I have read quite a few times that the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have any franchise type pitchers in their history. No one like Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, Paul Waner, Arky Vaughan etc, who are among the all-time greats, and they are know as being Pirates first.
The thinking has some truth to it, but it’s mostly based on early Hall of Fame decisions. Jack Chesbro played four seasons for the Pirates. He made the Hall of Fame because of his 1904 season with the New York Highlanders, when he set the modern record for wins in a season. The Highlanders/Yankees are his team. No one will argue that, even though he had some good years in Pittsburgh.
Baseball-Reference has a category called similarity scores, where they find the ten most similar players to another player. For Chesbro, he rates similar to Hall of Fame pitchers Stan Coveleski and Chief Bender. Right in between those two players in the ratings is Babe Adams, who spent all but four innings of his career with the Pirates. His most similar player is Jesse Tannehill, who had his best run with the Pirates. Tannehill’s top five most similar are Adams, Chesbro, Deacon Phillippe, Sam Leever and Ed Morris. Those are four players known for their time with the Pirates and Chesbro.
They are all similar pitchers who could have gone into the Hall of Fame if some early writers pushed their name. Chesbro wasn’t any better overall than any of them. If Babe Adams, or even Wilbur Cooper was elected to the Hall of Fame, then you don’t have that idea that the Pirates are missing that all-time great pitcher. The most similar pitcher to Cooper all-time is Rube Marquard, who has been in the Hall of Fame for 52 years.
The Pirates have had Hall of Fame pitchers spend time with the team, just none have spent the majority of their career in Pittsburgh. Chesbro was there for the best season in franchise history. He helped the 1902 team to a 103-36 record. He doesn’t have many card options with the Pirates, and the ones he does have are extremely expensive. Here’s a look at his 1902 W600 Sporting Life cabinet card.
Here’s the front of the card (the back is blank):
These cards are much bigger than your standard cards now, which is where the term “cabinet card” comes into play. They measure in at 5” by 7-1/2”. They are also thicker than standards cards, as they are photos that are mounted onto the frames. The photos were taken by Carl Horner, who is one of the most famous baseball photographers ever.
These were put out by The Sporting Life between 1902 and 1911. It’s a very large set, with many nearly impossible cards to find. I’ve had a chance to look through the archives of The Sporting Life weekly magazines from this era (and earlier), and the amount of baseball news they had back then is unreal. For some information that you may have read here in our immense catalog of player bios, they were the only source for specifics on certain obscure players.
I mentioned that there is a ten-year window for these cards, but with Chesbro you can narrow this card down to 1902 only. That was his only season on the Pirates during that stretch. You will likely see this labeled as a 1902-11 card anyway, even though he has a second version of this card where they changed the team name. They didn’t include a year on that card like you see above, it just says “Pitcher of the New York (A.L.) Club”
These cards are all expensive. I don’t have any in my collection. I would have bought a Dots Miller one if it existed, but it does not. That lack of an example in my possession is partially due to price, but mostly because I don’t like portrait cards as much as action photos. I like seeing the full uniforms. This card in particular would move down my list even more because you get street clothes. That really loses the feel of a baseball card to me. If you want one, be prepared to pay five-figures. This card sold for $9,860 five years ago, and prices have really jumped since then around vintage cards.