This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 29th, John Wehner and a Trade of Two Pitchers

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates birthdays on this date, plus a trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1961, the Pirates traded pitcher Tom Cheney to the Washington Senators in exchange for pitcher Tom Sturdivant. Cheney was a 26-year-old righty, in his fourth big league season, second with the Pirates. He went 2-2, 3.98 in 52 innings over 11 games (eight starts) for the 1960 Pirates. He made just one appearance in 1961 for Pittsburgh, allowing five runs without recording an out. Sturdivant was a 31-year-old righty, who spent time as a starter and reliever in the majors. He was 2-6, 4.61 in 80 innings for the Senators in 1961, making ten starts and five relief appearances.

After the deal, Cheney pitched five seasons for Washington, going 17-25, 3.52 in 393.1 innings over 88 games, 58 of those as a starter. Not many people realize that he is the single game strikeout king in Major League history, striking out 21 Baltimore Orioles batters on September 12, 1962. In one of the truly great pitching performances, he allowed just one run over 16 innings for the complete game win. Sturdivant played with the Pirates until May of 1963, when he was sold to the Detroit Tigers. He went 14-7, 3.49 for the Pirates in 219.1 innings over 65 games, 23 as a starter. With the Pirates in 1961, he was 5-2, 2.84 in 11 starts and two relief appearances, throwing 85.2 innings.

The Players

Tony McKnight, pitcher for the 2001 Pirates. He was a first round draft pick in 1995 by the Houston Astros out of high school in Arkansas, getting selected 22nd overall. McKnight spent his first two years in the Gulf Coast League, pitching just 11.2 innings with a 3.86 ERA during the 1995 season, then posting a 6.66 ERA in 24.1 innings over nine appearances (six starts) in 1996. In 1997, he went 4-9, 4.68 with 92 strikeouts in 115.1 innings over 20 starts at Quad Cities of the Low-A Midwest League. That was followed by a promotion to High-A, where he was 11-13, 4.67 in 154.1 innings over 28 starts in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with Kissimmee. His breakout season was 1999 in Double-A, where he went 9-9, 2.75 in 24 starts and 160.1 innings while pitching for Jackson of the Texas League. He split the 2000 season between Double-A Round Rock of the Texas League and Triple-A with New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League, combining to go 4-10, 4.61 in 25 starts and 150.1 innings pitched. His ERA was nearly the same in both places, though 19 of his 25 starts came with Round Rock.

McKnight made his Major League debut for Houston on August 10, 2000. He went 4-1, 3.86 in six starts, throwing 35 innings, including a complete game in a win over the Pirates during one of the final games at Three Rivers Stadium. The next season he was back in New Orleans until mid-June, when he got called up for three starts in which he went 1-0 4.00 in 18 innings. That year he went 9-5, 4.76 in 92.2 innings over 18 starts with New Orleans. At the trading deadline, the Pirates sent closer Mike Williams to the Astros for McKnight, who went right into the big league rotation. In 12 starts for Pittsburgh, he went 2-6, 5.19 in 69.1 innings. He spent all of 2002 at Triple-A Nashville for the Pirates, going 11-14, 5.24 in 175.1 innings, while setting a pro career high with 120 strikeouts that year. He then finished his career with the Dodgers Triple-A team (Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League) the next season, pitching just four games, with a 3.31 ERA in 16.1 innings. In his brief big league time, he went 7-7, 4.63 in 122.1 innings over 21 starts.

John Wehner, utility player for the 1991-1996 and 1999-2001 Pirates. He was taken by the Pirates in the seventh round of the 1988 draft out of Indiana University. He was a local kid, born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He debuted in the New York-Penn League, where he hit .275 with 18 steals, 41 runs scored and a .661 OPS in 70 games for Watertown. Wehner moved up to the Carolina League in 1989, hitting .301 with 69 runs, 32 doubles, 14 homers, 73 RBIs, 21 steals and an .882 OPS for Salem. He was in Double-A in 1990, playing for Harrisburg of the Eastern League, where he batted .288 with 71 runs, 27 doubles, four homers, 62 RBIs, 24 steals and a .708 OPS in 138 games. He was back in Double-A (affiliate switched to Carolina of the Southern League) to start 1991, hitting .265 with 30 runs, nine extra-base hits, 17 steals and a .665 OPS in 61 games. He was then promoted to Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association, where he hit .304/.375/.446 in 31 games. Wehner was up in the big leagues by mid-July of 1991, helping the Pirates to the National League East pennant with a .340 average in 37 games. He played 14 seasons in pro ball, spending only one full season (1996) in the majors. In ten of those other 13 seasons, he split the year between the majors and minors, playing for three different Double-A and Triple-A affiliates of the Pirates during his career.

Wehner couldn’t repeat his rookie success in 1992, hitting .179 in 55 games, seeing time at third base, first base and second base. He had a .786 OPS in 1991, then saw it drop to .479 in 1992. His big league playing time dropped in 1993, as he hit .143/.268/.143 in 29 games. The 1994 season was spent almost all in the minors, where he hit .303 in 88 games with Buffalo. His big league time that year was limited to two games (one start) in mid-July, though the strike in early August likely cost him more time. Wehner was with the Pirates for two weeks of May in 1995, then returned in mid-July until the end of the season. He batted .308 in 52 games that year, finishing with ten walks and three triples, with no homers or doubles, leading to a .726 OPS. That solid performance helped lead to his his only full big league season in 1996, when he played 86 games and hit .259 with career highs in runs (19), doubles (nine), homers (two) and RBIs (13). He had a .681 OPS that year.

Pittsburgh put Wehner on waivers after the 1996 season, where he was picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Los Angeles released him in Spring Training, so he signed with the Florida Marlins for the 1997 season and picked up a World Series ring that year, while hitting .278 in 44 games, mostly coming off of the bench, getting a total of just 40 plate appearances. The next year he played 58 games for the Marlins, hitting .227/.281/.250 in 88 at-bats. Wehner returned to the Pirates as a free agent in June of 1999 and stayed with the team until the 2001 season. He batted .185 in 39 games during the 1999 season, while also seeing time with Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League and Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League. He then hit .300 in 50 at-bats over 21 games in 2000. In his final big league season, he hit .196 in 53 at-bats over 41 games. Wehner batted .274 in 148 chances as a pinch-hitter. He hit the final home run at Three Rivers Stadium, one of four career homers, and the only one that wasn’t hit as a pinch-hitter. For the Pirates, he hit .250 with 81 runs, 29 doubles, four homers and 47 RBIs in 364 games. Wehner coached three seasons in the minors for Pittsburgh, then became a broadcaster for the team, still holding that spot since 2005. He holds the record for consecutive errorless games at third base (99), tied for the honor with Jeff Cirillo. Wehner’s streak started in 1993 and ended in 2000 on the final day of the season.

Burgess Whitehead, second baseman for the 1946 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball with Columbus of the Double-A American Association (highest level of the minors at the time) in 1931 at 20 years old. He hit .328 in 135 games that rookie season, with 19 doubles, seven triples and a homer. Whitehead played 162 games for Columbus in 1932, hitting .313 with 36 doubles, nine triples and a homer. Most of the 1933 season was spent back in Columbus, where he hit .346 in 89 games, with 20 doubles, six triples and once again, one homer. He was with the St Louis Cardinals at the beginning of the year, but he had just seven at-bats in 12 games spread out over two months. Whitehead spent the entire 1934 season with the Cardinals, hitting .277 with 55 runs scored, 19 extra-base hits and a devilishly mediocre .666 OPS in 100 games, seeing time at second base, third base and shortstop. He played 107 games that next year and made the All-Star game. He hit .263  that season, with 45 runs, 12 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and .593 OPS. After the season, he was traded to the New York Giants for two players and cash.

Whitehead played 154 games in 1936 and set career highs with 99 runs scored, 176 hits, 31 doubles and 14 stolen bases. He batted .278 with four homers and 47 RBIs. As the everyday second baseman, he put up 2.1 dWAR by modern metrics, which rates him as the third best defensive player at any position in the National League. That performance led to him finishing 11th in the MVP voting. He made his second All-Star appearance in 1937 when he batted .286 with 64 runs scored, 26 extra-base hits and a career high 52 RBIs. His .682 OPS was also a career high. Whitehead led all National League second baseman in fielding percentage and  putouts in 1937, when he played 152 games at the position. His 2.3 dWAR was a career best and the second best in all of the National League. After that 1937 season, Whitehead had an appendectomy which did not go well, causing him to suffer a nervous breakdown, forcing him out of baseball for one year. When he returned in 1939, he had a sub-par season, hitting .239/.299/.293 in 95 games, though his 1.3 dWAR was seventh best in the league. He followed it up with a .282 average in 133 games during the 1940 campaign, finishing with 68 runs scored and a .659 OPS. His defense began to slide that year, though he was still above replacement level for a time.

Whitehead dropped down to a .228 average in 116 games in 1941. He had 41 runs scored, 20 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs and a .551 OPS. During the rest of his career in the majors, he had a 50% stolen base success rate (44-for-88), but that year he was successful in seven of his eight attempts. Whitehead was acquired by the Pirates in 1942, but due to serving in the Army during WWII, he didn’t play with Pittsburgh until the 1946 season. He was sold to Toronto of the International League in December of 1941, and spent the entire 1942 season there, hitting .260 in 148 games, with 75 runs, 16 extra-base hits, 26 steals and a .648 OPS. The Pirates had a working agreement with Toronto, and on July 28, 1942, Pittsburgh purchased Whitehead, though he remained in Toronto. He was going to report in September, but a broken finger changed those plans, then he was inducted into the Army on December 8th. When he returned in 1946, the 36-year-old infielder hit .220 in 55 games with five RBIs and a .521 OPS. It would be his last season in the majors. Pittsburgh released him prior to the 1947, after which he played two seasons in the minors with Jersey City of the International League before retiring. He was a .266 career hitter with 415 runs scored, 100 doubles, 31 triples, 17 homers and 245 RBIs in 924 games.  All 17 home runs he hit in his career came at the Polo Grounds. Of those homers, 16 were hit as a member of the Giants, while the other was hit while he was with the Cardinals in 1934, coming off of longtime Pirates pitcher Joe Bowman.

Patsy Flaherty, pitcher for the 1900 and 1904-05 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 20 years old, playing for two teams in the Class-C Interstate League in 1896, seeing time with Youngstown and Jackson. The next year he was with the Paterson Silk Weavers of the Class-B Atlantic League, where he went 19-20, 1.89 in 343.2 innings. He was a teammate with Honus Wagner that year, before Wagner joined the Louisville Colonels of the National League in July of 1897. Flaherty played for Paterson again in 1898 and 1899 (stats are extremely limited from those years), while also seeing time with Richmond of the Atlantic League during the 1899 season. The Atlantic League was reclassified as Class-A in 1899, the highest level of the minors at the time. Flaherty began his big league career in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels, as a teammate of Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, Fred Clarke and ten other players who would be traded to Pittsburgh in the off-season. Flaherty went 2-3, 2.39 in 39 innings over the last five weeks of the  1899 season. The Louisville franchise folded before the 1900 season and he joined his teammates in Pittsburgh, pitching 22 innings over four appearances, finishing with a 6.14 ERA in 1900. He finished that season in the Class-A Eastern League on loan to Hartford, where he had an 11-11 record.

Flaherty was traded to Syracuse of the Eastern League after the season, then pitched for Syracuse and Toronto (another Eastern League team) in 1901, posting a 15-16 record. In 1902 he was back playing in Louisville, this time with a minor league team in the American Association. He went 26-16 and threw 367 innings. His next Major League experience came with the 1903 Chicago White Sox, when he went 11-25, 3.74 in 293.2 innings, completing 29 of his 34 starts, while leading the American League in losses. He pitched well in five starts for Chicago in 1904 (2.09 ERA in 43 innings) before he was sold to the Pirates, who were desperate for pitching. He joined the Pirates on May 13th and practiced with the team, but didn’t make his debut until June 10th. His actual purchase date was just four days before his debut. The move paid off big time that first year, as he went 19-9, 2.05 in 242 innings from the beginning of June until the end of the season. Not only did he lead the team in wins, he also had the best ERA. It turned out to be just one magical year for Flaherty, who went 10-10, 3.50 in 187.2 innings in 1905, playing on a Pirates team that went 96-57 on the season.

After Flaherty spent all of 1906 with Columbus of the Class-A American Association, where he went 23-9 and pitched 305 innings, he was traded to the Boston Doves as part of the three-for-one deal for Ed Abbaticchio. Flaherty pitched well in 1907, though Boston was a seventh place team with a 58-90 record. He had a 12-15, 2.70 record in 217.2 innings, completing 23 of his 25 starts. His numbers dropped a bit in 1908, going 12-18, 3.25 in 244 innings. That ERA doesn’t sound bad now, but the league ERA was 2.35 during that deadball era season. He spent 1909 in the minors, going 14-13 in 244 innings with Kansas City of the American Association, before returning briefly to the majors for one game with the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies and four games for Boston again in 1911. Flaherty’s only big league appearance in 1910 saw him allow four unearned runs while recording one out. The rest of that season was spent with Atlanta of the Southern Association. He was 0-2, 7.07 in 14 innings with Boston in 1911, but most of his work that year came in the outfield, where he hit .287 with seven extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in 38 games. He pitched in the minors off and on until 1917, while also managing down on the farm and scouting into the 1930’s. In his nine-year big league career, he went 67-84, 3.10 in 1,302.2 innings. He made 150 starts (23 relief outings), with 125 complete games and seven shutouts. With the Pirates, he was 29-19, 2.85 in 451.2 innings. He played a total of 34 games in the outfield during his career, including one start in center field for the 1904 Pirates.

Heinie Reitz, second baseman for the 1899 Pirates. He was the second baseman for the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles team of the National League that won three straight pennants from 1894-96. His 31 triples in 1894 set a Major League record at the time. He debuted in pro ball in 1890 at 23 years old, playing his first three seasons almost exclusively on the west coast. Starts are very limited for that time. He played for Sacramento of the California League in 1890, then split the 1891 season between Sacramento and Oakland of the California League, as well as Rochester of the Class-A Eastern Association, where he hit .181 in 38 games. In 1892, Reitz spent the majority of the season with San Francisco of the California League, where he played 176 games, hitting .243 with 102 runs, 47 extra-base hits and 37 steals. He also saw some time with Piedmont of the Central California League. In 1893, he joined the Orioles as their everyday second baseman. Reitz hit .286 in 130 games, with 90 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 76 RBIs, 24 steals, 65 walks and a .757 OPS. In 1894, he batted .303 in 108 games, with 22 doubles, 31 triples, 86 runs scored, 105 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. His .968 fielding percentage was the best in the National League and a single season record at second base at the time, back when Hall of Famer Bid McPhee was a dominant defensive force in baseball. McPhee would top his record in 1898 and hold the single season mark for the next 23 years. Those 31 triples tied a Major League record, which has been topped just once in 128 seasons since.

Reitz was limited to 71 games in 1895 due to a broken bone in his right shoulder. He hit .294 that season, with 45 runs, 20 extra-base hits and a .746 OPS. Healthy in 1896, he helped the Orioles to a 90-39 record by batting .287 with 76 runs scored, 28 steals and a career best 106 RBIs. He hit .289 with 84 RBIs and 76 runs scored in 128 games during the 1897 season, while leading the league with a .962 fielding percentage at second base. After the season, he was part of a six-player trade with the Washington Senators. Before the Pirates acquired Reitz for three players in December of 1898, he hit .303 with 62 runs, 24 extra-base hits and 47 RBIs in 132 games for the Senators that season, while leading all second basemen for a third time in fielding percentage, this time with a .959 mark. With Pittsburgh, his time was cut short due to injury. Reitz played just 35 games for the Pirates, hitting .263 with 16 RBIs and a .638 OPS, before a leg injury suffered while running on June 3rd ended his season early. It was thought that he wouldn’t miss significant time, but he was doing scouting for the Pirates by the end of the season. He was sold outright to Milwaukee of the American League on March 23, 1900 and never appeared in the majors again.

Reitz played pro ball until 1908, seeing time with 11 different teams during the 1900-08 seasons. His last four seasons were spent playing Class-D  ball, which was the lowest level of the minors at the time. He finished with a .292 average in 724 big league games, with 447 runs scored, 108 doubles, 11 homers, 463 RBIs and 122 steals. Despite accumulating 31 triples in one season, he had 65 career triples. His 1.9 dWAR in 1897 ranked second among all players in the National League. He’s referred to know as Heinie, a popular nickname for players named Henry back then, but it appears that “Pepper” was a much more popular nickname for him during his playing days. Reitz’s father actually went by the Heinie nickname, and was in the news in May of 1899 when he was murdered for not buying drinks for two men at a saloon.

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