Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Happy New Year to all the Pirates fans out there and lets hope for big things in 2003! Starting the new year of right with the birthday of a former Bucs player who went on to make the Hall of Fame.
Born on this date in 1911 was Hank Greenberg who finished his career with the 1947 Pirates on Jan 18th,1947 the Pirates bought Greenberg from the Tigers after he had a salary dispute with Detroit. Hank was mad that he heard the news on the radio and wasn't told in person. Rather then play somewhere else besides Detroit,he decided to retire. The Pirates talked him out of retirement by making him the first player in the NL to make over $100,000.They paid him that much because they needed his drawing power, as the club was just bought by new owners, including Bing Crosby and they wanted to start off the new ownership right.
That 1947 season,Greenberg would be the everyday firstbaseman, and to accomodate his righthanded swing, the Bucs built a bullpen in front of the Forbes Field leftfield wall which was aptly named "Greenberg's Garden", later changed to Kiner's Korner when Hank retired. Another reason the Bucs wanted Greenberg was so he could help mentor young slugger Ralph Kiner. Hank was basically his season long hitting instructor and one of the big reasons,according to Kiner he was able to do so well during his career. Kiner went from .247 23 HR 81 RBI with a career high 109 strikeouts in 1946 to a career high .313 avg 51 HR's and 127 RBI's,also a career high, while he cut his strikeouts down to 81, but in 63 more at-bats.
Greenberg would play 125 games in 1947 and hit a career low .249 but finish 2nd on the team in homers (25) and RBI's (74). He would also lead the league in walks with 104 and he scored 71 runs. The Pirates would finish next to last that season with a record of 62-92 but they would break the million mark in attendance for the 1st time in their 61 year history. The Pirates also set a since broken team single season home run record in 1947 with 156, the first time they broke the 100 home run barrier.
Hank retired after the season with career stats of .313 avg., 331 homeruns, 1276 rbi's in 1394 games. Impressive stats, but more impressive when you realize he missed almost all of 1941(when he has just 30), the entire 1942-44 seasons, and part of 1945 while he was serving the country in the military. Hank hit 58 homeruns in 1938, giving Babe Ruth one of his most serious challenges to his record, and in 1937 Hank drove in 183 runs. He won 2 MVP awards but amazingly didnt win in either of those seasons. He was elected to the hall of fame in 1956.
Bill McGunnigle who managed the Pirates for part of the 1891 season, was born on this date in 1855. The original "Gunner" as he was known, took over for the Pirates after Ned Hanlon, a future Hall of Famer, was fired on August 1st of that season. Gunner would manage the team for 59 games, winning just 24 with 2 ties and the Pirates would finish last in the league overall with a 55-80 record.
Bill had won the American Association title with Brooklyn in 1889, and the NL title also with Brooklyn in 1890 when they switched leagues. Despite those 2 titles, McGunnigle would only manage one other partial season for the 1896 Louisville Colonels who finished dead last with Bill taking over 19 games into the year and compiling a 36-76 record in his 115 games at the helm (they were just 2-17 before he took over).
Bob Owchinko who pitched one game for the 1983 Pirates was born on this date in 1955 (exactly 100 years to the day after Bill McGunnigle was born). In a relief appearance he gave up 2 hits, one being a homerun and did not get anyone out. Bob was originally acquired by the Bucs from the Indians in the 1980 Bert Blyleven trade (see Dec. 9th article for details) but did not play for them that year, instead being traded to the A's for Ernie Camacho and cash. He finished with a 37-60 4.27 career record over 275 games in 10 seasons.
Finally, Gary Wilson who pitched 10 games for the 1995 Pirates turns 33 today. Gary made his ML debut late April for the Bucs that year as a reliever and overall he would go 0-1 5.02 in 14 1/3 innings on the season. That would be his only ML experience. In the field he made 2 plays, with no errors and at-bat he had just one plate appearance,a sacrifice bunt. He wore #46 with the Bucs.