1892 – Pirate suit Bill Benswanger was born in New York City. His family moved to Pittsburgh when he was five and he attended Central HS. Bill married into owner Barney Dreyfuss’ family, and in 1931 he became the team’s treasurer. Dreyfuss passed away the following year and Benswanger became the president, a position he held until 1946. Baseball wasn’t exactly in his blood. He told Vince Johnson of the Post Gazette that “I literally got dumped into baseball. I didn’t know a thing about it. I was there just because I was the only man in the family.” But Bill was a quick learner and ran the club creditably before the Dreyfuss family sold it to Frank McKinney’s group for an estimated $2,225,000.
Bill Benswanger and his better half 1937 (photo NY Post/Getty)
1900 – C Roy Spencer was born in Scranton, NC. He played his first three campaigns in Pittsburgh (1925-27) on two World Series clubs as a reserve, appearing in the ‘27 Classic. In three years, he hit .307 for Pittsburgh. After leaving Pittsburgh, Spencer played nine more seasons, starting from 1929-32 for Washington.
1911 – C Bill Baker was born in Paw Creek, NC. The backup played four seasons (1941-43, 1946) with Pittsburgh, missing a couple of years while in the Navy during WW2, and hit .247. Baker went into umpiring after his career and worked his way up to the NL for a season before his knees finally gave out, an occupational hazard for an old catcher.
1922 – SS Frankie Zak was born in Passaic, New Jersey. He played three years, all in Pittsburgh (1944-46), as a reserve infielder and pinch runner with a .266 lifetime BA. Even tho he only got 160 bats in 1944, he was named a replacement All-Star. The game was held at Forbes Field, and with wartime travel restrictions creating logistic problems, the NL took the easy road by selecting him (Frankie did hit .300 that season). Red Patterson in the New York Herald-Tribune explained “Frank Zak was substituted at the last moment for (Pirate) Pete Coscarart, who was supposed to replace Eddie Miller (of the Reds) but went fishing before he could be notified.” A local sports scribe cracked “He (Zak) got a break. He thought he'd have to pay his way in.” The poor guy couldn’t even get a memento; he was named to the team too late to have his name included in the All-Star program.
Frankie Zak (photo via SABR)
1947 – For the first time since 1918, the Pirates held spring training in Florida with the pitchers reporting and the full squad due on the 27th. Billy Herman’s club worked out in Miami Beach, with the players getting $5 per day spending money, which the Post Gazette estimated as enough “for a couple of hamburgers…and a cup of coffee.”
1980 – President Jimmy Carter hosted both the Steelers and Pirates in a single ceremony at the White House to celebrate their respective championship wins in Super Bowl XIV and the 1979 World Series. More than one observer believed that the ceremony had more to do with the upcoming Pennsylvania primary than trophies. Championship showcases, thought to be initiated by JFK, were made into an annual rite by Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan.
1985 – The Pirates signed Orlando Merced as an amateur free agent out of high school at the age of 17. The Puerto Rican spent seven seasons with the Bucs, playing outfield and first, batting .283 from 1990-96 before being traded as part of the Jose Silva/Abraham Nunez deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Howie Haak & Chuck Tanner (photo George Gojkovich/Getty)
1999 – Howie Haak, known as the “King of the Caribbean” by baseball people and “Big Daddy” by young Latino ballplayers, died of a stroke at age 87. Haak toiled for the Pirates from 1950-88, when he resigned after a spat with GM Syd Thrift and beat the bushes for the Houston Astros for several years afterward. In 1984, Haak was selected as the first recipient of the Scout of the Year award, voted on by his peers. He signed scores of players for the Bucs, including Manny Sanguillen, Omar Moreno & Rennie Stennett of Panama; Tony Pena, Jose DeLeon, Frank Taveras & Cecilio Guante of the Dominican Republic, Ramon Hernandez & Junior Ortiz of Puerto Rico, Joe Christopher & Al McBean of the Virgin Islands, Roman Mejias & Orlando McFarlane of Cuba and Tony Armas of Venezuela. He also reeled in some US players, like Dick Stuart, Dale Berra, Steve Nicosia, Joe Gibbon, Red Witt, John Candelaria, and Bob Veale.