Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus one game of note
Cy Blanton, pitcher for the 1934-39 Pirates. He started his baseball career as a semi-pro player and an outfielder. His father was a catcher in the 1880s, who reportedly turned down an MLB offer of $80 per month salary because it wasn’t enough money to play in the majors. The younger Blanton debuted in pro ball in 1930 at 21 years old, pitching for Class-C Shawnee of the Western Association. His ERA isn’t available, but he allowed 5.92 runs per nine innings, while going 12-16 and throwing 222 innings. He had a 15-13 record and threw 213 innings in 1931 while playing for three different teams, including Springfield and Independence of the Western Association, and Greensboro of the Class-C Piedmont League. Blanton played for Independence in 1932, going 18-15, 3.76 in 263 innings. In 1933, he went 21-7 with 3.02 runs per nine innings, and he threw 256 innings while playing for Class-A St Joseph of the Western League.That 1933 season had two major highlights that got him a lot of notice. He threw a no-hitter, and then struck out 20 batters in one game. That performance earned him a long look with the Pirates during the following spring. His contract (and the contract of Leo Nonnenkamp) was purchased by the Pirates on August 26, 1933 from Tulsa of the Texas League. Tulsa owned his rights at the time and farmed him out to St Joseph. Not long after being purchased by the Pirates, Blanton picked up 19 strikeouts in a game.
Blanton was with the Pirates during Spring Training of 1934, labeled as the best rookie they had in camp. He actually made the team out of Spring Training, but didn’t pitch any games before being sent to Albany of the Double-A International League (highest level of the minors at the time) on May 8th, where he went 11-8, 3.86 in 26 games, throwing 147 innings. In his big league debut on September 23, 1934, Blanton pitched well, giving up three runs over eight innings in the loss. He walked four batters in that game, a sign of the control problems that got him sent back to the minors earlier that year. He would overcome the wildness the next year, which helped him make the team out of Spring Training. Blanton had a terrific rookie season despite missing time right in the middle of it with appendicitis. He went 18-13, throwing four shutouts and he led the league in ERA with a 2.58 mark. He walked just 55 batters in 254.1 innings, posting the lowest WHIP (not a recognized stat at the time) in the National League with a 1.08 mark. He had 142 strikeouts, which was the fifth highest total in the league. That pitching earned him some mild MVP support (15th place finish in the voting).
In 1936, Blanton pitched in some tough luck. The Pirates went 84-70 that year, but his record stood at just 13-15, despite a respectable 3.51 ERA. He made 32 starts and 12 relief appearances, pitching a total of 235.2 innings. He had 127 strikeouts that year, which was the third most in the league. He also threw four shutouts for a second season in a row, leading the league during both years in that category. Blanton had a third straight solid season in 1937, this time making the National League All-Star team during a time in which the NL took only six pitchers to the game. He went 14-12, 3.30 in 242.2 innings, leading the league with 34 games started. For the third straight year, he threw four shutouts. He set a career high with 143 strikeouts, which was third most in the league. Blanton had a rough start to the 1938 campaign, posting just one win over the first two months of the season. After not pitching for nearly a month, the Pirates used him in the second game of a doubleheader on June 19th and he picked up the win. Blanton wasn’t used again for another 11 days, yet won again that day too. He would end up making another nine starts in a row without losing, picking up the win in six of those games. He faded as the season came to a close and finished 11-7, 3.70 in 172.2 innings. He was out of action for most of the 1939 season due to a sore arm. Blanton missed three months of the season, making just six starts and four relief appearances, going 2-3, 4.29 in 42 innings. He was sent to the minors in 1940, where he got hit hard in three starts with Syracuse of the International League prior to his release in May.
Blanton signed with the Philadelphia Phillies right after being released, and he returned to the majors, where he went 4-3, 4.32 in 77 innings over ten starts and three relief appearances. He ended up making 25 starts and three relief appearances for Philadelphia in 1941, going 6-13, 4.51 in 163.2 innings. While it wasn’t a strong season by any means, he got off to a decent start and made his second All-Star appearance. Blanton had a 5.64 ERA through 22.1 innings in 1942 when he was released by the Phillies, ending his big league career. After barely pitching in 1942, Blanton spent the next three seasons with the Hollywood Stars of the Double-A Pacific Coast League. He had a 2.70 ERA in 150 innings in 1943, then pitched just 68 innings during the 1944 season. In his final season, he was credited with one game played. In 1945 he was called into service during WWII but failed the physical. His health had become so bad at the time due to alcohol problems that he was sent to a hospital after the physical and he passed away a short time later at 35 years old. For the Pirates, he went 58-51, 3.28 in 955.1 innings over 155 games, 129 of those as a starter, with 13 shutouts to his credit. He was 10-20, 4.55 in 263 innings while with the Phillies. We posted an in depth article on Blanton here.
Omar Olivares, pitcher for the 2001 Pirates. Before joining Pittsburgh, Olivares had played 11 seasons in the majors, spending time with seven different teams. His pro career began back in 1987 at 19 years old after he was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Diego Padres in September of 1986. He was born in Puerto Rico, but he attended Miami-Dade College. He started in Low-A ball, where he went 4-14, 4.60 in 170.1 innings for Charleston of the South Atlantic League. In 1988, Olivares showed tremendous improvements at Charleston and then finished the year with three starts in High-A with Riverside of the California League. He went 16-6, 2.11 in 208.2 innings that year. That brief stint at High-A was all he needed, and he spent the entire 1989 season at Double-A with Wichita of the Texas League. He went 12-11, 3.39 in 185.2 innings. The following spring he was traded to the St Louis Cardinals for two players. Olivares was in Triple-A in 1990, going 10-11, 2.82 in 159.1 innings over 23 starts for Louisville of the American Association, before making his big league debut on August 18th. He had a 2.92 ERA in 49.1 innings with the Cardinals that season, making six starts and three relief appearances. In his first full season in the majors in 1991, he went 11-7, 3.71 in 167.1 innings over 24 starts and four relief appearances. He saw even more work the next year with 30 starts and two relief outings, finishing with a 9-9, 3.84 record in 197 innings. His 124 strikeouts that year were his career high.
Olivares switched to a relief role in 1993, making 58 appearances, with nine early season starts mixed in. He went 5-3, 4.17 in 118.2 innings. A poor season during the strike-shortened 1994 season actually led to him making nine starts back in Triple-A Louisville. He had a 5.74 ERA in 73.2 innings over 14 games (12 starts) for the Cardinals that year. Oliveras was released by the Cardinals in April of 1995 and he signed days later with the Colorado Rockies. He had a 7.39 ERA in 39.2 innings with Colorado over six starts and five relief appearances, and even saw some minor league time before being put on waivers, where he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. He had a 5.40 ERA in ten innings with the Phillies, who also had him in Triple-A for a short time. Olivares became a free agent at the end of the year and the Detroit Tigers signed him as a free agent. He made 25 starts in 1996, going 7-11, 4.89 in 160 innings. In 1997, he went 5-6, 4.70 in 115 innings over 19 starts for the Tigers before getting traded to the Seattle Mariners, where he finished the season with 5.49 ERA in 62.1 innings. He threw two career shutouts and both came with the 1997 Tigers, just 16 days apart.
Olivares signed with the Anaheim Angels for 1998 and made 26 starts and 11 relief appearances. He had a 9-9, 4.03 record in 183 innings. In 1999, he had a 4.05 ERA through 20 starts when he was traded to the Oakland A’s. In 12 starts with his new team, he went 7-2, 4.34 in 74.2 innings. Olivares won a career high 15 games that year and thew over 200 innings (205.2) for the only time in his career. He struggled the next season with Oakland, posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 starts and five relief appearances, throwing 108 innings total, with some minor league time included to do rehab work after a strained muscle in his shoulder landed him on the disabled list for two months in mid-June. The Pirates acquired Olivares from the A’s at the end of Spring Training in 2001 in exchange for a player to be named later. For Pittsburgh, he went 6-9, 6.55 in 110 innings, making 12 starts and 33 relief appearances. He switched to the relief role after his June 8th start left him with a 2-7, 7.21 record, but he still had a 5.63 ERA over 46.1 innings of relief work. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Cleveland Indians, where he finished his pro career in 2002 after two minor league starts. Olivares had a career record of 77-86, 4.67 in 349 games (229 as a starter) and 1,591.2 innings pitched. He had 16 complete games, two shutouts and four saves. He was a strong hitter for a pitcher, batting .240 with five homers in 242 at-bats. His father Ed Olivares played for the 1960-61 St Louis Cardinals.
Willie Randolph, second baseman for the 1975 Pirates. He was a seventh round draft pick of the Pirates in 1972 out of high school. Randolph spent that first season in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit .317 with ten steals and an .817 OPS in 44 games. He played well as an 18-year-old in full-season ball in 1973, batting .280 with 25 doubles, eight homers, 43 steals and 90 walks in 121 games for Charleston of the Western Carolinas League. His average dropped to .254 at Double-A Thetford Mines of the Eastern League in 1974, but he drew 110 walks and stole 38 bases, to go along with 46 extra-base hits, giving him an .816 OPS. Randolph fully established himself as a prospect the next season in Triple-A with Charleston of the International League, hitting .339 with 25 extra-base hits, an .884 OPS and a 14-for-14 mark in stolen bases in 91 games, earning a promotion to the majors at the end of July. In 30 games for the 1975 Pirates, he batted .164 with three RBIs and a .427 OPS in 70 plate appearances. Randolph started 12 games at second base and one game at third base. His game at the hot corner would be a forgettable one, as he committed three errors. It turned out to be the only time in his 18-year career he played a position other than second base.
On December 11, 1975, the Pirates traded Randolph, along with Dock Ellis and Ken Brett, to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Doc Medich. The trade did not work out for the Pirates, as they gave up the 21-year-old second baseman, who would go on to make six All-Star appearances during his career and compile 66.2 WAR over the next 17 seasons. Medich was even out-pitched by both Ellis and Brett in 1976, then the Pirates lost out on a late 1976 trade with the Oakland A’s that included Medich. Randolph finished with .276 career average and a strong .373 OBP due in part to 1,243 walks. He stole 271 bases, collected 2,210 hits and scored 1,239 runs. He ended up playing another 2,138 games at second base after leaving Pittsburgh. He had 20.2 dWAR during his career, ranking him 51st all-time in that category. We wrote an in depth article on Randolph’s time with the Pirates here.
During his first season in New York, Randolph was an All-Star. He hit .267 in 125 games, with 59 runs, 20 extra-base hits, 40 RBIs, 58 walks and he set a career high with 37 steals, helping the Yankees to their first of three straight World Series appearances, though they lost to the Cincinnati Reds in 1976. In 1977, he hit .274 with 64 walks, 91 runs scored, 11 triples and a career high 28 doubles, making his second All-Star appearance. Randolph hit .279 in 134 games, with 87 runs, 27 extra-base hits, 82 walks and 36 steals in 1978, but a late season hamstring injury kept him out of the playoffs, though the Yankees were still able to win back-to-back championships. He received mild MVP support for the first time, finishing 29th in the voting. In 1979, he hit .270 with 98 runs, 61 RBIs, 95 walks, 33 steals and a career high 13 triples. His .741 OPS was his highest to the point, but he would exceed it by a large margin the next season.
In 1980, Randolph made his third All-Star appearance and won his only Silver Slugger award. He hit .294 with a career high/league leader 119 walks, leading to a .427 OBP. He had 37 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, and scored a career high 99 runs. His .834 OPS was the highest of his career. His 15th place finish in the MVP race was the best for his career. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Randolph hit just .232, but still had a .336 OBP and he scored 59 runs in 93 games. With his defense and 14 steals, that was good enough for his fourth All-Star game and the fourth World Series appearance for the Yankees (second loss). In 1982, Randolph batted .280 with 85 runs, 28 extra-base hits, 16 steals and 75 walks in 144 games. He was limited to 104 games in 1983, but he had a very similar season to 1982, with a one point difference in his batting average and slugging percentage and a seven point difference in his OBP, finishing with a .279/.361/.348 slash line. Randolph was extremely consistent during this time at getting on base. In 1984 he hit .287 with 24 doubles, 86 walks and 86 runs scored in 142 games. From 1982-84, he hit between .279 and .287 each year, with slugging percentage marks of .349, .348 and .348 each year.
In 1985, Randolph hit .276 with 75 runs scored, 28 extra-base hits, 16 steals and 85 walks in 143 games. He batted .276 again in 1986, this time with 22 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs, 15 steals, 94 walks and 76 runs scored in 141 games. He had a strong season in 1987 and made his fifth All-Star appearance. Randolph hit .305 with 33 extra-base hits, 82 walks, 96 runs scored and a career high 67 RBIs in 120 games. He was 11-for-12 in steals and his .825 OPS was just nine points off of his career best. He missed time due to injury in 1988 and saw his average drop to a career worst .230 mark in 110 games, while his OPS dropped 204 points from the previous year. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, as their second baseman (Steve Sax) signed with the Yankees.
Randolph was an All-Star during his first season in Los Angeles, hitting .282 with 71 walks and 65 runs scored in 145 games, though low power numbers led to a .692 OPS. In 1990, he was hitting .271 through 26 games when he was traded to the Oakland A’s. He finished the season with a .260 average and a .664 OPS in 119 games. Randolph signed with the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent in 1991 and posted a career best .327 batting average, with 60 runs, 54 RBIs, 75 walks and a .798 OPS in 124 games. He signed a free agent deal in 1992 with the New York Mets and played his final big league season that year, batting .252/.352/.318 in 90 games. Randolph became a coach/manager after his playing days. In four years at the helm of the Mets (2005-08), he had a 302-253 record. He led them to a first place finish in 2006, but they lost in the NLCS. Despite finishing with 65.9 WAR, he lasted just one year on the Hall of Fame ballot, dropping off with 1.1% of the votes. That WAR number is the same as Hall of Famers Duke Snider and Ed Walsh.
Jason Thompson, first baseman for the 1981-85 Pirates. He was originally selected in the 15th round of the 1972 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of high school, but chose to attend Cal State Northridge, where he signed as a fourth round draft pick in 1975 by the Detroit Tigers. He made it to the majors as a full-time player by the next season after just 79 minor league games. He went right to Double-A after signing and hit .324 with 42 runs, 12 doubles, ten homers, 38 RBIs and 38 walks in 75 games for Montgomery of the Southern League. His Triple-A season in 1976 consisted of just four games with Evansville of the American Association. He hit three homers and drove in six runs during that short time. Thompson hit just .218 as a rookie in 123 games for the 1976 Tigers, though it came with 17 homers and 68 walks, for a respectable .704 OPS. He had 45 runs, 12 doubles and 54 RBIs. In his second season, he .270 with 87 runs scored, 24 doubles, 31 homers, 105 RBIs, 73 walks and an .834 OPS in 158 games, while making his first of two consecutive All-Star appearances. He received mild MVP support, finishing 21st in the voting. In 1978, he hit .287 with 79 runs, 25 doubles, 26 homers, 96 RBIs, 74 walks and an .836 OPS in 153 games. He saw a dip in his production in 1979, hitting .246 with 16 doubles, 20 homers, 79 RBIs, 70 walks and a .742 OPS in 145 games. After a slow start in 1980, the Tigers traded him to the California Angels on May 27th for outfielder Al Cowens. Despite the early season struggles, hitting .214/.289/.349 in 36 games with the Tigers, Thompson ended up hitting .288 with 21 homers, 90 RBIs and 83 walks that year. He had a .965 OPS in 102 games with the Angels.
On April 1, 1981, the Pirates traded catcher Ed Ott and pitcher Mickey Mahler to the Angels in order to acquire Thompson. His first year in Pittsburgh was shortened by the strike. While his average was low, his OPS was strong, finishing with a .242 average, 13 doubles, 15 homers, 59 walks and an .899 OPS in 86 games. His second season would end up being his best with the team. Thompson made his third All-Star appearance and finished with a .284 average, 31 homers, 101 RBIs, 101 walks and a .902 OPS. He set a career high with 32 doubles and tied his best mark with 87 runs scored. He finished 17th in the MVP voting that year. In 1983, he batted .259 with 70 runs, 20 doubles, 18 homers, 76 RBIs, 99 walks and a .782 OPS in 152 games. He had a similar season in 1984, batting .254 with 61 runs, 22 doubles, 17 homers, 74 RBIs and 87 walks in 154 games. He saw his average/power drop to .241 with 12 homers in 123 games in 1985, but 84 walks helped him to a .369 OBP and a .747 OPS that was one point higher than the previous season. On April 4, 1986, the Pirates traded Thompson to the Montreal Expos for two minor league players. He would play just 30 games for Montreal before they released him, which ended his career. He was hitting .196 with no homers at the time, but 18 walks gave him a .406 OBP. For the Pirates, he hit .259 with 296 runs, 104 doubles, 93 homers and 354 RBIs in 671 games. He drove in the same exact number of runs during his five seasons in Detroit, albeit in 56 fewer games. He hit 208 career homers and drove in 782 runs. He was a .261 hitter and had a .366 OBP in 1,418 career games.
On this date in 1980, the Pirates and Chicago Cubs played a 20-inning contest at Three Rivers Stadium. A crowd of 25,994 got their money’s worth, as the five hour and 31 minute contest ended with Omar Moreno driving in Ed Ott with the winning run. After the Cubs tied the game up 4-4 in the top of the ninth, neither team scored until the 20th inning walk-off hit for Moreno.
Bert Blyleven pitched the first ten innings for the Pirates, while Rick Reuschel was the starter for the Cubs. The Pirates at one point went 46 straight batters without collecting a hit. A hit by John Milner in the sixth inning was their last hit until a Lee Lacy single in the 19th inning.