This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: May 30th, Tony Watson and a Trade of Two Key Players to the Chicago Cubs

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, plus two trades of note.

The Trades

On this date in 1912, the Pirates traded long-time third baseman/outfielder Tommy Leach, and pitcher Lefty Leifield to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for pitcher King Cole and outfielder Solly Hofman. Leach was with the Pirates since coming over in the large trade in 1899 with the Louisville Colonels that brought Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke and Rube Waddell to the Pirates. He is among the Pirates top ten all-time in games played, at-bats, runs scored, triples and stolen bases. Leach was hitting .299 at the time of the trade, but at age 34, he was thought to be near the end of his career. Leifield had been a mainstay in the Pirates rotation for the last six years, although in 1912 he was seeing very little time on the mound. At age 27, he was coming off a season in which he went 16-16, 2.63, while pitching a career high 318 innings. Cole had won 38 games between the 1910-11 seasons, while picking up an ERA title in 1910, but he was struggling badly in 1912. The Pirates were hoping the 26 year old righty could regain his form. Hofman began his career with the 1903 Pirates as a 20-year-old. He then spent the next ten years with the Cubs. He hit .271 in 884 games, with 441 runs scored and 158 stolen bases. He was hitting .272 in 36 games  at the time of the deal, with 28 runs, 11 doubles and 20 RBIs.

This trade was a clear win for the Cubs. Hofman had leg problems after joining the Pirates. His playing time was sporadic, getting into just 17 games over the rest of the season. He was sent to the minors early in the 1913 season, then jumped to the Federal League in 1914. Cole was also seldom used, pitching just 49 innings for the Pirates, while posting a 6.43 ERA. He was sent to the minors in 1913, then spent the next two seasons with the New York Yankees, before he unfortunately passed away in 1916 from tuberculosis. Leifield and Leach were both holdouts during Spring Training, which was said to contribute to their departure. Leifield pitched well when he played, but wasn’t used often. He went 7-2, 2.42 in 70.2 innings for the 1912 Cubs. He pitched just six games in 1913 before spending five seasons in the minors. He eventually returned to the majors for three more seasons (1918-20). Leach was a good role player for the Cubs in 1912, putting up a .702 OPS in 82 games. He then had a strong 1913 season, leading the National League in runs scored with 99, while finishing with a career best .812 OPS. He then hit .263 over 153 games in 1914, with 80 runs, 40 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs and 79 walks, while leading the National League in at-bats. He hit just .224/.338/.275 over 107 games in 1915, then spent two years in the minors before returning to the Pirates in 1918 for one last season. The Cubs got 9.9 WAR from their players, while the Pirates got -1.2 WAR.

On this date in 1925, the Pirates traded first baseman Al Niehaus to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for pitcher Tom Sheehan. Niehaus was a minor league star, who was getting his first chance at the majors. He batted over .330 in three straight seasons prior to joining the Pirates for the 1925 season. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs, but before he played a game for them, he came to the Pirates on October 27, 1924 in a six-player deal. He played 17 games for Pittsburgh before the trade, hitting .219/.242/.344 over 68 plate appearances, with seven runs, eight doubles and seven RBIs. Pittsburgh was able to trade him because they signed veteran first baseman Stuffy McInnis one day earlier. Sheehan was in his fifth season in the majors, although they were spread out over an 11-year time-frame. He was 9-10, 3.24 for the Reds in 1924, pitching 166.2 innings over 39 appearances (14 starts). He was struggling bad in 1925, allowing 31 runs in 29 innings.

After the trade, Niehaus hit .299/.360/.395 in 51 games for the Reds. He returned to the minors, where he played another four years before retiring. Shortly after his career ended, he contracted pnuemonia and passed away just two days later at 32 years old. Sheehan pitched 23 games for the Pirates, all in relief. He had a 2.67 ERA in 57.1 innings. He was with the team the first two months of 1926, before he was returned to the minors in June. He played another nine seasons before retiring as a player, never making it back to the majors again. He wound up with 259 minor league wins, with another 17 victories during his time in the majors. The Pirates also had a third baseman during the 1906-07 seasons named Tom Sheehan, who was of no relation to the latter player.

The Players

Luis Escobar, pitcher for the 2019 Pirates. He was signed at 17 years old out of Colombia in 2013. He was originally a third baseman, but the Pirates signed him as a pitcher after he showed much better stuff on the mound. Escobar started pro ball in the Dominican Summer League in 2014. He had a 4.75 ERA in 55 innings over 13 starts, but that was a bit deceiving. He had an early start that saw him give up ten earned runs in 1.2 innings. His final start was a rough one for a different reason. He allowed five runs in five inning, and then he was diagnosed with appendicitis later that same day. He moved up to the Gulf Coast League in 2015, where he had a 3.54 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 40.2 innings over 11 starts, which earned him a late promotion to the short-season New York-Penn League. He made two more starts for Morgantown, in which allowed five runs in 6.1 innings. He remained with Morgantown in 2016, going 6-5, 2.93 over 12 starts and three relief outings, with 61 strikeouts and a 1.15 WHIP in 67.2 innings. Escobar was in Low-A the next season, where he set a team record with 168 strikeouts for the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League. He went 10-7, 3.83 in 131.2 innings over 25 starts and one relief outing that season, finishing with a 1.19 WHIP.

Escobar split the 2018 season between Bradenton of the High-A Florida State League and Altoona of the Double-A Eastern League. He had a 7-6, 3.98 record, a 1.23 WHIP and 85 strikeouts over 92.2 innings in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He then saw that ERA number go up to 4.54 in 35.2 innings over seven starts for Altoona. Despite pitching nearly the same amount of time (128.1 innings in 2018 compared to 131.2 innings in 2017), he saw his strikeout total drop to 110, down from his career best of 168 strikeouts. He made four winter ball starts that off-season in Venezuela, posting a 4.70 ERA in 15.1 innings. The 2019 season saw Escobar switch to relief work. He began the year back in Bradenton, where he dominated in ten outings with 15 strikeouts and 13.1 scoreless innings. That led to him moving up to Indianapolis of the Triple-A International League, where he had a 2.72 ERA in 36.1 innings over 13 games, which included a handful of starts. The Pirates called him up on July 6th. He pitched four big league games that year, throwing 3.2 innings of shutout ball in his first three relief outings, before giving up five runs over two innings in his final appearance. He was sent to Indianapolis on July 25th, then wasn’t recalled when the rosters expanded. He finished his season with Indianapolis by posting a 4.09 ERA, a 1.56 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 55 innings. The Pirates released Escobar in June of 2020 while teams were still waiting to see if the 2020 season would be played. He pitched winter ball in Colombia over the 2020-21 off-season, then spent the 2021 season in Mexico, where he went 7-2, 2.54 in 67.1 innings. He played winter ball in Mexico and Colombia over the 2021-22 off-season, then went 2-2, 7.25 over six starts in Mexico during the 2022 season. After struggling during the 2022-23 winter in Colombia (7.06 ERA in 21.2 innings), he returned to Mexico for the 2023 season, where he is 2-1, 1.50 in 24 innings over four starts at the time of this writing.

Tony Watson, pitcher for the 2011-17 Pirates The 6’4″ lefty was drafted in the ninth round in 2007 by the Pirates out of the University of Nebraska. It was the third time that he was drafted. He was originally taken in the 23rd round out of high school by the Florida Marlins in 2003. The Baltimore Orioles selected him during the 16th round in 2006. He went 7-2, 2.79 in 13 starts over two levels for the Pirates in 2007, seeing most of that time with State College of the New York-Penn League, before moving up to Hickory of the Low-A South Atlantic League to finish the season. He had 58 strikeouts and a 1.02 WHIP in 67.2 innings. Watson was with Lynchburg of the High-A Carolina League in 2008, where he went 8-12, 3.56 over 28 starts, with 104 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP in 151.2 innings. His 2009 regular season was limited to five games due to an elbow strain. He was with Altoona of the Double-A Eastern League at the time, going 0-3, 8.22 in 15.1 innings. His elbow was fine by the fall, when he made 11 relief appearances in the Arizona Fall League. He posted a 2.13 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. He was moved to a long relief role in 2010 for Altoona, though he still saw a handful of starts. Watson went  6-4, 2.67 in 111.1 innings over 34 games (nine starts), with a career high (minors or majors) 105 strikeouts, to go along with an 0.95 WHIP. He started 2011 with Indianapolis of the Triple-A International League, before moving up to the majors in early June. That was after posting a 2.36 ERA in 34.1 innings, with 35 strikeouts and a 1.02 WHIP. Watson made 43 relief appearances for the Pirates as a rookie, putting up a 3.95 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 41 innings.

Watson made 68 appearances in 2012, finishing with a 5-2, 3.38 record and a 1.13 WHIP. He struck out 53 batters in 53.1 innings. He established himself as a reliable reliever in 2013 by posting a 2.39 ERA and an 0.88 WHIP in 71.2 innings over 67 outings. He had a 3-1 record, while picking up his first two big league saves that season. He was even better the next two seasons, starting with a 10-2, 1.63 record, a 1.02 WHIP and 81 strikeouts in 77.1 innings over 78 games in 2014, when he made his only career All-Star appearance. He led the National League in games pitched that season. Watson had a 4-1, 1.91 record, 62 strikeouts, an 0.96 WHIP and one save in 75.1 innings over 77 contests during the 2015 season. The Pirates made the playoffs three seasons (2013-15) in a row. He pitched five postseason games during that stretch, allowing one run over five innings. After accumulating five saves total during his first five seasons, the Pirates moved Watson to a closer role during the 2016 season. He had 15 saves that year, though his ERA went up to 3.06 in 67.2 innings over 70 appearances. He had 58 strikeouts and a 1.06 WHIP. He was at a 5-3, 3.66 record and ten saves in 46.2 innings in 2017, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31st for two minor league players, including top prospect Oneil Cruz. Despite a solid ERA, Watson had a 1.52 WHIP and a lower strikeout rate than usual at the time. He finished with a 31-16, 2.66 record for the Pirates, with 30 saves, 380 strikeouts and a 1.09 WHIP in 433 innings over 450 appearances.

Watson had a 2.70 ERA for the 2017 Dodgers after the trade, pitching 20 innings over 24 appearances. They used him 11 times during the postseason, which they lost to the Houston Astros in the World Series. Watson was actually the winning pitcher in games four and six of the World Series, his only two postseason pitching decisions. He became a free agent after the season, then signed with the San Francisco Giants. He had a 2.59 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 72 strikeouts in 66 innings over 72 appearances during the 2018 season. He saw his numbers slip a bit in 2019, finishing with a 4.17 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 54 innings over 60 games. After averaging more than a strikeout per inning in 2018, he had just 41 strikeouts in 2019, a drop of 3.0 strikeouts per nine innings. During the shortened 2020 season, he had a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings over 21 outings, with 15 strikeouts and an 0.89 WHIP. He saved two games that year, which were his first saves since leaving the Pirates. Watson pitched for Los Angeles Angels and Giants in 2021. He originally signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent, but he had an opt out on the deal and choose free agency on March 26th, three days before signing with the Angels. He went 3-3, 4.64 in 33 innings over 36 appearances, before being traded to the Giants for three players on July 30th. He went 4-1, 2.96 in 24.1 innings over 26 appearances after the trade. He finished with a 3.92 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 57.1 innings that season. He announced his retirement in April of 2022. Watson finished up with a 47-29, 2.90 record in 648.1 innings over 689 appearances, with 32 saves, 570 strikeouts and a 1.08 WHIP. His career was worth 13.0 WAR, with 9.4 of that mark coming while with the Pirates.

Al Mamaux, pitcher for the 1913-17 Pirates. The Pirates signed him one year out of Duquesne University, where he pitched well at just 18 years old, including a 19-inning game in which he allowed just four hits. He played for a semi-pro team from Wilkinsburg, Pa. in 1912, where it was said that he struck out 10-12 batters every game and threw a no-hitter. Pirates manager Fred Clarke was made aware of Mamaux at the time, and invited him to Spring Training in 1913, after seeing him during pre-game workouts with the Pirates at Forbes Field in the fall of 1912. It was said that at least three other Major League teams were interested in him, but he was loyal to his local team, being a native of Pittsburgh. During that 1913 season, he went 18-16 in 39 games for the Huntington Blue Sox of the Class-D Ohio State League. Mamaux pitched one game for the 1913 Pirates, allowing one run over three innings of relief on September 23rd, just two days after rejoining the club. He made six starts and seven relief appearances for the 1914 Pirates, pitching a total of 63 innings. He went 5-2 with four complete games, two shutouts, a 1.71 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 30 strikeouts. He would establish himself as one of the National League’s best pitchers during the 1915 season. He went 21-8, 2.04 that year over 30 starts and eight relief appearances, with a 1.10 WHIP, 17 complete games and eight shutouts, while throwing 251.2 innings. Those eight shutouts are the highest total in franchise history since the team moved to the National League in 1887. He also struck out 152 batters in 1915, the fourth highest total in the National League that season.

Mamaux won 21 games again during the 1916 season, finishing 21-15, 2.53 that year in 37 starts and eight relief appearances. He tossed a career best 26 complete games, though he managed to pick up just one shutout. He finished third in the National League with 163 strikeouts, and his 310 innings pitched were the fourth highest total in the league. Both totals were his career highs. It’s interesting to note that his 1.29 WHIP that year came at the low point in the deadball era, when the league had a 1.17 combined WHIP. In what should have just been the start of a great career, Mamaux let conditioning and insubordination get in the way of his success. He was suspended during part of the 1917 season, and then missed almost all of the 1918 season. He pitched just 18 games between 1917-18, though not all were with the Pirates. He went 2-11, 5.25 in 85.2 innings with the 1917 Pirates, a team that finished the season 51-103. Pittsburgh included him in a five-player deal with the Brooklyn Robins on January 9, 1918. That trade also included two future Hall of Famers, Casey Stengel and Burleigh Grimes. Mamaux pitched another seven seasons in the majors after the trade, though he was limited to eight innings in his first year with Brooklyn. On May 1st of that year, he was drafted into the Army during WWI.

Mamaux returned to Brooklyn in 1919 to go 10-12, 2.66 in 199.1 innings over 22 starts and eight relief appearances, finishing with 80 strikeouts and a 1.20 WHIP. He had 16 complete games and two shutouts. He had a similar season in 1920, though his record improved as Brooklyn won the National League pennant. He went 12-8, 2.69 in 190.2 innings over 17 starts and 24 relief appearances, posting 101 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP. He threw nine complete games, two shutouts and he recorded three saves (not an official stat at the time). He allowed two runs over four innings in three appearances during the 1920 World Series. His 1921 season was cut short in mid-June due to illness. At the time, he had a 3-3, 3.14 record and a 1.14 WHIP in 43 innings over one start and 11 relief appearances. He returned as a relief pitcher in 1922, going 1-4, 3.70 in 87.2 innings over 37 games (seven starts), with 35 strikeouts and a 1.48 WHIP. Mamaux struggled during the early part of 1923, then was released outright on May 15th, after putting up an 8.31 ERA in 13 innings. He signed with Reading of the Double-A International League (highest level of the minors at the time), where he went 17-10, 3.40 in 217 innings to finish out the 1923 season. He was 11-6, 3.05 in 130 innings with Reading in 1924, before being purchased by the New York Yankees on July 12th. He went 1-1, 5.68 in 38 innings to finish out the season, finishing with a 1.68 WHIP and a 20:12 BB/SO ratio.

Mamaux’s Major League career ended in 1924, but his playing days were far from over. He lasted in the minors until 1935, five of those years as a player/manager, before finishing his career as a manager in 1936. He was actually suspended for the entire 1925 season when he refused to report to Minneapolis of the American Association, after being sold there by the Yankees. He returned to baseball in 1926, playing the next eight seasons with Newark of the International League. He was a strong pitcher there for the first five years, compiling an 89-47 record, while averaging almost 240 innings per season. Mamaux went 19-7, 2.22 in 1926, with a 1.12 WHIP over 259 innings. He had a 25-10, 2.60 record in 1927, with a 1.16 WHIP over 318 innings. He had a 15-8, 3.33 record and a 1.25 WHIP over 162 innings in 1928. That was followed by a 20-13 record in 1929, when he had a 3.71 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over 272 innings. He had a rough 1930 season, though offense was up all around baseball due to new baseballs being used. Mamaux went 10-9, 4.55 in 184 innings, with a 1.57 WHIP. His work decreased over the next three seasons. He went 8-1, 2.20 over 94 innings in 1931, when two hand injuries and the flu kept him out of action throughout much of the season. He went 5-1, 2.56 in 84 innings during the 1932 season, then finished his Newark time with a 2-0, 5.12 record over 51 innings and 18 appearances in 1933. He finished up his pro career by posting a 3.18 ERA in 17 innings for Albany of the International League during the 1935 season. He won 150 minor league games, to go along with his 76 big league wins. After his pro career was over, he took up college coaching. With the Pirates, he was 49-36, 2.61 in 713.1 innings. That ERA is the seventh best in team history for all qualified pitchers. He finished his big league career with a 76-67, 2.90 record in 1,293 innings, with 625 strikeouts and a 1.29 WHIP. He had 137 starts, 117 relief appearances, 78 complete games, 15 shutouts and nine saves.

Mike Donlin, outfielder for the 1912 Pirates. He began his pro career playing in the Pacific Coast League for three different teams in California during the 1898 season, seeing time with Santa Cruz, Fresno and San Jose. He remained out in California for the first half of the 1899 season, playing for Santa Cruz of the Class-E California League. No stats are available from either of those two season, but he did enough to earn a big league shot. He began his Major League career in July of 1899 at 21 years old, hitting .323 as a rookie in 66 games for the St Louis Perfectos (Cardinals). He had 49 runs scored, 21 extra-base hits, 20 steals and an .836 OPS in his limited time that year. He raised his average to .326 over 78 games in 1900, while posting an .868 OPS. Donlin had 40 runs, 24 extra-base hits and 48 RBIs that year. He then jumped to the American League in 1901, where he had a .340 average, to go along with 107 runs, 23 doubles, 13 triples, five homers, 67 RBIs, 33 steals, 53 walks and an .883 OPS in 121 games for the Baltimore Orioles (the Yankees franchise before moving to New York). He finished fourth in the league in OPS, second in average, third in OBP and seventh in runs scored.

Donlin went to prison in 1902 after causing problems during a drinking binge. That caused him to miss most of the season. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds when he came back in late August. He hit .287 in 34 games to finish out the year, with 30 runs scored, nine extra-base hits, nine RBIs, nine steals and a .711 OPS. He hit .351 in 1903, with 110 runs, 25 doubles, 18 triples, seven homers, 67 RBIs, 56 walks and 26 steals. He finished third in batting, fifth in OBP, third in slugging, second in OPS (.936), second in runs, fourth in total bases, and second in triples and homers. Donlin had more off-season troubles during the winter of 1903-04, which then spilled into the regular season. He was hitting .356/.406/.475 over 60 games through the middle of the 1904 season, before being suspended for 30 days by the Reds. They ended up trading him to the New York Giants in a three-team deal that involved the Pirates. He hit .280/.340/.424 in 42 games to finish out 1904 with the Giants, ending up with a season OPS of .839, which was the third best in the National League. Between both stops that year, he had 59 runs, 18 doubles, ten triples, 52 RBIs and 22 steals. He set career highs during the 1905 season in batting average (.356), runs scored (124) and RBIs (80), all while playing 150 games. He led the league in runs scored that season, and finished third in average, fifth in OBP, third in slugging, third in OPS, second in hits and total bases and fourth in doubles and triples. He finished the year with 31 doubles, 16 triples, seven homers and 33 steals. A broken ankle limited him to just 37 games in 1906. He batted .314/.371/.397 that year over 137 plate appearances, then sat out the entire 1907 season demanding more money.

Donlin had married a famous actress at that time, and he himself took up vaudeville acting during his time away from the sport. He returned to baseball for 1908, when he hit .334 in 155 games for the Giants, with 71 runs, 26 doubles, 13 triples, six homers, 106 RBIs, 30 steals and an .816 OPS. Then he sat out the next two years, after deciding that he made much more money acting, so he wouldn’t play baseball anymore. The acting jobs had begun to slow down by 1911, so he changed his tune, returning to the Giants later that year. After 12 games with New York, Donlin was sold to the Boston Rustlers (Braves) in August of 1911. He finished the season hitting .316/.375/.432 in 68 games. The Pirates acquired him on February 17, 1912 in exchange for outfielder Vin Campbell, who was very similar to Donlin in that he went where the money was at and was not loyal to baseball. Campbell was also a strong hitter, who wasted away some of his best baseball years. Donlin didn’t have the easiest season with the Pirates. He missed time in June of 1912 to be with his ill wife, thenhe injured his foot while batting almost immediately after returning. He hit .316 that year in 77 games, with 27 runs, 18 extra-base hits, 35 RBIs and an .812 OPS, spending most of his time in right field. His OPS was the third best on the team that season.

The Pirates put Donlin on waivers in December of 1912, where he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. He sat out the 1913 season, before returning to play 36 games for Jersey City of the International League at the end of the year. He then played 35 games for the Giants in 1914 before finally calling it quits as a player. He batted just .161/.235/.355 in his final trial, though he had a total of 34 plate appearances, so he was being used sparingly. Donlin was a player-manager with Memphis of the Class-A Southern Association for part of the 1917 season, and he played one minor league game in 1921 for Kalamazoo of the Class-B Central League. He appeared in films up until his passing in 1933. He was a .333 hitter in 1,049 big league games, which shows that his decision not to play so much in his prime likely cost him a spot in the Hall of Fame. He had just 28.8 WAR career, though you have to imagine that the lost time took away some skills, so he would have been better in the seasons that he did play, in addition to the marks he would have put up in his prime. Donlin finished with 669 runs scored, 176 doubles, 97 triples, 51 homers, 543 RBIs, 213 steals and an .854 OPS. For comparison, Honus Wagner had an .858 OPS while playing his career during the same deadball era time, and Wagner led the league in OPS eight times.