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1/23: Rabbit-Billy Southworth; Giles, Osik, Milner Sign; Ralph HoF; Avila Comes & Goes; TRS Suit; Early FA; HBD Victor, Benny, Alphonso, Kurt, Jet, Otto, Bill, Cy & Ed

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  • 1890 – March 23, 1890 – OF Ed Barney was born in Amery, Wisconsin. Ed played for the 1915-16 Buccos, hitting .229 after being claimed off waivers from the NY Yankees at mid-season. Following a promising start in Pittsburgh, he hit just .197 in 1916 and was released in July, ending his MLB career. He took a three-year baseball hiatus after that, and then closed out his career with six minor league campaigns and a one-year stint as a farm club manager for Elmira. 
  • 1891 – C Orie “Cy” Kerlin was born in Summerfield, Louisiana. Not much is known about his baseball life; he was a well-thought-of 24-year-old catcher out of LSU and the Texas semi-pro leagues when the Pittsburgh Rebels called him in 1915. He didn’t play until June with a finger injury and then got just one at-bat in three games before ending his only big-league season, playing behind 35-year-old veterans Claude Berry and Paddy O’Connor. The Rebels folded, Orie served during WW1 and then returned home to begin a business career. 
Bill Regan – undated photo via Find-A-Grave
  • 1899 – 2B Bill Regan was born in Oakland, a self-described stone’s throw from Forbes Field, which rose a decade after his arrival on the planet. He went to Fifth Avenue School and sold peanuts at FF until he joined the service during WW1. Bill came home, played semi-pro locally, then joined the Red Sox in 1926, starting for Boston over the next five years. He spent his last season at Forbes Field with the Bucs, but had hit the wall at age 32 and batted just .202 for the home club. He did have a day dedicated to him, planned by his local buds, following an earlier off-season bash back when he was with Beantown. He played minor league ball until 1935, worked as a landscaper and then once again joined the service during WW2. He became an Allegheny County cop on his return and now lies buried at Hazelwood’s Calvary Cemetery. 
  • 1903 – IF Otto “Jack” Saltzgaver was born in Croton, Iowa. He played for the Yankees for five years and then spent the next eight seasons in their farm system (Jack spent all or parts of 19 seasons in the minors) before the Bucs sent OF Bill Rodgers and cash to Kansas City for him in 1945. At that time, the last season of the WW2 manpower shortage, the 42-year-old Saltzgaver was the oldest active major league player. He showed well, batting .325 in 52 games before spending another year in the bushes, then hanging up his spikes as a player and managing on the farm through 1950. 
  • 1908 – Sam “The Jet” Jethroe was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. Jethroe got his nickname due to his speed; he led the Negro League in stolen bases three times as a Cleveland Buckeye. He was on the cusp of major league integration. The Boston Braves gave him his debut in 1950, and he won the AL RoY award hitting .273 w/18 HR when he was 32-years-old (although he claimed to be 28, having fudged his age). He had one more good season left in him for the Braves. After a subpar 1952 campaign, he was sent to the minors and made his last appearances in two games with Pittsburgh in 1954 (he came over in the multi-player Danny O’Connell deal), going 0-for-1. The Jet had one more contribution to black baseball – he was part of the lawsuit to get Negro League players who played MLB a pension. The case was dismissed, but led to baseball awarding those players a pension beginning in 1997. 
Sam Jethroe – 1954 photo/Teenie Harris
  • 1921 – SS Rabbit Maranville was traded to the Bucs by the Boston Braves for IF Walter Barbare, OF Fred Nicholson, OF Billy Southworth and $15,000. Rabbit and the Buc OF’ers were the keys to the deal. Hall of Famer Maranville played four seasons in Pittsburgh, hitting .283. Southworth played another eight years in the league and entered the Hall of Fame with a career slash of .297/52/561 and a stellar coaching record, winning four league titles and a pair of World Series. Nicholson played two more years, both for Boston, lighting it up with a .327 BA in ‘21 but fading to .252 in his final campaign. The Braves also got two years out of Barbare, who hit .273 in 240 Beantown outings. 
  • 1940 – In a harbinger of future free agency, which was still 36 years away from being an official thing, former Detroit 2B Benny McCoy, 22, who had been declared a free agent by Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis for violations by the Tigers, announced the Bucs offered him a signing bonus of $35,000, which was later raised to $40K, to go along with a two-year contract worth $10,000 per year. He had hit .394 in a 55-game audition in the Motor City in 1939 and passed on both Bucco bids, inking a deal a week later with Philadelphia for $45,000 after sorting through proposals from 10 clubs. Whether he was worth it or not is debatable – he hit .264 as the A’s starter in 1940-41, but ended up in the service for a tour of duty lasting four years after those two campaigns and lost his touch over that time, never playing MLB again. 
  • 1947 – IF Kurt Bevacqua was born in Miami Beach. The Bucs called on him twice, in 1974 and then again from 1980-81 despite a .171 lifetime BA in a Pirate uniform. He spent 15 years in MLB (six with SD) and had his moment in the sun when he hit two homers in the Padres’ World Series win against the Detroit Tigers in 1984. Kurt has bounced around in the baseball media world since retirement. 
Alfonso Pulido – 1985 Donruss Rookie
  • 1957 – LHP Alfonso Pulido was born in Tierra Blanco, Mexico. His Pirates career is easy to miss; he pitched two innings in 1983 and two more in 1984, giving up seven hits and four earned runs before being traded to NY as part of the Steve Kemp deal. He did pitch a bit more credibly with the Yankees in 1986, but that would mark the end of his big league time. Even if El Norte was a step too far for a guy considered a hot prospect, Alfonso did carve out a solid 14-year career in the Mexican Leagues, winning 104 games. The Pirates had originally purchased his contract from the Mexico City Reds in 1983 (he stayed w/the Reds on option until after their playoffs) where Pulido had gone 17-3, with Chuck Tanner commenting that he had “Valenzuela-type stuff.” 
  • 1962 – 1B/OF Benny Distefano was born in Brooklyn. He played for the Bucs in 1984, 1986, and 1988-89, hitting .227 in 300 PA. Distefano was the last lefty to catch a major league game, going behind the dish three times for the Pirates in 1989. He played some in Venezuela after his last MLB game in 1992 and has been a Mets farm coach since 2010. 
  • 1968 – RHP Victor Cole was born in Leningrad, Russia (his student father married a Russian girl). Cole’s MLB/Pirates resume consists of eight games with an 0-2/5.48 slash in 1992, but that was enough to make him the first Soviet-born major leaguer since the thirties. He later went on to play in Korea and part-time for the Russian national team (he suited up when they played in the US) in 2003 and 2007 and at last check was coaching for them. 
Victor Cole – 1992 Donruss Rookie
  • 1975 – OF Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame and was inducted on August 18th. Kiner played only 10 years in MLB, but led the NL in home runs for seven consecutive seasons. He received 273 votes on the 362 ballots cast by the writers, exactly enough to be selected. Good thing, too – it was his 15th and final year on the ballot; his name would have been kicked to the Veterans Committee if he hadn’t gotten in. Kiner Quotes: One, attributed to Kiner himself was “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Fords.” The other was some shade thrown by Bucco GM Branch Rickey, who told Kiner after he had traded him to the Cubs: “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.” 
  • 1981- The Pirates officially announced a multi-year deal (terms not disclosed) with 1B/OF John Milner, who was testing free agency after four Bucco campaigns. He signed the contract on January 15th, the last day that he could rejoin the Pirates per the FA rules of the day. Milner was expected to platoon in left field and help ease Willie Stargell’s load, but that plan was foiled by the acquisition of Jason Thompson when camp broke. Milner hit just .237 in the strike-shortened year and was traded in a deadline deal to the Expos for Willie Montanez. In turn, he was released by Montreal in the middle of 1982 and was re-signed by Pittsburgh to close out his final season. 
  • 1992 – In a seemingly never-ending battle, the Pirates sued the City to break the lease at Three Rivers Stadium. They cited general lack of maintenance, but the issue had deeper roots – the City had promised the team $25M back in 1986 to capitalize the Pirates, based on the premise that TRS would be sold to a private investor. That never happened, and a consequent City bond fell $4.3M short of meeting the promised sum, leading to an exchange of slings and arrows between the two parties. The ballclub also chafed at the TRS rental fee and amusement tax. It was a perilous time for the Pirates and Pittsburgh; the team was skating on thin ice financially and the City was reeling from the loss of the steel industry and was in no position to bankroll the Bucs, as it was on a slope leading to the state finally declaring it “financially distressed” and taking over the municipal purse strings. Spoiler alert: both were bloodied and battered but survived. 
Keith Osik – 2000 Topps Stadium Club
  • 1998 – Backup C Keith Osik signed a three-year/$1.025M contract, a nice bump after earning $175K the year before. Osik didn’t do much at the dish in those three years, batting .227/60+ OPS, but still carved out a seven-season stay with Pittsburgh and added three more campaigns bouncing around the league. 
  • 1999 – After a 69-win campaign, Bucs announced five newly-signed players (Brian Giles was the sole keeper) leading into the two-day Pirate Fest ‘99 that featured 11 current Buccos at the Carnegie Science Center to draw the fans and move some tickets. The team also showcased 10 members of the 1979 World Series club, who were signing autographs and cheesin’ with the WS trophy. The Pirates doubled down by having Sister Sledge perform a concert. Maybe they had an inkling even back then that the ballclub was going to have to live on future promises and past glories for a spell… 
  • 2002 – Al Avila spun the rotating door when he was hired as a Special Assistant to GM Dave Littlefield. He left the Marlins after he spent the off season as the interim GM, replacing Dave Dombroski, who jumped to Detroit. After four months as a Pirates’ suit, Dombroski then hired Avila as his VP in April, and Al eventually took over the GM reins in 2015 when DD was let go by the Tigers.


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