Born on this date in Pirates history in 1874 was the greatest player in team history, the greatest shortstop ever and and one of the greatest players in ML history. John "Honus" Wagner began his career with the Louisville Colonels in 1897 as a center fielder and hit .338 his rookie year. After just missing .300 in 1898 (.299) Honus would not hit under .300 for the next 15 seasons. He drove in 105 runs that year, but would top that the next season driving in 113 runs while hitting .336 with 43 doubles (2nd most in the NL).
Prior to the next season the Pirates made their best trade in team history when the owner Barney Dreyfus, who also owned part of the Colonels, traded all of his best players to the Bucs, including Honus, for little in return. That 1900 season Honus won his first of 8 NL batting titles with a career high .381 average. He also led the league in slugging %, doubles, triples and total bases and drove in 100 runs for the 3rd straight season.
In 1901 the Bucs won their 1st of 3 straight NL pennants and first in team history. Honus hit .353, scored 101 runs, drove in a career high 126 to lead the league and stole 49 bases, winning his first of 5 stolen base titles. In 1902 the Bucs went 103-36 and Wagner hit .330 and led the NL with both 91 RBI's and 105 runs scored in what was his last season he played a majority of his games at a position other than shortstop. In 1903, the year of the first W.S. he won his 2nd batting title, hitting .355, finished 2nd in RBI's,and led the league in extra base hits. In the W.S. Vs the Red Sox (then named Pilgrims) Honus hit just .222 with 3 RBI's and the Bucs lost. He would have to wait 6 years to be able to redeem himself and he would.
The 1904 season was another typical year for Wagner,leading the NL in average, on base%, slugging %, doubles and stolen bases. Honus hit .363 in 1905, but lost the batting title to Cy Seymour (the former 25 game winning pitcher) who hit .377 for the Reds. From 1906-09 Honus led the NL in average every year, in doubles all 4 years, slugging % and total bases in 3 of those years and twice led in stolen bases and RBI's. The Bucs made the W.S. again and this time in a much hyped matchup Vs. Ty Cobb and the Tigers, Honus redeemed his bad series in 1903. The Pirates won the series in 7 games and Wagner hit .333 with 6 RBI's and 6 stolen bases while Cobb (who had won the last 3 AL batting titles) hit just .231.
After 1909, the 36 year old (age in 1910)Honus, won just one more batting title (1911), but still hit over .300 four times and he had one more RBI title in him, 1912 when he topped 100 for the 9th time. Wagner lasted till age 43, when in his last season he played mostly at 1st base and was even the manager for a short time. He retired after 2792 games with a career .327 average and he had 1732 RBI's (still ranks 16th all-time), 1 736 runs scored (20th all-time) 3415 hits (8th all-time)640 doubles (8th) 252 triples (3rd all-time) and 722 stolen bases (10th all-time).
Among Pirates all time leaders, Wagner is tied with Roberto Clemente in games played with 2433, he's second in at-bats to Clemente, first in runs, 2nd in hits (2967 of his hits came as a Pirate), 2nd in doubles (just 7 behind Paul Waner), 1st in triples, 2nd in RBI's (behind Stargell) and 2nd in stolen bases behind Max Carey. All 4 of those guys mentioned ahead of him are also Hall of Famers.
Wagner was elected to the Hall of Fame in the inagural class, along with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, on Feb. 2,1936. Three years prior to that date Wagner rejoined the Bucs as a coach, a job he would hold for just over 19 years. His #33 he wore as a coach was retired by the Bucs in 1956. Honus, who was known as "The Flying Dutchman", pitched 2 games during his career giving up 0 runs in 8 1/3 innings. He was also known as a great fielder in his day, no matter what position he was at, and it was said by Branch Rickey who had seen some great players during his day, that Wagner was the best he had ever seen.
Following up the greatest player in team history is tough, but Wagners teammate Wilbur Cooper, who played for the Pirates from 1912-24, was a pretty good player in his own right. In fact, Cooper is the Bucs all-time leader in wins with 202. Born in 1892, Cooper had a great beginning, shutting out the Cardinals 8-0 in his first start. The lefty would go 3-0 1.66 and would throw another shutout before the season was thru. In his first full season Wilbur was used mainly as a reliever for the only time in his career. In 30 games he went 5-3 3.29.
In 1914, his first year as a fulltime starter, Wilbur went 16-15 2.13 (6th in the NL) for the 7th place Pirates. In 1915 he had his worst season going just 5-16 3.30 and was used in relief for a time, saving 4 games(3rd most in the NL). After going just 12-11 despite an ERA of 1.87 in 1916, Cooper started a streak of 8 straight seasons with at least 17 wins. From 1917-24 Cooper went 161-114, four times winning at least 20 games with a high of 24 in 1920. In 1921 he led the NL in wins for the only time in his career, tying Burliegh Grimes, a Hall of Famer and former teammate, with 22. He also led the league in innings and games started that year. Wilbur led the NL in complete games in both 1919 and 1922 with 27 each year.
After going 20-14 3.28 in 1924 Wilbur was traded along with Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville and Charlie Grimm to the Cubs for George Grantham, Vic Aldridge and Al Neihaus. Cooper went 14-19 in his 2 seasons after the trade, retiring with a 216-178 2.89 record. Along with ranking first in wins in Pirates franchise history, Cooper in 6th in games pitched, 2nd in innings (behind Bob Friend), 4th in strikeouts and shutouts, 2nd in games started and in complete games. Cooper was known as a good fielder with a great pickoff move and at bat he hit .239 career with 106 RBI's. In 104 at-bats in 1924 Cooper hit .346 with 15 RBI's.
Earl Grace, who was born on this date in 1907, was a catcher for the Pirates from 1931-1935.He came over from the Cubs right after the start of the 1931 season (his 2nd year in the majors), and in 47 games platooning with Eddie Phillips (Feb 17th article,) Grace hit .280 with 20 RBI's. The next year Earl was the starting catcher and he hit .274 with a career high 55 RBI's in 115 games. He also set an NL record for catchers with 110 errorless games, and least amount of errors in a season of 100 or more games, with one miscue on the year.
In 1933-34 the left handed hitting Grace started just over half the games behind the plate. He hit .289 with 44 RBI's in 1933, but in just 2 less at-bats the next season,he drove in just 24 runs. He did however score 5 more runs than the previous season. In his final year in Pittsburgh, Earl platooned with Tom Padden who had been his backup since 1932. Grace hit .263 with 29 RBI's in 77 games, and he had the only stolen base of his 8 year career. In the offseason he was traded to the Phillies along with pitcher Claude Passeau for catcher Al Todd. Earl wore #30 while with the Bucs.
Born on this date in 1909 was Clarence "Steamboat" Struss, a teammate of Earl Grace, who pitched one game in his ML career, as a member of the 1934 Pirates. He made his only appearance on September 30th, the last day of the season during a doubleheader Vs the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Pitching game 2 with a chance to get the 5th place Pirates to end with a .500 record (they were 74-75 before the game) Struss gave up 5 runs in 7 innings to take the loss. He did however, contribute with the bat, hitting a 2 run double in 3 at-bats,but the Bucs lost 7-5.
Finally, Bronson Arroyo, who had been in the Pirates organization since being drafted in the 3rd round in 1995, but just recently signed with the Red Sox, turns 26 today. He made his ML debut with the 2000 Pirates after going 57-30 in parts of 6 minor league seasons. The 6"5 right hander went 2-6 6.40 on the season in 20 games, 12 as a starter. In 2001 Bronson went 5-7 5.09 in 24 games, 13 as a starter and he pitched his only complete game to this point in his career. This past season Bronson spent most of the year at Nashville going 8-6 2.96 down there and 2-1 4.00 in 9 games with the Pirates.