11/23: Clemente Hickok Nominee; Irishman Retires (Again); Goose Flies the Coop; Surhoff Sez No; USO Trip; HBD Jose, Rich, Dale, El Tiante, Grady, Bubber, Silver Fox & Chief
- 1860 – C Charles “Chief” Zimmer was born in Marietta, Ohio. Zimmer was known as a great defensive catcher and spent 1900-02 as a Pirate toward the end of his 19-year career (he finished in 1903 as the player-manager of the Philadelphia Athletics). He hit .262 as a Bucco, catching 193 games between the ages of 39-41. Zimmer was also the first president of the Players’ Protective Association and was one of the early athletes to endorse products with his name. Chief ran a cigar business (Zimmer’s Cigars) that he pushed during the season and designed “Zimmer’s Baseball Game,” a sort of pinball machine that was a thing during the early-to-middle 1890s. His nickname came from his minor league days. Zimmer was the captain of the Poughkeepsie Indians team and so was dubbed “Chief” by the press.
- 1894 - LHP Jesse “The Silver Fox” Petty was born in Orr, Oklahoma. He was a Bucco for two years, 1929-30, going 12-16/4.55. He was sold to the Cubs during his second Pittsburgh campaign, and after the season, his seven-year MLB career was concluded. Jesse started his baseball days late – he served during WW1, predating his time in pro ball, as a combat dispatch rider, not a position for the faint of heart. Jesse was known as “The Silver Fox” because he didn’t earn a full-time big-league roster spot until he was 30 years old.
- 1897 – C Clarence “Bubber” Jonnard was born in Nashville. He and his twin brother Claude, were both major leaguers and both went by “bubber” in their younger days (Claude was an hour older, so he was the big bubber, or brother, and Clarence was the little bubber. Claude lost the nickname as he got older; Clarence went by Bubber all his life.) Bubber spent parts of six seasons in the show, with a brief stop in Pittsburgh in 1922, hitting .238 after 21 at-bats. After closing out his career in the minors, Bubber also managed for the Dallas Steers, the Milford Giants, and in 1944 was the manager of the Minneapolis Millerettes in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. He was a coach for the New York Giants, became a scout for the team, and bird-dogged for the Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Mets. Double trouble: Claude and Clarence were minor league teammates on the Nashville squad in 1920-1921 and the twins often formed the Vols battery. Both were called “Bubber” then, with Claude being “Pitching Bubber” and Clarence “Catching Bubber.”
|Grady Wilson – 1948 photo via Out of the Ballpark Development|
- 1922 - SS Grady Wilson was born in Columbus, Georgia. His MLB resume consists of 12 games played for the Pirates in 1948 after he returned from the service, going 1-for-10 with a double and a run scored. But the sport kept him busy – he played in the minors for 14 years from 1946–59, and then served as a farm manager until 1966.
- 1941 – RHP Luis Tiant was born in Marianao, Cuba. El Tiante tossed for 19 years and his penultimate season was 1981 with the Bucs, where he went 0-2/3.92 in nine starts after being recalled from AAA Portland in August. Luis won 229 games in his career and belongs to the Boston Red Sox, Venezuelan, and Hispanic Heritage Baseball Halls of Fame.
- 1944 - The MLB sponsored a USO caravan to visit war zones, including Pittsburgh-connected players Rip Sewell and Paul Waner. Rip was coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons for the Bucs, notching 21 wins each campaign with his notorious eephus pitch. Big Poison was at the end of his Hall-of-Fame career, splitting time between Brooklyn and the Yankees; he ended his tenure in the bigs quietly the following year, batting once more before hanging the spikes up for good. Dixie Walker was also aboard; he would play for the Pirates in 1948-49.
- 1963 – IF Dale Sveum was born in Richmond, California. Dale played for the Bucs in 1996-97 and closed out his 12 year career when he returned in 1999. He hit .260 for Pittsburgh and played every infield position. After he closed the book on his playing days, he managed and/or coached for Pittsburgh, Boston, Milwaukee, Chicago and Kansas City.
- 1963 - LHP Rich Sauveur was born in Arlington, Virginia. Sauveur played in parts of six seasons in the majors with six clubs. The Pirates 11th round draft pick in 1983, he debuted in 1986 in Pittsburgh with three starts, getting no decisions with a 6.00 ERA. The southpaw pitched 43 innings in his big league career in 34 outings and never won a game (in fairness, he only wore one loss). He did have an 18-year minor league career and has been a minor-league pitching coach since 2003. Fun fact: Rich holds the record for the most clubs pitched for without a win; he tossed for six MLB franchises in six seasons.
|Rich Sauveur — 1999 photo Vincent Laforet/Getty|
- 1964 - OF Jose Gonzalez was born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. He came to Pittsburgh briefly in 1991 following a July deal for Mitch Webster, uprooted after spending seven seasons with LA. He went 2-for-20 and in August was waived to the Indians. Jose had one big league campaign left after that, finishing his career with California.
- 1971 – Danny Murtaugh retired as manager because of health reasons after winning the 1971 World Series, and Bill Virdon was named as his replacement. The Quail led the Pirates to 96 wins and the 1972 NL East title, but a 67-69 performance the following season cost him his job. The Irishman, who had stayed with the organization as a scout and trouble-shooter, returned in late 1973 for another stint as skipper. Virdon moved on to skipper the Yankees for two years, the Astros for eight more (with two pennants) and closed out as the Expo’s field general for two more seasons. He’s now a special instructor for the Pirates. Bill had the oddball distinction of having been replaced twice by the manager he replaced, bookended by Murtaugh in Pittsburgh and Jim Fanning in Montreal. Moniker alert: Virdon was dubbed The Quail by announcer Bob Prince because Bill dropped so many hits just beyond the infield but in front of the outfielders, a soft hit known in that era as a dying quail for the way it fluttered to the ground.
- 1971 - Roberto Clemente was the runaway October nominee for the Hickok Award after winning the World Series MVP, qualifying him for the big enchilada, the annual Hickok Belt awarded to the top pro athlete of the year. The Great One didn’t make the final cut, though – the 1971 winner was golfer Lee Trevino.
- 1977 – The New York Yankees signed Rich “Goose” Gossage to a six-year contract worth $3.6M. Gossage saved 26 games for the Pirates in 1977, but the Bucs never made a serious offer for him to return. By most accounts, Goose liked the City, the team and Chuck Tanner (when Gossage was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, he invited Tanner as his special guest) and had hoped for some local love. He did get a reported multi-year offer from the Bucs but the salary was not in the bidding ballpark, so he took the Yankees’ money, turning down a larger and longer offer from Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves, per the media. There are a couple of stories as to how he picked up his nickname; one is that White Sox teammate and roomie Tom Bradley gave it to him for the way he craned his neck while getting a sign from the catcher; the other is that it’s just a play on Gossage.
|Goose Gossage — 1977 Topps|
- 1998 – GM Cam Bonifay met with 33-year-old free agent BJ Surhoff for dinner and contract talk at The LeMont, along with owner Kevin McClatchy and manager Gene Lamont. The Bucs wanted the vet to man the hot corner and offered him a guaranteed deal reported to be for four years/$16M dollars. Alas, a couple of weeks later Surhoff re-signed with the Orioles, accepting a three-year contract worth $14M with an option year salary of $4.5M if exercised. He had an All-Star year in ‘99 (.308 BA/28 HR/107 RBI) and went on to play through his 40th birthday, retiring after the 2005 campaign, so age didn’t end up an issue for BJ, who hit .291 over his final seven seasons. The Pirates FO was busy on other fronts, too, hiring Brookline native and South Hills Catholic grad Mickey White away from Tampa Bay to become the Bucs’ scouting director and signing Korean RHP Byung Il Kim to a $350K contract.
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