This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 8th, A Busy Date for Baseball Families

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date. Three of them had brothers in the majors, two of those sets were teammates with the Pirates, while the other siblings had a more impressive pairing during the 1942-43 seasons:

Gene Freese, infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-58 and 1964-65. He was signed as an amateur free agent at 19 years old by the Pirates prior to the 1953 season. He played that year with two teams in the lower levels, spending most of that year with Brunswick of the Class-D Georgia-Florida League, where he hit .309 in 117 games, with 94 runs, 44 extra-base hits, 89 RBIs and an .833 OPS. He also played five games with Burlington-Graham of the Class-B Carolina League. He then moved up to Double-A New Orleans of the Southern Association in 1954, where he hit .332 in 145 games, with 98 runs, 30 doubles, 16 homers, 98 RBIs and an .872 OPS. That earned him an Opening Day spot for the 1955 Pirates. He played just over half of his games at third base that rookie season, and the rest were spent at second base. He hit for a .253 average, with 69 runs, 21 doubles, 14 homers, 44 RBIs and a .736 OPS in 134 games. Freese started off slow in 1956, hitting .209 through July 4th when he was sent back to the minors, this time going to Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League. The league was classified as an Open league that season, but it was basically the same as Triple-A. Freese hit .274 in 68 games for Hollywood, with 36 runs, 23 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs.He returned to the Pirates in late September for six games, going 2-for-11 at the plate during his second stint that year. He finished up his big league time that season with a .208/.273/.295 slash line in 65 games, with 17 runs, 12 extra-base hits and 14 RBIs.

Freese was on the bench to start the 1957 season, but by late May he was in the lineup regularly, mostly at third base. He hit a career high .283 in 114 games that year, with 44 runs, 26 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs and a .718 OPS. Despite that solid season, he began the next year on the bench. Freese started just one game through the first two months of the 1958 season before the Pirates traded him and infielder Johnny O’Brien to the St Louis Cardinals for infielder Dick Schofield. Freese was hitting .167/.211/.333 in 17 games before the deal. He played for four different teams before the Pirates purchased him from the Cincinnati Reds in November 1963 for his second stint with the team. He spent the rest of 1958 in St Louis, combining between both teams to hit .249 with 29 runs, 11 doubles, seven homers and 18 RBIs in 79 games. He then got traded to the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of the 1958 season. Freese hit .268 in 1959, finishing with 60 runs, 14 doubles, five triples, 23 homers, 70 RBIs and an .843 OPS in 132 games. That turned out to be his only season in Philadelphia. He got traded in the off-season for a second straight year, this time going to the Chicago White Sox. He batted .273 during the 1960 season, with 60 runs, a career high 32 doubles, 17 homers, 79 RBIs and a .794 OPS in 127 games. He then got flipped to the Reds at the end of the season, changing teams in the off-season in three straight years.

In his three years in Cincinnati, Freese hit .261 with 32 homers and 114 RBIs in 236 games. Most of that came during his first season there in 1961, when he hit .277 in 152 games, with 78 runs, 27 doubles, 26 homers, 87 RBIs and a .774 OPS. The runs, homers and RBI totals were all career highs. He broke his ankle during Spring Training in 1962, which limited him to 18 big league games that season.  He had a .143 average and a .417 OPS in 48 plate appearances. Freese played 66 games for the 1963 Reds, batting .244 that year, with 20 runs, nine doubles, six homers, 26 RBIs and a .680 OPS. He spent two months in the middle of that season playing for San Diego of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he hit .281 with an .856 OPS. The Pirates purchased his contract on November 26, 1963. After rejoining the Pirates, Freese played 99 games during the 1964 season. He had a .225 average, with 33 runs, 13 doubles, nine homers, 40 RBIs and a .646 OPS. He saw limited action for the 1965 Pirates, getting into 43 games before he was sold to the White Sox on August 23rd. He batted .263/.326/.313 in 89 plate appearances, with six runs, four doubles (no triples or homers) and eight RBIs before the deal.

Freese hit .281 in 17 games for the 1965 White Sox, with two runs, a triple, homer and four RBIs. He finished his career in 1966, spending his final 21 games in the majors with the Houston Astros. He had a .208 average and a .581 OPS in 48 games for the 1966 White Sox, then had an .091 average, with no extra-base hits and five walks for the Astros. He played two seasons in the minors after his final big league game, playing for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League in 1967, and splitting 1968 between Hawaii, Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League, and Buffalo of the Triple-A International League. He did well during that 1967 season, hitting .274 in 132 games, with 65 runs, 28 doubles, 15 homers, 74 RBIs and a .758 OPS. He played a total of 87 games in 1968, putting up a .267 average and 19 extra-base hits. He managed during the 1973-74 seasons for Shreveport of the Double-A Texas League. He actually put himself in the lineup for a few games during the 1973 season at 39 years old, going 3-for-9 with a double. Freese hit .254 during his 12-year big league career, with 429 runs, 161 doubles, 115 homers and 432 RBIs in 1,115 big league games. With the Pirates, he was a .247 hitter, with 170 runs, 65 doubles, 33 homers and 139 RBIs in 472 games. His brother George Freese played parts of three seasons in the majors, including the 1955 season with the Pirates, where he was splitting time at third base with Gene for a short time. They are one of 26 groups of relatives to play for the Pirates.

John Gilbert, shortstop for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. His story of how he entered the baseball encyclopedia is an interesting one. The 1890 Alleghenys were an extremely bad team, going 23-113. Someone actually wrote an upcoming book about how bad they were that year. They were also bad enough to give two brothers, John and Harry Gilbert, a chance to be a double play combo for one day in the majors. That was despite the fact they were both playing for a semi-pro team at the time with no prior big league experience. On June 23rd, the Alleghenys had a scheduled doubleheader in Philadelphia and a new double play combo, Harry at second base and John at shortstop. John Gilbert went 0-for-8 at the plate, but fielded both games cleanly, handling all nine chances that came his way. His younger brother Harry collected two singles in his eight at-bats and also played the field flawlessly. The Pirates won the second game that day, which was the only day in the majors for the Gilbert brothers. Some of the papers identified John as “N. Gilbert”, which was for the nickname “Nan” which actually belonged to his brother.

The Gilberts are the first set of siblings to play together in Pittsburgh Pirates history. The 21-year-old Harry Gilbert was the better prospect of the two players, while the 26-year-old John was a solid player for their Pottsville semi-pro team. There was the thought among the local Pottsville fans weeks before their day with the Alleghenys that Harry would end up playing in the majors at some point, but his older brother got to tag along for his big day. Just two days after their only day in the majors, both were back playing for Pottsville, serving as the double play combo, while batting 1-2 in the lineup, with John hitting lead-off. His only other known pro experience came in 1889 for Hazelton of the Middle States League, and no stats are available for that team. A newspaper article from September of 1889 said that John Gilbert played for Hazelton “for a game or two” but refused to join the team on a full-time basis. He played for Pottsville before and after his stint with Hazelton that year. Both brothers were found playing for Pottsville again during the 1891 season. The Alleghenys hired a scout named James Randall, who recommended numerous players for the team, including the Gilberts. While there wasn’t a lot of praise for the double play siblings, they were better than Fred Clement, who lasted just two innings during the following game before the Alleghenys had seen enough of his play and quickly ended his big league career. The second game of the doubleheader on June 23rd included the debut of Sumner Bowman, who was the only player from Randall’s new group to last more than one day. The Gilberts are one of 26 groups of relatives to play for the Pirates. When John passed away in 1903 at 39 years old, he was the owner of a place called the Gilbert Bros. Cafe, which was located in Pottsville.

Walker Cooper, catcher for the 1954 Pirates. He was already a 39-year-old veteran of 14 seasons when the Pirates signed him as a free agent in February of 1954. Cooper was a top catcher of his era, an eight time all-star who had finished in the top ten in the National League in batting average three times, and four times he finished among the league leaders in slugging percentage. He had also received MVP votes in four different seasons, including 1943 when he finished second in the voting. While with the St Louis Cardinals in the early 1940s, he was not only the catcher for his brother Mort Cooper, who had three straight 20-win seasons, but the pair started the 1942 and 1943 All-Star games for the NL. The Cardinals won the World Series during the 1942 and 1944 seasons, while also making the series in 1943.

Walker Cooper debuted in the majors in 1940 with the Cardinals, six years after signing as an amateur. He played his first games at 19 years old with Springfield of the Class-C Western Association (no stats available). The following season was spent a level lower with Rogers of the Class-D Arkansas State League, where he hit .359 in 91 games, with 44 extra-base hits. Cooper returned to Springfield in 1936, where he had a .280 average, 60 runs, 42 extra-base hits, 95 RBIs and a .717 OPS in 129 games. He would spend the 1937 season three levels higher with Sacramento of the Double-A Pacific Coast League, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. He batted .266 that year, with 18 extra-base hits in 83 games. He played for three different teams in 1938, seeing brief time again with Sacramento, but he played in both Class-A with Houston of the Texas League and Class-B with Mobile of the Southeastern League for the rest of the year, combining to hit .266 in 106 games, with 39 runs, 29 extra-base hits and 55 RBIs (does not include Sacramento stats, which are unavailable). The 1939 season was spent with Asheville of the Class-B Piedmont League, where he hit .336 in 130 games, with 22 doubles, 15 triples and eight homers. He returned to Double-A in 1940 with Columbus of the American Association. Cooper hit .302 in 131 games that year, with 44 extra-base hits. That earned him a shot with the Cardinals, where he played in the final six games of the season, going 6-for-19 at the plate, with three runs, a double and two RBIs. He remained in St Louis until 1946 when he was sold to the New York Giants for a huge sum of money at the time ($175,000).

Cooper batted .245 in 68 games for the 1941 Cardinals, with 19 runs, 11 extra-base hits, 20 RBIs and a .606 OPS. He saw full-time work in 1942 and made the All-Star team, while finishing 11th in the MVP voting. He batted .281 in 125 games that year, with 58 runs, 32 doubles, seven triples, seven homers, 65 RBIs and a .761 OPS. He made the All-Star team again in 1943, and finished second in the MVP voting that year behind teammate Stan Musial. Cooper hit .318 in 122 games, with 52 runs, 30 doubles, nine homers, 81 RBIs and an .812 OPS. He struck out just 19 times in 476 plate appearances. He hit .317 in 112 games during the 1944 season, finishing with 56 runs, 25 doubles, 13 homers, 72 RBIs and an .855 OPS. He made his third straight All-Star appearance, and he finished eighth in the MVP voting. The Cardinals made it to the World Series during the 1942-44 seasons and Cooper batted .300 over 16 games, with five runs and six RBIs during the postseason. They won the title in 1942 and 1944. He played just four games in 1945 before his season was interrupted due to military service. He went 7-for-18 in those four games. He was back in 1946, but returned as a member of the Giants. He made his fourth All-Star appearance in his first year in New York. Cooper hit .268 in 87 games that year, with 29 runs, 19 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs and a .706 OPS.

Cooper had a career year in 1947 while making his fifth straight World Series appearance. He hit .305 in 140 games, with 79 runs, 24 doubles, eight triples 35 homers, 122 RBIs, while setting a career best with a .926 OPS. He didn’t have another season with more than 20 homers, or another triple digit RBI total. He only received mild MVP support that year, finishing 18th in the voting. He was an All-Star again in 1948 when he hit .266 in 91 games, with 40 runs, 16 homers, 54 RBIs and an .805 OPS. He started off very slow in 1949, hitting .211/.261/.347 in 42 games for the Giants. After 3 1/2 seasons in New York, Cooper was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Ray Mueller, a former/future Pirates catcher at the time. Cooper finished the year by hitting .280 in 82 games for the Reds, with 34 runs, nine doubles, 16 homers, 62 RBIs and an .809 OPS. He made the All-Star game that year despite the slow start. Cooper spent 11 months in Cincinnati before being traded to the Boston Braves. He batted just .191/.191/.255 in 15 games during the 1950 season before the deal, then exploded afterwards. He batted .329 in 102 games with the Braves, with 52 runs, 36 extra-base hits, 60 RBIs and a .917 OPS. That surge led to his eighth All-Star appearance. Cooper hit .313 over 109 games in 1951, with 42 runs, 14 doubles, 18 homers and 59 RBIs. His .884 OPS that year was the second best of his career, but he didn’t make the All-Star team.

Cooper saw a slide in his production in 1952. He hit .235 in 102 games, with 33 runs, 12 doubles, ten homers, 55 RBIs and a .643 OPS that was a drop of 241 points compared to the previous season. He was with the Braves through their move to Milwaukee in 1953, but they released him just days before he signed with the Pirates in 1954. During his final season with the Braves, he hit .219/.287/.328 in 53 games, with 12 runs, six doubles, three homers and 16 RBIs. Cooper lasted just 14 games for the 1954 Pirates, pinch-hitting in 12 of those games, going 3-for-15 with two doubles. He was put on waivers in May, and he was picked up by the Chicago Cubs. He played well for Chicago in a limited role, hitting .310/.398/.532 in 181 plate appearances to finish out the 1954 season. He played three more seasons before retiring, spending 1955 with the Cubs, then back to St Louis for the 1956-57 season. He hit .279 over 57 games in 1955, with 11 runs, eight doubles, seven homers and 15 RBIs in 111 at-bats. He batted 72 times over 40 games in 1956, putting up a .265 average, with five runs, eight extra-base hits and 14 RBIs. In his final year in the majors, he batted 85 times in 48 games, hitting .269/.310/.474, with three homers and ten RBIs.

Cooper’s pro career as a player ended with Indianapolis of the Triple-A American Association during the 1958-59 seasons. He was a player-manager, getting into 38 games in 1958, and two games during his final season. He also managed Dallas-Fort Worth of the American Association in 1961. One of the more under-appreciated catchers of all-time, Cooper received as many as 14.4% of the votes needed for Hall of Fame induction, last appearing on the ballot in 1977. He may have had a better shot if he didn’t miss almost all of the 1945 season due to service in the Navy during WWII. He finished as a .285 hitter in 1,473 games, with 573 runs scored, 173 homers and 812 RBIs. He was an average defensive player during his career, finishing with 2.5 dWAR, with no real high/low seasons. He threw out 45% of runners in his career.

Brian Boehringer, relief pitcher for the Pirates from 2002-04.  He was a fourth round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1991 out of UNLV. He was originally taken in the tenth round in 1990 by the Houston Astros, but he decided to return to college.  Boehringer played seven seasons in the majors before joining the Pirates. He debuted in pro ball with a 4.02 ERA in 31.1 innings of short-season ball in 1991, actually putting up much better numbers in the New York-Penn League with Utica, versus his brief time in the lower Gulf Coast League. He made 15 starts for South Bend of the Class-A Midwest League in 1992, where he went 6-7, 4.38 in 86.1 innings, with 59 strikeouts and a 1.47 WHIP. He also made two starts that season in the Gulf Coast League, posting a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings. Boehringer went 10-4, 2.80 in 119 innings for Sarasota of the High-A Florida State League in 1993, then went 2-1, 3.54 in 40.2 innings for Birmingham of the Double-A Southern League during the second half of the season. He had 121 strikeouts in 159.2 innings that season. He was acquired by the New York Yankees in a trade in March of 1994, then spent the entire season with Double-A Albany-Colonie of the Eastern League. Boehringer had a 10-11, 3.62 record in 171.2 innings that season, finishing with 145 strikeouts. He started the 1995 season in Triple-A Columbus of the International League, then debuted in the majors in April. In three separate stints with the Yankees that year, he went 0-3, 13.75 in 17.2 innings. He had an 8-6, 2.77 record that year in 104 innings with Columbus.

Boehringer went 11-7, 4.00 in 153 innings over 25 starts with Columbus in 1996, while posting a 5.44 ERA in 46.1 innings with the Yankees, with three starts and 12 relief appearances. He spent a short time with the Yankees in June that year, then returned in late August for the rest of the season. He missed some time in 1997 due to an elbow injury. His minor league time that year was on rehab, and it consisted of four starts and 11 innings pitched. He made 34 relief appearances for the 1997 Yankees, posting a 3-2, 2.63 record in 48 innings, with 53 strikeouts. After three seasons split between the minors and majors in New York, he was taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1997 expansion draft. Just ten days later, the Devil Rays traded him to the San Diego Padres. Boehringer went 5-2, 4.36 in 76.1 innings over 56 games for the Padres in 1998. He made 11 starts and 22 relief appearances in 1999, going 6-5, 3.24 in 94.1 innings. His big league time in 2000 was limited to 15.2 innings due to a shoulder injury that sidelined him twice, and caused him to make four minor league rehab appearances. He was released in late 2000 after posting a 5.74 ERA during his brief big league time. He re-signed with the Yankees as a free agent in December of 2000. Boehringer split 2001 between the Yankees and San Francisco Giants, going 0-4, 3.65 in 69 innings over 51 appearances. The Giants acquired him in a July 4th trade. He became a free agent on December 21, 2001, then signed with the Pirates as a free agent five weeks later.

Boehringer’s best season for the Pirates came in 2002, when he had a 3.39 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 79.2 innings over 70 games. He went 5-4, 5.49 in 62.1 innings over 62 appearances during the 2003 season. He split the difference in the 2004 season, posting a 4.62 ERA in 25.1 innings over 25 outings. He was limited due to an early season shoulder injury. After leaving Pittsburgh via free agency following the 2004 season, he joined the Yankees for a third time, though the 2004 season ended up being his final time in the majors. He struggled through nine outings at three levels of the minors in 2005, posting an 11.68 ERA in 12.1 innings over three starts and six relief appearances. Besides the Yankees, Beohringer also tried to make it back to the majors with the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers in 2006, getting released by all three teams between March and September. He didn’t do poorly during that time, posting a 3.68 ERA in 71 innings. He also played independent ball in 2006, before finishing his pro career in indy ball in 2007, playing for Bridgeport of the Atlantic League both years. He made five starts each year with Bridgeport, with drastically different results. He had a 2.05 ERA in 30.2 innings in 2006, and a 6.04 ERA in 25.1 innings in 2007. Boehringer pitched 356 games in the majors (21 starts), going 26-32, 4.36 in 534.2 innings, with 432 strikeouts. He pitched 167.1 innings over 153 games in Pittsburgh putting together a 10-9, 4.36 record with one save. He won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1996, then was on the losing end of the World Series in 1998 against the Yankees, while playing in San Diego.

Marv Rickert, outfielder for the 1950 Pirates. He spent parts of six seasons in the majors and missed all of 1943-45 serving in the Coast Guard during WWII. He debuted in pro ball in 1938, playing parts of four years for Tacoma of the Class-B Western International League before being acquired by the Chicago Cubs in 1941. He was just 17 years old at the time of his debut, and he batted .200 in 19 games. Most of the 1939 season was spent a level lower with Boise of the Class-C Pioneer League, where he had a .354 average and 39 extra-base hits in 100 games. He batted .500 (4-for-8) in eight games with Tacoma that year. Rickert spent the entire 1940 season with Tacoma, hitting .288 in 128 games, with 39 extra-base hits. The 1941 season saw him post a .267 average and 36 extra-base hits in 125 games, with 87 games of those games coming at Tacoma, and the other 38 games were played with Tulsa of the Class-A Texas League. The 1942 season was spent with Tulsa, where he hit .310 in 152 games, with 35 doubles, nine triples and nine homers, which earned him a trip to the majors. Rickert hit .269/.296/.269 in eight games for the Cubs in 1942 after joining the team in September.

After three years of service in WWII, Rickert played 111 games for the 1946 Cubs, putting up a .263 average, with 44 runs, 28 extra-base hits, 47 RBIs and a .691 OPS. He slumped badly in 1947, hitting just .146/.230/.190 in 71 games, mostly playing off the bench. He batted 154 times all season, and his only two extra-base hits were doubles. He was sold to the Cincinnati Reds immediately after the 1947 season ended, then a month into the 1948 season, the Reds traded him to the Boston Braves. He played just three games with Boston, while spending the rest of the year with Milwaukee of the Triple-A American Association. He went 1-for-6 with the Reds, 3-for-13 with a triple and two RBIs for the Braves, and he had a .302 average and a .919 OPS for Milwaukee. He had 99 runs, 23 doubles, 13 triples, 27 homers and 117 RBIs during that minor league season. Rickert was in the majors for all of 1949 with the Braves, and he did well, batting .292 in 100 games, with 44 runs, 27 extra-base hits, 49 RBIs and a .791 OPS.

The Pirates purchased Rickert’s contract from the Boston Braves in December of 1949. In 17 games in Pittsburgh, mostly as a pinch-hitter, he went 3-for-20 with four RBIs. He didn’t have any extra-base hits or walks, leaving him with a .150/.150/.150 slash line. He played in the field just three times with the Pirates, all in right field, and only once as a starter. On May 29, 1950, the Pirates sold him to the Chicago White Sox, where he finished his Major League career later that year by hitting .237/.291/.327 in 84 games, with 38 runs, nine doubles, four homers and 27 RBIs. Rickert played two more years in the minors before retiring from pro ball. While playing for Baltimore of the Triple-A International League in 1951, he had a .321 average, with 106 runs, 29 doubles, 35 homers, 104 RBIs and a .998 OPS. He was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies at the time, but never got a shot with them in the majors. His last season was split between Baltimore and Toronto of the International League, combining to hit .262 in 148 games, with 61 runs, 34 extra-base hits and 68 RBIs. Rickert hit .247 over 402 games in the majors, with 139 runs scored, 45 doubles, 19 homers, 145 RBIs and a .653 OPS.

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