12/9 Through 1974: Rodgers, Smith Swaps; Purkey Traded; Tener NL Prez; RIP Branch; HBD TVP, Bruce, Doc, Hank, Adam & Handsome Joe
- 1871 – OF’er “Handsome Joe” Kelley was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He played for 17 MLB seasons, but only spent a partial campaign in Pittsburgh, hitting .239 in 56 games in 1892 as a wet-behind-the-ears 21 year-old. Pity the Bucs didn’t hang on to him – Joe was an early five tool player and part of the core of the powerful early Baltimore Orioles clubs (he was known as “Kingpin Kelly” with the Birds) and a Hall of Famer. He finished with a lifetime .317/.402/.451 slash and 443 stolen bases. Joe knocked in 100+ runs in five straight seasons, scored 100+ runs six times and had 212 assists from the OF. They may not have all been due to a rifle arm – one story about his fielding prowess claims that he hid balls in the pasture so that if one got by him, he had another stashed away near at hand. When he retired, he stayed in the MLB mix as a manager, scout, and coach. As for his nickname, SABR’s Jimmy Keenan wrote “Dubbed ‘Handsome Joe Kelley’ by his multitude of female admirers in Baltimore, he kept a small mirror and comb in his back pocket in order to maintain his well-groomed appearance during games.”
|Adam Comorosky – 1933 Big League|
- 1905 – OF Adam Comorosky was born in Swoyersville in Luzerne County. He played eight years (1926-33) for the Pirates with a line of .285/26/363. In 1929 and ‘30, he was one of the hot NL bats. Over that period, he hit .317 with 216 RBI and 198 runs scored, banging out 73 doubles, 34 triples (he led the NL with 23 in ‘30) and 18 homers. Adam is the only NL outfielder to register two unassisted double plays in a season, both within the span of a week in 1931.
- 1913 – Tyrone PA’s John Tener, a one-time pitcher who worked for the Pittsburgh Burgers of the Player’s League in 1890, became a congressman, and was currently the governor of Pennsylvania, was voted in as the National League president. John had maintained an interest in the sport since his playing days, having founded the annual Congressional baseball game and then cracking down on baseball gambling as governor. He faced several player uprisings during his term (it became full-time in 1915 when his stint as governor ended) and resigned in 1918 over a dispute with the AL.
- 1914 – C Hank Camelli was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Camelli was a reserve during the war years (he only got three at-bats in 1945 due to service obligations) with a Bucco BA of .229 between 1943-46. Hank played in just 159 games during his MLB career, but paid his dues with 13 minor league campaigns. He once caught six straight doubleheaders while on the farm.
- 1925 – Rogers Hornsby won the NL-MVP by defeating runner up Kiki Cuyler of the Pirates by a 73-61 count. Rogers hit .403; Kiki’s numbers were .357 with 220 hits, 144 runs scored and 102 RBI. Other teammates who got votes were SS Glenn Wright, 3B Pie Traynor, CF Max Carey and P Vic Aldridge.
|Doc Medich – 1977 Topps|
- 1948 – RHP George “Doc” Medich was born in Aliquippa and became a three-sport star at Hopewell HS. For a local boy (he played football and baseball at Pitt, starting on both squads), he didn’t get much Pirates love, pitching just one of his 11 big league seasons in Pittsburgh, going 8-11/3.52 in 1976. Doc (he MD’ed from Pitt medical school) lived up to his name. Twice as a player (once as a Pirate) he went into the stands to perform CPR on a fan, saving one of the victims. Doc was chosen as a member of the Beaver County Hall of Fame.
- 1957 – The Pirates traded RHP Bob Purkey to the Cincinnati Reds for LHP Don Gross. Gross won six games in three years as a Pirate while Purkey, a Pittsburgh kid who went to South Hills HS, won 124 games after the deal, appearing in a World Series and three All-Star games. GM Joe Brown later called it “the worst trade I ever made.” Purkey pitched his final season (1966) for the Pirates and then retired to Bethel Park, where he became a successful insurance broker. He died in 2008 at age 78 and was buried at Queen of Angels Cemetery.
- 1957 – The Dapper Dan Club announced that it was creating a Pittsburgh Sports Hall of Fame, and among its charter members were Pirates Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor and Pitt gridder Tommy Davies. They were inducted during the club’s annual awards dinner in January.
- 1959 – The Pirates sent RHP Dick Hall, IF Ken Hamlin, and a PTBNL (C Hank Foiles) to the Kansas City Athletics for C Hal Smith. Hall had a long career, tossing until 1971, and was also versatile enough to play the field in 127 games (he saw action everywhere but catcher & SS)/pinch hit, with a career .271 BA. Hamlin and Foiles each spent five more years in the league as reserves, both batting in the low .240’s. Smith got into 144 games in 1960-61 for Pittsburgh before being lost to Houston in the expansion draft, and his huge three-run homer in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series set the table for the legend of Bill Mazeroski.
|Hal Smith – 1960 Topps|
- 1961 – RHP Bruce Tanner was born in New Castle. Chuck’s kid, Bruce got to toss one year in the show for the White Sox in 1985, his dad’s final year as Bucco skipper. After the 1989 campaign, Bruce gave up organized ball as a player and spent the 1990s as a minor league pitching coach for San Diego. He became the bullpen coach for the Pirates in 2001, a position he held through the 2005 season. In 2006, he served as pitching coach for the Williamsport Crosscutters, one of the Bucs’ minor league clubs. He jumped to the Tigers the following year to become an advance scout and since 2009 has served Motown as a major league scout.
- 1964 – The Bucs sent minor league IF Roberto Pena and cash to the Chicago Cubs for SS Andre Rodgers. Rodgers had a good start, getting into 75 games and batting .287 in ‘65, but he faded quickly and hit just .209 through the next pair of campaigns. Pena went on to play for five teams in six years with a .245 BA, playing at every infield spot and starting 100+ games four times. On the same day, the Pirates Columbus affiliate traded middle infielder Julio Gotay to help ease the logjam at short, with Ducky Schofield and Gene Alley in the mix to challenge Rodgers for the spot. Alley went on to hold the position through 1972, winning two Gold Gloves and appearing in two All-Star Games between injuries.
- 1965 – Former Pirates GM Branch Rickey died of a heart attack. Famous for breaking the color barrier by playing Jackie Robinson while a Dodger exec and becoming the poster child for strong farm teams, Rickey was the Pirates GM from 1950-55 before he retired due to health issues. He walked the walk for Pittsburgh’s minor league system, bringing in Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat and company, a group that, with some gaps filled by new GM Joe Brown, would help take all the marbles in 1960. Rickey was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.
|Todd Van Poppel – 1989 photo Vincent Laforet/Getty|
- 1971 – RHP Todd Van Poppel was born in Hinsdale, Illinois. Todd spent 11 years in the show, tossing 18 games (seven starts) with Pittsburgh in 1989. He put up a line of 1-2/5.36 when he arrived in July with 2B Warren Morris after being traded by the Indians to the Pirates for P Esteban Loaiza. TVP was signed again for the 1999 season, but never got a call back to Pittsburgh, spending the campaign with AAA Nashville before moving on to the Cubs.
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