Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, led by one of their greatest all-time pitchers.
Vern Law, pitcher for the 1950-51 and 1954-67 Pirates. His total of 16 seasons in a Pirates uniform has been topped by just eight players, seven of them Hall of Famers. Law won 162 games, which has been topped by only five pitchers in team history. The Pirates signed Law as an amateur free agent in 1948 out of high school. His first year of pro ball didn’t go so well at 18 years old. He was in the low-level Class-D playing for Santa Rosa of the Far West League, where he had a 4.66 ERA, a 1.68 WHIP and 96 walks in 110 innings. It was a rough beginning, but it didn’t take long for him to start making a good impression. Law moved up to Davenport of the Class-B Three-I League in 1949, where he posted a 2.94 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, and he cut his walks to 75 in 144 innings, while picking up 123 strikeouts. He jumped up to Double-A to start the 1950 season, then pitched so well that he was in the majors by early June at 20 years old. Law went 6-4, 2.67, with 61 strikeouts and a 1.47 WHIP in 81 innings for New Orleans of the Southern Association. He switched between the bullpen and starting role for the 1950-51 Pirates. He made 17 starts and ten relief appearances as a rookie, posting a 4.92 ERA, a 1.53 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 128 innings. He had 14 starts and 14 relief outings in 1951. He went 6-9, 4.50 that year, with 41 strikeouts and a 1.40 WHIP in 114 innings. He had losing records each season, but the Pirates went 121-186 during those years. His baseball career would have to take a short break, as he joined the military during the Korean War, then missed all of the 1952-53 seasons.
Law struggled when he returned in 1954. He pitched as a starter (18 starts) and reliever (21 appearances) that year, posting a 9-13, 5.51 record in 161.2 innings, with 57 strikeouts and a 1.59 WHIP. He showed his first sign of being a top-notch pitcher at age 25 in 1955. He went 10-10 for a team that finished 60-94. He lowered his ERA to 3.83 and his WHIP to 1.41, while pitching 200+ innings (200.2) for the first time in his career. He received MVP votes for the first of four times during his career, finishing 23rd in the voting. Law made a high number of relief appearances (19) in his 43 games pitched that year, but his 1955 success led to a steady job as a starter for the first time. The Pirates were bad once again in 1956, and his record suffered, losing a career high 16 games. He had an 8-16, 4.32 record in 195.2 innings, with a 1.36 WHIP and 60 strikeouts. He was just 40-57 through 1956, but during the next 11 seasons combined, he posted a record that was 32 games over the .500 mark.
Law went 10-8, 2.87 in 1957, dropping his ERA below 3.00 for the first time. He threw 172.2 innings that year, finishing with 55 strikeouts and a 1.18 WHIP. He started 25 of his 31 games, finishing with nine complete games and three shutouts. The next season would see him set a career high (to that point) with 14 wins, a total he would then increase during each of the two following seasons. Law also set a personal best with 202.1 innings, but just like with his win total, that too would increase over the next two years. He finished the year with a 14-12, 3.96 record and a 1.35 WHIP. He struck out just 56 batters that season. The 1959 Pirates disappointed after a strong year in 1958, but Law was a bright spot. He went 18-9, 2.98 in 266 innings, throwing a career high 20 complete games. He had a 1.12 WHIP and struck out 110 batters that season, the first of three times he cracked the century mark in strikeouts. His 6.5 WAR for that season was his career best, and it ranked him second best among all National League pitchers. He got mild MVP support that year, finishing 19th in the voting.
The 1960 season was a magical one for Law and the Pirates. He would go 20-9, 3.08 in 271.2 innings over 35 starts, with a league leading 18 complete games. He had three shutouts and a 1.13 WHIP. The team would go on to the World Series and defeat the Yankees in seven games, with Law going 2-0 in his three starts. His regular season performance earned him the Cy Young Award. Back when they used to play two All-Star games in one year, Law pitched in both contests, picking up the save in the first one, followed by the start and win in the second game. That year ended up being his only All-Star season, though he actually had two seasons that ranked higher according to WAR. He also finished sixth in the MVP voting, his highest finish for that award. His 120 strikeouts that year were his career high. Law suffered from a shoulder injury in 1961, and all he could muster over the next three seasons combined was 17 wins and 42 starts. He was limited to 11 games in 1961, when he had a 4.70 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in 59.1 innings. His 1962 season was limited, but he still had a decent year, going 10-7, 3.94 in 139.1 innings, with 78 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP. That was followed by a rough campaign in 1963, with Law posting a 4.93 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in 76.2 innings.
Law had an average year in 1964, but the important thing was that he was healthy all season. He went 12-13, 3.61 in 192 innings, making 29 starts and six relief outings, while finishing with seven complete games, five shutouts, 93 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP. Law still had one more great season left in his arm. The 1965 campaign saw him go 17-9 with a career low 2.15 ERA. He pitched 217 innings that year, the only season after 1960 that he was able to top the 200-inning mark. He finished 13 of his 28 starts and he had four shutouts, to go along with a 1.00 WHIP (he was actually at 0.998). He ended up 17th in the MVP voting, and he topped 100 strikeouts (101) for the final time. At 36 years old in 1966, Law put up a 12-8, 4.05 record in 177.2 innings, with 88 strikeouts and a 1.28 WHIP. He completed eight of 28 starts, four times throwing shutout ball. He suffered injuries to his elbow and hip that would limit his success in his last two seasons and coax him into retirement after the 1967 season. He went 2-6, 4.18, with a 1.44 WHIP in 97 innings during that final season. Law finished with a 162-147, 3.77 record over 2,672 innings, throwing 119 complete games. Besides ranking sixth in team history in wins, he’s fourth in games pitched, fourth in innings, fifth in strikeouts (1,092), third in starts (364) and fifth in shutouts (28). He turns 93 years old today. His son Vance Law played for the 1980-81 Pirates, as part of his 11-year career, making them one of 26 families in team history.
David Williams, pitcher for the 2001-02, 2004-05 Pirates. The Pirates drafted him in the 17th round of the 1998 at 19 years old, taken out of Delaware Technical and Community College. It’s a school that has produced just ten drafted players, and Williams is the only one to make the majors. It didn’t take him long to make it to Pittsburgh either, debuting with the Pirates in 2001, almost exactly three years to the day he was drafted. Williams pitched short-season ball in 1998, putting up a 3.23 ERA, 38 strikeouts and a 1.25 WHIP in 47.1 innings over 22 appearances for Erie of the New York-Penn League. He split the 1999 season between the New York-Penn League (Pirates affiliate changed to Williamsport that year), and Low-A Hickory of the South Atlantic League, going 7-3, 2.92, with 93 strikeouts and an 0.93 WHIP in 104.2 innings over 16 starts. He spent almost all of 2000 in Hickory, while also getting two starts at High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League before the year finished. For the season, he went 12-9, 3.18 in 181 innings, with a 1.13 WHIP and 201 strikeouts. Despite the slow climb during his first three seasons, Williams was in the majors by early June of 2001. After posting a 6.55 ERA over 11 innings in High-A during the 2000 season, he started 2001 in Double-A with Altoona of the Eastern League. It took just 58.2 innings for him to get to Triple-A Nashville of the Pacific Coast League, and then his stay there in 2001 lasted two games. Williams went 5-2, 2.61 for Altoona, and he had a 3.38 ERA in 10.2 innings during his brief Nashville stint. Combined between both stops, he had a 2.73 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 69.1 innings. He debuted for the Pirates on June 6th, then stayed in the majors for the rest of the season. Williams went 3-7, 3.71 in 114 innings for the 2001 Pirates, making 18 starts and four relief appearances. He had 57 strikeouts and a 1.27 WHIP.
After nine starts in 2002, Williams was placed on the disabled list with a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder, which required season-ending surgery. He was 2-5, 4.98, with a 1.43 WHIP in 43.1 innings at the time. Once he returned from the injury/surgery, Williams spent the entire 2003 season back in Nashville, where he had a 4.19 ERA in 16 starts, with 56 strikeouts and a 1.40 WHIP in 77.1 innings. He was in Triple-A for most of 2004, before returning to the Pirates as a reliever in August. He then moved back to the starting role in September. He went 6-2, 3.47 in 116.2 innings over 21 starts with Nashville that year. He had a 4.42 ERA, 33 strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP in 38.2 innings for the Pirates. Williams got in a full big league season in 2005, going 10-11, 4.41 in 25 starts and 138.2 innings, finishing with a 1.41 WHIP. His 88 strikeouts were a career high. He missed the final month of the season due to a strained left rib cage. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in December of 2005 for Sean Casey and cash. His stay in Cincinnati wasn’t long. After a 7.20 ERA in eight starts, he was dealt to the New York Mets.
Williams pitched 33.1 innings for the Mets over the 2006-07 season, posting a 7.83 ERA, while spending much of his time either in the minors or on the disabled list. Between his time with the Reds and Mets in 2006, he went 5-4, 6.52 in 69 innings, with a 1.64 WHIP and 32 strikeouts. He missed the first three full months of 2007 due to a herniated disk, then was designated for assignment shortly after his first game. He ended up coming back in September for one final big league game, in which he allowed three runs in his only inning. He pitched in Japan in 2008, where he went 2-5, 3.48 in 54.1 innings. He then spent the 2009 season in the minors for the Washington Nationals, splitting the year evenly between Syracuse of the Triple-A International League and Harrisburg of the Double-A Eastern League. Williams went 1-4, 5.37 over 40 games, with 47 strikeouts and a 1.71 WHIP in 52 innings He finished his career in independent ball in 2011, going 1-3, 4.91 in 51.1 innings with Long Island of the Atlantic League. He did not pitch during the 2010 season. Williams briefly coached in the minors for the Toronto Blue Jays after retiring. For the Pirates, he went 17-26, 4.25 in 334.2 innings over 58 starts and eight relief appearances. He had a career 4.83 ERA in 408 innings. He threw one complete game in his career, and it was a shutout on August 14, 2005, during a road game against the Houston Astros.
Greg Hansell, pitcher for the 1999 Pirates. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1989. By the time he made it to the Pirates in 1999, he had pitched three seasons in the majors with three different teams. Hansell was 18 years old when the Red Sox took him in the tenth round out of John F Kennedy HS in California. He went 3-2, 2.53, with a 1.30 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 57 innings in the Gulf Coast League in 1989. He began 1990 in the High-A Florida State League with Winter Haven, where he went 7-10, 3.59 in 115.1 innings over 21 starts. Just one year after being drafted, he was traded to the New York Mets, where he stayed in the same league with St Lucie, going 2-4, 2.84 in 38 innings over six starts to finish out the season. Between both stops, he had 3.40 ERA in 153.1 innings, with 95 strikeouts and a 1.36 WHIP. He was traded for a second time in December of 1990, this time going to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he would remain for the next five seasons. Hansell was a starting pitcher in the minors, and he made a strong first impression with the Dodgers in 1991. He was sent Bakersfield in the hitter-friendly High-A California League, where he went 14-5, 2.87 in 150.2 innings, with 132 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP. He put up a strong performance for San Antonio of the Double-A Texas League in 1992, going 6-4, 2.83 in 92.1 innings over 14 starts, which earned him a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League. His fast-track to the majors ended there. Hansell had a 5.24 ERA in 13 starts for Albuquerque that year. He finished the season with a combined 7-9, 3.86 record in 161 innings, with 102 strikeouts and a 1.44 WHIP.
Hansell spent the next 1993-94 seasons in Albuquerque. He put up a 5-10, 6.93 record over 101.1 innings in 1993, finishing with a 1.88 WHIP and a 60:60 BB/SO ratio. He moved to relief in 1994, where he had a lot of success. His chance at the majors that season was derailed by the August strike that ended the year early, but he remained solid at Albuquerque (another high offense park), where he had a 10-2, 2.99 record, a 1.14 WHIP, eight saves and a 31:101 BB/SO ratio in 123.1 innings. Hansell made the Dodgers Opening Day roster in 1995, though he struggled in his first big league trial. In 19.1 innings over 20 games (all in relief), he had a 7.45 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP. He returned to Triple-A, then got traded to the Minnesota Twins on July 31st, where he pitched for Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League to finish out the year. Between both minor league stops that year, he had a 4-2, 6.14 record and a 1.53 WHIP in 48.1 innings. Hansell’s best year in the majors was 1996, when he went 3-0 with three saves in 50 relief appearances for the Twins. Despite the winning record and a chance to close games, he had a 5.69 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP over 74.1 innings. The Boston Red Sox picked him up on waivers after the season, then released him late in Spring Training of 1997. He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he had a very brief stint in the majors, giving up five runs over 4.2 innings in three appearances. The rest of the year was spent with Tuscon of the Pacific Coast League, where he went 2-3, 4.64 in nine starts and 31 relief appearances, putting up a 1.44 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 87.1 innings
Hansell signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for 1998, but once again he was released near the end of Spring Training. He ended up spending all of 1998 in Triple-A, splitting his time between the Kansas City Royals (Omaha of the Pacific Coast League) and the Oakland A’s Edmonton of the Pacific Coast League. He posted a 2.69 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, with 13 saves and 75 strikeouts in 83.2 innings over 59 games He pitched a total of 73 Major League games prior to 1999, and his career ERA was 6.22 up to that point. He signed with the San Francisco Giants during the winter, but he was a late Spring Training cut for the third straight year. Pittsburgh signed him as a free agent five days later, just as the 1999 season got under way. They sent him to Nashville of the Pacific Coast League, where he had a 2.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 27 innings over 22 games. He was called up in June, and went on to pitch 39.1 innings over 33 games, finishing with a 3.89 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP and 34 strikeouts. The Pirates sold Hansell to a Japanese team in December of 1999. He pitched five more seasons without making it back to the majors, splitting that time between Japan during the 2000-02 season, before returning to the minors, where he spent time with the New York Yankees in 2003 and the Diamondbacks in 2004. He pitched a total of 1,466.2 innings over his 16 seasons in pro ball.
Hansell went 7-8, 4.34 in 114 innings over 20 starts during the 2000 season with Hanshin. He remained with that team for the next two seasons, going 5-13, 3.49 over 162.1 innings in 2001, followed by allowing one run over 4.1 innings in 2002. Hansell signed with Bridgeport of the independent Atlantic League in 2003, but his only stats show him putting up a 6.32 ERA in 15.2 innings with Columbus of the Triple International League, before posting a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings over 17 appearances with Trenton of the Double-A Eastern League. His final season was spent back in Tuscon, though the team had switched to an affiliate of the Diamondbacks by then. He went 1-0, 4.87 in 20.1 innings, with 23 strikeouts and a 1.87 WHIP. His final big league stats show a 4-4, 5.56 record in 137.2 innings over 106 relief appearances, with 98 strikeouts, a 1.51 WHIP and three saves.
Raul Mondesi, outfielder for the 2004 Pirates. He was a Rookie of the Year winner, an All-Star, a two time Gold Glove winner and seven times in his career he drove in 84 or more runs, but by the time he reached the Pirates at age 33 in 2004, his career was nearly over. Mondesi was signed at 17 years old out of the Dominican Republic by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. It took him three seasons to establish himself as a prospect. His first two seasons (1988-89) were spent in the Dominican Summer League (no stats are available). He hit .303 in 1990, with 35 runs, ten doubles, eight homers, 31 RBIs, 30 steals and an .892 OPS in 44 games for Great Falls of the short-season Pioneer League. The Dodgers jumped him all of the way to High-A ball, skipping two levels in 1991. He stayed there for just 28 games before heading to Double-A, then finished the year in Triple-A. He put up a .283 average and an .802 OPS with Bakersfield of the High-A California League. He had .272 average and 21 extra-base hits over 53 games with San Antonio of the Double-A Texas League. His promotion to Albuquerque of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League was for just two games that year. Mondesi combined to hit .277/.315/.454, with 34 extra-base hits and 18 steals in 83 games. His 1992 season was a rough one due to an injury and a discipline issue that limited him to 53 games. He split his time between San Antonio and Albuquerque, seeing better results at the higher level. He combined to hit .296 that year, with 31 runs, 21 extra-base hits, 29 RBIs and an .827 OPS. He stole five bases in ten attempts, and he had just ten walks, which was actually a slight bump in his walk rate over the previous season.
Mondesi bounced back in 1993 to make the majors by July. He hit .280 in 110 games that year with Albuquerque, collecting 65 runs, 22 doubles, 12 homers, 65 RBIs and 13 steals in 23 attempts, while posting a .785 OPS. He had two separate stints with the Dodgers that year, hitting .291/.322/.488 in 42 games, with 13 runs, eight extra-base hits and ten RBIs. He was still eligible for the Rookie of the Year award in 1994, and he took that title by hitting for a .306 average, with 63 runs, 27 doubles, eight triples, 16 homers, 56 RBIs and an .849 OPS in 112 games during the strike-shortened season. Once the 1995 season got started in late April, Mondesi picked up right where he left off, hitting .285 in 139 games, with 91 runs, 23 doubles, six triples, 26 homers, 88 RBIs, an .824 OPS and 27 steals in 31 attempts. He made his only All-Star appearance that year. He also won the Gold Glove award, while spending most of his time in right field, with occasional center field starts. For the second year in a row, he led the National League with 16 outfield assists. Mondesi had another strong year in 1996, hitting .297 in 157 games, with 40 doubles, seven triples, 24 homers, 88 RBIs, 14 steals and an .830 OPS, while scoring a career best 98 runs.
Mondesi took it to another level in 1997, putting together a 30/30 HR/SB season, while finishing 15th in the MVP voting. He set career highs with 159 games played, a .310 average, 42 doubles, 191 hits and a .910 OPS, while also scoring 90 runs, hitting 30 homers, stealing 32 bases and driving in 87 runs. He won his second (and final) Gold Glove award that year. Mondesi saw a drop in his average (.279), walks (30), OPS (.813) and steals (16 in 26 attempts) in 1998, but he still managed to score 85 runs, hit 30 homers and drive in 90 runs for the first time. His average dropped to .253 in 1999, but it was still a strong over season. He set career highs with 33 homers and 99 RBIs, His career high 36 steals gave him a second 30/30 season, and he drew 71 walks. His previous high for walks was 44 in 1997. He had 29 doubles, five triples and tied his career high with 98 runs scored, while posting an .815 OPS. In November of 1999, Mondesi was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. He remained there for 2+ seasons, where he saw a decline in his stats. He put up a .798 OPS in 320 games for Toronto, compared to the .838 OPS he put up in 916 games with the Dodgers.
Mondesi hit .271 in 96 games in 2000, with 78 runs, 22 doubles, 24 homers, 67 RBIs, 22 steals and an .852 OPS. He injured his elbow in late July and ended up playing just one game in September over the final 2 1/2 months of the season. He was actually on pace to set career highs in numerous categories at the time. His 2001 season saw him hit .252 in 149 games, with 88 runs, 26 doubles, 27 homers, 84 RBIs, 30 steals, and a career best 73 walks. He also led the league in outfield assists with 18, which was his career high. His .794 OPS that year marked the first time he finished below an .800 OPS for a season. The Blue Jays traded him to the New York Yankees in July of 2002 and he continued to see a drop to his OPS, while still being a run producer. Between both stops that year, he hit .232 in 143 games, with 90 runs, 34 doubles, 26 homers, 88 RBIs, 15 steals and 59 walks, leading to a .740 OPS. He played for the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2003 season, going to Arizona in a trade deadline deal. Mondesi hit a combined .272 that year, with 83 runs, 31 doubles, 24 homers, 71 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and an .827 OPS in 143 games. It was his sixth 20/20 HR/SB season.
The Pirates signed Mondesi as a free agent in late February of 2004. He played just 26 games before he asked to return to his home in the Dominican Republic due to a lawsuit, and what he said was concerns over his family and their safety. When he didn’t return to the Pirates on time, they put him on waivers, then released him when no one picked him up. He hit .283/.355/.424 for the Pirates, with eight runs, eight doubles, two homers, 14 RBIs. Mondesi signed with the Anaheim Angels nine days later, but got hurt within eight games of signing. After missing his rehab assignment, he was cut. He was hitting .118 with a .424 OPS at the time of the injury. He played with the Atlanta Braves in 2005, but they cut him after just two months and a .211/.271/.359 slash line in 41 games, ending his career at 34 years old. He finished with a .273 average, 909 runs, 319 doubles, 271 homers, 860 RBIs and 229 stolen bases in 1,525 games over 13 seasons. Mondesi finished with 29.5 career WAR, though the 1995-97 seasons with the Dodgers saw him accumulate more than half of that total (15.2 WAR). His son Adalberto has been in the majors since 2015 with the Kansas City Royals. He made his big league debut in the postseason and won the World Series before playing his first regular season game.
Reb Russell, outfielder for the 1922-23 Pirates. He began his career as a successful pitcher, injured him arm, retired from baseball, then came back to the majors as a strong-hitting outfielder for the Pirates. He had just 13 games of minor league experience on the mound before debuting in the majors with the 1913 Chicago White Sox at 24 years old. He played for Fort Worth of the Class-B Texas League in 1912, going 4-4 in 70.1 innings, while allowing 2.18 runs per nine innings (ERA isn’t available). He also played 28 games for Bonham of the Class-D Texas-Oklahoma League, hitting a combined .296 on the year, though he had just three extra-base hits in those 41 games. Russell pitched 316.2 innings as a rookie with the White Sox in 1913, winning 22 games (with 16 losses), while posting a 1.90 ERA. He had 122 strikeouts, a 1.04 WHIP, and he threw eight shutouts. He made 36 starts and 16 relief appearances, leading all American League pitchers with 52 games. He finished 14th in the MVP voting. He also had a .189 batting average and a .524 OPS in 112 plate appearances.
Russell had a bit of a sophomore slump, but still put up a decent ERA that was average for the deadball era (American League had a 2.73 ERA in 1914). He had a 7-12, 2.90 record in 167.1 innings in 1914, with 79 strikeouts and a 1.20 WHIP. He hit .266, though it was an empty average due to two extra-base hits and one walk, leading to a .589 OPS. He bounced back a bit in 1915, going 11-10, 2.59 in 229.1 innings, making 25 starts and 16 relief appearances. He had ten complete games and three shutouts, while finishing with 90 strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP. He put up a .244 average and a .631 OPS. He finished with seven RBIs for the third straight season. Russell went 18-11, 2.42 in 25 starts and 31 relief appearances during the 1916 season, throwing a total of 264.1 innings. He had 112 strikeouts, an 0.94 WHIP, 16 complete games, five shutouts and three saves. He hit just .143/.152/.165, with two doubles and no walks that year, but he was much better at the plate in 1917. He had a strong overall season for the 1917 White Sox, helping them to the World Series that year. Russell went 15-5, 1.95 in 189.1 innings, with 24 starts, 11 relief appearances, 11 complete games, five shutouts, a 1.07 WHIP and three saves. He batted .279 that year, finishing with a .712 OPS in 74 plate appearance. He pitched once in the World Series, starting game five. All three batters he faced reached base before he was removed.
Russell’s work was somewhat limited in 1918, though the season was shortened due to the war. He went 7-5, 2.60, with a 1.20 WHIP in 124.1 innings over 15 starts and four relief appearances. He threw ten complete games and two shutouts. Six years after his great debut season, he faced just two batters in his only outing for the 1919 White Sox (known now as the Black Sox), before being sent to the minors, where he played outfield for Minneapolis of the Double-A American Association, which was the highest level of the minors at the time. He batted .267 in 92 games that year for Minneapolis, with 13 doubles, four triples and nine homers. He also picked up a win in the only game he pitched. He tried to pitch for the White Sox in 1920, but didn’t make the team and decided to retire. He had a record of 80-59, 2.33 in 1,291.2 innings over 242 Major League games. He never had an ERA higher than 2.90 in any of his six full seasons. The Minneapolis asked Russell to come back to play the next year when they were short on players, so he came out of retirement to work with them as a full-time outfielder. He hit .339 over 85 games in 1920, with 22 doubles, eight triples and six homers. He then followed it up with a .368 average over 146 games in 1921, with 35 doubles, 18 triples and 33 homers.
Russell was hitting .331 through 77 games in 1922, when the Pirates signed him to play right field. He was not a good fielder according to reports, but he could certainly hit. He had 18 doubles, eight triples and 17 homers during that half season, leading to a .674 slugging percentage for Minneapolis. He played 60 games over the rest of the way for Pittsburgh in 1922, driving in an amazing 75 runs during that partial season. He accomplished that in just 220 at-bats. He had a .368 average, 51 runs, 14 doubles, eight triples and he hit a team leading 12 homers that year, thanks in part to two big days at the plate. On August 25th and September 1st, the Pirates played doubleheaders each day. Russell connected for three homers on each day, doubling his previous home run output during a seven-day span. He actually didn’t hit a homer during the last 23 games of the season, so his team leading total came in just 37 games. He didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for single-season records, but his 1.091 OPS is just seven points behind the Pirates team record set by Arky Vaughan. Russell wasn’t nearly the strong hitter in 1923 as he was the previous season. The Pirates sent him to the bench by the end of July, despite raising his batting average 33 points during that month. He batted .289 in 94 games, with 49 runs, 34 extra-base hits, 58 RBIs and an .832 OPS. Russell hit .323 in 154 games for the Pirates, with 100 runs scored, 32 doubles, 15 triples and 21 homers, along with 133 RBIs. It’s interesting to note that they played 154-game schedules back then, so he basically played one full season with the team and drove in 133 runs, two more than the single-season team record for RBIs set by Paul Waner in 1927. He was a .209 hitter with one homer and 39 RBIs in 268 games with the White Sox.
Russell returned to the minors in 1924, playing another seven seasons before retiring. He finished with a .329 minor league average in 1,314 games. He played 150 games for Columbus of the American Association in 1924, where he had a .339 average, 36 doubles, 16 triples and 25 homers. He hit .319 over 146 games in 1925, with 22 doubles, 13 triples and 30 homers. He moved on to Indianapolis of the American Association in 1926, where he had a .322 average over 119 games, with 16 doubles, ten triples and 14 homers. Russell stayed with Indianapolis through the middle of the 1929 season. He had a .385 average, 34 doubles, four triples and ten homers in 128 games during the 1927 season. He followed that up with a .311 average in 1928, when he had 60 runs, 21 doubles, 17 homers and a .936 OPS. He split the 1929 season between Indianapolis and Quincy of the Class-B Three-I League. He combined to hit .320 in 104 games that year, with 19 doubles, nine triples and 18 homers. Russell played 25 games for Quincy in 1930, while splitting 92 more games between Mobile and Chattanooga of the Class-A Southern Association. In what ended up being his final season of pro ball, he hit .302 in 117 games, with 20 doubles, eight triples and 20 homers.
Denny Lyons, third baseman for the Pirates in 1893-94 and 1896-97. He was a star in the American Association for five seasons before the league folded, forcing him to the National League. Lyons debuted in the majors at 19 years old, playing four late-season games for Providence of the National League. That was also his first year of pro ball, which he mostly spent with Columbus of the Southern League, where he hit .227 in 94 games, with 50 runs and 17 extra-base hits. He went 2-for-16, with a double and three runs for Providence. He spent most of 1886 with Atlanta of the Class-B Southern Association, batting .327 in 79 games, with 72 runs scored, 27 extra-base hits and 29 steals. He also saw time that year with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, batting .211/.282/.252 in 32 games, with 22 runs and 11 RBIs. That was enough to get him a starting spot for the next year, and he responded with a big season. He batted .367 in 1887, with 128 runs scored in 137 games. He had 43 doubles, 14 triples, 102 RBIs, 73 stolen bases and a .943 OPS. On defense, he set a still standing record for putouts in a season by a third baseman with 255. Lyons saw a drop in his stats in 1888, but still did well compared to league averages. He hit .296 in 111 games, with 93 runs, 33 extra-base hits, 83 RBIs, 39 steals and a .769 OPS. He improved the next year, hitting .329 in 131 games, with 135 runs scored, 36 doubles, nine homers, 82 RBIs, 79 walks and an .895 OPS.
Lyons led the league in 1890 with a .461 OBP and .531 slugging percentage, while leading all third basemen with a .909 fielding percentage. He batted .354 that season in 88 games, with 79 runs scored, 41 extra-base hits, 73 RBIs, 21 steals and 57 walks. His .995 OPS was a career high, and one of three times he reached the .900 mark in a season. He finished his time in the American Association with the 1891 St Louis Browns, batting .315 that year, with 124 runs scored, 38 extra-base hits, 84 RBIs, 88 walks and a .900 OPS in 120 games. He had 24 doubles and a career high 11 homers that year. After the American Association ceased operations following the 1891 season, Lyons played for the New York Giants in 1892. He did not hit well compared to his previous standards, putting up a .257 average that was well below his .325 career average coming into the season. He had 71 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs and 59 walks. His .755 OPS that year was still 111 points over league average, so it was not a bad season overall. The Pirates signed Lyons after they had a dispute with 1892 third baseman Duke Farrell, who claimed that he had a three-year contract with the Pirates and refused a pay cut after a poor 1892 season. Lyons regained his form at the plate with the 1893 Pirates. He had a .306 average in 131 games, with career highs of 16 triples, 105 RBIs and 97 walks. He had 103 runs, 38 extra-base hits and an .858 OPS. He also led all third basemen in putouts that year.
Lyons hit well in 1894, but missed nearly half of the season due to injury. His .876 OPS that year looks great, but it was a huge year for offense after the league decided to change the pitching distance and how pitchers could deliver pitches. It took pitchers more than a year to adjust to the rules, and hitters feasted off of them in the meantime. Lyons batted .319 in 1894, which ranked him fourth among regulars for the Pirates, with three part-time players also hitting better. He finished with 52 runs, 22 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs and 43 walks in 72 games. He was actually released by the Pirates in late July, then signed with the St Louis Browns. Before he could get into a game, he sprained his ankle, which ended his season. The Pirates released him due to his drinking problem during the season. He played just 34 games for St Louis in 1895. He put up a .295/.380/.386 slash line before getting injured in a collision in mid-May. St Louis released him a month later because he was injured, then he re-signed with Pittsburgh on November 16th.
Lyons returned to the Pirates in 1896, where hit .307 in 118 games, with 77 runs, 35 extra-base hits, 71 RBIs, 67 walks and an .825 OPS in 118 games. That would be his last good season in the majors. His time with the Pirates (and the majors) was done by July of 1897. He hit just .206 in 37 games during his final year, though he had a .705 OPS due to some decent power/walk numbers. He returned to the minors for three seasons, didn’t play for two years (1901-02), then returned for one more year in 1903 as a player-manager for Beaumont of the Class-C South Texas League. There are no available stats for this 1898-1900 seasons, which he spent with the Omaha/St Joseph franchise of the Class-A Western League in 1898, followed by two seasons with Wheeling of the Class-B Interstate League. He hit .274 over 85 games with Beaumont, while collecting 22 extra-base hits. He also managed in the minors in 1906. Lyons was a .310 hitter in the majors over 1,123 games, with 933 runs, 244 doubles, 69 triples, 62 homers, 756 RBIs, 224 steals and 623 walks. His .850 OPS and solid defense helped him to a career mark of 35.5 WAR. With the Pirates, he hit .299 in 358 games, with 244 runs and 254 RBIs.
Phil Knell, pitcher for the 1888 Pittsburgh Alleghenys and 1894 Pirates. Knell made his Major League debut with the Alleghenys at 23 years old on July 6, 1888. He lasted with the team for three starts, then didn’t appear in the majors again until 1890, when he was with the Philadelphia Athletics of the Player’s League. He had almost no pro experience prior to joining the Alleghenys, starting his minor league time on June 19, 1887 for Greenhood and Moran of the California League, often referred to as the San Francisco club back then, though it’s called Oakland now. However, he already had a reputation, as his arrival in Pittsburgh on July 1, 1888 was met in the local papers by the line “Knell, the California wonder, has arrived”. It took Pittsburgh owner William Nimick some time to finally come to an agreement with the Oakland club for Knell’s release, and it took some time for Knell to arrive from the west coast. He deal was finalized on June 20th and announced in the local papers on June 23rd, eight days before his arrival. The scout for the Alleghenys who watched Knell, wasn’t a scout at all. It was catcher/outfielder Fred Carroll’s father, who was a baseball fan. Nimick had Carroll’s father watch 12 starts for Knell and keep stats. His report was that Knell allowed just one earned run in those 12 games and struck out 129 batters.
In his July 6th debut for the Alleghenys, Knell won 3-2 over Washington, with Fred Carroll as his catcher. It was not a great outing though, with seven walks, two hit batters and three wild pitches to his credit. The local papers said that he showed some good curves, speed and he did a good job of holding runners. He was supposed to pitch on July 18th against the Philadelphia Quakers (Phillies), but the game was rained out. The Alleghenys left on a road trip, and Knell stayed behind to workout with catcher Jocko Fields. Knell was supposed to pitch during an early August series against Detroit, but captain Ned Hanlon talked manager Horace Phillips out of using him in that series. The local papers kept noting that he was anxious to pitch his second game, but the Alleghenys were doing well, and they didn’t want to make any changes. He finally got into his second game on August 25th, during the second game of a doubleheader. He lost 7-6 to Indianapolis, giving up five runs early, before setting down for two runs over the final seven innings. Two days later, he lost 10-1 to Chicago in the second game of a doubleheader. He was wild that day, and Fred Carroll committed four errors behind the plate. Knell was left home during an early September road trip, then got released on September 13th, ending his time in Pittsburgh.
Knell pitched in the minors in 1889, splitting the year between Omaha and St Joseph of the Western Association, combining for a 14-20 record, 314 innings pitched, 157 walks and 225 strikeouts. He returned to the majors when the Player’s League was formed for the 1890 season. He went 22-11, 3.83 in 286.2 innings for the Philadelphia Athletics of the Player’s League. That win-loss record looks nice, but he led the league with 28 hit batters, had a 166:99 BB/SO ratio, and he posted a 1.58 WHIP. The Player’s League was finished after one season, so he signed with Columbus of the American Association in 1891, which was also the final season for that league at the Major League level. Knell went 28-27, 2.92 in 1891, with a 1.27 WHIP over 462 innings. He hit 54 batters that season, which is the most in baseball history for a season, and 11 more than the second highest total. He had 226 walks, but he also struck out 228 batters, which ranked second in the league. He led the league with five shutouts. He spent 1892 in the National League, splitting the season between the Phillies and Washington Senators. Knell went 14-18, 3.78 in 250 innings, with 170 of those innings coming with Washington. He had a 1.42 WHIP, with 111 walks and 117 strikeouts. He hit 22 batters that year to lead the league, giving him that dubious honor of leading the league in hit batters during three straight years in three different leagues. Knell spent small parts of that 1892 season with Los Angeles and Oakland of the Class-B California League.
Knell pitched in California in 1893, going 16-20, 1.68 over 316.2 innings, which were split between Los Angeles and San Francisco of the California League (then an independent league). He played with the Pirates for one game in 1894 (The Pirates actually went by the name “Braves” during that season). He was with the club during Spring Training. On May 2nd, the team took a three-hour batting practice session against him because they needed practice against the left-handed pitcher. Five days later, he was the third pitcher used in a 17-6 loss, giving up nine runs in seven innings. He was released the next day. He went to the Louisville Colonels of the National League to finish the year, where he posted a 7-21, 5.32 record and a 1.76 WHIP in 257 innings pitched. His final big league season in 1895 saw him split the year between Louisville (0-6 record) and the Cleveland Spiders (7-5). He had a 5.76 ERA and a 1.72 WHIP in 173.1 innings that year. In six years in the majors, he went 79-90, 4.05 in 1,452.1 innings. He had 163 starts, 141 complete games and eight shutouts, along with 29 relief appearances.
Knell ended up pitching in the minors off and on until age 43 in 1908, mostly playing in California during that time. His minor league stats during that time are sporadic and missing some details. He was with Kansas City of the Class-A Western League and Fort Wayne of the Class-C Interstate League during the 1896 season. Fort Wayne tried hard to sign him for 1897, but he remained in California to play for a team from Bakersfield. He was with Stockton of the Pacific Coast League in 1898. He had a 10-18 record and a 1.53 WHIP in 251 innings for Hartford of the Class-A Eastern League in 1899. He spent the 1900-01 seasons in the California League, playing for San Francisco in 1900 and Sacramento in 1901. He was running a team in California during the 1902 season. Knell went 10-8, 2.18 in 161 innings for Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League in 1903. He was with San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League in 1904, posting a 9-23, 3.00 record in 275.2 innings. He played some semi-pro ball and umpired a little in California during the 1905 season. He was back with Sacramento of the California League in 1906, then finished up with San Francisco of the California League in 1908, posting a 3-10 record in 17 appearances. He was umpiring during the 1907 season in California.