3/4: Leyland Meltdown; Arky Signs; PNC Back; Busted; New Board; HBD Rick Rod, Cory, Fort, Rick, Bruce, Brian, Jax, Mel, Clyde, Dazzy & Jeff
- 1888 – RHP Ed “Jeff” Pfeffer was born in Seymour, Illinois. Jeff tossed for 13 years in the show for four different teams (primarily Brooklyn), closing out his career as a 36-year-old with Pirates in 1924 after being claimed from the Cards in July. He pitched credibly, going 5-3/3.07 in 16 games (four starts) and ended his MLB career with 158 wins and a 2.77 ERA. He was called “Jeff” after his older brother, “Big Jeff” Pfeffer, who tossed a no-hitter for Boston in 1907.
- 1889 – Oh, that rowdy North Side nine! Pittsburgh Alleghenys 3B Billy Kuehne was arrested and charged with operating a gambling house at an Allegheny City billiards hall run by him and teammate Ed “Cannonball” Morris. Morris, who was out of town during the raid, told the Pittsburgh Press that “The Allegheny officers labored under a misapprehension…the boys occasionally played for cigars and soft drinks in the back room but nothing worse.” Kuehne beat the rap – when the case came to trial, the charges were dropped after the main witness failed to show.
|Bill Kuehne – 1889 Goodwin/Old Judge|
- 1891 – RHP Charles “Dazzy” Vance was born in Orient, Iowa. The fireballing Hall of Famer (he had over 2,000 career K) made his debut in 1915 as a 24-year-old for the Pirates after his contract was purchased from St. Joseph of the Western League. His Bucco career lasted for just one wild appearance when he walked five in 2-2/3 IP. He was suffering with a chronic achy wing, but his arm was resurrected years later by a card game. According to his Baseball Hall of Fame bio “A sore arm was blamed for cutting short his first cracks at the majors. That soreness became shooting pain after he banged his elbow on a poker table, causing him to have surgery. The procedure cleared up the pain, and also relieved the chronic soreness that had plagued him.” His career rejuvenated, he rejoined the show in 1922 as a 31-year-old and won 197 games, an MVP Award (1924) and World Series (1934) along the way, pitching through his age 44 campaign. Vance was dubbed Dazzy as an Iowa teen for his dazzling fastball. D-lightful: The 1934 St. Louis Gashouse Gang featured Dazzy, Dizzy Dean, Daffy Dean & Ducky Medwick.
- 1917 – C Clyde McCullough was born in Nashville. Clyde had a long MLB career, catching for Pittsburgh on a semi-regular basis from 1949-52 and batting .258. But he was a Cub at heart – the Bucs got him from Chicago and he returned there later, spending 12 of his 16 campaigns in the Windy City. After his playing days, he coached for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins, New York Mets and San Diego Padres while becoming a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
- 1918 – RHP Mel Queen Sr. was born in Maxwell in Fayette County, south of California University of PA. After starting with the Yankees, he worked for Pittsburgh from 1947-48, then again from 1950-52, posting a Bucco line of 19-36/5.33. His son, Mel Jr., pitched for several seasons in MLB and went on to have a long career as the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching coach.
|Mel Queen – 1951 Bowman|
- 1940 – SS Arky Vaughan reported to camp and quickly signed a new contract after a brief discussion with club prez Bill Benswanger. He was one of the great shortstops (he had won six consecutive All Star berths and made the AS team during the next three seasons, too), and immediately after inking his deal for an undisclosed amount, new manager Frankie Frisch appointed him captain to replace the traded Gus Suhr. That provided the final nail for the new deal, which had been held up over compensation, as the captaincy came with a $500 bonus to sweeten the pot just enough.
- 1952 – Scout Jax Robertson was born in Milwaukee. After working for the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins, he became a special assistant to the GM in 2002 under Dave Littlefield and still is a part-time Pirates advisor. In 2015, he was honored as baseball’s East Coast Scout of the Year and is also a member of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame.
- 1968 – 1B/OF Brian Hunter was born in Torrance, California. He was a bench guy for nine MLB campaigns, stopping off in Pittsburgh as a 26-year-old in 1994 after an off-season deal with the Braves, swapping places with Jose Delgado. The Pirates were familiar enough with him; his first inning homer in game seven of the NLCS launched the Bravos to a 4-0 win. He hit .227 with 11 homers as a Buc and then was sent to the Reds at the deadline in another minor deal for OF Micah Franklin. The FO hoped he’d be a middle-of-the-order 1B, but it wasn’t to be as seven different Buccos manned the spot in ‘94. Mark Johnson took over in ‘95 until Kevin Young was moved to first in 1997.
- 1972 – OF Bruce Aven was born in Orange, Texas. He toiled five-years in MLB, spending part of 2000 as a Pirate after a deal with the Miami Marlins in a swap for Brant Brown. Aven hit .250 and was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August. His last big league game was in 2002 with the Cleveland Indians and now he’s the baseball skipper at American Heritage School in Florida.
|Bruce Aven – 2000 Fleer Tradition/Traded|
- 1973 – Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein was born in Sanford, Florida. Eckstein replaced Jeff Branson following the 2018 campaign as hitting coach after working for the Rays, Expos, Nats, Angels, & Twins; he also served as skipper at the University of Kentucky. He played college ball at Seminole CC and the University of Florida before an injury ended his playing career. Eckstein was dismissed by the Bucs in 2021 and currently serves as a for-hire consultant to MLB hitters.
- 1985 – C Mike “The Fort” McKenry was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was a back-up catcher for the Bucs from 2011-13 and was a popular player with several clutch hits on his resume. Overall, though, he hit just .226 as a Pirate and returned to his original team, the Colorado Rockies, as a free agent in 2014 before making the rounds as a depth player. He retired to become the Pirates pre-and-post game analyst in 2018 as a replacement for Teke and also serves as a rotating color man as part of the Steve Blass replacement project. McKenry earned his nickname because of the similarity of his name to Fort McHenry and the way he defended the plate on plays at home.
- 1985 – LHP Cory Luebke was born in Coldwater, Ohio. He was originally drafted by the Pirates out of Marion HS but committed to Ohio State instead and was selected by the Padres as a 2007 first-rounder (63rd overall). Between 2010-12, he got into 55 games with San Diego, splitting time between starting and the pen. Cory then had a pair of TJ surgeries before inking an NRI deal with the Bucs in 2016. He made the team, pitched poorly, suffered a hammy injury and was released in June. Leubke retired in 2017 after a couple of minor league stops in Miami and Chicago.
|Rick Rod – 2019 Pirates image|
- 1990 – RHP Richard Rodriguez was born in Santiago, Dominican Republic. He spent nine years in the Houston and Baltimore systems, getting a brief and ineffective stint with the O’s in 2017. The Bucs brought him in as a NRI during the off-season. After a decent camp, he was stashed at Indianapolis to begin the campaign but quickly got a mid-April call to Pittsburgh when the relief corps sprung some serious mid-inning leaks. He worked his way to the back end of the bullpen by 2020 (15-12-19/2.98 as a Buc) before being traded at the 2021 deadline to Atlanta for Bryse Wilson and Ricky DeVito. Rick Rod was non-tendered at the end of the campaign by the Braves, then lost 80 games in 2022 when he was suspended for PED usage. He signed with the Yankees after he served his time, was released at the end of the year and is a Miami NRI this campaign.
- 1991 – In Pittsburgh’s most famous manager meltdown, Jim Leyland was caught on camera blasting Barry Bonds at camp following a BB spat with Bill Virdon. The redacted version of Leyland’s message went something like “I’ve kissed your (bleep!) for three (bleeping!) years here and I’m sick of this. If you guys don’t want to be here then get the (bleep!) out!” Bonds did get the bleep out after the 1992 season, although that decision was all about the Benjamins and had nothing to do with the springtime scolding that set the stage for Jimmy Leyland’s popularity.
- 2005 – The Pirates announced that they were replacing the Sony video board at PNC after just four years because of moisture problems that blanked out part of the display, leaving a checkerboard effect. The new board was provided by Daktronics and was expected to cost at least $1M. The Pirates said that they’d foot the bill after the Stadium Authority had ponied up for the first screen. Though the new screen worked fine, it was replaced in 2007 on the team’s dime so the Pirates could upgrade the evolving technology and add a LED ribbon display.
|Home Sweet Home – photo/Pirates|
- 2021 – The Pirates and PNC Bank agreed on a 10-year extension of their stadium naming rights deal without releasing the financials. The major addendum was that the old arched PNC logo design spread around the park would be updated, while youth and community collaborations continued. Pirates president Travis Williams had helped draft the original 2001 naming rights agreement, which was for 20-years/$30M, as a Reed Smith attorney working for the Pirates.
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