Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus one transaction of note.
On this date in 2003, the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a one-year contract with 35-year-old center fielder Kenny Lofton. He was coming off of a 2002 season in which he put up 3.9 WAR, while hitting .261/.350/.414 in 139 games, with 98 runs, 30 doubles, nine triples, 11 homers, 51 RBIs, 72 walks and 29 stolen bases, splitting the year between the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants. Despite the strong season, the Pirates were able to sign the six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner late in the off-season for just over one million dollars. Four days earlier, Pittsburgh also signed outfielder Reggie Sanders to a free agent contract. Lofton played 84 games for the Pirates, hitting .277/.333/.437, with 58 runs scored, 32 extra-base hits, 26 RBIs and 18 stolen bases, before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in the Aramis Ramirez deal. After the deal, Lofton batted .327/.381/.471 in 56 games for Chicago. He then signed with the New York Yankees for the 2004 season, playing for five teams over his last four years (2004-07) in the majors. His time in Pittsburgh was valued at 1.7 WAR.
Matt Kata, infielder for the 2007 Pirates. He was a 1999 draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, taken in the ninth round out of Vanderbilt. The Minnesota Twins took him in the 20th round out of high school three years earlier. Kata began his Major League career with Arizona four years after getting drafted. He played his first two seasons of pro ball with South Bend of the Low-A Midwest League, and put up nearly identical stats each year. He finished with a .692 OPS in 78 games in 1999, and a .694 OPS in 133 games in 2000. Kata hit .261 in 1999, with 40 runs scored, 22 extra-base hits and 33 RBIs. He batted .255 in 2000, with 82 runs, 22 doubles, nine triples, six homers, 59 RBIs and 52 walks. He had an interesting time running the bases in South Bend, going 5-for-11 in steals during his rookie year, followed by 38 steals in 50 attempts in 2000. He had his breakout in 2001, albeit playing in a very hitter-friendly park/league. Kata batted .296 in 119 games that year, with 80 runs, 19 doubles, ten homers, 54 RBIs, 30 steals and a .774 OPS for Lancaster of the High-A California League. That earned him a late promotion to Double-A El Paso of the Texas League, where he reached base nine times in four games. All of 2002 was spent at El Paso, where he hit .298 in 136 games, with 95 runs scored, 33 doubles, 11 homers, 57 RBIs and a .784 OPS. He stole just 12 bases (in 19 attempts), one season after putting together back-to-back 30+ steals seasons. Kata put up a .775 OPS in 48 games with Tuscon of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2003 before getting promoted to the majors in mid-June. That OPS was slightly above average in the hitter-friendly league. He had 31 runs, 21 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs in his limited minor league time that year.
Kata played 78 games during his rookie season with the Diamondbacks, finishing with a .257 average, 42 runs, 16 doubles, five triples, seven homers and 27 RBIs, while putting up a .736 OPS. He played shortstop full-time during his first two seasons of pro ball, before switching to second base as his primary position in 2001, though he still occasionally played shortstop and third base. He was the starting second baseman for Arizona through the end of May in 2004, before dislocating his shoulder, which ended his season. At the time of the injury, he was batting .247/.301/.364 in 42 games, with 17 runs, 13 extra-base hits, 13 RBIs and 13 walks. Kata began the 2005 season in the majors as a bench player, starting just three of Arizona’s first 53 games of the season. He got sent to Tuscon in early June, then was recalled in late June, before getting traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He played games in July/August and September with the Phillies, but he got into just ten games total, spending the rest of his time in Triple-A with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League. Between both big league stops, he hit .189/.286/.297 in 40 games, with no homers or RBIs. His minor league time that year amounted to a .311/.332/.419 slash line over 70 games, with 35 runs, 23 extra-base hits and 32 RBIs.
Kata played 160 big league games over his first three seasons, before spending all of 2006 in the minors playing for the Cincinnati Reds organization. He hit .263 in 113 games for Louisville of the International League that year, with 45 runs, 20 doubles, nine homers, 34 RBIs and a .747 OPS. He played winter ball in Mexico during the 2006-07 off-season, where he had a .273 average and an .825 OPS in 44 games. The Texas Rangers signed Kata as a free agent for the 2007 season, but released him on June 13th after playing 31 games with a .186/.250/.300 slash line in 77 plate appearances. The Pirates signed him two days later. After a brief stint at Triple-A with Indianapolis of the International League, in which he had a .796 OPS in 19 games, he was called up to Pittsburgh. He played 47 games over the rest of 2007, finishing with a .250 average, nine extra-base hits and ten RBIs in 90 plate appearances, although he didn’t draw a single walk, resulting in a .645 OPS. He saw starts at second base, third base, shortstop and left field, while also making one appearance late in a game in right field. Despite getting starts at four different spots, he only started 12 games total.
The Pirates allowed Kata to leave via free agency at the end of the 2007 season. He signed with the Colorado Rockies, but his time with the Pirates wasn’t over. He was reacquired just prior to the start of the 2008 season, then sent to Indianapolis, where he spent the entire season. He hit .245 in 118 games that year, with 50 runs, 32 extra-base hits, 45 RBIs, 18 steals and a .670 OPS. Kata signed with the Houston Astros in 2009, then split the season between the majors and Round Rock of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He hit .200 in 40 games (52 plate appearances) with Houston that year, collecting one extra-base hit (a double) and no walks, resulting in a .432 OPS. He then spent three seasons (2010-12) in Round Rock before retiring. He was still in the Astros system in 2010, but Round Rock switched affiliates after that season, so his final two years were spent back with the Texas Rangers. Kata had a .269 average and a .661 OPS in 66 games for Round Rock during his partial season with the team in 2009. He batted .270 over 132 games in 2010, with 63 runs, 25 doubles, six homers, 47 RBIs and a .686 OPS. He had a .293 average in 2011, finishing with 60 runs, 30 doubles, 13 homers, 71 RBIs and an .832 OPS in 106 games. He played 109 games during his final season in 2012, putting together a .274 average, 57 runs, 20 doubles, nine homers, 62 RBIs and a .731 OPS. Kata was a .239 career hitter in 278 Major League games, with 89 runs, 37 doubles, 12 homers and 63 RBIs. Despite multiple 30+ stolen base seasons in the minors, he had just nine steals (in 13 attempts) in the majors.
Earl Smith, center fielder for the 1955 Pirates. He signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in early 1949 at 21 years old. That year with Keokuk of the Class-C Central Association, he hit .324 in 69 games, with 22 runs, 19 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs, an .881 OPS and 32 walks. He’s credited with just four strikeouts, though that could be wrong because he never approached that kind of contact skill in any other season. He was used as a pitcher for a brief time that year, allowing 17 runs in 15 innings over three appearances. He pitched just two times over the rest of his pro career after that 1949 season. Smith would hit .324 over 139 games in 1950, while playing with Modesto of the Class-C California League. He had quite the impressive year, finishing with 118 runs, 30 doubles, 19 homers, 100 RBIs, 47 steals, 101 walks and a .948 OPS. He got a nice promotion in 1951, splitting the year between Waco of the Class-B Big State League, and New Orleans of the Double-A Southern Association. He combined to hit .259 in 70 games, with 53 runs, 12 doubles, 14 homers, 43 RBIs and an .821 OPS. Smith spent two full seasons (1952-53) with Charleston of the Class-A South Atlantic League. He batted .243 in 1952, with 22 doubles, seven triples and five homers in 140 games (available stats are somewhat limited that year). He then batted .244 in 1953, with 30 runs, 13 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs, 40 walks and a .685 OPS in 69 games.
After three straight seasons in which his batting average hovered around the .250 mark, Smith was sent back to Class-C ball in 1954, where he hit .387 in 141 games for Phoenix of the Texas-Arizona League. He finished the year with 183 runs, 35 doubles, 11 triples, 32 homers, 195 RBIs, 42 steals, 119 walks and a 1.164 OPS. While those are obviously huge numbers for any level (195 RBIs would be a big league record), he was old for the level and it was a huge league for offense, with Phoenix averaging nine runs per game. For reference, the top five home run hitters in the league that year never made the majors. In fact, Smith was the only player in the top 17 home run hitters to make the majors, and his time at the big league level was brief. That 1954 season helped earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster for 1955, though he was making a team that went 53-101 in the previous season. He also had a strong Spring Training, winning a roster slot with a .391 average through the middle of spring action. The local Pittsburgh papers noted that he had a .919 fielding percentage in the outfield in 1954, and he was coming from Class-C ball, so they weren’t quite sold on his spring performance. He would start five games in center field for the Pirates over the first two weeks of the season before being returned to the minors. Smith was named a platoon starter right before the season began. He was going to split his time with Tom Saffell, who would get all of the at-bats against right-handed pitchers, while the right-handed batting Smith would get the lefty pitchers. Smith ended up with just one hit in his 16 career at-bats. In his fourth game, he collected a lead-off single against Don Liddle of the New York Giants. Smith hit .063/.286/.063 over 21 plate appearances, reaching base four times on walks and once on a hit-by-pitch.
Smith was sent to New Orleans on May 4th, ending his big league career. On June 13, 1955, the Pirates sold him to Lincoln of the Class-A Western League, officially ending his time with the club. He was hitting just .164/.261/.180 in 20 games with New Orleans at the time. Smith went on to hit .250/.382/.364 in 28 games with Lincoln. He was back with Phoenix by the end of the season, where he put up an .856 OPS in 52 games. Between all three minor league stops that year, he had a .262 average in 100 games, with 57 runs, 18 doubles, five homers, 49 RBIs, 62 walks and a .755 OPS. He then played for three different minor league teams in 1956, which ended up being his final season in pro ball. He was with Lincoln for 12 games, Savannah of the South Atlantic League for 31 games, and 59 games for Fresno of the California League. He combined to hit .294 in 102 games, with 59 runs, 21 extra-base hits, 57 RBIs, 56 walks and an .825 OPS. It was a solid overall season, though his best results came with Fresno, which was five levels below the majors. Smith wore the #21 with the Pirates, which would then go to a rookie named Roberto Clemente later that same season. Clemente wore #13 at the start of the year. The Pirates had a catcher named Earl Smith, who played on the 1925 and 1927 World Series teams. There was also an outfielder in the majors from 1916-22 with the same name.
Billy Rhines, pitcher for the 1898-99 Pirates. He debuted in pro ball as a teenager in 1888, splitting his first season between Binghamton and Jersey City of the Central League. He had previous pitching experience in semi-pro ball for a team called the Ridgways, playing in the Mountain League (he was from Ridgway, Pa.). He won 13 of his 14 starts in the league. He also played college ball at Bucknell. He has no minor league pitching stats available from 1888, but he was reportedly so good that Jersey City paid $800 to acquire him mid-season from Binghamton, a high price to pay at the time for a minor league team. Rhines then did great work with Davenport of the Central Interstate League in 1889, going 27-15 (only available stats), which got the notice of the Cincinnati Reds, who signed him and his catcher from Davenport, Jerry Harrington. After two seasons of minor league ball, Rhines started his Major League career in 1890 at 21 years old with a bang, winning 28 games, while leading the National League with a 1.95 ERA in 401.1 innings. He had a 1.12 WHIP and also tossed six shutouts that season, which was nearly half of his career big league total. In an interesting note from that era, it was said that he complained mid-season of a sore arm, but manager Tom Loftus used him anyway, saying that sore arm pitchers always do better. He had 182 strikeouts as a rookie, which was a career high and the sixth most in the league. Rhines posted a solid 2.87 ERA in 372.1 innings the following season, but the Reds finished 56-81 that year, and his record finished at 17-24. He finished with 138 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP. It was said that he pitched in a lot of bad luck during his first two seasons, with the team committing more errors behind him, and they always came back to bite the team. He had a much better ERA that year than pitching great Old Hoss Radbourn, but the Hall of Famer finished with a slightly better record. That pitching staff also had Tony Mullane, a pitcher who should be in the Hall of Fame. Mullane also had a better winning percentage with a higher ERA.
The overwork in his first two seasons at a young age got to Rhines, and his 1892 stats suffered. He pitched poorly in limited work in 1892, with a 5.42 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP in 74.2 innings. He finished the year with 36 walks and ten strikeouts. He was with the Louisville Colonels for a short time in 1893, putting up an 8.71 ERA and a 2.19 WHIP in five starts. He only threw 31 innings that year, but he strikeout/walk stats really stand out. Rhines finished that year with a 19:0 BB/SO ratio. He then spent all of 1894 in the minors, where did well that season for Grand Rapids of the Western League. He went 25-19, 2.43 ERA in 406.2 innings, with 41 complete games in 48 starts. Despite the low ERA, he had a 1.79 WHIP and a 169:141 BB/SO ratio. That season earned him a spot in the majors back with the Reds in 1895. He went 19-10 during that first year back, though it came with a 4.81 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP in 267.2 innings. The caveat there is that offense in baseball was at a peak in 1894 due to the rule changes for pitchers (longer distance and they had to pitch from the pitching rubber for the first time). That peak for offense trickled into the 1895 season, before pitchers fully adjusted. His ERA was just 0.04 above league average at the time. Rhines did the best at adjusting, leading the National League again in ERA in 1896, with a 2.45 mark in 143 innings. He went 8-6 that year in 17 starts and two relief outings, finishing with 11 complete games, three shutouts and a 1.23 WHIP. He had a 21-15, 4.08 record and a 1.38 WHIP in 288 innings over 32 starts and nine relief appearances. He tossed 26 complete games.
The Pirates acquired Rhines from the Reds in a seven-player trade on November 10, 1897. In that deal, they gave up 30-game winner Pink Hawley and star outfielder Mike Smith, who has the sixth highest overall batting average in team history. Rhines was the only pitcher among the five players sent to the Pirates, so he had big shoes to fill with Hawley gone. For Pittsburgh in 1898, Rhines went 12-16, 3.52 in 288.2 innings, with a 1.36 WHIP and 27 complete games in 29 starts. He went the entire season without allowing a home run, though he managed to record just 48 strikeouts. Rhines made nine starts in 1899 before his time with the Pirates (and his Major League career) ended. His final game with the Pirates was on June 22nd, when he did so poorly that he was released that same day. He finished the year with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 54 innings. It was said that he threw out his arm, so he lost all of his effectiveness, but he did attempt a comeback after taking off the 1900 season. He pitched briefly in the minors in 1901 with Grand Rapids of the Class-A Western Association (highest level of the minors at the time), before retiring from baseball, though he still played semi-pro ball near his home. He finished his big league career with a 113-103, 3.48 record in 1,891 innings. He started 222 of his 248 games, ending up with 187 complete games and 13 shutouts. It was said that he had success with a “raise ball” (also called a “rise ball”), or what would be a rising fastball from a submarine style pitcher.
Denny Mack, infielder for the 1883 Alleghenys. Over a 13-year stretch from 1871 until 1883, Mack spent eight seasons in the majors. He debuted in the National Association, which was the first Major League. That league lasted from 1871 until 1875, when it then gave way to the National League. He spent four seasons in the National Association, two years in the National League, then two years in the American Association, finishing his MLB career with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1883, during their second season in franchise history. At 21 years old in 1871, Mack played for the Rockford Forest Citys, hitting .246 in 25 games, with 34 runs scored, eight extra-base hits, 17 RBIs, 12 steals and a .612 OPS. He moved on to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1872, where he hit .288 in 47 games, with nine doubles and a triple, while leading the league with 23 walks. He scored 68 runs and picked up 34 RBIs, while posting a .701 OPS. The National Association added a second team in Philadelphia in 1873. Mack moved to the new club, referred to as the Whites, back when teams were often named after their uniform color, or even just a part of their uniform. The league also had teams named the Red Stockings and Blue Legs that year. Mack hit a career high .293 in 1873, and once again he managed to score more runs (55) than games played (48). Teams played limited regular season games back then, but they were often playing exhibition games before, during and after the season. Mack had five extra-base hits that year, all of them being doubles. He finished with 19 RBIs and a .658 OPS.
His streak of scoring more runs than games played ended with the Whites in 1974, when he posted a .207 average in 56 games, though he still scored 48 runs. He had eight doubles and a career high four triples, to go along with 22 RBIs and a .486 OPS. He mostly played first base during his first three seasons, but it was his only position in 1874. He did not play during the final season of the National Association, but he did work as an umpire for 23 games that year. Mack was playing for the St Louis Brown Stockings when the National League started in 1876. He hit .217 in 48 games that year, with 32 runs scored, five doubles and his first career homer. He drove in just seven runs, while finishing with a .523 OPS. He then spent the next three seasons in the minors before resurfacing in 1880 with the Buffalo Bisons of the National League. Almost no stats are available from the 1877-79 seasons, though we know that he moved around a lot during that stretch, playing for Indianapolis of the League Alliance in 1877, Syracuse and Buffalo of the International Association in 1878, and then Utica, Springfield and Washington of the National Alliance in 1879. His only stats from that time show that he hit .259 over 48 games in 1879, with 28 runs scored.
After joining Buffalo in 1880, Mack batted .203/.266/.203 in 17 games, with five runs, three RBIs, five walks and no extra-base hits. With only eight big league teams at that time, and each of them holding limited rosters (some as low as 12 players at a time), the quality of competition was high during that era, as baseball was the main sport for quite a few years by then. Mack has no pro records from 1881. He was playing semi-pro ball in March of 1881 with a well-known team team from Louisiana called the R.E. Lee’s, when he injured his arm, but he returned to action during that season. When the American Association came along in 1882, it doubled the available big league jobs. Mack returned to pro ball in 1882 with the Louisville Eclipse of the American Association as a player-manager, where he hit .182 in 72 games, with 41 runs and four extra-base hits. Both his walk and power totals were low, resulting in a .429 OPS for the season. In his lone season with the Alleghenys, Mack played shortstop, first base and some second base, hitting .196/.241/.246 in 60 games, with 26 runs, five doubles and three triples. The Alleghenys were off to an 0-4 start to the season when they signed Mack. He debuted on May 11th at first base in a 7-6 win over Baltimore. On July 24th, he was knocked out cold when he was hit by a pitch, and he had to be carried from the field.
After his stint with the Alleghenys, Mack served two years as a player-manager in the minors, then two more years as a minor league manager, before retiring. He played 42 games for Allentown of the Eastern League in 1883, where he had a .246 average, 37 runs and seven extra-base hits. He finished up his pro career with a .137 average over 50 games for the Lancaster/Baltimore franchise of the Eastern League in 1884. He had 31 runs, three doubles and two triples that year. He was a .228 hitter over 373 games in the majors, with 309 runs scored, 42 doubles, ten triples, one home run and a .544 OPS. Modern metrics rate him as an above average shortstop defensively, and a below average first baseman. He pitched three games for Roanoke during his first season, including a loss in his lone start against Hall of Famer Al Spalding. He umpired a total of 34 big league games as well. Until recent research, Mack had an unknown birth date. He was born in 1850, in a town called Mauch Chunk, PA, which is current day Jim Thorpe, PA. Local papers occasionally said that he was named Dennis McGee, but he played baseball under the name Denny Mack.