Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a first baseman for the 1925 World Series champs.
Hal Smith, catcher for the 1965 Pirates. When he played for the Pirates in 1965, it was the first time he played pro ball since 1961 with the St Louis Cardinals. After signing with the Cardinals in 1949 as an 18-year-old amateur free agent, it took Smith seven years to make his Major League debut. His career in pro ball didn’t get off to a great start. In the low levels of the minors in 1949-50, he put up identical .224 averages each season. In 1949, he was playing for Albany of the Class-D Florida-Georgia League, where he had a .576 OPS, 50 runs scored and 31 RBIs in 99 games. The 1950 season was spent with Hamilton of the Class-D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, where he had 13 extra-base hits (all doubles) to go along with his .224 average in 79 games. He also had a brief stop of two games with Lynchburg of the Class-B Piedmont League. That was followed by missing the 1951 season while serving in the military. When he returned in 1952, he batted .238 with one double and one homer in 31 games split between Omaha of the Class-A Western League (20 games) and Allentown of the Class-B Interstate League. Smith spent the entire 1953 season playing for Omaha, where he hit .215 with 33 runs, 12 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and a .543 OPS in 107 games. He moved a level up to the Double-A Texas League in 1954 and hit .259 with 27 runs, 15 extra-base hits and 39 RBIs in 79 games for Houston. It was an improvement over all of his previous seasons, but the best was yet to come.
Smith batted .299 for Houston in 1955, with 22 doubles, seven triples and eight homers in 139 games. Those were career highs for all five statistical categories in the minors. He then spent the next six seasons in the majors with St Louis (1956-61), where he was a two-time All-Star. Smith batted .282 with 27 runs, 17 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs in 75 games as a rookie in 1956. His .727 OPS was the best of his career. That was followed by his first All-Star season in 1957, when he batted .279 in 100 games, with 25 runs, 17 extra-base hits and 37 RBIs. Smith saw his offense slide in 1958, as he hit .227 with six extra-base hits in 77 games, resulting in a .541 OPS. He rebounded nicely in 1959, making his second All-Star appearance. They played two All-Star games that year, so technically he made three All-Star games, but the same players were involved in both games. Smith batted .270 that season, while setting career highs with 35 runs, 13 homers and 50 RBIs. He played 142 games that year, including 128 starts at catcher. The next season saw him slide once again down to a .228 average with two homers, though he set a career high with 16 doubles. He had a .585 OPS that year in 127 games (108 starts behind the plate). In both 1959 and 1960, he threw out more runners than any other catcher in the National League and he had the highest caught stealing percentage (51.5%) during the 1960 season.
After hitting .248 with five extra-base hits, ten RBIs and a .605 OPS in 45 games in 1961, Smith became a coach for the Cardinals. He then worked two years in their minor league system before joining the Pirates in 1965 as a coach. When injuries behind the plate struck Pittsburgh, Smith was put on the active roster. He started a game on July 1st, going 0-for-3 at the plate, then came in as a defensive replacement in three other games over the next week without any at-bats before moving back to full-time coaching. He was with the Pirates organization through the 1967 season and was playing for the team during that last Spring Training, with word that he might be activated as a player if the other catchers weren’t up to the task. He was never activated though and the following year he moved on to a coaching job with the Cincinnati Reds. He finished his career as a .258 hitter in 570 games, with 126 runs, 63 doubles, 23 homers and 172 RBIs. There have been three Hal Smiths in MLB history and all three played for the Pirates. One was a catcher for the 1960 World Series champs. The other spent his entire four-year career as a pitcher with the 1932-35 Pirates.
Lou Tost, pitcher for the Pirates on April 24, 1947. He first played minor league ball in 1934, but didn’t make his Major League debut until eight years later for the Boston Braves. His pro career got a late start and did not begin with a bang. At 23 years old, he pitched one game for Sacramento of the Double-A Pacific Coast League and gave up four runs in his only inning. The next year he played just ten games for Mission of the PCL (no stats available). He finally saw regular action in 1936, though he dropped down to Class-C ball to do it, four levels lower than the PCL. Tost went 15-14, 4.45 in 261 innings for Muskogee of the Western Association that season. He moved back up to the PCL, where he spent the 1937 season with Mission, and then the following four seasons with the Hollywood Stars. In 1937, he went 9-8, 3.45 in 204 innings. With Hollywood in 1938, he went 11-16, 3.48 in 220 innings, with 12 complete games, three shutouts and 103 strikeouts. He saw a drop in his results and his workload over the next two seasons. Tost pitched 121 innings in 1939, making 16 starts and 17 relief appearances, compiling a 5-10, 4.98 record. He then pitched mostly in relief in 1940, going 4-6, 4.07 in 135 innings over eight starts and 38 relief outings. Just when it seemed as if he was going backwards in his journey to make the majors, the 1941 season turned things around.
At age 30 in 1941, Tost went 13-10, 3.85 in 243 innings over 47 games for Hollywood. He made 26 starts and tossed 13 complete games. He was traded to the Boston Braves in late September of 1941 and saw plenty of action during his rookie season. He went 10-10, 3.53 in 147.2 innings for the 1942 Braves, making 22 starts and 13 relief appearances. He pitched just three games for the Braves in 1943 before the military came calling. He allowed five runs in 6.2 innings over one start and two relief appearances that year. Tost missed most of 1943 and all of the 1944-45 seasons in the service, then returned to the minors during the 1946 season. While playing for Seattle of the PCL that year, he went 16-13, 2.70 with 158 strikeouts in 240 innings. He was in camp with the Braves in 1947 until the Pirates purchased his contract in late March for $10,000. It came as a surprise to the people in Boston, who thought they were giving up a good pitcher for nothing more than cash. His Pirates career didn’t turn out so well though. On April 24th, he came in to pitch the 8th inning against the Chicago Cubs, with the Pirates down 5-4 at the time. Tost faced six batters, allowing one run on three hits in his only inning of work. Just three days after that game, he was optioned to Indianapolis, where he finished out the year by going 11-12, 4.35 in 178 innings. On October 9th, the Pirates released him outright to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League as part of the payment for catcher Ed FitzGerald.
Tost played another five seasons in the minors before retiring in 1952, ending a 16-year pro career. He pitched the 1948-50 seasons in the Pacific Coast League, but for his final two seasons he dropped down in competition, pitching Class-B ball in 1951 and Class-C ball in 1952. He split the 1948 season between Sacramento and Oakland of the PCL, compiling a 12-15 record in 226 innings. He remained in Oakland for 1949-50, going 14-7, 4.01 in 157 innings in 1949, followed by a 6-5, 4.98 record in 94 innings in 1950. Tost had a 10-6, 2.77 record in 117 innings with Wenatchee of the Western International League in 1951. The only stat available from his final season with San Jose of the California League is 17 games pitched.He won a total of 124 games in pro ball and pitched 2,126.1 innings total, but his big league time was limited to a 10-11, 3.65 record in 155.1 innings over 23 starts and 16 relief appearances. His only career shutout was a game limited to six innings due to rain.
Al Niehaus, first baseman for the 1925 Pirates. He played his first three years of pro ball in the Class-C Florida State League, four steps from the majors. Niehaus debuted with Jacksonville in 1921 at 22 years old and hit .258 with 20 extra-base hits in 109 games. He had a much better year in 1922 when he batted .332 for Jacksonville in 112 games, with 27 extra-base hits. That was following by a .364 average and 43 extra-base hits in 115 games for Bradenton during the 1923 season. He also spent brief time that year with Atlanta of the Southern Association, though his listed stats online from that team appear to be wrong, like due to that team having a pitcher with the same last name. Niehaus has a breakout season in the minors in 1924, hitting .366 with 53 extra-base hits for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class-A Southern League. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs after that breakout season in 1924, but he never got a chance to play for them. Pittsburgh acquired him from the Cubs on October 27, 1924 in a six-player deal (three going each way) that included Wilbur Cooper, Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, Vic Aldridge, Charlie Grimm and George Grantham, all much bigger name players than Niehaus. He became the Pirates everyday first baseman just over a week into the 1925 season, then lost the job after three weeks once his batting average fell to .205 on May 12th.
Pittsburgh signed star veteran first baseman Stuffy McInnis on May 29th, signaling the end with the Pirates for Niehaus. The Pirates traded him to the Cincinnati Reds on May 30, 1925 in exchange for pitcher Tom Sheehan. Niehaus finished up with a .219 average in 17 games for the Pirates, though he managed to collect eight doubles in his brief time. He hit .299 with 16 runs, 12 extra-base hits and 14 RBIs in 51 games for the Reds to finish out the year, then returned to the minors to play his last four years of pro ball before retiring. He was back with Atlanta for the entire 1926 season, hitting .276 in 129 games, with 29 doubles, seven triples and six homers. He then moved around the south during his final three years, seeing time with six different teams. He did well with Chattanooga in 1927, hitting .317 with 28 extra-base hits in 85 games. He also played 12 games that year with Asheville of the Class-B South Atlantic League. The 1928 season was spent back in the Southern League with Mobile, where he batted .312 in 156 games, with 41 extra-base hits. Despite that strong season, he bounced between three teams in 1929, seeing time with Memphis in the Southern League and Spartanburg and Columbia in the South Atlantic League. Barely two years after his career ended, he passed away from pneumonia at 32 years old.
Harry Gardner, pitcher for the 1911-12 Pirates. His pro career began at 21 years old in the Class-A Pacific Coast League (highest level at the time), with a brief trial for Oakland. He didn’t pitch much in his second season either, which was spent with Boise/Bozeman team in the Class-D Inter-Mountain League, meaning he went from the highest level of the minors to the lowest in one year. Gardner had a big year in 1910 for Vancouver of the Class-B Northwestern League, going 22-13, 2.38 in 288 innings. There was word on June 15th of that season that Barney Dreyfuss was willing to pay the $2,500 price tag to acquire Gardner and let him finish the season in Vancouver, but the owner of the team believed that he could be worth more if he finished the season strong. As it turned out, just one week later it was reported that Pirates scout Tim O’Rourke received a telegram from Dreyfuss saying that a deal was reached, and Vancouver would get $1,500 right away and then another $1,000 at the end of the year, while Gardner would remain with the team all season. Gardner made his debut with the Pirates on April 17, 1911, pitching in relief of Babe Adams, who gave up six runs in the first four innings. Gardner was said to look nervous and hesitant. At one point his slow delivery allowed a runner to steal home, but he settled down and allowed just that one run over his four innings of work. The team was impressed with how hard he threw, but he wasn’t ready for a full-time Major League job. He would end up being used 13 times during that season by the Pirates, three times as a starter, going 1-1, 4.50 in 42 innings, with 20 walks and 24 strikeouts.
Gardner was a bullpen pitcher for the 1912 Pirates, though he didn’t last long. He had one unimpressive outing in which he came in with the Pirates up 7-5 in the 7th inning and pitched one inning. Gardner allowed three inherited runners to score, as well as three runs of his own. His final outing with the team was on April 14th, but he remained with the Pirates until June 4th, when he was sent to St Paul of the Double-A American Association on an option. On August 13th, Gardner was one of five players traded to St Paul for infielder Art Butler. Including that 1912 season, Gardner pitched another 13 years in the minors without ever making it back to the big leagues. He was a 206-game winner in the minors, eight times amassing 17 or more victories in a season. He went 12-10 in 1912 with St Paul, while pitching 181 innings. In 1913, he had an 11-11 record, while pitching 245.1 innings over 44 appearances. The 1914 season was a rough one, as he finished 6-25, 4.21 in 265.1 innings for St Paul. The team had five pitchers lose at least 16 games each that season. Some of his 1915 stats are missing, but he’s credited with a 13-14 record in 245.2 innings over 48 appearances, splitting the season between St Paul and Kansas City of the American Association. Gardner went 17-14, 3.21 in 272 innings for Lincoln of the Class-A Western League in 1916, while also seeing brief time with Kansas City and Salt Lake City of the PCL. Some stats are missing from 1917, but he pitched for three teams again and he’s credit with a 19-14 record and 308.1 innings pitched. Most of the year was spent in the Northwestern League, split between Great Falls and Tacoma. He went 7-6, 2.10 in 124.1 innings for Portland of the PCL that year. His 1918 stats with Sacramento of the PCL are missing, but he was there until July when he started playing for Sloan of the Shipyard League, which was popular during the war.
Gardner had a 10-12 record in 168 innings in 1919, split between Sacramento and Seattle of the PCL. Seattle turned out to be his home for the next four seasons and he pitched well there. During the 1920-23 seasons, he averaged 290 innings pitched per season. He went 20-15, 2.52 in 279 innings in 1920. He had an 18-12, 2.94 record in 291 innings in 1921. That was followed up by a 17-15, 3.26 record in 287 innings in 1922. He finished up his Seattle time with a 22-12, 3.10 record in 305 innings. That was a strong season, but his career was nearly over at that point. Gardner had a 5-6, 5.36 record in 99 innings in 1924 for Portland, which ended up being his final season at 37 years old.
As a side note for Gardner, his career stats are listed wrong everywhere you look. During his one outing in 1912, he’s credited with six unearned runs while recording just one out. My own research found that he recorded three outs and allowed three runs, while the other three runs charged to him were actually inherited runners.
Bill Eagan, second baseman for the 1898 Pirates. He spent most of his 13-year pro career in the minors, getting three different shots at the majors with three different teams over a seven-year period. He debuted at 18 years old in 1887 with Scranton of the International Association. He has no pro records from 1888, but moved to Harrisburg of the Middle States League in 1889, and remained in town playing for Harrisburg in two different leagues (Atlantic Association and Eastern Interstate League) during the 1890 season. He batted .298 with 16 extra-base hits and 37 runs scored in 47 games for the Atlantic Association team, which are the only stats available from his first three seasons. In 1891, he played for the St Louis Browns of the American Association. As their everyday second baseman, he played well defensively, but wasn’t much of a hitter, batting .219 with 19 extra-base hits in 82 games. Despite the low average/power stats, he was a decent run producer, with 49 runs, 43 RBIs, 44 walks and .649 OPS. Eagan then played for Albany of the Eastern League during the 1892-93 season, while also seeing six September games for the 1893 Chicago Colts (Cubs). He batted .261 in 1892, with 62 runs, 21 extra-base hits and 50 steals in 97 games. He was much better in 1893, as offense around baseball started to rise due to new pitching rules that helped the hitters. Eagan hit .333 in 115 games for Albany, with 140 runs scored, 37 extra-base hits and 75 steals. During his time with the Colts at the end of the season, he went 5-for-19 with three runs, four steals and five walks.
After his brief second big league trial, Eagan returned to the minors for all of the next four years (1894-97), spending the entire time with Syracuse of the Eastern League. The 1894 season was a huge one for offense all around baseball, but his numbers didn’t stand out. He batted .297 in 111 games, with 97 runs, 26 extra-base hits and 30 steals. Offense began to decline slowly in 1895 and he had a solid season, hitting .302 with limited power (16 doubles and two triples) and 43 steals in 113 games. No stats are available from the 1896 season, but in 1897, he batted .306 with 128 runs, 29 doubles and 50 stolen bases in 135 games. He was reportedly sold to the Pirates in September of 1897, only to have Brooklyn make a better offer to acquire him. There was a case brought up at the meeting of the owners on November 8th and Eagan was awarded to the Pirates. He was the starting second baseman for Pittsburgh early in the 1898 season and he would hit .328 with 14 runs scored, five extra-base hits, five RBIs and eight walks in 19 games, but on June 3rd he was replaced by newly acquired Tom O’Brien. Eagan never played in the majors again. Five days after the O’Brien trade, he was sold to Louisville, a team managed by Fred Clarke, who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career for the Pirates as a player and manager. Clarke denied the deal once he found out Eagan was injured during his last game, so he was sent home. He ended up signing with Syracuse of the Eastern League ten days later and was back on the field by June 19th. He played two more years in the minors before he retired from baseball, spending 1899 with Detroit of the Class-A Western League and 1900 with Youngstown/Marion of the Class-B Interstate League. His final big league stats show a .239 average in 107 games, with 66 runs, 24 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs and 26 steals.