11/26: Rhoden-Drabek Deal; Lonnie Signed; AVS, BB - GG's; Sparky Sold; HBD Yoshi, Josh, Walkie, Gravedigger, Charley, Joe, Bob, Howard, Bill & Gussie
- 1873 – LHP James “Gussie” Gannon was born in Erie. Gussie spent his career in the minors at northern outposts like Buffalo, Rochester, Montreal and Ottawa with his only MLB shot coming in 1895 when he tossed five innings of one-run ball for the Bucs. But it all went for a good cause – his baseball paychecks helped Gannon’s son become a priest in Pittsburgh and helped to foot the bill for his nephew John’s education through the seminary. John later became the bishop of Erie and had Gannon University named after him. Not only did Gannon have friends in high places, but his collared relatives joined the unofficial clerical scouting web sustained by Philadelphia manager Connie Mack, who was Gussie’s skipper in Pittsburgh.
- 1897 – C Bill Warwick was born in Philadelphia. Bill played 23 MLB games over three years, getting his first taste with Pittsburgh in 1921, catching two innings and going 0-for-1 as a 23-year-old. Warwick persevered in pro ball until 1929, when he took his last at bat for Waco in the Texas League.
|Howard Easterling – undated photo Baseball Hall of Fame|
- 1911 – 3B Howard Easterling was born in Mt. Olive, Mississippi. He played for 10 years in the Negro League, with his most productive years (1940-43, 1946) coming with the Homestead Grays where he hit .310+ three times, won three All-Star berths, and a NLWS. He also spent time in the Latin Leagues after the NL began to wane during integration.
- 1916 – OF/3B Bob Elliott was born in San Francisco. He spent eight seasons (1939-46) in Pittsburgh with a .292 BA, 124 OPS+ and three All-Star appearances. Traded during the 1946 off season to the Boston Braves, he became the NL MVP in 1947, helped in part by playing in a much more hitter-friendly field. Elliott was the second MLB third baseman to have five seasons of 100 RBI, joining Pie Traynor, and retired with the highest career slugging average (.440) of any NL third baseman. He also led the National League in assists three times and in putouts and double plays twice each, and ended his career among the NL leaders in games (8th, 1262), assists (7th, 2547), total chances (10th, 4113) and double plays (4th, 231) at third. In later years, he managed and coached in the minors, with a one year gig at the helm of the sad sack KC Athletics.
- 1922 – LHP Joe Muir was born in Oriole, Maryland. His MLB career consisted of the 1951-52 seasons when he worked 21 games for the Pirates, going 2-5/5.19 as a reliever and spot starter. Joe was a Marine before he joined pro ball, and upon retirement, he used that background to become a Maryland State Trooper.
- 1924 – Pirates writer Charley Feeney was born in Queens. He began his writing career in 1946 as the New York Giants’ beat man for the Long Island Star Journal, covering the team until 1963. He then followed the Yankees and Mets for the New York Journal American until the paper closed its doors. From 1966-86, he covered the Pirates for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He was famous for calling everyone “Pally;” he could never keep anyone’s name straight. Feeney was the 1996 winner of the JG Taylor Spink Award. Charley died at the age of 89 in 2014.
|Sparky Adams – 1928 photo Conlon Collection/Getty|
- 1929 – IF Earl “Sparky” Adams (he was 5’4-½” tall), who had been a key part of the 1927 Kiki Cuyler deal, was sold to the Cardinals. He hit .272 in his two seasons at Pittsburgh, but manager Jewel Ens told the Post Gazette that “Sparky did not fit into the plans for next season.” Sports editor Havey Boyle wrote that “Sparky Adams was one of those players that looked good far away but in a close up did not appear so attractive…(But) he still has a certain usefulness and possibly in St. Louis he will do better than he did in Pittsburgh.” He sure did. Sparky batted leadoff for the Cards in 1930-31, hitting .314 and .293, and St. Louis represented the National League in the World Series both seasons against the Philadelphia Athletics, winning it all in ‘31. Sparky is shorthand for Spark Plug, which the diminutive infielder was by all accounts.
- 1947 – 3B Richie Hebner was born in Boston. The Gravedigger (his off season occupation) played 11 years (1968-76, 1982-83) for the Pirates, putting up a .277 BA and playing in five NLCS and the 1971 World Series. He left on a contentious note; after having his contract cut in 1976 after a poor year, he opted for free agency after the campaign. The Pirates GM Pete Peterson offered to match any deal Hebner received on the market, but the Gravedigger wanted out and signed with Philadelphia (other tales say Philly doubled Pittsburgh’s on-the-table offer, which sounds a little more like it). He returned a few seasons later. Richie then spent two decades coaching/managing at both the minor and major league level.
- 1956 - RHP Bob Walk was born in Van Nuys, California. He pitched a decade for the Pirates (1984-93) with an 82-61-5/3.83 ERA, won an All-Star berth in 1988 and compiled a 2-1 record in the postseason, capped by a three-hitter tossed against the Braves in 1992 to keep the Pirates alive in the NLCS. His current claim to fame is as a long-time Bucco broadcaster, joining the booth in 1994.
- 1963 – The Pirates brought IF Gene “Augie” Freese back, prying him from the Reds for an undisclosed but “considerable” amount of cash (per Joe Brown, more money than he had ever spent on a player in his nine-year run as GM; the media guesstimates ran as high as $70,000). Freese, 30, had started his career in Pittsburgh, playing from 1955-58 after being signed out of West Liberty State by the Bucs in 1953. Augie played third base in his second go-around as a veteran insurance policy for an unsettled spot. He lasted until August of 1965, when he was sold to the White Sox after batting .233 in 142 games and being bumped off the hot corner by bonus baby Bob Bailey.
|Gene Freese – 1965 Topps|
- 1986 – In a pitcher swap, the Yankees dealt Doug Drabek, Brian Fisher, and Logan Easley to the Bucs for Rick Rhoden, Cecilio Guante, and Pat Clements. It took three days to complete the trade, until Rhoden agreed to a two-year/$1.5M contract extension with NY (as a 5 & 10 year man, he could veto the deal). The swap gave Jim Leyland his ace; Drabek went on to win the NL Cy Young in 1990 while posting a 92-62/3.02 Bucco slash in six seasons.
- 1988 – LHP Josh Smoker was born in Calhoun, Georgia. After working two years with the Mets, he signed with the Bucs as a minor league FA in 2018. Josh saw limited action with the big club (with good reason), giving up seven runs in 5-2/3 IP on 11 hits with five walks and just two whiffs. He was released, claimed by the Tigers and later the Dodgers. He’s been an unclaimed free agent since that time after finishing 2019 tossing in the indie leagues.
- 1991 – Andy Van Slyke won his fourth Golden Glove and Barry Bonds his second, but the big local story was 2B Jose Lind losing out to Ryne Sandberg, who earned his ninth straight GG. The gist of the argument: Chico was playing on turf at TRS and Sandberg at Wrigley. Pittsburgh featured Astroturf, which gives truer hops but is a much quicker track than the thick grass that kills hot shots in Chi-town. The debate lost its legs soon enough; Lind won his Golden Glove the next season.
- 1991 – 1B/OF Yoshi Tsutsugo was born in Hashimoto, Japan. He was a big bopper in the Nippon League and was signed to a two-year deal by Tampa Bay after the 2019 season. His bat didn’t quite translate in MLB; he was sold to the Dodgers after a year, sent to the minors and released so that the Pirates could sign him in August of 2021. Yoshi showed well as a Bucco (.268 BA/8 HR in 127 ABs) and was rewarded with a one-year/$4M contract in November. He hit .171 in his second go-around and was released in August of 2022, signing with Toronto.
|Lonnie – 2019 Topps Heritage|
- 2018 – The Pirates signed FA 3B/RF Lonnie Chisenhall to a one-year/$2.75M contract with $3M more available in bonuses based on at-bats, with the deal officially announced the next day. The big incentive clause provided a mutual value regulator, inserted after a two-year string of injuries to the former Indian, who posted .272 BA/127 OPS+ in 2017-18 but only got into 111 games. Primarily a platoon player at Cleveland, the 30-year-old was expected to hold the fort in right field while Gregory Polanco recovered from off-season surgery. But he was injured again, missed the entire 2019 campaign, and was released at the end of the year. He retired in 2020.
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