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4/29 Through the 1970s: Greenlee Opens; First Sunday Game; Rallies; Terrific Trio; HBD Tony, JVW, Phil, Frank & Lefty

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  • 1860 – RHP Frank (Hengstebeck) Beck was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. Franks had five MLB outings in 1884, three with the Alleghenys. All three starts were complete-game losses as he put up a 6.12 ERA, although he did have better luck as a part-time outfielder, going 4-for-12. He finished up with two more losses with the Union Association’s Baltimore Monumentals to end his big league stay. He returned to baseball’s independent leagues, where he started from, and his trail died off after his 1887 campaign with Ionia of the Northern Michigan League. 
Lefty Mellix – National League Stars
  • 1896 – LHP Ralph “Lefty” Mellix was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mellix’s family moved to Pittsburgh when he was a child and the Peabody HS grad became a semi-pro legend (he kept a day job at Westinghouse and later with the City), tossing briefly for the Homestead Grays in 1935 and part of a Gus Greenlee touring team in the 40’s. Lefty played for local and regional clubs too numerous to mention, often as a rental headliner, but his regular home was in Pittsburgh’s Hilltop, as he pitched and managed for the Beltzhoover Black Sox (later the 18th Warders), based out of McKinley Park. His playing days covered 1917-57, earning him the title of “The Granddaddy of the Sandlots.” Though records are scarce, it’s said that he was on the bump for 1500+ games and claimed nine no-hitters. After Mellix retired, the Pirates recognized him by giving him a lifetime pass and he became a historian of sorts as a dispenser of local black baseball lore. 
  • 1930 – Rollie Hemsley, George Grantham, and Charlie Engle combined for 11 hits and 12 RBI to lead the Pirates to a 13-9 win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Bucs rallied from a 7-1 deficit with a seven run sixth inning and never looked back. Ralph Erickson got the win (his only MLB victory) in relief of Ray Kremer with a save going to Steve Swetonic. Pittsburgh and Chicago were just holding up their end in a day of MLB fireworks – in the seven games played on this date, an average of 17+ runs a game were scored. 
  • 1932 – Greenlee Field in the Hill, home of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, opened in front of 4,000 fans. Hall of Famers Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson were the battery as the Pittsburgh Crawfords lost the opener to the New York Black Yankees 1-0 in a pitching duel with Jesse “Mountain” Hubbard. Paige struck out 10 and allowed six hits, but Hubbard was better, surrendering just three knocks. The Allegheny County commissioners, Pittsburgh’s mayor, and the city councilmen caught the opener from the field boxes. It was the first ballfield built specifically for a black team, erected by team owner Gus Greenlee. When finished, the grounds would seat 7,500, with lights added in 1933. It was demolished in 1939 to create space for the Bedford Dwellings. 
  • 1934 – Red Lucas won Pittsburgh’s first Sunday home game as the Pirates beat Cincinnati 9-5 at Forbes Field, backed by Gus Suhr’s three hits and four RBI. Both Suhr and Paul Waner, who also had three knocks, homered. 20,000 turned out for the game, including Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and former NL President/PA Governor John Tener. Because of Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws, Pittsburgh was the last major league city to play a home game on a Sunday after local referendums in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia approved Sunday ballgames in the 1933 November elections. 
Red Lucas – 1934 Diamond Stars
  • 1938 – Pittsburgh sports writer Phil Musick was born; he was raised in the Garfield section of Pittsburgh. He began locally at the Greensburg Tribune-Review as sports editor. He joined the Pittsburgh Press in 1969 and later moved across the street to the Post Gazette, covering the Pirates and Steelers in his columns (“Stop the Musick,” usually filled with musings under “Things I think I think…”). He later was the first sports columnist at USA Today before returning to the Press. He left the paper in 1987 and hosted a talk show on WTAE-Radio while teaching journalism at LaRoche College. He also had a handful of books and national freelance articles on his resume before passing away in 2010. 
  • 1959 – The Giants jumped ahead of the Pirates and Ronnie Kline 2-0 at Forbes Field early on and the lead held up until the Bucs counter-punched in the seventh. Roberto Clemente opened with a triple, Smokey Burgess followed with a double, and Dick Stuart’s single tied the score. A double play dampened the festivities a bit, but Bill Mazeroski put the cherry on top by homering off Johnny Antonelli to give Pittsburgh the lead. Kline, who fanned nine Golden Gaters, cruised to the finish line, retiring the last eight G-Men as Pittsburgh went on to take a 3-2 win. 
  • 1964 – Tony Cloninger of the Braves had the Pirates eating out of his hand, tossing a one-hitter to outduel Bob Veale at County Stadium by a 1-0 score. Veale gave up six hits and walked five, but wasn’t threatened much during the contest. He surrendered the only run after a leadoff third-inning double by Dennis Menke. He was sacrificed to third when Cloninger bunted the ball hard back to Veale, who slipped while fielding it and had to settle for the out at first. It cost him when Felipe Alou dropped a single into center to plate the game’s only run. The Bucs didn’t get a hit until two were away in the seventh, when Willie Stargell smoked a single to right; he had the only other well-stroked ball off Cloninger in the fourth when Hank Aaron made a running grab of his sinking liner. 
  • 1966 – OF/1B John Vander Wal was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He played for the Bucs in 2000-01, and in 232 games hit .290 w/35 HR and 144 RBI. The Pirates traded him at the 2001 deadline with Jason Schmidt to the Giants for Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios in one of GM Dave Littlefield’s early deals after replacing Cam Bonifay in mid-July. In his career, Vander Wal banged 129 pinch hits and holds the single-season record for pinch hits with 28 with the Rox in 1995. 
Tony Armas Jr – 2007 Upper Deck
  • 1978 – RHP Tony Armas Jr. was born in Puerto Piritu, Venezuela. Tony worked 10 big league campaigns as a journeyman starter and spent 2007 as a Pirate (4-5/6.03) after inking a $3.5M deal. It proved to be his final full MLB season as the Bucs didn’t pick up his 2008 option and the Mets released him the following year after one outing. Junior was the son of All-Star OF Tony Armas who had been a hot Bucco prospect but was traded to the A’s after a cup of coffee in Pittsburgh as part of the Phil Garner deal.


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