This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 8th, Wally Westlake and a Steelers Player

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including one of their early home run leaders.

Nick Kingham, pitcher for the 2018-19 Pirates. He was a 2010 fourth round draft pick of the Pirates out of high school. He signed late, so his first season was limited to three shutout innings over two appearances in the Gulf Coast League. He pitched for State College of the short-season New York-Penn League in 2011, where he went 6-2, 2.15 in 71 innings over 15 starts, with 47 strikeouts and a 1.10 WHIP. Kingham moved up to West Virginia of the Class-A South Atlantic League in 2012, where he had a 6-8, 4.39 record in 127 innings over 27 starts, with 117 strikeouts and a 1.19 WHIP. The 2013 season was split between High-A Bradenton of the Florida State League and Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League, with solid results in both stops. He combined to go 9-6, 2.89 in 143.1 innings, with 144 strikeouts and a 1.18 WHIP. In 2014, he made 12 starts in Altoona and 14 starts with Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League. He had slightly better results at the lower level, while combining to go 6-11, 3.34, with 119 strikeouts and a 1.21 WHIP in 159 innings over 26 starts. Kingham was rated as a top 100 prospect in baseball by multiple sources, but he got sidetracked by Tommy John surgery early in the 2015 season. He was in line for a big league call-up at that point, but didn’t make his debut until two years later. Kingham didn’t have the same stuff post-surgery, losing velocity and command, which hurt his prospect status.

Kingham had a 4.31 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 31.1 innings with Indianapolis before his injury in 2015. He returned in 2016 and was limited to ten starts and 46 innings over three levels due to the timing of his surgery. He did well during that time, finishing with a 2.93 ERA. His 2017 season got off to a late start due to an ankle injury that cost him just over a month. He made a rehab start for Bradenton and threw five shutout innings on one hit, then went to Indianapolis, where he went 9-6, 4.13 in 113.1 innings, with 93 strikeouts. He began 2018 in Indianapolis, though he was up in the majors by April 29th. His big league debut was a very impressive performance. Kingham retired the first 20 batters of the game against the St Louis Cardinals, and finished with seven shutout innings, one hit, no walks and nine strikeouts. From that point on in 2018, he split his time between the minors and majors. He finished 5-7, 5.21 in 76 innings over 15 starts and three relief appearances with the 2018 Pirates. He also had a 3.88 ERA in 67.1 innings over 13 starts in the minors. He had a 9.87 ERA in 34.2 innings over four starts and ten relief appearances in 2019, before the Pirates decided to cut ties. Kingham went 6-8, 6.67 in 110.2 innings over 19 starts and 13 relief appearances during his two seasons in Pittsburgh. He was taken off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays in June of 2019. They used him for 11 relief appearances before he was released in late August. He had a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings, but it also came with a 1.52 WHIP. Kingham signed to play in Korea for the 2020 season and he struggled in his only two starts. He returned there in 2021, where he went 10-8, 3.19 in 144 innings over 25 starts, with 131 strikeouts. He pitched just three games in Korea in 2022, posting a 2.76 ERA in 16.1 innings, before being released due to an injury.

Rex Johnston, outfielder for the 1964 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent in 1959, sending him to the minors where he spent five full seasons before getting a chance in the majors at 26 years old. He debuted in the Class-C Pioneer League in 1959, playing for Idaho Falls, where he hit .275 with 45 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 36 RBIs and a .733 OPS in 70 games. He spent most of 1960 with Class-C Grand Forks of the Northern League, while also splitting 13 games between Class-B (Burlington of the Three-I League) and Class-A (Savannah of the South Atlantic League) affiliates of the Pirates. He hit .290 with 63 runs, 28 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs 62 walks and a .776 OPS for Grand Forks. He had one hit and a .290 OPS in ten games with Burlington that year. Johnston had a strong all around season in A-ball in 1961 with Asheville of the South Atlantic League, when he hit .283 with 77 runs scored, 24 doubles, 18 homers, 61 walks, 13 stolen bases and an .817 OPS. He spent the next three season for the Pirates in Triple-A Columbus of the International League. In 1962, Johnston batted .273 in 116 games, with 51 runs, 19 doubles, eight homers, 35 RBIs, 56 walks and a .779 OPS. He hit .267 in 136 games in 1953, with 49 runs, 18 doubles, 13 homers, 49 RBIs, 17 steals, 50 walks and a .750 OPS. He made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1964 with no prior big league experience.

Johnston’s Major League career was very brief, lasting just under one month. He made his big league debut on April 15, 1964 during a 12-inning game, and he was intentionally walked during his first time at the plate in the majors. He batted just once more during the month of April, while also making five appearances as a late-inning defensive replacement in left field. On May 2nd, Johnston started his only career game, going 0-for-4 with a walk during a 5-4 win over the St Louis Cardinals. He never recorded a Major League hit, but on May 10, 1964 during a doubleheader, he pinch-hit for Elroy Face, drew a walk and then scored his only big league run on a single by Roberto Clemente. All told, he appeared in 14 games and went to bat ten times, going 0-for-7 with three walks. He returned to the minors on May 12th to finish the year with Columbus, where he hit .234 with 49 runs, 28 extra-base hits, 37 RBIs, 23 steals and a .636 OPS in 128 games. The Pirates dropped him from their roster following the 1964 season, reassigning him to Columbus, who cut him on the final day of Spring Training in 1965. Johnston spent two more seasons at Triple-A in the Pacific Coast League before retiring from baseball. He batted .251 in 141 games for Tacoma in 1965, with 55 runs, 30 doubles, six homers, 43 RBIs, 20 steals and a .675 OPS. The 1966 season was spent with Phoenix, where he hit .286 in 94 games, with 31 runs, 18 extra-base hits, 23 RBIs and a .756 OPS.

During the 1960 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers invited Johnston to a tryout. He played football at USC, so he had recent gridiron experience at the time. The Pirates granted him permission to attend the tryout. He impressed enough to earn a roster spot, then he joined the Steelers for that one year, following the completion of the 1960 minor league season. He did mostly punt and kick returns during his brief NFL career, returning 12 punts and 18 kicks in his 12 games played. He also rushed four times for 12 yards. He is the only man to play for both the Steelers and Pirates.

Wally Westlake, outfielder for the 1947-51 Pirates. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940 and spent his first three seasons in the minors, though he only lasted one year with the Dodgers. Westlake debuted in 1940 at 19 years old with Elmira of the Class-A Eastern League, where after one game he was sent to Dayton of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League. He batted .176 with eight extra-base hits in 31 games that season before being released in early July. He returned to Class-C ball in 1941 and hit .265 with 22 doubles, eight triples and 18 homers in 136 games for Merced of the California League. Westlake moved up to the Double-A Pacific Coast League with Oakland in 1942, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. He batted .268 with 57 runs, 39 extra-base hits and 74 RBIs in 169 games. He missed the 1943-45 seasons due to military service, then returned to Oakland in 1946. The Pacific Coast League was a Triple-A league that season, a new level of the minors in 1946. Westlake hit .315 in 136 games that year, with 60 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 57 RBIs and an .806 OPS. The Pirates traded for him on September 25, 1946, sending Oakland cash and three players who would join the team in the spring of 1947. It was said that the Pirates had to outbid four other big league teams to complete the deal. He was put in right field to start the 1947 season and ended up playing 112 games as a rookie. Westlake batted .273 with 59 runs, 17 homers and 69 RBIs that season. Those home run and RBI numbers ranked him third on the Pirates behind two future Hall of Famers, Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner.

Westlake hit .285 with 78 runs, 65 RBIs and an .815 OPS in 132 games in 1948. His 17 homers that year ranked him second on the team behind Kiner. He played in a career high 147 games in 1949, finishing with a .282 average, 77 runs, 24 doubles, 23 homers, 104 RBIs and an .835 OPS. It would be the only time that he reached the century mark in RBIs during his career. He ranked eighth in the National League in both homers and RBIs that season. Westlake set a career high with 24 homers in 1950, while also hitting .285, with 77 runs, 15 doubles, 95 RBIs and an .852 OPS. He moved to third base for the 1951 season and got off to a hot start. In his first 50 games, he was hitting .282/.323/.569, with 16 homers and 45 RBIs, putting him on pace to set new career highs in both latter categories.  He was the only power hitter on the Pirates besides Kiner at the time, so what happened next was a bit of a surprise. On June 15, 1951 the Pirates traded Westlake and pitcher Cliff Chambers to the St Louis Cardinals for five players, the best among them being infielder Dick Cole and catcher Joe Garagiola. Chambers had just thrown a no-hitter weeks earlier, the first one in Pirates history since 1907.

Westlake would make the All-Star team that year with St Louis, but his star faded quickly outside of Pittsburgh. He batted .255 with six homers and 39 RBIs in 73 games with the Cardinals in 1951, finishing the year with a .787 OPS in 123 games. The next year he hit .206 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 80 games split between the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, who acquired him in a trade on May 13th. In August, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where he finished the year by batting .232/.312/.362 with one homer in 39 games. Westlake bounced back with a big season in a limited role in 1953, hitting .330 with 42 runs, seven doubles, nine homers and 46 RBIs in 82 games. His .923 OPS was a career high, though he batted just 259 times that season. He had a solid 1954 season in a similar role, hitting .263 with 36 runs, nine doubles, 11 homers, 42 RBIs and a .791 OPS in 85 games. On June 15, 1955, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, but his stay there lasted just 24 days before he was released. Westlake hit .182/.321/.227 with no homers in 24 games that year, then spent the rest of the season back in the Pacific Coast League, splitting time between Oakland and Portland. Most of 1956 was spent in the minors as well, with a five-game stint with the Philadelphia Phillies being his last big league action. He went 0-for-4 with a walk and three strikeouts for the Phillies. He finished his pro career that season with Sacramento of the PCL, where he hit .273 with 14 doubles, 12 homers and 50 RBIs in 90 games. He hit .281 for the Pirates over 580 games, with 311 runs scored, 97 homers and 378 RBIs. Westlake was a .272 career hitter in 958 games, with 474 runs, 104 doubles, 127 homers and 539 RBIs. His brother Jim Westlake had a one-game big league career for the Philadelphia Phillies, pinch-hitting on April 16, 1955. Wally Westlake passed away in 2019 at 98 years old.

Bill Hoffer, pitcher for the 1898-99 Pirates. He had one of the greatest starts to a big league career, but was out of the majors after just six seasons. He debuted in pro ball at 20 years old in 1891 with Cedar Rapids of the Illinois-Iowa League, where he went 16-12, 0.91 in 246 innings. Despite that low ERA, he still allowed six runs per nine innings, so that ERA might not be correct. Defense was worse back then because they played without gloves on poor fields, but also official scorers were brutal towards fielders compared to now, so unearned runs were very common. Hoffer saw limited time with two teams in 1892, with just 52 innings to his credit. He had a complete game win with Toledo of the Class-A Western League (highest level of the minors at the time), and he went 2-2, 2.72 in 43 innings with Joliet/Aurora of the Illinois-Iowa League. He pitched for Nashville of the Class-B Southern Association in 1893, where he had a 14-17 record in 37 games, with 33 starts and 30 complete games. He also pitched part of the season with Buffalo of the Eastern League, going 3-4, 2.82 in 67 innings. He was with Buffalo in 1894 and pitched 52 games (no other stats are listed), though his hitting from that season shows a .323 average, with 63 runs and 30 extra-base hits in 76 games. There was word that Hoffer might join Pittsburgh in 1895, which would have been a game-changer for the team, but former Pittsburgh outfielder/manager Ned Hanlon announced that he drafted Hoffer for his Baltimore Orioles club, and that move led to a pennant.

Hoffer went 31-6, 3.21 in 314 innings as a rookie in 1895, helping the Orioles to the National League title. He started 38 games, finished 32, and he threw four shutouts. Despite that success, he finished with more walks (124) than strikeouts (80), which is something that happened in each of his big league seasons. His season was worth 8.2 pitching WAR according to modern metrics. He followed that amazing rookie season up with a 25-7, 3.38 record in 309 innings in 1896 and it helped lead to a second National League title. Hoffer completed 32 of his 35 starts that season. He also batted .304 with 23 runs scored and 15 RBIs. While his pitching WAR was higher in 1895, the 1896 season was actually better due to a large difference in his hitting, showing a 261-point improvement in his OPS. The 1896 season was worth 8.3 WAR, compared to 7.9 overall for 1895. Hoffer went 22-11, 4.30 in 303.1 innings in his third season, giving him a 78-24 record to begin his career. He completed 29 of 33 starts, and he pitched five times in relief. Things went downhill from that point on, as Hoffer finished up his career by going 14-22 over his final three seasons. That included a brief stint with the 1898 Pirates in which he won all three of his starts.

Prior to joining the Pirates in 1898, Hoffer went 0-4, 7.34 in 34.1 innings over four starts for the Orioles, which included a complete game 9-8 loss to the Pirates on May 31st. Hoffer, who was called the Wizard by the Baltimore press, said that he stayed in shape during the off-season by chasing jackrabbits, but it appeared that he had trouble with a new rule about illegal deliveries with pitchers, which affected how he pitched. Baltimore showed no loyalty to the man who just helped them win two titles by releasing him in early June. The Pirates signed Hoffer a short time after his departure from Baltimore, but it was a month before his first game in Pittsburgh. He was ill at the time and then needed some extra practice before he was game ready. Hoffer’s first appearance with the Pirates came in relief on July 21st, then he followed with three starts between July 26th and August 3rd. He didn’t pitch again that season due to illness (said to be malaria), though he was mentioned a few times in mid-August as being scheduled to pitch. After three wins and a 1.74 ERA in 31 innings with the Pirates in 1898, things didn’t go as well in 1899 for Hoffer. He went 8-10, 3.63 in 163.2 innings over 19 starts and four relief appearances. He had 15 complete games and two shutouts.

After putting in a full season in 1899, Hoffer was released by the Pirates on February 28, 1900. They made a team-changing deal with the Louisville Colonels during the 1899-1900 off-season and the stronger team cost many players from the 1899 team their jobs. Hoffer spent the 1900 season with the Cleveland Lake Shores of the Class-A American League, one year before the league gained Major League status. He went 16-12 that season and pitched 252 innings. He remained with Cleveland in 1901, which returned him to the majors. Hoffer went 3-8, 4.55 in 99 innings, in what ended up being his final big league time. He completed all ten of his starts and picked up saves (not an official stat at the time) in three of his six relief appearances. He was done with the majors in 1901, but he remained in minor league ball until 1909, playing his final season right back where things started 18 years earlier in Cedar Rapids. His final big league marks show a 92-46, 3.75 record in 1,254.1 innings over 142 starts (161 games total), with 125 complete games and ten shutouts.

Hoffer’s career stats are spotty after his big league time ended. He finished the 1901 season with Sacramento of the California League, where he went 2-10 in 12 games. In 1902, he pitched 29 games for Des Moines of the Western League (his W/L, ERA and IP are unavailable for that year). He pitched for Des Moines in 1903 as well, but the only available stats are a .281 average in 67 games. Hoffer pitched 31 games for Des Moines in 1904 and he batted .220 in 32 games. He also served as the team manager during that season. He was dissatisfied with his salary in 1905 and didn’t sign until July, but it was soon announced that he was suspended and he was then found playing semi-pro ball for two different teams over the rest of the season. Hoffer played for Springfield of the Class-B Three-I League in 1906 (no stats available), and he also did some umpiring work in the Western League. In 1907, he split his year between Little Rock of the Class-A Southern Association and Oklahoma City of the Class-C Western Association, where he had a 9-2 record in 11 games. He went 10-7 in 20 games for Oklahoma City in 1908, then finished his career with a 3-6 record in nine games for Cedar Rapids of the Three-I League.