Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a trade of note and a unique feat by the Great One. Before we get into that, current Pirates pitcher Cam Alldred turns 26 today.
Doug Drabek, pitcher for the 1987-92 Pirates. He was a workhorse in the Pirates rotation, averaging 33 starts and 227 innings pitched per season over his six years in Pittsburgh. He remains as the last Pirates pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. He was originally drafted in the fourth round by the Cleveland Indians out of high school in 1980, but chose not to sign. Three years later, his stock had dropped, going to the Chicago White Sox in the 11th round of the 1983 draft out of the University of Houston. He went 6-7, 3.65, with 103 strikeouts in 103.2 innings for Niagara Falls in the short-season New York-Penn League during that 1983 season. Most of the 1984 season was spent three levels higher in Double-A, where he went 12-5, 2.24 in 124.2 innings for Glens Falls of the Eastern League. He also saw one start for Appleton of the Class-A Midwest League. Just one year and two months after being drafted, Drabek was traded to the New York Yankees on August 13, 1984 as one of two players to be named later for veteran shortstop Roy Smalley. Drabek finished the 1984 season in Double-A Nashville of the Southern League with the Yankees, where he had a 2.32 ERA in 31 innings. Between all three stops, he went 14-7, 2.24 with 103 strikeouts in 160.2 innings.
Drabek spent the entire 1985 season back in Double-A (Yankees affiliate switched to Albany-Colonie of the Eastern League), despite strong results both years at the level. He went 13-7, 2.99, with nine complete games and 153 strikeouts in 192.2 innings during his second stint in Double-A. He struggled badly through eight starts at Triple-A in 1986 (7.29 ERA in 42 innings), but he was still up in the majors by the end of that May. He made 21 starts and six relief appearances for the 1986 Yankees, posting a 7-8, 4.10 record in 131.2 innings. In the off-season, the Yankees and Pirates hooked up in a deal that sent veteran pitchers Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante and Pat Clements to New York in exchange for three young pitchers, Drabek, Brian Fisher and Logan Easley.
Pittsburgh put Drabek in their starting rotation in 1987 and never looked back. He made 28 starts that first year with the Pirates, going 11-12, 3.88 in 176.1 innings, with 120 strikeouts. It was just a glimpse of the true potential he would begin to reach the very next season. The 1988 Pirates finished second in the National League East and a big reason for that finish was the emergence of Drabek as the Pirates ace. He didn’t have the best ERA on the team (that belonged to Bob Walk, 2.71), but Drabek had the best record and lead the team in innings pitched. That season he finished at 15-7, 3.08 with 219.1 innings pitched, with 127 strikeouts and a 1.11 WHIP. The Pirates were expecting to contend in 1989, but they faltered through no fault of Drabek. He went 14-12, with five of those wins coming by shutout. His 2.80 ERA was .01 ahead of teammate John Smiley, who finished four games over the .500 mark. Drabek pitched 244.1 innings that season, the fifth highest total in the National League, and he had 123 strikeouts. He made 34 starts and pitched eight complete games. The Pirates’ ship was righted in 1990, and behind the pitching of Drabek they made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. He had a remarkable season, winning the NL Cy Young award with a 22-6 record. He had the best winning percentage in the league, finished fifth with his 231.1 innings pitched and sixth with his 2.76 ERA. His 131 strikeouts were a career high to that point, but it was a mark he would surpass five times in his career. His season was strong enough that he also finished eighth in the NL MVP voting. He was strong in the playoffs, even during his 2-1 complete game loss in game two against the Cincinnati Reds. Drabek staved off elimination five days later, winning game five by a 3-2 score.
Drabek’s record in 1991 doesn’t tell the whole story. On the outside, it looks like a bad season, going 15-14 for a team that almost won 100 games, but his 3.07 ERA was one point better (for a second time) than John Smiley, who finished with a 20-8 record. Drabek made a career high 35 starts and finished fourth in the NL with 234.2 innings pitched. In more than half of his starts, the Pirates scored 0-3 runs. He had five complete games, two shutouts and 142 strikeouts. He topped his 1.65 playoff ERA from the previous season by allowing one earned run over 15 innings. Unfortunately, that one run led to a loss in game six as the Pirates were shutout by the Atlanta Braves. Drabek had one last year left in Pittsburgh before free agency kicked in, and he made the most of the 1992 season. He helped the Pirates to their third straight NL East pennant, by going 15-11, 2.77 in 34 starts, throwing ten complete games and four shutouts. He set a career high with 177 strikeouts, which was good for fifth best in the NL. He threw a career high 256.2 innings that season, en route to a fifth place finish in the Cy Young voting. His run of playoff dominance was over though, losing all three starts to the Braves that postseason.
After the 1992 season ended, Drabek signed with his hometown Houston Astros, where things didn’t go well. That first season he had a respectable 3.79 ERA in 237.2 innings, but he led the NL with 18 losses, while picking up nine wins. His 157 strikeouts ranked ninth in the league. He had a strong 1994 season, which was shortened to 23 starts due to the mid-season strike. That year he went 12-6, 2.84 in 164.2 innings and made his only career All-Star appearance. He finished fourth in the Cy Young voting. In his last two years with Houston, he went 17-18 combined with an ERA over 4.50 each year. While he was still making all of his starts, his innings totals dropped significantly after leaving Pittsburgh. He averaged over 230 innings per season from 1988 through 1993, then saw that average drop to just over 170 innings per season during the next four years. During that 1995 season, he led the league with 31 starts, but his 185 innings didn’t rank in the top ten in the league. He had a winning record that year (10-9) with a 4.77 ERA, then saw his record drop to 7-9 with a slightly lower ERA (4.57) in 1996. He finished 32-40, 4.00 in 762.2 innings with Houston.
Things got worse for Drabek after leaving the Astros, posting a 5.74 ERA in 169.1 innings over 31 starts for the 1997 Chicago White Sox. Despite that high ERA, he managed to finish above .500, with a 12-11 record. He had 85 strikeouts that year, the first time he failed to reach triple digits since his rookie season with the Yankees. He then a 6-11, 7.29 record in 108.2 innings for the 1998 Baltimore Orioles, which was his last Major League stop. Drabek made 196 starts for the Pirates, going 92-62, 3.02 in 1,362.2 innings. He ranks 20th in team history in wins and no pitcher over the last 43 years has won more games in a Pirates uniform. Overall in his career, he went 155-134, 3.73 with 387 Major League starts, throwing a total of 2,535 innings. He threw 53 complete games and 21 shutouts. He became a minor league pitching coach after his career ended. His son Kyle Drabek pitched parts of seven seasons in the majors, seeing time with three different clubs.
Alex Presley, outfielder for the 2010-13 Pirates. He was an eighth round draft pick in 2006, who rode a hot streak in 2010 to the majors and managed to play eight seasons, while seeing time with five clubs. He was selected by the Pirates out of the University of Mississippi. In 2006, he went to the short-season New York-Penn League, where he batted .260 in 61 games, with 18 extra-base hits and a .716 OPS for Williamsport. In 2007, he was with Low-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League, where he had a .293 average, 79 runs, 41 extra-base hits, 63 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. The Pirates sent him to winter ball in Hawaii, where he batted .306 in 13 games. In 2008, Presley played at High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League for the first of two seasons and it appeared that his career stalled. He hit .258 with 22 extra-base hits, 13 steals and a .705 OPS in 82 games during his first year, then batted .257 with 32 extra-base hits, nine steals and a .684 OPS in 115 games in 2009. Presley didn’t look like a surefire future MLB player until 2010, when he hit .320 with some power and speed, while splitting the season between Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League and Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League. He had a .350 average, 26 extra-base hits and a .932 OPS in 67 games with Altoona, then put up a .294 average and an .809 OPS in 69 games with Indianapolis. He combined to collect 86 runs, 28 doubles, 13 triples, 12 homers, 13 steals and an .867 OPS. By the end of the year he was in the majors, hitting .261/.292/.304 in 19 games for the Pirates.
Presley was back in Triple-A in 2011, where he hit .333/.388/.485 in 87 games before coming back to the Pirates in late June. He batted .298 in 52 games with Pittsburgh that season, showing some power (22 extra-base hits) and speed (nine steals), while finishing with an .804 OPS. That earned him a big league job in 2012, though he couldn’t repeat his success. He had a .237 average and a .683 OPS in 104 games and even saw some time back in Indianapolis before the season was over. A majority of the 2013 season was spent with Indianapolis, where he hit .298 in 89 games, with 28 extra-base hits, 17 steals and an .803 OPS. He batted .264/.274/.389 in 29 games for the Pirates that year before being traded to the Minnesota Twins for Justin Morneau on August 31, 2013. Presley was given the starting center field job for the Twins in September of 2013 and he hit .283 in 28 games, though low power/walk numbers led to a .699 OPS. The Twins lost him on waivers to the Houston Astros during Spring Training of 2014 and that year he batted .244 with a .628 OPS in 89 games for the Astros.
Presley played just eight big league games with the Astros in 2015, spending the rest of the year in Triple-A, where he had a .713 OPS in 89 games. He then became a free agent at the end of the year and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he hit .198/.271/.293 in 47 games before being released in early July of 2016. He quickly signed with the Detroit Tigers, although he played just three big league games there in 2016, spending the rest of his time in Triple-A. During the 2017 season, Presley split the year between the Tigers and their Triple-A club (Toledo of the International League). With the Tigers, he hit .314 in 71 games, with 30 runs scored, 16 extra-base hits, and a .770 OPS. Despite the success, he became a free agent after the season and spent the 2018 season with the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox in Triple-A before being released in late June, ending his pro career. Over eight seasons in the majors, Presley hit .263/.306/.388 in 450 games, with 157 runs, 50 doubles, 19 triples, 29 homers, 111 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. With the Pirates, he hit .261 with 83 runs, 16 homers, 49 RBIs and 19 steals in 204 games.
Ed Sprague, third baseman for the 1999 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of high school in the 25th round in 1985, but decided to go to college. He was signed as a first round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays during the 1988 draft out of Stanford University. He signed too late to play his first year, then the Blue Jays were ultra aggressive with him in 1989. After starting off in High-A Dunedin of the Florida State League and hitting just .219/.300/.396 in 52 games, he played 86 games with Triple-A Syracuse of the International League and had a .208 average and a .580 OPS. He remained in Syracuse in 1990 and batted .239, though it came with 23 doubles and 20 homers, giving him a respectable .711 OPS. Sprague was in the majors by early May of 1991, although it took two partial seasons before he was a regular in the Toronto lineup. He hit .275 with seven doubles, four homers, 20 RBIs and a .755 OPS in 61 games during his rookie season, seeing sporadic starts during the second half of the season. His Triple-A time that year was limited to 23 games, though he put up a 1.056 OPS. Sprague then spent a majority of 1992 back in Syracuse, where he had a .276 average and an .824 OPS in 100 games. For the Blue Jays that season, he hit .234 with one homer, seven RBIs and a .620 OPS in 22 games.
Sprague was the starting third baseman in 1993, playing 150 games. He batted .260 with 50 runs, 31 doubles, 12 homers, 73 RBIs and a .696 OPS, as the Blue Jays won their second straight World Series title that year. He batted five times in the playoffs in 1992, then had a total of 72 plate appearances in the 1993 playoffs. He had a rough time in the World Series, going 1-for-15 with a .178 OPS. He played 109 of 115 games during the strike-shortened 1994 season, hitting .240 with 38 runs, 19 doubles, 11 homers, 44 RBIs and a .669 OPS. During the 1995 season, which was also shortened by the strike, Sprague played in all 144 games for Toronto, hitting .244 with 77 runs, 27 doubles, 18 homers, 74 RBIs and a .740 OPS. He also drew 58 walks, which matched his combined total from the previous three seasons. He had a career year the next season, setting personal bests with 88 runs scored, 35 doubles, 36 homers, 101 RBIs and 60 walks in 159 games. His .821 OPS was easily the highest of his career to that point, but he would approach that number in the future.
Sprague’s numbers fell off dramatically in 1997, hitting .228 with 63 runs, 29 doubles, 14 homers and 48 RBIs in 138 games. His .691 OPS was 130 points lower than the previous season. His power returned slightly in 1998, hitting .238 with 20 doubles, 17 homers and 51 RBIs in 105 games with the Blue Jays. At the July 31st trading deadline, he was dealt to the Oakland A’s, where he batted just .149/.187/.310 in 27 games. He became a free agent after the season. The Pirates signed Sprague on December 16, 1998 and made him their starting third baseman. He responded with his only All-Star season, helping the Pirates to 78 wins and a third place finish in the NL Central. He batted .267, which was his highest full season average in the majors, and he hit 22 homers, while driving in 81 runs. Both of those numbers were his second highest totals, trailing only his big 1996 season. His .817 OPS fell just short of his career best.
Sprague left the Pirates as a free agent after the 1999 season and played two more years in the majors, spending time with three different teams. With the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox in 2000, he hit .243 with 30 runs, 16 doubles, 12 homers and 36 RBIs in 106 games. The Padres released him during Spring Training in 2001 and he didn’t sign anywhere until early May. With the 2001 Seattle Mariners, he had a .298 average in 45 games, though he saw a lot of bench time, while playing five different positions. He had an .810 OPS in 107 plate appearances that season. He signed a free agent deal with the Texas Rangers in 2002, but he spent the entire season in Triple-A, where he had a .759 OPS in 106 games for Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League. That ended up being his final season in pro ball. Sprague finished his 11-year big league career with a .247 average in 1,203 games, with 225 doubles, 152 homers, 558 RBIs and 506 runs scored. He was the head coach at Pacific University for 12 seasons after retiring as a player. Ed’s father, Ed Sprague Sr., pitched for eight seasons in the majors.
Jack McMahan, pitcher for the 1956 Pirates. The Yankees signed the 19-year-old left-handed McMahan in 1952, sending him to Class-D ball for McAlester of the Sooner State League, where he switched between starting and relief, going 9-7, 3.43 in 134 innings over 24 games (12 starts). He split the 1953 season between Class-D Owensboro of the KITTY League and Class-C Joplin of the Western Association. McMahan threw a total of 220 innings between both stops that year, going 13-11, 3.68, with slightly better results at the higher level. He had 156 strikeouts that season, with a much higher strikeout rate at the lower level. In 1954, he played for Quincy of the Class-B Three-I League, where he pitched mostly in relief. He had an 11-7, 3.79 record in 159 innings in 44 appearances (eight starts). By 1955 he was up in Double-A, pitching well in the long-man role out of the bullpen. In 46 games that year, he threw 111 innings, going 11-5 with a 2.62 ERA for Birmingham of the Southern Association. The Pirates took him in the November 1955 Rule 5 draft. In the first two months of the 1956 season, he was being used strictly in a mop-up role, making 11 appearances, with all of them coming during Pirates losses. He had a 6.08 ERA in 13.1 innings during that time. On June 23, 1956 the Pirates traded McMahan, along with second baseman Curt Roberts, to the Philadelphia A’s in exchange for second baseman Spook Jacobs.
The A’s tried McMahan a starter for awhile, though he didn’t pitch well, going 0-5, 6.35 in nine starts. He ended up pitching 14 times in relief and finished his half season in Philadelphia with a 4.82 ERA in 61.2 innings. He walked 31 batters during that time while picking up just 13 strikeouts. He ended up appearing in just two wins during his 34 appearances that year, and both were starts that he got knocked out of early. In February of 1957, he was dealt back to the Yankees as part of a 13-player deal that also included Curt Roberts. McMahan never made it back to the majors, finishing his career three years later in the minors. He ended up playing for Denver of the Triple-A American Association in 1957-58, Richmond of the Triple-A International League in 1958-59 and ending with Atlanta of the Southern Association in 1959. He went 3-5, 4.84 in 67 innings in 1957, making 46 relief appearances and one start. During the 1958 season, McMahan went 1-4, 4.16, finishing with 67 innings for the second straight season. He saw similar results/time in both stops that year, as he made a total of 41 appearances (three starts). In his final season of pro ball (limited stats available), he went 2-0 in 11 games. He had 44 wins in pro ball by age 22, then finished with 50 wins total.
Marv Rackley, outfielder for the 1949 Pirates. He originally signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941 at 19 years old, but his baseball career was put on hold for three seasons while he served in the military during WWII. He played for Class-D Valdosta of the Georgia-Florida League that first year, hitting .322 with 40 extra-base hits in 133 games. In 1942, he split the season fairly evenly between Class-C Dayton of the Middle Atlantic League and Class-C Durham of the Piedmont League. Rackley hit .261 with 24 extra-base hits in 106 games that season, with better results at the lower level. The 1943-45 seasons were spent in the military. He returned in 1946 and played for Montreal of the Triple-A International League, where he hit .305 in 124 games, with 102 runs scored, 38 extra-base hits, 66 RBIs, 78 walks, 65 stolen bases and an .842 OPS. He made the Dodgers Opening Day roster in 1947, although he was used sparingly off the bench early, and by June he was back in the minors. Rackley finished the year getting just nine at-bats in 18 games for the Dodgers. He spent the rest of the season with St Paul of the Triple-A American Association, where he hit .316 in 60 games, with 16 extra-base hits, 22 RBIs and an .803 OPS.
Rackley was in the majors during most of the 1948 season, and while he didn’t hit for power or take many walks, he did manage to bat .327 with 55 runs scored in 88 games. That year he also had a .999 OPS in 20 games with Montreal. In 1949, he wasn’t seeing much playing time with Brooklyn, getting 11 plate appearances and two starts over the first month of the season. The Pirates acquired him in May, in exchange for outfielder Johnny Hopp. Within three weeks of the exchange, the deal was voided due to an arm injury to Rackley that the Pirates claimed he had before coming over in the trade. Despite the reported injury, he batted .314/.351/.371 in 11 games in Pittsburgh. There were rumors that Rackley just didn’t want to be traded and there was nothing wrong with his arm. He was sent back to the Dodgers, where he hit .291 with a .705 OPS in 54 games over the rest of the season. Just as the 1949 season ended, the Dodgers sold Rackley to the Cincinnati Reds, reportedly for $60,000. He lasted just five early season games there in 1950 before he was shipped to the minors, where he played out the rest of his career, retiring after the 1955 season.
Rackley had a career .317 average over 185 Major League games, with 87 runs, 20 doubles, one home run and 35 RBIs. While he had those big stolen base numbers in the minors, he went 10-for-20 in steals in the majors. His minor league time from 1950 on saw him plays parts of two seasons with four different teams, starting with Seattle of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1950-51, Birmingham of the Double-A Southern Association in 1951-52, Baltimore of the International League in 1952-53, and Richmond of the International League in 1954-55. He batted .294 in 107 games for Seattle in 1950, and he hit .351 in 91 games for Birmingham in 1951, though he was dropping down a level of the minors that season. His difficulties with the Dodgers likely kept him in the minors. With Baltimore, he hit .320 in 111 games in 1953, followed by a .318 average in 116 games in 1954.
On this date in 1896, the Pirates traded star first baseman Jake Beckley to the New York Giants in exchange for first baseman Harry Davis and cash, in a very unpopular deal at the time. Beckley had been in Pittsburgh since 1888, spending all but one of those years with the Pirates. Along with most of his teammates in 1890, he jumped to the newly formed Player’s League, which was a league that lasted just one season. In his seven full seasons with the Pirates, Beckley drove in 96 or more runs in five of those years, batting over .300 five times as well. From 1891 until 1895, he hit 19+ triples every season. At the time of the deal, the 28-year-old was the Pirates all-time home run leader. The Pirates thought Beckley was slowing down due to his .253 average and just 15 extra base hits after 59 games in 1896. Davis was six years younger, though he was unproven with only 71 games in the majors at that point.
After the deal, Davis really struggled as the everyday first baseman for Pittsburgh, while Beckley resorted to his old ways. Davis batted .190 over the rest of the year, while Beckley hit .302 with 38 RBIs in 46 games. The trade took a favorable turn for the Pirates the next season, with Beckley getting released by New York after a really slow start, while Davis was hitting well. Beckley signed on with the Cincinnati Reds after two teams thought he was done and he proved both of them wrong. He went on to hit .325 over seven seasons in Cincinnati, putting together a resume that eventually landed him in the Hall of Fame. Davis had a strong 1897 season for Pittsburgh, leading the National League with 28 triples, to go along with a .305 average. Like Beckley, his career took off after multiple teams gave up on him. The Pirates sold him in early 1898 to Louisville, who moved him quickly to the Washington Senators. Davis went to the minors for two years, returning to the majors in 1901, this time playing in the newly-formed American League. There he had a great ten-year stretch with the Philadelphia A’s, winning three home run titles, three times leading the league in doubles, twice in RBIs and once in runs. He played his last Major League game 21 years after this trade was made.
On this date in 1956, Roberto Clemente hit a bottom-of-the-ninth, walk-off, inside-the-park grand slam for a 9-8 win over the Chicago Cubs. He is the only player to accomplish that feat in Major League history. Inside-the-park homers are obviously rare on their own, though they were more common when the ballparks were bigger. To hit a walk-off grand slam and have it be an inside-the-park homer, you need the bases loaded obviously, you need to be the home team (that wasn’t always required), and it can only happen when you’re down by three runs. That’s unlike a regular grand slam, which just needs the score to be within three runs, but it could even be tied at the time. Most defenses in a bases loaded/down by three runs situation would be playing to prevent extra-base hits, making a rare feat even more difficult…which is probably why it has only happened once, 66 years ago today.