This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 12th, Ellis Throws a No-No

Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date and one transaction of note. We also have a special game of note.

The Game

On this date in 1970, Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter over the San Diego Padres on the road. The Pirates won 2-0, as Ellis struck out six batters, but managed to work around eight walks. It was the fourth no-hitter in team history that went at least nine innings, with two previous no-hitters ending early (though I personally think they should count). Ellis had said that he was on LSD during this game, while many of his teammates that day deny that story. It at least makes for a good tale. Here is the boxscore.

The Trade

On this date in 1946, the Pirates traded outfielder Johnny Barrett to the Boston Braves in exchange for outfielder Chuck Workman. Before joining the Braves in 1943, Workman played just nine games in the majors over his first six seasons in pro ball. In 1943, at age 28, he went from the minors to an everyday player, hitting .249 with ten homers and 67 RBIs in 153 games. With Major League baseball nearly depleted by players serving in the war during this time, Workman was able to see full-time duty with the Braves for three seasons. In 1944, he hit just .208, but the team stuck with him and they were rewarded with a strong 1945 season that saw him hit .274 with 25 homers and 87 RBIs. Barrett had a similar story, playing five seasons in the minors before coming up with the 1942 Pirates at age 26, moving into a full-time job throughout the war years. In 1944, he led the National League in triples and stolen bases, while scoring 99 times and driving in 83 runs. The next season, he hit a career high 15 homers, with 97 runs scored, 79 walks, 25 stolen bases and 67 RBIs. At the time of the deal, both outfielders were struggling, Workman hitting .167 in 25 games, Barrett batting .169 in 32 contests.

After the trade, the left-handed hitting Workman, was in a platoon role in right field with Bob Elliott, who batted righty. Workman hit .221 with 11 runs, seven extra-base hits and 16 RBIs in 58 games for the Pirates. With the talent level back to normal in the majors by the start of 1947, he was back in the minors, where he finished his playing career five seasons later. Barrett played just 24 games for the Braves, missing nearly two months after tearing a muscle in his leg which required surgery. In 55 plate appearances, he hit .233 with 12 walks (just one strikeout) and six RBIs. Just like Workman, he returned to the minors, playing until 1951, without ever making it back to the big leagues.

The Players

Otto Knabe, infielder for the 1905 and 1916 Pirates. Prior to playing his first pro game in 1905 at 21 years old, Knabe had played and managed local amateur ball near Pittsburgh. He began his career in the Class-A Western League in Colorado Springs, hitting .287 with 23 extra-base hits in 93 games. The Pirates took him in the Rule 5 draft on September 5, 1905 and brought him to the majors soon afterwards. They got him into the starting lineup for three games at third base, including both games of a doubleheader on October 3rd. On October 7th, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs agreed days ahead of time to start Hans Lobert (Cubs) and Knabe at third base in the game, two local kids, in what turned out to be a huge affair in the city, including a parade for the young players. Knabe ended up going 3-for-10 with a double, two RBIs and three walks in his three games with the Pirates. After the 1905 season, he was reserved for the 1906 season, but he ended up being sold to Toledo of the Class-A American Association in mid-December, where he hit .282 with 28 extra-base hits in 149 games in 1906. In late 1906, he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Rule 5 draft. While in Philadelphia, he was their everyday second baseman for seven seasons. He was known as one of the best bunters in the game, four times leading the league in sacrifice hits. Knabe was recognized as a valuable role player during the 1911-13 seasons, receiving MVP votes all three years.

Knabe played 129 games during the 1907 season, hitting .255 with 67 runs scored, 26 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, 52 walks and a league leading 40 sacrifice hits. He played a career high 151 games in 1908, batting .218 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 49 walks, 27 steals and 63 runs scored. He led the league that year with a career best 42 sacrifice hits. In 1909, Knabe played 113 games, putting up a .234 average, with 40 runs, 16 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs and a .589 OPS, which was six points better than the previous season. The next season he hit .261 in 137 games, with 73 runs scored, 18 doubles, six triples, 44 RBIs, 15 steals and a .652 OPS. He batted just .237 in 1911, but it came with 94 walks, 23 steals and a career best 99 runs scored in 142 games. He had a .646 OPS that year and he finished 22nd in the MVP voting. That was the only year he had more than 55 walks in a season. Knabe put up his best average in 1912, hitting .282 with 56 runs, 46 RBIs 15 steals and 55 walks in 126 games. He failed to hit a home run that season, but still set his career high with a .693 OPS. He finished 11th in the MVP voting race, his best finish. He set a career high in RBIs in 1913 with 53, while also scoring 70 runs. In 148 games that year, he hit .263 with 25 doubles, seven triples and two homers. He finished 19th in the MVP voting.

When a third Major League named the Federal League was formed for the 1914 season, Knabe jumped to the new league. He became the player/manager of the Baltimore Terrapins for two seasons, which was the entire existence of the league at the Major League level. In 1914, he batted .226 in 147 games, with 45 runs, 30 extra-base hits, 42 RBIs and 53 walks. He led the team to an 84-70 record, with six ties. He hit .253 with 38 runs, 25 RBIs and a .659 OPS in 103 games in 1915, which was his lowest full-season game total in the majors. His team finished in last/eighth place, going 47-107, which put them 24 games back of the seventh place team. Going into the 1916 season, Knabe was without a job. He came to the Pirates in April after getting no offers and worked out with the team to get fit. Injuries forced the Pirates to sign him and insert him in the lineup at second base before he was in game-playing shape. Pittsburgh ended up sending him home on June 1st after hitting just .191 in 28 games. They said at the time that he was too out of shape to play good baseball. but didn’t blame him for the lack of effort. Knabe was traded to the Chicago Cubs in July and finished his big league career with 51 more games during that 1916 season, hitting .276 with 17 runs, eight doubles and seven RBIs. He was a .247 career hitter in 1,278 games over 11 seasons, scoring 572 runs and stealing 143 bases. Knabe had 178 doubles, 48 triples, eight homers and 365 RBIs, with more walks (485) than strikeouts (326). Before retiring, he played minor league ball in 1917 with Richmond of the Double-A International League and 1920-21 with Kansas City of the Double-A American Association..

George Kontos, pitcher for the 2017-18 Pirates. He was in his seventh season in the majors when the Pirates picked him up off of waivers during the middle of 2017. Kontos played one year for the New York Yankees and six seasons for the San Francisco Giants. The Yankees drafted him in the fifth round in 2006 out of Northwestern University. He was strictly a reliever in the majors, but he debuted in the minors as a starter. In the short-season New York-Penn League in 2006, he went 7-3, 2.64, with 82 strikeouts in 78.1 innings over 14 starts. He skipped to High-A Tampa in 2007 and had a 4.02 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 94 innings, while playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He played winter ball in Hawaii that year, where he had a 3.71 ERA in 34 innings. In 2008, he made 27 starts and tossed 151.2 innings for Double-A Trenton. He posted a 6-11, 3.68 record that season, with 152 strikeouts. When the Pirates traded Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Yankees in 2008, Kontos was originally listed as part of the deal, along with pitcher Phil Coke. The Pirates ended up with both pitchers, but not until 2017 for Kontos and 2016 for Coke.

Kontos was limited to 13 starts in 2009, split between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Between both stops, he had a 3.15 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 71.1 innings. He switched to relief in 2010 and he had a 3.60 ERA in 45 innings, split over three levels, seeing time with Scranton/WB, Trenton and Tampa. The San Diego Padres selected him in the Rule 5 draft on December 9, 2010, but they returned him two full weeks before the 2011 season started. That season was spent in Scranton/WB, where he had a 4-4, 2.62 record, two saves and 91 strikeouts in 89.1 innings over 40 appearances (four starts). The Yankees called him up to the majors in September and he allowed two runs over six innings and seven appearances. Kontos was traded to the Giants in 2012 for catcher (and former Pirate) Chris Stewart. Kontos split the next three seasons about 60/40 between the majors and Triple-A Fresno of the Pacific Coast League. He had a 2.47 ERA over 43.2 innings and 44 appearances in 2012 with the Giants, helping them to a World Series title. He threw 3.2 shutout innings in the NLDS that season, but the rest of the postseason didn’t go well, with four runs over 1.2 innings in four appearances.

Kontos had a 4.39 ERA in 52 games and 55.1 innings in 2013. That year he threw shutout ball in 38 of his 52 appearances, but he had five games in which he gave up three earned runs (15 runs over 7.2 innings). He was 4-0, 2.78 in 2014, though more time was spent in the minors that year, limiting him to 24 appearances and 32.1 innings with the Giants. San Francisco won the World Series again that season, but he did not pitch in the postseason. Kontos set career highs with 73 games and 73.1 innings in 2015, and his 2.33 ERA was a career best. He was nearly as good in 2016, putting up a 2.53 ERA in 53.1 innings over 57 outings. Before joining the Pirates on August 5, 2017, he had a 3.83 ERA in 51.2 innings over 50 appearances with the Giants. He had a 1.84 ERA over 14.2 innings and 15 appearances with the Pirates in 2017 after making his team debut on August 7th. His 70 strikeouts that season (in 66.1 innings) were a career high. In 2018, Kontos struggled with a 5.03 ERA in 21 appearances and 19.2 innings for the Pirates. He was released at the end of May, and ended up playing for both the Cleveland Indians and Yankees later that season, though that time amounted to a total of seven innings over seven appearances. He finished the year with 4.39 ERA in 26.2 innings. One season after putting up his best strikeouts rate (9.5 per nine innings), he put up his lowest in 2018 (5.1 per nine innings). Kontos saw minor league time with an independent league team, and the Washington Nationals in 2019, which ended up being his final season. Kontos had an 18-18, 3.10 career record over 357 innings and 350 outings, making all of his big league appearances in relief. He had two saves and both of them came with the Pirates.

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