This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: October 20th, Jocko Fields Headlines a Light Day

October 20th is a light day for Pirates history. Only two former players born on this date and no major trades or transactions. I’ve included the two biggest transactions below.

Jocko Fields, catcher/outfielder for the 1887-89 and 1891 Alleghenys. Fields is one of 47 Major Leaguers born in Ireland, and three of them played for the 1888 Alleghenys, Fields, William Farmer and Sam Nicholl. Jocko (first name was John) began his pro career in 1885 with Jersey City of the Eastern League, and he would make his Major League debut on May 31, 1887. He lived in Jersey City for part of his life, and hit .232 with 12 runs and four extra-base hits in 26 games for his hometown team at 20 years old. In 1886, he played for three different teams in New York, seeing time with Long Island of the Eastern League and Utica and Buffalo of the International League. he batted .312 between the three stops, with 14 doubles, eight triples, eight homers and 56 runs scored in 76 games. Fields signed with the Alleghenys after his season ended, though it was not without some controversy. It was said that he originally signed with Buffalo and received advanced money, before signing with Pittsburgh. The Buffalo manager then came out and said that Pittsburgh should return him because he’s not good enough to play in the majors. Buffalo was still trying to get him back into late May, partially due to the fact that he wasn’t playing early on. His first game with the Alleghenys was the 24th game of the season, but he soon began to see semi-regular time. Fields played 43 games in 1887, hitting .268 with 26 runs scored, nine doubles, two triples, 17 RBIs, seven steals and a .654 OPS.

Fields was a versatile player, making appearances his first year at seven different positions, playing everything except second base and shortstop. The following year he struggled both offensively and defensively, hitting just .195/.232/.278 with 22 runs, 15 RBIs and nine steals in 45 games, while also posting well below average fielding percentages in the outfield and behind the plate. The Pirates stuck with him despite his 1888 season and they were rewarded for it. His defense was still suspect, but in 75 games in 1889 he hit a career high .311, which was second highest on the team to Fred Carroll. He had 41 runs, 22 doubles, 43 RBIs and a career best .819 OPS, with most of his playing time in left field (54 games) and catcher (16 games). When the Player’s League was formed going into the 1890 season, the Alleghenys lost most of their team to their new crosstown rivals, the Pittsburgh Burghers. Among the lost players was Fields, who had the best season of his career by far. He played a career high 126 games and hit .282, while setting highs with 103 runs scored, 20 triples, nine homers, 86 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. He mostly played left field again, with 15 games behind the plate, while also playing 30 games at second base. He actually had a better OPS in 1889 (.819 vs .799), but the added playing time helped out the 1890 season.

When the Player’s League disbanded after one season, most players returned to their original 1889 club, and Fields was no different. His stay with the Pittsburgh club in 1891 was a short one. He played just 23 more games before being unconditionally released. He almost didn’t sign with the team, as his $3,000 salary demand in January was well over the $1,400 salary he was told that he would receive, but the two sides eventually agreed in late February. He batted .240 with ten runs, three doubles, five RBIs and a .617 OPS in his time with Pittsburgh that season. There was word in Spring Training that he could be released before the season, but he lasted with the club until July 13th. He finished the 1891 season with the Philadelphia Phillies, though he spent two months with Omaha of the Western League in between big league stops and was getting a lot of praise for his work in the minors. After eight late-season games with the 1891 Phillies in which he had a .690 OPS in 34 plate appearances, Field played one more partial year in the majors with the New York Giants in 1892. That year he hit .273/.368/.394 in 21 games before being released in early June.

Fields finished his pro career in the minors in 1896, seeing time with nine different teams in six different leagues over the 1892-96 seasons. He batted .222 in 16 games with Buffalo of the Eastern League in 1892, while also seeing time with Somerville of the Central New Jersey League. In 1893, he played 74 games with Macon of the Class-B Southern Association, hitting .254 with 62 runs, 16 doubles and four triples. He also went 6-for-17 in four games with Harrisburg of the Pennsylvania State League that year. In 1894, Fields batted .351 in 48 games with Charleston of the Southern Association, collecting 52 runs, 21 doubles and three homers. He also saw time with Milwaukee of the Western League that season, batting .307 with 12 runs and five extra-base hits in 21 games. He played for Evansville of the Southern Association in 1895 (no stats available), then finished up with a split season in 1896 between Atlanta of the Southern Association and Norfolk of the Class-B Virginia League. He hit .325 that season in 124 games, with 88 runs, 28 doubles, four triples, three homers and 32 steals, putting up similar results in each stop.

As a member of the Alleghenys/Pirates, Fields hit .265 in 186 games, with three homers and 80 RBIs. In 344 games over six seasons in the majors, he hit .272 with 214 runs, 66 doubles, 32 triples, 12 homers, 178 RBIs and 51 steals. Field’s career home run total has a very interesting story. He hit three homers total in his first three years. In 1890, he had two multi-homer games in one week early in the season. He hit his last homer that year on August 1st, two months before the season ended, then never homered again in the majors. Despite being small in stature at 5’10”, 160, Fields had quite a reputation as a boxer in his early playing days. The nickname Jocko, which was common for people named John back then, didn’t catch on until the 1888 season. He was often called John early in his career and occasionally they called him Jack.

Jose Veras, pitcher for the 2011 Pirates. He signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic at 17 years old in 1998. It took him eight years to make the majors with the 2006 New York Yankees, coming after he also spent time in the Texas Rangers system. Veras played with three teams over his first five years in the majors, though he never spent an entire season in the majors until his year with the Pirates, which came 13 years after he originally signed. He played for eight teams in nine big league seasons, which doesn’t include his time with the Devil Rays, Rangers, or the Atlanta Braves, who signed him as a free agent during Spring Training of 2016.

Veras debuted in the Gulf Coast League in 1998, where he had a 6.75 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 16 innings. Things didn’t get any better as a starter with Princeton in the short-season Appalachian League in 1999, where he had a 7.12 ERA in 60.2 innings, with more walks (50) than strikeouts (48). He moved up to Low-A ball in 2000 with Charleston of the South Atlantic League, where he went 8-8, 4.81 in 106.2 innings, with 102 strikeouts, while issuing just 41 walks. Veras was in High-A in 2001 with Bakersfield of the California League, where he went 9-8, 4.53 in 153 innings, with 138 strikeouts. He missed some time in 2002, which limited him to 11 starts in Bakersfield (5.34 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 59 innings), and two scoreless rehab starts in short-season ball with Hudson Valley of the New York-Penn League. He spent the large majority of the 2003 season in Double-A Orlando of the Southern League, with three relief appearances at Triple-A Durham of the International League mixed in. He went 6-9, 3.65, with 121 strikeouts in 135.2 innings that season between both stops. In 2004, Veras made three starts in Double-A (Montgomery of the Southern League), then had ten starts and 20 relief appearances with Durham, where he went 6-5, 5.23, with 63 strikeouts in 84.1 innings.

Veras signed a minor league free agent deal with the Texas Rangers in 2005 and had a 3.79 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 24 saves in 61.2 innings over 57 appearances in Triple-A with Oklahoma of the Pacific Coast League. He signed a free agent deal with the New York Yankees in 2006 and had a 2.41 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 21 saves in 59.2 innings over 50 appearances with Columbus of the International League, before making his big league debut in August. He had a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings over 12 games with the Yankees that season. Veras suffered an elbow injury in 2007 that limited him to 21 innings over 16 minor league games (including rehab work), and nine appearances in the majors. He did well during that brief big league time, with no earned runs and 13 strikeouts in 8.1 innings. In 2008, he spent a large portion of the year in the majors, going 5-3, 3.59, with 63 strikeouts in 57.2 innings pitched over 60 appearances. The next year saw him get sold to the Cleveland Indians in late June. Veras combined for a 5.19 ERA in 50.1 innings over 47 games with the 2009 Yankees and Indians, with slightly better results in Cleveland. He became a free agent and signed with the Florida Marlins for 2010. He went 3-3, 3.75, with 54 strikeouts in 48 innings and 48 games pitched. He also pitched 24 games for Triple-A New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League, giving him 72 games pitched that season.

The Marlins let Veras go at the end of the 2010 season and the Pirates signed him as a free agent in January of 2011. During his one season in Pittsburgh, he posted a 3.80 ERA and set career highs with 79 appearances and 71 innings pitched. He had a 2-4 record, 79 strikeouts and picked up his first save since the 2007 season. The Pirates traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers in December of 2011 for infielder Casey McGehee. Veras had similar results in Milwaukee in 2012, going 5-4, 3.63, with 79 strikeouts in 67 innings over 71 games. He signed a free agent deal for 2013 with the Houston Astros, but spent the second half of the year with the Detroit Tigers after a July 29th trade for two players. He went 0-5 on the season, but it came with a 3.02 ERA, 60 strikeouts and a career high 21 saves in 62.2 innings over 67 appearances. Veras signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs, who released him after an 8.10 ERA in 12 appearances in 2014. He would signed back with the Astros, where he had a 3.03 ERA in 32.2 innings over 34 games to finish out the season. He pitched in Triple-A for the Astros in 2015, posting a 5.68 ERA in 19 innings for Fresno of the Pacific Coast League, then played winter ball in the Dominican that off-season. Veras played independent ball in 2016 with Bridgeport of the Atlantic League, going 2-2, 5.32 with 12 saves in 23.2 innings, before finishing his pro career back in the Dominican in the winter. He played nine years in the majors, with all 440 appearances coming as a reliever. He went 23-23, 3.91 with 27 saves and 438 strikeouts in 423 innings.

The Transactions

On this date in 1970, the Pirates completed an earlier trade for pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant by sending outfielder Angel Mangual to the Oakland A’s. Mangual played six September games off of the bench for the Pirates in 1969, then spent the entire 1970 season in the minors. He would end up playing six seasons for the A’s, mostly as a bench player, helping them to three consecutive World Series titles (1972-74). Grant pitched well for the 1971 World Series champs, but was sold back to the A’s late in the season and missed out on the World Series title.

On this date in 1977, pitcher Terry Forster became a free agent. He already had seven seasons in at the big league level, but he was just 25 years old at the time. The Pirates acquired him as part of a four-player deal with the Chicago White Sox a year earlier that included Hall of Famer Goose Gossage and outfielder Richie Zisk. One year after that trade was made, all of the players were either on a new team or they were free agents. In his one season with the Pirates, Forster had a 6-4, 4.43 record in 87.1 innings over 33 appearances, including six starts. He would go on to sign a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers that was worth $850,000.

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