This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 24th, The One Who Got Away and The One Who Almost Got Away

Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and no major transactions.

Jack Pfiester, pitcher for the 1903-04 Pirates. He was an unfortunate case for the Pirates, a pitcher who struggled in two brief tryouts each year with the team so they gave up on him. It turned out to be a bad move on their part, as just two years later, he was a 20-game winner for the first place Chicago Cubs. The lefty began his career in the minors in 1901, playing for two teams (Grand Rapids and Marion) in the Class-A Western Association at 23 years old. That was the highest level of the minors at the time. He was actually with the Baltimore Orioles (current day New York Yankees) of the American League for a brief time in 1901, but he didn’t get into any games. The only available stat from that time in the minors is that he pitched in 24 games. They next year he posted a 13-15, 3.63 record in 225.1 innings for Spokane of the Class-B Pacific Northwest League. He also spent some brief time with Columbus of the American Association, where he had a 2-6 record and pitched 65 innings. He moved on to San Francisco in 1903, pitching in the Class-A Pacific National League, where he first got recognized by the Pirates due to his 19 wins (with 16 losses) and 2.78 ERA in 288 innings. Pfiester joined the Pirates on September 3rd and it was said at the time that they had so many new players that there wasn’t a uniform available for him or his San Francisco teammate Joe Marshall. In fact, they had to sit in the grandstands during their first day with the team, with the paper noting that it took them a week to travel to Pittsburgh and they were tired upon their arrival. Pfiester was said to possess a good fastball and a fine assortment of curves. He debuted in the majors on September 8th and made three late season starts for the Pirates, going 0-3, 6.16 in 19 innings with 15 strikeouts.

Pfiester began the 1904 season with the Pirates, but after two starts and a relief appearance, he went sent to Omaha of the Western League. He went 1-1, 7.20 in 20 innings that year for the Pirates. He had a rough start to Spring Training, dealing with a sore arm and tonsillitis, which affected his workload getting ready for the season. When he was cut in 1904, the Pirates decided to keep pitchers Bucky Veil and Lew Moren over Pfiester. Neither of those two ended up pitching for the Pirates again. It was down in Omaha where Pfiester finally established himself, but it was the Chicago Cubs who recognized those improvements, not the Pirates. In two seasons for Omaha, he posted a 49-22 record. He went 24-11 after being cut by the Pirates in 1904, followed by a 25-11, 1.76 record in 323 innings in 1905. The Cubs went to the World Series three straight seasons from 1906 until 1908 and Pfiester was a big reason that they won during those years. He went 20-8, 1.51 in 250.2 innings in 1906, but had a rough time in the World Series, going 0-2, while allowing seven runs in 10.1 innings. He completed 20 of his 29 starts that season, pitching four shutouts. His 153 strikeouts were a career high, and he finished fourth in the National League in that category.

Pfiester went 14-9, with a league leading 1.15 ERA in 195 innings in 1907. That’s the seventh best single season ERA in baseball history. With that low ERA, it might be surprising to find out that he threw just three shutouts in 22 starts that season. He was actually tagged with more unearned runs than earned runs that season. He won game two of the World Series in 1907, giving up one run in a complete game performance. Pfiester went 12-10, 2.00 in a career high 252 innings in 1908. He had 18 complete games, three shutouts and he finished ninth in the league with 117 strikeouts. The Cubs won their second straight title that year, though he ended up allowing eight runs on 11 hits in his only start in the World Series. In 1909, Pfiester went 17-6, 2.43 in 196.2 innings for the second place Cubs, a team that won 104 games. He completed 13 of 25 starts that season and set a career high with five shutouts. Health and injury problems limited him to just two more seasons in the majors and he saw limited work for the 1910-11 Cubs. Pfiester went 6-3, 1.79 in 100.1 innings during the 1910 season. In 1911, he was limited to five starts and a relief appearance, posting  4.01 ERA in 33.2 innings. He finished the season with Louisville in the Class-A American Association, then didn’t pitch in pro ball again until five years later when he had a brief stint with Sioux City of the Western League at 38 years old in 1916. He finished with a 71-44 record and a 2.02 career ERA in 1,067.1 innings, the fourth best ERA of all-time among pitchers who threw at least 1,000 innings. Pfiester made 128 starts, finishing with 75 complete games and 17 shutouts. He also pitched 21 times in relief. He was part of our One Who Got Away series, in an article that has expanded detail on his time in Pittsburgh.

Sam Barkley, first baseman/second baseman for the 1886-87 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He began his pro career in 1883 at 25 years old, playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. When that team joined the American Association the next season, Barkley was their second baseman. He hit .306 in 104 games that rookie season, leading the AA with 39 doubles, while adding 71 runs, nine triples and a .786 OPS that ranked ninth in the league. Toledo was a Major League team for just one season, and in 1885 he moved to the St Louis Browns of the American Association, where he hit .268 with 67 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 53 RBIs and a .693 OPS in 106 games. The Alleghenys purchased his contract for $1,000 during that off-season, though it wasn’t without controversy. He was signed by the Baltimore American Association team on December 10th, but that deal was agreed on while he was still property of St Louis, so it was considered to be void. St Louis gave the option to Barkley to pick where he wanted to play, and if that team met the $1,000 release price, he would be allowed to go there. Barkley decided on Pittsburgh and signed with them on January 4th. There was a big case made of the signing and Barkley was actually suspended for a year (for a short time), before an actual court case was brought up. It was finally settled when the Alleghenys released first baseman Milt Scott to Baltimore on April 16th. Barkley, who was with the Alleghenys, but not playing in games, was allowed to play that same day in an exhibition game, two days before the regular season began. He salary for the year was $2,000.

That first year in Pittsburgh, Barkley hit .266 with 31 doubles, eight triples, 69 RBIs, 22 steals and 77 runs scored, helping the team to a second place finish behind the Browns. He had 58 walks that year, nearly twice as many as any other season in the majors. Pittsburgh moved from the American Association to the National League for the 1887 season. Barkley was the cleanup hitter in the first National League game in Pirates history back on April 30, 1887. He was the second baseman to begin the year, but when regular first baseman Alex McKinnon became ill and later passed away, Barkley took over at first base for the duration of the season. He struggled at the plate, hitting .224 in 89 games, with a .579 OPS that was easily his career low up to that point. Just prior to the 1888 season, Pittsburgh sold him to the Kansas City Cowboys, sending him back to the American Association. Barkley played two seasons there, before finishing his career in the minors in 1889, back where he started in Toledo. He hit .216 with 51 RBIs and 67 runs scored in 116 games for Kansas City in 1888 as their everyday second baseman. In 1889, he hit .284 with 36 runs and 23 RBIs in 45 games. He played his final big league game on July 12th. A few days later he was traded (along with $1,000) to the minors (Toledo of the International League) for third baseman Billy Alvord. Barkley played out that 1889 season, then never played pro ball again. He was a .258 hitter in 582 big league games over six seasons, with 125 doubles, 39 triples ten homers and 362 runs scored. There are no RBI stats from 1884, but he had 231 during his other five seasons. In April of 1890, it was said that he took possession of Miller’s Cigar store on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh and intended to do massive upgrades to the store.

Barkley was recently featured here in a Card of the Day article, which was a guest submission. It has much more on his acquisition by the Alleghenys, besides the card feature part.

The Game

From 100 years ago today, check out a Game Rewind article for a noteworthy Pirates vs Philadelphia Phillies game that had an odd ending by today’s standards.