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1/23 From 1960: Giles, Osik & Milner Sign; Ralph HoF;TRS Blues; HBD Benny & Victor

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  • 1962 – 1B/OF Benny Distefano was born in Brooklyn. He played for the Bucs in 1984, 1986, and 1988-89, hitting .227 in 300 PA. Distefano was the last lefty to catch a major league game, going behind the dish three times for the Pirates in 1989. He played some in Venezuela after his last MLB game in 1992 and has been a Mets farm coach since 2010. 
  • 1968 – RHP Victor Cole was born in Leningrad, Russia (his student father married a Russian girl). Cole’s MLB/Pirates resume consists of eight games with an 0-2/5.48 slash in 1992, but that was enough to make him the first Soviet-born major leaguer since the thirties. He later went on to play in Korea and part-time for the Russian national team (he suited up when they played in the US) in 2003 and 2007. 
Victor Cole – 1990 Bowman
  • 1975 – OF Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame and was inducted on August 18th. Kiner played only 10 years in MLB, but led the NL in home runs for seven consecutive seasons. He received 273 votes on the 362 ballots cast by the writers, exactly enough to be selected. Good thing, too – it was his 15th and final year on the ballot; his name would have been kicked to the Veterans Committee if he hadn’t gotten in. Kiner Quotes: One, attributed to Kiner himself was “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords.” The other was some shade thrown by Bucco GM Branch Rickey, who told Kiner after he had traded him to the Cubs: “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.” 
  • 1981- The Pirates officially announced a multi-year deal (terms not disclosed) with 1B/OF John Milner, who was testing free agency after four Bucco campaigns. He signed the contract on January 15th, the last day that he could rejoin the Pirates per the FA rules of the day. Milner was expected to platoon in left field and help ease Willie Stargell’s load, but that plan was foiled by the acquisition of Jason Thompson when camp broke. Milner hit just .237 in the strike-shortened year and was traded in a deadline deal to the Expos for Willie Montanez. In turn, he was released by Montreal in the middle of 1982 and was re-signed by Pittsburgh to close out his final season. 
  • 1992 – In a seemingly never-ending battle, the Pirates sued the City to break the lease at Three Rivers Stadium. They cited general lack of maintenance, but the issue had deeper roots – the City had promised the team $25M back in 1986 to capitalize the Pirates, based on the premise that TRS would be sold to a private investor. That never happened, and a consequent City bond fell $4.3M short of meeting the promised sum, leading to an exchange of slings and arrows between the two parties. The ballclub also chafed at the TRS rental fee and amusement tax. It was a perilous time for the Pirates and Pittsburgh; the team was skating on thin ice financially and the City was reeling from the loss of the steel industry and was in no position to bankroll the Bucs, as it was on a slope leading to the state finally declaring it “financially distressed” and taking over the municipal pursestrings. Spoiler alert: both were bloodied and battered but survived. 
  • 1998 – Backup C Keith Osik signed a three-year/$1.025M contract, a nice bump after earning $175K the year before. Osik didn’t do much at the dish in those three years, batting .227/60+ OPS, but still carved out a seven-season stay with Pittsburgh and added three more campaigns bouncing around the league. 
Brian Giles – 1999 Pacific Revolution
  • 1999 – After a 69-win campaign, Bucs announced five newly-signed players (Brian Giles was the sole keeper) leading into the two-day Pirate Fest ‘99 that featured 11 current Buccos at the Carnegie Science Center to draw the fans and move some tickets. The team also showcased 10 members of the 1979 World Series club, who were signing autographs and cheesin’ with the WS trophy. The Pirates doubled down by having Sister Sledge perform a concert. Maybe they had an inkling even back then that the ballclub was going to have to live on future promises and past glories for a spell… 
  • 2002 – Al Avila spun the rotating door when he was hired as a Special Assistant to GM Dave Littlefield. He left the Marlins after he spent the off season as the interim GM, replacing Dave Dombroski, who jumped to Detroit. After four months as a Pirates’ suit, Dombroski then hired Avila as his VP in April, and Al eventually took over the reins in 2015 when DD was let go by the Tigers.


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