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4/9 Through the 1960s: '63 Opening Day Party; Waner Contracts; Grimes Gone; Mantle Mashes; Spring: Jeep Beaned, Cy No-No; HBD Claude

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  • 1909 – RHP Claude Passeau was born in Waynesboro, Mississippi. Passeau worked 13 years in the show, getting his start in 1935 as a 26-year-old rookie for the Pirates when he got into one game and was hammered for four runs and seven hits in three innings. The Bucs gave up on him early (Passeau claimed he had a dead arm after tossing 244 IP in the minors before the Pirates brought him on in late September) and sent him to the Phils as a throw-in piece of the Al Todd trade. Claude ended up winning 162 games with a 3.32 ERA and made four All-Star teams. After he left the game, he only had one beef – he was rumored to throw a wet one but denied the charge, claiming it came about from his ability to change speeds and pitch movement. Claude was herky-jerky on the mound, always tugging his cap, smoothing his uniform, etc., and that probably led to the suspicion that he loaded the horsehide with some hidden hurler’s helper. 
Burleigh Grimes – undated photo Charles Bettmann/Getty
  • 1930 – After a contract clash and spring holdout, spitballer Burleigh Grimes was sent to the Boston Braves for lefty Percy Jones (he tossed nine games and was done) and “a considerable amount” of cash. Grimes was then flipped to the Cards later in the season. St. Louis made it to the Series in ‘30, losing to the Philadelphia Athletics and Lefty Grove. They took it all the following year as Grimes won 17 games and added another pair in the Series as the Cards dethroned the Athletics in the rematch. Grimes had an oddball relationship with the Pirates; he started, spent the middle, and then ended his career with Pittsburgh, spending five of his 19 MLB seasons with the Bucs. 
  • 1937 – The 1936 batting champ‚ Paul Waner‚ ended his holdout and signed his 1937 contract. No official announcement was made of the amount, believed to be in the ballpark of $16,000. Big Poison went on to hit .354 and earn his last All-Star berth at age 34. 
  • 1939 – The Bucco preseason wound down on a sour note when starting 3B Lee “Jeep” Handley was felled by a bean ball and taken to the hospital during a spring training game played three days before the opener. “The beaning caused an uproar in the Pirate camp that hasn’t been equaled in many years…” wrote Pittsburgh Press beatman Les Biederman as the Bucs boiled over the “intentions” of Cleveland hurler Johnny Allen, who caught Jeep in the temple with a sidearm fastball. Allen had just given up a homer and his next pitch nailed Lee, leading the Pirates to believe it was a purpose pitch (the Chicago catcher defended his guy by saying Jeep was crowding the plate). Handley recovered to hit .285 during the campaign but missed the first 10 games of the season while recurring complications from the incident caused him to sit out 52 games in total during the year. 
  • 1939 – Not only was Jeep Handley beaned, but manager Pie Traynor may have cost Cy Blanton his career. Blanton tossed a no-no against the Tribe in the same exhibition game, going the distance in a meaningless contest because the skipper didn’t want to pull him with a no-hitter on the line. It’s been hotly debated whether or not this outing led to Blanton being diagnosed with torn ligaments three starts into the season, but he was never the same. In the four prior years (1935-38), he started 122 games, tossing to a 3.23 ERA, and in his last four seasons, starting in 1939, he got just 42 starts with a 4.51 ERA. In brighter news of the day, Paul Waner, who in an annual rite of spring held out during camp, agreed to a new contract that reportedly cut his previous salary by $5,000. Big Poison was a week from reaching 36 and had his worst year as a Bucco in 1938, hitting .280 w/.331 OBP. He bounced back, batting .328, but would be released by the Pirates after the 1940 season. 
Cy Blanton – 1938 photo George Burke
  • 1953 – In an exhibition game at Forbes Field, 21-year-old rookie Mickey Mantle of the Yankees crushed a Bill MacDonald curve and launched it over the RF roof, joining the Babe and Ted Beard as the only hitters at that time to do that deed since the upper deck was added in 1925. In all, 18 balls would fly over the roof, seven put in orbit by Willie Stargell. Mantle cleared the stands again during the 1960 World Series. 
  • 1963 – The home season kicked off in grand style as the Benny Benack band provided the music, Jeanne Baxter sang the Anthem and Governor William Scranton (he tossed out the first pitch), Commissioner Bill McClelland, Mayor Joe Barr & Prothonotary Dave Roberts were present. The game was pretty good too as the Bucs and Braves traded ninth inning runs with the Pirates rallying for a 3-2 walk off win in front of 29,615 Forbes Field faithful. With two down in the ninth, Pittsburgh got back-to-back-to-back hits from Bill Virdon, Bob Bailey and pinch-hitter Ted Savage to win the game for ElRoy Face, who had worked out a two-on, no-out pickle in the Milwaukee ninth. The first two Pittsburgh scores came on solo shots by old dawg Smokey Burgess and frisky pup Bailey.


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