This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 26th, Sam Leever’s Debut and Harvey Haddix’s Gem

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus a recap of the Major League debut for one of the Pirates greatest pitchers of all-time and also one of the greatest pitching performances of all-time.

The Players

Dann Bilardello, catcher for the 1989-90 Pirates. He was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the third round of the January 1978 draft out of Cabrillo College, but chose to return to school for one more year. He was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as their first round draft pick in June of 1978, chosen seventh overall. Cabrillo College is a school that has produced four MLB players through the draft, but just one of them has been picked since 1988. Bilardello batted .248 over 42 games for Lethbridge of the short-season Pioneer League in 1978, with 21 runs, eight doubles, two homers, 20 RBIs and a .658 OPS. He moved up to Clinton of the Class-A Midwest League in 1979, where he hit .239 in 52 games, with 18 runs, four doubles, two homers, 15 RBIs and a .637 OPS. He missed time that year due to a hand injury early in the season. From there he went to Lodi of the Class-A California League in 1980. He hit .308 that year, with 22 runs, four doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and an .868 OPS in 41 games. He missed time in the middle of the year due to a fractured cheekbone from a hit-by-pitch. While the California League has been historically better for hitters, his OPS improved 231 points over the previous season. Bilardello finally played a full season in 1981, when he hit .307 in 105 games for Lodi, with 72 runs, 19 doubles, 21 homers and 80 RBIs. He also went 1-for-19 in a brief trial with San Antonio of the Double-A Texas League. He had a .920 OPS in Lodi that season, though his Double-A time knocked his season OPS down to an .881 mark. He spent the 1982 season playing for San Antonio, where he hit .285 in 103 games, with 49 runs, 14 doubles, 17 homers, 48 RBIs and an .822 OPS.

Before he could make it to the majors with Los Angeles, Bilardello was taken in the 1982 Rule 5 draft by the Cincinnati Reds. He hit .238 during his rookie season in 1983, with 27 runs, 18 doubles, nine homers, 38 RBIs and a .663 OPS over 109 games. He did well in the slugging category, but a low walk total left him with a .274 OBP. It would end up being the best season of his eight-year big league career. Bilardello spent two more years in Cincinnati, then one year in Montreal Expos, before spending all of the 1987-88 seasons in the minors. He batted .209 in 68 games for the 1984 Reds, with 16 runs, seven doubles, two homers, ten RBIs and a .567 OPS. He also played 49 games for their Triple-A affiliate, Wichita of the American Association, where he hit .240/.328/.383 in 192 plate appearances. He then hit .167/.206/.196 over 108 plate appearances in 42 games for the 1985 Reds. That was another split season, with him playing 57 games in Triple-A with Denver of the American Association, where he had a .242 average and a .732 OPS. Bilardello batted .194 for the 1986 Expos, with 12 runs, five doubles, four homers, 17 RBIs and a .532 OPS in 79 games.

The Pirates purchased Bilardello’s contract from Montreal on March 22, 1987. He would last four months with the team in Triple-A with Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League, before being sold to the Kansas City Royals in July of 1987. He spent the rest of 1987 and the entire 1988 season catching for Omaha of the American Association. He had a .217 average and a .561 OPS while with Vancouver, which wasn’t a hitter-friendly place, despite being in a league that favored hitters. He hit just .183 in 22 games with Omaha, though it came with a slightly better OPS (.593) than his time in Vancouver. He hit .243 for Omaha in 1988, with 27 runs, 14 doubles, eight homers, 45 RBIs and a .663 OPS over 71 games. Bilardello became a free agent after the 1988 season, then decided to sign with the Pirates in January of 1989. He began the year with Buffalo of the American Association, before getting called up by the Pirates for a month in early June. He joined them again when the roster expanded in September. He batted .206/.265/.300 over 66 games with Buffalo. Bilardello started 25 games that year for the Pirates. He had a .225 average over 33 games, with 11 runs, six doubles, two homers and eight RBIs in 83 plate appearances. He had three short stints with the 1990 Pirates, getting into 19 games total, finishing his time with an .054 batting average (2-for-37). He actually did well that year with Buffalo, putting up a .286 average and a .773 OPS in 52 games. He became a free agent in December of 1990, then signed with the San Diego Padres a month later.

Bilardello played 32 games for the Padres between the 1991-92 seasons, hitting .186 in 59 at-bats, though it came with an odd split. In a fairly even amount of playing time each year, he had a .786 OPS in 1991, and a .386 OPS in 1992. He spent the rest of his time during those two seasons with Las Vegas of the Pacific Coast League, where his results matched his big league splits. Bilardello did well in 1991, batting .314/.351/.507 in 44 games. His very limited time in 1992 saw him post a .568 OPS over 11 games. He spent the 1993 season with Norfolk of the Triple-A International League for the New York Mets, where he had a .241 average and a .662 OPS over 48 games. He then he played independent ball in 1994 with Winnipeg of the Northern League, hitting .275/.331/.388 over 71 games, in what was his last year in pro ball. Bilardello hit .204 in 382 big league games, with 79 runs, 39 doubles, 18 homers and 91 RBIs. He batted .171 in 52 games for the Pirates, with two homers and 11 RBIs. He rates as an outstanding defensive catcher, putting up 4.1 dWAR in what amounted to two full seasons of catching. He led the league in 1984 by throwing out 41.5% of runners attempting to steal. That was followed up by a 48.8% mark in 1985.

Chuck Hartenstein, pitcher for the 1969-70 Pirates. He was signed originally by the Chicago Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1964. It didn’t take long for him to make his strange Major League debut. He played for St Cloud of the Class-A Northern League in 1964, where he had a 3.27 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 113 innings over 15 starts and three relief outings. He was a September call-up to the majors in 1965, after going 12-7, 2.18 in 223 innings for Dallas-Fort Worth of the Double-A Texas League, finishing the year with 119 strikeouts and a 1.10 WHIP. Hartenstein played just one game that year for the Cubs, coming on September 11th, when he came in as a pinch-runner. It was the only time in his six-year Major League career that he wasn’t used as a pitcher. He went 3-10, 2.94 in 156 innings with Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1966, while splitting his time between 17 starts and 21 relief appearances. He had a 1.17 WHIP and 81 strikeouts that year. Hartenstein was a September call-up again in 1966. He pitched well in five appearances, allowing two runs in 9.1 innings. He came up to the majors in June during the 1967 season, after posting a 3.94 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 32 innings at Tacoma. He ended up pitching 45 games in relief for the Cubs that season, putting up a 9-5, 3.08 record, a 1.25 WHIP and 11 saves in 73 innings. He wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, but he had excellent control, finishing that 1967 season with a 17:20 BB/SO ratio. His numbers weren’t as good in 1968, as he went 2-4, 4.54, while getting in just 35.2 innings over 28 appearances. He had a 1.46 WHIP and 17 strikeouts. Hartenstein pitched well during his time in Tacoma that year, posting a 1.86 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 58 innings.

The Pirates acquired Hartenstein from Chicago on January 15, 1969, along with infielder Ron Campbell, in exchange for outfielder Manny Jimenez. Hartenstein’s first season in Pittsburgh would end up being the only full season that he spent in the majors. He went 5-4, 3.95 in 56 appearances, with 44 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP over 95.2 innings. He also picked up ten saves. He made 17 appearances for the 1970 Pirates, posting a 4.56 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP in 23.2 innings, before they put him on waivers in June. He was picked up by the St Louis Cardinals, where he gave up 13 runs in 13.1 innings over six games. Hartenstein finished that 1970 season with the Boston Red Sox, going 0-3, 8.05 in 17 appearances. Between the three stops that season, he went 1-4, 6.75 in 56 innings over 40 appearances, with two saves, 35 strikeouts and a 1.70 WHIP. He also pitched three minor league games with Louisville of the Triple-A International League, which was the Red Sox affiliate. Hartenstein then spent the next six years in the minors, spending two years each at Triple-A with the Pacific Coast League affiliates of the Chicago White Sox (Tuscon), San Francisco Giants (Phoenix) and San Diego Padres (Hawaii). He pitched well during that time, with his highest ERA being 3.63 in a season. It took a bit of good timing to get back to the majors for one last time.

Hartenstein went 5-6, 3.60 in 49 games for Tuscon in 1971, with 14 saves and a 1.42 WHIP over 65 innings. He pitched 114 innings over 74 games in 1972, going 7-5, 3.00 for Tuscon, with 16 saves, a 1.32 WHIP and 82 strikeouts. He went 4-3, 3.36 in his first year with Phoenix, posting ten saves, 45 strikeouts and a 1.33 WHIP in 67 innings. He went 3-5, 3.63 in 1974 for Phoenix, with seven saves, 35 strikeouts and a 1.56 WHIP over 72 innings. Hartenstein had a 6-2, 2.96 record for Hawaii in 1975, with five saves, 32 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP over 76 innings. He made 27 appearances that year. His second season with Hawaii saw him go 11-5, 3.19 in 39 games, with 59 strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP in 96 innings. He made 13 appearances for the 1977 Toronto Blue Jays, who were in their first year of existence. He went 0-2, 6.59 in 27.1 innings, with 15 strikeouts and a 1.68 WHIP. The Blue Jays purchased his contract from the Padres in November of 1976. That season ended up being his last in pro ball. Hartenstein pitched 187 Major League games over his 14-year pro career, all as a reliever. He went 17-19, 4.52 in 297 innings, with 24 saves and an 89:135 BB/SO ratio, with 21 of those walks being intentional.

Jack Cronin, pitcher for the 1898 Pirates. He began his pro career at 21 years old in 1895 with Hartford of the Connecticut State League. He was in the majors by the end of the year, pitching for the Brooklyn Grooms. His minor league records are brief, and they show two complete game wins in two starts, with a 3.00 ERA. He got hit hard in two relief appearances with Brooklyn, allowing ten hits and eight runs in five innings. Cronin then spent the next three years in the minors, before getting his second chance at the big leagues with the 1898 Pirates. It’s no surprise that it took some time to get back because he had a rough 1896 season. He pitched 126 innings in 1896, while seeing time with two teams. Most of his results that year came with Pottsville of the Class-B Pennsylvania State League, where he went 2-6, 6.46 in 78 innings, with a 2.24 WHIP, 47 walks and 19 strikeouts. He spent the rest of the year with New York of the Class-A Atlantic League, but there appears to be a major error in his online stats. They say he allowed over 20 runs per game, but only six runs total were earned in 48 innings, so those aren’t reliable. Cronin pitched for Fall River of the Class-B New England League in 1897, where he’s credited with a 9-8, 1.05 record in 154.2 innings, with 79 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP. He also spent some time with Bangor of the Maine State League that year, though no stats are available. He went 8-9 in 171 innings for Fall River in 1898, with 67 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP. His ERA isn’t available for that year, but he allowed 5.05 runs per nine innings, which was slightly higher than the previous season (4.31).

There was word that the owner of the New York Giants was seeing Cronin play after a recommendation in mid-July, but apparently news didn’t travel fast because Cronin and his teammate Hi Ladd had already signed with the Pirates back on July 6th. Ladd played for the Pirates on July 12th, which ended up being his only game with the team. Cronin had to wait a little while to get his first shot. His first appearance for the Pirates came on September 20th, and it was in Brooklyn against his former team. He pitched shutout ball, as the Pirates won 15-0 that day. He allowed five singles, three walks and he struck out five batters. The local Brooklyn paper said that he showed fair control and plenty of speed (aka a good fastball), while another paper noted how effective his curveballs were that day. Part of the reason Cronin was able to start for the Pirates is because one of the regular starters, Billy Rhines, had been suspended for leaving the team. Cronin ended up going 2-2, 3.54 in four starts for the 1898 Pirates over the final three weeks of the season. He had a 1.54 ERA and nine strikeouts in 28 innings.

Cronin went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 1899, but he opened the season in the minors after getting sold to the Detroit Tigers of the Class-A Western League (highest level of the minors at the time) on March 16th. The Cincinnati Reds gave him a late season trial before returning him to Detroit, where he spent the entire 1900 season in the newly-formed Class-A American League. He went 2-2, 5.49 in 41 innings over five starts with the Reds, posting a 1.76 WHIP and just nine strikeouts in 41 innings. His Detroit stats from that season are unavailable. He had a 19-22 record, 121 strikeouts and a 1.15 WHIP over 372 innings for the 1900 Tigers. His ERA from that season isn’t available, but we know he allowed 4.57 runs per nine innings. When the American League became a Major League in 1901, it made Detroit a big league team, Cronin remained with the Tigers, where he went 13-16, 3.89 in 219.2 innings, with 62 strikeouts, a 1.38 WHIP and 21 complete games in 28 starts. He went 8-11, 3.09 over 207 innings in 1902 while splitting the season between the Tigers, Baltimore Orioles (current day New York Yankees) and the New York Giants. He had a total of 77 strikeouts, to go along with a 1.19 WHIP.

Cronin spent the entire 1903 season with the Giants, going 6-4, 3.81 in 115.2 innings over 11 starts and nine relief appearances. He had 50 strikeouts and a 1.44 WHIP. He pitched for the Brooklyn Superbas (Dodgers) in 1904. He saw the most work of his big league career that year, while pitching for a team that finished 56-97. He went 12-23, 2.70 in 307 innings, during what turned out to be his final season in the majors. He set a career high with 110 strikeouts, while posting a 1.18 WHIP. Cronin was out of the majors, but far from done at that point. He finished his career in the minors in 1912.  He won 29 games while playing for Providence of the Class-A Eastern League in 1905, where he remained until 1910. His ERA isn’t available for any of his final minor league season, but we do have his runs per nine innings. He went 29-12 over 42 games in 1905, with 2.82 runs and a 1.00 WHIP in 338 innings. He went 16-19 in 1906, with 5.08 runs and a 1.51 WHIP over 241 innings. Cronin had a 16-15 record during the 1907 season, finishing with 3.61 runs and a 1.08 WHIP in 257 innings. He improved to 18-10 in 1908, with a 3.13 runs, 111 strikeouts and an 0.99 WHIP in 247 innings. He stepped it up even more in 1909, going 16-8 over 260 innings, with an 0.90 WHIP and 2.73 runs. His final season in the Eastern League in 1910 saw him split the year between Providence and Buffalo, though he won just four games total in 18 appearances, throwing a total of 117 innings. He doesn’t have any 1911 stats, but he played briefly for Reading of the United State League in 1912 at 38 years old. His big league career saw him go 43-58, 3.40 in 923.1 innings. He won a total of 185 games in pro ball, though his 1899 and 1912 stats are completely missing, and part of his 1897 season as well, so it could be higher.

The Debut

Sam Leever began a successful 13-year career in the majors during an 11-7 Pittsburgh loss to the Washington Senators on May 26, 1898. He was the third pitcher of the day for the Pirates, coming in during the second inning with his team down 5-2. He finished off the game, allowing six more runs, four of them coming in the seventh inning with Pittsburgh down 7-6 at the time. The local newspaper at the time praised his speed and control, saying “if he listened to instructions he should become a winner”. Leever went on to win 194 big league games, all for the Pirates. In a post-game interview, he promised to become a better hitter. The loss was a tough one for the Pirates that day. Washington was a last place team, coming into the game with a 6-22 record. The Senators manager was Tom Brown, a player for the Pirates/Alleghenys from 1885-1887. He lasted just nine more games at the helm before being replaced. The third baseman for Washington that day was Albert “Butts” Wagner, older brother of Honus Wagner, whose nickname has no apparent origin (I’ve searched, a lot).

The Great Game

On this date in 1959, Harvey Haddix pitched one of the most famous losses ever, going down 1-0 to the Milwaukee Braves in 13 innings. He retired the first 36 batters he faced that day, before the first batter in the 13th reached on an error. That was followed by an out, an intentional walk and an odd double. Joe Adcock homered, then passed Hank Aaron on the bases. Instead of a 3-0 loss, it was a 1-0 game and Haddix got credit for an extra out in his pitching line. Haddix struck out eight batters. One of the things that gets lost in this game is the work of the opposing pitcher. Lew Burdette threw a 13-inning shutout that day. He scatted plenty of hits, but didn’t hurt himself with any walks. In fact, the intentional walk from Haddix was the only walk of the game.

Here’s the boxscore