This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: November 15th, Gus Bell and Maurice Van Robays Headline the Day

Four former Pittsburgh Pirates have been born on this date.

Gus Bell, outfielder for the 1950-52 Pirates. Bell was signed as an amateur free agent in 1947 at 18 years old. He already had two .300 seasons in the minors by age 20. He was a starter in the majors by age 21. He split his first season between Keokuk of the Class-C Central Association and Leesburg of the Class-D Florida State League, combining to hit .242 over 76 games, with 33 runs scored, 17 extra-base hits, 40 RBIs and a .628 OPS. He spent the entire 1948 season with Keokuk, where he hit .319 in 128 games, with 86 runs, 27 doubles, 20 triples, six homers, 98 RBIs and an .876 OPS. Bell moved up to Albany of the Class-A Eastern League in 1949, where he hit .325 over 134 games, with 100 runs, 27 doubles, 13 triples, 12 homers, 85 RBIs and an .884 OPS. He began the 1950 season playing for Indianapolis of the Triple-A American Association. He did so well during his first 38 games that the Pirates called him up on May 30th for a doubleheader, after he put up a .400 average, 21 extra-base hits and a 1.089 OPS. He went 2-for-5 in each game of the doubleheader, although the Pirates lost both games. Bell would play 111 of the final 117 Pirates games that rookie season, finishing the year with a .282 average, 62 runs, 22 doubles, eight homers, 53 RBIs and a .776 OPS. He placed second in the National League with 11 triples that year. He was the everyday right fielder for the 1951 Pirates, when he led the National League in triples with 12, while adding 27 doubles and 16 homers. He had 89 runs and 80 RBIs, ranking second on the Pirates in each category behind Ralph Kiner. Bell had a .273 average and a .773 OPS over 149 games that season.

Bell had a down year in 1952 compared to the previous season, hitting .250 over 131 games, with 53 runs, 21 doubles, 16 homers, 59 RBIs and a .725 OPS, while striking out 72 times. That strikeout total was the tenth highest in the National League, which he got to despite the fact that he spent three weeks in the minors after a 1-for-18 start to the season. He had a .297 average and an .852 OPS in 17 games with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League that year. The Pacific Coast League was classified as an Open league for a time in the 1950s, but it was basically Triple-A. The Pirates traded Bell to the Cincinnati Reds right after the 1952 season ended, getting back three players who provided very little in return. Bell went on to have a nice career, playing 12 more seasons after the trade. He hit .300 during his first season in Cincinnati, with 102 runs, 37 doubles, 30 homers, 105 RBIs and a career best .879 OPS, which earned him mild MVP support (20th place finish) and his first All-Star appearance. He batted .299 over 153 games in 1954, with career highs of 104 runs scored and 38 doubles. He also added 17 homers, 101 RBIs and an .814 OPS, while making his second All-Star appearance. Bell hit for a career best .308 average in 1955, when he had 88 runs, 30 doubles, 27 homers and 104 RBIs. He also set a personal best with 54 walks, helping him to an .871 OPS. He led the league with 154 games played. Despite having what rates as the second best season of his career, he didn’t make the All-Star team in 1955.

Bell made his third All-Star appearance in 1956. He hit .292 over 150 games, with 82 runs, 31 doubles, 29 homers, 84 RBIs and an .848 OPS. He made his final All-Star appearance in 1957, when he batted .292 over 121 games, with 65 runs, 20 doubles, 13 homers, 61 RBIs and a .751 OPS. He had a down year in 1958, before bouncing back for one more big season with the 1959 Reds. Bell played 112 games during the 1958 season, missing time later in the year due to an ankle injury that he suffered in late July. He was already hitting poor by his standards at the time, but he was worse after the injury, finishing with a career low (to that point) .696 OPS. He ended that year with a .252 average, 42 runs, 16 doubles, ten homers and 46 RBIs. He was healthy for the 1959 season, then responded with a career high of 115 RBIs, which was the fourth most in the National League that year. He batted .293 in 148 games, with 59 runs, 27 doubles, 19 homers and a .770 OPS. Bell was mostly a right fielder while with the Pirates, then switched to mostly center field when he reached Cincinnati. That lasted six years until he switched back to right field during that 1959 season. He would later spend most of his time in left field.

Bell hit .262 for the 1960 Reds, with 65 runs, 36 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs and a .688 OPS in 143 games. He batted .255 during his last season for Cincinnati in 1961, finishing with 27 runs, ten doubles, three homers, 33 RBIs and a .642 OPS over 103 games. The New York Mets took Bell in the Expansion draft right after the 1961 season ended, though he didn’t last long there. The Mets traded him to the Milwaukee Braves on May 21, 1962, in a deal for his former Pirates teammate Frank Thomas. Bell hit .241 over 109 games between both teams in 1962, with 36 runs, 13 doubles, six homers, 30 RBIs and a .647 OPS. He suffered a freak injury in 1963 that basically ended his big league career. During pregame warm-ups in the outfield, another player ran into him when he wasn’t looking and injured his knee. Bell played six games between the 1963-64 seasons, all as a pinch-hitter, before he was released in May of 1964. He was a four-time All-Star during his 13 full seasons in the majors, finishing with a .281 average, 865 runs, 311 doubles, 206 homers and 962 RBIs over 1,741 games. He hit .270 in 391 games for the Pirates, with 195 runs, 70 doubles, 28 triples, 40 homers and 201 RBIs. He is the father of Buddy Bell and grandfather of both David Bell and Mike Bell, making them one of six three-generation families in baseball history. Gus was actually a nickname. His first name is David, which is also Buddy Bell’s actual first name.

Maurice Van Robays, outfielder for the Pirates from 1939-43 and 1946. He played minor league ball briefly at 19 years old in 1934 with Grand Rapids of the Class-B Central League and Charleroi of the Class-D Pennsylvania State League, playing 11 games total. He didn’t see his first full-time play in pro ball until 1937. He’s credited with going 8-for-37 (.216 average) during that 1934 season. He would hit .368 during his return in 1937, with 28 doubles, nine triples and 43 homers over 105 games with Ogdensburg of the Class-C Canadian-American League. He was playing for a local team called the Karp Coal during the 1935-36 seasons, which was near his home in Detroit. He spent the majority of the 1938 season in Class-A, after an early season demotion from Montreal of the Double-A International League (highest level of the minors at the time). Montreal owned his rights since September of 1937, but they felt early on in 1938 that he wasn’t ready for that level of play, so he spent the rest of the season playing for Knoxville of the Southern Association. Van Robays batted .307 over 135 games for Knoxville, with 86 runs, 22 doubles, 15 triples, 23 homers, 110 RBIs and a .916 OPS. The only available stat for Montreal shows that he played nine games. The Pirates purchased him from Montreal over the winter of 1938-39. They brought him to Spring Training in 1939, though it was said early on that he wasn’t competing for a big league job. Van Robays returned to Montreal for 1939, where he hit .320 over 136 games, with 81 runs, 47 extra-base hits, 80 RBIs and an .876 OPS. That performance earned him a September call-up to Pittsburgh. He hit .314/.351/.457 in 112 plate appearances over 27 games during his first big league trial, impressing enough to land the left field job for the 1940 Pirates. He hit .273 over 145 games during his first full season in the majors, with 82 runs scored, 45 extra-base hits, a .718 OPS. He had 116 RBIs that year, which not only led the Pirates, it was also the third highest RBI total in the National League.

Van Robays hit .282 for the 1941 Pirates, with 62 runs, 32 extra-base hits and 78 RBIs in 129 games. While he showed a big drop in RBIs from the previous season, it was still the second highest total on the Pirates. His .723 OPS was five points higher than his 1940 total. His stats dropped way off in 1942, when he hit .232 over 100 games, with 29 runs, 13 doubles, one home run, 46 RBIs, a .311 slugging percentage and a .609 OPS. He rebounded a bit in 1943, after spending the beginning of the year with Toronto of the International League (he played one April game for the Pirates). Van Robays hit .302 in 84 games for Toronto, with 44 runs, 22 extra-base hits, 51 RBIs and a .795 OPS. He rejoined the Pirates in mid-July, then hit .288 in 69 games, with 32 runs, 17 doubles, seven triples, 35 RBIs and a .776 OPS. He entered the Army during WWII after the season ended, then spent the next 32 months away from baseball. Van Robays returned for the start of the 1946 season, but struggled due to the off-time. He hit just .212/.272/.308 over 59 games during his last Major League season, with 14 runs, nine extra-base hits and 12 RBIs. The Pirates cut ties with him after the season, sending him to Oakland of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League as part of the deal to acquire Wally Westlake.

Van Robays was actually sold to Indianapolis of the American Association (an affiliate of the Pirates) on September 30, 1946, who then in turn sold him to Oakland on February 3, 1947. He spent four seasons with Oakland before retiring at 35 years old. He batted .300 in 342 games during that time, but never got another chance at the majors. He only played full-time during the 1947 season, when he hit .295 in 137 games, with 52 runs, 29 doubles, eight homers, 77 RBIs and a .791 OPS. He had 212 plate appearances over 87 games in 1948, when he had a .313 average, 26 runs, 13 doubles, two homers, 25 RBIs and a .784 OPS. He saw a little more playing time in 1949, when he had 262 plate appearances over 98 games. Van Robays hit .298 that year, with 32 runs, 17 extra-base hits, 42 RBIs and a .762 OPS. His final season was limited to a .316/.381/.316 slash line in 21 plate appearances over 20 games. He was released on May 30th, then went home to run a bar after at least one other team passed on signing him. He had a career .267 average in 529 Major League games, with 232 runs scored, 94 doubles, 27 triples, 20 homers and 303 RBIs. He has one of the worst stolen base success rates in baseball history, going 2-for-16 in steals.

Craig Hansen, pitcher for the 2008-09 Pirates. He was part of the return in the Jason Bay trade at the 2008 trade deadline, but injuries limited him to just 21 games with the Pirates. He was a first round pick out of St John’s by the Boston Red Sox in 2005, selected 26th overall. He signed with Boston on July 26th, then made his Major League debut on September 19th. He pitched 12.2 scoreless innings in the minors before his big league debut, splitting that time between the rookie level Gulf Coast League Red Sox and Portland of the Double-A Eastern League. He gave up two runs over three innings in four appearances with the 2005 Red Sox. Hansen dominated while back with Portland to start the 2006 season, allowing one run on four hits over 11 innings. He had a 2.75 ERA over 36 innings for Pawtucket of the Triple-A International League that year, though the solid ERA came with a large increase in his WHIP over Portland (0.73 vs 1.39) due in part to issuing 19 walks. He combined between both teams for a 2.30 ERA, 38 strikeouts and a 1.23 WHIP in 47 innings. He joined the Red Sox in June of 2006, then pitched a total of 38 big league games that season. He posted a 6.63 ERA, 30 strikeouts and a 1.61 WHIP in 38 innings. Hansen spent all of 2007 at Pawtucket, while also participating in the Arizona Fall League. He made 40 appearances for Pawtucket, posting a 3.86 ERA in 51.1 innings, with three saves and a high walk rate (32:48 BB/SO ratio), which led to a 1.75 WHIP. He gave up three runs over five innings in five appearances during the Arizona Fall League season.

Prior to his trade to the Pirates on July 31, 2008, Hansen had a 5.58 ERA, 25 strikeouts and a 1.70 WHIP in 30.2 innings over 30 appearances with the Red Sox. His control was poor before the trade, with 23 walks in those 30.2 innings, but it got even worse with the Pirates. He finished the year by putting up a 7.47 ERA, a 1.98 WHIP and a rough 20:7 BB/SO ratio in 15.2 innings over 16 appearances for the Pirates. He also saw time in Pawtucket before the deal, as well as two games with Indianapolis of the International League afterwards. He had a 2.41 ERA, an 0.86 WHIP and 19 strikeouts over 18.2 minor league innings. He suffered from brachial plexus neuropathy during the 2009 season. He was suffering from weakened/numb muscles in the arm, shoulder and upper back. He was limited to five big league appearances at the start of the 2009 season, resulting in four runs over 6.1 innings. He pitched 12 minor league games after he finally returned in July of 2010. Hansen posted a 3.86 ERA, a 1.71 WHIP and an 11:15 BB/SO ratio in 14 innings with Bradenton of the High-A Florida State League, followed by two no-hit innings with Altoona of the Eastern League. Hansen went to Spring Training with the Pirates in 2011, but after seeing his fastball velocity drop about 7-8 MPH, he asked for (and received) his release on April 6th. After not pitching at all in 2011, Hansen had a brief comeback at the lower levels of the minors with the New York Mets during the 2012 season. That return lasted just six innings over seven appearances. He had two hitless appearances with Savannah of the Low-A South Atlantic League, but he gave up six runs in four innings with Brooklyn of the short-season New York-Penn League. Hansen had a 6.95 ERA in 22 innings with the Pirates. He had a 6.15 ERA in 74 appearances over parts of three years with the Red Sox. He finished his big league time with a 4-9, 6.34 record, a 1.72 WHIP, 63 walks, 70 strikeouts and three saves in 93.2 innings over 95 games.

Randy Niemann, pitcher for the 1982-83 Pirates. He was drafted three times out of the College of the Redwoods before he finally signed. He was a fifth round pick of the Montreal Expos in June of 1974, then the Minnesota Twins made him a third round pick in January of 1975. The New York Yankees signed him as a second round pick in June of 1975. He was traded to the Houston Astros two years later, where he made his big league debut in May of 1979. He made his pro debut at 19 years old in 1975, playing for Oneonta of the short-season New York-Penn League. Niemann went 3-3, 2.45 in 55 innings over eight starts, with 23 strikeouts and a 1.33 WHIP. He moved up to Fort Lauderdale of the Florida State League for the 1976 season, where he had a 9-10, 2.84 record in 190 innings over 25 starts, with ten complete games, two shutouts and a 1.29 WHIP. While he had just 23 strikeouts during his first season, his strikeout rate was actually slightly lower in 1976, when he finished the season with 79 strikeouts. Niemann had a 5.52 ERA, 18 strikeouts and a 1.60 WHIP over 62 innings with West Haven of the Double-A Eastern League in 1977, before he was traded to the Astros. He remained at Double-A after the deal, posting a 4.76 ERA, 15 strikeouts and a 1.62 WHIP in 34 innings with Columbus of the Southern League. He had just 33 strikeouts in 96 innings that season. He spent the 1978 season at Columbus, going 9-5, 2.05 in 123 innings, with 14 starts and 15 relief appearances. He had nine complete games, 53 strikeouts and a 1.33 WHIP.

Niemann began the 1979 season with Charleston of the Triple-A International League, but he was in the majors by Mid-May. He had a 4.02 ERA, 17 strikeouts and a 1.26 WHIP in 47 innings before his call-up. He went 3-2, 3.76 in 67 innings spread over seven starts and 19 relief appearances for the 1979 Astros, with 24 strikeouts and a 1.34 WHIP.  He had a similar time split between Triple-A and the majors during the 1980 season, though his big league time was almost all out of the bullpen. He had a 4-1, 4.85 record, 26 walks, 26 strikeouts and a 1.73 WHIP in 52 innings that season for Tuscon of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Niemann went 0-1, 5.45 in 33 innings over 22 appearances (one start) for the 1980 Astros, with 18 strikeouts and a 1.58 WHIP.  He did not pitch in the majors during the 1981 season, spending the year back at Tuscon, where he made ten starts. He had surgery in early July to remove bone chips from his elbow, which ended his season. He was 4-2, 4.89 in 57 innings for Tuscon at the time, with 38 walks, 39 strikeouts and a 1.86 WHIP.

Niemann came to the Pirates from the Astros on September 9, 1981, as the player to be named later in the Johnny Ray for Phil Garner trade made nine days earlier. Niemann pitched 28 games total for the Pirates over two seasons, spending part of each year as a starting pitcher in the minors, while putting in relief work at the big league level. He went 1-2, 6.24 over 49 innings for Pittsburgh, with most of that time coming during the 1982 season. He had a 3-2, 3.83 record, 26 walks, 28 strikeouts and a 1.50 WHIP over 44.2 innings with Portland of the Pacific Coast League in 1982. That was followed by a 1-1, 5.09 record, 26 strikeouts, a 1.44 WHIP and one save in 20 games for the Pirates. He had a 2-3, 4.50 record, 52 strikeouts and a 1.71 WHIP over 82 innings with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League in 1983. His limited time with the 1983 Pirates saw him post a 9.22 ERA, a 1.98 WHIP and a 7:8 BB/SO ratio in 13.2 innings. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Miguel Dilone in September of 1983, ending his time in Pittsburgh. He played briefly for the 1984 White Sox, where he allowed one run over 5.1 innings in five appearances. The rest of the year was spent with Denver of the Triple-A American Association, where he put together a 10-12, 5.86 record and a 1.69 WHIP in 190.1 innings. He had 110 strikeouts that year, which was the only time he reached/came close to reaching the century mark in strikeouts.

Niemann was traded to the New York Mets on March 30, 1985. He made four scoreless appearances that year in the majors, totaling 4.2 innings. The rest of the year was spent with Tidewater of the International League, where he had an 11-6, 2.76 record, 76 strikeouts and a 1.27 WHIP in 159.2 innings over 19 starts and 11 relief appearances. Most of 1986 was spent in the majors, but he still spent the middle of the year back at Tidewater, where he had a 3.23 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP and an 18:18 BB/SO ratio over 39 innings. He had a 3.79 ERA, 18 strikeouts and a 1.57 WHIP in 35.2 innings over 31 appearances for the 1986 Mets, helping them to their second World Series title. He was on the roster, but did not appear in the World Series. Niemann finished his big league career with six appearances for the 1987 Minnesota Twins, after signing with them as a free agent on January 16, 1987. He gave up five runs in 5.1 innings, with seven walks and a strikeout. He was back in Portland for a majority of that season (a Twins affiliate at the time), going 4-7, 4.15 in 104 innings, with 45 walks, 43 strikeouts and a 1.44 WHIP. He played pro ball until 1988, returning to the Mets on a minor league deal for his final season. He pitched just nine games for Tidewater during that final year, allowing 14 runs in 10.1 innings. In his eight-year big league career, he went 7-8, 4.64 in 200 innings over ten starts and 112 relief appearances, with 102 strikeouts and a 1.51 WHIP. He managed to have a lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate in the majors than he did in the minors.