doubles, 13 triples and 22 homers. That earned him a shot with the Cubs in September. After hitting .174 in seven games with Chicago in 1922, he was their starting second baseman in 1923. Grantham hit .281 with 50 extra-base hits, 81 runs scored, 70 RBIs and a career best 43 stolen bases, while playing a career high 152 games. His 36 doubles were also a career high. He had a .774 OPS that year, which was 37 points above league average, but it was also a mark that he would top in each of the next nine seasons. When he came to the Pirates, he was coming off a season in which he hit .316 with 85 runs, 37 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and 55 walks in 127 games. He also stole 64 bases over the two full seasons he spent in Chicago, but that total is a bit deceiving as he was caught stealing 49 times, including a league leading 28 times in 1923. He also led the National League in strikeouts in both 1923 and 1924. Grantham had also led all second baseman in errors each of his two full seasons with Chicago. Despite those negatives, he still managed to put up 7.2 WAR in Chicago, so he was clearly a valuable player before the trade.

Grantham moved to first base with the Pirates in 1925, batting a career high of .326 his first season in Pittsburgh. He split first base with veteran Stuffy McInnis later in the year, which limited him to 114 games that season, but he still finished with a .906 OPS due to a strong walk rate (50 walks on the season) and 38 extra-base hits. He scored 74 runs and he went 14-for-18 in steals. That 1925 Pirates team went to the World Series and won in seven games. While Grantham helped them get there, he all but disappeared in the series, going 2-for-15 at the plate, while sitting out two games. In 1926, he hit .318 in 141 games, with 66 runs, 27 doubles, 13 triples, eight homers, 70 RBIs and 60 walks, finishing sixth in the NL with an .890 OPS. He was moved back to his original position of second base when veteran Joe Harris (who shares his birthday) joined the team in 1927. Grantham still occasionally played some first base that year after starting the first 19 games of the season at the position. He hit .305 with 33 doubles, 11 triples, eight homers, 66 RBIs and 74 walks, while scoring 96 runs. His .850 OPS was his lowest mark while with the Pirates. Pittsburgh was back in the World Series that year and he hit .364, although he didn’t score or drive in any runs.

Grantham moved back to first base in 1928 and had a big season at the plate, hitting .323 with 93 runs, 24 doubles, nine triples, ten homers, 85 RBIs, 59 walks, and an .894 OPS, but it wasn’t his best year in Pittsburgh. His shuffling around the field continued in 1929, getting most of his time at second base, while also seeing action in left field and first base. He posted a career high .987 OPS in 110 games that season, driving in 90 runs, scoring 85 times and drawing 93 walks. He had 23 doubles, ten triples and 12 homers that season. His playing time was limited due to a knee injury and a sore shoulder. He batted just four times in the final 28 games of the season. His best season at the plate may have been the 1930 season, which was also a great year for offense in baseball. Grantham hit .324 with 34 doubles, 81 walks and he set career highs in RBIs (99), homers (18), triples (14) and runs scored with 120, which was the team high that season. His .947 OPS was the second best of his career. He had a decent 1931 season, though he began to show a decline in his game. After hitting .305 with 91 runs, 42 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs and 71 walks in 127 games that year, Grantham was sold to the Cincinnati Reds on February 4, 1932. He still had one good season left in him, hitting .292 in 126 games for the Reds in 1932. He finished that year with 81 runs, 41 extra-base hits, 56 walks and a .776 OPS.

Grantham hit .204 in 87 games for the 1933 Reds, with 32 runs, 21 extra-base hits, 28 RBIs and a .637 OPS. He then had a .241 average and an .819 OPS in 32 games as a bench player for the 1934 New York Giants, before heading to the minors mid-season, where he finished his career in 1935. Grantham batted .321 in 46 games for Nashville of the Class-A Southern Association in 1934, then hit .286 in 47 games with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in 1935. He was a .302 career hitter in 1,444 games over 13 seasons in the majors. With the Pirates he hit .315 in 913 games with 625 runs scored, 191 doubles, 69 triples, 74 homers, 508 RBIs, 488 walks, a .410 OBP and .901 OPS. His OBP ranks sixth in team history, and of the five playes ahead of him, only Arky Vaughan had more plate appearances. His OPS ranks fifth in team history and only Ralph Kiner (among players ahead of him) had more plate appearances. Grantham is the only player in franchise history to player 7+ seasons with the team and put up an OPS of at least .850 in every season. You can read more on Grantham in our first Obscure Pittsburgh Pirates article.

Joe Harris, first baseman for the 1927-28 Pirates. Although he lost years in the majors to WWI and a suspension from baseball, Harris had a pro career that lasted 24 years. He began in 1908 at 17 years old, playing for McKeesport of the Class-C Ohio-Penn League where he was teammates with former Pirates player Jock Menefee, who was 40 years old. The team also had Dots Miller, Ray Miller and Gus Getz, all future Pirates players. Harris didn’t last long in pro ball during his first stint, just playing that one partial season. After playing semi-pro ball over the next three years, he came back to pro ball in 1912 and batted .316 with 12 doubles and nine triples in 50 games for McKeesport (then a Class-D league). He also saw brief time just one step from the majors with Louisville of the American Association. In 1913, he played for Bay City of the Class-D South Michigan League, where he hit .329 with 42 extra-base hits in 96 games. Harris made the majors for the first time in 1914, getting into two mid-season games with the New York Yankees, but the majority of the season was spent back with Bay City, where he hit .386 with 71 extra-base hits and 42 steals in 139 games. He moved up to Chattanooga of the Class-A Southern Association for the 1915-16 seasons and batted .258 with 45 extra-base hits in 155 games during his first year, followed by a .309 average and 43 extra-base hits in 141 games in 1916. Harris made it back to the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 1917 as their regular first baseman. He hit .304 with 40 runs, 22 doubles, 65 RBIs, 55 walks and a .783 OPS during that first full season in the majors. He then missed the entire 1918 season due to the war, returning to the Indians at the end of June in 1919. His baseball skills obviously did not suffer from the time off. In the last 62 games of that 1919 season, he hit .375 with 30 runs, 16 doubles, 46 RBIs, 33 walks and a .962 OPS.

In 1920, Harris decided to sign with a semi-pro team after they offered him a much better deal than the Indians. He spent the 1920-21 seasons playing semi-pro ball. That contract jump prompted the commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Landis, to give him a lifetime ban from baseball. The ban was lifted two years later by Landis, citing the service by Harris during WWI. Before he was reinstated, Harris was traded to the Boston Red Sox in a deal that included Stuffy McInnis, who Harris would cross paths with again. From 1922 until very early in 1925, he manned either first base or a corner outfield spot for Boston, hitting .315 with 209 RBIs in 402 games. He hit .316 in 1922, with 52 runs, 30 doubles, nine triples, six homers, 54 RBIs and an .842 OPS in 119 games. Harris batted over .300 during all three full seasons in Boston, topping out at .339 in 1923, when he also set personal bests with 82 runs scored, 11 triples, 13 homers and a total of 52 extra-base hits. He had a .925 OPS that season in 142 games, which was his high at the time, but a number he would eventually top. The next year he set highs with 36 doubles and 77 RBIs, while matching his runs scored total from the previous year. Harris received mild MVP support during the 1923-24 seasons, finishing 18th and 20th in the voting.

Harris was traded to the Washington Senators in late April of 1925 and helped them to the World Series, where they faced the Pirates. He was hitting .158 in eight games with the Red Sox before the deal, then played exactly 100 games for Washington that season, hitting .323 with 60 runs, 42 extra-base hits, 59 RBIs and 51 walks, resulting in a 1.003 OPS. His .988 OPS for the whole season was his career high. He hit .440 in the World Series, collecting 11 hits, three homers and six RBIs, but the Pirates still pulled out the win in seven games. The first baseman for the Pirates during that series was the aforementioned Stuffy McInnis, whose name with come up again quickly. After hitting .307 with an .891 OPS in 92 games in 1926 at the age of 35, Harris was put on waivers. He made it through the entire American League, so the Pirates were able to pick him up to replace McInnis. In 1927, Pittsburgh went back to the World Series for the second time in three years and Harris was a big part of the team, hitting .326 with 57 runs, 41 extra-base hits, 73 RBIs, 48 walks and an .874 OPS in 139 games. He had a much different postseason in Pittsburgh, going 3-for-15 with one RBI and no runs scored.

In 1928, Harris saw limited action early on, but hit well when he did play, batting .391 in 16 games through June. On June 8th, he was dealt to the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) along with catcher Johnny Gooch, in exchange for catcher Charles Hargreaves. Harris played outfield for Brooklyn and did not hit well, batting .236 in 55 games, with a .699 OPS. He returned to the minors the next year, playing three more seasons at Double-A (highest level at the time) before retiring at 40 years old in 1931. Harris  hit .342 in 54 games for Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League in 1929, then had a .333 average and 40 extra-base hits in 114 games for Toronto of the International League in 1930. In 970 Major League games over ten seasons, he had a .317 career average, with 201 doubles, 64 triples, 47 homers, 516 RBIs, 461 runs scored and a .404 career on base percentage. He finished his career with an .877 OPS, which ranks him 112th all-time for players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. Hal Reniff, a pitcher during the 1960s for the New York Yankees and New York Mets, is the nephew of Harris.