This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 17th, Pirates Draft Buhner and Prince; Acquire Sunday

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus some draft picks from 1984, and a transaction from the 1880s.

The Draft Picks

On this date in 1984, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Jay Buhner and Tom Prince in the January portion of the 1984 draft. Buhner, who was drafted in the second round, never played for the Pirates at the big league level. His only time in the system was spent with Watertown of the short-season New York-Penn League, where he hit .323 in 65 games, with 28 extra-base hits, 58 RBIs and 42 walks. He was traded to the New York Yankees in a deal to get Tim Foli and Steve Kemp in December of 1984. Prince was taken in the fourth round. He played parts of seven seasons in the majors with the Pirates as a backup catcher, then managed off and on in their minor league system, as well as taking the reins for the final game of the 2019 season after Clint Hurdle was fired. Prince played a total of 17 seasons in the majors, while Buhner lasted 15 years. He hit 310 homers, while driving in 965 runs. The Pirates drafted Ron Gideon in the first round of the 1984 January draft. He decided not to sign, then went 22nd overall to the Philadelphia Phillies in the June draft, though he never made it above Double-A in his seven seasons of pro ball.

The Transaction

On this date in 1888, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys purchased outfielder Billy Sunday from the Chicago White Stockings for $1,000, after he agreed to play for an $1,800 salary for the 1888 season. Sunday was known as the fastest runner in the game at the time, and he played strong defense in center field, but he had his share of issues with getting on base, posting a career .300 OBP. He debuted in 1883 and had his best career season in 1887, though he was always a part-time player in Chicago. He hit .291 in 50 games in 1887, with 41 runs scored and 34 stolen bases. His .789 OPS was 142 points higher than his second best season. He was with the Alleghenys until a trade late in the 1890 season, making him one of the few players on the team who didn’t make the jump to the Player’s League during the 1889-90 off-season. That first year in Pittsburgh saw him steal 71 bases, which was a team record until being surpassed by Omar Moreno 91 years later in 1979. Moreno actually tied Sunday in the previous season, but nobody knew that at the time. People thought he set a new team record with 64th steal of the season, surpassing the mark set by Max Carey, which was never the team record. In 287 games over three seasons in Pittsburgh, Sunday stole 174 bases and scored 189 runs, while posting a .590 OPS.

The Players

Jeff Tabaka, pitcher for the 1994 and 1998 Pirates. He was a second round draft pick out of Kent State by the Montreal Expos in 1986, but it took him until age 30 in 1994 to make the majors for the first time. The Pirates were his fifth organization, and he signed with them just before the start of that 1994 season, one day after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers. Tabaka also spent time with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Florida Marlins, who selected him in the 1992 expansion draft. He was a starter during his first six seasons in the minors, before moving to relief in 1992. Tabaka debuted in pro ball with Jamestown of the short-season New York-Penn League, where he went 2-4, 4.30 in 52.1 innings, with 57 strikeouts. He played for West Palm Beach of the Class-A Florida State League in 1987, where he went 8-6, 4.17 in 95 innings, with 15 starts and 13 relief appearances. He picked up five saves that year. Most of 1988 was spent back in West Palm Beach, where he had a lot of success in his second season with the team, going 7-5, 1.71 in 95 innings, with a 1.11 WHIP. He also made two starts for Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League, where he gave up eight runs in 11 innings. The Phillies selected him in the Rule 5 draft in December of 1988. Tabaka spent most of his first season with the Phillies in Double-A with Reading of the Eastern League. He had an 8-7, 4.65 record for Reading in 100.2 innings, and an 0-4, 6.32 record in 31.1 innings with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the Triple-A International League. He missed most of 1990 due to an off-season elbow surgery. His healthy time that year was spent with Clearwater of the High-A Florida State League, where he went 5-2, 3.03 in 35.2 innings.

Tabaka went 4-8, 5.07 in 108.1 innings with Reading in 1991, before being released in late July. He then finished the season with the Brewers, playing with Stockton of the High-A California League, where he had a 5.91 ERA in 17.1 innings over four starts. He spent 1992 with El Paso of the Double-A Texas League, going 9-5, 2.52 in 50 relief appearances, with ten saves, 75 strikeouts and 82 innings pitched. He moved up to Triple-A New Orleans of the American Association in 1993, where he posted a 6-6, 3.24 record and 63 strikeouts in 58.1 innings over 53 games. He was released by the Brewers right before Opening Day in 1994, then signed with Pittsburgh. Tabaka had a 3.38 ERA in nine appearances with Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association after joining the Pirates. He pitched just five relief games with the Pirates in the majors before he was put on waivers, with the last game being a 19-7 loss on April 28th. He allowed six runs in 1.1 innings that day. He gave up eight runs and eight walks over four innings during his first stint in Pittsburgh, leading to an 18.00 ERA. He was picked up by the San Diego Padres on May 12th, and finished out the strike-shortened season in their bullpen, making 34 appearances, with a 3.89 ERA in 37 innings.

Tabaka split the 1995 season between Triple-A with the Padres, and big league time with the Padres and Houston Astros. He had a 7.11 ERA in ten games with the Padres and a 2.22 ERA in 24 games with the Astros. He finished 1-0, 3.23 in 30.2 innings. His minor league time that season saw him post a 1.99 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 22.2 innings with Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League. The Astros acquired him that year as part of a three-player trade that also included Rich Loiselle, who would make his big league debut with the 1996 Pirates. Tabaka made 41 appearances in Triple-A with Tuscon of the Pacific Coast League in 1996, where he went 6-2, 2.93 in 43 innings, with 53 strikeouts. He also made 18 appearances with Houston that year, putting up a 6.64 ERA in 20.1 innings. He spent most of 1997 with Indianapolis of the Triple-A American Association, while playing for the Cincinnati Reds. He had a 3-2, 2.65 record and 68 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. Tabaka pitched just three big league games that year in late August, which amounted to one run over two innings of work.

Tabaka signed with the Pirates as a free agent on December 10, 1997. In 37 relief games with the 1998 Pirates, he had a 2-2, 3.02 record in 50.2 innings, with 40 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP. He injured his elbow during the 1999 Spring Training and missed the entire season. He left the Pirates via free agency following the 1999 season, then spent 2000 in the minors with the Colorado Rockies, where he had a 5.97 ERA in 31 games split between Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League and Carolina of the Southern League. His only Major League experience after his second stint in Pittsburgh was eight games for the 2001 St Louis Cardinals, though most of that year was spent as a Triple-A reliever. He gave up six hits and three runs in 3.2 innings with the Cardinals that year, while posting a 2.60 ERA in 32 appearances with Memphis of the Pacific Coast League. He finished his pro career with Newark of the independent Atlantic League in 2002, going 2-4, 2.70 in 27 games, with 30 strikeouts and eight saves in 30 innings pitched. Tabaka made 139 appearances (all in relief) over his six seasons in the majors, going 6-5, 4.31 in 148.1 innings, with two saves and 119 strikeouts. He pitched 443 games in the minors, 94 as a starter.

Jack Merson, second baseman for the 1951-52 Pirates. He was originally signed by the Washington Senators in 1940 at age 18, but he lasted just 12 games with Newport in the Class-D Appalachian League, hitting .135 in 37 at-bats, before he was released. He then went six full seasons without playing organized pro ball, with some of that time (approximately 14 months) being spent serving in the military during WWII. He played semi-pro ball after the war ended, then he returned to pro ball in 1947 as a member of the Pirates organization. That year he hit .388 in 105 games, with 85 runs, 32 doubles, 11 homers, 107 RBIs and a 1.027 OPS for Uniontown of the Class-C Middle Atlantic League. He moved up one level in 1948 to York of the Class-B Interstate League, where he hit .321 in 141 games, with 95 runs, 34 doubles, 16 triples, 108 RBIs, 52 walks and an .845 OPS. Merson moved up to New Orleans of the Double-A Southern Association for 1949. He hit .247 in 111 games that year, with 50 runs, 21 extra-base hits, 54 RBIs and a .621 OPS. He repeated the level in 1950, and batted .290 in 153 games, with 33 doubles, four triples and eight homers. He moved up to Triple-A Indianapolis of the American Association in 1951, where he hit .295 with 86 runs, 36 doubles, ten homers, 94 RBIs and a .742 OPS, earning a September call-up to the Pirates.

Merson joined the Pirates on September 12, 1951, and was put in the lineup two days later, playing second base and batting eighth against the Brooklyn Dodgers. During his second big league game, he had four hits and drove in six runs in an 11-4 win over the Dodgers. After going hitless in the first game of a doubleheader on September 16th, he had back-to-back three-hit games. In 13 games that September, he hit .360/.373/.540, with six runs, five extra-base hits and 14 RBIs, which helped earn him a starting job with the 1952 team. In his only full season in the majors, Merson hit .246 in 111 games, with 41 runs, 20 doubles, five homers, 38 RBIs and a .632 OPS. He was lost to the Boston Red Sox after the season in the 1952 Rule 5 draft. He would end up playing just one more Major League game, which came on April 24, 1953, in the ninth game of the season. He went 0-for-4 that day and committed an error. He went to the minors shortly after his final game and finished his playing career in 1956, spending his last four years playing for the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League, which was classified as an Open level at that point, but the same as being a Triple-A level of play. He did not do well with San Diego in 1953, putting up a .229 average and a .612 OPS in 104 games. Merson had a tougher 1954 season, batting .227 that year in 82 games, with 16 runs, 20 RBIs and a .573 OPS. He improved to a .282 average and a .729 OPS in 96 games in 1955, before finishing with a .253 average and a .604 OPS in 116 games during the 1956 season. His six-RBI game with the Pirates was easily his career best in the majors, but Merson also never matched the three RBIs he picked up in his fourth career game. He hit .257 in 125 big league games, with 47 runs, 32 extra-base hits and 52 RBIs.

Milt Scott, first baseman for the 1885 Alleghenys. He played one game in the majors in 1882 with the Chicago White Stockings (Cubs) before spending the entire 1883 season in the minors as a player/manager for Fort Wayne of the Northwestern League (no stats available for that league). That one big league game was also his pro debut, and he started at first base on the last day of the season in place of the all-time great Cap Anson. Scott picked up two hits that day. Until he played in that game, the White Stockings had used 11 players all season. He played the 1884 season for the Detroit Wolverines, a defunct National League franchise. He hit .247 that year, with 29 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs and a .591 OPS in 110 games. Scott started the 1885 season with Detroit, where he was hitting .264/.283/.311 in 38 games before being released to the Alleghenys after going 0-for-4 with a costly error on June 24th. Pittsburgh manager Horace Phillips was actually in Detroit trying to get some new players that same day while his team was at home playing St Louis. He secured infielder Marr Phillips first, then was trying to sign Scott and outfielder Jerry Dorgan, who he failed to acquire. Scott went 12 days between his final game in Detroit and his first game with Pittsburgh. Jim Field started the first 56 games of the season for the Alleghenys at first base through a doubleheader on July 4th, and then Scott took over for him on July 6th and played the rest of the season. Field was released that same day, with the Alleghenys deciding that Scott had the better bat. They were the only two players to play first base for the Alleghenys that season.

Scott played 55 games in a Pittsburgh uniform, putting up a .248 average, with 15 runs, eight extra-base hits and 18 RBIs (Field had a .239 average and 15 RBIs). He was an above average first baseman defensively, who posted a .986 fielding percentage while with Pittsburgh, which was 20 points over the league average at the time. He was highly skilled at catching infield pop ups, which was more impressive back then when they used either no glove or a small fingerless padded glove. Just prior to the 1886 season, the Alleghenys sent the 25-year-old Scott to the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association, where he played his last Major League season. It was part of the settlement between Baltimore and Pittsburgh over the signing of Sam Barkley, with both teams laying claim to him for 3 1/2 months, during which time Barkley was suspended by the American Association. Finally on April 16, 1886, two days before Opening Day, the Alleghenys agreed to release Scott to Baltimore so that Barkley would be able to play for them, ending the conflict. The Orioles stuck with Scott for the entire year, despite a .190 average and a .481 OPS in 137 games. He had a .974 fielding percentage (six points above average) in his final season and he led all American Association first basemen in assists. He had 48 runs, 17 extra-base hits and 52 RBIs. He was a .228 hitter in 341 big league games, with 107 runs scored and 132 RBIs.

Scott finished out his pro career playing for five minor league teams over the 1887-90 seasons. He batted .326 in 78 games during the 1887 season, splitting his time between LaCrosse of the Northwestern League (69 games) and Kansas City of the Western League. He scored 41 runs that season and collected 15 doubles, with no triples or homers. He played the 1888 season for Chicago of the Class-A Western Association, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. Scott hit .200 in 24 games, with ten runs, a triple and a homer. He played for Utica of the New York State League in 1889, where he had a .224 average in 56 games, with 36 runs, seven doubles and five steals. His last season was spent back in Fort Wayne (then in the Indiana State League) as a player/manager. No stats are available for that season.