Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note.
On this date in 1949, the Pirates sent pitcher Kirby Higbe to the New York Giants for infielder Bobby Rhawn and pitcher Ray Poat. Higbe came to the Pirates in 1947 from the Brooklyn Dodgers, owner at the time of a 97-72 career record. He was 34 years old at the time of this Pirates/Giants deal, being used in a limited role for Pittsburgh. He had a 0-2, 13.50 in six relief appearances and one start, throwing 15.1 innings, with 37 base runners allowed. Poat was 31 years old at time, in his sixth season in the majors. He didn’t have the track record of Higbe, winning 22 games in his career, while making 45 starts and 60 relief appearances. Poat had pitched just two games for the Giants in 1949, allowing six runs in 2.1 innings. Rhawn was 30 years old with 63 games of Major League experience, spread out over three seasons with the Giants. He played three infielder positions, seeing work everywhere but first base. He was batted .172 in 14 games in 1949 before the deal.
After the deal, Rhawn started two games at third base, pinch-hit once, then was put on waivers. His stay with Pittsburgh lasted nine days, ending when he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He played 24 games with Chicago in 1949 before finishing his career in the minors. Poat started his first two games with the Pirates before moving to the bullpen. He struggled in his 11 outings, posting a 6.25 ERA in 36 innings, with 67 base runners allowed. He finished his career the next year in the minors. Higbe didn’t have to do much to make this deal a win for the Giants. He was put in their bullpen, where he made 37 appearances and had a 3.47 ERA in 80.1 innings pitched. He pitched with New York through July of 1950, making 18 more appearances before being sent to the minors. He pitched another 3 1/2 years down on the farm before retiring. As far as value, Higbe had 0.6 WAR after the deal, while Rhawn and Poat combined for -0.6 WAR.
Doug Frobel, outfielder for the 1982-85 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in late 1977 as an amateur free agent at 18 years old out of Canada. He started off slow in the minors during his first two years, then broke out in the 1980 season. During his first season in 1978, he was placed in A-Ball with Charleston of the Western Carolinas League, where he hit .237 with 30 runs, 15 doubles, two homers and 33 RBIs in 93 games. He spent half of the 1979 season in short-season ball with Auburn of the New York-Penn League, after beginning the year back in Low-A with Shelby of the Western Carolinas League. Frobel hit a combined .234 with 27 runs, seven doubles, seven homers and 44 RBIs in 83 games that season. He hit .325 with 42 runs, 14 doubles, 13 homers and 41 RBIs in 67 games while playing for Shelby of the South Atlantic League in 1980, earning a promotion to Advanced-A with Salem of the Carolina League. There he batted just .236 in 40 games, but added eight doubles and seven more homers. Frobel moved up to Double-A Buffalo of the Eastern League in 1981, where he lead the team with 28 homers, while batting .251 in 135 games, with 72 runs, 17 doubles, 78 RBIs and 55 walks. The downside was that he had 147 strikeouts.
Playing for Triple-A Portland in the Pacific Coast League in 1982, Frobel hit .261 with 76 runs, 38 doubles, 23 homers, 75 RBIs, 50 walks and 21 stolen bases in 135 games. He got a September call-up that year and he hit .206 with two doubles and two homers in 16 games for the Pirates. Frobel returned to the minors in 1983, where he hit .304 with 66 runs, 18 doubles, 24 homers, 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 101 games for Hawaii (PCL), earning himself a promotion back to Pittsburgh in mid-August. He would hit better during his second trial in the majors, batting .283 in 32 games, with four doubles, three homers and an .861 OPS. Frobel was with the Pirates on Opening Day in 1984 as their starting right fielder. He struggled mightily, with his average under .200 for more than four months of the season. For two months of the year his average was in the .130-.150 range, but the Pirates stuck with him at the Major League level for the entire season. Frobel finished with a .203 average, 33 runs, nine doubles, 12 homers and 28 RBIs in 306 plate appearances over 126 games. He was with the Pirates for most of 1985 as a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter, but after a .202 average and no homers through mid-August, he was sold to the Montreal Expos. Frobel would play 12 games and hit .130 for the Expos in 1985 after spending time at Triple-A. He spent all of 1986 in the minors with the New York Mets, hitting .249 with 11 homers and a low walk rate that led to a .718 OPS for Tidewater of the Triple-A International League.
Frobel made his last Major League appearance with the 1987 Cleveland Indians, playing 29 games, with just seven starts. He was with the team for about seven weeks early in the year, then returned for a brief time in mid-August. He batted just 46 times with Cleveland, hitting .100 with two homers, five RBIs and five walks. Frobel played two more seasons in the minors before retiring, splitting the 1988-89 seasons between the Expos, Chicago White Sox and a stint in Mexico. He spent part of each season back in Double-A, and he hit just .159 in 56 games during his final season. Frobel hit .213 with 20 doubles, 17 homers, 49 RBIs, 62 runs scored and 13 steals in 227 games with the Pirates. He was a .201 hitter in 268 big league games, finishing with a .642 OPS. According to modern metrics, he was a slightly below replacement level outfielder, finishing with -0.6 dWAR.
Fresco Thompson, second baseman for the 1925 Pirates. He played three seasons in the minors before making his big league debut in September of 1925 with the Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 21 years old in 1923. Thompson split his first season between Class-D ball with Grand Island of the Nebraska State League (133 games) and Class-A Omaha of the Western League (26 games), and he did much better at the higher level. As reference, that would be like jumping from short-season ball to Double-A now. He combined to hit .303 with 38 doubles, seven triples and one homer that season. He spent the 1924 season with Omaha, where he batted .304 with 36 doubles, 13 triples and seven homers in 166 games. The Pirates acquired his rights on December 2, 1924 in exchange for pitcher Arnie Stone and a cash sum that wasn’t released, but said to be at least $10,000. Thompson was with the Pirates during Spring Training of 1925 before being shipped to the minors on April 18th, four days after Opening Day. He was sent out with a stipulation included that the Pirates could recall him with five days notice. Before rejoining the Pirates in August of 1925, he was with Kansas City of the Double-A American Association (highest level of the minors at the time), where he was hitting .288 with 12 doubles, 22 triples and one homer in 113 games. Thompson was recalled on August 16th and rejoined the Pirates on August 21st, but he didn’t get into his first game until his 16th day back with the team. Pittsburgh was in first place at the time and had a comfortable lead with a month to go in the season. Regular second baseman Eddie Moore had moved to right field, being replaced at second base by Johnny Rawlings, who didn’t last there long. He broke his ankle after taking over the spot, and then Thompson moved into the second base role. He would hit .243 in 14 games with eight RBIs that September, starting just a handful of those games before Moore moved back to his old position. The Pirates won the World Series over the Washington Senators in seven games, although Thompson didn’t play in the series.
Thompson was released outright to Buffalo of the American Association on December 12, 1925. He spent the 1926 season there, hitting .330 with 39 doubles, eight triples and 26 homers in 159 games. He returned to the big leagues with the New York Giants in September of 1926, going 5-for-8 with two walks in his only two games, then was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in the off-season in a three-team deal that also included Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Thompson manned second base for Philadelphia for four seasons, hitting .300 with 219 RBIs and 369 runs scored in 575 games. He batted .303 with career highs of 14 triples, 19 steals, 70 RBIs and 153 games played in 1927. He also had 78 runs scored and 32 doubles, while finishing with a .752 OPS. The Pirates almost reacquired him after the 1927 season when they were trying to trade star outfielder Kiki Cuyler. Thompson received mild MVP support (12th place finish) in 1928 after hitting .284 with 34 doubles, 11 triples, 50 RBIs, 19 steals and 99 runs scored. His best was still yet to come. In 1929, he hit .324 with career highs of 41 doubles, 75 walks and 115 runs scored. His .817 OPS in 148 games was his career best. Despite the high walk total, he cracked the 200-hit mark (202) for the only time in his career. His final season in Philadelphia saw him hit .282 with 77 runs, 34 doubles and 46 RBIs in 122 games, though the 1930 season was a huge one for offense, so his numbers were mediocre that year.
Thompson was traded to Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) just after the 1930 season ended, as part of a five-player/cash deal. He hit .265 with 26 runs, eight extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 74 games in 1931. He was the starting second baseman until June 9th, then he became the backup infielder, starting just five games over the rest of the season. He played three early season games off of the bench in 1932 before being sent to Jersey City of the International League for the rest of the season. There he hit .299 with 44 extra-base hits in 102 games. He split the 1933 season between Buffalo and Jersey City, where incomplete stats credit him with a .301 average and 52 extra-base hits in 162 games. Thompson pinch-hit for the New York Giants in the sixth game of the 1934 season, which ended up being his final big league game. He spent the rest of the year with Montreal of the International League, hitting .311 with 55 extra-base hits in 135 games. He did just as well in 1935, batting .310 with 53 extra-base hits in 155 games for Montreal. The 1936 season was split between Montreal and Minneapolis of the Double-A American Association. He combined to hit .323 in 149 games, with 39 doubles, eight triples and 18 homers. Despite those strong numbers over three seasons at the highest level of the minors, he never got another big league chance.
Thompson had a 19-year career as a player in pro ball, including parts of nine seasons in the majors. His final five seasons (1937-41) saw him play for five different teams, eventually dropping down to Reading of the Class-B Interstate League for his last year. Fresco (real first name was Lafayette, Fresco was his middle name) managed eight years in the minors, the first four as a player/manager. He was a .298 hitter in 669 big league games, with 400 runs, 149 doubles, 13 homers, 249 RBIs, 69 steals and a .751 OPS. Modern metrics rate him as well below average defensively, leaving him with a career 0.4 WAR
Jake Hewitt, left-handed pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. He joined the Pirates after first pitching for West Virginia University for two years, then spending 1894-95 playing semi-pro ball in the Pittsburgh area. Before joining the Pirates in 1895, he had a short stint that year with Warren of the Class-C Iron and Oil League, a local minor league in the Pittsburgh surrounding area. The Pirates approached him about a trial with the big league club on July 26th, but he had a sore leg at the time and said that he wouldn’t pitch until it was better. He made his Major League debut in relief on August 6, 1895, coming in during the seventh inning of a game that the Pirates were winning 14-1 at the time. He kept the St Louis Browns scoreless for three innings to pick up a save. Nine days later, after making a second relief appearance, he made his first start against the Chicago Colts (Cubs). Hewitt pitched great in the first inning, then after thinking he struck out the first batter in the second on a full count pitch, he lost his composure. He hit the next batter, then failed to get an out on a bunt back to the mound, which was followed by a single, then an error, leading to his departure with no outs in the second inning. The local newspaper claimed that Hewitt “suffered stage fright” against the strong Chicago team. Wanting to see what they had in him, the Pirates ran Hewitt out there the very next day and he picked up a 5-2 complete game win against the same Chicago club.
Despite the strong pitching performance in his second start against the Colts, he never played in the majors again, finishing his pro career with three more seasons in the minors. On August 23, 1895, one week after his final big league game, Hewitt was loaned to Rochester of the Class-A Eastern League (highest level of the minors at the time), where he had a 4.19 ERA in 58 innings over eight games, compiling just ten strikeouts. With the Pirates, he had a 1-0, 4.15 record in 13 innings. He was signed by the Pirates for the 1896 season, and was originally going to remain in Rochester, but they switched his assignment to Grand Rapids of the Class-A Western League before the season started. Grand Rapids let him go due to poor pitching and he ended up with New Castle of the Class-C Interstate League, where he spent the rest of his pro career, though the last two years saw the Interstate League reclassified as a Class-B league. Most of his minor league stats are missing from his 1896-98 seasons, but we know that he compiled a 10-13 record in 1898, while hitting .262 in 32 games. As a side note to his time in Pittsburgh, Hewitt didn’t actually sign with the Pirates until August 7th, the day after his MLB debut. His initial appearance was on a trial basis, but when he showed good velocity and some strong curveballs, the Pirates released backup infielder Bill Niles and signed Hewitt. The local papers called him “Farmer Hewitt”. He played semi-pro ball near his hometown in the Morgantown, WV area in 1899 for a team called the D.C. & A.C., and he was found playing some semi-pro ball in 1900 for a team from New Castle, and the last mention of him pitching was for a team in Irwin, Pa. in 1903.