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Battling Bucs : ATP Near and Far: Shortstop

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
ATP Near and Far is a 10 part series dedicated to assembling two teams of All Time Pirates greats based upon their place of birth. The "near" team will consist of players born exclusively in the state of Pennsylvania and the "far" team will consist of players born outside of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia. Each roster will consist of 25 players the particulars of how the rosters will be assembled can be found in the introduction post here.
All Time Pirates Near and Far: Shortstops
Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania team features a deep crop of shortstops featuring 28 eligible players and another 13 who have played at least one game at the position. Only 2 of the 13 ineligible players to have played SS appeared in more than 10 games at the position and they are Bill McKechnie and Ed Abbaticchio. Of the eligible group the top two guys would easily start for the international squad and depending on how you view things another 2-6 players would be in the running.
Bobby Cargo, Gus Alberts, Hutch Campbell and John Gilbert all saw only 2 games of action with the Pirates receiving between 4 to 8 plate appearances. For Cargo (1892), Campbell (1907) and Gilbert (1890) that brief appearance with the Pirates was their entire major league career. Alberts began his major league career with the Alleghenies in 1884 but hung around the game getting occasional appearances through 1891 (1895 in the minors). Sam Gillen played in 3 games for the Pirates in 1893 and would later play for the Phillies in 1897. Jim Gray and Marr Phillips each appeared in 4 games for Pittsburgh. Gray’s games were spread out over 3 seasons (1884, 1890 and 1893) and he also played 2 games for the Pittsburgh Burghers in 1890 (Player’s League). Phillips played for the Alleghenies in 1885 he had a long career in baseball playing in a pro league from 1877 through 1899 (’84 and ’90 were his other years in the majors).
John McDonald and Joe Quest were covered in the 2B section. McDonald an all glove utility infielder picked up 35 PA for the Pirates in 2013 and is still hanging around the game. Quest is another early player having played for the team way back in 1884 where he picked up 44 PA mainly as a 2B but he spent some time at SS as well. Don Kelly and Bill Stuart round out the under 100 PA club. Kelly who can play all over the infield surprisingly won a utility job out of Spring Training back in 2007. He only played 10 games in the field (half at short) but got into another 15 as a pinch hitter picking up 32 PA in all. He has since been with the Tigers bouncing on and off the roster. Stuart is another player from the early days having played for Pittsburgh in 1895 when he picked up 80 PA across 19 games. He was the regular SS during that brief stint.
Roy Ellam, Lute Boone and Jimmy Smith all barely squeak by the 100 PA threshold topping out at 105. Ellam had a brief appearance with the Reds in 1909 then hung around the game before finally reappearing in the majors with the Pirates in 1918. He played in 26 games all of them at short and picked up 105 PA. He would hang around the minors until the age of 44 when he retired in 1930. Boone had a four year stretch with the Yankees, 1913-1916 before playing for the Pirates in 1918 which apparently was a year the Pirates opted to fill the SS position with a bunch of local guys. He played 27 games that year (26 at short) and collected 101 PA. Like Ellam he hung around the game forever last appearing in the minors in 1935 at the age of 45. Jimmy Smith preceded the previous 2 by just two years playing in 1916 and getting time in 36 games (105 PA in total). Unlike the previous two he didn’t hang around the game long last appearing in 1922 at the age of 27.
John Richmond finished his major league career with the Alleghenies in 1885 when he collected 141 PA across 35 games split between SS and the OF. He had previously played in the majors as early as 1875 with the Philadelphia Athletics. Dick Smith, Ed Sales and Denny Mack all crossed the 200 PA level. Smith I previously covered at his primary position 3B. Smith played for the Pirates from 1951-1955 his only major league time picking up 70 games spread between 2B, 3B and SS. Sales played 51 games, all at SS, for the Alleghenies back in 1890; it was his only appearances in the majors leagues. Mack I previously mentioned at 1B but he was primarily a SS for the Pirates. Mack’s career begins about as far back as possible, 1871 and he appeared for the Alleghenies at the end of his career in 1883. He played in 60 games picking up 237 PA.
Of the remaining 10 players, 2 have been previously covered at another position, Tun Berger and Sparky Adams. Berger was a solid utility player for Pittsburgh back in 1890-91 he appeared in enough games to be eligible at catcher, shortstop, the outfield and just barely missed eligibility at 2B while also picking up a few games at 3B. He essentially played everywhere and he was roughly a league average hitter posting a 101 wRC+ across his 582 PA with the club. Adams was primarily a 2B for the Pirates back in 1928-29 but also picked up some time at 3B and SS (as well as 3 games in the OF). In that time he registered 846 PA and was a below average hitter posting a 75 wRC+. Adams did have a long career though spanning 13 seasons primarily with the Cubs and Cardinals.
Jack Rowe, Wid Conroy and Monte Cross are the first of the players who I believe would have a case to be considered for the starting spot on the international squad (if they were on that team instead) however I don’t see their cases as strong or even legitimate ones because they lack playing time topping out at 121 games and 490 PA. Rowe played in 75 games for the Pirates back in 1889 he was a strong hitter for a SS that year posting a 93 wRC+ across his 342 PA. That mark ranks 5th of all eligible Pennsylvania shortstop with 100 or more PA. Prior to joining Pittsburgh he played for the Buffalo Bisons and Detroit Wolverines. Conroy played for the Pirates back in 1902 where he was the primary SS playing 95 games at the position (99 overall) and he was a solid hitter posting an 88 wRC+ across his 404 PA. Prior to Pittsburgh he played one with the Brewers and after Pittsburgh he spent 6 years with the Yankees and 3 years with the Washington Senators. His 2.2 fWAR is 6th best of the eligible shortstops. Cross played a bit for Pittsburgh back in 1894 but it was 1895 he picked up most of his playing time when he served as the regular shortstop. Cross was a strong hitter with the Pirates posting a 96 wRC+ (4th best) in 490 PA (across 121 games). He would go on to have a long career mainly in Philadelphia (with both the Phillies and Athletics).
Billy Cox, Frank Shugart and Bones Ely are the tier below the clear cut top two. All 3 of them would have legitimate cases for the shortstop position on the other team but here they are mere foot notes. Cox got a cup of coffee with the Pirates in 1941 but then went off to fight in World War II and didn’t reappear with the club until the 1946-47 seasons. He was the primary shortstop for those two years and he was good enough that in 1946 he received some bottom ballot votes for the MVP award. In all he appeared in 263 games picking up 1,049 plate appearances. His 95 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR with the Pirates are both solid marks placing him 5th in both categories of the eligible shortstops (min 100 PA). Cox would go to have a long successful career with the Brooklyn Dodgers playing primarily 3B (he was purely a SS for the Pirates).
Shugart played for the Pirates way back in 1891-93 and while he logged a few games at catcher and in the outfield his primary position by far was at shortstop. He played in 264 games in that time and collected 1,180 plate appearances. He was a very good hitter in that time posting a 102 wRC+ which is the second best mark of all eligible SS on either team with at least 100 PA. After his time in Pittsburgh he went on to play for several teams through 1901 when he was essentially suspended from the game forever for punching an umpire (he wasn’t officially suspended for life but no team would bring him in). A teammate of his in that same game intentionally beaned the umpire in the leg and received just an 11 game suspension.
Bones Ely is our defensive specialist of the group. At the plate he had years where he was a decent hitter for a shortstop but other years in which he was just a downright terrible hitter but in the field he carries the reputation of being a sensational fielder. Ely played for Pittsburgh from 1896-1901 so it’s difficult to say for certain he was great but the fact he rarely played anywhere else in his time with the Pirates and was basically the everyday shortstop each year speaks volumes. With 742 games played and 3,045 plate appearances Ely easily has the third most playing time of all the eligible shortstops. His bat was weak in that time posting just a 70 wRC+ but his 8.0 fWAR is easily third on the team topping Shugart’s 5.7 fWAR. Pittsburgh is the franchise Ely played for the most by far but in all he appeared with 8 organizations with the St Louis Browns being the only other one he spent more than a season with).
Dick Groat played for the Pirates in 1952 and then lost the next two years to military service before returning and playing for the Pirates from 1955-1962. In that time he was a three time All Star and won the MVP award in 1960 when the Pirates went on to win the World Series. In this time he picked up 5,375 PA the third most on either team. The 20.2 fWAR he collected during his time with the Pirates is the 4th highest total for position players on the Pennsylvania team and is close enough to 2nd that there is a legitimate case for saying he is the second best player eligible for the Pennsylvania team. After leaving the Pirates he went on to St Louis and then finished his career with the Phillies and Giants. In his first year away from Pittsburgh, 1963, he posted a career season and likely would have won a 2nd career MVP if not for an insane seasons by one Sandy Koufax. Quite simply Groat is an all time great Pirates who had a borderline Hall of Fame career.
Groat was an amazing player who deserves to be in nearly any discussion regarded all time great Pirates but alas he doesn’t stand a prayer in this contest. Just to show how absurd the gap is between this legendary player and the top guy on the list I’ve prepared a little exercise. Groat’s career year came in 1963 if we were to give him the same exact career season for every year from 1951-1967 (the length of his major league career) here is a rough stat line: 2,528 games, 11,264 PA, 3,216 hits, 96 HR, 1,360 runs, 1,168 RBI, 48 SB, .319 AVG, .377 OBP, .450 SLG, .827 OPS, 128 OPS+, 132 wRC+, 113.6 rWAR and 115.2 fWAR. Now for comparison here is the remaining player’s career numbers for the Pirates: 2,433 games, 10,220 PA, 2,967 hits, 82 HR, 1,521 runs, 1,475 RBI, 639 SB, .328 AVG, .394 OBP, .468 SLG, .862 OPS, 154 OPS+, 151 wRC+, 120.3 rWAR and 127.2 fWAR.
Dick Groat, at his very best for his entire career at best warrants a discussion but in my opinion still falls short. Simply put there can be no debate here the shortstop and captain for the all Pennsylvania team is The Flying Dutchman himself, Honus Wagner.
I won’t say much about Wagner because there is little that needs to be said. The guy put up what would be eye popping numbers for a shortstop today in a time when offense was at its absolute lowest, the dead ball era. The MVP award didn’t exist until 1911 when he was 37 yet he still has two top 3 finishes and another top 10. Had it existed earlier he very well may have had 14 straight top 10 appearances from 1900-1913 and probably would have won it a minimum of 5 times. Wagner quite simply is an All Time great and in my opinion unquestionably the greatest Pirate of all time.
International: While the Pennsylvania shortstop position is one of the cleanest position on either team the SS position on the international team has to be one of the messiest. Twenty-seven players find themselves eligible with another 11 having played the position. Carlos Garcia, Rennie Stennett and Jose Pagan are the relevant players to have played the position and not be eligible each at least recording 49 games at short.
As for eligible players the quintet of Junior Noboa, Nelson Norman, Alfredo Amezaga, Houston Jimenez and Tony Ordenana has just 20 plate appearances together in their Pirate careers. Noboa played with several clubs from 1984-1994 but finished his major league with the Pirates when he was picked up off waivers in August 1994 and given 2 plate appearances right before the beginning of the strike. Norman spent 4 seasons with the Rangers before being traded to the Pirates right before the 1982 season. He didn’t appear with the Pirates until the end of the season when he picked up 3 plate appearances spread across 3 games. Noboa and Norman are both Dominicans whereas Amezaga and Jimenez hail from Mexico. Amezaga played for the Pirates back in 2005 and surprising to me is still hanging around the game having played the 2014 seasons in the Mexican league. With the Pirates he picked up 4 PA in 3 games. Jimenez was signed by the Pirates prior to the 1087 seasons where he played in 5 games all during the month of May. Ordenana hails from Cuba and played the second game of a double header for the Pirates in October of 1943 which proved to be the only game of his major league career.
A recent phenomenon for the Pirates has been carrying an all glove defensive shortstop that essentially disappears on the bench for weeks at a time. The two poster children for this were Argenis Diaz and Pedro Ciriaco. Diaz, from Venezuela, appeared in 23 games for the Pirates back in 2010 and Ciriaco, from the Dominican, appeared in 31 games across the 2010-11 seasons. For Diaz his time with the Pirates is his entire major league career so far (he is still hanging out in the minors though) but Ciriaco continues to make the occasional appearance on a roster while serving as infield depth.
Mendy Lopez, from the Dominican was previously mentioned in the 2B section he played for the Pirates sparingly during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Also previously appearing but at 3B we have Cesar Izturiz who played for the Pirates back in the second half of 2007 serving as an all defense reserve. Also joining the previously appearing category amongst others are Jose Martinez, Luis Rivas and Ramon Vazquez. Martinez (1969-70 from Cuba), Rivas (2008 from Venezuela) and Vazquez (2009 from Puerto Rico) all appeared at the 2B position but Rivas and Vazquez SS was the position they played more albeit barely.
Luis Cruz, from Mexico played for the Pirates in 2008-09 collecting 152 PA across 49 games. He had a solid season with the Dodgers as recently as 2012 but appears to be out of the game as he played nowhere during the 2014 season. Felix Fermin (from the Dominican) played for the Pirates back in 1987-88 he played in 66 games collecting 175 PA and then prior to the 1989 season he was traded to the Indians who oddly essentially used him as their primary shortstop for the next 5 years before they traded him to the Mariners for some guy you may have heard of called Omar Vizquel. Rey Quinones, born in Puerto Rico, spent most of his major league career (1986-1989) with the Mariners before being traded to Pittsburgh right at the beginning of the ’89 season. Quinones was coming off two good years with Seattle prior to be traded to Pittsburgh so he was given a shot at the regular job from April-July until being released due to his poor hitting.
Enrique Wilson, Denny Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez form a trio of players I have previously mentioned who performed very poorly in their time with the Pirates. Wilson, from the Dominican Republic, was part of the strange package the Pirates got back from the Indians in exchange for their starting LF (Wil Cordero) back in 2000. He spent the rest of that season and part of 2001 with the club (he was covered at the 2B and 3B positions). Denny Gonzalez, born in the Dominican, played parts of 1984-88 with the Pirates hopping all around the field but spending most of his time at 3B which is where he was previously mentioned. Finally with 1,679 career PA with the Pirates Abraham Nunez has the second most of any primary international SS and the 4th most of any eligible international SS but he was so poor in his time with the Pirates producing -0.5 fWAR that he isn’t much of a candidate for the shortstop job. Nunez, from the Dominican, played for the Pirates from 1997-2004 playing multiple positions but spending the majority of his time at SS. His career playing time is impressive but his 63 wRC+ is not.
The famous, Mario Mendoza, finds himself on the list and while the famous part would usually be good being famous for consistently batting around.200 isn’t really a good thing now is it. Mendoza played for the Pirates from 1974-1978 getting by on his defense while batting .204 with a laughable 35 wRC+. No matter how good the glove was the bat just wasn’t enough. Jackie Hernandez, born in Cuba, played for the Pirates from 1971-73 his bat was obviously better than Mendoza but not by a lot and he didn’t have the defense to go with it. In his time with the Pirates he collected 519 PA while putting up a 52 wRC+. These two played for a while with the team but just didn’t have any sort of bat.
Al Pedrique, from Venezuela, played for the Pirates in 1987-88. During that time he played in 138 games and collected 411 plate appearances. He wasn’t great with the bat but he held his own posting a 70 wRC+ and a 0.7 fWAR (which ranks 6th of all eligible shortstops and 4th amongst primary ones). Andre Rodgers is one of our few players born in the Bahamas, he played with the Pirates from 1965-67 and with a 97 wRC+ has the best mark of all eligible international shortstops (except for Ciriaco). Rodgers only collected 328 PA over that time, had he played those 3 full seasons with the Pirates he would be a legitimate challenger for the starting spot as it is his 1.1 fWAR puts him 5th on the list.
Aside from Abraham Nunez the most PA for any of the previous players was just 519 from Jackie Hernandez of the remaining 5 players no one received fewer than 1,126 making these 5 are legitimate contenders. This group of 5 forms a mess however as there are 3 decent fielding shortstops with little offense and two players from the 1800s who were slightly better hitters but who primarily played another position.
Up first from the Dominican Republic we have Rafael Belliard. Belliard’s career with the Pirates stemmed from 1982-1990 and saw him collect 1,171 PA across 484 career games. He was a solid defender in that time but a 50 wRC+ and a negative fWAR leaves a lot of questions about whether the glove was good enough to carry his weak bat or not. Belliard finished his playing career with the Braves playing with them from 1991-98.
A surprising challenger for the shortstop position is a name that will make most of you question my sanity. The Venezuelan born Ronny Cedeno has quite the legitimate case. Cedeno played with the Pirates from 2009-11 and despite the occasional mental lapses he was quite a capable defender at shortstop and he didn’t hit all that badly while with the team as his 78 wRC+ is the second best mark of all primary shortstops with at least 100 PA. It is funny to think about it but by not being completely awful and sticking with the team for 2.5 seasons Cedeno accumulated 2.3 fWAR which is the 2nd best mark of primary shortstops and 4th out of all eligible players.
Frank Taveras, from the Dominican Republic, played with the Pirates from 1971 through 1979 when he was traded to the New York Mets. Taveras played 715 games at the shortstop position by far the most of any player easily topping Belliard’s 365. The 723 games and 2,718 plate appearances are also the top marks for all eligible shortstops. In a lot of ways he was like a Ronny Cedeno that played for the team for a longer stretch as he posted a similar 73 wRC+ and comes with a solid defensive reputation. With the Pirates, Taveras posted a 4.4 fWAR tops amongst primary shortstops but trailing two players eligible for the position.
This is where the position gets a little tricky as Bill Kuehne and Pop Smith have to be included in the equation. Both players are legitimate contenders at their own positions of 3B (Kuehne) and 2B (Smith) but face some good competition. Both players also are from the 1800s when the game was vastly different than what it is today. Kuehne, from Germany, played with the Alleghenies from 1885-1889 when he collected 2,281 PA across 558 games and posted a 91 wRC+ with a 7.5 fWAR. Pop Smith has a similar story hailing from Canada he played for the Alleghenies those exact years, 1885-1889, collecting 2,307 PA over 557 games while posting a 88 wRC+ and a 10.3 fWAR. For what it is worth Baseball Reference has them much lower with Kuehne at 5.7 rWAR and Smith at 7.8 rWAR.
On the Pennsylvania side the position is quite simple it’s Honus Wagner and then everyone else. On the international side the whole thing gets muddied because we have a weak field and two players from the late 1800s who were only kind of shortstops. I’m probably more uncertain on the later than any other position if anyone would like to chime in.
The next 4 entries outfield, starting pitchers, swing men and relief pitchers are obviously going to take longer and be longer as they will deal with a larger assortment of players. I hope everyone has enjoyed the infield and maybe you have even constructed your own roster so far. Feel free to chime in with any thoughts you may have.

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