This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 1st, Hal Smith The Third

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including a first baseman for the 1925 World Series champs.

Hal Smith, catcher for the 1965 Pirates. When he played for the Pirates in 1965, it was the first time he played pro ball since 1961 with the St Louis Cardinals. After signing with the Cardinals in 1949 as an 18-year-old amateur free agent, it took Smith seven years to make his Major League debut. His career in pro ball didn’t get off to a great start. In the low levels of the minors in 1949-50, he put up identical .224 averages each season. He was playing for Albany of the Class-D Florida-Georgia League in 1949, where he had 50 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 31 RBIs and a .576 OPS in 99 games. The 1950 season was spent with Hamilton of the Class-D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, where he had 13 extra-base hits (all doubles), to go along with his .224 average in 79 games (limited stats are available from that season). He also had a brief stop of two games with Lynchburg of the Class-B Piedmont League. That was followed by missing the 1951 season while serving in the military. He batted .238 over 31 games when he returned in 1952, with one double and one homer. He split his time that year between Omaha of the Class-A Western League (20 games) and Allentown of the Class-B Interstate League. He had a .646 OPS during his time with Omaha. Smith spent the entire 1953 season playing for Omaha, where he hit .215 in 107 games, with 33 runs, 12 extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and a .543 OPS. He moved up a level to the Double-A Texas League in 1954, where hit .259 in 79 games for Houston, with 27 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 39 RBIs and a .650 OPS. It was an improvement over all of his previous seasons, but the best was yet to come.

Smith batted .299 for Houston in 1955, finishing with 58 runs, 22 doubles, seven triples, eight homers, 67 RBIs and a .746 OPS in 139 games. Those were his career highs for all eight statistical categories in the minors. He then spent the next six seasons in the majors with St Louis (1956-61), where he was a two-time All-Star. Smith batted .282 over 75 games as a rookie in 1956, with 27 runs, 17 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs. His .727 OPS that year was the best of his career. That was followed by his first All-Star season in 1957, when he batted .279 in 100 games, with 25 runs, 17 extra-base hits, 37 RBIs and a .665 OPS. Smith saw his offense slide in 1958, when he hit .227 in 77 games, with 13 runs, six extra-base hits, 24 RBIs and a .541 OPS. He rebounded nicely in 1959, which led to his second All-Star appearance. They played two All-Star games that year, so technically he made three All-Star games, but the same players were involved in both games. Smith batted .270 that season, while setting career highs with 35 runs, 13 homers and 50 RBIs. He had 15 doubles and a .698 OPS. He played 142 games that year, including 128 starts at catcher. The next season saw him slide once again down to a .228 average in 127 games (108 starts behind the plate). He finished with just two homers, though he set a career high with 16 doubles. He had 20 runs, 28 RBIs and a .585 OPS. He threw out more runners than any other catcher in the National League during both the 1959 and 1960 seasons. He also had the highest caught stealing percentage (51.5%) during the 1960 season.

Smith hit .248 in 1961, with six runs, five extra-base hits, ten RBIs and a .605 OPS in 45 games. He retired as a player, then became a coach for the Cardinals. He then worked two years in their minor league system, before joining the Pirates as a coach in 1965. When injuries behind the plate struck Pittsburgh, Smith was put on the active roster. He started a game on July 1st, going 0-for-3 at the plate. He then came in as a defensive replacement in three other games over the next week without any at-bats, before moving back to full-time coaching. He was with the Pirates organization through the 1967 season. He was playing for the team during that 1967 Spring Training, with word that he might be activated as a player if the other catchers weren’t up to the task. He was never activated though, and then he moved on to a coaching job with the Cincinnati Reds in 1968. He finished his career as a .258 hitter in 570 games, with 126 runs, 63 doubles, 23 homers and 172 RBIs. There have been three Hal Smiths in MLB history, and all three played for the Pirates. One was a catcher for the 1960 World Series champs. The other spent his entire four-year career as a pitcher with the 1932-35 Pirates.

Lou Tost, pitcher for the Pirates on April 24, 1947. He first played minor league ball in 1934, but didn’t make his Major League debut until eight years later for the Boston Braves. His pro career got a late start, and it did not begin with a bang. At 23 years old, he pitched one game for Sacramento of the Double-A Pacific Coast League (highest level of the minors at the time) and gave up four runs in his only inning. The next year he played just ten games for Mission of the Pacific Coast League (no other stats available). He finally saw regular action in 1936, though he dropped down to Class-C ball to do it, which was three levels lower than the Pacific Coast League. Tost went 15-14, 4.45 in 261 innings for Muskogee of the Western Association that season. He had 217 strikeouts and a 1.65 WHIP. He moved back up to the Pacific Coast League in 1937, where he spent the season with Mission. That was followed by four seasons with the Hollywood Stars. He went 9-8, 3.45 over 204 innings in 1937, with 102 strikeouts and a 1.48 WHIP. He went 11-16, 3.48 for 220 innings for Hollywood in 1938, with 12 complete games, three shutouts, a 1.36 WHIP and 103 strikeouts. He saw a drop in his results and his workload over the next two seasons. Tost pitched 121 innings in 1939, making 16 starts and 17 relief appearances. He compiled a 5-10, 4.98 record and a 1.50 WHIP. He then pitched mostly in relief during the 1940 season, going 4-6, 4.07 in 135 innings over eight starts and 38 relief outings, while posting a 1.41 WHIP. Just when it seemed as if he was going backwards in his journey to make the majors, the 1941 season turned things around.

Tost went 13-10, 3.85 in 243 innings over 47 games for Hollywood at age 30 in 1941. He made 26 starts and tossed 13 complete games, finishing with 112 strikeouts and a 1.42 WHIP. He was traded to the Boston Braves in late September of 1941, then saw plenty of action during his rookie season. He went 10-10, 3.53 in 147.2 innings for the 1942 Braves, making 22 starts and 13 relief appearances. He had a 1.34 WHIP and a 52:43 BB/SO ratio. He pitched just three games for the Braves in 1943 before the military came calling. He allowed five runs in 6.2 innings over one start and two relief appearances that year. Tost missed most of 1943, and all of the 1944-45 seasons in the service, then returned to the minors during the 1946 season. While playing for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League during that first year back, he put up a 16-13, 2.70 record, with 158 strikeouts and a 1.13 WHIP in 240 innings. He was in Spring Training camp with the Braves in 1947, until the Pirates purchased his contract in late March for $10,000. It came as a surprise to the people in Boston, who thought they were giving up a good pitcher for nothing more than cash. His Pirates career didn’t turn out so well though. On April 24th, he came in to pitch the 8th inning against the Chicago Cubs, with the Pirates down 5-4 at the time. Tost faced six batters, allowing one run on three hits in his only inning of work. He was optioned to Indianapolis of the Triple-A American Association just three days after that game, where he finished out the year by going 11-12, 4.35 in 178 innings, with 98 strikeouts and a 1.47 WHIP. On October 9, 1947, the Pirates released him outright to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League as part of the payment for catcher Ed FitzGerald.

Tost played another five seasons in the minors before retiring in 1952, ending a 16-year pro career. He pitched the 1948-50 seasons in the Pacific Coast League, but for his final two seasons he dropped down in competition, pitching Class-B ball in 1951 and Class-C ball in 1952. He split the 1948 season between Sacramento and Oakland, compiling a 12-15 record and 107 strikeouts in 226 innings. He remained in Oakland for 1949-50, going 14-7, 4.01 over 157 innings in 1949, with 78 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP. That was followed by a 6-5, 4.98 record over 94 innings in 1950, with 47 strikeouts and a 1.50 WHIP. Tost had a 10-6, 2.77 record, 70 strikeouts and a 1.42 WHIP over 117 innings with Wenatchee of the Western International League in 1951. The only stat available from his final season with San Jose of the California League is 17 games pitched. He won a total of 124 games in pro ball and pitched 2,126.1 innings total (those don’t include the missing 1935 and 1952 stats), but his big league time was limited to a 10-11, 3.65 record in 155.1 innings over 23 starts and 16 relief appearances. His only career shutout was a game shortened to six innings due to rain.

Al Niehaus, first baseman for the 1925 Pirates. He played his first three years of pro ball in the Class-C Florida State League, four steps from the majors. Niehaus debuted with Jacksonville in 1921 at 22 years old. He hit .258 that first year, with 20 extra-base hits in 109 games. He had a much better year in 1922, when he batted .332 for Jacksonville in 112 games, while finishing with 27 extra-base hits. His slugging percentage (.424) was nearly 100 points higher than the previous season. That was following by a .364 average and 43 extra-base hits in 115 games for Bradenton during the 1923 season. He also spent brief time that year with Atlanta of the Class-A Southern Association, though his listed stats online from that team appear to be wrong, likely due to that team having a pitcher with the same last name. Niehaus has a breakout season in the minors in 1924, hitting .366 over 154 games for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class-A Southern League. He had 32 doubles, ten triples and 11 homers that year. He was signed by the Chicago Cubs after that breakout season in 1924, but he never got a chance to play for them. Pittsburgh acquired him from the Cubs on October 27, 1924, in a six-player deal (three going each way) that included Wilbur Cooper, Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, Vic Aldridge, Charlie Grimm and George Grantham, who were all much bigger name players than Niehaus. He became the Pirates everyday first baseman just over a week into the 1925 season, then lost the job after three weeks when his batting average fell to .205 on May 12th.

Pittsburgh signed star veteran first baseman Stuffy McInnis on May 29th, signaling the end with the Pirates for Niehaus. The Pirates traded him to the Cincinnati Reds on May 30, 1925, in exchange for pitcher Tom Sheehan. Niehaus finished up with a .219/.242/.344 slash line in 17 games for the Pirates. He managed to collect eight doubles in his brief time, to go along with seven runs and seven RBIs. He hit .299/.360/.395 in 51 games for the Reds to finish out the year, collecting 16 runs, 12 extra-base hits and 14 RBIs. He then returned to the minors to play his last four years of pro ball before retiring. He was back with Atlanta for the entire 1926 season, hitting .276 in 129 games, with 29 doubles, seven triples and six homers. He then moved around the south during his final three years, seeing time with six different teams. He did well with Chattanooga in 1927, hitting .317 in 85 games, with 28 extra-base hits. He also played 12 games that year with Asheville of the Class-B South Atlantic League, where he had a .256 average and two doubles. The 1928 season was spent back in the Southern League with Mobile, where he batted .312 in 156 games, with 28 doubles, eight triples and five homers. Despite that strong season, he bounced between three teams in 1929, seeing time with Memphis in the Southern League and Spartanburg and Columbia in the South Atlantic League. He’s credited with hitting .279 over 94 games that year, collecting 13 doubles and six triples. Barely two years after his career ended, he passed away from pneumonia at 32 years old.

Harry Gardner, pitcher for the 1911-12 Pirates. His pro career began at 21 years old in the Class-A Pacific Coast League (highest level at the time), with a brief trial for Oakland during the 1908 season. He didn’t pitch much in his second season either, which was spent with Boise/Bozeman team in the Class-D Inter-Mountain League. That move means he went from the highest level of the minors to the lowest in one year. His limited stats show a 1-1 record over three games, with 22 innings pitched. Gardner had a big year in 1910 for Vancouver of the Class-B Northwestern League, going 22-13, 2.38 in 288 innings, with a 1.03 WHIP. There was word on June 15th of that season that Barney Dreyfuss was willing to pay the $2,500 price tag to acquire Gardner and let him finish the season in Vancouver, but the owner of the team believed that he could be worth more if he finished the season strong. As it turned out, just one week later it was reported that Pirates scout Tim O’Rourke received a telegram from Dreyfuss saying that a deal was reached. Vancouver would get $1,500 right away, and then another $1,000 at the end of the year, while Gardner would remain with the team all season. Gardner made his debut with the Pirates on April 17, 1911, pitching in relief of Babe Adams, who gave up six runs in the first four innings. Gardner was said to look nervous and hesitant. At one point his slow delivery allowed a runner to steal home, but he settled down and allowed just that one run over his four innings of work. The team was impressed with how hard he threw, but he wasn’t ready for a full-time Major League job. He would end up being used 13 times during that season by the Pirates, three times as a starter, going 1-1, 4.50 in 42 innings, with a 1.40 WHIP, 20 walks and 24 strikeouts.

Gardner was a bullpen pitcher for the 1912 Pirates, though he didn’t last long. He had one unimpressive outing in which he came in with the Pirates up 7-5 in the 7th inning and pitched one inning. Gardner allowed three inherited runners to score, as well as three runs of his own. His final outing with the team was on April 14th, but he remained with the Pirates until June 4th, when he was sent to St Paul of the Double-A American Association on an option (Double-A was a new level in 1912). On August 13th, Gardner was one of five players traded to St Paul for infielder Art Butler. Including that 1912 season, Gardner pitched another 13 years in the minors without ever making it back to the big leagues. He was a 206-game winner in the minors, eight times amassing 17 or more victories in a season. He went 12-10 in 1912 with St Paul, while pitching 181 innings. He had 81 strikeouts and a 1.59 WHIP.  He had an 11-11 record, 98 strikeouts and a 1.32 WHIP in 1913, while pitching 245.1 innings over 44 appearances. The 1914 season was a rough one, as he finished 6-25, 4.21 in 265.1 innings for St Paul, with a 1.42 WHIP and 116 strikeouts. The team had five pitchers lose at least 16 games each that season. Some of his 1915 stats are missing, but he’s credited with a 13-14 record in 245.2 innings over 48 appearances, splitting the season between St Paul and Kansas City of the American Association.

Gardner went 17-14, 3.21 in 272 innings for Lincoln of the Class-A Western League in 1916. He also saw brief time with Kansas City and Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League, amounting to 32.1 innings. Some stats are missing from 1917, but he pitched for three teams again. He’s credit with a 19-14 record and 308.1 innings pitched. Most of the year was spent in the Northwestern League, split between Great Falls and Tacoma. He also went 7-6, 2.10 in 124.1 innings for Portland of the Pacific Coast League that year. His 1918 stats with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League are missing, but he was there until July, when he then started playing for Sloan of the Shipyard League. That was a popular move during the war. Gardner had a 10-12 record in 168 innings in 1919, split between Sacramento and Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. Seattle turned out to be his home for the next four seasons, and he pitched well there.  He averaged 290 innings pitched per season during the 1920-23 seasons. He went 20-15, 2.52 in 279 innings in 1920, finishing with a 1.14 WHIP. He had an 18-12, 2.94 record and a 1.32 WHIP over 291 innings in 1921. That was followed up by a 17-15, 3.26 record and a 1.30 WHIP over 287 innings in 1922. He finished up his Seattle time with a 22-12, 3.10 record in 305 innings, posting a 1.22 WHIP during that 1923 season. That was a strong season, but his career was nearly over at that point. Gardner had a 5-6, 5.36 record and a 1.70 WHIP over 99 innings in 1924, while playing back in Portland. That ended up being his final season at 37 years old.

As a side note for Gardner, his career stats are listed wrong everywhere you look. During his one outing in 1912, he’s credited with six unearned runs while recording just one out. My own research found that he recorded three outs and allowed three runs, while the other three runs charged to him were actually inherited runners. It’s an error I pointed out many years ago that has never been fixed.

Bill Eagan, second baseman for the 1898 Pirates. He spent most of his 13-year pro career in the minors, getting three different shots at the majors with three different teams over a seven-year period. He debuted at 18 years old in 1887 with Scranton of the International Association (no stats available). He has no pro records from 1888. He moved to Harrisburg of the Middle States League in 1889, then remained in town playing for Harrisburg in two different leagues (Atlantic Association and Eastern Interstate League) during the 1890 season. He had a .298 average, 37 runs and 16 extra-base hits in 47 games for the Atlantic Association team in 1890, which are the only stats available from his first three seasons. He played for the St Louis Browns of the American Association in 1891. As their everyday second baseman, he played well defensively, but wasn’t much of a hitter. He batted .219 during his rookie season in the majors, with 19 extra-base hits in 82 games. Despite the low average/power stats, he was a decent run producer, with 49 runs, 43 RBIs, 44 walks and .649 OPS. Eagan then played for Albany of the Eastern League during the 1892-93 season, while also seeing six September games for the 1893 Chicago Colts (Cubs). He batted .261 for Albany in 1892, with 62 runs, 21 extra-base hits and 50 steals in 97 games. He was much better in 1893, as offense around baseball started to rise due to new pitching rules that helped the hitters. Eagan hit .333 in 115 games for Albany, with 140 runs scored, 37 extra-base hits and 75 steals. He went 5-for-19 during his time with the Colts at the end of the 1893 season, finishing with three runs, four steals and five walks.

After his brief second big league trial, Eagan returned to the minors for all of the next four years (1894-97), spending the entire time with Syracuse of the Eastern League. The 1894 season was a huge one for offense all around baseball, but his numbers didn’t stand out. He batted .297 in 111 games, with 97 runs, 26 extra-base hits and 30 steals. Offense began to decline slowly in 1895, though he had a solid season, hitting .302 in 113 games, with 92 runs, 16 doubles, two triples and 43 steals. No stats are available for the Eastern League from the 1896 season. He batted .306 in 1897, with 128 runs, 29 doubles, six triples, a homer and 50 stolen bases in 135 games. He was reportedly sold to the Pirates in September of 1897, only to have Brooklyn make a better offer to acquire him. There was a case brought up at the meeting of the owners on November 8th, then Eagan was awarded to the Pirates.

Eagan was the starting second baseman for Pittsburgh early in the 1898 season. He never actually played for the Pirates, as the team’s name was changed to Patriots before the 1898 season started. He would hit .328 over 19 games, with 14 runs scored, five extra-base hits, five RBIs and eight walks. Despite the strong stats, he was replaced by newly acquired Tom O’Brien on June 3rd. Eagan never played in the majors again. Five days after the O’Brien trade occurred, Eagan was sold to Louisville. That team was managed by Fred Clarke, who would go on to have a Hall of Fame career for the Pirates as a player and manager. Clarke denied the deal from the Pirates once he found out Eagan was injured during his last game, so he was sent home instead. He ended up signing with Syracuse of the Eastern League ten days later, and he was back on the field by June 19th. He had a .227 average over 24 games with Syracuse in 1898, collecting 15 runs, three extra-base hits and four steals. He played two more years in the minors before he retired from baseball, spending 1899 with Detroit of the Class-A Western League, and 1900 with Youngstown/Marion of the Class-B Interstate League. There are no stats available from either of those seasons. His final big league stats show a .239 average in 107 games, with 66 runs, 24 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs and 26 steals.

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