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12/3 Through the 1950s: Boatload of Minor Deals; Lynch Drafted; Janowicz Signed; Van Mungo Dangled; RIP Lefty; HBD Lou, Suitcase, Hickory & James

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  • 1878 – RHP Walt “Hickory” Dickson was born in New Summerfield, Texas. Hickory never tossed for the Pirates, but did spend the last two years of his career with the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League between 1914-15. He worked 67 games for the Rebs, going 16-24-1/3.44 pitching at the ages of 35 & 36. Dickson’s MLB claim to history is rather dubious: in his first full year in the show in 1912, he started 18 straight games that his team, the Boston Braves, lost. It took 95 years for the Brewers’ Dave Capuano to break that mark. But in the minors, he once tossed back-to-back, complete game, five-hit shutouts on the same day at the end of the season for his Cleburne team against second place Fort Worth; it’s said that Fort Worth was so discouraged after the twin bill by their performance against him that they forfeited the championship series against first place Cleburne. His nickname dates back to his youth. He healed quickly from a broken bone and was back to normal in a blink, leading his hoodies to consider him tough as hickory. 
Hickory as a NY’er – 1911 Broadleaf Gold Border
  • 1919 - C James Tillman was born in Washington, DC. Tillman was a veteran of local Negro teams in the DC area when he was called to help fill the Homestead/Washington Grays roster. From 1941 through 1943, Tillman held the thankless job of backing up Josh Gibson. While he didn’t get much work for the Grays, Tillman carried the torch for the old Negro League as a speaker in various school and civic events, keeping the memory of the history and players alive. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 89. 
  • 1925 - 1B/OF Harry “Suitcase” Simpson was born in Atlanta. He closed out his eight-year MLB career with the Pirates in 1959 after the Bucs got him as part of the Ted Kluszewski deal with the White Sox (Pittsburgh was his third team of the season). He got into nine games and hit 4-for-15 (.267) before retiring. Cort Vitty of SABR wrote that he picked up his nickname during his Negro League days. Harry wore a size 13 shoe, and a sportswriter dubbed him “Suitcase” Simpson, based on a character by that name with feet as large as suitcases, in the comic strip “Toonerville Folks.” 
  • 1927 - The Bucs dipped into the Texas League, trading LHP Mike Cvengros and C Ike Danning to Wichita Falls for LHP Fred Fussell. Fussell had a pretty solid campaign in ‘28 (8-9-1/3.61) but gave up 42 runs (38 earned) in 39-2/3 IP the following season, his last in the majors. Cvengros made a comeback in 1929 with the Cubs but spent his remaining years tossing in the American Association and Texas League, working through 1937. Danning got into two games with the St. Louis Browns in ‘29; he was destined to be a career minor leaguer. 
  • 1937 - The winter meetings kicked off with a bidding war for Brooklyn Dodger fireballer (his 238 K led the lead in 1936) Van Lingle Mungo. Several teams were in hot pursuit as the Brooklyn Dodgers were rumored to want to dump his $15K salary. The Pittsburgh Press said that da Bums wanted an outfielder, infielder and pitcher, and the Bucs had reportedly dangled OFs Paul Waner/Woody Jensen, P’s Red Lucas/Bill Swift/Big Jim Weaver and IF Pep Young as bait. Nothing came of it; the Dodgers swallowed hard and ponied up Van Mungo’s paycheck. Good thing for the Pirates, too – Big Poison, even at age 35, still had three good campaigns left, the other guys also stayed on the team and went on to have solid years while Van Mungo, who had won 18 games in 1936, would only win 18 more matches total in the next five years after injuring his arm during the 1937 campaign. 
Lefty Killen – photo via Baseball Revisited
  • 1939 – Frank “Lefty” Killen died in Pittsburgh at the age of 69 of a heart attack. Killen was a life-long yinzer who spent the middle six years (1893-98) of his 10-season big league stay with the Pirates. He led the league in wins twice with 36 in 1893 as a 22-year-old and 30 in 1896, with a 112-82/3.97 overall slash as a Bucco. During his career, he also tossed for the Milwaukee Brewers (1891), Washington Senators (1892), Boston Beaneaters (1899) and Chicago Orphans (1900). Killen won 20 or more games five times and ended his career with a line of 164-131/3.78 with 253 complete games and 13 shutouts. Lefty lived on Federal Street and operated a North Side hotel/cigar store from a building he owned after he retired. He’s buried in Allegheny County Memorial Park in Allison Park. 
  • 1947 – Busy day for the Buccos. They sold 11-year vet 1B Elbie Fletcher to the Cleveland Indians (he had one more MLB season left), traded minor league IFs Jimmy Bloodworth and Vic Barnhart to the Dodgers for 2B Monty Basgall (Bloodworth played four more seasons and Barnhart, whose dad Clyde was also a Pirate, never made it back to MLB while Basgall played three years for the Bucs hitting .215) and named Al Lopez manager of the AAA Indianapolis Indians. Lopez had turned down the same deal a season earlier to get in a last go-around as a player (he caught for 19 years). That decision to bypass managing may have cost him a shot at the Bucco field general job when skipper Billy Herman was fired and replaced by Billy Meyers after the ‘47 campaign. 
  • 1945 - LHP Lou Marone was born in San Diego. Lou, the Bucs’ 30th round pick from the 1965 draft, had a MLB career that consisted of 30 games tossed for the Pirates (29 in 1969 with one last outing in 1970), posting a line of 1-1/2.63 from the pen. His ‘70 season was cut short by an arm injury, and in 1971 and ‘72 he was given a shot to make the club but couldn’t impress. Part of his problem was his conditioning; Lou was 5’10” and weighed in at 225 pounds, leading to the unflattering nickname of “Toad.” Family matters: Lou was the cousin of pitcher John D’Acquisto who won the NL Rookie Pitcher of the Year award in 1974 with the Giants. 
  • 1952 - At the winter meetings, the Pirates sent vet C Clyde McCullough to the Cubs, a team he had spent seven years with before being traded to Pittsburgh in 1948 as part of the Pie Traynor deal, getting 25-year-old righty Dick Manville and $25,000 in return. GM Branch Rickey said he had tried to sign Manville back in 1947 but was outbid by the Boston Braves. Manville had put up a 7.11 ERA in 12 games between the Braves & the Cubs, and after a year of bouncing around the Pirates farm system, posting a 4-7/5.66 slash, he was out of baseball. McCullough, 36, was a bench player in Pittsburgh but earned an All-Star stint with the Cubs in 1953 (he had a hot start to the season but dropped off in the second half, hitting .258 for the year in 77 games). He played through 1956, batting .244 over his final four Cub campaigns. The Bucs also announced that they signed Vic Janowicz, football star from Ohio State, to a contract w/$25,000 bonus despite the fact he didn’t play baseball for the Buckeyes, focusing his college years on the gridiron. 
Vic Janowicz – 1953 Topps
  • 1956 – OF Jerry Lynch was taken by the Reds from the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft. Lynch played seven years with Cincinnati, earning a spot in the franchise’s Hall of Fame, before returning to Pittsburgh in 1963. Jerry is considered one of baseball’s all-time elite pinch hitters, with 116 off-the-bench hits (and 18 homers) during his career. He remained a Pittsburgh guy after retiring, living in Allison Park, and had his ashes sprinkled over Champion Lakes Golf Course in Ligonier, co-owned by him and Dick Groat, after he passed on in 2012 at age 82. 
  • 1958 - Pittsburgh traded RHP Luis Arroyo to Cincinnati for Nino Escalera. Arroyo hit his stride with the Yankees in 1961, winning 15 games and saving 29 more with a 2.19 ERA during his All-Star season while pinch-hitter/1B Escalero never made it out of AAA. It would have been interesting to see what damage a pen of Arroyo and ElRoy Face could have wreaked on the NL.


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