This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: October 23rd, Hall of Fame Pitcher Jim Bunning

Three former Pirates born on this date, including a Hall of Fame pitcher. We also have one minor transaction of note. Before we get into that stuff, current Pirates pitcher Zach Thompson turns 29 today.

Jim Bunning, pitcher for the 1968-69 Pirates. Pittsburgh gave up a lot to get the future Hall of Famer after he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting in 1967 with the Philadelphia Phillies. By the time he left via trade late in 1969, the Pirates were only able to get two marginal minor league players and cash in return. Bunning went 14-23, 3.84 in 316 innings during his time with the Pirates. That looks like a decent ERA, though it came during a time of low offense in baseball, so it was actually a good deal higher than league average. Bunning pitched until 1971, finishing his 17-year career with 224 wins and 2,855 strikeouts. He had just one career 20-win season, but from 1962 until 1966, he finished with 19 wins four times. Bunning led the league in strikeouts three times, accomplishing that feat in both leagues (1959-60 with Detroit Tigers, 1967 with the Phillies). He’s only one of six players ever to throw no-hitters in two leagues. His second one on June 21, 1964 with the Phillies was a perfect game.

Bunning debuted in pro ball in 1950 at 18 years old, playing Class-D ball for Richmond of the Ohio-Indiana League, where he went 7-8, 3.22 in 123 innings. The next year he moved up to Davenport of the Class-B Three-I League, posting an 8-10, 2.88 record in 150 innings. He played for Williamsport of the Class-A Eastern League in 1952, going 5-9, 3.49 in 129 innings. The next two seasons were spent in Double-A, playing for Little Rock of the Southern Association. Bunning went 5-12, 4.56 in 158 innings, with 124 strikeouts in 1953. He improved to 13-11, 4.29 in 193 innings in 1954, finishing that year with 140 strikeouts. He began the 1955 season with Buffalo of the Triple-A International League, going 8-5, 3.77, with 105 strikeouts in 129 innings before joining the Detroit Tigers in July. He went 3-5, 6.35 in 51 innings over eight starts and seven relief appearances for the 1955 Tigers. In 1956, he spent the first half of the season with Charleston of the Triple-A American Association, which turned out to be his final minor league time. Bunning had a 9-11, 3.53 record and 144 strikeouts in 163 innings before rejoining the Tigers in July. He went 5-1, 3.71 in 53.1 innings over three starts and 12 relief appearances in his second big league season.

Bunning spent the entire 1957 season in the majors. He went 20-8, 2.69 in 267.1 innings, with 14 complete games and 182 strikeouts. He led the American League in wins and innings pitched, while finishing second in strikeouts. He was an All-Star for the first time that year, and he finished ninth in the MVP voting. In 1958, he had a 14-12, 3.52 record in 219.2 innings, with 177 strikeouts, which was good for second most in the league. He had ten complete games and three shutouts. Bunning led the league in strikeouts for the first time in 1959, as he compiled a 17-13, 3.89 record, with 201 strikeouts in 249.2 innings. He completed 14 of his 35 starts, and also pitched five times in relief. He was an All-Star for the second time that season. That 201-strikeout mark was lucky for him, as he finished with the exact same amount in 1960 to lead the league once again. Bunning went 11-14, 2.79 in 250 innings, pitched for a team that finished 12 games under the .500 mark. He had ten complete games and three shutouts. Despite the record, he received mild MVP support, finishing 24th in the voting.

Bunning went 17-11, 3.19 in 268 innings in 1961, compiling 12 complete games and four shutouts, while finishing third in the league with 194 strikeouts. He also made his third All-Star team that year, though technically he made his third and fourth All-Star teams, as they played two games back then. They played two All-Star games in 1962 as well, and Bunning was elected to the team for the fourth year, thanks to his 19-10, 3.59 record in 258 innings. He had 184 strikeouts that season, second most in the American League. He received mild MVP support, finishing 21st in the voting. Bunning made the All-Star team again in 1963, the first year that they went back to playing just one game. It was his last season in Detroit and he finished with a 12-13, 3.88 record in 248.1 innings. He completed just six of his 35 starts, while finishing second in the league with 196 strikeouts. In December of 1963, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in a four-player deal.

Bunning went 19-8, 2.63 in 1964, with 219 strikeouts in 284.1 innings. He completed 13 of 39 starts, while throwing five shutouts. Despite the uptick in strikeouts, he finished with the fifth most in the National League that year, breaking a string of seven straight seasons among the top three in the league. He was an All-Star that season, and he finished 13th in the MVP voting. In 1965, he had a 19-9, 2.60 record in 291 innings, while setting a career high with 268 strikeouts, which ranked fourth in the league. He completed 15 of 29 starts that year, while throwing a career high seven shutouts. Bunning was an All-Star for the seventh time (nine total games) in 1966, going 19-14, 2.41 in 314 innings, with 252 strikeouts, which ranked second in the league. He led the league with 41 starts and five shutouts. In his final season before joining the Pirates, Bunning went 17-15, 2.29 in 302.1 innings, with 253 strikeouts. He led the league in innings, strikeouts, starts (40) and shutouts (six). He finished second in the Cy Young voting that year and 22nd in the MVP voting. The Pirates were clearly getting a workhorse pitcher with plenty of recent success when they acquired Bunning, but he also turned 36 years old just after the 1967 season ended, and his age showed almost immediately. He cost the Pirates future All-Stars Don Money and Woody Fryman (plus two other players), who were both very early in their career in the pre-free agency days, so it went from bad to worse over time.

Bunning got off to a strong start with the Pirates, posting a 2.43 ERA in his first seven starts, but it went downhill from there, going 6-14, 4.66 over the rest of the season. He finished the 1968 season with a 4-14, 3.88 in 26 starts and one relief appearance, totaling 160 innings. The problem was that the 1968 season was the year of the pitcher, so the league average ERA that season was nearly a full run lower. His ERA was nearly the same in 1969 (3.81), but he had a 10-9 record in 25 starts and 156 innings. With the Pirates lagging in the pennant race in August, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he made nine starts before being released after the season. He didn’t do poorly in those games, going 3-1, 3.36 in 56.1 innings. The Pirates return from the Dodgers exactly 20 months after giving up two All-Stars to acquire Bunning netted them a return of six games over two seasons from Chuck Goggins, with the other player in the deal (Ron Mitchell) failing to make the majors. Bunning was back with the Phillies in 1970, where he went 10-15, 4.11 in 219 innings. During his final season, he went 5-12, 5.48 in 110 innings. He went 224-184, 3.27 in 3,760.1 innings during his 17-year career, with 519 starts, 72 relief appearances, 151 complete games and 40 shutouts. He was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1996. During the 1988 voting, he fell four votes short (74.2%), they failed to reach 64% of the votes in any of his final three seasons.

Billy Sullivan, catcher for the 1947 Pirates. When he played in the 1940 World Series with the Detroit Tigers, he became part of the first father-son combo to play in the World Series. His father, also named Billy Sullivan, was a catcher for 16 years in the majors. He was the starter for the 1906 Chicago White Sox, a team that went on to win their first World Series title that year. The younger Sullivan made it to the majors with the White Sox in 1931 at 20 years old. He debuted in pro ball in the majors and his only minor league experience ever was the 1934 season with Milwaukee of the Double-A American Association, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. He went right from Notre Dame to the majors and he appeared to be ready for that big jump. As a rookie in 1931, he batted .275 with 48 runs, 23 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and a .679 OPS in 92 games. He didn’t catch often at first, spending most of his time at the two corner outfield spots. The next season saw him bat .316 in 93 games, with 31 runs, 16 doubles, one homer, 45 RBIs and a .742 OPS. In 1933, he hit just .192/.252/.208 in 54 games, with nine runs, 13 RBIs and his only extra-base hit was a triple. Sullivan spent the entire 1934 season with Milwaukee, hitting .343 in 151 games, with 222 hits, 30 doubles, 11 triples and 17 homers.

After his one season in Milwaukee, Sullivan came back to the majors with the Cincinnati Reds in 1935, where he hit .266 in 85 games, with 29 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 36 RBIs and a .685 OPS. He was sold to the Cleveland Indians in January of 1936 and he began to catch regularly that season. He broke out with the bat in 93 games, hitting .351 with 39 runs, 32 doubles, 48 RBIs and an .890 OPS. His average dropped down to .286 in 72 games in 1937. He collected just 18 extra-base hits, but he had a much better walk rate than the previous season, so he was still able to put up an .801 OPS. In February of 1938, Sullivan was traded to the St Louis Browns, where he would get his most playing time. In 1938, he hit .277 with 35 runs, 16 doubles, seven homers, 49 RBIs and a .697 OPS in 111 games. He set a career high with 118 games in 1939, as he hit .289 with 27 extra-base hits and career highs of 50 RBIs and 53 runs scored. He improved over the previous year, posting a .778 OPS.

Sullivan was traded to the Detroit Tigers in January of 1940. He hit .309 with 35 runs, 21 extra-base hits, 41 RBIs and an .849 OPS in 78 games. He started four of the seven World Series games that year. Detroit lost the series and Sullivan hit just .154, though he did have a single, walk and run scored in the 2-1 series finale. In 1941, he batted .282 with 29 runs, 19 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs, a .769 OPS and a career high of 35 walks. He was sold to Brooklyn in March of 1942 and he hit .267/.345/.337 with one homer and 14 RBIs in 43 games. He voluntarily retired prior to the 1943 to work on a construction business he owned, though he enlisted in the Navy that summer. Before joining the Pirates officially, he worked out with the team so they could see if he still had big league ability after missing four full seasons. He was actually with the team prior to being officially released by the Dodgers. He ended up signing right before appearing in the fifth game of the season on April 20th. Sullivan hit .255/.328/.309 in 38 games for the Pirates, finishing with one run scored, three doubles and eight RBIs. He was seeing somewhat regular playing time until June 15th, then was used strictly as a pinch-hitter over the final 104 games, appearing just ten times. He was released by the Pirates on October 16th and retired from baseball. He was a career .289 hitter over 962 big league games, with 346 runs, 152 doubles, 32 triples, 29 homers, 388 RBIs and twice as many walks (240) as strikeouts (119). Sullivan led all American League catchers in fielding (.990) in 1938, while also being the toughest batter to strikeout in the league (ten strikeouts in 401 plate appearances).

Lave Winham, lefty pitcher for the 1903 Pirates. Winham pitched five late season games for the first World Series team in Pirates history. He went 3-1, 2.25 in 36 innings. His only other big league experience was a three-inning relief appearance for Brooklyn in 1902. The Pirates purchased him from his minor league team in Montreal of the Class-A Eastern League on August 5, 1903, though he was allowed to stay with the club for a short time. Winham joined the Pirates a week later, and then his first appearance was on August 16th in an in-season exhibition game against a minor league team from Troy. He allowed two homers, but won 6-3. His next appearance was his Pirates regular season debut five days later and he allowed three runs over four innings. Four days later, he started game two of a doubleheader and threw a six-inning shutout in a game shortened due to excessive heat. He ended up making three more starts and won the first two, before allowing nine runs in his last game, which turned out to be his final big league game. In between his last win and his last game, Winham pitched for a local pro team from Washington, Pa., who reportedly paid $100 to use Winham and catcher Art Weaver on loan for one game. Despite adding two Major League players that day, the Washington team lost 15-0, and Winham allowed all 15 runs. He was let go by the Pirates in early 1904 after they failed to tender him a contract. He finished his pro career the next season in the minors with Wilmington of the Tri-State League, but he played semi-pro ball the next year and did some pitching on and off after that season.

Winham has a dubious Pirates team record that will likely never be broken. In his final big league game, he committed four errors. That’s a team record for errors by a pitcher and it has only been exceeded once in baseball history by a pitcher. That was Ed Doheny, who was a teammate of Winham’s in 1903. Doheny committed five errors with the New York Giants in an 1899 game. With bunting no longer a part of baseball strategy, and complete games being a thing of the past, it seems highly unlikely that any pitch would even handle the baseball enough in one game to match/exceed his error record. Official scorers are also much more friendlier now, so his place in team history seems safe.

Winham’s real name was Lafayette Sharkey Winham and his current “Lave” nickname appears to be no more than an error. A search of old print shows the name just once during his playing days, and he was actually referred to as “Lafe” or by his full first name. His recognized nickname now appears to be nothing more than a spelling error from 1905. He pitched in the amateur ranks as early as 15 years old in 1897, but he debuted in the minors at 18 years old in 1900 for Statesville of the North Carolina Association, a league that lasted just one season. The next year he pitched for the Hempsteads of the South Side League, a semi-pro league in New York at the time. After the 1901 season, Brooklyn signed him by making a better offer than Montreal of the Eastern League. That’s not surprising because Winham was born and raised in Brooklyn, but after his one appearance in Brookyln on April 21st, he ended up spending the season in Montreal, which is where the Pirates signed him from nearly 16 months later. His only available minor league pitching record has limited stats available and shows him posting a 7-12 record for Montreal in 1903.

The Transaction

On this date in 1981, the Pirates purchased minor league pitcher Manny Sarmiento from the Boston Red Sox. Sarmiento had previous MLB experience, but he spent the entire 1981 season in the minors and saw limited big league action in 1980. It turned out to be an excellent short-term signing, as he had a 9-4, 3.39 record in 164.2 innings during the 1982 season, making 17 starts and 18 relief appearances. Sarmiento did well as a full-time reliever in 1983, posting a 2.99 ERA in 84.1 innings over 52 appearances. That would be the end of his big league career though, as he was injured for all of 1984 and lasted just one season in the minors when he returned to action.