Today in Pittsburgh Pirates history, we have two transactions of note, including one that brought the franchise its all-time winningest pitcher. We also have three players born on this date from three different eras.
On this date in 1959, the Chicago White Sox traded minor league third baseman Bob Sagers and veteran outfielder Harry Simpson to the Pirates for slugging first baseman Ted Kluszewski. The Pirates traded for Kluszewski two years earlier after he had a down year for the Cincinnati Reds. The one-time prodigious home run hitter was bothered by a bad back, which sapped his ability to hit the long ball. After topping 40 homers in three straight seasons (1953-55), Big Klu managed just six in 160 games for the Pirates. Simpson was a 33-year-old journeyman outfielder, who played some first base as well. The White Sox were his second team in 1959 and he was seeing limited action. He was an All-Star in 1956, driving in 105 runs, but had been in decline since that season. Sagers was a 25-year-old infielder, with a solid bat and no Major League experience. After the deal, the Pirates received very little return, getting nine games from Simpson and one minor league season from Sagers, who never made the majors. When the initial deal was made, the Pirates had the option of keeping Simpson after the season or selling him back to Chicago, and they chose the latter, returning him on October 16th. The White Sox got a nice batting average (.294) from Kluszewski, who had 318 at-bats for them between 1959-60. He never regained his power though, hitting just seven homers total in Chicago. The White Sox lost him after the 1960 season to the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft. He played his last season in Los Angeles in 1961, hitting 15 homers in 107 games.
On this date in 1912, the Pirates acquired their all-time leader in wins, pitcher Wilbur Cooper. He began the year playing for Columbus of the American Association, where he had a 16-9 record and threw 218.2 innings. Cooper was just 20 years old at the time, with no previous Major League experience. He debuted with the Pirates on August 29th and he went 3-0, 1.66 in four starts and two relief appearances to finish out the season. He threw a total of 38 innings and pitched two shutouts. Cooper ended up playing 13 years for the Pirates. Over his last eight seasons, he won at least 17 games every year. He had four seasons with 20+ wins, on his way to 202 wins in a Pittsburgh uniform. The Pirates also purchased the rights to pitcher George Sisler at the same time that they acquired Cooper from Columbus. Sisler wasn’t playing pro ball at the time. He was in college and didn’t want to ruin his amateur status. He never played for the Pirates, and eventually moved to first base, where he carved out a Hall of Fame career. While this transaction was originally called a purchase, the price eventually came in the form of players sent to Columbus to complete the deal. The Pirates reportedly outbid eight teams for Cooper, with most of those offers being cash purchases.
Gary Matthews Jr, center fielder for the 2001 Pirates. Before he had his one standout season with the Texas Rangers in 2006, Matthews Jr. jumped around the majors during his career, playing for five teams his first five seasons in the majors, including two stops in San Diego. He was originally drafted in the 38th round in 1992 out of high school by the Minnesota Twins. He went to Mission College and was eligible for the 1993 draft, where he was selected in the 13th round by the San Diego Padres. Matthews was a draft-and-follow signing, who debuted in short-season ball in 1994 at 19 years old, where he hit just .209 with no homers and a .538 OPS for Spokane of the Northwest League. In 1995, he played in Low-A, hitting .238 with 57 runs, 18 doubles, two homers, 40 RBIs, 68 walks and 28 steals in 128 games for Clinton of the Midwest League. In 1996, he moved up High-A and was helped out by the high offense environment of the California League in Rancho Cucamonga. He hit .271 with 65 runs, 39 extra-base hits, 54 RBIs, 60 walks and a .784 OPS in 123 games. The 1997 season was split between Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Mobile of the Southern League, though he missed some time during the year, playing 97 games, with a .288 combined average, 80 runs, 34 extra-base hits, 52 RBIs, 64 walks, an .852 OPS and 13 steals. In 1998, Matthews once again missed some time. He played the year in Mobile, hitting .307 with 62 runs, 26 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs and 55 walks in 72 games, leading to a .908 OPS. The 1999 season saw him make his big league debut. He put up a .256 average, 34 extra-base hits, 17 steals and a .739 OPS in 121 games with Las Vegas of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. In 23 games with the Padres that year, he hit .222/.378/.222 with four runs and seven RBIs in 45 plate appearances.
Matthews was traded to the Chicago Cubs at the end of Spring Training in 2000. He played 80 games in the majors that year, mostly off of the bench. He hit .190 with 24 runs, four homers, 14 RBIs and a .562 OPS in 175 plate appearances. He played 106 games for the Chicago Cubs in 2001, hitting .217 with 41 runs, nine doubles, nine homers, 30 RBIs and a .684 OPS. The Pirates picked him up off waivers on August 10, 2001, giving him a chance as their everyday center field for the rest of the year. He hit .245/.341/.401, with 22 runs, six doubles, five homers and 14 RBIs in 46 games. The New York Mets purchased his contract from Pittsburgh just after Christmas and he continued his journey around MLB, which eventually led to a big contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Matthews played just two games for the 2002 Mets before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles. He hit .275 with 54 runs, 35 extra-base hits, 38 RBIs, a .780 OPS and 15 steals in 111 games in 2002. He began 2003 with the Orioles, hitting just .204/.250/.327 with two homers in 41 games. From there he went back to San Diego, who took him off of waivers on May 23, 2003. He hit .271 with 50 runs, 19 doubles, four homers, 22 RBIs, a .725 OPS and 12 steals in 103 games for the 2003 Padres.
The Padres lost Matthews on waivers to the Atlanta Braves, who released him at the end of 2004 Spring Training. He signed with Texas, where he hit well playing in the high-offense park, though his time with the team started with 38 games in Triple-A. He batted .275 with 37 runs, 17 doubles, 11 homers, 36 RBIs and an .811 OPS for the Rangers in 87 games in 2004. That was followed by a .255 average, 72 runs, 25 doubles, 17 homers, 55 RBIs and a .756 OPS in 131 games in 2005. A big 2006 season saw him hit .313 with 102 runs scored, 44 doubles, 19 homers, 79 RBIs, 58 walks and an .866 OPS in 147 games. The season was highlighted by an All-Star appearance, mild MVP support and an amazing catch to rob a home run that I’m sure you’ve seen before, which all led to a 5 year/$50 M contract with the Angels. It turned out to be a disastrous deal for Anaheim, who got one good year and two down years from him, before dealing Matthews Jr back to the Mets. Matthews batted .252 with 79 runs, 26 doubles, 18 homers, 72 RBIs, a .742 OPS and 18 steals during his first year with the Angels, then it was downhill from there. He hit .242 with 53 runs, 19 doubles, eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .675 OPS in 127 games in 2008, then followed it up with a .250 average, 44 runs, 19 doubles, four homers and 50 RBIs in 103 games in 2009. While the Angels paid most of his contract after the trade to New York, the Mets got a .190 average, a .507 OPS and one RBI in 36 games from him before he was released. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds and played a month in Triple-A before being released again, ending his playing career. In 12 seasons, he was a .257 hitter in 1,281 games, with 612 runs, 225 doubles, 108 homers and 484 RBIs. His father Gary Matthews carved out a strong 16-year career in the majors, with over 1,000 runs scored, 900+ RBIs and walks, 234 homers and over 2,000 hits.
Jim Suchecki, pitcher for the 1952 Pirates. He was originally signed as a 15-year-old in 1943 by the Boston Red Sox. He pitched briefly for two lower levels teams that year, putting in three innings with Roanoke of the Class-B Piedmont League, while also throwing 33 innings for Kingsport of the Class-D Appalachian League, where he allowed 24 runs (earned runs aren’t available), 18 walks and he had 32 strikeouts. The next season he was up in the Class-A Eastern League with Scranton, where he went 5-10, 4.05 in 111 innings, finishing with 82 walks and 51 strikeouts. He saw brief time with Scranton at the start of 1945 and Lynn of the Class-B New England League at the end of 1946. Those two seasons were both interrupted by service in the Navy during WWII. Suchecki played semi-pro ball for the 1947 and part of the 1948 seasons due to earning a better salary with the semi-pro team. He returned to pro ball during the 1948 season to play for Roanoke again, where he had a 7-2, 2.01 record in 76 innings, with 23 walks and 56 strikeouts. He also saw time that year with Double-A Birmingham of the Southern Association, posting a 7.33 ERA in 27 innings, with 26 walks and 16 strikeouts. He was with Birmingham for all of 1949, where he went 10-11, 2.77 in 172 innings, showing much better control with 63 walks and 126 strikeouts.
Suchecki made his debut in Boston in May of 1950, throwing four games in relief, with two runs allowed over four innings, before finishing the season with Louisville of the Triple-A American Association. His minor league time that year was limited to ten games due to an arm injury, but he had a 3.41 ERA in 66 innings when he was healthy. He started 1951 back in Louisville, but he would be traded early in the season to St Louis Browns, where he had a rough season. In 29 games for the Browns, Suchecki went 0-6, 5.42 in 89.2 innings, making six starts and 23 relief appearances. The Pirates bought his contract from St Louis during Spring Training in 1952. He made the Opening Day roster and would pitch five times through early May, all in relief. After a scoreless Pittsburgh debut, Suchecki gave up runs in each of his next four appearances. On May 5th, he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox off waivers, ending his brief time with the Pirates with a 5.40 ERA in ten innings. He actually did well in the minors after leaving Pittsburgh, going 14-7, 3.62 in 189 innings for Memphis of the Southern Association over the rest of the 1952 season, but he never played for Chicago. Suchecki never made it back to the majors, finishing his career in 1954, with two partial seasons for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League and short stints with Nashville of the Southern Association and Dallas of the Double-A Texas League. His big league record shows and 0-6, 5.38 record in 103.2 innings, spread over six starts and 32 relief appearances.
Tony Boeckel, third baseman for the 1917 and 1919 Pirates. He played five years of minor league ball, the last four in the Class- B Northwestern League, before the Pirates brought him to the majors for the first time. Boeckel debuted at 20 years old in 1913 with Stockton of the Class-D California League, where he hit .268 in 115 games. He spent part of the 1914 season with Stockton and batted .364, with 25 runs, 13 extra-base hits and 14 steals in 36 games. The rest of the year was spent with Tacoma of the Northwestern League (no stats available). In 1915, his records show just 14 games for Tacoma, putting up a .283 average and three extra-base hits. He was released in early May when it was said that he was drinking a lot after games, though the local papers called that nothing more than a rumor, and then noted that he ended up with a better paying job playing semi-pro ball. From there it was on to Great Falls of the Northwestern League, where he batted .313 in 60 games in 1916. He was hitting .299 with 20 doubles, nine triples and four homers in 278 at-bats during the 1917 season when the Pirates came calling.
Boeckel’s deal with the Pirates was an odd journey. It was announced on June 11th that he was acquired by the Pirates for $1,500 and a player to be named later. He was also supposed to report to the Pirates at once. That didn’t happen, and on July 4th it was announced that he was sold to the St Louis Browns after the Pittsburgh deal was canceled. On July 14th, it was announced that he was sold to the Pirates and he would leave after the following day’s game. That turned out to be correct, with no mention of what happened to the deal with the Browns. He joined Pittsburgh on July 23, 1917, making his debut at third base. His first game didn’t last long. After one at-bat he was overcome by the extreme heat that day and had to be pulled from the game. Things got better for Boeckel, as he took over the hot corner for the rest of the season, hitting .265 with 16 runs, 11 doubles, one triple, 23 RBIs and a .621 OPS in 64 games. He didn’t play in 1918 due to WWI (he enlisted in the Navy), but he returned to the Pirates as their starting third baseman the next season. Boeckel played every day through the middle of June of 1919, hitting .250, with 18 runs, nine doubles, two triples, 16 RBIs and a .669 OPS in 45 games. The team put him on waivers, despite the fact they had won seven straight games at that point. Seldom-used Walter Barbare took over at third base and Boeckel was picked up by the Boston Braves, who were coming into town.
The Pittsburgh front office said they didn’t think Boeckel was giving full effort on the field. It sure seemed that they were right by the way he played in Boston, where he hit .286 with 27 homers and 298 RBIs in 668 games over 4 1/2 season, after batting .259 with no homers for the Pirates in 109 games. However, some of that can be explained by offense taking off around baseball after 1919, which was the end of the deadball era, so most players did better from 1920 on. He finished off the 1919 season by batting .249 with 42 runs, 11 doubles, five triples, one homer and 26 RBIs in 95 games. His OPS in Boston that year was 37 points lower than with Pittsburgh. He led the National League with 140 games played that season. In 1920, he hit .268 with 70 runs scored, 28 doubles, five triples, three homers, 62 RBIs and a .663 OPS in 153 games. He had his best season in 1921 when he batted .313 in 153 games, with 93 runs scored, 20 doubles, 13 triples, ten homers and 84 RBIs, leading to a career best .811 OPS. Boeckel hit .289 in 119 games in 1922, with 61 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 47 RBIs and a .759 OPS. In 1923, he batted .298 in 148 games, with 72 runs, 43 extra-base hits (32 doubles), 79 RBIs, 51 walks and a .762 OPS.
Boeckel wasn’t a superstar at the time, but he was a solid hitter who would probably be better known for his time on the field if his career had a chance to play out. Unfortunately, he’s known better now because he died at age 30 after the 1923 season from injuries he received in a car accident. Also involved in the accident was Bob Meusel, a star outfielder for the Yankees, who escaped uninjured. Boeckel was the first active Major League player to die in an automobile accident. Boeckel’s final career totals show a .282 average in 777 games, with 130 doubles, 36 triples, 27 homers, 337 RBIs and 372 runs scored.