Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, one of them went on to later manage the team. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps a game that turned the 1987 season around, allowing the Pirates to finish on a strong note. Before we get to the former players, we have a current player celebrating a birthday. Pitcher Kevin Correia turns 32 today. He joined the Pirates in December of 2010, signing a two-year contract. Kevin has gone 21-19 4.68 in 48 starts and three relief appearances with Pittsburgh. Last year, he was named to the NL All-Star squad. Correia has a 57-62 career record over ten seasons, six with the Giants and two with the Padres
Al Bool (1897) Catcher for the 1930 Pirates. In 1929 playing for Baltimore of the International League, Bool had his best minor league season. He hit .322 with 31 homers and 36 doubles in 141 games. He almost ruined his chance of getting back to the majors in August. During a series in which many scouts came out to see him play, he struggled at the bat and in the field, going 3-15 at the plate and making three errors. The Pirates purchased Bool over the off-season, and brought him to camp to battle with Rollie Hemsley and Charlie Hargreaves for the starting catcher job. Hemsley won the starting job, with Hargreaves as his backup, leaving Bool on the bench for the first 22 games. That changed at the end of May, when Hargreaves was released to the minors. Al became a platoon player with Hemsley for the rest of the year, finishing with 51 starts behind the plate. He hit .259 with seven homers and 46 RBI’s in 216 AB’s. The Pirates put him on waivers after the season ended, where he was picked up by the Boston Braves. Al would hit .188 in 49 games for Boston, in what would end up being his last season in the majors. He played two more seasons in the minors before retiring. Bool’s only other major league experience prior to joining the Pirates was two late season games for the 1928 Washington Senators. He was a late cut from their 1929 Spring Training roster and sent to Baltimore, where the Pirates eventually picked him up.
Jewel Ens (1889) Pirates infielder from 1922-25, and manager from 1929-31. He had a 13 year minor league career before he ever played a major league game, seeing his first action at age 32 with Pittsburgh. He joined the Pirates in 1922 and got 28 starts at second base while seeing very limited time at the other three infield spots. Ens played well in the role, hitting .296 with 17 RBI’s in 47 games. He played three more seasons with the team, but his actual role was as a coach. He had managed in the minors in 1920 while in the Cardinals system. From 1923 until 1925, he got 46 plate appearances over twenty games played. Jewel moved into the managerial spot near the end of the 1929 season, leading the team to a 21-14 finish, giving them an 88-65 record, good for second place. He remained on as the manager for two more years, but when the Pirates finished below .500 in 1931, he was relieved of his spot. Ens rejoined the Pirates as a coach in 1935(until 1939), working under manager Pie Traynor. In 1940, he was hired to coach in the minors for the Reds, eventually spending eight years at the helm for the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. His full name was Jewel Winklemeyer Ens. His brother Anton “Mutz” Ens, played for the 1912 White Sox.
Bill Kelsey (1881) Catcher for the 1907 Pirates. Before joining the Pirates in 1907, Bill played that season with the Coffeyville Glassblowers of the OAK-League, where he hit .258 in 94 games. He would play two October games for the Pirates, his only two major league games. His first major league game was on October 4th, while the second game came as the season and his career ended two days later. Both days Pittsburgh played doubleheaders. Kelsey went 2-5 at the plate, with two singles and a run scored. The next season, he played the first of two seasons for Oklahoma City, where he hit .172 in 122 games. Bill then followed that up with a .196 average in 128 games. He moved on to play parts of two years for Houston of the Texas League, before retiring. His career began in 1905 with the Bellingham Gillnetters of the Northwestern League.
Jolly Roger Rewind: August 24, 1987
As the calendar reached the final week of August, the 1987 Pirates seemed to have written the story on their season: marginally more accomplished than the fifty-seven and sixty-four win teams that had preceded them, yet still far from contention. Promising young talent like Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, Doug Drabek and John Smiley proved capable of generating more spark than Pittsburgh’s fans had experienced since the summer of 1983, but an 8-19 stretch had dropped the Bucs’ record to 53-71, the team had occupied the National League East cellar since June 29, and their recently-concluded ten-game road trip had been distinguished mostly by the trade of veteran starter Rick Reuschel to San Francisco and dreary weekend sweeps in Montreal and Atlanta.* The city’s gaze shifted towards the commencement of Steeler season, just two weeks away.
Against this backdrop, Bucco general manager Syd Thrift called a twenty-minute closed-door meeting with the players before a homestand-starting game with Cincinnati. According to the next day’s Pittsburgh Press, Thrift’s wide-ranging discourse referenced eighteenth-century Scottish poet Robert Burns, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and the process for turning silver ore into refined silver. Aiming to boot the players’ tattered morale, Thrift concluded with the message: “Your destiny is in your hands. Every one of you has been hand-picked and brought here for a purpose. You are wanted here.”
One significant aspect of the team meeting did not get reported in the daily paper: an exchange between Thrift and relief pitcher Jim Gott, whom the Bucs had acquired on waivers from the Giants three weeks earlier. As Sports Illustrated reported a month later, Thrift had challenged the team, “[t]here are 38 games left in the second season. Set some goals.”
“Twenty-five more wins,” Gott responded.
“When I said goals, I meant realistic goals,” Thrift replied. “We’re 53-71.”
“We’ll win 25 more,” Gott insisted.
That night at Three Rivers Stadium, the Pirates achieved 1/25 of Gott’s goal by beating the Reds 5-4. Bonilla put the Bucs in front to stay by hitting a three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch from Tom Browning in the bottom of the third inning. Drabek provided a solid seven-inning start before entrusting a 5-2 lead to Gott in the eighth inning. Gott struck out the dangerous Eric Davis and Dave Parker with a runner on second to close out the eighth inning, and then, after a Bonilla error and two-run Paul O’Neil double had allowed the Reds to draw within a run, struck out the similarly dangerous Kal Daniels to end the game.
Despite the victory, the Pirates remained entrenched in last place in the NL East, eight and a half games behind fifth-place Chicago and twelve games behind fourth-place Philadelphia.**
Box score and play-by-play
The Pittsburgh Press game story
* Of the latter of which Van Slyke told the Press, “You had two teams with poor records. It was muggy. Everything was slow. The talk was slow. There was a lot of drawl in our speech, our pitching and our bats.”
** From this humble beginning, the Pirates would go on to exceed even Gott’s ambitious objective for their final thirty-eight games: they would finish the season on a 27-11 spurt. The finish would carry them past the Cubs and into a fourth-place tie with the Phillies at the end of the year.