This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: March 18th, Pitcher Dick Littlefield and First Baseman Elbie Fletcher

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players and a manager were born on this date.

Brian Fisher, pitcher for the 1987-89 Pirates. He was born in Hawaii, and became the 17th player from that state to make the majors when he debuted in 1985. Fisher was drafted out of high school in Colorado at 18 years old in 1980, taken in the second round by the Atlanta Braves. While he never played in the majors with the Braves, he was in their minor league system for five seasons before the New York Yankees acquired him in December of 1984, in a trade for veteran catcher Rick Cerone. Fisher was a starter in the minors for the Braves, spending one full season at five different levels, as he worked his way up to Triple-A in 1984. His draft year saw him go 5-3, 3.84 in 61 innings over 12 starts, with a 1.77 WHIP, 53 walks and 48 strikeouts for the Gulf Coast League Braves. He went 6-8, 4.26 over 152 innings in 1981, with 152 strikeouts and a 1.53 WHIP for Anderson of the Class-A South Atlantic League. His best minor league season happened in 1982 with Durham of the Class-A Carolina League, when he had a 6-6, 2.77 record in 104 innings over 18 starts, with 123 strikeouts and a 1.11 WHIP. He also walked just 43 batters that year, significantly improving his control for a second straight season.

Fisher struggled in Double-A Savannah of the Southern League in 1983, finishing the year with an 8-11, 5.22 record and a 1.52 WHIP in 150 innings over 27 starts. After striking out more than a batter per inning over the previous two seasons combined, he had just 103 strikeouts in 1983. Despite the poor results, he still got the call to Triple-A to start 1984. He responded with a 9-11, 4.28 record and a 1.57 WHIP in 183 innings pitched for Richmond of the International League. He completed four of his 29 starts, including one shutout. He saw his strikeout rate take a small drop again, down to 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 1984. After the trade to the Yankees, Fisher needed just a month at Triple-A in 1985 before he made the majors. He put up a 2.38 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11.1 innings for Columbus of the International League. He had an impressive rookie season as a reliever, going 4-4, 2.38 in 98.1 innings over 55 appearances, with 85 strikeouts and a 1.08 WHIP. The Yankees even used his as a closer for a time, during which he picked up 14 saves. The sophomore jinx hit Fisher hard, and he even spent a brief time back with Columbus in 1986, where he allowed four runs over 8.2 innings. He made 62 appearances for the Yankees that year, posting a 9-5 record with six saves in 96.2 innings. Those are all nice numbers, but he had a 1.47 WHIP and a 4.93 ERA that year, which was the highest full-season ERA during his big league career. He really didn’t pitch poorly throughout the year, but he was hurt a few implosions here and there until mid-August. Over a late-season five-week stretch (August 15 – September 17), he posted a 10.38 ERA in 17.1 innings. Fisher had a 3.86 ERA prior to that rough patch.

He spent two years in the Yankees bullpen without a start, before the Pirates acquired him in a six-player deal on November 26, 1986. It was a deal that also brought Doug Drabek back to Pittsburgh, while Rick Rhoden was among the players going back to New York. The Pirates moved Fisher to a starting role in 1987, where he responded with an 11-9, 4.52 record and a 1.39 WHIP in 185.1 innings over 26 starts and 11 relief appearances. He tossed three of his four career shutouts that year, while setting a career high with 117 strikeouts. He had similar results the following season, going 8-10, 4.61 in 146.1 innings, but his strikeout total dropped 66 for the year, and his WHIP went up to 1.46 in 1988. He made 22 starts and 11 relief appearances that year. He had knee and shoulder surgery over the 1988-89 off-season. Fisher started 1989 on the disabled list, then pitched poorly when he returned. He went on the disabled list again and required another knee surgery, which prompted the Pirates to send him to Triple-A Buffalo of the American Association to finish the year after he returned. He was released following the season. He went 0-3, 7.94 in 17 innings over three starts and six relief outings for the 1989 Pirates. He also went 3-0, 5.14 in 28 innings over five starts for Buffalo.

Fisher pitched in pro ball until 1993, but he played just 26 Major League games after leaving the Pirates. He had four relief appearances for the 1990 Houston Astros, giving up five runs over five innings, before getting released in August. The rest of the year was spent with Tucscon of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he went 8-8, 6.80 in 87.1 innings over 13 starts and 17 relief appearances. He picked up six saves that year. He spent 1991 in Triple-A for the Milwaukee Brewers, going 10-6, 4.78 in 98 innings over 44 appearances (two starts). He signed a free agent deal with the Pirates for the 1992 season, but they cut him from big league camp in mid-March, then released him at the end of Spring Training. He then spent half of that 1992 season in Triple-A for the Cincinnati Reds, before they traded him to the Seattle Mariners, where he made two relief appearances for Calgary of the Pacific Coast League. Fisher had a 2-3, 4.11 record, a 1.33 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 50.1 innings for Nashville of the American Association before the trade. He was called up to the Mariners in early July, then made 14 starts and eight relief appearances to finish out the 1992 season. He went 4-3, 4.53 in 91.2 innings, while posting a 47:26 BB/SO ratio and a 1.39 WHIP. Fisher finished his career in Triple-A with the San Francisco Giants in 1993, where he went 3-4, 8.08 in 49 innings over nine starts and five relief appearances with Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League. He went 19-22, 4.72 in 348.2 innings with the Pirates. In his seven-year big league career, he went 36-34, 3.49 in 640 innings over 65 starts and 157 relief appearances, finishing with seven complete games, 23 saves and 370 strikeouts.

Dick Littlefield, pitcher for the Pirates from 1954 until 1956. He began his pro career with Oneonta of the Class-C Canadian-American League in 1946 at age 20. He had a 3-7, 5.45 record in 66 innings, with a 1.82 WHIP, 67 walks and 42 strikeouts. Littlefield went 13-4, 1.97, with a 1.13 WHIP and 141 strikeouts in 155 innings for Wellsville of the Class-D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League in 1947. He went from a walk per inning as a rookie down to 53 walks that season. He moved up to Roanoke of the Class-B Piedmont League in 1948, where he had a 15-11, 3.29 record in 227 innings, with 164 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP. He played with Scranton of the Class-A Eastern League in 1949, where he had a 12-8, 3.40 record in 180 innings, with a 1.34 WHIP, 90 walks and 133 strikeouts. From there he went to Birmingham of the Double-A Southern Association in 1950. He had a 10-3, 2.90 record. 103 strikeouts and a 1.15 WHIP in 121 innings, which earned him his first shot at the majors in July of 1950. Littlefield began his big league career with the Boston Red Sox at 24 years old. He posted a 9.26 ERA and a 2.19 WHIP in 23.1 innings, with 24 walks. He made two starts and 13 relief appearances during that 1950 season. He was part of a five-player trade in December of 1950 that sent him to the Chicago White Sox. He had an 8.38 ERA in four appearances (two starts) with the 1951 Chicago White Sox, allowing 17 walks in 9.2 innings. He the rest of the season back in the Southern Association with Memphis, where he went 13-11, 3.72 in 196 innings, with 195 strikeouts and a 1.35 WHIP. He was part of an eight-player trade with the St Louis Browns in November of 1951. Just three months later, the Browns traded him to the Detroit Tigers in a six-player deal. Exactly six months later, in the middle of August of 1952, the Browns reacquired him in an eight-player deal.

Littlefield split the 1952 season between the Tigers, a brief stint at Triple-A, and the Browns, seeing his first bit of success at the big league level. He posted a 2-6, 3.54 record and a 1.31 WHIP in 94 innings over six starts and 29 relief appearances that season, doing much better work in St Louis, where they used him as a starter. His minor league time with Buffalo of the International League that year amounted to a 5.40 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP over 20 innings. He made 22 starts and 14 relief appearances in 1953 for the Browns, going 7-12, 5.08, with a 1.56 WHIP in 152.1 innings. His 104 strikeouts that year were a career high. The Browns went 54-100 that season, then moved to Baltimore for the 1954 campaign. The Pirates acquired Littlefield from the Baltimore Orioles on May 25, 1954, in exchange for veteran outfielder Cal Abrams. It was the fifth time that Littlefield was traded since 1950. Prior to joining the Pirates, he had 12 career wins in 93 games (32 starts). He had a 10.50 ERA and a 2.33 WHIP in three relief appearances for the 1954 Orioles before the trade. He nearly equaled his career win total in his first four months in Pittsburgh, going 10-11, 3.60 in 155 innings over 21 starts and two relief outings, with 92 strikeouts and a 1.45 WHIP. The record was impressive because the Pirates lost 101 games that year, back during the days of the 154-game schedule. He struggled on the mound like most of the Pirates pitchers in 1955, posting a 5-12, 5.12 record and a 1.66 WHIP in 130 innings, while making 17 starts and 18 relief appearances. Three other regular pitchers on that staff had a higher ERA, and only Bob Friend (14-9) had a winning record.

Early in the 1956 season, the Pirates traded Littlefield and young outfielder Bobby Del Greco to the St Louis Cardinals for young outfielder Bill Virdon.  Prior to the trade, Littlefield made two starts and four relief appearances for the Pirates, posting a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 innings. He spent 28 days with the Cardinals before they traded him to the New York Giants, after posting a 7.45 ERA in 9.2 innings. He went 4-4, 4.08 in 97 innings with New York to finish out the 1956 season. Between all three stops that year, he went 4-6, 4.37 in 119.1 innings, with a 1.26 WHIP and 80 strikeouts. He was involved in ten trades during his nine-year career, including being traded from the Giants to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Jackie Robinson in December of 1956. After the deal, Robinson refused to report to the Giants, so the deal was voided when he decided to retire. Four months later, the Giants traded Littlefield to the Chicago Cubs in a four-player deal. He went 2-3, 5.35 in 65.2 innings over 48 appearances (two starts), with 51 strikeouts and a 1.72 WHIP. The Cubs sold him to the Milwaukee Braves in March of 1958, but he didn’t last there long, pitching 6.1 innings over four appearances.

Littlefield played in the majors until May of 1958, then returned to the minors where he finished his career in 1962. He went 13-4, 2.93 in 135 innings with Wichita of the Triple-A American Association to finish out the 1958 season. He was 3-7, 4.08 in 86 innings for Louisville of the American Association in 1959. The 1960 season was split between Louisville and Indianapolis of the American Association, though he didn’t see much action, going 0-2 in 17 innings over 11 appearances. He finished up his career with Dallas-Fort Worth of the American Association during the 1961-62 seasons. Littlefield went 5-9, 4.83 over 121 innings in 1961, followed by a 2-1, 2.74 record over 46 innings in 1962. He finished with a 15-23, 4.29 record in 297.2 innings with the Pirates, making 40 starts and 24 relief appearances. He had a career 33-54, 4.71 record in 761.2 innings in the majors, with 83 starts, 160 relief appearances, 16 complete games, two shutouts (both with Pittsburgh) and nine saves. He had 413 walks and 495 strikeouts.

Elbie Fletcher, first baseman for the 1939-43 and 1946-47 Pirates. Fletcher debuted in the majors at 18 years old, seeing eight September games for the 1934 Boston Braves. He had just 82 games of minor league experience at that point, playing the early part of the 1934 season with Harrisburg of the Class-A New York-Penn League, where he had a .291 average and 23 extra-base hits. He went 2-for-4 with four runs scored during his brief big league time, making seven pinch-running appearances before he started his final game at first base. He spent most of the 1935 season back in the minors, before rejoining Boston in mid-August. He hit .365 for Wilkes-Barre of the New York-Penn League that year, with 29 extra-base hits in 71 games. He then batted .236 in 39 games for Boston, with 12 runs, seven doubles, one homer and nine RBIs. Fletcher spent the entire 1936 season in the minors, playing for Buffalo of the Double-A International League (highest level of minors at the time), where he hit .344 in 154 games, with 120 runs, 44 doubles, six triples, 17 homers, 85 RBIs, 73 walks and a .940 OPS. The 1937 season was his first full year in the majors. He put up mediocre stats, especially for playing a position where teams usually get power. He batted .247 in 148 games, while posting a .629 OPS. He had 56 runs, 22 doubles, one homer, 38 RBIs and 56 walks. Fletcher improved the next year by hitting .272 in 147 games, with 71 runs, 37 extra-base hits, 48 RBIs and 60 walks. He added exactly 100 points to his OPS that season.

The Pirates acquired Fletcher from the Boston Bees (the team name changed in 1936) in exchange for infielder Bill Schuster on June 15, 1939.  Fletcher was hitting .245/.365/.264, with 14 runs, two doubles, no homers and six RBIs in 35 games prior to the trade. He would end up playing 916 games in Pittsburgh, while the Bees got just two games out of Schuster. Fletcher stepped right into the starting first baseman role for the 1939 Pirates, where he would hit .303 in 102 games, with 49 runs, 23 doubles, 12 homers, 71 RBIs, 48 walks and an .869 OPS. That led to a 25th place finish in the MVP voting. He started a streak of three straight seasons with over 100 walks in 1940, while leading the National League in OBP each season. He not only walked 119 times in 1940 to lead the league, he also drove in 104 runs and scored 94 times. He batted .273 that year, with 22 doubles, seven triples, 16 homers, a .418 OBP, an .856 OPS, and for good measure, he also led the league with nine hit-by-pitches. That all led to a 19th place finish in the MVP voting. We posted a full recap of his 1940 season here.  Fletcher had an National League leading 118 walks in 1941. He batted .288 that year, with 95 runs and 74 RBIs, while reaching career highs of 29 doubles and 13 triples. His .421 OBP helped him to a career best .878 OPS, which led to a 14th place finish in the MVP voting. He had a .289 average and 105 walks in 1942, which led to his league leader .417 OBP. He also had 86 runs scored, 34 extra-base hits and 57 RBIs, finishing the year with his fourth straight season of an .800+ OPS (he had an .810 mark that year).

Elbie (his first name was Elburt) made his only All-Star appearance in 1943. That year he led all NL first baseman in assists, putouts and fielding percentage, while batting .283 in 154 games, with 91 runs scored, 24 doubles, nine homers, 70 RBIs and 95 walks. He just missed his fifth straight .800+ OPS season, finishing with a .791 mark. His season performance led to a 21st place finish in the MVP voting. Fletcher would lose the next two years while serving in the military (Navy) during WWII, before returning to the Pirates in 1946. He picked up right where he left off. He drew 111 walks that first year back, leading to a .384 OBP. He batted .256 in 148 games, with 72 runs, 37 extra-base hits, 66 RBIs and a .739 OPS. His numbers and playing time dropped in 1947, as he was a bench player early in the season. He made one start and he was 0-for-14 at the plate through 47 games that year. After that point, he put up a .757 OPS in 57 games, with 35 starts. He finished with a .242 average in 69 games, with 22 runs, 11 extra-base hits and 22 RBIs. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians in December of 1947, in exchange for veteran first baseman Les Fleming. Fletcher spent the 1948 seasons in the minors before getting one more year at the big league level right back where he started.

Fletcher hit .306 in 110 games for Minneapolis of the Triple-A American Association in 1948, finishing with 73 runs, 26 doubles, five triples, 19 homers, 79 RBIs, 96 walks and a 1.032 OPS. He started 1949 with Jersey City of the Triple-A International League, where he had a .203 average in 19 games, but 17 walks helped him to a .730 OPS. Despite the low average and mediocre power, the 33-year-old spent the rest of the 1949 season with the Braves. He batted .262 in 122 games for Boston, with 57 runs, 19 doubles, 11 homers, 51 RBIs, 84 walks and a .798 OPS. He finished his pro career in the minors in 1950 with Lose Angeles of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he hit .289 in 155 games, with 83 runs, 41 doubles, nine homers, 72 RBIs, 115 walks and an .853 OPS. Fletcher had a .279 average for the Pirates, with 509 runs, 247 extra-base hits, 464 RBIs, 625 walks and an .815 OPS in 916 games. In his 12-year career, he hit .271 in 1,415 games, with 723 runs, 228 doubles, 79 homers, 616 RBIs and 851 walks. He had a .384 OBP and a .774 OPS. He retired in 1951 to take a broadcasting job, but by the summer he was running a barnstorming team in the northeast.

Jimmy “Nixey” Callahan, manager for the Pirates during the 1916-17 seasons. He was a long-time player before taking up a second shorter career as a manager. Callahan started his pro career as a pitcher in 1894 with the Philadelphia Phillies, making nine big league appearances before playing his first minor league game. He then spent two full years in the minors before spending the next nine seasons in Chicago. Callahan played four years (1897-1900) in the National League with the Colts/Orphans (Cubs), then five more years (1901-05) with the White Sox in the brand new American League. He had a 20-10, 2.46 record in 1898, then followed it up with a 21-12, 3.06 record in 1899, throwing a career high 294.1 innings. In his final year in the NL, he went 13-16, 3.82 in 285.1 innings. In his first year with the White Sox, Callahan had a 15-8, 2.42 record, while also batting .331 in 118 at-bats, finishing with an .849 OPS. In his final year as a full-time pitcher, he went 16-14, 3.60 in 1902. From 1897 to 1902, he averaged 257 innings pitched. Callahan was one of the better hitting pitchers in baseball, which led to more playing time in the field on his days off from pitching. He took over at third base full-time for the White Sox in 1903, and also pitched his final three games that season. He batted .292 that year in 118 games, with 26 doubles, 56 RBIs, 24 steals and a .711 OPS, which was well above average during the early years of the deadball era. He was the starting left fielder by 1904, when he played a career high 132 games. Callahan batted .261 that year, with 66 runs, 23 doubles, 54 RBIs and 29 steals. He hit .272 over 96 games in 1905, with 50 runs, 25 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, 26 steals, and a .704 OPS.

After the 1905 season, Callahan purchased a semi-pro team, and took five years off from the majors. Due to the fact his team was considered an outlaw team, he was put on the MLB ineligible list. To clear his name he had to pay a heavy fine so he could play again when the 1911 White Sox came calling. Despite the long layoff, and the fact he was 37 years old at the time, Callahan hit .281 in 1911, with 64 runs, 60 RBIs and 45 stolen bases in 120 games. He batted .272 in 1912, with 45 runs, 52 RBIs and 19 steals in 111 games. His final season saw him get limited time as a pinch-hitter, starting just one game in August, which ended up being his final game. He retired after 1913 with a .273 batting average, 442 runs, 135 doubles, 46 triples, 11 homers, 394 RBIs and 186 steals in 923 games. He only hit four homers over the fence, and two came during the 1903 season off of Hall of Famers Chief Bender and Rube Waddell. He had a pitching record of 99-73, 3.39 in 1,603 innings over 195 games pitched. He completed 169 of his 177 starts, including 11 shutouts.  Nixey (a childhood nickname) was a player/manager for the White Sox in 1903-04 and 1912-14. He had a 309-329 record over those five seasons, with three winning seasons, though he was only 11 games over .500 during those years. He worked in the White Sox front office in 1915, then took over the Pirates managerial job to start 1916. Under Callahan, the Pirates went from fifth place in 1915 down to sixth place in 1916. The team record dropped from 73-81 down to 65-89 in his first year with the team. Pittsburgh was even worse in 1917. After a 20-40 start, he was replaced by Honus Wagner. It was the last job in baseball for Callahan, who became a successful contractor later in life.