Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a trade of note.
Marc Wilkins, pitcher for the Pirates from 1996 until 2001. He was drafted by the Pirates out of the University of Toledo in the 47th round of the 1992 draft and had a decent Major League career, despite draft position and his rough pro debut. He posted a 7.29 ERA in 28 games as a 21-year-old in short-season ball, pitching for Welland of the New York-Penn League during his first year. Even with the poor ERA, he showed some promise with 42 strikeouts in 42 innings. He actually had a 4.49 ERA over his minor league career, so he didn’t exactly dominate in the minors, but it somehow translated to better Major League numbers. After his tough debut, Wilkins moved up to the Low-A South Atlantic League in 1993, where he went 5-6, 4.21, with 73 strikeouts in 77 innings over 48 appearances (five starts) for Augusta. In 1994, he moved up to High-A to pitch for Salem of the Carolina League. He started six games over his first two seasons, then moved to a full-time starting role in 1994, going 8-5, 3.70 in 28 starts, with 151 innings pitched. He average nearly one strikeout per inning during his first two seasons, but he was down to 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter. He had a nice walk rate, but he also hit 22 batters and threw 14 wild pitches. Wilkins moved up to Double-A in 1995 and made 12 starts and 25 relief appearances, going 5-3, 3.99 in 99.1 innings for Carolina of the Southern League. He repeated Carolina to start 1996, but after a 4.01 ERA in 24.2 innings over 11 appearances, he spent the rest of the season in the majors.
Wilkins pitched 245 games in his big league career, and all but two were as a reliever. One of his two big league starts was a five-inning shutout appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his rookie season, so it’s a little surprising that he didn’t get more chances. He went 4-3, 3.84, with 62 strikeouts in 75 innings over 47 appearances for the Pirates in 1996. His best season came in 1997, when he went 9-5, 3.69 in a career high 70 games and 75.2 innings. He picked up one save as a rookie and two in 1997, but none over his last four seasons in the majors. In 1998, Wilkins went 0-0, 3.52 in 15.1 innings over 16 games. He lost time that season due to a strained rotator cuff. While on the disabled list in late May, Wilkins broke the jaw of fellow reliever Jeff Tabaka during a drunken bar fight at the team hotel. Wilkins had to have shoulder surgery on September 1st, but he was back healthy during the 1999 season. He pitched 12 times in the minors that year between Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League and Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League, posting a 1.04 ERA in 17.1 innings. He went 2-3, 4.24, with 44 strikeouts in 51 innings over 46 appearances for the Pirates in 1999. During the 2000 season, he went 4-2, 5.07 in 60.1 innings over 52 games. He had a 1.61 WHIP that year, along with more walks (43) than strikeouts (37).
Wilkins was lost on waivers to the Oakland A’s after the 2000 season. They released him two months later and he re-signed with the Pirates. He split that 2001 season between Triple-A Nashville and the majors, going 0-1, 6.75 in 17.1 innings over 14 games in Pittsburgh, while posting a 4-1, 4.75 record in 36 innings with Nashville. The Pirates let him go via free agency shortly after the 2001 season ended. He bounced around three different organizations during the 2002-03 seasons in the minors before retiring, spending Triple-A time with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Durham of the International League) in 2002, Chicago Cubs (Iowa of the Pacific Coast League) in 2002, and Florida Marlins (Albuquerque of the PCL) in 2003. He combined in 2002 to go 2-0, 4.75 in 41.2 innings over 31 appearances. In 2003, he had a 1-1, 6.75 record in 36 innings over 20 appearances (two starts). Over his six seasons in the majors, all spent with the Pirates, he posted a 19-14, 4.28 record with three saves, 218 strikeouts and a 1.47 WHIP in 294 innings.
Frank Papish, pitcher for the 1950 Pirates. It took him nine years to finally make the majors after debuting in pro ball at 18 years old, and his big break likely only came due to the talent level being watered down during WWII. However, he turned that into a solid little career in the majors. He debuted in pro ball at 18 years old in 1936, playing for Omaha/Rock Island of the Class-A Western League, where he went 10-16, 4.93, with 125 strikeouts in 197 innings. He played for Dallas of the Class-A Texas League in 1937, going 7-10, 4.79 in 154 innings, with 81 walks and 74 strikeouts. The next year he dropped down two levels to Longview of the Class-A East Texas League, but the results weren’t any better. He went 7-5, 4.45 in 97 innings over 14 starts and two relief appearances. Papish played for Class-B Anniston of the Southeastern League in 1939 for the first of three straight seasons. He went 10-13, 5.06 in 185 innings that first season. The next year he went 20-14, 3.31 in 269 innings. Despite the success, he was back there in 1941, where he went 11-9, 3.24 in 189 innings. He also put up a 4.39 ERA in 41 innings over ten games (seven starts) for Class-A Birmingham of the Southern Association that season. Papish stayed in the Southern Association in 1942, playing for Little Rock, where he went 13-10, 3.52 in 220 innings. He was back there in 1943 as well, though he had a failed stint in Double-A Minneapolis (highest level of the minors at the time), where he had a 6.00 ERA in 18 innings. For Little Rock that year, he was 13-8, 3.40 in 209 innings. He had 96 walks and 91 strikeouts that season. In his third season in Little Rock in 1944, he went 16-17, 4.06, with 125 strikeouts in 277 innings. He had 31 starts, nine relief appearances and 23 complete games. That led to his first big league chance at 27 years old.
Papish went 4-4, 3.74 in 84.1 innings with the Chicago White Sox in 1945, making five starts and 14 relief appearances. The next year he went 7-5, 2.74 in 138 innings, making 15 starts and 16 relief appearances. He threw two of his three career shutouts that season. The 1947 season was his busiest in the majors. Papish had a 12-12, 3.26 record in 199 innings, with 26 starts and 12 relief appearances. He had six complete games, one shutout and three saves (not an official stat at the time). Things went downhill quickly for him, as the 1948 season saw him go 2-8, 5.00 in 95.1 innings over 14 starts and 18 relief appearances. He had 75 walks and 43 strikeouts that year. After the season, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in a deal that included pitcher Bob Kuzava, who would play for the 1957 Pirates. The Pirates bought Papish from the Indians in December of 1949 after he went 1-0, 3.19 in 62 innings over 25 games (three starts) that season. When the Pirates purchased him from Cleveland, he was actually working for the Indians as a season ticket rep, back when many players had winter jobs.
After joining the Pirates, Papish spent most of the 1950 season in Triple-A Indianapolis of the American Association, going 11-3, 2.81 in 109 innings over 15 starts and four relief appearances. He missed time early in the year due to a back injury, then required a hospital visit due to an illness that came on while he was trying to recover from his injury. He was called up by the Pirates for a doubleheader on June 18th. As the starter in game one, he faced five batters and failed to retire any of them, giving up three earned runs. He made three more relief appearances over the next nine days following that start and allowed a run in each game. Papish finished with a 27.00 ERA in 2.1 innings. He returned to Indianapolis to finish the season, and remained there through all of 1951 and part of 1952. He went 9-12, 5.25 in 156 innings in 1951. He followed that up with a 4-7, 7.02 record in 82 innings with Indianapolis in 1952. He moved on to Chattanooga of the Southern Association (then a Double-A level) for parts of the 1952-53 seasons, while also seeing time with Memphis in that same league in 1953, which turned out to be his final season of pro ball. He went 3-1 in 33 innings over five games with Chattanooga in 1952, then had a combined 7-10 record in 140 innings over 29 games in 1953. Papish won 142 minor league games. He went 26-29, 3.58 in 581 innings over 64 starts and 85 relief appearances in the majors over parts of six seasons. He had 18 complete games and nine saves, with a 319:255 BB/SO ratio.
Ron Davis, outfielder for the 1969 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1961 at 19 years old. He hit .218 with 27 runs, five doubles, three homers and 19 RBIs in 74 games that year, spending most of his time at Class-A Jacksonville of the South Atlantic League, while also playing 11 games with Triple-A Houston of the American Association. He dropped down to Class-B Durham of the Carolina League in 1962, where he hit .296 in 92 games, with 83 runs, 27 extra-base hits, 42 RBIs, 60 walks and an .837 OPS. He moved up to Oklahoma City of the American Association that year for 30 games and put up a .535 OPS. Despite the poor numbers in Triple-A, he was in the majors with the Houston Colt .45s by the end of the year. He got a six-game trial at 20 years old, going 3-for-14 with three singles and a walk, but he didn’t see the majors again until four years later. Davis played in the Double-A Texas League during the 1963-66 seasons, two years in San Antonio (1963-64), and two years in Amarillo (1965-66). He hit .289 in 134 games in 1963, with 86 runs, 17 doubles, six triples, 16 homers, 60 RBIs and a .756 OPS. He had 27 walks and 109 strikeouts that year, the only time that he reached triple-digits in strikeouts. His 1964 season was limited to just 15 games due to military service. He batted .327/.364/.519 in 56 plate appearances.
Davis split the 1965 season between Amarillo and Oklahoma City of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He struggled at the higher level, putting up a .184 average and a .494 OPS in 54 games. With Amarillo that year, he hit .287 in 70 games, with a .711 OPS. Before rejoining Houston in 1966, Davis hit .302 with 16 doubles, 12 homers and 52 RBIs in 96 games for Amarillo. He returned to the majors in early August and hit .247/.308/.340 with two homers and 19 RBIs in 48 games. He spent the entire 1967 season in the majors, hitting .256 with 31 runs, 19 doubles, seven homers, 38 RBIs and a .706 OPS in 94 games. Davis split the 1968 season between Houston and the St Louis Cardinals. He was traded for two players in June 15th after hitting .212/.268/.281 with one homer in 52 games for the Astros. He batted .177 with a .499 OPS in 33 games for the Cardinals to finish out the season.
Prior to joining the Pirates, Davis was part of a 4-for-1 trade from the St Louis Cardinals to the San Diego Padres in December of 1968, with future Pirates closer Dave Giusti being the sole player going to the Cardinals in the deal. Three months later, the Pirates acquired Davis in a four-player deal that saw Tommie Sisk go to San Diego. Davis played 62 games during his one season for the Pirates, but he accumulated just 64 total at-bats. He played at least ten games at all three outfield positions, though he only started ten games all season. In the team’s last 48 games of the season, he made zero starts and had just five plate appearances over that stretch. He batted .234/.310/.281 with ten runs and four RBIs. Davis remained with the Pirates organization through the 1971 season, spending his final two seasons with Triple-A Charleston of the International League, which marked the end of his pro career. He was sold to Charleston on October 28, 1969. The Pirates said in the newspapers before the Rule 5 draft that winter that they expected Davis to be selected, but he remained in the system. He was invited to Spring Training in 1970 and he was one of the final two players cut before Opening Day (Gary Kolb was the other). He batted .265 in 132 games with Charleston in 1970, with 59 runs, 17 doubles, 14 homers and 47 RBIs. He played 85 games and batted 173 times in his final season, finishing with a .225 average and a .557 OPS. He was a .233 hitter with 96 runs, 44 doubles, ten homers and 79 RBIs in 295 big league games.
On this date in 1969, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded catcher Carl Taylor and minor league outfielder Frank Vanzin to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for catcher Dave Ricketts and pitcher Dave Giusti. The trade, thanks to Giusti, worked out very well for the Pirates. Taylor hit .348 for the Pirates in 104 games in 1969 as a 25-year-old in his first full season, but he lasted just one year with the Cardinals and his average dropped 99 points. He played just 159 more Major League games, including seven late-season games for the Pirates in 1971 after they bought him from the Kansas City Royals, who would in turn buy him back prior to the 1972 season. Vanzin never played in the majors and was out of baseball following the 1970 season. Ricketts played just 12 games following the trade, all off the bench, and that was the end of his pro career. However, Giusti made the deal one-sided for the Pirates.
Giusti was used often as a starting pitcher prior to joining the Pirates, but following the trade he made just three starts in seven seasons in Pittsburgh. He was used mainly as the closer and would save 133 games in a Pirates uniform, the fourth highest total in team history. He helped the Pirates to five National League East pennants, and during the 1971 World Series he made three appearances for a total of 5.1 scoreless innings, leading the Pirates to their fifth World Series title. While with the Pirates, he pitched 618 innings over 410 games, with 47 wins and a 2.94 ERA, to go along with his 133 saves. He led the National League in saves in 1971 with 30, then the following year he posted a career low 1.93 ERA.