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4/1 Through the 1960’s: Watty Deal; Cro Sold; Double O; Perfect Vision; April's Fool; HBD Masumi, Willie, Jake, Hugo & Fred

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  • 1858 – OF Fred Mann was born in Sutton, Vermont. The center fielder played two of his six MLB years with the Alleghenys from 1885-86. He hit .251 over that span, spent one more season in the show, then left baseball after toiling for three more years in the bushes. He was the first major league ballplayer to hail from the Green Mountain state. 
Hugo Bezdek – 1917 photo Charles Conlon
  • 1884 – Manager Hugo Bezdek was born in Prague, Bohemia, then part of Austria-Hungary empire and now part of the Czech Republic. While he coached at Oregon, he was also a Pirates scout covering the West Coast. When 1917 Pirates manager Nixey Callahan was let go, Hans Wagner became the interim manager (a job he did not particularly care for) before Barney Dreyfuss settled on Bezdek as skipper. The team went 30-59 the remainder of the year, but improved to 65-60 in 1918 and finished 71-68 the next campaign. Bezdek relied on his players’ advice to overcome his lack of baseball experience, with two of them – Casey Stengel and Billy Southworth – becoming Hall of Fame field generals. Bedzek left the team after 1919 for his true love, football. He coached at Penn State where his football teams went 65-30-11 with two undefeated seasons and a Rose Bowl appearance. In addition, he was manager of the Nittany Lion nine, going 129-76-1 from 1920-1930. He spent a couple of seasons as the Cleveland Browns coach and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. 
  • 1904 – In what was considered the first major deal between the AL & NL after their 1903 truce, the Pirates bought Wyatt “Watty” Lee from Washington for $3,000. The P/1B had three solid seasons for the Senators, but was a flop for the Bucs, appearing in just eight games, five as a pitcher and three as a pinch hitter. Watty went 4-for-12 at the plate, but his pitching record left much to be desired with a slash of 1-2/8.74. It was the end of Lee’s major league days though he soldiered on with a long minor league career. 
  • 1911 – Just to prove that umps’ eyesight has always been under suspicion, according to Charlton’s Baseball Chronology “NL president Tom Lynch reveals he had asked all umpires to produce certificates as to their eyesight; tests showed all have perfect vision.” Our only question is who tested the doctors? 
  • 1926 - RHP Jake Thies was born in St. Louis. As a 28-year-old, he spent 1954 and one lackluster start in 1955 with the Pirates, slashing 3-10/3.90 overall. He was dealt to Kansas City where he spent two years at AAA, returning to the Buc system for three games to close his pro days before retiring to a long career as a salesman. 
Jake Thies – 1955 Topps
  • 1928 – The April Fool’s victim this year was the Pirates, who sold SS Joe Cronin to KC of the American Association, which then flipped him to Washington in July. In Pittsburgh, he was blocked at SS by Glenn Wright and manager Donie Bush preferred vet George Grantham at second base, so the Pirates deemed him to be excess baggage. They deemed wrong; after a 20-year career, seven All-Star games and .301 BA, he earned a plaque in the Hall of Fame. 
  • 1948 – 1B Willie Montanez was born in Catano, Puerto Rico. Willie spent part of 1981 and 1982 with the Pirates at the tail end of his 14-year career after he was swapped from the Expos for John Milner. He seldom made the lineup but hit .271 off the bench before the Bucs released him. He closed out his MLB stint in ‘82 with the Phils. Trivia Tidbit: Cardinal Curt Flood was traded to the Phillies in 1969 as part of the big Dick Allen deal but refused to go, retired, and then unsuccessfully sued MLB for free agency, eventually setting all sorts of player movement wheels in motion. Part of the blowback was that Montanez ended up as one of the guys (Jim Browning was the other) the Redbirds sent to Philly as his replacement. 
  • 1957 – The Pirates and KC Athletics played an 18-inning, 0-0 exhibition game before darkness put an end to the match. The two teams collected a combined 18 hits, 16 of which were singles, and only used three pitchers each; there were almost as many players as fans; the crowd at Fort Myers was 432 warm fannies. The contest was just shy of lasting four hours before the managers called it a day. Ron Kline and Bob Purkey did most of the tossing for the Bucs, with long-shot Purkey winning a spot on the staff after his 10-inning whitewash performance. 
  • 1963 – The Titusville Herald’s headline screamed “Pittsburgh Pirates To Move Club To Titusville.” The April Fools gag drew a chuckle but no interest from ownership and the Bucs remained firmly rooted in Forbes Field. Titusville’s population per the 1960 census was 8,356 souls; Forbes Field had an average attendance of 9,675 in 1963; maybe there was a match to be made. 
  • 1968 – RHP Masumi Kuwata was born in Yao, Japan. He ended his 21-year stay with the Yomiuri Giants (173 wins, 3.55 ERA) after the 2006 campaign because at age 38, he wanted to take a shot at MLB. He drew some interest from the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but chose the Pirates because he thought they offered the fastest track to the majors. He hurt his ankle in camp, went to Indy and got a call up in June. He lasted two months and 19 outings, tossing to a 9.43 ERA, and was outrighted. He refused the Indy assignment and returned to Japan, but then signed a minor league deal with the Bucs for 2008; apparently neither side believed that experience was a very good teacher. Kuwata didn’t make the 25-man out of camp and retired. The Pirates offered Kuwata a coaching job (he was a pro at preparation and a willing mentor to younger guys), but he declined and went back to Nippon for good. He did make the Bucco annals, though, as the first Japanese player for Pittsburgh.


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