This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: September 22nd, Danny Murtaugh Comes Up Big Yet Again

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including a member of the 1990 National League East champs, and another that played for the 1960 World Series champs. We also have two games of note.

Hunter Owen, outfielder for the 2021 Pirates. He was a 25th round pick of the Pirates during the 2016 draft out of Indiana State. He signed quickly and went to Morgantown of the short-season New York-Penn League, where he had a .257 average in 52 games, with 31 runs, 17 extra-base hits, 34 RBIs and a .724 OPS. He spent most of the 2017 season with West Virginia of the Low-A South Atlantic League, though an injury limited him to 83 games and six rehab games at lower levels. He batted .292 for West Virginia, with 49 runs, 21 doubles, 11 homers, 45 RBIs and an .893 OPS. He played the entire 2018 season for Bradenton of the High-A Florida State League. Owen hit .262 over 111 games, with 53 runs, 21 doubles, 18 homers, 60 RBIs and a .781 OPS. He split the 2019 season between Altoona of the Double-A Eastern League and Indianapolis of the Triple-A International League, with slightly more time and much better results at the lower level. He combined to hit .261 over 110 games, with 57 runs, 19 doubles, 19 homers, 53 RBIs and an .829 OPS. Owen did not play during the canceled 2020 season.

Owen spent a majority of the 2021 season back with Indianapolis, where he had a .235 average over 97 games, with 55 runs, 11 doubles, 20 homers, 53 RBIs and a .727 OPS. The Pirates called him up for a week in early May of 2021. He started his first game, in which he went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch, before leaving after six innings. He then went 0-for-2 as a pinch-hitter over his last two games. Owen was injured for most of the 2022 season, resulting in him playing 18 games for Indianapolis and three rehab games for Greensboro of the High-A South Atlantic League (league changed levels in 2021). He hit .246/.364/.369 over 77 plate appearances during his limited time. He became a free agent after the 2022 season, then didn’t play in 2023. He mostly played third base during his pro career, but the Pirates tried him at all four corner spots, as well as giving him some time as a catcher. He dealt with a lot of injuries issues during his career, many of them as a result of being hit by pitches. He was hit 74 times in 480 minor league games.

Wally Backman, infielder for the 1990 Pirates. He was a first round pick of the New York Mets, taken 16th overall during the 1977 draft out of Aloha HS in Oregon. He had a strong debut with Little Falls in the short-season New York-Penn League at 17 years old, hitting .325 over 69 games, with 44 runs, 18 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs, 20 steals and an .844 OPS. He moved up to Lynchburg of the Class-A Carolina League for the 1978 season, when he hit .302 over 132 games, with 86 runs scored, 19 doubles, nine triples, 42 RBIs, 74 walks, 42 steals and a .791 OPS. He was already at Double-A by age 19 in 1979, hitting .282 that year over 110 games for Jackson of the Texas League, with 63 runs, 18 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs, 23 steals and a .695 OPS. Backman moved up to Triple-A in 1980, where he hit .293 over 125 games for Tidewater of the International League, with 53 runs, 21 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs, 87 walks, 11 steals and a .778 OPS. He joined the Mets in September of 1980, then batted .323/.396/.355 in 110 plate appearances over 27 games, with 12 runs, two extra-base hits and nine RBIs. Despite that instant big league success, he spent part of 1981 back in the minors. He was also being used mostly a bench player during his time with the Mets that year, batting just 42 times in 26 games during the strike-shortened season. He put up a .278/.350/.333 slash line for the Mets. He struggled mightily back in Tidewater that year, hitting .153/.275/.237 over 21 games.

Backman had a bigger role with the 1982 Mets, hitting .272 over 96 games, with 37 runs scored, 18 extra-base hits, 22 RBIs, 49 walks and a .759 OPS. The next year was very similar to 1981, except he saw much more Triple-A time. He played 26 games for the 1983 Mets, putting up a .167 average and a .419 OPS in 45 plate appearances. He played 101 games for Tidewater that year, where he had a .316 average, 69 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 28 RBIs, 37 steals, 68 walks and a .794 OPS. A switch flipped for his career in 1984, as Backman became a regular in the Mets lineup for the next three years. He hit .280 over 128 games in 1984, with 68 runs, 19 doubles, 26 RBIs, 56 walks, a career high 32 steals and a .700 OPS. He played in a career high 145 games during the 1985 season, while putting up a .273 average and 30 stolen bases. He set career highs that year with 77 runs scored, 24 doubles and 38 RBIs, though his .664 OPS didn’t even rank among his top five full seasons. Backman helped the Mets to the 1986 World Series title by hitting .320 during the season and .333 in the World Series. He played 124 games that year, including 92 starts at second base. He finished the year with 67 runs, 21 extra-base hits (18 doubles), 27 RBIs, 13 steals and a .761 OPS that was his high mark up to that point. He was down to a platoon role in 1987, despite the personal success and World Series title in 1986. Backman hit .250 over 94 games in 1987 with 43 runs, eight extra-base hits, 23 RBIs, 11 steals and a .593 OPS. He followed up that down year with a .303 average, 44 runs scored, 12 extra-base hits (all doubles), 17 RBIs, 41 walks and a .731 OPS in 99 games during the 1988 season. He was traded to the Minnesota Twins in December of 1988. He batted .231 over 87 games for the 1989 Twins, with 33 runs, 12 extra-base hits, 26 RBIs and a .591 OPS, while picking up just one stolen base.

Backman was signed by the Pirates as a free agent in January of 1990. He hit .292 in 104 games during the 1990 season, with 62 runs scored, 26 extra-base hits, 28 RBIs and 42 walks. His .771 OPS that season was a career best. He went 1-for-7 with a walk and stolen base in the NLCS. Backman spent most of his time on defense that year at third base, while occasionally starting at second base. He was mostly used at second base during his ten seasons prior to joining the Pirates. he became a free agent after the 1990 season, then signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .243/.344/.308 over 94 games in 1991, while seeing more time off of the bench than as a starter. He batted a total of 220 times that season, finishing up the year with 20 runs, 12 extra-base hits (all doubles) and 15 RBIs. He was seldom used in 1992, getting just 55 plate appearances over 42 games. He put up a .271/.352/.292 slash line that year, with six runs, a double and six RBIs. Backman signed with the Atlanta Braves for the 1993 season, but they released him on April 1st. He ended up signing with the Seattle Mariners, though he lasted just ten games before his playing career ended when he was released in May. He had a .305 OPS in 31 plate appearances that season. He was a .275 hitter during his 14-year career, with 482 runs scored, 138 doubles, ten homers, 240 RBIs, 371 walks and 117 stolen bases in 1,102 games. His .349 OBP was ten points higher than his slugging percentage. Backman became a minor league manager in 2000 and he’s currently in his 21st season as a manager, working independent ball in 2023. He managed seven years in the Mets system, three seasons for the White Sox and one year for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He also spent one year managing in Mexico.

Harry Bright, third baseman for the 1958-60 Pirates. Bright debuted in the majors with the Pirates in 1958, but he put in a lot of work to get to that point. He really had a career worthy of some praise for battling it out to reach his dream. He was originally signed in 1946 by the New York Yankees. His first two years of stats are most unavailable, but it’s known that he played for Twin Falls of the Class-C Pioneer League and Fond du Lac of the Class-D Wisonsin State League in 1946. That was followed by splitting the 1947 season between three teams in three different leagues of Class-D ball. He had a .202 average, eight extra-base hits and a .568 OPS in 41 games with Houma of the Evangeline League that season. He also played for Independence of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League and Odessa of the Longhorn League that season. The Yankees released him during the 1947 season, then he didn’t play pro ball in 1948. He played for Miami of the Class-D Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League in 1949, hitting .286 over 122 games, with 72 runs, 45 extra-base hits, 96 RBIs and a .790 OPS. Bright was in the Chicago Cubs farm system for the 1950-52 seasons, but he never advanced above Class-C. He played for four different teams during those three years. That lack of a promotion is a bit surprising, because he had a .397 average, 31 doubles, 13 triples and 20 homers over 111 games in 1950. He split his time that year between Clovis of the Class-C West Texas-New Mexico League and Sioux Falls of the Class-C Northern League.

Bright had a .330 average, 82 runs, 24 doubles, 15 homers, 93 RBIs and an .893 OPS in 109 games for Topeka of the Class-C Western Association in 1951. Despite those solid results, he dropped down to Class-D ball for the entire 1952 season. He hit .325 that year, with 95 runs, 31 doubles, eight triples, 12 homers, 101 RBIs, 23 steals, 79 walks and a .956 OPS in 109 games for Janesville of the Wisconsin State League. Bright was in the Chicago White Sox system in 1953, when he made the huge jump to Double-A, moving up four levels in one season. He did well with the huge leap in competition, putting up a .295 average, 62 runs, 21 doubles, 14 homers, 77 RBIs and a .797 OPS over 140 games for Memphis of the Southern Association. The Detroit Tigers took him in the Rule 5 draft after the 1953 season, then he split 1954 between Little Rock of the Double-A Southern Association and Buffalo of the Triple-A International League. He combined to hit .304 over 116 games that year, with 74 runs, 42 extra-base hits, 55 RBIs and an .839 OPS. He was sold to Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League (considered to be an Open level, though it was basically Triple-A) during the 1955 season, where he stayed until joining the Pirates. After hitting .240/.337/.347 over 27 games with Little Rock to start the 1955 season, Bright hit .305 in 120 games for Sacramento to finish out the year. He combined to end the year with a .297 average 60 runs, 33 doubles, 14 homers, 84 RBIs and a .791 OPS. He then batted .284 over 131 games for Sacramento in 1956, with 55 runs, 40 extra-base hits, 61 RBIs and a .748 OPS. He hit .263 during the 1957 season, with 46 runs, 31 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs and a .667 OPS in 146 games. With his stats dropping each season, you would have thought that would put his big league dreams out of reach, but he ended up playing in the majors during each of the next eight years.

The Pirates purchased Bright from Sacramento on July 21, 1958. They paid a price that was said to have exceeded $25,000, which was the cost of drafting a player from the Pacific Coast League at the time. Despite the price, and the fact that he left for Pittsburgh right away, he played just 55 games during his first two seasons with the Pirates. He was hitting .309 in 94 games for Sacramento that year, with 50 runs, 26 doubles, seven homers, 42 RBIs and a .788 OPS . Bright played 15 games for the 1958 Pirates, posting a .250/.269/.417 in 26 plate appearances. He matched that .250 average in 1959, when he had 54 plate appearances and a .779 OPS in 40 games. He started just three games all season, all of them happening in June. He batted 21 times in the final 79 games of the season. He was only used four times during the 1960 season, all coming as a pinch-hitter in September. He spent the rest of the season with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League, where he had a .313 average, 88 runs, 31 doubles, 13 triples, 27 homers, 119 RBIs and a .919 OPS in 153 games. Bright was part of a four-player deal with the expansion Washington Senators after the 1960 season, one of three players going to Washington for pitcher Bobby Shantz. Bright hit .237/.289/.421 over his three seasons for the Pirates, with eight runs, two doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs in 59 games.

Bright mostly played third base during his time in Pittsburgh. He remained at third base in 1961 for Washington, then moved to first base in 1962. He ended up seeing more time at first base during his eight-year big league career than he did at the hot corner. He was with an expansion team, which allowed him to see a decent amount of playing time in 1961. He hit .240 over 72 games in 1961, with 20 runs, six doubles, four homers, 21 RBIs and a .649 OPS. He saw even more time in 1962, when he responded with what ended up easily being his best season in the majors. He hit .273 that year in 113 games, with 55 runs scored, 15 doubles, 17 homers, 67 RBIs and a .781 OPS. Bright was traded to the Cincinnati Reds over the 1962-63 off-season, then got sold to the New York Yankees after playing just one game in 1963. He hit .236 in 60 games for the 1963 Yankees, with 17 runs, seven doubles, seven homers, 23 RBIs and a .711 OPS. He spent most of the 1964 season with Richmond of the International League, where he had a .244 average, 22 runs, seven doubles, four homers, 20 RBIs and a .630 OPS in 77 games. He played just four games for the Yankees that year, going 1-for-5 with a single and a walk.

Bright was released after the 1964 season, then signed with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .280/.269/.320 in 27 games during the 1965 season, while getting used strictly as a pinch-hitter. He also played 39 games for Salt Lake City that season, putting up a .270 average and a .765 OPS during that time. He saw regular playing time in the minors in 1966 with Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, then played sporadically as a manager in the minors over the next five years. Bright had a .284 average in 83 games for Tacoma, with 20 runs, 12 doubles, four homers, 32 RBIs and a .782 OPS. He played a total of ten games over his final four seasons of pro ball, seeing that time with Quincy of the Class-A Midwest League (1967), San Antonio of the Double-A Texas League (1968), Elmira of the Double-A Eastern League (1969) and Burlington of the Midwest League (1971). He was a career .255 hitter in 336 big league games, finishing with 99 runs, 31 doubles, 32 homers and 126 RBIs. He played a total of 20 seasons in the minors, plus he spent 12 years as a minor league manager. That includes spending the 1952 season as a player/manager for Janesville, which happned six years before he debuted as big league player.

Ira Flagstead, outfielder for the 1929-30 Pirates. He spent a total of 13 seasons in the majors, finishing his career as a .290 hitter, who twice led the league in outfield assists. Flagstead didn’t debut in pro ball until he was 23 years old in 1917, but he made it to the majors during that first season. He played four games for the Detroit Tigers in July of 1917, going 0-for-4 at the plate. His minor league time that season consisted of 56 games with Tacoma of the Class-B Northwestern League, where he had a .376 average and 20 extra-base hits. He spent the 1918 season with Chattanooga of the Class-A Southern Association, where he hit .379 in 49 games, with 37 runs scored and five stolen base. His season ended early due to military service during WWI. He was with the Tigers full-time by his return in 1919. He batted .331 over 97 games that year, with 43 runs scored, 30 extra-base hits, 47 RBIs and an .897 OPS. His average dropped to .235 over 110 games in 1920, while his OPS fell by 241 points to a .656 mark. He finished that season with 40 runs, 21 extra-base hits and 35 RBIs. Flagstead rebounded a bit in 1921 by hitting .305 in 85 games, with 40 runs, 16 doubles, 31 RBIs and a .753 OPS, while playing games at six different positions. He was a backup outfielder in 1922, back when Detroit had Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Harry Heilman, along with star outfielder Bobby Veach. That didn’t leave much playing time for Flagstead, who hit .308/.411/.528 during that season, though he had just 110 plate appearances over 44 games (19 starts). He had 21 runs, 11 extra-base hits and eight RBIs during his limited time. The Tigers traded him early in the 1923 season to the Boston Red Sox, where he was able to play full-time.

Flagstead hit .312 for the 1923 Red Sox, with 55 runs scored, 35 extra-base hits, 53 RBIs and an .835 OPS  in 109 games. He hit .307 over 149 games in 1924, with 106 runs scored, 35 doubles, 43 RBIs, 77 walks and an .823 OPS. He set career highs in runs and walks that year. He received MVP votes for the first time, finishing 15th in the voting. He batted .280 during the 1925 season, with 84 runs scored, 38 doubles, 61 RBIs, 63 walks and a .741 OPS. He finished seventh in the MVP voting that season. Flagstead hit .299 over 98 games in 1926, with 65 runs, 31 doubles, 31 RBIs and a .792 OPS. Despite the limited play, he still received mild MVP support, finishing 23rd in the voting. He hit .285 over 131 games in 1927, while finishing with a career high 69 RBIs. He had 63 runs, 26 doubles, eight triples, four homers, 57 walks and a .775 OPS. He finished 18th in the MVP voting that year. The 1928 season saw him receive MVP support for the fifth straight season, plus he set a career high with 41 doubles. He hit .290 over 140 games, with 84 runs, 46 extra-base hits, 39 RBIs, 60 walks and a .758 OPS. He finished 14th in the MVP voting.

The Pirates acquired the 35-year-old Flagstead as a waiver pickup from the Washington Senators in July of 1929. He started that season with the Red Sox, where he hit .306/.390/.361 in 14 games. His time in Washington was brief, hitting .179/.256/.205 in 18 games. He batted .280/.333/.360 for the 1929 Pirates, with eight runs, three extra-base hits and six RBIs in 55 plate appearances over 26 games. He was a backup for the 1930 Pirates, playing on a team that included two Hall of Fame outfielders (the Waner brothers) and Adam Comorosky, who had a season for the ages, reaching extra-base hit marks that no player has ever duplicated. Then there was the veteran Flagstead, who split the backup time between all three spots. He hit .250/.324/.385 over 179 plate appearances, with 21 runs, seven doubles, four triples, two homers and 21 RBIs in 44 games (36 starts). The Pirates released him on August 9, 1930, after acquiring outfielder Denny Sothern, who was ten years younger. Flagstead spent the 1931 season playing 68 games in the Double-A Pacific Coast League with Portland and Seattle before retiring as a player. He had a .231 average and 18 extra-base hits during that final season of pro ball.  He batted .290 in 1,218 big league games, with 644 runs, 262 doubles, 50 triples, 40 homers and 456 RBIs. He had 467 walks and 288 strikeouts during his career.

The Games

On this date in 1909, the Pirates won 12-7 over the Boston Doves (Braves) to improve their lead in the National League to ten games, which was their largest lead of the season. It was the Pirates 13th win in a row, on their way to 16 straight wins. The top six batters in the Pirates lineup all scored two runs apiece. Honus Wagner had a double and home run, while Dots Miller had three hits. Here’s the boxscore, which notes that just 1,364 people showed up at Forbes Field that day.

On this date in 1949, Danny Murtaugh had a big hit off of star pitcher Johnny Sain in a 1-0 victory, walking it off in the ninth with an RBI single. It wasn’t the first time that Murtaugh had a big hit against Sain. He was developing a pattern against him at that point. He got him a year earlier with a two-out single in the ninth for a 3-2 win. Murtaugh then drove in the only run late in a 1-0 game against Sain just a short time later. Here are the full details in our Game Rewind article.