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4/15 Through the 1950s: Boot-Fest & Squeaker Openers; Greenberg, Chief Debut; Pro Opener; HBD Wild Bill, Chaney, King, Batty & Bill

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  • 1871 – 3B Bill Grey (also spelled Gray) was born in Philadelphia. A utility player who yo-yoed between the majors and minors, he was picked up by the Pirates for the 1898 season as part of the Pink Hawley deal after hitting .357 for the Western League Indianapolis Hoosiers. He played one season in Pittsburgh as the full-time third baseman (the only time he played one position for an entire year in the majors), getting 528 ABs but hitting just .229 and was dealt again, this time bringing Ginger Beaumont to the North Shore. The Pirates were his last MLB stop; after two more minor-league campaigns, he retired. 
  • 1876 – The Pittsburgh Alleghenys played what’s often thought to be the city’s first professional baseball game against the local Xanthas at North Side’s Union Park, winning 7-3. (The Alleghenys had paid players but were an independent club). The following year, the franchise was accepted into the minor league International Association, but the team and league disbanded after the season. 
Batty – 1909-11 American Tobacco 
  • 1877 – Ed Abbaticchio, considered by many to be the first Italian American to play MLB, was born in Latrobe. “Batty” was also one of the first to play both pro baseball and football, starring on the gridiron for Latrobe, arguably the first pro football team in America. The middle infielder played 3-1/2 of his nine big league seasons (1907-10) for Pittsburgh, hitting .253, and was a reserve for the 1909 World Series champs. 
  • 1886 – RHP Leonard “King” Cole was born in Toledo, Iowa. The jolly old soul spent six years in MLB, tossing 12 times for the Bucs in 1912 with a 2-2/6.43 line. The Pirates got him from the Cubs on May 30th with Solly Hofman for Tommy Leach and Lefty Leifield. He spent 1913 at Columbus and was then drafted by the Yankees. Cole had an interesting career, pitching the first Cubbie no-hitter in 1910 (seven innings; shortened by curfew) while winning 20 games, serving up Babe Ruth’s first hit while a Yankee hurler in 1914 (a double), and becoming a Ring Lardner hero in his Alibi Ike series of short stories. The King passed away not long after that, dying from TB in 1915 at age 29. He got his nickname from the Cub faithful, likely after the nursery rhyme character. 
  • 1894 – OF Chaney White was born in Longview, Texas. Chaney played for 18 seasons in the Negro Leagues with a local stop, hitting .312 for the 1930 Homestead Grays. Chaney broke up Chet Brewer and Smokey Joe Williams’ legendary pitching duel when he doubled off the third base sack to plate Oscar Charleston with the game’s only run to defeat Brewer in the 12th frame. 
  • 1908 – Opening Day at St. Louis’ Robison Field was a damp one (it had originally been scheduled the day before but was rained out) and it showed as the Pirates and Cardinals combined for 10 errors. Still, it was a 0-0 duel between Pittsburgh’s Howie Camnitz and the Redbirds Johnny Lush going into the ninth when each team scored (who woulda guessed?) an unearned run. In the 10th inning, the Bucs turned a bopped batter and a botched forceout attempt into a pair of runs and Camitz took care of the rest to claim a 3-1 win. It was a big confidence booster for a young club; the Pirates were without Honus Wagner, who said he was retiring. But an offer two days later that doubled his salary lured him back. 
Chief Yellow Horse – 1922
  • 1921 – Pirate pitcher Moses “Chief” Yellow Horse made his major league debut against the Reds. Yellow Horse, a Pawnee, was believed by many baseball historians to be the first full-blooded American Indian to play in the big leagues. He worked the last two innings and “did not permit a single safe swat” per the Pittsburgh Press to save a win for Earl Hamilton as the Bucs beat the Reds 3-1 at Redland Field. The Pirates won it in the eighth, filling the bases on a knock, error and swinging bunt single, and all three runners plated when Max Carey’s two-out fly dropped just in front of Cincy’s OF Pat Duncan. 
  • 1926 - RHP William “Wild Bill” Pierro was born in Brooklyn (the date is debatable; Bill was deserted as an infant and raised by foster parents, the Pierros). A lanky kid, Pierro was a hot shot Bucco prospect and made it to the show in July of 1950. He featured a blazing fastball with a sidearm curve and fanned 275 batters in Class B Waco in 1949 after punching out 300 hitters in Bartlesville the previous season while compiling a 51-31/2.60 line in four minor-league seasons. He got into 12 games and made three starts for the Pirates, slashing 0-2/10.55. He lived up to his nickname, walking 28 batters in 29 IP, including six in one memorable frame. He butted heads with Branch Rickey over a variety of issues, not exactly helping his own cause, and was slated to work at the minor league complex on his control after 1951 camp broke. He was still with the big team on his 25th birthday when he was rushed to Pittsburgh’s Presbyterian Hospital with encephalitis and was in a coma for several weeks. Bill eventually recovered, but his days as an athlete were finished. He went back home to Brooklyn where he became a taxi driver and Public Works employee. 
  • 1930 – The Bucs took the season opener from Cincinnati 7-6 at Redland Field in front of 30,112 fans. North Side’s Steve Swetonic tossed 5-1/3 innings of one-run ball in relief of Ray Kremer for the win. Paul Waner went 4-for-4 while Dick Bartell and Rollie Hemsley homered. 
  • 1947 – In his Pirate debut, Hank Greenberg’s sixth-inning double chased home Billy Cox to give the Bucs’ a 1-0 victory over the Cubs and Hank Borowy. Rip Sewell got the win by scattering five hits at Wrigley Field. The slugger was brought in from the Tigers after a contract impasse and Greenberg wasted no time cashing in for Pittsburgh. 
Hank Greenberg – 2002 Topps American Pie
  • 1958 – The Pirates beat the Braves 4-3 in a 14-inning contest, tying the longest opening day game ever played in the NL, a record they would tie again in 1969. Bill Virdon chased home Hank Foiles with the game winner at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. Ron Blackburn got the win and Curt Raydon picked up the save. Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat and Bob Skinner each had three hits; Bill Virdon and RC Stevens chipped in a pair, too, as the Bucs made it tough on themselves by stranding 13 runners.


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