Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a game of note
Windy McCall, lefty reliever for the 1950 Pirates. He originally signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, but joined the war effort before playing a single game. He came back in 1946 as a free agent and didn’t make his pro debut until 1947, playing for Roanoke of the Class-B Piedmont League, where he went 17-9, 3.78 in 219 innings, with 198 strikeouts. Windy (first name is John) signed with the Boston Red Sox and made his Major League debut at the beginning of the 1948 season. He made one start for Boston, lasting 1.1 IP, while allowing three runs before being pulled. After the game, he was sent back to the minors for the rest of the season, going 9-12, 4.67, with 149 strikeouts in 183 innings for Louisville of the Triple-A American Association. In 1949, he was with the Red Sox at the beginning of the year again, pitching five times before being demoted to the minors. He pitched a scoreless inning his first outing, then gave up multiple runs in each of his next four relief appearances, leaving him with an 11.57 ERA in 9.1 innings. In the minors that year, he went 5-7, 5.06 in 96 innings, splitting the year between Louisville and Seattle of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, seeing similar results/time with each club.
Shortly after the 1949 season ended, the Pirates purchased McCall’s contract from Boston’s farm team in Louisville. It was said that he was purchased on a trial basis and would either be returned 30 days after Opening Day in 1950, or they could decide to keep him and pay the full price (said to be $22,500). A Spring Training injury in 1950 limited his use with the Pirates early on, and after two outings ( seven runs in 6.2 IP), he was sent to the minors on May 17th. McCall went 7-7, 5.28, with 82 strikeouts in 104 innings for Indianapolis of the American Association in 1950. He was released by the Pirates on November 19, 1950, but he remained with their affiliate, going 10-9, 4.53 in 171 innings for Indianapolis in 1951, spending the entire season with the team. He was with Indianapolis through the beginning of 1952, when he was optioned to Birmingham of the Double-A Southern Association. He combined to go 12-11, 5.08 in 177 innings, with better results and more time with Birmingham. From there he went to San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, and had a 12-7, 3.04 record in 151 innings, before he was able to turn his career around with the New York Giants, putting together a productive three year run (1954-56) as a reliever.
McCall had a 3.25 ERA in 61 innings over 33 appearances (four starts) for the Giants in 1954, helping them to the World Series. They won over the Cleveland Indians, though he did not appear in the series. In 1955, he went 6-5, 3.69 in 95 innings over 42 games (six starts). In 1956, he 3.61 ERA in 77.1 innings over 46 appearances. He made four starts and saved seven games, though saves weren’t an official stat at the time. After a rough start in 1957, allowing five runs in three innings over five games, he was sent to the minors, where he finished his career two seasons later. He pitched strictly in relief in 1958 for Miami of the Triple-A International League, putting up a 3.49 ERA in 67 innings. He pitched for Miami and Seattle in his final season, throwing a total of 22 games. McCall had an 11-15, 4.22 record in the majors, with 253.2 innings pitched over 134 games (15 starts) and 12 saves to his credit. He got his nickname because it was said he talked too much.
Al Lyons, pitcher for the 1947 Pirates. Although he was a great two-way player in the minors, he spent most of his Major League time as a pitcher, occasionally playing outfield. During a 14-year minor league career, Lyons hit .269 with 159 homers in 1,559 games. He also pitched 147 minor league games, going 47-33 with a career ERA right around 3.55 (he has a small number of games with stats unknown). He debuted in pro ball in 1940 at 21 years old, spending his first two seasons with Joplin of the Class-C Western Association. He hit .299 with 45 extra-base hits the first year in 123 games, then batted .304 with 52 extra-base hits in 135 games in 1941, to go along with a 1.26 ERA in 43 innings. Lyons moved up to the Class-A Eastern League in 1942, where he hit .249 with 36 extra-base hits in 140 games with Binghamton. He jumped up to Kansas City of the Double-A American Association in 1943 (highest level of the minors at the time), hitting .236 with 20 extra-base hits and a .655 OPS in 108 games, while going 4-6, 3.49 in 80 innings. He made his Major League debut with the 1944 Yankees, posting a 4.54 ERA in 39.2 innings over 11 relief appearances, and he hit .346 in 26 at-bats. In August, he was called into service during WWII, joining the Navy. He would miss the entire 1945 season, but he was back for Opening Day in 1946.
Lyons pitched two games the Yankees in 1946, allowing five runs in 8.1 innings, then spent the rest of the season back with Kansas City. He went 7-12, 3.46 in 169 innings with Kansas City, while putting up a .765 OPS in 53 games. He made six relief outings and had a 9.00 ERA in 11 innings during the 1947 season for the Yankees before being purchased by the Pirates in early August. Lyons pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in his Pirates debut, then picked up a win with four scoreless innings just two days later. He made another 11 appearances for Pittsburgh over the course of the season, all of them coming during losses. He went 1-2, 7.31 in 28.1 innings with the Pirates. The Pirates traded Lyons to the Boston Braves on November 18, 1947 in a deal that brought back Danny Murtaugh and Johnny Hopp (see his bio below). Lyons lasted just seven relief appearances (16 games total) with Boston in 1948 before being sent to the minors, where he finished his pro career nine years later without a return trip to the big leagues. He had a 7.82 ERA in 12.2 innings with the Braves, while going 0-for-5 with a walk as a pinch-hitter. He played in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League from 1949 through 1955, still seeing mound time most years, while regularly playing outfield. He put up strong numbers for Seattle during the 1949-51 seasons at the plate, finishing with an .836 OPS in 152 games in 1949, an .840 OPS in 162 games in 1950, and an .888 OPS in 143 games in 1951. He was a manager for Modesto of the California League for part of the 1956 season, then finished his career in the independent Manitoba-Dakota League during the 1956-57 seasons. In his big league career, he went 3-3, 6.30 in 100 innings over 39 games (one start). He was a .293 hitter in 58 at-bats, with three doubles and a homer. The home run came in his final at-bat/final game for the Pirates.
Johnny Hopp, outfielder for the 1948-50 Pirates. He had a 14-year career in the majors that saw him play 1,393 games, make one All-Star team and pick up MVP votes in four different seasons. His pro career began at 19 years old in 1936, hitting .361 with 24 doubles, 16 triples and 26 homers in 107 games for the Class-D Newport Elks of the Nebraska State League. He skipped numerous levels in 1937, jumping up to Rochester of the Double-A International League, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. He batted .307 with 51 extra-base hits in 141 games during his first season with Rochester, then returned there for the 1938 season, where he hit .299 with 73 runs, 40 extra-base hits, 16 steals and 60 walks in 124 games. He played for Houston of the Class-A Texas League in 1939, heading the opposite way of the desired direction, but it worked out fine for him. Hopp hit .312 with 28 doubles, 15 triples and three homers in 133 games. That led to a late-season trial with the St Louis Cardinals, and he didn’t return to the minors until after his big league career was finished. He went 2-for-4 with a walk in six games during that first stint in the majors.
As a bench player for the Cardinals in 1940, Hopp batted .270 with 24 runs, 12 extra-base hits and a .703 OPS in 80 games, getting 164 plate appearances. He began to get regular playing time in 1941, though he moved all around the first, seeing time at first base and all three outfield spots. He hit .303 with 83 runs, 40 extra-base hits, 50 walks and an .813 OPS in 134 games, which earned him an eighth place finish in the MVP voting. His playing time slipped the next two seasons, with a .258 average and a .716 OPS in 95 games in 1942, followed by a .224 average and a .604 OPS in 91 games in 1943. He only played first base in 1942, then split the 1943 season between first base and left field. As the team’s starting center fielder in 1944, he had a big season, which again gained him some mild MVP support. That year Hopp batted .336 with 35 doubles, nine triples, 11 homers, 72 RBIs and 106 runs scored. He had a .903 OPS, which was the second best mark of his career. He finished 18th in the MVP voting.
In 1945, Hopp batted .289 in 124 games, with 67 runs, 33 extra-base hits, 44 RBIs and a .758 OPS. He finished 15th in the MVP voting that year. On February 6, 1946, he was traded to the Boston Braves for Eddie Joost. Hopp was an All-Star for the only time in 1946 and finished 12th in the MVP voting, hitting .333 with 71 runs scored, 34 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs, an .827 OPS, and a career high 21 stolen bases. He batted .288 with 74 runs scored, 24 extra-base hits, 58 walks and a .734 OPS in 134 games during the 1947 season, spending most of his time in center field. Hopp had nine seasons in at the big league level when the Pirates acquired him in a five-player deal on November 18, 1947, which also included Danny Murtaugh coming to Pittsburgh. For the Pirates, he played outfield and saw some time at first base, hitting .278 his first year, with 64 runs scored, 15 doubles, 12 triples and a .730 OPS in 120 games. He played 80 games in the outfield without an error that season. He began the 1949 season with the Pirates, before getting traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for outfielder Marv Rackley in May. When Rackley reported to the Pirates, he said he had a sore arm (which he later said wasn’t true), which didn’t get better. A few weeks later the trade was voided, sending Hopp back to Pittsburgh. He went 0-for-14 in eight games with Brooklyn. After being returned, Hopp hit the ball well, batting .335 over 85 games, with 50 runs scored, 20 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs. He hit even better in 1950, batting .340 with 51 runs, 37 extra-base hits, 47 RBIs and a .952 OPS through 106 games played, when the Pirates decided to sell him to the New York Yankees in early September. Hopp ended up winning a World Series title with the Yankees that year and the next, adding to the two he won in 1942 and 1944 with the Cardinals. He put up a 1.078 OPS in 19 games with the 1950 Yankees, but he only batted twice in the World Series. In 1951, he was used mostly off of the bench, hitting .206 in 46 games, with a .623 OPS in 73 plate appearances. The Yankees gave him his fourth World Series title that season.
Hopp began 1952 with the Yankees, before being released in late May. He signed a few days later with the Detroit Tigers, where he finished out his big league career later that season. Hopp hit .197 with no homers in 57 games (81 plate appearances) in his final season. His last pro experience was as a player/manager for Grand Forks of the Class-C Northern League in 1955. He was a .296 career hitter in his 14 seasons in the majors, with 698 runs scored, 216 doubles, 74 triples, 46 homers, 458 RBIs and five seasons of batting .300 or better. He also stole 128 bases, and he had more walks (464) than strikeouts (378). Hopp hit .310 with 89 extra-base hits, 117 RBIs and 170 runs scored in his 331 games for Pittsburgh. He was successful on just 21 of 40 stolen base attempts with the Pirates, while putting up a success rate of 77% outside of Pittsburgh. Hopp had his share of trouble in the World Series, going 8-for-50 with eight singles and two walks over his five postseason appearances, putting together a .352 OPS. His career was worth 26.3 WAR.
Wilbur Fisher, pinch-hitter for the Pirates on June 13, 1916. He joined the Pirates in early June of 1916 after playing baseball at Marshall University. He was an outfielder, who was described as tall and rangy with power and good baseball smarts. Fisher never got much of a chance to show off those skills. His only Major League appearance resulted in an out when he pinch-hit for pitcher Frank Miller in the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on June 13, 1916, six days after he reported to the Pirates. When he joined the Pirates it was said that he would train with the team and if things worked out, he would get a start down the line, but in the meantime he would be used as a pinch-hitter. Fisher played 41 games of minor league ball in 1915 under the last name McCullough (his middle name), hitting .310 for Charleston of the Class-D Ohio State League. It was a common practice back in the day for college players to play games under assumed names so they were still eligible to play college ball. The Pirates in 1906 had a college star named Dutch Meier on their roster, who had played exhibition games with the team the previous season. He went by the name “Koch” in those games.
The Pirates scouted Fisher during that time in Charleston and liked what they saw, but it was said that they lost track of him until scout Chick Fraser saw him at Marshall University, where he was batting .450 at the time that he signed. He was officially signed on June 1, 1916 after the Pirates released veteran second baseman Otto Knabe. The Pirates parted ways with Fisher on June 26th, giving him his unconditional release after they couldn’t find a good spot for him in the minors. He ended up playing for Huntington of the Ohio State League in 1916, where it was said that he put up a .300 average. He played Petersburg of the Class-C Virginia League in 1917, though no stats are available and a 1919 article says that he played independent ball that year. Another article said that he hit for power and “fielded like Joe Jackson” during his time in Petersburg. He signed to play for Louisville of the American Association in March of 1919, but a few weeks into the season, he was sold to Birmingham of the Southern Association, where he batted .240 with seven extra-base hits in 72 games. There’s no record of him playing after 1919. Fisher is one of three Majors Leaguers who were born on July 18, 1894. That list also includes Bill Haeffner…
Bill Haeffner, catcher for the 1920 Pirates. He began his pro career in the minors at 20 years old, playing for Hamilton of the Class-B Canadian League, where he hit .215 in 61 games, with 16 runs, seven doubles, one homer and three steals. The next year he played four games for the Philadelphia A’s in late June/early July, as Connie Mack went through 56 players during a 43-109 season. He also spent part of that season playing for Charlotte of the Class-D North Carolina State League, though no stats are available. Haeffner then played semi-pro ball until 1920 when Pittsburgh picked him up after scout Bill Murray saw him catch five games and then recommended him to manager George Gibson. He was signed just after Christmas Day in 1919 and it was said that the Pirates planned to have a strong and deep catching group for the 1920 season, which ultimately led to Haeffner barely seeing any time behind the plate for the first two months. He played just three of the first 52 games of year for the Pirates, then played in 51 of the final 103 games. He hit .194 with eight runs, four doubles, one triple and 14 RBIs in 175 at-bats, while throwing out 46% of would-be base stealers. Haeffner got his chance to play when two Pirates catchers were hurt in the same game. The regular starter, Walter Schmidt, took a foul ball off his wrist and couldn’t continue. Second string catcher Cliff Lee tried to put down a bunt during his at-bat and he was hit on the hand and had to leave, forcing the Pirates to go to Haeffner for the rest of that game. He also played another six full games over a four-day span thanks to two doubleheaders.
Just before players were due to report to Spring Training in 1921, Haeffner informed the team that he decided to retire after his salary demands weren’t met, though he began playing independent/outlaw ball that same year. He was placed on the ineligible list by baseball commissioner Judge Landis, but he would return to pro baseball seven years later with the Pirates in Spring Training of 1928 after he was reinstated on February 13th of that same year. Haeffner ended up being lost via waivers on March 30th to the New York Giants, where he played just two early season games, both as a late inning replacement during blowout games. He then went on to Boston (Braves) where he played in in-season exhibition games, but never got in a real game. His actual time in pro ball consisted of just four seasons, and his big league career with three teams over three seasons amounted to 59 games total. He played baseball near his home in 1929 on a team called Media of the Delaware County League in Pennsylvania. It was said that he turned down several semi-pro offers to remain near his home. Haeffner also served as a manager during parts of his semi-pro time.
Harry Davis, first baseman for the 1896-98 Pirates (Editor’s note: His birthday has been recently updated to July 18th from July 19th, so I’ve included him here and removed him from tomorrow’s article). Davis debuted in pro ball at 20 years old in 1894, playing briefly for Providence of the Eastern League, while also spending time with Pawtucket of the Class-B New England League. He was with Pawtucket in 1895 before joining the New York Giants in late September for seven big league games in which he hit .292 and drove in six runs. He remained with New York in 1896, mostly playing left field and first base through the first three months of the season. The Pirates acquired him from the Giants on July 25, 1896, along with cash, in exchange for Hall of Fame first baseman Jake Beckley. Davis had 71 games worth of Major League experience at the time, batting .276 with 56 RBIs. He did not hit well during his first half season with the Pirates, batting .190 with 24 runs, 11 extra-base hits (no homers), 23 RBIs and a .548 OPS, but the Pirates stuck with him and the move paid off the following season. In 1897, Davis hit .305 in 111 games, with 70 runs, 63 RBIs, 21 steals and a league leading 28 triples, despite collecting just ten doubles and two homers that year. He played 64 games at first base, 32 at third base and also played 14 games in the outfield.
Davis hit .293 with 31 runs, 23 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs in 58 games for the 1898 Pirates before being sold to the Louisville Colonels in July. He finished out the season batting .217/.255/.304 in 37 games for Louisville, and he also played one game for the Washington Senators. Davis barely played in the majors in 1899, hitting .188/.288/.313 in 18 games for the Senators. He returned to Providence that year, where he hit .339 with 52 extra-base hits in 110 games, followed by a .332 average in 135 games for Providence in 1900. He hit 44 doubles, scored 108 runs and stole 70 bases that second season. In 1901, he reappeared with the Philadelphia A’s as their regular first baseman, a position he would hold on the team for 11 seasons. Davis led the American League in homers for four straight years (1904-07), three times he led the league in doubles, twice in RBIs and he batted over .300 three times.
In 1901 for the A’s, Davis batted .306 with 92 runs, 28 doubles, ten triples, eight homers, 76 RBIs, 21 steals and a .791 OPS in 117 games. He hit .307 in 1902, with a league leading 43 doubles, to go along with 92 runs, 28 steals, 92 RBIs and a .787 OPS in 133 games. In 1903, he batted .298 in 106 games, with 77 runs scored, 41 extra-base hits, 55 RBIs, 24 steals and a .783 OPS. He led the league with ten homers in 1904, while setting a personal high with a .309 batting average. In 102 games that year, he had 54 runs, 21 doubles, 11 triples, 62 RBIs and an .840 OPS that ranked second in the American League. Davis led the AL in 1905 with 47 doubles, 93 runs scored, eight homers and 83 RBIs. He set a career high with 38 steals. Those run/RBI numbers don’t sound impressive, but that year was a down year for offense all around the sport, even on the low end for the deadball era. His .756 OPS that year ranked fifth best in the league. Davis set career highs with 94 runs scored and 96 RBIs in 1906, with the latter stat leading the league. He also set a career high with 12 homers, which led the league, and he had a .292 average and 42 doubles. His .815 OPS was the third best mark in the league. In 1907, he batted .266 in 149 games, with league leading totals of 35 doubles and eight homers. He scored 84 runs and had 87 RBIs. Despite those stats, his .713 OPS that year was the beginning of the downside to his offense. The amazing part is that number still ranked seventh best in the league.
Davis batted .248 with 61 walks and 37 extra-base hits in 147 games in 1908, resulting in a .689 OPS. While that was a drop for him, he was still well above league average during that season (.598 OPS for the AL). Davis batted .268 with 37 extra-base hits, 75 RBIs and 73 runs scored in 1909. He stole 20 bases that season, the last of nine straight years with at least 20 steals. He saw his OPS drop to .641 in 139 games in 1910 when he hit .248 with 61 runs, 24 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs. Davis stole 17 bases that year, then had just two steals after that season. He lost his starting job in late June in 1911 and finished the year with a .197/.297/.273 slash line in 57 games. Davis managed the Cleveland Indians in 1912 to a 54-71 record, then returned to the A’s in 1913 as a coach. He played in the majors every season from 1912-17, though he got into only 21 games over those six seasons, giving him a total of 22 seasons in the majors. He was a career .277 hitter, with 361 doubles, 145 triples, 285 stolen bases, 951 RBIs and 1,001 runs scored in 1,755 games. He had ten seasons of 20+ steals. Despite four home run crowns, he finished with 75 career homers. He hit .278 in 213 games with the Pirates, with 47 triples, 24 doubles, three homers, 110 RBIs and 125 runs scored.
On this date in 1951, Ralph Kiner hit three homers and drove in seven runs in a 13-12 road victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Kiner was the fourth batter of the game and he hit a grand slam in his first at-bat. He followed that up with a two-run homer in the fourth and a solo shot in the eighth. He had a chance for a fourth home run, but his deep fly to right field in the ninth wasn’t quite enough. Kiner had four games during his career with three homers, two in 1947 and one in 1948. Here’s the boxscore.