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12/31: RIP Roberto; Whirlybird Signs; CBA Expires; Clemente Car Crash; HBD Esteban, Jim, Bobby & Dottie

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  • 1884 – 3B Bobby Byrne was born in St. Louis. The pint sized (5’-7”, 145 lbs.) scrapper played five seasons for the Pirates (1909-13) and hit .277 with 97 stolen bases in Pittsburgh. He was acquired late in 1909 and helped the Bucs to their World Series title against the Tigers. A leadoff hitter, Bobby had 176 swipes in his career and walked more often than he whiffed. Byrne was also a very good soccer player, making the All-St. Louis team as a youth and playing in the area until Barney Dreyfuss made him stick to one sport. 
Dorothy Kovalchick Roark – 1995 Fritsch AAGPBL
  • 1925 - Dorothy Kovalchick Roark was born in Sagamore, a coal-mining town in Armstrong County. For eight years she barnstormed with her dad’s team, the semi-pro Kovalchicks, and was the only girl on the squad. She stood 5’2” but played first base even though she wasn’t a typical cleanup slugger, but in fact the exact opposite, a skilled bunter. In 1945, Dottie took a trip with her father to Chicago, where he had, unbeknownst to her, signed her up for a tryout with the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. She impressed and spent a season in the OF and 3B as a member of the Fort Wayne Daisies. Playing for $75 a week, the team toured with the Grand Rapids Chicks before getting into the regular season. Dorothy played a year (no stats available) before returning home to once again play for the Kovalchicks, according to the Heinz History Center. 
  • 1954 - The day that caused Roberto Clemente’s legendarily achy back: While in Puerto Rico, Clemente suffered disc damage to his lower spine when he was broadsided by a drunk driver who ran a red light. The accident caused Clemente to suffer from back pain for the remainder of his life, sometimes even leading to hypochondria accusations from writers and some teammates. 
  • 1955 – Manager Jim Tracy was born in Hamilton, Ohio. Tracy was hired by the Pirates in 2005, taking the spot of interim skipper Pete Mackanin, who finished Lloyd McClendon’s term. Jim logged a 135–189 record in two Bucco campaigns and was let go after the 2007 season, replaced by John Russell. Clint Hurdle hired Tracy as a bench coach at Colorado in 2008, and he took over there where Hurdle was fired in May. He did pretty well, too, being named Manager of the Year. Clint also landed on his feet, taking JR’s place in 2010 at Pittsburgh and winning the MoY honor himself in 2013. 
  • 1971 – RHP Esteban Loaiza was born in Tijuana. He began his 14-year career in Pittsburgh from 1995-98, where he showed maddening promise but no consistency, going 27-28/4.61 over that span. He did put it all together once, in 2003 for the White Sox, going 21-9/2.90 and earning his first of two All-Star berths. He was also considered for the Cy Young that year, finishing second behind Roy Halladay but ahead of Pedro Martínez and Tim Hudson. 
  • 1972 - The day that baseball still mourns: Roberto Clemente, 38, was killed when his plane, on a humanitarian trip to Managua, crashed in the Atlantic while on a rescue mission. Clemente had quietly spent much of his time during his off-seasons involved in charity work. When Managua was affected by a massive earthquake, he put together relief flights to aid in its recovery and was aboard on the fourth trip he had personally organized, on an overloaded and mechanically cranky DC-7. In an eerie trivial bit, pitcher Tom Walker, Neil’s dad, helped The Great One load the plane and was going to take the flight with him, but Clemente insisted he stay in San Juan and enjoy New Year’s Eve. Roberto went because he thought the situation called for his presence as some supplies were being hijacked by government officials, but it wasn’t to be. The plane crashed into the ocean, and Clemente’s body was never recovered. In fact, Manny Sanguillen missed Roberto’s memorial service; he was diving in a search for the body. Posthumously, Clemente was elected to the Hall of Fame as its first Latino player, and the second to have the five-year wait waived (Casey Stengel was granted a waiver in 1966). The Roberto Clemente Award was established to provide a charitable grant to the player who was the most committed to community service. His number was retired by the Pirates (an effort is ongoing to get it retired by MLB) and his statue is prominent near the Roberto Clemente bridge leading to PNC Park. 
  • 1979 - The New Year wasn’t a happy one for baseball or its fans. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expired, not to be hammered out until May after a threatened player’s strike date was set. It still didn’t address the 800 pound gorilla in the room, free agent compensation, and kicking that can down the road led to the 1981 strike. 
  • 1991 – RHP Bob Walk inked his final contract, signing up for $4.2M over the two campaigns, counting bonus money included in the package. He went 23-20-2/4.64 over the life of the deal with a solid 1992 (10-6/3.20) but then hit a rough patch (13-14/5.68) in 1993, his last go-around.


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