The History of Hall of Fame Pitchers for the Pittsburgh Pirates

If you check out the top nine spots on the all-time win list for the Pittsburgh Pirates, you won’t find a single Hall of Fame pitcher. The Pirates don’t have that signature great pitcher in franchise history. That’s why you’ll get differing opinions if you ask who their best pitcher is all-time. Some will say Wilbur Cooper, their wins leader with 202. Others say Babe Adams, who has the highest WAR for any Pirates pitcher. You might hear Deacon Phillippe, Sam Leever, Vern Law or Bob Friend, but you won’t hear any Hall of Famers.

I wanted to switch up a little from the daily Card of the Day article with something different today. I still got the idea from the history article from today. On this date in 1933, the Pirates signed pitcher Waite Hoyt as a free agent. If he pitched his entire career with the Pirates, he would likely be recognized as the team’s best pitcher. He was helped greatly by pitching for the New York Yankees, but the Pirates were a strong team in the 1920’s, so he would have had strong support during that time.

Like most Hall of Famers who pitched for the Pirates, Hoyt wasn’t around long enough to even crack their top ten pitchers all-time. Here’s a look at every Hall of Famer who pitched for the franchise. The list is sorted by seasons with the Pirates. I’ll note that it doesn’t include Hank O’Day, who is in the Hall of Fame as an umpire. He made 12 starts for the 1885 Alleghenys. It also doesn’t include Red Faber, who made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1911, but didn’t get into a game before they let him go. That’s unfortunate, as he would have ended up as their greatest pitcher if he stayed. I also didn’t include Honus Wagner, who pitched 8.1 innings over two seasons without an earned run.

There is no doubt in Pirates history, that the Hall of Fame pitcher who did the best with the team was James “Pud” Galvin. He played seven seasons with the franchise, which is more than any other HOF pitcher. He ranks tenth in team history in wins, a spot he will likely never lose. He went 126-110, 3.10 in 2,084.2 innings with the Alleghenys/Pirates.

You get down to five seasons with the team and you come across the aforementioned Hoyt, as well as Burleigh Grimes. Hoyt did much more per year with the team, but Grimes had a huge season in 1928. Hoyt went 35-31, 3.08 in 616.1 innings while in Pittsburgh, mostly serving in a swing role. Grimes finished up 48-42, 3.26 in 830.1 innings. He went 25-14, 2.99 in 330.2 innings in 1928, compiling more than half of his team wins in one season.

You get down to four seasons in Pittsburgh and you have two pitchers who put in great work during their relatively short time with the team. Vic Willis made the Hall of Fame due to his work with the Pirates. Before coming to Pittsburgh, he was stuck on some awful teams that did a number on his win-loss record. Then he came to the Pirates in 1906 and won 21+ games each season for four year, culminating with a World Series title. He finished up 89-46, 2.08 in 1,209 innings with the Pirates.

Jack Chesbro pitched for the first two National League championship teams in Pirates history, then jumped to the American League in 1903. He made the Hall of Fame due to one huge season after leaving the Pirates, but he really wasn’t any better than guys like Leever and Phillippe. Chesbro went 70-38, 2.89 in 938.2 innings with the Pirates.

The only Hall of Fame pitcher to put in three seasons with the Pirates is Bert Blyleven, who helped them to the 1979 title. He pitched on some great Pirates teams, but it didn’t show in his record. He went 34-28, 3.47 in 697.2 innings.

Jim Bunning is a Hall of Famer most would like to forget, at least for his time in Pittsburgh. The Pirates paid a lot to get him and his high salary, then had to give him away two years later because he had no trade value. He was a great pitcher, just not in Pittsburgh, going 14-23, 3.84 in 316 innings. That ERA doesn’t sound bad, but a majority of his time came in 1968, which is known as the year of the pitcher. Bunning was a below average pitcher that year.

Rube Waddell won an ERA title with the Pirates. He was part of their best rotation in team history, though the 1909 team might have a case as well. They had Waddell, Chesbro, Leever, Phillippe and Jesse Tannehill all at the same time, with Tannehill holding the team record for winning percentage all-time. Waddell went 8-15, 2.62 in 216.1 innings with the Pirates.

Goose Gossage pitched one magical season with the Pirates. By some modern metrics, it is rated as the best pitching season in team history. He went 11-9, 1.62 in 133 innings, with 23 saves in 1977.

Dazzy Vance was given 2.2 innings with the Pirates. One start in 1915. That was it. It’s crazy to think that the Pirates could have had Vance, Faber and Grimes if they were patient during some down years for the team in the 1910s. The Pirates were above .500 every year from 1918-1933 without them (Grimes was there in 1928-29 during his second tour). Imagine adding three Hall of Fame pitchers to the team from 1920-1927. They would have been a dynasty. They had all three and let them go for almost nothing in return.

The Pirates have had ten Hall of Fame pitchers over the years. They saw some pretty good performances by most of them. Jim Bunning was a disappointment, and Dazzy Vance got almost no shot, but the other eight all had their moments with the team.