The Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 1st, Pirates Acquire Power for Pitching

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one trade of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1921, the Pirates traded pitcher Elmer Ponder to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Dave Robertson. Ponder was 28 years old at the time of the deal, in his fourth season with the Pirates. He pitched well in 1920, posting a 2.62 ERA in 194 innings, and he was pitching well in limited time in 1921 with a 2-0, 2.19 record in 24.2 innings. Robertson was 31 years old, four years removed from his second straight National League home run title. After batting .500 in the 1917 World Series, he quit baseball for one season. Returning in 1919, Robertson had regained his power in 1920, hitting .300 with 50 extra base hits and 75 RBIs for the Cubs. In 1921 however, he was hitting .222 with no homers at the time of the deal.

After the trade, Robertson had a big second half of the season for the Pirates, batting .322 with 48 RBIs in 60 games. He was a holdout for more money during Spring Training the following year, which earned him his release. The New York Giants signed him in late April and that season would be his last in the majors. Ponder struggled with Chicago, who would end up trading him to the Pacific Coast League after the season. He went 3-6, 4.74 in 89.1 innings for the Cubs, in what would be his last season in the majors.

The Players

Al Tate, pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He debuted in pro in 1939 at 20 years old, playing three seasons for Salt Lake City of the Class-C Pioneer League before spending the next four seasons away from the game, serving in the military during WWII. In his first season at Salt Lake City, Tate went 4-6, 3.93 in 87 innings. He was 13-10, 3.97 in 211 innings in 1940. That was followed by his best minor league season in 1941 when he went 10-13, but he had a 3.38 ERA in 229 innings pitched. After serving in the military, Tate returned to pro ball in 1946. He went to Spring Training with the Pirates, then signed a deal on March 15, 1946, after he impressed them in training camp. He was actually scouted while pitching during the war at Fort Benning. He was with the Pirates on Opening Day, but didn’t pitch before being optioned to the minors on April 27th. Tate went 5-12, 3.94 in 121 innings in the minors that season, split between two levels. Most of his work was done with Selma of the Class-B Southeastern League, where he had a 3.30 ERA in 101 innings. With Double-A Birmingham of the Southern Association at the start of the year, he had an 0-3, 7.20 record in 20 innings. He was recalled by the Pirates that September and joined the team on September 10th, though it took a while for him to see his first action. He made his big league debut on the 27th, pitching the eighth inning of an 8-0 loss in Cincinnati. Tate allowed three hits and two runs in his only inning of work. Two days later, he made the start in the last game of the season, throwing a complete game against the Reds in a 3-2 loss.

Going into the 1947 season, Pie Traynor told the media a story about Tate injuring the wrist on his pitching hand, which required a silver plate to be added to the wrist. Traynor noted that Tate had a blazing fastball, but the plate in his hand prevented him snapping off a good curveball. There was talk of him possibly switching to the outfield because it would be tough for him to make it as a pitcher in the majors. As it turned out, a sore arm kept him from competing for a job and he was cut a few weeks before the season started. Tate spent the entire 1947 season with Albany of the Class-A Eastern League, where he went 12-10, 3.61 in 177 innings. On September 28th, he was released to Sacramento of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, seemingly ending his time with the Pirates. The next year, Tate was in the Pacific Coast League, where his career came to an end after just three games. Sacramento released him back to the Pirates on April 22nd, and then it was said that he would be assigned to New Orleans of the Southern Association. He refused to report, which ended his pro career. He was a good hitting pitcher, who occasionally pinch-hit and played in the field, finishing with a .288 minor league average in 424 at-bats. His actual first name was Walter, but he went by his middle name (Alvin).

Frank Barrett, pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. He began his pro career in the Class-D Georgia-Florida League with Albany in 1935 at 21 years old, where he had an 8-10 record and threw 130.1 innings. He split the 1936 season between four teams, seeing time with Albany again, as well as Union Springs of the Class-D Florida-Alabama League, Columbus of the Class-B South Atlantic League and Class-C Huntington of the Middle Atlantic League (There are clearly errors in his available stats, so I won’t share them). The next year he moved up to Mobile of the Class-B Southeastern League, where he went 18-11, 2.43 in 237 innings. Most of 1938 was spent back in Mobile, but he also saw 19 innings with Rochester of the Double-A International League, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. Barrett had a 2.72 ERA in 205 innings with Mobile that season. In 1939, he went 13-7, 3.10 in 215 innings for Houston of the Class-A Texas League, before joining the St Louis Cardinals ahead of his Major League debut on October 1, 1939. He pitched 1.2 innings in relief that day and allowed one run. Barrett pitched just that one game for the 1939 Cardinals, then spent the next five seasons trying to work his way back to the majors. During the war years, many Major League players served either in the military or had wartime jobs, leaving the quality of play from 1942-46 low. It opened jobs for players like Barrett, who otherwise may have had only a few cups of coffee in the majors.

Barrett spent the 1940-44 seasons pitching for Columbus of the Double-A American Association, where he mainly pitched in relief. He averaged 134 innings pitched for the first four years, before splitting 1944 between Columbus and the majors. He went 8-8, 3.07 in 126 innings in 1940, with ten starts and 37 relief appearances. He was 7-5, 4.47 in 1941, spreading out 145 innings over 13 starts and 29 relief appearances. Barrett had a strong season in 1942, going 8-3, 2.72 in 106 innings over six starts and 33 relief outings. In 1943, he 11-10, 3.21 in 160 innings, making nine starts and 42 relief appearances. Before returning to the majors in 1944, he went 4-3, 2.28 in 67 innings. Barrett returned to the majors in 1944 with the Boston Red Sox and had two decent seasons, going 12-10, 3.16 in 75 games, including his only two major league starts. He went 8-7, 3.69 with eight saves in 90.1 innings to finish out the 1944 season, then had a 2.62 ERA and three saves in 86 innings in 1945.

Barrett started the 1946 season in the minors with Indianapolis of the American Association (then reclassified as Triple-A). He went 6-4, 2.27 in 65 innings. He then played for the Boston Braves in the second half of the 1946 season, going 2-4, 5.09 in 35.1 innings before returning to the minors. Barrett was with affiliates of the Pirates organization since the start of the 1947 season, though it took until 1950 for him to get his next (and last) big league chance. He pitched the 1947-48 seasons for Indianapolis (they switched affiliates in 1947), throwing a total of 188 innings over 109 appearances. He had a 6-3, 3.83 record in 1947, and a 7-5, 3.21 record in 1948. He moved to New Orleans of the Double-A Southern Association in 1949, where he had an 11-8, 4.65 record in 147 innings over 45 appearances. The Pirates called him up in September of 1950 after he went 11-7, 3.38 in 144 innings in 46 games with New Orleans. He made five appearances for the 1950 Pirates, allowing three runs in 3.2 innings. That last big league shot turned into a minor league managerial position the next year.  He was a player/manager during his last two seasons (1951-52) in the Pirates farm system. Barrett was with Burlington of the Class-B Carolina League and Butler of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League in 1951. He played his final full season (1952) all the way down in Class-D ball as the pitcher/manager with Mayfield of the Kitty League. Barrett managed in the minors in 1953 and he pitched one final minor league game in 1955. He won 141 minor league games over 19 seasons of pro ball. His final big league stats show a 15-17, 3.51 record and 12 saves in 217.2 innings over 104 appearances.

Fritz Scheeren, outfielder for the 1914-15 Pirates. He is one of 13 players from LaFayette College in Pennsylvania to make the majors, although only two of them have appeared in a game since the 1953 season, including David Bednar, who joined the Pirates in 2021. Scheeren played for LaFayette to start 1914, then joined a semi-pro team in New Bethlehem, PA. during the summer. After working out with the Pirates for several days on a tryout basis, he signed a deal with them on September 11th for the remainder of the 1914 season and for the full 1915 season. He played his first game with the team as the starting right fielder on September 14, 1914. The Pirates were in fifth place with no chance of moving up in the standings, so manager Fred Clarke decided to give playing time to a handful of young players. Scheeren performed well at the plate, hitting .290 with a triple, homer and a .764 OPS in 11 games. He played four games in center field, as well as seven games in right. The next year he made the team out of Spring Training, but he was a seldom-used backup outfielder. He played just four games with three at-bats over the first month of the seasons before being released to Youngstown of the Class-B Central League. At one point he was left at Forbes Field with a few teammates while the rest of the team went on a brief road trip to Chicago. Just two days before he was released, it was said that he was likely to get a chance to play with the team desperate for outfielder help. Instead they called up Zip Collins, who ended up playing 101 games that season.

Scheeren played two seasons in the minors without returning to the majors before retiring from baseball. With Youngstown in 1915, he hit .232 in 93 games, with 45 runs, 18 extra-base hits, 18 steals and a .637 OPS. Late in the season, he was suspended for the rest of the season and fined $100 by the team manager for failing to bunt the ball twice, disregarding the signal the second time. Reportedly, he told the managers afterwards that he didn’t care to play for Youngstown. Scheeren told the papers the next day that he had been asked to bunt too many times and he was power hitter, so he wanted to swing the bat. He remained in the Central League for the 1916 season, playing for the Wheeling Stogies, where his limited available stats credit him with a .282 average in 118 games. In college he was known as one of the best power hitters in the collegiate ranks. He was also a star football player (fullback) at LaFayette, and was said to be a star basketball player in high school. According to Scheeren in February of 1915, he stayed in shape that off-season by playing basketball. After the 1916 season, he played semi-pro baseball and owned a business where he lived in Ford City, Pa. His real first name was Frederick, but he mostly went by Fritz in the newspapers.