Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Famer. We also have a game of note. Before we get into that stuff, current Pirates reliever Nick Mears turns 26 today.
Chuck Klein, outfielder for the 1939 Pirates. Klein spent most of his 17 seasons in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies, while his time with the Pirates made up a small portion of his Hall of Fame career. He retired with exactly 300 career homers, a rare milestone to reach at the time. He was the NL MVP in 1932 and then backed that performance up with a Triple Crown the following year. He finished second in the MVP voting in 1931 and 1933. From 1929 to 1933, Klein won four home run crowns, led the league in runs scored three times, slugging three times, RBIs twice, hits twice, doubles twice and stolen bases once.
Klein debuted in pro ball at 22 years old in 1927. He hit .327 with six extra-base hits in 14 games for Evansville of the Class-B Three-I League. He began the 1928 season with Fort Wayne of the Class-B Central League, where he hit .331 with 85 runs, 29 doubles, 26 homers and a 1.030 OPS in 88 games, before joining the Phillies in late July. Those 102 games total over two seasons made up his entire minor league career. Klein hit like a future Hall of Famer right from the start in the majors. He batted .360 with 29 extra-base hits and a .973 OPS in 64 games for the 1928 Phillies. The next year he batted .356 with a league leading 43 homers, to go along with 126 runs scored, 45 doubles, 145 RBIs and a 1.065 OPS in 149 games. Despite those great numbers, he finished 11th in the MVP voting. Klein was even better in 1930, though offense was up all around baseball that season. He batted .386 in a league leading 156 games, with 40 homers and 170 RBIs, and didn’t he lead the league in a single Triple Crown category. He did lead in runs (158) and doubles (59), as well as total bases (445). His 250 hits that year were second in the league. His 1.123 OPS was a career high, but it did not lead the league. To put that season in historical context, the total bases amount is the fourth highest single-season mark in baseball history. His 250 hits rank sixth, and the RBI total ranks seventh. He had 107 extra-base hits that year, and the only two players with more in a season are named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. It’s one of the greatest hitting seasons in baseball history.
In 1931, Klein batted .337 in 148 games, and led the league with 121 runs, 31 homers, 121 RBIs, a .584 slugging percentage and 347 total bases. His .982 OPS was his lowest mark during his amazing 1929-33 stretch. That performance led to a second place finish in the MVP voting. In 1932, he won the MVP by batting .348 in 154 games, while leading the league with 152 runs, 226 hits, 38 homers, 20 steals, 420 total bases, a .646 slugging and 1.050 OPS. He also added 50 doubles and 15 triples, giving him 103 extra-base hits on the season. No one else in baseball history has two seasons of 103+ extra-base hits. During his Triple Crown season, Klein hit .368 with 28 homers and 120 RBIs, while putting up a 1.025 OPS. It was his fourth best OPS during his dominating five-year run, but compared to the league hitters, it was actually his best season. Besides the Triple Crown categories, he also led with 223 hits, 44 doubles, a .422 OBP, a .602 slugging percentage and 365 total bases. The All-Star game came around in 1933 and Klein made his first of two appearances in the mid-season classic. He also finished second in the MVP voting that year. In 1934, which was his other All-Star season, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for three players and $65,000 cash. He played just 115 games that season, hitting .301 with 78 runs, 27 doubles, 20 homers, 80 RBIs and an .882 OPS. He was suffering with a thigh injury for most of the season, which caused him to miss 16 games in early August. The Cubs made the World Series in 1935 and it was the only postseason appearance for Klein, who hit .333 with a homer during the series. During the regular season, he batted .293 with 71 runs, 14 doubles, 21 homers, 73 RBIs and an .844 OPS in 119 games.
In 1936, Klein was traded back to the Phillies early in the season. He hit .306 with 102 runs, 35 doubles, 25 homers, 104 RBIs and an .871 OPS in 146 games. It was his last big season at the plate. He batted .325 with 74 runs, 20 doubles, 15 homers, 57 RBIs and an .881 OPS in 115 games in 1937. The next year he followed it up with a .247 average and just eight homers in 129 games, finishing with a .660 OPS. He had 53 runs, 22 doubles and 61 RBIs. Before coming to the Pirates in 1939, he was hitting .191/.333/.340 with one homer in 29 games. He joined Pittsburgh on June 7th, one day after being released by the Phillies. The move worked wonders for his hitting that season, just when it looked like he could be done as a big league player. He hit .300 over 85 games in Pittsburgh, with 37 runs, 16 doubles, 11 homers, 47 RBIs and an .873 OPS. When the Pirates signed Klein, he replaced veteran outfielder Heinie Manush, who was released. Manush also made the Hall of Fame.
Klein was back with the Phillies by 1940, re-signing with them after the Pirates released him during Spring Training. He went on to play five more seasons in the majors, though he was only getting regular at-bats in 1940, when he hit .218 with 39 runs, 16 doubles, seven homers, 37 RBIs and a .637 OPS in 116 games. In 1941, he hit .123 with one homer and a .393 OPS in 84 plate appearances over 50 games. That homer turned out to be the last of his career, but it was significant because it was the 300th of his career. The 300 home run mark wasn’t common at this time. Just four years earlier, Mel Ott became the first National League player to reach 300 career homers. Klein was a coach/pinch-hitter for the Phillies during the 1942-44 seasons, batting a total of 41 times in 30 games during that stretch. He had just four hits, all singles, and didn’t draw a single walk, giving him an OPS under .200 during those final three seasons. He had the same three numbers across in his triple slash lines each year, putting up an .071/.071/.071 mark in 1942, .100/.100/.100 in 1943, and .143/.143/.143 in 1944. He finished as a .320 hitter in 1,753 big league games over 17 seasons, with 1,168 runs, 2,076 hits, 398 doubles, 74 triples, 300 homers and 1,201 RBIs. His .922 OPS ranks 50th all-time, and his .534 slugging percentage is 34th all-time.
Fred Fussell, lefty pitcher for the 1928-29 Pirates. His only big league experience prior to joining the Pirates was with the 1922-23 Chicago Cubs, where he put up a 5.38 ERA in 95.1 innings. In fact, the Cubs were his first experience in pro ball at 26 years old. In late 1921, the Detroit Tigers tried to sign Fussell, but he said that he was making great money in the independent circuit and he wasn’t ready to give that up. He ended up joining the Cubs late in 1922 to make two starts and one relief appearance, putting up a 4.74 ERA in 19 innings. He had spent that season pitching semi-pro ball in Denver prior to joining the Cubs. In 1923, he went 3-5, 5.54 in 76.1 innings with the Cubs, making two starts and 26 relief appearances. Fussell spent the 1924-27 seasons in the minors playing for Seattle of the Double-A Pacific Coast League (highest level of the minors at the time) and Wichita Falls of the Class-A Texas League. He won 19 games and pitched 274 innings in 1924, splitting his time between both clubs. He was with Seattle for the entire 1925 season, going 8-7, 4.87 in 146 innings. He then returned to Wichita Falls for the 1926-27 seasons. Fussell had an 11-10, 5.36 record in 183 innings in 1926. He turned things around the next season, which led to his second shot at the majors.
In 1927, Fussell went 21-8, 3.39 in 244 innings. The Pirates purchased his contract on August 27, 1927, but he remained with his minor league team for the duration of the 1927 season, then reported to the Pirates during the spring of 1928. He was the first signing by scout Bob Tarleton after he was hired by the Pirates. Fussell was used mainly as a starter in his first season with the Pirates, then switched to more of a relief role in 1929 when he had his share of troubles on the mound. He went 8-9, 3.61 in 159.1 innings over 20 starts and eight relief appearances in 1928. He had nine complete games, two shutouts and one save. That was followed by a 2-2, 8.62 record in 39.2 innings over 21 appearances (three starts) in 1929. By the end of the season, he was being used more in a mop-up role, with the Pirates going 4-14 in his relief appearances and 84-51 in all other games. In 199.1 innings with the Pirates, he had a 10-11, 4.61 record.
Fussell’s career was far from over after his final big league game with the Pirates. He was sold outright to Buffalo of the International League on December 12, 1929. At the time, the Pirates had four other lefty pitchers on their roster, which made Fussell expendable. He played another ten seasons in the minors, last suiting up for Rochester of the Double-A International League in 1939 at 43 years old. All of his action during those last ten seasons in the minors was spent in New York, with extended stints in Buffalo and Syracuse of the International League, as well as brief time spent in Albany and Binghamton, before reaching Rochester. Fussell went 13-12, 4.37 in 212 innings for Buffalo in 1930. In 1931, he had a 12-17, 4.81 record in 232 innings for Buffalo. He remained there for one more full season, going 15-8, 4.57 in 183 innings. The 1933 season was split between Buffalo and Albany, also of the International League. He went 9-7 and threw 124 innings that year. In 1934, Fussell went 11-11, 4.55 in 178 innings for Syracuse. He split 1935 between Syracuse and Binghamton, a team in the Class-A New York-Penn League. He went 5-4 in 91 innings over 22 games between both stops. He spent the 1936-38 seasons back in Syracuse, going 13-11, 3.11 in 159 innings in 1936, 11-9, 4.44 in 158 innings in 1937, and his 1938 season at age 42 lasted just four games. He finished up with seven games and 20 innings pitched for Rochester in 1939. Fussell finished up 14-17, 4.86 in 294.2 big league innings over 27 starts and 53 relief appearances, while compiling 141 minor league wins.
Adam DeBus, infielder for the 1917 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 21 years old in 1914 with Green Bay of the Class-C Wisonsin-Illinois League, where he hit .234 with 44 runs, 20 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in 108 games. Prior to that time, he was making a name for himself in Chicago as an amateur player. He signed with the St Louis Cardinals prior to the 1915 season, but he ended up playing semi-pro ball in Chicago that year. In 1916, he played for Fargo-Moorhead of the Class-C Northern League, where he hit .284 in 100 games. He started off the 1917 back with Fargo-Moorhead, which was reclassified as Class-D at the time. DeBus was purchased by the Cardinals on July 3, 1917. Before he could play a game for St Louis, he was put on waivers, in an effort to send him to Little Rock of the Class-A Southern Association. The St Louis Browns claimed him off of waivers on July 9th, but he didn’t end up going there. The Pirates picked him up on waivers two days later, and their claim went through over the Browns because he had to clear all National League teams before he could end up in the American League. The Pirates handed him the starting shortstop job, with his first game coming on July 14th, the day after he arrived in Pittsburgh. He held a starting job a little longer due to injuries, but by September 1st he had played his final game for the Pirates, who had him on the bench for the final month. He batted .229 with nine runs, five doubles, four triples, seven RBIs and a .607 OPS in 38 games for Pittsburgh. He started 21 games at shortstop and another 15 at third base. That ended up being his only big league experience.
On November 1, 1917, DeBus was released to Birmingham of the Southern Association. He then enlisted in the military during WWI after playing briefly in 1918 with Birmingham, leaving the team on April 26th. In an August 1918 article, it was said that he was expected to head overseas soon, but before he left Camp Grant in Illinois, he was seeing regular action on their camp baseball team. In July of 1919, he played in a tournament held in France among troops from 17 different countries, and helped lead the U.S. team to victory. DeBus played semi-pro ball after returning from military service in late 1919. He was suspended by Birmingham for not reporting to them team. He was found playing semi-pro ball as late as 1926 in the Illinois area. One of the more interesting things about his career is that he was compared very early on to shortstop Art Devlin, who was a strong all-around player for ten seasons, last playing in 1913. They were lofty comparisons, but the most interesting part is that many papers picked up on it late and DeBus had already played his final game before some papers ran with the comparison. A paper from Fargo on September 16th said that he had a fine chance of being a star player with the Pirates because he was hitting and fielding brilliantly.
Brickyard Kennedy, pitcher for the 1903 Pirates. In 12 seasons in the majors, he won 187 games. The last nine wins came with the Pirates during their first World Series season. Kennedy debuted in pro ball in 1889 at 21 years old with Wheeling of the Tri-State League (no stats are available from his first two seasons). He then moved on to Denver of the Western Association for the 1890-91 seasons. He went 20-18, 2.29, with 145 strikeouts in 322.1 innings during that 1891 season, which led to a promotion. He debuted in the majors in 1892 with Brooklyn and reeled off the first of nine straight seasons with 10+ wins, including four seasons with over 20 wins. He went 13-8, 3.86 in 191 innings in 1892. Kennedy completed 18 of 21 starts, while also pitching five times in relief. He had 108 strikeouts, which was his career high. He became a workhorse the next season, which started a string of eight straight seasons with 275+ innings pitched. In 1893, he went 25-20, 3.72 in 382.2 innings, completing 40 of his 44 starts, while throwing two shutouts. He struck out 107 batters. The 1894 season was a huge year for offense in baseball due to new pitching restrictions and Kennedy suffered just like most pitchers. He went 24-20, 4.92 in 360.2 innings. He completed 34 of 41 starts and also pitched seven times in relief. He had 107 strikeouts that season, giving him between 107-108 strikeouts in each of his first three seasons.
Some pitchers recovered a bit from the high offense in 1895, but Kennedy’s ERA went up slightly, finishing the year with a 19-12, 5.05 record in 288.2 innings over 34 starts and six relief outings. He had 27 complete games and two shutouts. He was never a big strikeout pitcher, but after reaching triple digits in each of his first three seasons, he had just 41 strikeouts in 1895, while issuing 95 walks. In 1896, Kennedy went 17-20, 4.42 in 305.2 innings. He completed 28 of 38 starts and pitched four times in relief. He followed up that season with an 18-20, 3.91 record in 343.1 innings, with 36 complete games in 40 starts. Brooklyn dropped to a 54-91 record in 1898, and it showed in Kennedy’s record. He went 16-22, 3.37 in 339.1 innings, with 38 complete games in 39 starts.
Brooklyn had one of the biggest improvements in baseball history the next year, going from 54 wins to 101 wins, which led to them winning the National League pennant. He had a 22-9, 2.79 record in 277.1 innings that season in 40 games, with 33 starts, 27 complete games and two shutouts. As good as he was that year, he was third on the team in wins. In 1900, Kennedy had his last big season, going 20-13, 3.91 in 292 innings. In 42 games, he had 35 starts, 26 complete games and two shutouts. He made eight starts and six relief appearances in 1901, going 3-5, 3.06 in 85.1 innings. Brooklyn offered him a deal for 1902, but he refused to sign for their terms, so he was released. The team did Kennedy a favor by releasing him unconditionally, so he was able to sign wherever he wanted under his own terms. He moved on to the New York Giants in 1902 and made just six starts before being released in June, going 1-4, 3.96 in 38.2 innings. The Pirates signed him as a free agent in January of 1903. He went 9-6, 3.45 in 125.1 innings that season over 15 starts and three relief outings. He started and lost game five of the World Series. On February 20, 1904, he was one of four players released by the Pirates.
Kennedy spent the next five seasons in the minors in the Class-B Central League with Wheeling (1904-05) and Dayton (1906-08). He went 5-5, 2.20 in 90 innings in 1904. The next season saw him go 15-12, 2.13 in 220 innings. In his first year in Dayton, Kennedy went 12-10, 2.05 in 176 innings. Stats are limited for his final two seasons, showing him with a 5-1 record in ten games in 1907, and a 1-3 record in 46 innings in 1908. He finished up with 245 wins as a pro, though his first two seasons in the minors are unknown stats, so that number could be much closer to 300 wins. His final big league stats show a 187-159, 3.96 record in 3,030 innings, with 354 starts (52 relief appearances), 294 complete games and 13 shutouts. Kennedy was a .261 career hitter, who batted over .300 four times, including a .362 average during his time in Pittsburgh. He got his nickname from the job he held prior to signing pro ball. His actual first name was William, and he was often referred to as Bill in print.
On this date in 1972, the Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds in the opening game of the 1972 NLCS. Steve Blass started and allowed one run over 8.1 innings, while Al Oliver tripled and homered, driving in three runs. Rennie Stennett had two hits and two runs scored. Willie Stargell hit an RBI double in the first inning that put the Pirates up 2-1 at the time. The only run Blass allowed was a first inning homer by Joe Morgan. Here’s the boxscore.