This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 15th, Gus Bell and Maurice Van Robays

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date.

Gus Bell, outfielder for the 1950-52 Pirates. Bell was signed as an amateur free agent in 1947 at 18 years old. By age 20, he already had two .300 seasons in the minors, and he was a starter in the majors by age 21. He split his first season between Class-C Keokuk of the Central Association and Class-D Leesburg of the Florida State League, combining to hit .242 with 33 runs scored, 17 extra-base hits, 40 RBIs and a .628 OPS in 76 games. He spent the entire 1948 season with Keokuk and hit .319 in 128 games, with 86 runs, 27 doubles, 20 triples, six homers, 98 RBIs and an .876 OPS. Bell moved up to Albany of the Class-A Eastern League in 1949, where he hit .325 in 134 games, with 100 runs, 27 doubles, 13 triples, 12 homers, 85 RBIs and an .884 OPS. He began the 1950 season in Triple-A playing for Indianapolis of the American Association. He did so well in the first 38 games, hitting an even .400 with 21 extra-base hits and a 1.089 OPS, that the Pirates called him up on May 30th for a doubleheader. He went 2-for-5 in each game of the doubleheader, although the Pirates lost both games. Bell would play 111 of the final 117 Pirates games that rookie season, hitting .282 with 62 runs, 22 doubles, 11 triples, eight homers, 53 RBIs and a .776 OPS. He finished second in the National League in triples that year. The next year as an everyday starter all season in right field, he played 149 games and led the National League in triples with 12, while adding 27 doubles and 16 homers. He drove in 89 runs and scored 80 runs, ranking second on the Pirates in each category behind Ralph Kiner. Bell had a .273 average and a .773 OPS that season.

Bell had a down year in 1952 compared to the previous season, hitting .250 in 131 games, with 53 runs, 21 doubles, 16 homers, 59 RBIs and a .725 OPS, while striking out 72 times. That strikeout total was the tenth highest in the National League, and he got there despite the fact that he spent three weeks in the minors after a 1-for-18 start to the season. He had a .297 average and an .852 OPS in 17 games with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League that year. Right after the 1952 season ended, the Pirates traded Bell to the Cincinnati Reds for three players who provided very little in return, while Bell went on to have a nice career. In his first season in Cincinnati, he hit .300 with 102 runs, 37 doubles, 30 homers, 105 RBIs and a career best .879 OPS, which earned him mild MVP support (20th place finish) and his first All-Star appearance. He batted .299 in 153 games in 1954, with career highs of 104 runs scored and 38 doubles. He also added 17 homers, 101 RBIs and an .814 OPS, while making his second All-Star appearance. Bell hit for a career best .308 average in 1955. He scored 88 runs, to go along with 30 doubles, 27 homers and 104 RBIs, while also setting a personal best with 54 walks, helping him to an .871 OPS. He led the league with 154 games played. Despite what rated as the second best season in his career, he didn’t make the All-Star team in 1955.

Bell made his third All-Star appearance in 1956. He hit .292 with 82 runs, 31 doubles, 29 homers, 84 RBIs and an .848 OPS in 150 games. He made his final All-Star appearance in 1957 when he batted .292 in 121 games, with 65 runs, 20 doubles, 13 homers, 61 RBIs and a .751 OPS. He had a down year in 1958, before bouncing back for one more big league in 1959. Bell played 112 games in 1958, missing time later in the year due to an ankle injury he suffered in late July. He was already hitting poor by his standards at the time, but he was worse after the injury, finishing with a career low (to that point) .696 OPS. He hit .252, with 42 runs, 16 doubles, ten homers and 46 RBIs. He was healthy in 1959 and he responded with a career high of 115 RBIs, which was the fourth most in the NL that year. He batted .293 that season in 148 games, with 59 runs, 27 doubles, 19 homers and a .770 OPS. Bell was mostly a right fielder while with the Pirates, then switched to mostly center field when he reached Cincinnati. That lasted six years until he switched back to right field during that 1959 season. He would later play more time in left field.

Bell hit .262 in 1960, with 65 runs, 36 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs and a .688 OPS in 143 games. In his last season in Cincinnati in 1961, he batted .255 with 27 runs, ten doubles, three homers and 33 RBIs in 103 games. The New York Mets took Bell in the Expansion draft right after the 1961 season ended. He didn’t last long there, as they traded him to the Milwaukee Braves on May 21, 1962 in a deal for his former Pirates teammate Frank Thomas. Bell hit .241 with 36 runs, 13 doubles, six homers, 30 RBIs and a .647 OPS in 109 games, split between both teams in 1962. He suffered a freak injury in 1963 that basically ended his big league career. During pregame warm-ups in the outfield, another fielding ran into him when he wasn’t looking and injured his knee. Bell played six games between the 1963-64 seasons, all as a pinch-hitter, before he was released in May of 1964, ending his career. He was a four-time All-Star during his 13 full seasons in the majors, finishing with a .281 average, 865 runs, 311 doubles, 206 homers and 962 RBIs in 1,741 games. With the Pirates, he hit .270 in 391 games, with 195 runs, 70 doubles, 28 triples, 40 homers and 201 RBIs. He is the father of Buddy Bell and grandfather of both David Bell and Mike Bell, making them one of five three-generation families in baseball history. Gus was actually a nickname. His first name was David.

Maurice Van Robays, outfielder for the Pirates from 1939-43 and 1946. He played briefly in the minors at 19 years old in 1934 with Grand Rapids of the Class-B Central League and Charleroi of the Class-D Pennsylvania State League, playing 11 games total, but he didn’t see his first full-time play in pro ball until 1937. That year he would hit .368 with 28 doubles, nine triples and 43 homers in 105 games with Ogdensburg of the Class-C Canadian-American League. During the 1935-36 seasons, he was playing for a local team called the Karp Coal, near his home in Detroit. He spent the 1938 season in Class-A after an early season demotion from Montreal of the Double-A International League (highest level of the minors at the time), where he played nine games. Montreal owned his rights since September of 1937, but they felt early on in 1938 that he wasn’t ready for that level of play, so he spent the majority of the season playing for Knoxville of the Southern Association. In Knoxville, Van Robays batted .307 with 86 runs, 22 doubles, 15 triples, 23 homers, 110 RBIs and a .916 OPS in 135 games. The Pirates purchased him from Montreal over the winter of 1938-39 and brought him to Spring Training, though it was said early on that he wasn’t competing for a big league job. Van Robays returned to Montreal for 1939 and hit .320 with 81 runs, 47 extra-base hits, 80 RBIs and an .876 OPS in 136 games, earning a September call-up to Pittsburgh. He hit .314/.351/.457 in 27 games in his first big league trial, impressing enough to land the left field job for the 1940 Pirates. In his first full season in the majors, he hit .273 in 145 games, with 82 runs scored, 45 extra-base hits, a .718 OPS and  116 RBIs, which led the team and was the third highest RBI total in the National League.

Van Robays hit .282 with 62 runs, 32 extra-base hits and 78 RBIs in 129 games in 1941, showing a big drop in RBIs from the previous season, but it was still the second highest total on the Pirates. His .723 OPS was five points higher than his 1940 total. His stats dropped way off in 1942, hitting just .232 in 100 games, with 29 runs, 13 doubles, one home run, 46 RBIs, a .311 slugging percentage and a .609 OPS. He rebounded a bit in 1943 after spending the beginning of the year in the minors with Toronto of the International League (he played one April game for the Pirates). Van Robays hit .302 in 84 games for Toronto, putting up a .795 OPS. He rejoined the Pirates in mid-July and hit .288 in 69 games, with 32 runs, 17 doubles, seven triples and 35 RBIs. He entered the Army during WWII after the season ended, and spent the next 32 months away from baseball. Van Robays returned for the start of the 1946 season, but struggled due to the off-time, hitting just .212/.272/.308 in 59 games during his last Major League season. The Pirates cut ties with him after the season, sending him to Oakland of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League as part of the deal to acquire Wally Westlake.

Van Robays was actually sold to Indianapolis of the American Association (an affiliate of the Pirates) on September 30, 1946, who then in turn sold him to Oakland on February 3, 1947. He spent four seasons with Oakland before retiring at 35 years old. He batted .300 in 342 games during that time, but never got another chance at the majors. He only played full-time during the 1947 season, hitting .295 in 137 games, with 52 runs, 29 doubles, eight homers and 77 RBIs. He had 212 plate appearances over 87 games in 1948, hitting .313 that year, with a .784 OPS. He saw a little more playing time in 1949, getting 50 more plate appearances, while playing 98 games. Van Robays hit .298 that year, with 32 runs, 17 extra-base hits and 42 RBIs. His final season was limited to .316 average and a .697 OPS in 21 plate appearances over 20 games. He was released on May 30th and went home to run a bar after at least one other team passed on signing him. He had a career .267 average in 529 Major League games with 232 runs scored, 94 doubles, 27 triples, 20 homers and 303 RBIs. He has one of the worst stolen base success rates in baseball history, going 2-for-16 in steals.

Craig Hansen, pitcher for the 2008-09 Pirates. He was part of the return in the Jason Bay trade at the 2008 trade deadline, but injuries limited him to just 21 games with the Pirates. He was a first round pick out of St John’s by the Boston Red Sox in 2005, selected 26th overall. He signed with Boston on July 26th, and on September 19th he made his Major League debut. He pitched 12.2 scoreless innings in the minors, split between the GCL Red Sox and Double-A with Portland of the Eastern League, before his big league debut. He gave up two runs over three innings in four appearances with the 2005 Red Sox. Hansen began 2006 in the minors, where he dominated while back with Portland, allowing one run in 11 innings on four hits. He pitched 36 innings for Pawtucket of the Triple-A International League that year, where had a 2.75 ERA, though it came with a large increase in his WHIP over Portland (0.73 vs 1.39). He joined the Red Sox in June of 2006, and pitched a total of 38 games that season, posting a 6.63 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in 38 innings. Hansen spent all of 2007 in Pawtucket, while also participating in the Arizona Fall League. He made 40 appearances for Pawtucket, posting a 3.86 ERA in 51.1 innings, with three saves and a high walk rate (32:48 BB/SO ratio), which led to a 1.75 WHIP. He gave up three runs over five innings in five appearances in the AFL.

Prior to his trade to the Pirates on July 31, 2008, Hansen had a 5.58 ERA in 30.2 innings over 30 appearances with the Red Sox. After the trade, he had a 7.47 ERA in 16 appearances for the Pirates. He also saw time in Pawtucket before the deal, and two games with Indianapolis of the International League afterwards, pitching a total of 65 innings in 61 games between the two levels. His control was poor before the trade, with 23 walks in those 30.2 innings, but it got even worse with the Pirates, where he walked 20 batters in 15.2 innings. In 2009, he suffered from brachial plexus neuropathy, which weakens/numbs muscles in the arm, shoulder and upper back. He was limited to five big league appearances in April of 2009, resulting in four runs over 6.1 innings. He then pitching 12 minor league games after he finally returned in July of 2010, posting a 3.86 ERA and an 11:15 BB/SO ratio in 14 innings with Bradenton of the High-A Florida State League, followed by two no-hit innings with Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League. Hansen went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 2011, but after seeing his fastball velocity drop about 7-8 MPH, he asked for (and received) his release on April 6th. After not pitching in 2011, Hansen had a brief comeback at the lower levels of the minors with the New York Mets in 2012, which lasted just six innings over seven appearances. He had two hitless appearances with Savannah of the Low-A South Atlantic League, but he gave up six runs in four innings with Brooklyn of the short-season New York-Penn League. Hansen had a 6.95 ERA in 22 innings with the Pirates. In parts of three years with the Red Sox, he had a 6.15 ERA in 74 appearances. He finished 4-9, 6.34 with 63 walks, 70 strikeouts and three saves in 93.2 innings over 95 games.

Randy Niemann, pitcher for the 1982-83 Pirates. He was drafted three times out of the College of the Redwoods before he finally signed, first going to the Montreal Expos in the fifth round in June of 1974, then the Minnesota Twins in the third round in January of 1975, before the New York Yankees signed him as a second round pick in June of 1975. Just two years later, he was traded to the Houston Astros, where he made his big league debut in May of 1979. He debuted in the minors at 19 years old in 1975, playing for Oneonta of the short-season New York-Penn League, where he went 3-3, 2.45 in 55 innings over eight starts. He moved up to Fort Lauderdale of the Florida State League in 1976, where he had a 9-10, 2.84 record in 190 innings over 25 starts, with ten complete games. He had just 23 strikeouts in his first season, but his strikeout rate was actually slightly lower in 1976, when he finished with 79 strikeouts. Niemann had a 5.52 ERA in 62 innings with West Haven of the Double-A Eastern League in 1977 before his trade to the Astros. After the deal, he remained in Double-A with Columbus of the Southern League, posting a 4.76 ERA in 34 innings. He had just 33 strikeouts in 96 innings that season. He spent the 1978 season in Columbus, going 9-5, 2.05 in 123 innings, with 14 starts and 15 relief appearances.

Niemann began the 1979 season in Triple-A Charleston of the International League, but he was in the majors by Mid-May, where he went 3-2, 3.76 for the Astros in 67 innings spread over seven starts and 19 relief appearances. He had a 4.02 ERA in 47 innings before his call-up.  He had a similar time split between Triple-A and the majors in 1980, though his big league time was almost all out of the bullpen. He went 4-1, 4.85 in 52 innings that season for Tuscon of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Niemann went 0-1, 5.45 in 33 innings with Houston that year, with 22 appearances (one start).  He did not pitch in the majors in 1981, spending the year in Triple-A, where he made ten starts. He had surgery in early July to remove bone chips from his elbow, which ended his season. He was 4-2, 4.89 in 57 innings for Tuscon at the time.

Niemann came to the Pirates from the Astros on September 9, 1981, as the player to be named later in the Johnny Ray for Phil Garner trade made nine days earlier. Niemann pitched 28 games total for the Pirates over two seasons, spending part of each year as a starting pitcher in the minors and a reliever in the majors. He went 1-2, 6.24 in 49 innings for Pittsburgh, with most of that time coming in 1982. He was 3-2, 3.83 in 44.2 innings with Portland of the Pacific Coast League in 1982, followed by a 1-1, 5.09 record and one save in 20 games with the Pirates. He had a 2-3, 4.50 record in 82 innings with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League in 1983, along with a 9.22 ERA in 13.2 innings with the Pirates. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Miguel Dilone in September of 1983, ending his time in Pittsburgh. After leaving the Pirates, he played briefly for the White Sox in 1984, where he allowed one run over 5.1 innings in five appearances. The rest of the year was spent with Denver of the Triple-A American Association, where he put together a 10-12, 5.86 record in 190.1 innings. He had 110 strikeouts that year, the only time he reached/came close to reaching the century mark in strikeouts.

Niemann was traded to the New York Mets on March 30, 1985, and made four scoreless appearances that year in the majors, totaling 4.2 innings. The rest of the year was spent with Tidewater of the International League, where he went 11-6, 2.76 in 159.2 innings over 19 starts and 11 relief appearances. Most of 1986 was spent in the majors, but he still spent the middle of the year back in Tidewater, putting up a 3.23 ERA in seven starts. He had a 3.79 ERA in 35.2 innings over 31 appearances for the 1986 Mets, helping them to their second World Series title. He was on the roster, but did not appear in the World Series. Niemann finished his big league career with six appearances for the 1987 Minnesota Twins after signing with them as a free agent on January 16, 1987. He gave up five runs in 5.1 innings, with seven walks and a strikeout. He was back in Portland for a majority of that season (a Twins affiliate at the time), going 4-7, 4.15 in 104 innings. He played pro ball until 1988, returning to the Mets on a minor league deal for his final season. He pitched just nine games for Tidewater that final year, allowing 14 runs in 10.1 innings. In his eight-year big league career, he went 7-8, 4.64 in 200 innings over ten starts and 112 relief appearances. He managed to have a lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate in the majors compared to the minors.

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