There have been five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a player that did not endear himself to the team in his only big league inning. We also have one transaction of note and a crazy day from long ago.
On this date in 1981, the Pittsburgh Pirates sold veteran pitcher Grant Jackson to the Montreal Expos for the reported sum of $50,000. At the time of the deal, he had a 2.51 ERA in 32.1 innings over 35 appearances for the 1981 Pirates. He was in his fifth season with the Pirates, putting together a 29-19, 3.21 record and 36 saves in 353.2 innings over 277 appearances (two starts). With the Expos over the final month of the season, the 38-year-old Jackson posted a 7.59 ERA in 10.2 innings and ten appearances. He was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the off-season, but returned to the Pirates in September of 1982 to pitch one final big league game. He had a 5.17 ERA in 38.1 innings with the Royals, and he allowed one run while recording two outs with the 1982 Pirates.
Dave Rucker, lefty reliever for the 1988 Pirates. He was originally drafted out of high school in 1975, taken in the 19th round by the Philadelphia Phillies. He decided to attend the University of La Verene, where he was a 16th round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1978. That’s a school that has produced six big league players, though none of them have been drafted since 1980. Rucker went on to play seven years in the majors split between four different teams. His pro career began in the short-season Appalachian League with three appearances for Bristol in 1978, though most of that season was spent higher up in the Florida State League with Lakeland, where he had a 3.19 ERA in 31 innings. In 1979, he spent most of the year in Double-A, going 4-7, 4.59, with 66 walks and 64 strikeouts in 96 innings for Montgomery of the Southern League. He also made two starts in Triple-A with Evansville of the American Association, allowing four runs in 13 innings. Rucker spent the entire 1980 season in Evansville and switched to a relief role. He made 52 appearances (six as a starter), going 7-8, 3.42 in 92 innings, with 52 walks and 53 strikeouts. He made his big league debut at the start of the 1981 season with the Tigers, but Detroit sent him down after just two games, the second being a rocky two-inning outing. The rest of the year was spent back in Evansville, where he had a 7-4, 3.76 record in 35 appearances, with 42 walks and 36 strikeouts in 67 innings pitched. He split the 1982 season between Evansville and the majors. Rucker went 5-6, 3.38 in 64 innings for the 1982 Tigers, with four starts and 23 relief appearances. He had a 3.39 ERA in 58.1 innings with Evansville.
In 1983, Rucker saw brief time in the majors and bullpen time in Evansville, before moving on to the St Louis Cardinals in a July trade. Between the two big league stops, he had a 6-5, 5.28 record in 46 innings over 38 appearances. His 1984 season was the only year that he spent the entire campaign in the majors and he earned it. In 50 games for the Cardinals, he posted a 2.10 ERA, throwing a total of 73 innings. He didn’t allow a single home run that season. Rucker was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies just prior to the start of the 1985 season, and he struggled with his new team. In two seasons, he posted a 4.66 ERA in 58 games, with a 1.64 WHIP, while also spending time each season in Triple-A with Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He wasn’t as bad in 1985, posting a 4.31 ERA in 79.1 innings with the Phillies, but the next season saw him put up a 5.76 ERA in 25 innings, while spending the rest of the year as a starter in Portland.
Rucker was released by the Phillies following the 1986 season, then spent all of 1987 in the minors with the Texas Rangers, before signing with the Pirates in February of 1988. While playing for Oklahoma City of the American Association in 1987, Rucker went 3-2, 4.25 with five saves in 65.2 innings over 53 appearances (three starts). He began his time with the Pirates at Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association and posted an 0.88 ERA in his first 16 outings. The Pirates called him up in early June and used him 31 times out of the bullpen over the rest of the season. In 28.1 innings, he was 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA. Rucker spent the 1989 season in Buffalo before retiring, going 1-1, 4.35 in 31 innings over 24 appearances that season. The Pirates had an 85-75 record during his only season with the team, but in appearances by Rucker, they went 6-25. He finished his MLB career with a 16-20, 3.94 record in 319.2 innings over 206 games, with ten starts, one complete game and one save.
Vic Barnhart, shortstop for the 1944-46 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1940, sending him to play for the London Pirates of the Class-D Penn-Ontario-NY League (PONY League) for his first two seasons. He played just 17 games that first year at 17 years old and hit .264 with three extra-base hits, then came back in 1941 to hit .301 with 30 extra-base hits in 87 games. He moved up to Class-C ball in 1942, hitting .311 with 30 doubles, seven triples and two homers in 128 games for Hutchinson of the Western Association. Barnhart was then called into service during WWII. He missed the entire 1943 season before returning. He reported to Albany of the Class-A Eastern League in 1944, and had a huge season, batting .310 in 138 games, with 122 runs, 40 extra-base hits, 115 RBIs, 31 steals, 79 walks and an .825 OPS. The Pirates called him up late in the year and got him into the last game of the season. He started at shortstop and went 1-for-2 with a walk. In 1945, Barnhart was with the big league team for the entire season. He didn’t see much time until taking over the shortstop job on June 1st, holding that spot down for three months, before losing it in early September. He hit .269 with 21 runs, seven doubles, 19 RBIs and a .604 OPS in 71 games, His .928 fielding percentage at shortstop was well below league average.
Barnhart made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1946, but he was soon returned to Albany after just two games off of the bench. He never played in the majors again, despite doing very well after his return to the minors. He hit .309 with 75 runs, 41 extra-base hits, 96 RBIs, 15 steals, 63 walks and an .812 OPS in 135 games for Albany in 1946. Barnhart actually was a big leaguer for the first 11 days of the 1947 season, but he was optioned to the minors before he got into a game. He split the 1947 season between Albany (99 games) and Indianapolis of the Triple-A American Association (13 games), combining to hit .283 with 66 runs, 30 extra-base hits, 73 RBIs and a .724 OPS. On December 3, 1947, the Pirates traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in return for second baseman Monty Basgall. Barnhart played four more seasons in the minors after the trade before he retired. He played for five teams over that time, seeing action with Toronto of the Triple-A International League in three of those seasons, while wrapping up his career back in Albany.
Barnhart batted .254 with 66 runs, 22 extra-base hits, 44 RBIs and 55 walks in 128 games in 1948, spent most with Toronto, though he also played nine games with Montreal of the International League. He spent the entire 1949 season in Toronto, hitting .265/.343/.407 in 83 games. He struggled in seven games with Toronto in 1950, and ended up playing for both Utica of the Eastern League and Chattanooga of the Double-A Southern Association over the rest of the year. Barnhart batted .273 with 23 extra-base hits in 133 games for Albany in 1951. His big league career stats show a .270 average with 21 runs, seven doubles and 19 RBIs in 70 games. He is the son of Clyde Barnhart, who played nine seasons for the Pirates (1920-28) as an outfielder and third baseman. Together they are one of 26 groups of relatives to play for the Pirates.
Jim Hopper, pitcher for the 1946 Pirates. He pitched semi-pro ball until 1942 prior to signing his first pro deal with the Landis Senators of the Class-D North Carolina State League at 22 years old. He pitched well there, going 15-9, 3.49 in 201 innings over 23 starts and nine relief appearances. When the league disbanded, his contract was purchased by the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Double-A International League, which was four levels higher in the minor league system and the highest level at the time. Hopper went 15-9, 2.63, with 101 walks and 103 strikeouts in 219 innings in 1943. He completed 16 of 28 starts, including four shutouts. He also pitched eight times in relief. He was purchased by the Pirates on September 1, 1943, though they left him with Toronto for the duration of the season. The manager was Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes, who called Hopper the best recruit the Pirates had at the time. Unfortunately for the Pirates, before they were able to bring him to the majors, he was lost to the war effort for the entire 1944-45 seasons. The Pirates didn’t think they would lose him to the draft, being that he had three young kids at home. He signed his deal for 1944, then a few days before Spring Training started in early March, he was drafted into the Army. He returned in 1946 after missing two full seasons and went right to the majors, starting the fifth game of the season for Pittsburgh. In three innings, he allowed five runs on five hits and two walks, taking the loss against the Cincinnati Reds. He didn’t pitch again for nearly a month, only then appearing in a game that the Pirates were already losing 15-6 in the sixth inning. Hopper threw 1.1 scoreless innings, in what ended up being his last Major League appearance.
Hopper was optioned to Columbus of the Triple-A American Association on June 5, 1946, but after a poor showing in four starts, going 0-4, 8.40, he was returned to the Pirates on July 3rd. He was then sent to Birmingham of the Double-A Southern Association five days later. Birmingham released him on August 24th after he had a 4.88 ERA in 24 innings, and he was supposed to return to Pittsburgh. When he didn’t show up after a week, he was suspended by the Pirates on August 30th. On December 20, 1946, he was traded to Seattle of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, as one of two pitchers in a deal for pitching prospect Dewey Soriano. Hopper saw brief time in 1947 with Seattle and Chattanooga of the Southern Association, but a large majority of that season was spent with Augusta of the Class-A South Atlantic League, going 6-6, 4.56 in 81 innings over 14 games. He then moved to Mooresville of the North Carolina State League in 1948, after the league resumed play following a two-year hiatus during the war. Hopper went 12-15, 4.52 in 225 innings that year. He spent the 1949 season right back where it started, pitching with Landis of the North Carolina State League, where he went 17-8, 3.44 in 186 innings. Hopper played for Rockingham in the Class-D Tobacco State League in 1950, though he was gone after a few early season starts and no stats are available for that season, which was his last in pro ball.
Fred Nicholson, outfielder for the 1919-20 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1913, and jumped around a lot before getting his first big league shot in 1917. At 18 years old in his first season of pro ball, Nicholson hit .299 with 19 doubles and 12 triples in 124 games with Wichita Falls of the Class-D Texas-Oklahoma League. He also saw brief time with Dallas of the Class-B Texas League that year, batting .222 in 16 games. He split the 1914 season between two clubs in the Texas-Oklahoma League, seeing time with Hugo and Denison. Full stats aren’t available, but he’s credited with a .300 average, 77 runs, 18 doubles, 16 triples, five homers and 27 steals in 108 games. He then spent most of the 1915 season with Denison of the Class-D Western Association, where he batted .291 with 45 extra-base hits and 30 steals in 117 games. Once again he saw brief time in the Texas League, this time with San Antonio, where he hit .200 in six games. In 1916, Nicholson batted .308 with 48 extra-base hits for Charlotte of the Class-D North Carolina State League. For a third time in four years, he also saw brief time at a higher level, this time playing 13 games of Class-A ball with Chattanooga of the Southern Association, where he hit .240 with two doubles. Nicholson got a brief trial for the 1917 Detroit Tigers at the start of the season and hit .143 in nine games. He went to St Paul of the Double-A American Association (highest level of the minors at the time) and hit .285 with 45 extra-base hits in 113 games, then returned to Detroit for four September games, including starting both games of a doubleheader on the final day of the season. He batted .286/.333/.357 in 13 games for the Tigers.
Nicholson served during the war in 1918 and missed the entire season. He returned to the Tigers in 1919, although they had no playing time for him. He was sold to the Pirates for $2,500 (waiver price for American League players) on June 30, 1919, and joined the team right away. Despite being three months into the season, he didn’t debut in 1919 until he joined the Pirates. In 30 games, he hit .273 with eight runs, one homer, six RBIs and a .742 OPS. He got 14 starts, with ten in left field and four in right field. He also played center fielder and first base off of the bench. In 1920, Nicholson saw almost no playing time during the first month, then started from mid-May until early June, raising his average to .351, before returning to the bench. For over a month, he served as a pinch-hitter, and was unsuccessful in the role, seeing his average drop to .307 by the 21st of July. He then began to start again and went on a tear, raising his average to .390 in early September. Although he fell short of qualifying for the batting title, it was still the highest average in the National League at the time. A late season slump eventually landed his average at .360 in 99 games. He ended up with 33 runs, 16 doubles, seven triples, four homers, 30 RBIs and a .934 OPS.
On January 23, 1921, the Pirates traded Nicholson, along with future Hall of Famer Billy Southworth, to the Boston Braves for Hall of Fame shortstop Rabbit Maranville. Nicholson hit .327 in his first year in Boston, with 36 runs, 23 extra-base hits, 41 RBIs and an .860 OPS. He was still a platoon player, starting 55 of his 83 games played, even with the strong numbers on offense. The next year that offense went downhill quick and his defense was well below average. He hit .252/.336/.342 in 78 games, with 12 errors. Nicholson returned to the minors in 1923, playing another 13 years without a return trip to the big leagues. He spent his first nine years back in the American Association, playing three years for Toledo and six seasons for Kansas City. By his final three seasons, the former big league player was playing Class-C ball, five steps below the majors. Nicholson did well in the minors too, so it’s a bit surprising that he never made it back. He batted .306 with 36 doubles and 22 triples in 167 games in 1923. He hit .306 the next year as well, collecting 52 extra-base hits in 153 games. In 1925, he batted .309 in 164 games, with 45 extra-base hits.
With Kansas City in 1926, Nicholson had a .320 average in 135 games, with 44 extra-base hits. He batted .320 again in 1927, with 203 hits, 34 doubles, 17 triples and five homers in 167 games. In 1928, he dropped down to a .274 average in 152 games, with 72 runs and 41 extra-base hits. He played just 98 games in 1929, but he hit .344 with 20 extra-base hits. In 1930, Nicholson had a .324 average in 115 games, with 30 extra-base hits. He split 1931 between Kansas City and Omaha, which was in the Class-A Western League. He did poorly in both places, finishing with a .221 average in 95 games. He played 107 games in 1932 split between Wichita and Oklahoma City in the Western League, and Shreveport in the Class-A Texas League. He dropped down to the Class-C Dixie League in 1933 and that helped his hitting. Nicholson batted .328 with 43 extra-base hits in 111 games for Baton Rouge. He moved on in 1934 to Paris/Lufkin of the West Dixie League and hit .315 in 107 games, with 20 doubles and a 22-year career high of 17 homers. His final season was in the West Dixie League with Shreveport and he hit .287 in 46 games at 40 years old. He collected nearly 2,500 hits during his 18-year minor league career. As a Major Leaguer, he hit .311 in 303 games, with 34 doubles, 21 triples, 12 homers, 108 RBIs, 112 runs scored and an .819 OPS.
Sam Brenegan, catcher for the 1914 Pirates. He played just one inning of one Major League game for a very good reason, he dogged it on the field. After the Pirates went down in the score early to the St Louis Cardinals at home on April 24, 1914, manager Fred Clarke pulled starting catcher George Gibson for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, he sent the 23-year-old Brenegan behind the plate for his Major League debut. The Cardinals got a runner on base, which was followed by a passed ball from Sam (his real name was Olaf Selmar Brenegan). He walked after the ball behind him as the runner moved up, irritating him manager. In the next inning, after already being charged with a second passed ball, a wild pitch hit his finger and split it open. After slowly retrieving the ball again, he walked over to the bench and left the game. He was replaced by backup catcher Jake Kafora. Some game recaps said that he had one passed ball and two were wild pitches. One noted that he couldn’t catch the sinker of pitcher Joe Conzelman.
The Pirates left the next day for a road trip in Chicago and Brenegan was left behind. The local paper said that the rookie showed an “undeniable inclination to quit” and guessed that he didn’t know base runners could move up on passed balls. Brenegan had already played at least three years of minor league ball as a catcher, so his lack of interest during his Major League debut was hard to explain. He debuted in pro ball in 1909 with Regina of the Class-D Western Canada League at 18 years old. In 1911 he was spotted playing semi-pro ball for a team from Warrenton, North Carolina. Prior to joining the Pirates, he was with Petersburg of the Virginia League for two seasons, which was a Class-C level of play, so the jump to the majors was a large one. He hit .211 with seven extra-base hits in 49 games during his first season there (1912), then returned to Petersburg for 1913, and hit .275 with 17 extra-base hits in 89 games. The Pirates drafted Brenegan on September 20, 1913 under the recommendation of scout Frank Dobson. He did well during Spring Training of 1914, earning a spot on the club that was not guaranteed. Not long after his dreadful pro debut, he returned to the minors, where he remained until 1919, before retiring from baseball. In later years, he told a sports writer near his home in Wisconsin that he had a bad hangover that one day he played and when manager Clarke yelled at him, he yelled back.
The Pirates sold Brenegan’s contract to Portland of the Double-A Pacific Coast League (highest level of the minors at the time) on May 8, 1914. He batted .233 with two doubles in 18 games, then finished the season with Spokane of the Class-B Northwestern League on loan from Portland. He remained in Spokane for the 1915 season after being sold to the club in December of 1914. That year he hit .298 in 128 games, with 21 doubles, nine triples and four homers. Stats are extremely limited for his next two seasons. Brenegan split the 1916 season between Rockford and Hannibal of the Class-B Three-I League. The 1917 season was split between Dayton and Muskegon of the Class-B Central League. After not playing pro ball in 1918 due to WWI service, his final year was spent with St Joseph of the Class-A Western League in 1919, where he hit .273 with nine extra-base hits in 48 games. His obituary claimed that he played pro ball for 25 years, but no other records are associated with him, though he was found playing semi-pro ball in Wisconsin in 1925-26, and in the late 1930s he was still playing semi-pro in Minnesota.
On this date in 1890, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys lost all three games of a tripleheader to the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The first game was played in the morning and Brooklyn carried a 10-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth (road team was batting last in this game). The Alleghenys put together nine runs, all scoring with two outs, before George “Doggie” Miller was thrown out at home plate to end the game as he was trying for an inside-the-park grand slam (full recap here). The two teams then played an afternoon doubleheader and Brooklyn squeaked out a 3-2 win, this time the Alleghenys had the tying run thrown out at home in the ninth for the second out. In the third game, Brooklyn won 8-4, scoring seven runs early. Pitcher Dave Anderson threw both afternoon games for the Alleghenys. The total game time for the three games was four hours and 48 minutes.