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3/7 From 1990: Spot For Freddy; Pre-Arb Army; Willis HoF; Maz Day; KBL Deal; Spring Swap; MJ v Bucs; RIP Cool Papa

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  • 1991 – The Pirates went to Winter Haven to play a spring exhibition against the Red Sox, and it was speculated that the two teams would be swapping training facilities before the next camp opened. For the Bucs, based in Bradenton since 1969, it was a matter of growing impatient with the City-County feud over updating McKechnie Field, which dated back to 1923. But all’s well that ends well; Pittsburgh got its renovations in 1993 (those improvements were freshened up again in 2008), and have held preseason work there for the past 50 years. 
  • 1991 – OF Cool Papa Bell, who spent five seasons with the Pittsburgh Crawfords and five more with the Homestead Grays (he hit .300+ in nine of those 10 campaigns; the outlier season saw him hit .291), died at age 87 in St. Louis of a heart attack. His speed was legendary; Josh Gibson made the famous observation that Bell was so fast he could flip the light switch and be in bed before the room got dark. Cool Papa played for 25 years and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974. 
Cool Papa – 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes
  • 1994 – The Pirates got a springtime look at Michael Jordan in Bradenton as he tried to transition from roundballer to hardballer. He didn’t have much luck, fanning once and bouncing three balls to the infield, reaching once on 2B Carlo Garcia’s error. The Pirates whipped the White Sox 3-2 as MJ’s teammates didn’t do much with the bats, either. 
  • 1995 – The Veterans Committee selected RHP Vic Willis for the Hall of Fame. Willis pitched from 1906-09 with Pittsburgh, going 89-46 with a 2.08 ERA. The workhorse curveballer was inducted on July 30th with 249 career victories on his resume. Vic also was one of eight pitchers who tossed over 300 innings in a season without giving up a homer when he threw 322 frames in the 1906 campaign without surrendering a long ball. 
  • 1996 – The Pirates and Prime Time KBL signed a three-year contract, good for 61 games/$3M per year for broadcast rights in ‘96, with Lanny Frattare and Steve Blass being the primary booth duo. It was the first multi-year deal signed between the team and KBL, and both sides were looking to jazz up the presentation by moving the announcers into the stands occasionally and using handheld cameras to involve the crowd more in the TV presentation. 
  • 2001 – When you’re hot, you’re hot. The day after being elected to the Hall of Fame, Bradenton declared it “Bill Mazeroski Day” and Maz threw out the first pitch for the spring game at McKechnie Field. The Pirates added their two cents worth: They named a field at Pirate City after him, then Kevin McClatchy announced that the team was going to change the Avenue of the Pirates by PNC Park to Mazeroski Way, and that Maz would have a special day at the ballyard in August, right after his induction. 
It rolled in for Maz – 2002 Fleer Greats of the Game
  • 2007 – The main topic in the papers was whether or not the Bucs should keep defending NL batting champ Freddy Sanchez at second base; both the media and the team had questions about his legs being able to take the physical beating dished out to middle infielders on plays at the bag. Freddy proved tough enough. He spent 2006 much like 2005, splitting time at 3B-SS-2B, and then closed out the rest of his career as a second sacker. His legs held up fine; injuries to his arm and then to his back eventually did end his MLB days. 
  • 2019 – In an annual rite of spring, the Bucs signed 31 pre-arb players for 2019. 30 of the players were on the 40-man roster plus Dario Agrazal, who was removed from the 40-man roster during the off-season but brought to camp as a NRI, so the team had just 10 guys with more than three years of service time on the active roster. It would be a short window; eight players would become arb-eligible in 2020. But even that club was peach-fuzzed as 27 pre-arb players were signed in camp.


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