This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: January 26th, Connie Mack Acquires “The Best Catcher in the League”

Just two former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus there’s one transaction of note.

The Trade

On this date in 1895, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded pitcher Ad Gumbert to the Brooklyn Grooms for catcher Tom Kinslow. Gumbert was 26 years old at the time of the trade. He was a native of Pittsburgh, who already had a 106-79 career record. For the Pirates he had a 15-14, 6.08 record over 271 innings in 1894. That ERA seems extremely high, but 1894 was one of the biggest years for offense in baseball history, so he was only 0.75 above league average. Kinslow had just turned 29 years old prior to the trade. He was a platoon catcher for Brooklyn during the previous four seasons, playing an average of 67 games a year, while hitting over .300 twice and batting below .250 twice. Most catchers during this era were platoon catchers because of the beating they took behind home plate, with inferior equipment being the main factor. At the time of the trade, Pirates manager Connie Mack said that he considered Kinslow to be the best catcher in the league, and he would be needed with the young pitching staff for the Pirates.

Kinslow played just 19 games for the Pirates after the trade, platooning with Joe Sugden. He hit .226/.250/.258, with ten runs and five RBIs. His catching skills seemed to get worse overnight, as he allowed 33 steals in 44 attempts. He had just 25 Major League games left in his career after being released mid-season by the Pirates, with those games spread out over three different teams during the 1896 and 1898 seasons. Connie Mack started catching more after Kinslow was let go in early July. Gumbert stuck around a little longer with his new team, but he had an 11-16, 5.08 record over 234 innings in 1895. Brooklyn went 71-60 overall that year, so he didn’t exactly make this trade a win for the Grooms. The somewhat amazing thing about his poor record was the fact he was a much better hitter than the average pitcher of the day. Gumbert hit .361 that year, with 21 runs, eight extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in 105 plate appearances. He went 0-4, 3.77 in 31 innings with Brooklyn in 1896, before moving on to the Philadelphia Phillies to finish his career later that season.

The Players

Josh Sharpless, pitcher for the 2006-07 Pirates. He was a 24th round draft pick in 2003 out of Allegheny College. Sharpless is the last player from that college to be drafted and he’s the only one (out of 22 total picks) to make it to the majors. He debuted in the short-season New York-Penn League with Williamsport, where he had a 2.59 ERA, five saves and 45 strikeouts in 31.1 innings over 22 appearances. He had an outstanding strikeout rate in 2004 with Hickory of the Low-A South Atlantic League, posting 109 strikeouts in only 74.1 innings. Sharpless went 6-2, 3.03 in 44 appearances that year, with five saves. He pitched fewer innings in 2005, but somehow improved on his 13.2 K/9 rate, by striking out 59 batters in 36.1 innings, while splitting the season between High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League and Double-A Altoona of the Eastern League. He had a 4-0, 0.74 record with five saves (for the third straight season) over 24 appearances. All of that minimal damage came with Altoona, as he managed to pitch 27 innings for Lynchburg without an earned run. His season ended in early August due to elbow tendonitis. Sharpless was added to the 40-man roster after the 2005 season. He began the 2006 season in Altoona, where he dominated with 30 strikeouts and an 0.86 ERA in 21 innings. He moved up to Triple-A Indianapolis of the International League, and pitched well, finishing with a 2.45 ERA over 33 innings and 23 appearances. That performance earned him his first Major League call-up on August 1, 2006. He pitched four times for the Pirates before injuring his ankle, forcing him to miss nearly a month. He returned in September to finish the season with a 1.50 ERA in 14 big league games. Despite a decent walk rate in the minors that season, he issued 11 walks in 12 innings with the Pirates.

Sharpless began the 2017 season back in Indianapolis, before he was called up to the Pirates by late May. He did not pitch well, allowing runs in four of his six relief outings, before being sent back to the minors for the rest of the season after his final appearance on June 10th. In Indianapolis that season, he had a 4.34 ERA, three saves and 69 strikeouts in 64.1 innings over 43 appearances. He was a very early cut from the Major League camp in Spring Training of 2008 due to off-season conditioning issues, then was released prior to the start of the season when the Pirates couldn’t find a trade partner to take him. He signed with the San Francisco Giants, where spent a partial season in Double-A (debuted in mid-May), posting a 3.51 ERA in 33.1 innings, with 29 walks and 30 strikeouts for Connecticut of the Eastern League. He then spent the 2009 season pitching in independent ball for York of the Atlantic League, where he had a 7.85 ERA in 15 appearances. In 18.1 innings that year, he had 17 walks and 17 strikeouts. That would be the end of his pro career. Sharpless had a 4.41 ERA in 16.1 innings over 20 appearances with the Pirates, posting a 12:8 BB/SO ratio during that time. He threw a sinker fastball in the low 90s, with a decent changeup and a slider, which at one point was called a legit Major League strikeout pitch.

Irvin Wilhelm, pitcher for the 1903 Pirates. He began his minor league career at 18 years old in 1895, debuting with a team from Mansfield, Ohio. Honus Wagner also played for that team, during what was also his first year in pro ball. That was just a brief stint for Wilhelm, years before his pro career really got started. After pitching locally and in college, he resumed his pro playing six years later with Birmingham of the Class-B Southern League, going 15-18 during the 1901 season (no other stats are available). He improved to a 14-9 record in 1902, while throwing 247 innings. The Southern League was also reclassified as A-Ball that season, placing it at the highest level of the minors at the time. The Pirates acquired Wilhelm from Birmingham on September 9, 1902, and he reported to the club on September 27th, though he didn’t get into any games until the following year. As a 26-year-old rookie for the Pirates in 1903, he became a starter for the team when the departures of Jack Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill to the American League left two rotation spots open. Wilhelm would make nine starts in 1903, completing seven of them, while throwing one shutout. He also pitched three times in relief and finished with a 5-3, 3.24 record in 84 innings. The 1903 Pirates not only won their third straight National League title, but they went on to play in the first modern World Series. On August 27th, the Pirates released Wilhelm and added pitcher Gus Thompson. Wilhelm last pitched for the Pirates 22 days before his release. He was left behind when the team went on two-week road trip to play the four eastern National League teams. He spent that time practicing daily at Exposition Park, but manager Fred Clarke handed him his release the day after the team arrived back in Pittsburgh.

Wilhelm signed with the Boston Beaneaters in 1904, where he went a combined 17-43 over the next two seasons for a very poor Boston club. He went 14-20, 3.69 in 288 innings in 1904. He then followed that up with an awful 3-23 record, with a 4.53 ERA in 242.1 innings. That ERA is a little high by current day numbers, but the league had an average ERA of 2.99 that season, so it was actually very high by league standards. He spent the 1906-07 seasons back playing for Birmingham of the Southern Association, where he went 22-13 over 39 games in 1906, and 23-14 in 37 games games during the 1907 season. Wilhelm made it back to the majors in 1908 with the Brooklyn Superbas (Dodgers), playing for a team that lost 90+ games during 154-game schedules in all three of his seasons with the club. He went 22-42 during that stretch, despite a 2.62 ERA in his 563.1 innings. He had a strong season in 1908 (despite the win/loss record), finishing 16-22, 1.87, in a career high 332 innings, with 36 starts, 33 complete games, and six shutouts. He finished seventh in the league in ERA that year, with a mark that would take home an ERA title in a majority of seasons since the deadball era ended. Wilhelm’s production slipped during the 1909 season, as he went 3-13, 3.26 in 163 innings over 17 starts and five relief appearances. He saw minimal work in 1910, going 3-7, 4.74 in 68.1 innings over five starts and ten relief outings. Wilhelm spent the next three seasons in the minors pitching for Rochester, which was a Class-A Eastern League club in 1911, and a Double-A International League club in 1912-13, with Double-A being a new level created during the 1912 season.

Wilhelm went 14-7 in 208.1 innings in 1911. He has no ERA available during his time in Rochester, but we know that he allowed 3.80 runs per nine innings that season. He went 16-10 in 222.1 innings, with 4.82 runs per nine innings. His 1913 season in Rochester saw him go 18-7 in 256 innings, with 3.48 runs per nine innings. Wilhelm returned to the big leagues for two seasons with Baltimore of the Federal League, a league that existed on the Major League level for just two years. He went 12-17, 4.03 in 1914, with a career best 113 strikeouts in 243.2 innings. He made 27 starts and 20 relief appearances that season. After pitching just one inning of one game in 1915, he umpired 52 games for the Federal League that season. Wilhelm injured his arm at the end of Spring Training that year and couldn’t pitch for the rest of the year, but he was back and healthy in 1916. After becoming an umpire briefly, it was two more years in the minors with Elmira of the Class-B New York State League, then two seasons of semi-pro ball, then a return to the minors in 1920. Wilhelm went 14-19 in 1916, and 17-16 over 35 games in 1917. He was with Jersey City of the International League when he returned to pro ball three years later. He went 12-12, 3.09 in 236 innings in 1920.

Wilhelm made his last big league appearance as age 44 as a player-manager of the 1921 Philadelphia Phillies, where he pitched four times in relief, allowing three runs in eight innings. He managed two seasons in Philadelphia and another three seasons in the minors. He pitched one game for Rochester in 1923 at 46 years old. He finished his big league career with a 56-105 record in nine season, posting a 3.44 ERA in 1,432.1 innings, with 216 games pitched, 158 starts, 118 complete games and 12 shutouts. That ERA doesn’t match up well with the record until you realize that his entire career was played during the deadball era. He won at least 165 minor league games, though some statistical information is missing for his first and last seasons. He is listed as Kaiser Wilhelm in most sources now, but he actually despised the nickname, which came from the German Emperor at the time named Kaiser Wilhelm. Since Irvin Wilhelm hated the name, I decided to change his name in his bio this year, but still acknowledge that he was often referred to by that name.