This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 26th, Leever’s Debut and Haddix’s Gem

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a recap of the Major League debut for one of the Pirates greatest pitchers of all-time and also one of the greatest pitching performances of all-time.

The Players

Dann Bilardello, catcher for the 1989-90 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the third round of the January 1978 draft out of Cabrillo College, but chose to return to school for one more year. He was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as their first round draft pick in June of 1978, chosen seventh overall. Cabrillo College is a school that has produced four MLB players through the draft, but just one of them has been picked since 1988. Bilardello batted .248 with two homers and a .658 OPS in 42 games for Lethbridge of the short-season Pioneer League in 1978. He moved up to Clinton of the Class-A Midwest League in 1979, where he hit .239 with two homers and a .637 OPS in 52 games. He missed time that year due to a hand injury early in the season. From there he went to Lodi of the Class-A California League in 1980 and he hit .308 with 22 runs, six homers and 15 RBIs in 41 games. He missed time in the middle of the year due to a fractured cheekbone from a hit-by-pitch. While the California League was historically better for hitters, his OPS improved 231 points over the previous season. Bilardello finally played a full season in 1981 and he hit .307 with 72 runs, 19 doubles, 21 homers and 80 RBIs in 105 games for Lodi, while also going 1-for-19 in a brief trial at Double-A with San Antonio of the Texas League. He had a .920 OPS in Lodi that season, though his Double-A time knocked his season OPS down to an .881 mark. He spent the 1982 season playing for San Antonio, where he hit .285 with 49 runs, 14 doubles, 17 homers and 48 RBIs in 103 games.

Before he could make it to the majors with Los Angeles, Bilardello was taken in the 1982 Rule 5 draft by the Cincinnati Reds. He hit .238 with 27 runs, 18 doubles, nine homers, 38 RBIs and a .663 OPS during his rookie season in 1983, playing in 109 games that year. He did well in the slugging category, but a low walk total left him with a .274 OBP. It would end up being the best season of his eight-year big league career. Bilardello spent two more years in Cincinnati, then one year in Montreal Expos, before spending all of the 1987-88 seasons in the minors. He batted .209 with two homers and a .567 OPS in 68 games for the 1984 Reds, while also playing 49 games for their Triple-A affiliate, Wichita of the American Association. He then hit .167 with one homer and a .402 OPS in 42 games for the Reds in 1985, while also playing 57 games in Triple-A (Denver of the American Association). With the 1986 Expos, Bilardello batted .194 with five doubles, four homers, 17 RBIs and a .532 OPS in 79 games.

The Pirates purchased Bilardello’s contract from Montreal on March 22, 1987. He would last four months with the team in Triple-A with Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League, before being sold to the Kansas City Royals in July of 1987. He spent the rest of 1987 and the entire 1988 season catching for Triple-A Omaha of the American Association. He hit .243 with 14 doubles, eight homers and a .663 OPS in 71 games during that 1988 season. Bilardello became a free agent and decided to sign with the Pirates in January of 1989. He began the year in Triple-A (Buffalo of the American Association), before getting called up by the Pirates for a month in early June, then again when the roster expanded in September. Bilardello started 25 games that year for the Pirates, hitting .225 with six doubles, two homers and eight RBIs in 83 plate appearances over 33 games total. He had three short stints with the 1990 Pirates, getting into 19 games total, with an .054 batting average (2-for-37). He became a free agent in December of 1990 and signed with the San Diego Padres a month later. Bilardello played 32 games for the Padres between the 1991-92 seasons, hitting .186 in 59 at-bats, though in a fairly even playing time split, he had a .786 OPS in 1991 and a .386 OPS in 1992. He spent the 1993 season in Triple-A Norfolk of the International League for the New York Mets, and then he played independent ball in 1994 with Winnipeg of the Northern League, which was his last year in pro ball. Bilardello hit .204 with 79 runs, 39 doubles, 18 homers and 91 RBIs in 382 big league games. He batted .171 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 52 games for the Pirates. He rates as an outstanding defensive catcher, putting up 4.1 dWAR in what amounted to two full seasons of catching. In 1984, he led the league by throwing out 41.5% of runners attempting to steal. That was followed up by a 48.8% mark in 1985.

Chuck Hartenstein, pitcher for the 1969-70 Pirates. He was signed originally by the Chicago Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1964 and it didn’t take long for him to make his strange Major League debut. He played for St Cloud of the Class-A Northern League in 1964, where he 3.27 ERA in 113 innings over 15 starts and three relief outings. He was a September call-up to the majors in 1965 after going 12-7, 2.18 in 223 innings at Double-A Dallas-Fort Worth of the Texas League. Hartenstein played just one game that year for the Cubs, coming on September 11th, when he came in as a pinch-runner. It was the only time in his six-year Major League career that he wasn’t used as a pitcher. He went 3-10, 2.94 in 156 innings with Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1966, while splitting his time between 17 starts and 21 relief appearances. Hartenstein was a September call-up again in 1966, pitching well in five appearances, allowing two runs in 9.1 innings. In 1967, he came up to the majors in June after posting a 3.94 ERA in 32 innings at Tacoma. He ended up pitching 45 games in relief for the Cubs that season, putting up a 9-5, 3.08 record and 11 saves in 73 innings. He wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, but he had excellent control, finishing that 1967 season with a 17:20 BB/SO ratio. His numbers weren’t as good in 1968, as he went 2-4, 4.54, getting just 28 appearances and 35.2 innings. Hartenstein pitched well during his time in Triple-A that year, posting a 1.86 ERA in 58 innings with Tacoma

The Pirates acquired Hartenstein from Chicago on January 15, 1969, along with infielder Ron Campbell, in exchange for outfielder Manny Jimenez. Hartenstein’s first season in Pittsburgh would end up being the only full season that he spent in the majors. He went 5-4, 3.95 in 56 appearances with 95.2 innings pitched and ten saves. He made 17 appearances for the 1970 Pirates, posting a 4.56 ERA in 23.2 innings, before they put him on waivers in June. He was picked up by the St Louis Cardinals, where he gave up 13 runs in 13.1 innings over six games. Hartenstein finished that 1970 season with the Boston Red Sox, going 0-3, 8.05 in 17 appearances. Between the three stops that season, he went 1-4, 6.75 in 56 innings over 40 appearances, while picking up two saves. He then spent the next six years in the minors, spending two years each at Triple-A with the Pacific Coast League affiliates of the Chicago White Sox (Tuscon), San Francisco Giants (Phoenix) and San Diego Padres (Hawaii). He pitched well during that time, with his highest ERA being 3.63 in a season, but it took a bit of good timing to get back to the majors for one last time. He mostly worked as a closer, picking up 59 saves total, while throwing 114 innings during one season. In 1977, he made 13 appearances for the Toronto Blue Jays in their first year of existence, going 0-2, 6.59 in 27.1 innings. The Blue Jays purchased his contract from the Padres in November of 1976. Hartenstein pitched 187 Major League games over his 14-year pro career, all as a reliever. He went 17-19, 4.52 in 297 innings, with 24 saves and an 89:135 BB/SO ratio, with 21 of those walks being intentional.

Jack Cronin, pitcher for the 1898 Pirates. He began his pro career at 21 years old in 1895 with Hartford of the Connecticut State League, and was in the majors by the end of the year, pitching for the Brooklyn Grooms. His minor league records are brief, and they show two wins in two starts, with a 3.00 ERA. He got hit hard in two relief appearances with Brooklyn, allowing ten hits and eight runs in five innings. Cronin then spent the next three years in the minors before getting his second chance at the big leagues with the 1898 Pirates. It’s no surprise that it took some time to get back because he had a rough 1896 season. He pitched 126 innings in 1896, while seeing time with two teams. Most of his results that year came with Pottsville of the Class-B Pennsylvania State League, where he went 2-6, 6.46 in 78 innings, with 47 walks and 19 strikeouts. He spent the rest of the year with New York of the Class-A Atlantic League, but there appears to be a major error in his online stats, saying he allowed over 20 runs per game but only six runs total were earned, so those aren’t reliable. Cronin pitched for Fall River of the Class-B New England League in 1897, where he’s credited with a 9-8, 1.05 record in 154.2 innings. In 1898, he went 8-9 in 171 innings for Fall River. His ERA isn’t available for that year, but he allowed 5.05 runs per nine innings, which was slightly higher than the previous season (4.31).

There was word that the owner of the New York Giants was seeing Cronin play after a recommendation in mid-July, but apparently news didn’t travel fast because Cronin and his teammate Hi Ladd had already signed with the Pirates back on July 6th. Ladd played for the Pirates on July 12th and it ended up being his only game with the team. Cronin had to wait a little while to get his first shot. His first appearance for the Pirates came on September 20th and it was in Brooklyn against his former team. He pitched shutout ball, as the Pirates won 15-0 that day. He allowed five singles, three walks and he struck out five batters. The local Brooklyn paper said that he showed fair control and plenty of speed (aka a good fastball), while another paper noted how effective his curveballs were that day. Part of the reason Cronin was able to start for the Pirates is because one of the regular starters, Billy Rhines, had been suspended for leaving the team. Cronin ended up going 2-2, 3.54 in four starts for the 1898 Pirates over the final three weeks of the season.

Cronin went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1899, but he opened the season in the minors after getting sold to the Detroit Tigers of the Class-A Western League on March 16th. The Cincinnati Reds gave him a late season trial before returning him to Detroit, where he spent the entire 1900 season in the newly-formed American League. He went 2-2, 5.49 in 41 innings over five starts with the Reds. In 1900, he had a 19-22 record and 372 innings pitched for the Tigers. When the American League became a Major League in 1901, a move that made Detroit a big league team, Cronin remained with the Tigers. He went 13-16, 3.89 in 219.2 innings, with 21 complete games in 28 starts. He went 8-11, 3.09 in 207 innings in 1902 while splitting the season between the Tigers, Baltimore Orioles (current day New York Yankees) and the New York Giants. Cronin spent the entire 1903 season with the Giants, going 6-4, 3.81 in 115.2 innings over 11 starts and nine relief appearances. He pitched for the Brooklyn Superbas (Dodgers) in 1904 and saw the most work of his career, while pitching for a team that finished 56-97. He went 12-23, 2.70 in 307 innings in his final season in the majors. Cronin was far from done at that point. He finished his career in the minors in 1912.  He won 29 games while playing for Providence of the Eastern League in 1905, then remained there until 1910, winning a total of 95 games during the 1905-09 seasons. His final season in the Eastern League in 1910 saw him split the year between Providence and Buffalo, though he won just four games total. He doesn’t have any 1911 stats, but he played briefly for Reading of the United State League in 1912 at 38 years old. His big league career saw him go 43-58, 3.40 in 923.1 innings. He won a total of 185 games in pro ball, though his 1899 and 1912 stats are missing.

The Debut

Sam Leever began a successful 13-year career in the majors during an 11-7 Pittsburgh loss to the Washington Senators on May 26, 1898. He was the third pitcher of the day for the Pirates, coming in during the second inning with his team down 5-2. He finished off the game, allowing six more runs, four of them coming in the seventh inning with Pittsburgh down 7-6 at the time. The local newspaper at the time praised his speed and control, saying “if he listened to instructions he should become a winner”. Leever went on to win 194 big league games, all for the Pirates. In a post-game interview, he promised to become a better hitter. The loss was a tough one for the Pirates that day. Washington was a last place team, coming into the game with a 6-22 record. The Senators manager was Tom Brown, a player for the Pirates/Alleghenys from 1885-1887. He lasted just nine more games at the helm before being replaced. The third baseman for Washington that day was Albert “Butts” Wagner, older brother of Honus Wagner, whose nickname has no apparent origin (I’ve searched, a lot).

The Great Game

On this date in 1959, Harvey Haddix pitched one of the most famous losses ever, going down 1-0 to the Milwaukee Braves in 13 innings. He retired the first 36 batters he faced that day, before the first batter in the 13th reached on an error. That was followed by an out, an intentional walk and an odd double. Joe Adcock homered, then passed Hank Aaron on the bases. Instead of a 3-0 loss, it was a 1-0 game and Haddix got credit for an extra out in his pitching line. Haddix struck out eight batters. On of the things that gets lost in this game is the work of the opposing pitcher. Lew Burdette threw a 13-inning shutout that day. He scatted plenty of hits, but didn’t hurt himself with any walks. In fact, the intentional walk from Haddix was the only walk of the game.

Here’s the boxscore