This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: July 28th, A Noteworthy Trade and a Big Comeback

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus two trades and a game of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1939, the Pirates traded first baseman Gus Suhr to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for pitcher Max Butcher. Suhr played ten years for Pittsburgh and ranks near the top of the team’s all-time first basemen list. He played 1,365 games for the Pirates, hitting .278 with 689 runs, 276 doubles, 112 triples,79 homers and 789 RBIs. By the time this trade happened though, he was nearing the end of his career at 33 years old. The Phillies got just 70 games out of him before releasing him during the 1940 season. He ended up playing over 600 more minor league games after being released, but never played in the majors again. Butcher was a 28-year-old righty with a 2-13, 5.79 record in 105.2 innings at the time of the deal. He had a career record at that point of 28-46 in four seasons. The move to Pittsburgh helped Butcher, who finished up 67-60, 3.34 in 1,171.2 innings over 202 games (154 starts) during his seven seasons with the Pirates. He won a career high 17 games in 1941, but he had a lower ERA in three of his final four seasons in the majors. His career was worth 17.8 WAR in ten seasons, with 15.2 of that coming while with the Pirates. Suhr had 20.9 WAR with the Pirates, and 1.8 WAR after the trade.

On this date in 2000, the Pirates sent left fielder Wil Cordero to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for infielder Enrique Wilson and outfielder Alex Ramirez. Cordero was with Cleveland in 1999, hitting .299 in 54 games. The Pirates signed him as a free agent in December of 1999. The 28-year-old had been in the majors since 1992, and in 1994 he was an All-Star shortstop for the Montreal Expos. With the Pirates, he hit .282 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs in 89 games. After the trade, he played 38 games for Cleveland in 2000 without hitting a homer. Cordero bounced around the majors after that season, playing until 2005, when he hit just .118 for the Washington Nationals.

Wilson had just turned 27 years old, and he was in his fourth season with Cleveland, hitting .287 in a total of 190 games. A top ranked prospect in their system, he played third base, second base and shortstop. He ended up playing 86 games for the Pirates over the 2000-01 seasons, hitting .223/.262/.315, before being dealt to the New York Yankees for reliever Damaso Marte. Ramirez was a 25-year-old, who had hit well in parts of three seasons with Cleveland, batting .286 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 92 games. With Pittsburgh he had some trouble at the plate, hitting .209 in 43 games with a 7/32 BB:SO ratio and a .637 OPS. After the season, he was sold to Japan, where he played until 2013 and hit 380 homers. In his 21 total seasons of pro ball, he hit 508 homers. The deal didn’t work out for either team, as the three players involved in the deal all had troubles with their new team. The acquisition of Marte, who pitched well for the Pirates, didn’t give the Pirates much of an advantage because they made a poor trade by sending him to the Chicago White Sox in March of 2002. It was only after he returned in 2005 that the Pirates got value out of him.

The Players

Carmelo Martinez, first baseman for the 1990-91 Pirates. He signed with the Chicago Cubs at 18 years old in 1978 as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Rico. He debuted in the Gulf Coast League in 1979, where he hit .203 with one homer, 23 RBIs and a .538 OPS in 40 games. He moved up to full-season ball the next year and hit .257 with 65 runs, 23 doubles, 12 homers, 64 RBIs, 54 walks and a .719 OSP in 128 games for Quad Cities of the Class-A Midwest League. He was up in Double-A in 1981, playing for Midland of the Texas League, where he hit .296 with 65 runs, 22 doubles, 21 homers, 84 RBIs, 56 walks and a .907 OPS in 116 games. He repeated the level in 1982 and did even better, hitting .334 in 131 games, with 100 runs, 35 doubles, 27 homers, 93 RBIs, 85 walks and a 1.033 OPS. Martinez played 123 games in Triple-A in 1983, batting .251 with 76 runs, 25 doubles, 31 homers, 94 RBIs, 61 walks and an .851 OPS for Iowa of the American Association. He came up to the majors in late August and hit .258 with six homers, 16 RBIs and a .782 OPS in 29 games for the Cubs. That December he was part of a six-player, three-team trade, going to the San Diego Padres in the deal.

In his first full season in the majors, Martinez helped the Padres get to the World Series by hitting .250 with 64 runs, 28 doubles, 13 homers, 66 RBIs, 68 walks and a .736 OPS in 149 games. He managed to hit .176 (3-for-17) in both the NLCS and the Fall Classic, with a .399 OPS in the five-game series with the Detroit Tigers. He finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting. The next year he hit .253 in 150 games, with 64 runs, 28 doubles, 21 homers, 72 RBIs, 87 walks and a .796 OPS. He finished with a league leading 14 assists from left field. His 3.6 WAR that year trailed only his rookie season when he had 4.1 WAR. Martinez struggled at the plate in 1986, hitting .238 in 113 games, with 28 runs, ten doubles, nine homers, 25 RBIs and a .723 OPS. He rebounded the next year, batting .273 with 59 runs, 21 doubles, 15 homers, 70 RBIs, 70 walks and a career best .802 OPS. His average dropped to .236 in 1988, and his walk rate dropped as well, though he managed to hit 18 homers and drive in 65 runs in 121 games. He finished with a .717 OPS, which was his lowest mark to that point.

Martinez saw his playing time drop more in 1989, as he hit .221 in 111 games, with 23 runs, 20 extra-base hits, 39 RBIs and a .651 OPS. Even though he played just ten more games in the previous season, he saw his plate appearances drop in 1989 by 104 (405 down to 301). After the 1989 season, Martinez signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent and rebounded in a part-time role. In 71 games with the Phillies, he batted .242 with 23 runs, eight doubles, eight homers, 31 RBIs and a .743 OPS. The Pirates acquired him from Philadelphia on August 30, 1990 to help with their first pennant run in 11 years. It was a deal that could have been awful for the Pirates, as General Manager Larry Doughty mistakenly put two prospects on waivers and had to give up a third to work out a deal with the Phillies. As it turned out, the three prospects put up a total of 1.7 WAR in their big league careers, which is meaningless when acquiring help for a playoff push.

Martinez hit .211 with two homers and an .829 OPS in 12 games (three starts) for Pittsburgh in 1990. He started twice in the NLCS that year against the Cincinnati Reds and went 2-for-8 with two doubles and two RBIs. He began the 1991 season with the Pirates, but was dealt to the Kansas City Royals in early May for pitcher Victor Cole. Martinez was a bench player at the time, going 4-for-16 with four singles and a walk in 11 games. He would be traded to the Reds later in the season and he finished the year between all three stops with a .222 average in 108 games, with 30 runs, 11 doubles, ten homers, 36 RBIs and 43 walks. That 1991 season ended up being his last year in the majors, ending his nine-year career with a .245 average, 350 runs, 134 doubles, 108 homers and 424 RBIs in 1,003 games. Martinez spent the 1992 season in Japan, then played all of 1993 in Triple-A for the Seattle Mariners, before playing in Mexico for the 1994-95 seasons. He also spent a short time with the Cleveland Indians in Triple-A in 1995. He is the cousin of Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez.

Duke Esper, lefty pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys and the 1892 Pirates. He had two stints with Pittsburgh, playing for two drastically different teams just two years apart and his results were the exact opposite. His records show that he had just three games of pro experience making the majors, playing for Smyrna of the Delaware State League in 1899 at 21 years old. That wasn’t odd back then, as semi-pro teams were everywhere and highly competitive at the time, so players occasionally went right to the majors. As a rookie in 1890, Esper began the year with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, where he went 8-9, 4.89 in 143.2 innings over 18 games (16 starts). After being released in August, he signed with the Alleghenys and made two starts, both one-sided losses. He ended up with the Alleghenys under some odd circumstances. The day before his debut with Pittsburgh, he went through a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies and their Hall of Fame manager George Wright. It was said that if he looked good he would pitch the next day for the Phillies. However, he ended up pitching against the Phillies the next day for the Alleghenys. His debut on August 23rd was said to be a strong pitching performance with poor defense behind him in a 7-0 loss, where the paper claimed that none of the runs were earned. Pittsburgh went 23-113 that season and they tried out a ton of players just to get through the season, but Esper had one of the shortest stints with the club. He wasn’t even officially signed by the team when he pitched his first game, though he signed his deal two days later. His second and final start came on August 28th in a 9-1 loss to the New York Giants. Esper was released eight days later so that he could sign with the Philadelphia Phillies to finish the season, which turned out to be a bad decision by the Alleghenys. In five starts with the Phillies, he went 5-0, 3.07 in 41 innings and remained with the team through the first half of the 1892 season.

In 1891, Esper went 20-15, 3.56 in 296 innings. He completed 25 of his 36 starts, which was actually a fairly low percentage for the time. He had an 11-6, 3.42 record in 160.1 innings through early August of 1892, when he rejoined the Pirates. The Phillies released him in late July, and it was said at the time that he was out of game shape due to spending a lot of time with his ill wife at her bedside. He was signed on July 28th, but didn’t report to Pittsburgh until a week later. Duke (first name was Charles) made three starts for a much better Pittsburgh team, going 2-0, 5.40 in 18.1 innings, with one complete game. He debuted on August 8th, but ended up returning home due to his own illness. He joined the Pirates for starts on August 29th and September 6th. During that final game he was very wild and got removed in the third inning, in what ended up being his final start of the season. The next two seasons proved just how much of an effect a bad team can have on a pitcher’s record, and vice-versa for a good team. Esper went 12-28, 4.71 in 334.1 innings in 1893 for the Washington Senators, a last place team in the 12-team National League. Those 28 losses led the league. He completed 34 of 36 starts and had a very rough SO/BB ratio, with 156 walks and 78 strikeouts.

Esper was purchased by the first place Baltimore Orioles mid-season in 1894, where he went 10-2, 3.92 in 101 innings over 16 games, after going 5-10, 7.45 in 116 innings for Washington that season. His 1895 season with the Orioles is a hard one to figure out. His ERA was exactly the same as the previous year and the Orioles were again a first place team, but Duke went 10-12 in 25 starts and nine relief appearances. To make matters even stranger, he went 14-5, 3.58 in 155.2 innings in 1896, as the Orioles took their third straight National League pennant. Esper pitched two more years in the majors for the 1897-98 St Louis Browns, going 4-11, 5.64 in 126 innings, with similar work and results each season. He finished with a 101-100, 4.39 record in 1,727.1 innings over nine seasons. He made 198 starts, 38 relief appearances, and had 152 complete games and four shutouts. He walked 669 batters, compared to 453 strikeouts. He played in the minors after his final big league game, seeing time with Hartford of the Class-A Eastern League in 1899, and Toronto of the Eastern League in 1902.

Bill Day, pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Right after the Alleghenys gave Duke Esper his last start in 1890, they brought in another pitcher from Philadelphia in the person of Bill Day (they were both born in 1867). Both pitchers had minimal big league and minor league experience. In fact, both of them played three games in the Delaware State League in 1889 before making their big league debut. Day also appeared briefly (no stats available) with Philadelphia of the Middle States League. In the Delaware State League, he spent his time with Wilmington in 1889 at age 22 before joining the Philadelphia Phillies that year for three starts and a relief appearance. He had a 1-4, 4.01 record in 42.2 innings over parts of two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, prior to coming over to the Pirates in a two-for-one exchange for outfielder Billy Sunday on August 22, 1890. That one win he had came on July 15, 1890 in an 8-4 triumph over the Alleghenys. Day joined the Alleghenys eight days after the trade was completed and he got his first start on September 2nd in Brooklyn, which was a 5-4 loss. He almost won his debut, taking a 4-2 lead into the ninth, but a fielding error by right fielder Bill Wilson allowed two runs to score and Day took the tough loss. He ended up making six starts for the Alleghenys over a 32-day stretch and all six resulted in losses, including the 113th loss of the season for Pittsburgh. The last loss of the season was a 10-4 defeat, giving the Alleghenys a Major League record for single season losses that stood for nine seasons. It has been topped just five times, even with expanded schedules. For Day, his Major League career was done at that point, although his pro career was far from over, pitching in the minors for another ten seasons before retiring.

The Alleghenys reserved Day for the 1891 season, and he was still reserved as late as February 15, 1891, but he wasn’t around for Spring Training. On April 30, 1891 it was announced that he signed with Troy of the Class-A Eastern Association. Day played all around the northeast until his last season in 1904. He had a 3-7, 2.06 record in ten starts with Troy. He played a total of 15 games, putting up a .217 average. In 1892, he played 34 games for Reading of the Class-B Pennsylvania State League. He batted .239 with six extra-base hits and posted a 9-11, 2.63 record in 147 innings. He has no 1893-94 pro stats, then came back in 1895 with Syracuse of the Class-A Eastern League, where he went 9-8, 2.96 in 146 innings, In 1896, Day played his first of three straight full seasons with New Bedford of the Class-B New England League (he also played there briefly in 1895), while also seeing brief time (with no stats available) for Rochester of the Eastern League. He went 11-6, 2.92 in 166.1 innings in 1896, followed by a 10-22, 2.70 record in 253.2 innings in 1897. No stats are available for 1898. He had a 19-11 record in 1899, which are his last available pitching stats. He split that season between Brockton of the New England League and Bridgeport of the Connecticut State League, both Class-F leagues that year. Day played with Bridgeport in 1900, as well as Rome of the Class-C New York State League. He was with Manchester of the New England League in 1901, then reappeared in pro ball in 1904 by seeing time with New Bedford, Lowell and Fall River that season, all New England League clubs.

The Game

On this date in 2001, the Pirates scored seven runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Houston Astros by a 9-8 score. Trailing by six with veteran reliever Michael Jackson on the mound, the Pirates had two outs before they had their first base runner. Kevin Young doubled, followed by a Pat Meares homer to make it 8-4. A single and a walk, followed by an RBI single by Jack Wilson, made it an 8-5 game and brought on closer Billy Wagner. He hit Jason Kendall to load the bases, which brought up Brian Giles, who put a grand slam into the right field bleachers for the walk-off win. Here’s the boxscore. Here’s the homer.