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1/20: DJ, Octavio, Adam, Hans Sign; Al Replaces BB; Roberto Makes TSN; Teams Split Digital Rights; RIP Josh; HBD Brian, David, Cecil, Carl, Jesse, Denny & Jet

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  • 1904 – OF Denny Sothern was born in Washington. Originally, his last name was Southern, but it changed, along with his age, so he could enlist in the Marines while underage. Sothern had been a fairly effective leadoff hitter for Philadelphia going into his fourth season (.289 BA) and the Bucs sent OF Fred Brickell to the Phils in August of 1930 for him. Denny’s bat went cold (he hit .176) and the Pirates sold him to Baltimore, who flipped him to Brooklyn. He played 17 games for the Robins in 1931, ending his MLB career at age 27. Brickell didn’t set the world afire, but he did last three plus seasons with the Phillies, hitting .258. 
  • 1908 – Sam “The Jet” Jethroe was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. Jethroe got his nickname due to his speed; he led the Negro League in stolen bases three times as a Cleveland Buckeye. He was on the cusp of major league integration. The Boston Braves gave him his debut in 1950, and he won the AL RoY award hitting .273 w/18 HR when he was 32-years-old (although he claimed to be 28, having fudged his age). He had one more good season left in him for the Braves. After a subpar 1952 campaign, he was sent to the minors and made his last appearances in two games with Pittsburgh in 1954 (he came over in the multi-player Danny O’Connell deal), going 0-for-1. The Jet had one more contribution to black baseball – he was part of the lawsuit to get Negro League players who played MLB a pension. The case was dismissed, but led to baseball awarding the players a pension beginning in 1997. 
Jesse Gonder – 1966 Topps
  • 1936 – C Jesse Gonder was born in Monticello, Arkansas. Jesse caught the final two seasons (1966-67) of his eight-year career in Pittsburgh, batting .209 while backstopping 60 games. He came to Pittsburgh hoping to win the starting spot from Jim Pagliaroni, and although he didn’t, Jesse did see a lot of action in 1966. Relegated as the third man the following year, his performance faltered and the curtain dropped on his stint in MLB. 
  • 1940 – Honus Wagner, 65-years-old, signed his 29th Bucco contract as he joined Frankie Frisch’s coaching staff for his eighth season on the Pirates staff. He played until 1917, took some time off from baseball and then returned to the coaching ranks in 1933 before retiring for good in 1951. 
  • 1944 – UT Carl Taylor was born in Sarasota, Florida. He caught, played first and pinch hit for the Bucs in 1968-69 and was brought back again in September of 1971 for their pennant drive from KC; he returned to the Royals after the title run to complete the final two years of his career. His best season far and away was 1969, when he slashed .348/.432/.457 in 221 AB. 
  • 1947 – Homestead Gray and Pittsburgh Crawfords C Josh Gibson, the “black Babe Ruth,” died of a stroke at the age of 35. The future Hall of Fame catcher was put to rest in an unmarked grave in Allegheny Cemetery. In 1975, Negro League teammate Ted Page and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn paid for a granite marker that read: “Josh Gibson, 1911-1947, Legendary Baseball Player.” 
  • 1954The Sporting News first mentioned Roberto Clemente in a notes column that read “Three major league organizations – the Giants, Braves and Dodgers – are attempting to sign Roberto Clemente, Santurce (Clemente’s Puerto Rican club) outfielder.” The Dodgers may have won that early tussle, but quickly lost The Great One in November’s Rule 5 draft to Pittsburgh. 
  • 1963 – OF Cecil Espy was born in San Diego. He hit .254 in his two Bucco campaigns of 1991-92, part of Jim Leyland’s title clubs’ bench corps. Cecil was a highly touted guy who never quite panned out; the speedster was the eighth overall selection in the 1980 draft. The Pirates had originally landed Espy in 1985 as part of the Bill Madlock deal with LA. He spent the next season in AAA Hawaii, then the Rangers took him in the Rule 5 draft before Cecil reunited with the Pirates as a free agent in early 1991.

Cecil Espy – 1992 Fleer Ultra

  • 1975 – Pirates Special Assistant David Eckstein was born in Sanford, Florida. He played for a decade in the show for the Anaheim Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres, winning the 2006 World Series MVP with the Cards and a WS title with the Angels in 2002. The Bucs hired him in early 2019, a few weeks after his bro Rick was picked as batting coach, with David placed in player operations; he’s had teaching experience in the Anaheim and Arizona organizations. The brother act didn’t last too long; David left in early 2021 to dedicate time to his family.
  • 1993 – The Barry Bonds era officially ended with Jim Leyland’s announcement that rookie Al Martin, 25, would man left field this season to replace BB, who took his heart (and bat) to San Francisco in the off season. “I’m not really looking at it as replacing Barry,” Martin said. “Hopefully, I can start a name for myself.” Al had gotten a September cup of coffee in ‘92 and went on to have a solid rookie campaign, batting .289 w/18 HR, coming in fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. His Achilles heel became apparent though, as the lefty swinger had a big L/R split (.191 v LHP, .302 v RHP), a gap that would prove consistent over his career. Even with that split, he got 113 games/425 PAs or better in six of his eight Bucco campaigns and hit .280. 
  • 1971 – RF Brian Giles was born in El Cajon, California. In five years with Pittsburgh (1999-2003), he put up a line of .308/.426/.591 with 165 HR/506 RBI and three All-Star berths. A power guy who hit 35+ homers for four straight Bucco seasons, Giles also had a great eye, walking nearly 350 more times during his career than he whiffed. He retired in 2010 after a couple of rough seasons with San Diego while trying to play through an arthritic knee. 
  • 2000 – Big league baseball does occasionally think forward. The team owners voted to cede their digital rights to the Commissioner’s office, allowing for the creation of a new cash cow, Commish Bud Selig split the new pot of cyber gold equally among the franchises, tossing the low-revenue markets a life preserver. 
  • 2009 – 1B Adam LaRoche, 29, signed a one-year/$7.05M contract to avoid arbitration. Adam then hit .247 with 12 homers, 40 RBIs and 81 strikeouts in 87 games, slumping badly after a hot ‘09 start, and was shipped to the Red Sox on July 22nd for SS Argenis Diaz and RHP Hunter Strickland. The Pirates also agreed to one-year deals with LHP’s Zach Duke for $2.2M & John Grabow ($2.3 million), and righty Tyler Yates ($1.3M). 
Octavio Dotel – 1988 photo Jared Wickersham/USA Today
  • 2010 – Free agent RHP Octavio Dotel was signed to a one-year/$3.5M deal w/an option by the Bucs, the only team that offered the right-hander the opportunity to save games rather than be a set-up guy (they needed a replacement for Matt Capps). The 36-year-old reliever hadn’t been a closer since 2007 with Kansas City, but reclaimed the role, saving 21 games (in 26 opportunities w/4.28 ERA) before being traded at the deadline to the Dodgers for Andrew Lambo and James McDonald. Dotel worked into the 2013 season and appeared in two WS after leaving the ‘Burg. J-Mac showed early promise before flaming out and Lambo couldn’t beat a series of injuries. 
  • 2010 – RHP DJ Carrasco was signed to a one-year/$950K contract. The reliever stuck around (2-2/3.88) until the deadline, and was packaged as part of a deal with Arizona. His last MLB gig was in 2012 with the NY Mets. Carrasco was a part of the Pirate organization back in 2002, before KC took him in that year’s Rule 5 draft from Pittsburgh’s High A Carolina League club, Lynchburg.


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