Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade of note.
On this date in 1949, the Pirates sent pitcher Kirby Higbe to the New York Giants for infielder Bobby Rhawn and pitcher Ray Poat. Higbe came to the Pirates in 1947 from the Brooklyn Dodgers, owner at the time of a 97-72 career record. He was 34 years old at the time of this Pirates/Giants deal, being used in a limited role for Pittsburgh. He had a 0-2, 13.50 record and a 2.41 WHIP over 15.1 innings in six relief appearances and one start. Poat was 31 years old at time, playing in his sixth season in the majors. He didn’t have the track record of Higbe, winning 22 games in his career, while making 45 starts and 60 relief appearances. Poat pitched just two games for the 1949 Giants, allowing six runs in 2.1 innings. Rhawn was 30 years old, with 63 games of Major League experience, which were spread out over three seasons with the Giants. He played three infielder positions, seeing work everywhere but first base. He was batting .172/.333/.172 over 14 games in 1949 before the deal.
Rhawn started two games at third base after the deal, pinch-hit once, then was put on waivers. His stay with Pittsburgh lasted nine days, ending when he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He played 24 games with Chicago in 1949, before finishing his career in the minors. Poat started his first two games with the Pirates before moving to the bullpen. He struggled in his 11 outings, posting a 6.25 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP in 36 innings. He finished his pro career the next year in the minors. Higbe didn’t have to do much to make this deal a win for the Giants. He was put in their bullpen, where he made 37 appearances over the rest of the season. He had a 3.47 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP in 80.1 innings pitched. He pitched with New York through July of 1950, making 18 more appearances. He had a 4.93 ERA and a 1.93 WHIP over 34.2 innings. He was sent to the minors, where he pitched another 3 1/2 years before retiring. As far as value, Higbe had 0.6 WAR after the deal, while Rhawn and Poat combined for -0.6 WAR.
Doug Frobel, outfielder for the 1982-85 Pirates. He was signed by the Pirates in late 1977 as an amateur free agent at 18 years old out of Canada. He started off slow in the minors during his first two years, then broke out during the 1980 season. He started with Charleston of the Class-A Western Carolinas League in 1978, where he hit .237 in 93 games, with 30 runs, 15 doubles, two homers, 33 RBIs and a .607 OPS. He spent half of the 1979 season in short-season ball with Auburn of the New York-Penn League, after beginning the year back in Class-A with Shelby of the Western Carolinas League. Frobel hit a combined .234 in 83 games that season, with 27 runs, seven doubles, seven homers, 44 RBIs and a .653 OPS. He hit .325 while playing for Shelby of the South Atlantic League in 1980, with 42 runs, 14 doubles, 13 homers, 41 RBIs and a .926 OPS in 67 games. That earned him a promotion to Advanced-A (technically still Class-A) with Salem of the Carolina League. There he batted just .236 in 40 games, but added eight doubles and seven more homers, which helped him to a .766 OPS. Frobel moved up to Buffalo of the Double-A Eastern League in 1981, where he led the team with 28 homers. He batted .251 in 135 games, with 72 runs, 17 doubles, 78 RBIs, 55 walks and an .807 OPS. The downside was that he had 147 strikeouts.
Frobel hit .261 for Portland of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1982, finishing with 76 runs, 38 doubles, 23 homers, 75 RBIs, 50 walks, 21 stolen bases and an .834 OPS in 135 games. He got a September call-up that year, then hit .206/.229/.441 in 16 games for the Pirates, with five runs, two doubles, two homers and three RBIs. Frobel returned to the minors for most of the 1983 season, where he hit .304 in 101 games for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League, with 66 runs, 18 doubles, 24 homers, 80 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and a .948 OPS. That performance earned him a promotion back to Pittsburgh in mid-August. He would hit better during his second trial in the majors, batting .283/.328/.533 in 32 games, with ten runs, four doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs. Frobel was with the Pirates on Opening Day in 1984 as their starting right fielder. He struggled mightily, with his average under .200 for more than four months of the season. For two months of the year his average was in the .130-.150 range, but the Pirates stuck with him at the Major League level for the entire season. Frobel finished with a .203 average, 33 runs, nine doubles, 12 homers, 28 RBIs and a .658 OPS in 306 plate appearances over 126 games. He was with the Pirates for most of 1985 as a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter, but after a .202/.320/.248 slash line and no homers through 53 games in mid-August, he was sold to the Montreal Expos. Frobel would hit .130/.200/.304 in 12 games for the 1985 Expos, after spending time at Triple-A, where he had an .811 OPS in 23 games for Indianapolis of the American Association. He spent all of 1986 in the minors with the New York Mets, hitting .249 for Tidewater of the Triple-A International League, with 49 runs, 18 doubles, 11 homers, 53 RBIs and a .718 OPS.
Frobel made his last Major League appearance with the 1987 Cleveland Indians, playing 29 games, including just seven starts. He was with the team for about seven weeks early in the year, then returned for a brief time in mid-August. He batted just 46 times with Cleveland, hitting .100/.196/.250 during that time, with five runs, two homers, five RBIs and five walks. The rest of the year was spent with Buffalo of the American Association, where he had a .301 average and a .950 OPS in 58 games. Frobel played two more seasons in the minors before retiring, splitting the 1988-89 seasons between the Expos, Chicago White Sox and a stint in Mexico. He spent part of each season back in Double-A. His 1988 season was split between eight games back with Indianapolis, 18 with Jacksonville of the Double-A Southern League and 58 games with Mexico City, where he had a .300 average and an .892 OPS. The 1989 season was split between Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League and Birmingham of the Southern League, two affiliates of the White Sox. He combined to hit .159/.215/.277 in 56 games, with much better results at the lower level. Frobel hit .213 in 227 games with the Pirates, collecting 62 runs, 20 doubles, 17 homers, 49 RBIs and 13 steals. He was a .201 hitter over 268 big league games, finishing with a .642 OPS. According to modern metrics, he was a slightly below replacement level outfielder, finishing with -0.6 dWAR.
Fresco Thompson, second baseman for the 1925 Pirates. He played three seasons in the minors before making his big league debut in September of 1925 with the Pirates. He debuted in pro ball at 21 years old in 1923. Thompson split his first season between Grand Island of the Class-D Nebraska State League (133 games) and Omaha of the Class-A Western League (26 games), and he did much better at the higher level. As reference, that would be like jumping from short-season ball to Double-A now. He combined to hit .303 that first year, with 38 doubles, seven triples and one homer that season. He spent the 1924 season with Omaha, where he batted .304 in 166 games, with 36 doubles, 13 triples and seven homers in 166. The Pirates acquired his rights on December 2, 1924, in exchange for pitcher Arnie Stone and a cash sum that wasn’t released, but said to be at least $10,000. Thompson was with the Pirates during Spring Training of 1925, before being shipped to the minors on April 18th, four days after Opening Day. He was sent out with a stipulation included saying that the Pirates could recall him with five days notice. Before rejoining the Pirates in August of 1925, he was with Kansas City of the Double-A American Association (highest level of the minors at the time), where he was hitting .288 in 113 games, with 12 doubles, 22 triples and one homer. Thompson was recalled by the Pirates on August 16th. He rejoined them on August 21st, but he didn’t get into his first game until his 16th day back with the team.
Pittsburgh was in first place at the time of Thompson’s arrival, and they had a comfortable lead with a month to go in the season. Regular second baseman Eddie Moore had moved to right field, being replaced at second base by Johnny Rawlings, who didn’t last there long. He broke his ankle after taking over the spot, pushing Thompson into the second base role. He hit .243/.317/.351 in 14 games, with four runs, three extra-base hits and eight RBIs in September. He started just a handful of games before Moore moved back to his old position. The Pirates won the World Series over the Washington Senators in seven games, although he didn’t play in the series. Thompson was released outright to Buffalo of the Double-A International League on December 12, 1925. He spent the 1926 season in Buffalo, hitting .330 in 159 games, with 39 doubles, eight triples and 26 homers. He returned to the big leagues with the New York Giants in September of 1926, going 5-for-8 with two walks in his only two games. He was then traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in the off-season, as part of a three-team deal that also included Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Thompson manned second base for Philadelphia for four seasons, hitting .300 over 575 games.
Thompson batted .303 during the 1927 season, with career highs of 14 triples, 70 RBIs, 19 steals and 153 games played. He also had 78 runs scored and 32 doubles, while finishing with a .752 OPS. The Pirates almost reacquired him after the 1927 season when they were trying to trade star outfielder Kiki Cuyler. Thompson received mild MVP support (12th place finish) in 1928, after hitting .284 in 152 games, with 99 runs, 34 doubles, 11 triples, 50 RBIs, 19 steals and a .722 OPS. His best performance was still yet to come. He hit .324 in 1929, with career highs of 115 runs, 41 doubles and 75 walks, while adding 53 RBIs and 16 steals. His .817 OPS in 148 games was his career best. Despite the high walk total, he was able to crack the 200-hit mark (202) for the only time in his career. His final season in Philadelphia saw him hit .282 in 122 games, with 77 runs, 34 doubles, 46 RBIs and a .727 OPS. Those look like solid stats, but the 1930 season was a huge one for offense, so his numbers were mediocre that year.
Thompson was traded to Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) just after the 1930 season ended, as part of a five-player/cash deal. He hit .265 in 1931, with 26 runs, eight extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and a .677 OPS over 74 games. He was the starting second baseman until June 9th, then he became the backup infielder, starting just five games over the rest of the season. He played three early season games off of the bench in 1932, before being sent to Jersey City of the International League for the rest of the season. There he hit .299 in 102 games, with 25 doubles, nine triples and ten homers. He split the 1933 season between Buffalo and Jersey City, where incomplete stats credit him with a .301 average and 52 extra-base hits in 162 games. Thompson pinch-hit for the New York Giants in the sixth game of the 1934 season, which ended up being his final big league game. He spent the rest of the year with Montreal of the International League, hitting .311 in 135 games, with 35 doubles, eight triples and 12 homers. He did just as well in 1935, batting .310 in 155 games for Montreal, with 39 doubles, nine triples and five homers. The 1936 season was split between Montreal and Minneapolis of the Double-A American Association. He combined to hit .323 in 149 games, with 94 runs, 39 doubles, eight triples, 18 homers, 86 RBIs and an .883 OPS. He had a 1.021 OPS over 69 games with Minneapolis. Despite those strong numbers over three seasons at the highest level of the minors, he never got another big league chance.
Thompson had a 19-year career as a player in pro ball, including parts of nine seasons in the majors. His final five seasons (1937-41) saw him play for five different teams, eventually dropping down to Reading of the Class-B Interstate League for his last year. He did well for Minneapolis in 1937, hitting .310 over 82 games, with 43 runs, 23 extra-base hits, 44 RBIs and an .816 OPS. Thompson played for Birmingham of the Class-A Southern Association in 1938, where he hit .229 in 92 games, with 20 runs, 13 extra-base hits and 39 RBIs. There are no stats available for his final three seasons. He spent 1939 with Hartford of the Class-A Eastern League, 1940 with Williamsport of the Eastern League, then finished up with the aforementioned Reading club. Fresco (real first name was Lafayette, Fresco was his middle name) managed eight years in the minors, the first four as a player/manager. He was a .298 hitter in 669 big league games, with 400 runs, 149 doubles, 13 homers, 249 RBIs, 69 steals and a .751 OPS. Modern metrics rate him as well below average defensively, leaving him with a career 0.4 WAR
Jake Hewitt, left-handed pitcher for the 1895 Pirates. He joined the Pirates after first pitching for West Virginia University for two years, then spending 1894-95 playing semi-pro ball in the Pittsburgh area. Before joining the Pirates in 1895, he had a short stint that year with Warren of the Class-C Iron and Oil League, a local minor league in the Pittsburgh surrounding area. The Pirates approached him about a trial with the big league club on July 26th, but he had a sore leg at the time, and said that he wouldn’t pitch until it was better. He made his Major League debut in relief on August 6, 1895, coming in during the seventh inning of a game that the Pirates were winning 14-1 at the time. He kept the St Louis Browns scoreless for three innings to pick up a save. Nine days later, after making a second relief appearance, he made his first start against the Chicago Colts (Cubs). Hewitt pitched great in the first inning, then after thinking he struck out the first batter in the second on a full count pitch, he lost his composure. He hit the next batter, then failed to get an out on a bunt back to the mound, which was followed by a single, then an error, leading to his departure with no outs in the second inning. The local newspaper claimed that Hewitt “suffered stage fright” against the strong Chicago team. Wanting to see what they had in him, the Pirates ran Hewitt out there the very next day, when he picked up a 5-2 complete game win against the same Chicago club.
Despite the strong pitching performance in his second start against the Colts, Hewitt never played in the majors again, finishing his pro career with three more seasons in the minors. On August 23, 1895, one week after his final big league game, Hewitt was loaned to Rochester of the Class-A Eastern League (highest level of the minors at the time), where he had a 4.19 ERA in 58 innings over eight games, compiling just ten strikeouts. With the Pirates, he had a 1-0, 4.15 record in 13 innings, with 13 hits, two walks and four strikeouts. He was signed by the Pirates for the 1896 season, and was originally going to remain in Rochester, but they switched his assignment to Grand Rapids of the Class-A Western League before the season started. Grand Rapids let him go due to poor pitching, so he ended up with New Castle of the Class-C Interstate League, where he spent the rest of his pro career. The Interstate League reclassified as a Class-B league for the 1897-98 seasons. Most of his minor league stats are missing from his 1896-98 seasons, but we know that he compiled a 10-13 record in 1898, while hitting .262 in 32 games. As a side note to his time in Pittsburgh, Hewitt didn’t actually sign with the Pirates until August 7th, the day after his MLB debut. His initial appearance was on a trial basis, but when he showed good velocity and some strong curveballs, the Pirates released backup infielder Bill Niles before signing Hewitt. The local papers called him “Farmer Hewitt”. He played semi-pro ball near his hometown in the Morgantown, WV area in 1899 for a team called the D.C. & A.C. He was found playing some semi-pro ball in 1900 for a team from New Castle. The last mention of him pitching was for a team in Irwin, Pa. in 1903. His actual first name was Charles. He went by his middle name (Jacob).