This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: December 31st, The 50th Anniversary of Clemente’s Passing

Today is the 50th anniversary of the tragic passing of a legendary Pittsburgh Pirates player. The great Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua to deliver relief aid after the country was struck by an earthquake. He was just 38 years old. He picked up his 3,000th hit just three months and one day before the accident. Today’s Card of the Day article is dedicated to him.

We have just two former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date. Before we get into them, today is the 22nd birthday of shortstop Liover Peguero, who debuted with the Pirates in 2022.

Esteban Loaiza, pitcher for the 1995-98 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1991 out of Mexico at 19 years old. Loaiza went 5-1, 2.26, with 41 strikeouts in 51.2 innings, while playing in the Gulf Coast League during his first season. He then followed that up the next year with a 10-8, 3.89 record and 123 strikeouts in 143.1 innings with Augusta of the Low-A South Atlantic League. He split the 1993 season between Salem of the High-A Carolina League (17 starts) and Carolina of the Southern League (seven starts). He combined to go 8-8, 3.49 in 152 innings. He saw a decent drop in his walk rate, but he also finished with 101 strikeouts, which was a big drop in that rate as well. Loaiza remained in Carolina for the entire 1994 season, where he posted a 10-5, 3.79 record in 154.1 innings, finishing with just 30 walks and 115 strikeouts. Despite never pitching in Triple-A, he made the jump to the majors for Opening Day in 1995 and made a league leading 31 starts. He also led the National League in earned runs allowed (99) during that rookie season. He posted an 8-9, 5.16 record in 172.2 innings, while finishing second on the Pirates in wins during that strike-shortened season (144-game schedule).

Loaiza was back in the minors for part of 1996, making 11 starts with Triple-A Calgary of the Pacific Coast League, and ten starts for the Pirates. His big league ERA improved slightly over the previous season, posting a 4.96 mark in 52.2 innings. He went 3-4, 4.02 in 69.1 innings with Calgary. He was back in the Major League rotation for all of 1997. His 11-11, 4.13 record over 196.1 innings helped the Pirates to 79 wins and a second place finish. Loaiza started the 1998 season with the Pirates, going 6-5, 4.52 in 91.2 innings over 21 games (14 starts), before he was shipped to the Texas Rangers on July 17th for minor league second baseman Warren Morris and pitcher Todd Van Poppel. The trade worked out well for a short time, as Morris had a big rookie season and Loaiza had mediocre results with the Rangers over parts of three seasons. He finished the 1998 season by going 3-6, 5.90 in 79.1 innings with the Rangers. He had a 9-5, 4.56 record in 15 starts and 15 relief appearances during the 1999 season, throwing a total of 120.1 innings. In the early part of 2000, he went 5-6, 5.37 in 107.1 innings over 17 starts and three relief outings. Loaiza moved on to the Toronto Blue Jays on July 19, 2000 in a trade that worked out great for the Rangers. The return was Michael Young, the seven-time All-Star, who was still in the minors at the time. Loaiza spent 2 1/2 seasons in Toronto and had a 4.96 ERA in 433.1 innings. To finish out the 2000 season, he went 5-7, 3.62 in 92 innings over 14 starts.

Loaiza had an 11-11, 5.02 record in 190 innings during the 2001 season, making 30 starts and six relief appearances. During the 2002 season, he went 9-10, 5.71 in 151.1 innings over 25 starts. He missed some time that year, which resulted in his making five minor league rehab starts. He moved on to the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in 2003, and he had an outstanding season, virtually out of nowhere. He went 21-9, 2.90 in 226.1 innings, leading the league with 207 strikeouts. He previous career high for strikeouts was 137 during the 2000 season. Loaiza made his first All-Star appearance that year, and he finished second in the Cy Young voting. He also received mild MVP support, finishing 24th in the voting. He was an All-Star again in 2004, but it was not a good season, and he ended up with the New York Yankees before the year was over. He had a 5.70 ERA in 183 innings that year, though he pitched much better in Chicago, where he had a 4.86 ERA in 21 starts. He had an 8.50 ERA in 42.1 innings with the Yankees. Despite the struggles, he managed to finish with a 10-7 record. Over the next four seasons, he saw time with the Washington Nationals, Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers, before finishing his big league career back with the White Sox in 2008.

Loaiza had a solid 2005 season with the National, going 12-10, 3.77 in 217 innings over 34 starts. He finished with 173 strikeouts, which was his second highest career total. He spent all of 2006 with A’s, where he put up an 11-9, 4.89 record in 154.2 innings over 26 starts. He threw his final two complete games and final shutout during that season. The 2007 season was split between the A’s and Dodgers, though he was limited to seven starts that season due to a neck injury and a knee surgery. He had a 1.84 ERA 14.2 innings with Oakland, followed by an 8.34 ERA in five starts for the Dodgers, after they acquired him via waivers in late August. In his final season in 2008, he had a 5.63 ERA in 24 innings over three starts and four relief appearances with the Dodgers, then gave up two runs in three innings over three games with the White Sox. The Dodgers released him in early June that year, then the White Sox let him go in late July. After his final big league game, Loaiza played two seasons of winter league ball in Mexico, followed by a brief stint during the summer league season in his home country. He had a 9.86 ERA in 21 innings over five starts and a relief appearance during the last stint in pro ball. Loaiza pitched 14 seasons in the majors and saw time with eight teams, finishing up with a 126-114, 4.25 record in 2,099 innings over 333 starts and 44 relief appearances. He had 14 complete games, six shutouts and 1,382 career strikeouts. While with the Pirates, he went 27-28, 4.63 in 513.1 innings over 87 starts and nine relief appearances.

Bobby Byrne, third baseman for the 1909-13 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball in 1904 at 19 years old, hitting .208 in 26 games for Fort Scott of the Class-C Missouri Valley League. He remained in Class-C ball in 1905, but he had a much better season (according to the limited available stats) with Springfield of the Western Association. He batted .264 in 136 games during that sophomore season in pro ball. He moved up to A-Ball in 1906 (highest level of the minors at the time), where he hit .273 in 123 games for Shreveport of the Southern Association. Byrne was a Rule 5 draft pick of the St Louis Cardinals in September of 1906. He debuted in the majors in 1907, and played 149 games as a rookie. He batted .256 that season, with 55 runs, 16 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs, 21 steals and a .600 OPS. He still played full-time in 1908, but he dropped down to a .191 average and a .450 OPS. He had 27 runs, eight extra-base hits, 14 RBIs and 16 steals. The Pirates acquired him in August of 1909 from the Cardinals in exchange for light-hitting third baseman Jap Barbeau and backup infielder Alan Storke. At the time of the trade, Byrne was batting .214 with 61 runs, 20 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. The Pirates won the National League title in 1909 with the help of Byrne, who hit .256 with 31 runs scored in 43 games to finish the season. He finished that season with 92 runs and 75 walks, while putting up a .703 OPS in Pittsburgh, which was strong for the deadball era. Byrne was considered to be a much better defensive third baseman than Barbeau, who had trouble coming in on bunts, which were prevalent during that era. In the World Series that year Byrne hit .250 with five runs scored, as the Pirates beat the Tigers in seven games.

Byrne was just a .227 hitter over his first three seasons in the majors, including his two months with the Pirates, but he broke out in a big way in 1910 with the best season of his 11-year career. He led the NL with 178 hits and 43 doubles that year, while scoring 101 runs and stealing 36 bases. He also batted .296 with 66 walks and a career high 52 RBIs. His .783 OPS that season was the tenth best mark in the league. Byrne matched that career high RBI total in 1911, and nearly matched his previous season runs total with 96 runs, while playing a career high 153 games. On the downside, the batting average was down to .259 that year, and he led all NL third baseman in errors with 35, though modern metrics still give him an 0.7 dWAR for the season. His OPS dropped down to a .708 mark in 1911, which was still 17 points above league average. Byrne had a solid 1912 season, batting .288 in 130 games, with 99 runs, 45 extra-base hits, 37 RBIs, 20 steals and 54 walks. His .764 OPS that year was the second best of his career. He was having a solid season in Pittsburgh in 1913, when the Pirates traded him and star pitcher Howie Camnitz (who was struggling at the time) to the Philadelphia Phillies in late August. In return, the Pirates received third baseman Cozy Dolan and cash. It seemed to be a perfectly timed trade, as Byrne spent five seasons in Philadelphia and accumulated just 0.7 WAR total. His defense was starting to slip at the time of the trade, despite being just 28 years old at the time. He batted .270/.322/.326 in 113 games before the August 20th trade, then hit just .224/.308/.293 in 19 games after the deal.

The Phillies tried Byrne at second base in 1914 with extremely poor results. He hit .272 in 126 games, with 61 runs scored and 45 walks. The OBP part of his offense was solid for the time, though he had just 13 extra-base hits, and 12 were doubles. He’s credited with -0.9 WAR on defense that season, which is easily the worst mark of his career. Byrne then went back to full-time at third base in 1915, where he led the league with a .969 fielding percentage. At the time, that was the second best single season mark in Major League history. Byrne’s hitting fell off that season, as he batted .209 in 105 games, with 50 runs, ten extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and 39 walks. He finished with a .536 OPS, which was his second worst full-season mark. He saw very limited time with the Phillies as a bench player in 1917, with one start all year. In September of 1917, the Chicago White Sox picked Byrne up off waivers from the Phillies. He played just one game in Chicago, which was his final big league game. He hit .234/.308/.319 in 48 games that season. He was a career .254 hitter in 1,283 games, though he hit .277 in 590 games with the Pirates. He finished with 667 runs scored, 183 doubles, 60 triples, ten homers, 331 RBIs and 176 steals. He had more walks (456) than strikeouts (401). After his playing days ended, he was a player/manager in the minors for two seasons. He played 86 games with Miami of the Class-D Southwestern League in 1921, hitting .342 with 26 extra-base hits. He batted .250 with five doubles in 39 games with Saginaw of the Class-B Michigan-Ontario League in 1922. Today’s date is also a bit sad for Byrne, as he passed away on his 80th birthday in 1964.