Category Archives: Pirates Jerseys 2019

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I was flipping around the dial Friday night in between periods of the Penguins game and landed upon a broadcast of the WPIAL 6-A championship football game between Pine-Richland and Central Catholic, when I heard a familiar voice.

No, not Bob Pompeani.

I’m talking about Neil Walker. The former Pirates second baseman, who starred in football and baseball at Pine-Richland before he was selected with the 11th overall pick by his hometown team in the 2004 draft, was doing some color commentating in the booth. Walker, who at 34 is no longer a kid, noted that he was coming up on his 10-year anniversary as a major leaguer, and also mentioned that he wouldn’t mind playing one more year in the big leagues.

So, should the Pirates take a flyer on the ol’ Pittsburgh Kid?

Walker spent parts of seven years with the Pirates, appearing in 17 games in 2009 before taking over as the regular second baseman the following year. He was part of a core of young players that included Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, all of whom combined to help turn the Pirates fortunes around earlier this decade.

During his time as a Pirate, Walker compiled a batting average of .272 and a .769 OPS, and failed to drive in more than 65 runs only once during his time as a regular in Pittsburgh. Although Walker was a No. 1 draft pick, I did not have extraordinarily high expectations of him when he joined the Pirates. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he seemed a bit bulky for second base, and coming through the Bucs’ minor league system, he never once reached the .800 OPS mark.

I’m not sure what the advanced analytics would tell you about Walker’s time in Pittsburgh, but I always considered him an average player, or just slightly above that. His range certainly was limited, but I never considered him a major liability in the field. And while his offensive numbers were not eye-popping, he seemed to deliver more than his fair share of clutch hits.

In short, he struck me as a positive piece on a winning team, but not one I would seek to acquire if my team figured to scuffle.

Walker’s final year in Pittsburgh was 2015, when he hit .269 with an OPS of .756 – a drop of more than 50 points from the previous year, when he batted .271, hit 23 home runs and drove in 76. That December, the Pirates – wary of his salary and his history of back problems – peddled him to the New York Mets in exchange for left-hander Jon Niese in what became a lightning rod of a deal. It was one of several moves that offseason that raised the ire of Pirates fans, who screamed that the front office went back on its word to add to the club – rather than subtract – when it finally got competitive.

Walker hit .282 with 23 home runs – but just 55 RBIs – with the Mets in 2016 and then hit the jackpot by accepting a $17.2 million contract from New York for 2017. He only lasted until mid-August that year with the Mets, who shipped him to Milwaukee. Overall that year he put together an .801 OPS, driving in 49 runs in 385 at-bats.

Walker returned to New York in 2018, but this time with the Yankees, where he scuffled to a .219 batting average after signing a $4 million free agent contract. For 2019, Walker headed south to Miami and saw action in 115 games, batting .261 with 8 home runs and 38 RBIs. He missed time with several injuries, including a jammed right index finger that kept him out of the lineup for two weeks and a pulled right quad, which landed him on the injured list for nearly a month.

So, does Walker have anything left in the tank, and would he add anything to a Pirates team that is either in major transition or an outright rebuild? Given that he was willing to play last year for $2 million, it’s not likely that Walker would demand – or command – much in the way of salary. He certainly doesn’t need the money; according to Baseball Reference he has earned nearly $52 million during the course of his career, and the website Spotrac has it at $54 million. I’m not sure he would provide anything more than one of the Pirates’ existing bench players would provide and in the case of guys like Pablo Reyes or Jose Osuna, it would be even less, given their ability to at least wear an outfielder’s glove.

Walker’s relationship with the Pirates had soured during his final season; the club had taken him to arbitration prior to the 2015 season and won. Walker told the Tribune-Review that the arbitration hearing “was probably the point when I lost all faith in the organization.” According to the Trib, the Pirates offered Walker a three-year, $27 deal, but Walker asked for $19 million over two years. Walker said the Pirates never countered, though, and that put the two sides in an arbitration hearing, with Walker seeking $9 million and the Pirates wanting to pay a million less.

The owner writing the Pirates’ checks certainly hasn’t changed, but all of the key front office players have moved on. So, would that open the door to Walker coming back in a far reduced role? When healthy, he’s still capable of providing a little pop off the bench. He would also be steady presence for some of the club’s younger players. And from a PR standpoint, the Pirates could do a lot worse. I’m not lobbying for it, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a spring training invite to see if there’s any kind of a fit, particularly given the new 26-man rosters for 2020.

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When the Pirates find a new GM, he or she will need to determine how to address some of the impending position battles involving their top prospects.

The 2019 season was quite a journey, and the kids were on display. Young talent like Bryan Reynolds, and Kevin Newman grabbed the headline mantle directly from Josh Bell as he cooled off toward the end of June and geared up for his first All Star game appearance.

I often pictured a proud Clint Hurdle pushing the woes of his pitching staff and growing injured list out of his mind, while smiling and mumbling the famous words of his movie counterpart in Major League, “There’s a couple of potential All Stars in there.”

2020 promises to provide more of the youth injection, so let’s take a moment and see if we can broach the subject of where they fit. Of course, injury is sometimes the mother of opportunity as young Mr. Reynolds discovered last season, but for the sake of this look, we’ll assume the healthiest roster in the league.

Ke’Bryan Hayes – 3B

The Runddown: Hayes is a defensive wiz at the hot corner, as my colleague noted on multiple occasions. A late 1 round pick (32 overall) in 2015, Hayes has shown positive strides with the bat but hasn’t shown the power many hoped would develop. He was hampered by injury last season for Indianapolis, but still hit .266 with 10 HR in only 432 at bats. A welcome sight for the Pirates top prospect.

Players to Leapfrog: Colin Moran, Jose Osuna

My Thoughts: The Pirates were one of the very worst teams in baseball defensively last season. This on a team that featured a Gold glove finalist 2B (Frazier), a former Gold Glove winner (Marte), and a steady LF (Reynolds). If you watched more than a dozen games, you would have seen that Moran’s defense at third was a weakness.

So, the question for Hayes is, can his defense and offensive potential outweigh the emergence of Moran who became a consistent contributor on offense in the heart of the order? Osuna has at least proven he is a very solid bench option and defensively superior to Moran as a 3B and 1B. His position flexibility will make him hard to replace. I believe we will see Hayes starting the season with AAA. Hayes is too good to last long down there and will find a way to the MLB club in 2020. The defense is just too impressive and much needed.

Cole Tucker – Middle Infield

The Runddown: Early in the season Cole Tucker was called into duty as the Pirates were bitten by injury at the Short Stop position. He was electric from the start, he smiled and flashed the speed and energy we saw during spring training. Defensively, Tucker took charge of SS and provided stability, but his bat went cold after a very nice start, ultimately leading to his demotion as the roster found their way out of the medical tent. His call up in September provided little opportunity for playing time as Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman were arguably the best hitters in the lineup down the stretch – both competed for tops in the league in batting average.

Players to Leapfrog: Newman, Frasier, Eric Gonzalez, Kevin Kramer

My Thoughts: Middle infield is a position of strength for the Bucs. I see no way Newman and Frazier don’t go into 2020 as penned in starters. However, every team needs a solid middle infielder to provide insurance on the bench and that could very well be Tucker’s spot. He has some hurdles, and not his ex-coach, namely Eric Gonzalez and Kevin Kramer. Gonzalez showed some of what the Pirates hoped he would be as the season wound down. He is entering his first season of arbitration. That’s a whole lot of control to cede for any club, let alone the traditionally frugal Pirates. Kevin Kramer worked in the outfield last season but even that could be a crowded spot with Gregory Polanco expected to return. Tucker will have to earn it in Spring Training, but it may be a numbers game.

Will Craig – 1B

The Runddown: Will has steadily moved up the ranks in the minors. Last season he belted 23 home runs for the Indians, while providing Gold Glove-quality defense. His power has emerged, and the pop is real.

Players to Leapfrog: Josh Bell, Jose Osuna

My Thoughts: Craig will have some real challenges making the club out of camp. His defense and bat look ready for the show but, being stuck behind Josh Bell who rarely takes a night off unless forcibly removed, he won’t find many at-bats off the bench. At 24 the Pirates really need to find another position for him or run the risk of wasting this intriguing prospect.

In previous seasons you could set your watch by what Neal Huntington would and wouldn’t do, but those days are over. We no longer look at these prospects as potential replacements for salary dumped stars, but as potential pieces in a rebuild. When the Pirates find their new GM and manager, they won’t be coming in to the completely bare cupboard. Perhaps some of these position battles will enable the club to make some moves to improve the pitching staff. Or maybe we’ll have a couple younger Pirates make a run at Rookie of the Year.

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While there are a lot of question marks facing the Pirates organization in 2020, one thing is certain: It’s going to look different.

For the first time since September 2007, there will be a new general manager overseeing all things baseball operations wise. Neal Huntington, who became the GM back then and helped rebuild the farm system to the point where it aided the Pirates in making three straight playoff appearances, was let go in late October.

State of the System
AL East BAL, BOS, NYY, TB, TOR
NL East ATL, MIA, NYM, PHI, WSH
AL Central CLE, CWS, DET, KC, MIN
NL Central CHC, CIN, MIL, PIT, STL
AL West HOU, LAA, OAK, SEA, TEX
NL West ARI, COL, LAD, SD, SF
Division Team
For an extended period of time, that farm system was one of the best in baseball, making MLB Pipeline’s Top 10 rankings five times in a row from preseason 2015 through preseason 2017 (Two rankings are released each season.). A combination of graduations and trades thinned it out somewhat, but Pittsburgh did come in No. 15 in the 2019 midseason system rankings.

There is some elite-level talent at the top, with the top three prospects all firmly in the Top 100, but it thins out more quickly than it has in the past. It will be up to whoever takes the helm to help the Pirates restock so the farm system can again be an asset in helping the Pirates compete in the NL Central.

TOP 5 PROSPECTS

1) Mitch Keller, RHP (No. 26 on Top 100)
2) Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B (No. 36)
3) Oneil Cruz, SS (No. 57)
4) Travis Swaggerty, OF
5) Cal Mitchell, OF
Complete Top 30 list »

Mayo on Oneil Cruz
Sep 20th, 2019 · 1:10
Mayo on Oneil Cruz
HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR

Mason Martin, 1B (No. 16): The 2017 17th-rounder displayed some pretty hefty power in 2019, hitting 35 homers and driving in 129 runs in 131 games with Class A and Class A Advanced combined. He had a .558 slugging percentage.

Cody Bolton, RHP (No. 13): Bolton had an outstanding 12 starts at Class A Advanced Bradenton before moving up to Double-A Altoona and having slightly different results. In Class A Advanced, he had a 1.61 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP, 69 strikeouts and just one home run allowed. More »

STOCK UP/DOWN

green up arrow Jared Oliva, OF (No. 11): Oliva had a solid, if unspectacular second full season of pro ball, with a .277/.352/.398 line to go along with 36 steals in Double-A in 2019. Then he led the Arizona Fall League in doubles, extra-base hits and steals to really raise his prospect profile.

red down arrow J.T. Brubaker, RHP (No. 26): Brubaker pitched well enough in 2018 to land a spot on the 40-man roster and looked poised to contribute to the big league staff at some point in 2019. But he made just six starts all year due to a forearm strain and elbow inflammation and didn’t pitch after June 23. He could come back healthy in 2020, but he’ll be 26 and the clock is ticking.

Oliva’s RBI double
Oct 6th, 2019 · 0:22
Oliva’s RBI double
NOTABLE ADDITIONS

Draft: Quinn Priester, RHP, 1st round (No. 6); Sammy Siani, OF, CBA (No. 7); Matt Gorski, OF, 2nd round (No. 21); Jared Triolo, 3B, CBB (No. 27). Complete Draft list »

International: Christopher Cruz, RHP (No. 20 on International Top 30)

The Pirates were aggressive last July when the 2019-20 international free agent signing period began, handing out a total of 16 six-figure bonuses. Seven were pitchers with Cruz, one of the top arms on the market, leading the way with an $850,000 bonus. The Pirates have been going back-and-forth between taking a high school arm (2019, 2017) and a college bat (2018, 2016) in the first round of the past four drafts. Don’t be surprised if Priester takes off and becomes a Top 100 caliber prospect soon.

2020 IMPACT PROSPECT

Mitch Keller, RHP: Keller finished just two innings shy of graduating off of prospect lists during his uneven big league debut in 2019, but he finished off the year on a strong note and while his prospect star faded a tiny bit, he showed he can be an effective big league starter when he trusts his stuff.

Keller fans Goodrum to begin 5th
Jun 19th, 2019 · 0:26
Keller fans Goodrum to begin 5th
Best tools

Hit: Travis Swaggerty
Power: Mason Martin
Run: Ji-Hwan Bae
Arm: Oneil Cruz
Field: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Best athlete: Oneil Cruz

Fastball: Blake Cederlind
Curveball: Michael Burrows
Slider: Cody Bolton
Changeup: Luis Escobar
Control: Aaron Shortridge

How they were built

Draft: 23
International: 5
Trade: 2

Eight of the Pirates’ top 10 come from the Draft and the overall list is extremely Draft-heavy. But they might look back at a trade as providing a potential elite-level player as a key moment in player acquisition. Back in July 2017, the Pirates sent Tony Watson to the Dodgers and got a gangly teenager who was playing in the United States for the first time. Oneil Cruz is still gangly, but he’s becoming one of the most intriguing prospects in the game.

Top 30 breakdown by position

1B: 2
2B: 3
3B: 1
SS: 2
OF: 8
RHP: 14

If you’re looking for a future battery with a left-hander, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Pirates don’t have a single backstop or southpaw in their Top 30. They do have lots of right-handers, though. The 14 on the top 30 places them third among all 30 organizations, behind only the Astros and Yankees (15 each).

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to another installment in the Ask Pinstripe Alley mailbag series. We have six answers for you this week. As always, keep sending questions in our weekly mailbag call or by e-mail at pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Davidg1570 asks: With the Pirates rebuilding, what do you think about Chris Archer? He still strikes out a ton of batters and could maybe rebound in the AL East.

Once upon a time, I dreamed of seeing Chris Archer in pinstripes. Now? The hardest of hard passes. Despite his quality strikeout numbers, Archer struggled mightily in 2019. He walked a ton of batters (4.14 BB/9) and gave up a bunch of dingers (1.88 HR/9).

The right-hander still has quality velocity on his fastball and a good spin rate on his breaking ball, two qualities the Yankees love. The results don’t match the process, though. He gives off big time Michael Pineda vibes.

Baseball Savant
Archer tore it up from 2013-2015, but he’s been league average or worse ever since. I can’t imagine the Yankees having interest in him at his $9 million salary. They can find better arms elsewhere.

Cary asks: How about Scooter Gennett as a free agent target, if fully healthy. He’s a 29-year-old spark plug with a left-handed pull ratio that would seem to be perfect for Yankee Stadium. He’s played some third base, and he’s also played the outfield in his career. Seems like a versatile and clutch type player who could potentially slide in at second base and play some in the outfield and at third.

It seems like a lot of fans have identified Scooter Gennett as this year’s DJ LeMahieu. I hate to throw cold water on the idea, but Gennett really struggled in 2019. A bad groin injury cost him most of the season, but in the 42 games he appeared, he was basically unplayable. We’re talking a 44 wRC+ with a 29.5% strikeout rate bad. The San Francisco Giants released him on August 27—they didn’t even wait for rosters to expand and stash him on the bench!

Gennett did have two strong seasons in 2017 and 2018, hitting .303/.351/.508 with a 124 wRC+ between them. That’s not too far to look back and think maybe a healthy season would get him back on track. He was so bad in 2019, though, that I don’t think it’s safe to consider him the next LeMahieu. Maybe 2018 Neil Walker is a better comp.

Chilts asks: Will Mike Ford be part of the Yankees’ future, or traded?

Earlier this week, I thought the odds were pretty good that the Yankees would cash in on Ford as a trade chip. I also expected them to keep Greg Bird around, but he got designated for assignment on Wednesday night. If Bird doesn’t find his way back into the organization, then I suppose Ford position is somewhat safer.

The 27-year-old hit .259/.350/.559 with 12 home runs (134 wRC+) across 50 games. That’s essentially 2015 Bird production. Ford’s 91.9 mph average exit velocity also suggests that production wasn’t exactly a fluke; he can sting the ball, and good things generally happen to batters who do that.

It’s a tough call on whether he’s more likely to stay or gets moved. I’ll say he sticks around, though, mainly because most teams aren’t exactly clamoring for a first baseman.

lowrider225: With numerous other events besides baseball being held at Yankee Stadium during the course of a calendar year, such as pro soccer, the Pinstripe Bowl, concerts, and what have you, do the Yankees reap any rewards from those events? If so, what amount or percentage do they get?

The Yankees have a number of revenue streams outside of baseball games themselves. For example, Yankee Global Enterprises—the LLC behind the Yankees—has a 20% ownership stake in New York City Football Club. According to Inside the Empire, they earn revenue on all events held at Yankee Stadium. There’s also Legends Hospitality, the concessions provider at the Stadium. The actual earnings remain unknown, but it definitely exists. Funny enough, it may all get written off as losses to defer taxes.

Yanks4ever asks: How serious a punishment do you see Astros management getting for this scandal? When the Atlanta Braves flouted the international draft pick laws, they lost a year’s worth of picks and an executive got banned. Is that possible here?

How mad do you think the Commissioner’s Office is with the Astros right now? The Brandon Taubman incident dominated the headlines in the World Series, and now they’re caught up in a major cheating scandal. They have to be in some serious hot water.

Major League Baseball has a tendency to handle these issues quietly—take the Red Sox Apple Watch mini-scandal from a few years ago. This, though? The genie’s out of the bottle here. It’s too public for them to reasonably address on the low.

The Braves’ punishment in 2017 makes for a good comparison. They lost 13 players whom they had previously signed, forfeited future draft picks, were removed from future international signing pools, and GM John Coppolella received a lifetime ban.

At least one current executive echoes this. ““If Jeff Luhnow knew about this, he should be banned for life,” the anonymous general manager told Andy Martino. In the past, MLB has gone to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the game. This feels like one of those occasions.

Thomas asks: Don’t you think it’s about time that the Yankees get rid of their no beard policy? Besides being antiquated, it could be hurting them in free agency.

Yeah, the Yankees probably have too strict a grooming policy. I certainly agree on the antiquated part; baseball’s a game, not a desk job. For a good read on the subject, I recommend PSA Scribe Emeritus Kunj Shah’s story, It’s time for the Yankees to update their facial hair policy.

Real talk: this likely has no serious bearing on free-agent decisions. It falls under the same category of a player who reportedly wants to pitch close to home, or one who desires to play for his favorite team growing up. I know, I know David Price once said he wouldn’t pitch for the Yankees because he’d have to shave. But that flippant remark isn’t the best evidence for it. In the end, it comes down to money. In most circumstances, a player will sigh with whoever offers the the largest contract.

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Barry Bonds was difficult, and he was controversial … but he was also better at hitting baseballs than almost anyone who ever lived. An MLB team could not ask for better production from a hitter, and yet none of Bonds’ teams — including some very good ones — ever won a World Series.

So why not? What happened? You may be inclined to give simple answers to those questions, but we’re here to dig deeper into the actual deciding factors that kept Bonds short of a ring. Sometimes he struggled in the postseason, sometimes his teammates did. Sometimes he came through in the clutch, sometimes he very notably didn’t. Sometimes bad luck, bad managerial decisions, and bad timing interfered.

This episode of Untitled investigates each of those seasons Bonds approached glory — including the year his Giants came just a few outs away — and figures out precisely what went wrong.

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Pittsburgh Pirates fans who have endured a frustrating season of more lows than highs this year will have an opportunity to connect with a part of the franchise’s World Series-winning past.

Richie Hebner, who played third base on the Pirates’ 1971 World Series championship team, will be the featured speaker during the AAABA Hall of Fame banquet on Aug. 5 at the Pasquerilla Conference Center.

While he might not be a household name among the younger generation of Pirates fans, Hebner is well-known to those who followed the Bucs during a successful run through the 1970s. Back then, it was an aberration when the Pirates missed the playoffs, which is pretty much the opposite of the trend set during the past two decades.

With players such as Roberto Clemente, Dock Ellis and Bill Mazeroski early in the decade and stars such as Willie Stargell, Dave Parker,’ Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver throughout the ’70s, the Pirates won the NL East Division six times in nine seasons from 1970 to 1979. The Bucs also won the Series with the “We Are Family” team in ’79.

Coming to Johnstown
What: AAABA Hall of Fame Banquet

When: Aug. 5; 5:30 p.m. social hour; 6:30 p.m. banquet.

Where: Pasquerilla Conference Center, Johnstown.

Featured speaker: Richie Hebner, former Pittsburgh Pirates World Series-winning third baseman.

Class of 2017: Will be announced at a later date.

For tickets: Call 241-3668.

Hebner was along for the ride through most of the run, from 1968 through 1976, and he returned for two years in 1982-83.

“We were a bunch of characters,” said Hebner, who was known as one of the more colorful guys in the bunch. “We got along with each other. We had fun. I signed in June 1966.

“If you told me in September in 1968 I was going to be in Forbes Field with Clemente and Stargell and Mazeroski in the clubhouse … I played at old Forbes Field and then I got the first hit at Three Rivers Stadium (in July 1970).”

Reached at his home in Massachusetts, Hebner recalled the glory days in Pittsburgh, the circumstances that led to his departure to rival Philadelphia through free agency and his well-documented offseason job as a gravedigger.

“We had some great teams in the ’70s, and it was fun to watch,” Hebner said. “It was almost like when you went to spring training, you knew you were going to be in the playoffs.

“Not to be cocky, but we were good. Oliver, Sangy (Sanguillen), Clemente, Stargell. We were pretty good. The kids at the banquet might not know us, but their fathers probably will know us.”

The list of highlights is long for a player who spent five decades in uniform either on the field or as a coach in the Toronto Blue Jays organization in Class A, AA and AAA.

• Hebner smacked the first base hit of an 18-season career against Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals.

• As a rookie with the Pirates in 1969, Hebner batted .301.

• He was a postseason hero as the Bucs won the 1971 World Series. Hebner hit key home runs off Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry of the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS in ’71. He hit a three-run bomb against another Hall of Famer, Baltimore’s Jim Palmer, in the World Series.

• Hebner had a career batting average of .276 while playing third base, first base and some outfield with five teams, including 11 years with the Pirates. He had 890 RBIs and 203 home runs.

“Almost 50 years in baseball, that’s a pretty good run,” Hebner said.

Johnstown Oldtimers President George Arcurio III said more than 300 tickets already have been sold to the banquet, which is ahead of the pace for an event that typically attracts 500 to 600 guests.

“I’ve heard he’s a great speaker,” Arcurio said of Hebner. “I’m looking forward to meeting him and listening to his message on what he says on the status of Major League Baseball today. I remember watching him play baseball at Three Rivers Stadium. He was a scrapper.”

Hebner signed with the Phillies for the 1977 season and played two seasons in Philadelphia. He also played for the New York Mets (1979), Detroit Tigers (1980-82) and Chicago Cubs (1984-85).

“I hated leaving there. When I left Pittsburgh, I got a lot of letters ripping me,” Hebner said. “The problem was the Pirates offered me $270,000 for three years. The Phillies called me and said they’d give me $600,000 for three years. I’m not a Harvard scholar, but what would you do?”

Hebner still follows the Pirates and has done television interviews for Root Sports features on those dominant teams.

“Clint Hurdle is a good guy. I’ve known him a long time,” Hebner said of the Pittsburgh manager. “(Andrew) McCutchen has turned it up a lot the last month. You play April to October. To get to the playoffs you have to have pitching and you have to catch the ball.

“If you have pitching, you have a chance. If you don’t have pitching, it’s a long, hot summer.”

And, what about those cold Massachusetts winters when Hebner held an offseason job as a gravedigger at his family-owned cemetery?

“I did it for 35 years with a pick and a shovel. Cold days where I lived up in Boston,” Hebner said. “It was in the family. My grandfather had it first, and then my father had it, and then my brother took it over.

“The last 15 years I worked in a funeral home. I tell people I love being around stiffs. I’ve had an interesting life.”

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An agreement for developing the last remaining parcels between PNC Park and Heinz Field was reached Wednesday, the city of Pittsburgh announced. The mixed-use development includes the first residential units to be constructed between the stadiums along the North Shore.

Continental Real Estate Companies of Columbus, Ohio, continues as the North Shore developer. It will build on the parking lot at Mazeroski Way and General Robinson Street, across from the PNC Park entrance featuring the Honus Wagner statue.

Stanley Lederman, board chairman of the Stadium Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, said the project is “the capstone of our North Shore development.”

The Continental development includes an eight-story high-rise building with four floors of approximately 48 apartments and four floors of retail and office space; a 445-space, six-floor public parking garage; and a public courtyard and greenspace with retail and entertainment components. The parking garage will have 72 spaces reserved for building residents.

The other remaining parcel is Parking Lot 2, located behind the building that houses the Tequila Cowboy bar. The city said the Stadium Authority board would vote to extend the redevelopment deadline for Lot 2 to Dec. 31, 2024, which would create a final partnership agreement on surface parking spots for gameday activities through the end of the stadium leases.

“Bringing housing to the North Shore has long been one of my goals, along with introducing new, fan-friendly and public greenspaces to the area,” Mayor Bill Peduto said of the Continental mixed-use development. “I want to thank the Pirates and Steelers for their hard work with us on this.”

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WHITLEY COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ/WKYT) — It was a crash that killed the son and daughter-in-law of former major league pitcher, and Kenova, W.Va. native, Don ”Donnie” Robinson.

Now, an investigation by our sister station WKYT reveals details about the criminal history of the driver that caused the crash.

A total of five people were killed in the Christmas Eve crash in Knox County.

Kentucky State Police say Brent Robinson, 30, and Julia Robinson, 29, both of Bradenton, Fl., were in a car driven by Julia’s parents, Gary and Patricia Caldwell, when the driver of another vehicle lost control, crossed the center line, went airborne after hitting a median and then slammed into their car.

The Caldwell’s were also killed along with the driver of the car that hit them, David Vanderpool of Williamsburg, Ky.

While not much is known about the moments before the deadly crash, a look at Vanderpool’s history suggests the crash could have been avoided.

“He was on parole at the time of this accident which would have ended sometime in 2015,” said Whitley County Commonwealth’s Attorney Allen Trimble, who says his jurisdiction had plenty of run-ins with Vanderpool.

The 31-year-old has faced roughly 35 charges in seven years. Most of them are theft related, but a few stand out like in 2006 he was charged with driving on a suspended license. In March of 2012, he was arrested for a felony theft charge where he was found guilty and sentenced to five years. He served only nine months.

“At the time he was sentenced, he had served about 180-some days. All people get credit for the time they have served, and under the current regulations a person is eligible to be paroled on a five year sentence after they have served nine months,” explained Trimble.

WKYT also reports that on December 5, Vanderpool was arrested again, but this time it was in Lincoln County for driving on a suspended license. The next day he pleaded guilty, despite being on parole he was sentenced to just 30 days.

The station reports that he skipped past the sentencing after Lincoln County District Judge Janet Booth gave him a two year conditional discharge, or simply probation. A condition that Trimble says would’ve been unsupervised.

“Probably at that time no one was aware of it, and I’m sure that if they were they may have looked at it differently. I don’t think it was their fault,” said Trimble.

The State Transportation Cabinet says Vanderpool’s license was again suspended in November of 2011 at the request of the Whitley County Court System.

“There is nothing that prevents a person without a license or a with suspended license from getting a set of keys, going to a car and taking off,” said Trimble.

WKYT requested a comment from Judge Booth’s office, but their calls were not returned.

Visitation for the Robinson’s and the Caldwell’s was held Thursday night

The four were headed home to celebrate Christmas after the Robinson’s flew to Kentucky from Florida.

ORIGINAL STORY 12/27/12
KNOX COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) — The son and daughter-in-law of former major league pitcher, and Kenova, W.Va. native, Don ”Donnie” Robinson, have been killed in a car crash in Knox County, Ky.
The accident happened on U.S. 25-E near Flat Lick on Christmas Eve.

Kentucky State Police say Brent Robinson, 30, and Julia Robinson, 29, both of Bradenton, Fl., were in a car driven by Julia’s parents, Gary and Patricia Caldwell, when the driver of another vehicle lost control, crossed the center line, went airborne after hitting a median and then slammed into their car.

The Caldwell’s were also killed along with the driver of the car that crossed the center line, David Vanderpool of Williamsburg, Ky.

KSP investigators say alcohol may have been a factor in the crash.

The family was on their way to the Caldwell’s Harlan County home when the crash happened.

According to a Tampa television station, Brent and Julia had been at Don Robinson’s Bradenton, Fl. home for Christmas dinner on Sunday night and flown back to Kentucky on Monday.

“I keep thinking in my mind that 10 years from now, he’s not going to be here,” Don Robinson told the station. “He’s not going to be here so I can talk to him.”

Don also told the station that his son and Julia were inseparable, and how she would accompany Brent on business trips and how the two would go to games together, especially the Rays and the Giants.

“He loved his wife; he loved her more than anything. He wouldn’t do anything without her,” said Don.

Don Robinson says Julia and Brent will be buried in Florida.

Investigators said the Robinsons were not wearing seat belts.

Don Robinson pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, California Angels and Philadelphia Phillies during his 15-year major league career.

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Bob Miller, a former major league pitcher who spent five seasons with the Dodgers, was killed Friday in a car accident in Rancho Bernardo near San Diego. He was 54.

Miller, who had been with the San Francisco Giants since 1981 as a scout, minor league instructor and major league pitching coach, was killed instantly, according to a spokesman for the Giants.

Miller was making a left turn when his car was struck by a car running a red light, a spokesman for the San Diego coroner’s office said. The driver of that car may have experienced a “medical crises” resulting in the accident, the spokesman said.

Miller’s mother, Norma Jean Miller, 83, was a passenger in her son’s car and suffered extensive injuries, the spokesman said. She was in critical condition at Palomar Hospital Friday night.

Miller had a 69-81 record with 52 saves during 17 major league seasons. He pitched for seven teams in addition to the Dodgers, with whom he was 29-33 with 24 saves from 1963 through ’67. He appeared in relief for the Dodgers in the 1965 and ’66 World Series, and was in three World Series games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971.

Miller had a career earned-run average of 3.37, but his ERA in four of five seasons with the Dodgers was below 3.00.

He managed in the San Diego Padres minor league system in 1976 and was the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching coach from 1977 through ’79.

Miller lived in Scottsdale and is survived by his wife, Judy, and daughter, Kriskine. His death extends a series of misfortunes that have touched the Dodgers this year, including the death of their former pitcher, Tim Crews, in a spring training boating accident and the recent deaths of Don Drysdale and Roy Campenella.

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This article was written by Bruce Markusen
Those fans who don’t remember Bob Johnson as a member of the 1969 Mets can certainly be excused. Johnson, 26, pitched in all of two September games that season—notching one save in the team’s 100th win of the year and allowing no runs—before being rendered ineligible for postseason play. Still, those brief Mets appearances represented a significant pit stop in what turned out to be a fascinating career for the journeyman right-hander.

Robert Dale Johnson was born in Aurora, Illinois, on April 25, 1943. He attended Bradley University and pitched there for two years before signing with the Mets in 1964. As a green rookie he pitched 37 times for 172 innings—both highs for his minor league career—for Auburn in the New York-Penn League that year. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Johnson was a hard thrower who racked up plenty of strikeouts in the minors, but he did not show appreciable results … and he nearly lost his leg. In 1967, while pitching for the Mets’ Williamsport farm team in the Eastern League, Johnson suffered a badly broken leg in a terrifying motorcycle accident.

“I was going along pretty good when the bike skidded on about three feet of gravel on the road,” Johnson told The Sporting News. “My left leg was mangled.”1 How badly? Two doctors recommended amputation of at least part of the limb.

Fortunately, a third doctor believed that the injured leg could be saved. The decision—and the operation—was a turning point in Johnson’s life and saved his career. It also left him with a resolution. Johnson promised himself that he would never drive another motorcycle for the duration of his professional career.

Fully recovered in 1969, he had a breakout season, going 13-4 with a 1.48 ERA at Double-A Memphis. He was moved up to Triple-A Tidewater, pitching mostly in relief, before being promoted to New York in September.

Johnson’s career as a Met would not last long. After the 1969 season, the Mets traded him, along with a young outfielder-third baseman named Amos Otis, to the Kansas City Royals for veteran third baseman Joe Foy. After Foy muddled through an unproductive season in New York, the Mets dumped him on the lowly Washington Senators. In the meantime, Otis became a five-time All-Star with Kansas City. Through no fault of his own, Johnson had been involved in one of the most one-sided trades in franchise history. The inclusion of the promising Johnson—as if a center fielder who’d reach 2,000 hits and claim three Gold Gloves for a five-time division champ wasn’t enough—made the deal even worse in the eyes of the Mets.

The Royals benefited directly from Johnson’s promise in 1970. Johnson finished second to Bert Blyleven in The Sporting News’ Rookie Pitcher of the Year voting. Johnson displayed a live arm, striking out 206 batters. His high strikeout total was the most of any American League right-hander, surpassing even Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. Lefties Sam McDowell of Cleveland and Mickey Lolich of Detroit were the only AL pitchers with more K’s in 1970. Johnson was also durable, completing 10 starts and logging 214 innings.

Johnson’s performance caught the eye of Joe Brown, the astute general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who was not deceived by his misleading 8-13 won-loss record for the Royals, a 97-loss team in just their second year of existence. Captivated by the tall right-hander who threw better than 90 miles an hour, possessed an above-average breaking ball, and exhibited the versatility to start or relieve, Brown targeted Johnson in wintertime conversations with the Royals.

As he talked trade during the offseason of 1970-71, Brown insisted that the Royals include Johnson as part of a package for touted shortstop Freddie Patek. The Pirates gave up Patek, catcher Jerry May, and right-hander Bruce Dal Canton for Johnson, shortstop Jackie Hernandez, and catcher Jim Campanis.

Pitching mostly out of the back end of Pittsburgh’s rotation, Johnson endured a disappointing first year as a Pirate. He finished the 1971 regular season with an unspectacular earned run average of 3.45 and a middling record of 9-10. Several major league scouts noted that Johnson was trying to finesse opposing hitters, in contrast to the power-pitching style he had shown with the Royals. As one scout told sportswriter Dick Young, “You can look at [Johnson’s] face and tell he can’t finesse anybody.”2

Thankfully, the Pirates’ ascent to the National League East title gave Johnson a chance for redemption in the postseason. With the National League Championship Series tied at a game apiece, the Pirates prepared to host the San Francisco Giants in Game Three. Moments before game time, scheduled starter Nellie Briles told manager Danny Murtaugh that his injured groin would prevent him from pitching. Thinking quickly, Murtaugh decided to tap the shoulder of Johnson.

Game Three provided the stage for Johnson’s most impressive work as a member of the Pirates. On short notice, he pitched brilliantly. He overcame several rough spots, including a key situation in the second inning. Willie McCovey and Bobby Bonds reached on back-to-back singles with no one out. Johnson responded by fanning Dick Dietz, retiring Dirty Al Gallagher on a groundout, and striking out Chris Speier.

Buttressed by a Bob Robertson home run, Johnson nursed a 1-0 lead into the top of the sixth inning. A throwing error by Richie Hebner produced a tainted run for the Giants, but Johnson prevented further damage by wading through the middle of San Francisco’s formidable lineup, which included Willie Mays, McCovey, and Bonds.

In the top of the eighth inning, Johnson encountered another critical situation. With two out and two runners on, he faced Dietz, a dangerous right-handed hitter with power. Johnson ran the count to two balls and no strikes, prompting a visit from pitching coach Don Osborn. “Listen, you big ape,” Osborn told Johnson bluntly, according to a report in The Sporting News. “I don’t have an SOB in the bullpen that’s got the stuff you got out here today, so get this guy out.”3 Johnson responded to Osborn’s diatribe by retiring Dietz on a harmless groundball, ending the threat.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Johnson left the game for a pinch hitter. Two batters later, Richie Hebner lofted a home run into the right-field stands at Three Rivers Stadium. Dave Giusti replaced the departed Johnson in the ninth, preserving the 2-1 win for the talented right-hander. After the game, Johnson attributed his success to his readiness to fill in as a starter. “I was prepared mentally to start the game,” Johnson told the Associated Press. “I knew Briles had a bad leg and you never know what can happen.4

Johnson started and lost Game Two of the World Series against Baltimore. He later came on in relief in the sixth inning of Game Six in a one-run game with two on and no one out. He retired three straight batters to quell the threat. He batted in the top of the seventh and came out to pitch the bottom half. He got two outs but put two men on before being replaced by Dave Giusti, who allowed a game-tying hit to Davey Johnson. The Pirates lost the game to even the Series, but the Bucs won the world championship the next day.

Now the owner of a World Series ring, Johnson followed up by posting one of his best seasons in 1972, forging an earned run average of 2.96 as a long reliever and spot starter. He came on in Game Two of the NLCS in the first inning after Bob Moose was yanked after allowing hits to the first five Cincinnati Reds. Johnson threw five innings of one-hit ball, though Cincinnati held on to win, 5-3. Johnson appeared once more in the NLCS, though the Pirates lost on a Moose wild pitch in ninth inning of deciding Game Five.

Johnson returned to mediocrity in 1973, pitching almost exclusively in relief. He appeared in a career-high 50 games and chalked up his worst ERA to that point: 3.62. After the season, the Bucs traded him to the Cleveland Indians for an obscure minor league outfielder, Burnel “Bill” Flowers. Once a prized acquisition, Johnson had seen his Pirates career come to an end after three seasons, two of them mostly disappointing.

Injuries played a part in hurting Johnson’s career. So did an off-the-field obstacle. Later in his career, Johnson announced publicly that he had struggled with a severe drinking problem. Johnson said he had begun drinking with the Royals in 1970, and only increased his alcohol habit during his three-year stay with the Pirates. “It was affecting my behavior. I was saying things I shouldn’t have been saying. I was hung over in the clubhouse most of the time,” Johnson revealed in a 1977 interview.5 In May of 1974, Johnson’s heavy drinking led to an episode of erratic behavior aboard the Indians’ team flight from Detroit to Dallas. Johnson became angered when the flight’s departure was delayed. He also argued with stewardesses about a mix-up in seating assignments. “I was snockered,” Johnson admitted in the ’77 interview.6 Johnson abruptly walked off the plane during a stopover in Indianapolis. The Indians fined him a reported $500. They waived him later that season.

In October 1975, Johnson vowed to never again to take another drink. Two years later, after failed attempts to make the rosters of the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees and an aborted return to the Royals, he attempted a comeback with the Atlanta Braves. Johnson pitched briefly—and unsuccessfully—for Atlanta. “I knew that it was time for me to call it quits,” Johnson told Sports Collectors Digest in 1997. “I didn’t just want to hang on.”7

For Johnson, a career that had begun with so much promise ended with a lifetime record of just 28-34, with two shutouts, 12 saves, and 692 1/3 innings pitched in 183 career games (76 starts). The highlights of his career had come early—as a member of two world championship teams, the’69 Mets and the ’71 Pirates. In between those seasons he had his career year as a rookie for a second-year expansion team that finished 33 games out of first place.

Out of the major leagues since 1977, Johnson has owned and operated a construction company, while staying active in the game as an American Legion coach and umpire in southern Oregon. “I am staying in baseball at a lower level, but I am still in baseball,” Johnson told Sports Collectors Digest in 1997. “I really love the game.”8

A resident of Cave Junction, Oregon, Johnson still dabbles in coaching but has continued to maintain a low profile in his retirement. Somehow that seems like a fitting legacy for one of the least known—but most promising—pitchers on the 1969 Miracle Mets.

Last revised: March 27, 2019

An earlier version of this biography appeared in SABR’s “The Miracle Has Landed: The Amazin’ Story of how the 1969 Mets Shocked The World” (Maple Street Press, 2009), edited by Matthew Silverman and Ken Samelson.