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12/15 Through the 1950s: Rizzo, Willis Deals; Vic Signs; Backstop Bottleneck; HBD Art, Jim, Bucky, Joe & Jay

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  • 1882 – C Jay “Nig” Clarke was born in Anderdon Township (now Amherstburg) Ontario. Jay had a long career, starting in organized ball in 1902 and retiring in 1927, with some time off for duty in the Marine Corps during WW1. He played parts of nine years in the big leagues, making his last MLB stop in Pittsburgh in 1920. He got into three games, went 0-for-7 and was sent to the farm in late April. His moment in the sun came in 1908 when he caught a perfect game tossed by Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps. Fun fact: According to lore, Clarke hit eight homers in eight at-bats in a 51-3 romp for the Texas League Corsicana Oil City squad over the Texarkana Casketmakers. Spoiler alert: the field he played on wasn’t meant for pro games but was used as a Sunday blue-law work-around, and the fence in right was estimated to be no more than 200’ from home, a lefty’s delight. Jay died on June 15th, 1949, 47 years to the day that he hit his eight home runs and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball HoF in 1996.
Jim Nealon – 1907 photo/Chicago Daily News
  • 1884 – 1B Jim (also known as “Joe,” his middle name) Nealon was born in Sacramento. He’s one of the sadder Buccos “coulda-been” stories. Nealon played from 1906-07 for the Pirates, and in his rookie season tied for the NL RBI lead (83) while hitting .255. Jim hit .257 the next season, then contracted tuberculosis. He went back home to California, played a couple of years of minor league ball and died of typhoid pneumonia in San Francisco in 1910 at the age of 25. 
  • 1905 - In one of their better deals, the Bucs picked up Hall-of-Famer RHP Vic Willis from the Boston Beaneaters for journeymen UT Dave Brain, IF/OF Del Howard, and RHP Vive Lindaman. Willis won 20+ games in each of his four years (1906-09) in Pittsburgh, with a slash of 88–46/2.08, and was part of the 1909 World Series championship club. The “Delaware Peach” (he went to Delaware College) was a workhorse throughout his career, completing 388 of his 471 starts. Brain started two years for Boston, then faded and retired after the 1908 campaign. Howard ended up a part-time guy, lasting through the 1909 season. Lindaman won 35 games in three years, then was let go after 15 outings in 1909. 
  • 1906 – IF Wallace “Bucky” (a childhood nickname) Williams was born in Baltimore and moved to Pittsburgh at the age of six months. After stints with the Pittsburgh Keystone Juniors and Monarchs, he played for the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1927–32; 1937-39) and the Homestead Grays in 1936. Bucky also played for his employer as part of the Edgar Thomson Steel team after his pro career; his sandlot squad once defeated the Grays in an exhibition game. He went to Holy Rosary and Crescent Elementary before leaving school for work, and rests now in Calvary Cemetery. He was named an honorary member of the Negro League Hall of Fame in Kansas City. 
  • 1937 – The Bucs sent OF Bud Hafey, 1B Bernard Cobb, C Tom Padden and cash to the St. Louis Cards for OF Johnny Rizzo. Hafey and Padden each spent time in the minors before getting one last MLB campaign while Cobb never advanced from the farm. Rizzo had a great year in ‘38, swatting 23 HR and batting .301. He hit .283 in his two years and change with the Bucs and then was sent to Philly in exchange for Vince DiMaggio. 
HBD Jim – 1987 Topps
  • 1944 - Pirate manager Jim Leyland was born in Perrysburg, Ohio. Leyland was the fiery, chain-smoking manager of the Bucs from 1986 to 1996. He won two Manager of the Year awards (1990 and 1992) and finished as runner-up in 1988 and 1991. Under Leyland, the Pirates went to the NLCS three straight seasons (1990-92) but lost all three, with the latter two going the full seven games against the Atlanta Braves. He did win a title in 1997 as the skipper of the Florida Marlins and also managed the Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers. Leyland became a Pittsburgh boy; he still lives in Mt. Lebanon. 
  • 1946 - IF Art Howe was born in Pittsburgh. A star pitcher and QB at Shaler HS, he went to Wyoming to play football but flipped to baseball after an injury. He went undrafted, returned home to Pittsburgh, got a job with Westinghouse and played semi-pro baseball on weekends in the Federation League. But the 24-year-old had a good day at a Pirates ‘71 tryout camp and the hometown club inked him the next day. He began his big league career with Pittsburgh in 1974-75 as a utility infielder, batting .195 before being traded to the Astros, where he became a regular for six seasons beginning in 1977. He played for 11 years in all with a .260 BA, managed for 11 more years after his playing days and won a pair of AL West titles with the Oakland A’s (he also skippered the Astros and Mets) while also scouting/coaching for several clubs before retiring for good in 2008. 
  • 1952 – Vic Janowicz was signed to a $75,000 contract by the Pirates as a bonus baby. Janowicz was a Heisman-winning running back at Ohio State in 1950, but Pittsburgh saw his future in baseball. As a bonus baby, he had to be carried on the MLB roster for two years and posted a line of .214 with two HR and 10 RBI in 215 PA. He then left the team and jumped to the NFL Washington Redskins, playing two years before a car accident ended his sports career. 
Vic Janowicz – 1956 Skins, 1954 Pirates Topps
  • 1959 - The Pirates began to clear their logjam at catcher by selling Hank Foiles to the KC Athletics for an undisclosed amount. That left them with Smoky Burgess, Hal Smith, Danny Kravitz and Bob Oldis behind the dish. Burgess and Smith shouldered the load; Oldis started three games and Kravitz none in 1960, and in fact Kravitz would be traded to Kansas City on June 1st for…Hank Foiles. It wasn’t a lengthy reunion; Foiles was traded to the Indians the next day.


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