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12/6 Through the 1950’s: Tobin-Lanning; RIP Hans; HBD Tim, Tun, Walter, Frank, Snookie & Johnnie

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  • 1867 – UT John Henry “Tun” Berger was born in Pittsburgh. He played for the Allegheny in 1890, hitting .266 and playing all over the field for one of the worse teams (23-113) ever fielded. The following year, he became one of the original Pirates, hitting .239 and again playing just about everywhere. Tun played one more season, for Washington. He was a Pittsburgh guy all his life, working as a glassblower and dying at the early age of 39 from kidney disease. He was laid to rest at Mt. Royal Cemetery. As for his nickname, we can only speculate – a “tun” is an old-timey name for a large cask or barrel (usually holding wine or beer) and our Tun was listed at 5’9”, 209 lbs. Perhaps one of his teammates noticed the similarity in shapes (and maybe internal contents!)… 
Walter Mueller 1924 (photo Conlon/Baseball Magazine)
  • 1894 – OF Walter Mueller was born in Central, Missouri. He is best known as the first player to hit a homer on the first pitch thrown to him in the major leagues, and the only Pirate to do so until Starling Marté repeated the feat in 2012. Mueller played his entire career (1922-24, 1926) for Pittsburgh, hitting .275 – and he only blasted one more long ball in those four years. 
  • 1896 – OF Frank Luce was born in Spencer, Ohio. After a pair of .300+ minor league seasons and going 6-for-12 in a brief 1923 call up, Luce and Kiki Cuyler were the main candidates for RF in 1924. Kiki won the job and held it down for the next four years, blocking Frank. Luce hit .322 at the highest minor league level, AA, from 1925-29 but never got another call to the show. 
  • 1913 – LHP Roy “Snookie” Welmaker was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Roy tossed for Atlanta, Philadelphia and Homestead in the Negro Leagues with several more seasons spent in the Mexican & Venezuelan Leagues plus time in the service. Snookie hurled in 1936-38, 1942 and 1944-45 for the Grays with a slash of 30-14-1/3.15, went 2-3 in World Series starts and made the Eastern NL All-Star team in 1945. When in his mid-30’s, he got a shot at minor league ball, pitching a year in the Eastern League and closing out his career with five PCL campaigns, becoming the first black player for the Hollywood Stars in 1951. 
  • 1939 – The Pirates traded P Jim Tobin to the Boston Bees for P Johnny Lanning. Starter Tobin went 76-88 in six seasons after the deal. Lanning pitched six seasons for the Bucs (he missed almost two years because of WW2) and went 33-29/3.44 as a starter and long man. Lanning’s bread and butter was the curve; he threw both a soft and hard hook. 
John Lanning 1940 (photo via NCS Baseball)
  • 1940 – Coach Johnny McKee was born in Philadelphia. Johnny was a bullpen coach/catcher for Billy Herman in 1947 though discovering his bona fides is a task; it appears his only baseball was as a catcher for Villanova University followed by a tour of duty in the Army Air Corp during WW2. The gig didn’t last long as McKee was released the following year when Billy Meyer replaced Herman at the Pirates helm. 
  • 1950 – SS Tim Foli was born in Culver City, California. Tim played in Pittsburgh from 1979-81 with a brief return in 1985, hitting .269 and solidifying the Bucco infield with his glove after being flipped to the Mets for Frank Taveras. In 1979, his bat was hot in the NLCS and WS; he batted .333. Tim hit second for those clubs; his lack of speed and power was offset by his ability to move a runner along, and he always put the ball in play, whiffing just 49 times as a Buc in over 1,500 PAs. His 16-year career ended in 1985 when he played his final couple of months with the Pirates and retired. He managed in the minors and coached in the show until the 2006 season, when a heart condition led him to permanent retirement from baseball. Foli was known as “Crazy Horse,” wearing the tag thanks to a fiery temper that led him to butt heads with umps, opponents and his teammates. 
  • 1955 – Carnegie Hall of Famer Honus (his given name was Johannes) Wagner died at the age of 81 and was buried at Jefferson Memorial Cemetery. Considered by many (including Bill James) to be the greatest shortstop in history, Wagner batted .327 over a 21-year career and retired with more hits, runs, RBI, doubles, triples, games and steals than any other NL player. After retirement, Wagner served as a Pirate coach for 39 years, primarily as a hitting instructor. He crossed into films, playing in 1919′s Spring Fever and 1922′s In the Name of the Law. His sporting goods company operated until 2011. The Flying Dutchman’s number 33 was retired and his statue has watched over Forbes Field, TRS and PNC Park.

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