Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note.
On this date in 1918, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Elmer Jacobs to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Erskine Mayer. Erskine Mayer was a 28-year-old righty, in his seventh season in the majors, all spent with Philadelphia. He had a 76-61, 2.81 career record in 1,191.2 innings with the Phillies. At the time of the trade, he was 7-4, 3.12 in 104 innings over 13 starts. Jacobs had a 3.03 ERA in 403.2 innings with the Pirates, though his record stood at 12-30 at the time of the deal because the 1917 Pirates were one of the worst teams in franchise history. The 25-year-old righty began his Major League career with the 1914 Phillies, pitching 14 games there prior to being sold to the Pirates.
After the deal, Mayer pitched great for the 1918 Pirates, going 9-3, 2.26 in 123.1 innings. He had his share of troubles in 1919, with a 4.48 ERA in 88.1 innings. The Pirates put him on waivers in August of 1919, where he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox, the team that threw the 1919 World Series months later. Jacobs had a similar tale as Mayer after the deal, although he pitched in the majors off-and-on until 1927, outlasting Mayer by eight years in the majors. Jacobs pitched well in 1918, going 9-5, 2.41 in 123 innings, then went 6-10, 3.85 in 128.2 innings for the 1919 Phillies before they dealt him to the St Louis Cardinals, just weeks before the Pirates gave up on Mayer. Jacobs had a 37-48 record after the trade to the Phillies.
Rob Mackowiak, utility player for the 2001-05 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates as a 53rd round draft pick in 1996 out of South Suburban College, one year after getting picked in the 30th round by the Cincinnati Reds. That’s a school that has produced just three MLB players through the draft. Mackowiak had a slow climb through the minors, spending time at all six levels, playing parts of two seasons at both High-A and Double-A. He was drafted as a shortstop, but barely played the position in pro ball. He went to the Gulf Coast League in 1996, where he hit .267 with a .727 OPS in 27 games. He moved up to the New York-Penn League in 1997 and hit .286 in 61 games for Erie, with 26 runs, 14 doubles, 25 RBIs and his first career homer. Mackowiak split the 1998 season between the two full-season A-Ball teams, combining to hit .268 with 28 doubles, six triples and four homers in 111 games. He had a .712 OPS in 25 games with Low-A Augusta of the South Atlantic League, and a .749 OPS in 86 games with Lynchburg of the High-A Carolina League. The 1999 season was split between Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League. He hit .286 that season, with 22 doubles, seven triples, ten homers, 57 RBIs and 72 runs scored in 127 games. His best season in the minors was 2000, playing the entire yearfor Altoona, where he hit .297 with 82 runs, 33 doubles, 13 homers, 87 RBIs and 18 stolen bases, finishing with a .780 OPS. He played just 32 games in Triple-A with Nashville of the Pacific Coast League in 2001 before making it to the majors for the first time. He hit .263 with a .708 OPS for Nashville that year.
Mackowiak made his big league debut on May 19, 2001. He played 83 games his rookie season, getting starts at both corner outfield spots and second base. He also played third base and first base off of the bench. He batted .266 with 30 runs, 15 doubles, four homers, 21 RBIs and a .730 OPS. In 2002, he started 20+ games at three different positions, right field, center fielder and third base. Mackowiak hit .244 with 57 runs, 22 doubles, 16 homers, 48 RBIs and a .754 OPS in 136 games that year. He was playing the super utility role in 2003 until June when his average dropped to .183, earning him a demotion to Nashville until late August. Despite struggling in Triple-A with a .230 average and a .604 OPS, he finished the year on a hot streak with the Pirates, batting .270/.342/.443 over 77 games that season.
Mackowiak carried that late success into 2004 when he had his best career season, setting highs with 65 runs, 22 doubles (tied), 17 homers, 75 RBIs, 13 steals, 50 walks and 155 games played. He started 51 games at third base and 71 games in the outfield split between all three spots. The 2005 season saw him hit .272 in 142 games, his highest average while with Pittsburgh. He had 57 runs, 21 doubles, nine homers, 58 RBIs and a .726 OPS. He also added second base back into his playing time, getting 17 starts there. After the season, the Pirates traded him to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Damaso Marte. Mackowiak was used almost exclusively as an outfielder in 2006, hitting .290 with 31 runs, 12 doubles, five homers and 23 RBIs in 112 games (63 starts). He split the 2007 season between the White Sox and San Diego Padres, combining to hit .263 with 40 runs, 14 doubles, six homers and 38 RBIs in 113 games, seeing his most time in left field. He signed a free agent deal with the Washington Nationals for 2008, but he was released in June after hitting .132/.254/.208 in 38 games. Mackowiak never played in the majors again. He finished his career in 2009 in the minors, spending time with the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets. With the Pirates, he played 593 games, hitting .258 with 229 runs, 84 doubles, 52 homers and 221 RBIs. In his eight-year career, he hit .259 with 111 doubles, 64 homers, 286 RBIs and 307 runs scored in 856 games. He was successful on 49 of his 66 stolen base attempts.
Gary Varsho, outfielder for the Pirates in 1991-92 and 1994. He was a fifth round draft pick in 1982 by the Chicago Cubs out of the University of Wisconsin. Varsho spent 6 1/2 seasons in the minors before making his big league debut in in July of 1988. Despite that long journey, he began in Class-A ball and moved up one level each of the next two seasons. He hit .251 with 52 runs, 16 extra-base hits, 40 RBIs, 30 steals and 49 walks in 76 games in 1982 for Quad Cities of the Midwest League. In th Advanced-A California League with Salinas in 1983, he hit .263 with 69 runs, 32 extra-base hits, 57 RBIs and 46 steals in 131 games. In his first year in Double-A in 1984, Varsho batted .261 in 128 games, with 65 runs scored, 29 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs and 27 steals for Midland of the Texas League. He repeated the level in 1985 with Pittsfield of the Eastern League and he hit just .246 with 62 runs, 23 extra-base hits and 37 RBIs, while watching his OPS drop 76 points from .716 in 1984 down to a .640 mark. He stole 40 bases in 48 attempts. That down year in offense led to him spending a third full season at the level, where he batted .266 with 75 runs, 36 extra-base hits, 45 steals and a .765 OPS in 107 games for Pittsfield in 1986. Varsho moved up to Triple-A Iowa of the American Association in 1987 and he hit .302 with 41 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs, 87 runs scored and 37 steals, finishing with a .792 OPS. He was hitting .278 with 25 extra-base hits and a .772 OPS in 66 games in 1988 when the Cubs finally gave him his first shot at the majors in July. He would split each of his first three seasons in the majors jumping between Triple-A and Chicago.
Varsho hit .274 in 46 games his first year with the Cubs, though he started just 11 contests and had a .595 OPS due to just one walk and three extra-base hits (all doubles). He also saw more bench time with the Cubs in 1989, batting 91 times in 61 games, while hitting just .184 with a .496 OPS. He didn’t do much better with Iowa that year, hitting .232 with a .626 OPS. In 1990, he hit .250 in 46 games, batting just 49 times. He made one start all year. That season he did much better in Iowa, batting .301 with an .807 OPS in 63 games. In three years with the Cubs, he hit .231 in 153 games, with no homers and 12 RBIs. At the end of Spring Training in 1991, the Pirates acquired Varsho in exchange for outfielder Steve Carter. He would spend the entire 1991 season with the Pirates, getting the majority of his games in as a pinch-hitter, although he hit just .220 in that role. On the year, the left-handed hitting Varsho batted .273 with four homers, 23 runs scored and 23 RBIs in 99 games. In 1992, he started 27 of the 103 games he played, once again getting a lot of pinch-hitting chances with limited success (.236). For the season, he batted .222, with four homers, 22 runs, 22 RBIs and a .636 OPS. Varsho was put on waivers after the season, where he was picked up by the Cincinnati Reds. After one season in Cincinnati in which he hit .232/.302/.358 in 77 games (12 starts), he was released, re-signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent.
Varsho played 67 games for the Pirates during the strike-shortened 1994 season, getting nine starts all season. He hit .256 with 15 runs, nine extra-base hits and five RBIs in 90 plate appearances. He also saw brief time with Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association that year. Varsho became a free agent after the season and finished his playing career in Philadelphia the next year, hitting .252 with 11 RBIs and a .591 OPS in 113 plate appearances over 72 games (13 starts). In eight seasons in the majors, he hit .244 with 101 runs, 41 doubles, ten homers and 84 RBIs. He only stole 27 bases in the majors, compared to 259 steals in the minors. Despite the low total, he had a high success rate, going 27-for-32. He took up a managing position in the Phillies minor league system before moving up to the majors as a coach. In 2004, he managed the last two games of the season for the Phillies. He was then the Pirates bench coach from 2007 until 2010. He became a scout for the Los Angeles Angels, before returning to the Pirates as a pro scout in 2016. His son Daulton Varsho is a catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Clem Koshorek, infielder for the 1952-53 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1946 at 20 years old, spending six seasons in their minor league system before being picked up by the Pirates in the 1951 Rule 5 draft. He was a light-hitting shortstop, who debuted with Class-D Jamestown of the PONY League, where he hit .299 with 107 runs, 35 extra-base hits, 56 RBIs, 63 walks and an .804 OPS in 117 games. He moved up to A-Ball in 1947 and he hit .262 with 55 runs, 16 extra-base hits, 14 steals and a .665 OPS in 82 games for Williamsport of the Eastern League. Koshorek hit just .222/.303/.314 in 77 games for Charleston of the Class-A South Atlantic League in 1948, then spent 2 1/2 years playing for Flint of the Class-A Central League. He hit .297 in 30 games with Flint in 1948, to finish the year with a .656 OPS and 22 steals. He then batted .273 with 84 runs, 32 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs, 55 walks and 39 steals in 139 games in 1949. Koshorek hit .277 with 27 extra-base hits in 123 games for Flint in 1950. He played for Little Rock of the Double-A Southern Association in 1951, where he hit .261 with 26 doubles, seven triples and three homers in 153 games, leading to him joining the 1952 Pirates.
Koshorek was the starting shortstop through the first day of June for the 1952 Pirates, until he missed the next three weeks due to an injured right toe, which occurred while sliding. When he returned, he went through stretches of starting at second base, then third base, then back to second. He finished the year batting .261 with 17 extra-base hits (all doubles), 15 RBIs and 27 runs scored in 98 games (81 starts). In 1953, Koshorek would get just one at-bat for the Pirates, a strikeout as a pinch-hitter on Opening Day, before being sent to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League (one step from the majors), where he hit just .176 in 26 games. He was playing his 12th game with Toronto of the Triple-A International League in July when he broke his leg, which ended his season. On October 6, 1953 he was sold to New Orleans of the Southern Association. He would go on to play the last six seasons of his career in the minors, the final year as a player/manager. With New Orleans in 1954, he batted .271 in 150 games, with 114 runs scored, 36 extra-base hits, 19 steals and 92 walks. As he got older, Koshorek dropped down the minor league system, going from Triple-A in 1954-55, to Double-A in 1955-57, to A-Ball in 1958-59, then Class-D to end his career in 1959. He played for eight teams during his final five seasons in pro ball, and that’s despite spending part of 1956 and all of 1957 with Memphis of the Southern Association. Koshorek was the smallest Major Leaguer at the time, listed at 5’4″, 165 pounds. His defense was considered to be above Major League average at shortstop, with good range.
Bill Clemensen, pitcher for the Pirates in 1939, 1941 and 1946. He came without invitation to the Pirates Spring Training in 1937 at 17 years old and impressed the team enough that they signed him and sent him to the minors. He drew comparisons to Bob Feller at the time, though Feller had just one partial season in the majors when that happened and his young age likely had more to do with the comparison. Clemensen pitched two full seasons down on the farm before spending the 1939 season with the Pirates. He played for Class-C Hutchinson of the Western Association in 1937, where he went 16-10, 3.67 in 211 innings, with 122 walks. In 1938, he was 8-10, 3.96 in 141 innings for Gadsden of the Class-B Southeastern League. He had 105 walks and 83 strikeouts that season. Clemensen was a mop-up pitcher all year for the 1939 Pirates, making 12 appearances total, with the first 11 all being in relief during one-sided Pirates losses. Pittsburgh let him start game one of a doubleheader on the last day of the season. Clemensen picked up the loss that day, allowing seven runs in 6.1 innings. He finished the season with an 0-1, 7.33 record in 27 innings.
The Pirates sent Clemensen to Syracuse of the Double-A International League for 1940 (highest level of the minors at the time), where he pitched just 65 innings all season over four starts and 15 relief appearances, while posting a 4.85 ERA. In 1941, he went 4-5, 3.65 and pitched 101 innings in the minors, splitting the year between Albany of the Class-A Eastern League and St Paul of the Double-A American Association. He was a September call-up by the Pirates that year, getting into two games before the year ended. On the last day of the season, he threw a 3-2 complete game win over the Cincinnati Reds. Clemensen looked to be ready for a full-time spot in the majors in 1942, but he was inducted into the Army to serve during WWII. He missed four seasons of pro ball before returning to the Pirates in 1946. He pitched two scoreless innings early in the season for the Pirates in 1946, before returning to the minors, where he stayed until his retirement during the 1947 season. The Pirates sold him to Columbus of the American Association on April 24, 1946, ending his time with the team. He was 8-11, 4.53 in 155 innings for Columbus in 1946, then pitched his final 16 pro games for Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League in 1947. Clemensen went 1-1, 5.57 in 42 innings during his time with the Pirates.
Ed Warner, pitcher for the 1912 Pirates. He attended Brown University, a popular school for Major Leaguers prior to WWII, with 36 former big league players before the war. Only former Pirates player Bill Almon has made it to the majors since then. The Pirates signed Warner right out of college with no minor league experience. His signing was first announced on June 21, 1912, when he was still pitching college ball. The Pirates also signed his teammate at the same time, fellow pitcher Joe Conzelman, who didn’t debut in the majors until 1913. Warner made his Major League debut on July 2, 1912, pitching the ninth inning of a 9-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. He was described as having a wondrous fastball and a good changeup (then called a slowball), although he was wild at times. He threw from the left side with “free arm movement” and a “puzzling crossfire” delivery. The Pirates gave him three starts that year, two in July and one in early August. In his second start, Warner threw five scoreless innings before allowing six runs in the sixth inning. In his last start, he threw a 3-0 shutout against the Braves, allowing 11 base runners in the game. It was said in The Pittsburgh Press that he was considered to be “the best young southpaw who has broken into the National League in a long time”. He threw a total of 11 games for the Pirates that season, pitching 45 innings with a 1-1, 3.60 record, 18 walks and 13 strikeouts. He was doing well until his last two outings on August 22nd and 26th, when he allowed a total of seven earned runs in 7.2 innings. He didn’t pitch in any of the final 35 games of the season.
On December 16, 1912, Pittsburgh sold Warner to Columbus of the Double-A American Association, reportedly as part of their deal to acquire pitcher Wilbur Cooper earlier in the year. Cooper went on to set a Pirates franchise record with 202 wins. The Pirates said that Warner needed more experience before he would be ready for the majors, while his critics with the local papers said that he could only go 5-6 innings before he started to get tired. Warner decided to retire from baseball, rather than not play in the Major Leagues. He quickly became a successful business man and never returned to the game, so his entire baseball career consisted of his three months with the Pirates. His retirement should not have come as a surprise. A local Pittsburgh writer asked him just a few weeks into his career if he planned on making a career out of baseball. Warner’s response was “No, I have a college education and I don’t intend to waste it if I find I could better myself financially by working at electrical engineering”. When he first joined the Pirates, his birth date was announced as December 29, 1888, nearly six full months before the current recognized date.