The virtual 1951-58 Pittsburgh Pirates (Part 1: 1951-52)

Recently we had some fun presenting a series that tested the proposition that the early New York Mets, under the stewardship of the once-great general manager George Weiss, could plausibly have been far less uncompetitive than they actually were.

That concept brought to mind another series we presented a couple of years ago, analyzing the floundering Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 1950s under the stewardship of another once-great GM, none other than Branch Rickey:

In many of its particulars, Rickey’s agonizing Pittsburgh episode bears intriguing resemblance to that presented a decade later by George Weiss in launching…the New York Mets.

Both cases stand as vivid illustrations of the mighty falling: two of the most brilliantly successful GMs in the history of the sport made a botch of it in the final stint of their long, and otherwise glittering, careers.

We also said this:

…it’s a ridiculous notion that it was necessary for the Pirates to field laughably incompetent ball clubs for the first half of the 1950s—and drive their attendance completely into the ground—in order to emerge with a core of strong talent.

That a team in need of rebuilding, as the Pirates were in 1950, must choose between short-term and long-term improvement is a false dichotomy: it can and should manage both.

And comparing Rickey’s Pittsburgh performance to that of Paul Richards, who took on a similarly challenging assignment in Baltimore a few years later:

Richards did a…crucial thing that Rickey entirely failed to do: Richards painstakingly combed the waiver wires and bargain bins, and made judicious trades, and at low cost (though at great effort) populated his major league roster with enough bona fide major league talent to put a reasonably competent team on the field.

Richards didn’t undermine his ball club’s competitiveness by rushing hopelessly unready prospects into his regular lineup, as Rickey repeatedly did, nor did Richards waste any of his most precious assets, as Rickey did ….

So why don’t we put our money where our trash-talking mouth is, as we did with the Mets? Let’s run a scenario with the Pirates, starting at the point at which Rickey took over, and see how well we can do with them over the same eight-season span of time we devoted to the Mets.

Setting the stage

The ball club Rickey inherited in the autumn of 1950 contained some significant assets; this was no starting-from-scratch expansion franchise. By far the greatest asset was slugging superstar left fielder Ralph Kiner, the major league home run champion for four years and counting.

Other solid regulars included center fielder Wally Westlake and pitchers Murry Dickson and Cliff “Lefty” Chambers. Two exciting rookies had debuted in 1950: outfielder Gus Bell and infielder Danny O’Connell.

But the liabilities strongly outweighed the assets, as the Pirates had finished last in 1950 with a record of 57-96. With Kiner cleaning up, the hitting was competitive, but the defense was porous and the pitching paper-thin. Just as Rickey had lots of work to do, so will we.

1950-51 offseason: Actual Pirates deals we will make

Nov. 16, 1950: Drafted first baseman Dale Long from the New York Yankees in the 1950 Rule 5 draft.

Among the Pittsburgh liabilities was a hole at first base. Long wasn’t a top-flight prospect: in six years in the minors he hadn’t yet risen as high as Double-A. But he had begun to develop significant power, leading the Eastern League in homers and RBI in 1950. It was sensible to take him on as a low-cost candidate for a look-see at first base.

Nov. 16, 1950: Drafted outfielder George Metkovich from the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in the 1950 Rule 5 draft.

“Catfish” Metkovich was no prospect. He was a 30-year-old journeyman who had bounced between the American League and the PCL in recent years. But he was a solid all-around performer, with enough range to handle center field and enough versatility to handle first base, as well as a competent bat.

Nov. 30, 1950: Signed outfielder Pete Reiser as a free agent.

The oft-injured “Pistol Pete” was a shadow of the star he’d once been, but looked as though he might have enough left in the tank to help out in a bench role. There was little downside to giving him a try.

1951: Obtained outfielder Johnny Lindell from the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League as part of a minor league working agreement.

The big, strong Lindell had been a productive platoon player for the Yankees in the late ’40s. This was another bargain-bin pickup with negligible risk.

Mar. 19, 1951: Released catcher Ray Mueller.

This veteran had delivered a solid performance as a backup for the 1950 Pirates. But he turned 39 years old in March of ’51, and like the actual Pirates, we’ll decide it’s time to go in a different direction.

1951 season: Actual Pirates deals we will make

May 17, 1951: Traded shortstop Stan Rojek to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman Rocky Nelson and outfielder-pitcher Erv Dusak.

Neither Nelson nor Dusak projected as more than role players, but they could be useful, and it was prudent to expend the 32-year-old Rojek in exchange.

May 17, 1951: First baseman Dale Long selected by the St. Louis Browns off waivers.

In actuality, the Pirates made this move a couple of weeks later than this, but in our scenario Nelson’s arrival will bump Long off the roster at this point. As did the actual Pirates, we’ll decide that Long isn’t quite ready for the majors, and because of the Rule 5 conditions under which he was acquired, we can’t farm him out without putting him on waivers*.

June 15, 1951: Traded outfielder Wally Westlake and pitcher Cliff Chambers to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers Howie Pollet and Ted Wilks, catcher Joe Garagiola, outfielder Bill Howerton, and infielder Dick Cole.

The 30-year-old Westlake had been a fine performer for the Pirates for several years, though not quite a star. But through the first one-third of 1951, he’d been doing the best hitting of his career, blasting 16 homers in 50 games. At that point Rickey packaged him off to St. Louis in this blockbuster deal, which in our earlier article we assessed as follows:

This was classic, shrewd Rickey doctrine, to trade a player at the moment his market value was at its peak. And the package of talent Rickey received in the exchange was varied and helpful…

We’ll readily accept this offer from the Cardinals, which shores up the Pittsburgh roster at multiple spots.

1951 season: Actual Pirates deals we will not make

May 13, 1951: Returned pitcher Con Dempsey to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League following previous purchase.

There was nothing exciting about this PCL journeyman, but we’ll judge that he can be of more use to the ’51 Pirates staff than some of the other mediocrities on hand.

May 16, 1951: Sold third baseman Bob Dillinger to the Chicago White Sox.

At the age of 32, the slap-hitting Dillinger was clearly on the decline, but we think he’s still our best option as the third base placeholder.

May 28, 1951: Selected outfielder-infielder Jack Maguire off waivers from the New York Giants.

We won’t find room for this marginality.

Sep. 10, 1951: First baseman Rocky Nelson selected by the Chicago White Sox off waivers.

Nelson had performed modestly for the Pirates in ’51, but he wasn’t terrible. There was no point in dumping him in this manner.

Sep. 10, 1951: Sold outfielder Dino Restelli to the Washington Senators.

Restelli hadn’t been able to stick in the majors, but he’d continued to hit splendidly in the minors. He was just turning 27 at this point, and it was too soon to be giving up on him.

1951 season results

Our roster isn’t significantly different from that of the actual Pirates. The most meaningful changes are in the manner in which several players will be deployed.

Unlike the actual Pirates, we’ll make use of our best defensive outfielder, 22-year-old sophomore Gus Bell, as the center fielder. Unlike the actual Pirates, we won’t attempt the mid-career conversion of Wally Westlake into a third baseman. And unilike the actual Pirates, we won’t allow a season-long indecisive muddle at second base, and will instead make 25-year-old rookie Dick Cole (who’d been at Triple-A since 1946) the primary second baseman upon his mid-June arrival.

And further unlike the actual Pirates, we won’t shift Ralph Kiner to first base exclusively for the first two months of the season, only then to abruptly shift him exclusively back to left field, never to give him an inning at first base ever again. We’ll make use of the slow-footed, poor-throwing Kiner primarily, though not exclusively, at first base all season long, as a means of optimizing roster flexibility.

In addition to Con Dempsey, we’ll promote a couple of the organization’s other longtime minor league pitchers—Royce Lint and Woody Main—to the big league staff, instead of keeping them in Triple-A.

  Pos   Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
 1B-LF  R. Kiner       28  151 531 124 164  31   6  42 114 137  57 .309 .452 .627 1.079 185 
 2B-SS  D. Cole        25   99 301  37  74  10   4   2  32  38  32 .246 .321 .326 .646   73
   SS   G. Strickland  25  138 454  59  98  12   7   9  49  65  83 .216 .314 .333 .647   73
   3B   B. Dillinger   32  101 342  45 100   9   4   0  20  15  17 .292 .320 .342 .662   77
   RF   B. Howerton*   29   80 241  32  66  13   2  12  42  29  48 .274 .351 .494 .844  123
   CF   G. Bell*       22  149 600  80 167  27  12  16  92  42  41 .278 .329 .443 .773  104
 LF-CF  G. Metkovich*  30  120 423  53 124  21   3   3  41  28  23 .293 .336 .378 .715   90
   C    C. McCullough  34   92 259  26  77   9   2   8  39  27  31 .297 .362 .440 .802  113

   IF   P. Castiglione 30  119 362  47  94  14   3   5  32  26  21 .260 .302 .356 .658   75
   C    J. Garagiola*  25   72 212  24  54   8   2   9  35  32  20 .255 .353 .439 .792  110
   RF   W. Westlake    30   50 181  28  51   4   0  16  47   9  26 .282 .323 .569 .892  133
   UT   E. Dusak       30   69 161  26  42   7   0   4  19  20  33 .261 .339 .379 .718   91
 1B-3B  J. Phillips    29   70 156  12  37   7   3   0  12  15  17 .237 .299 .321 .619   65
   LF   P. Reiser*     32   74 140  22  38   9   3   2  13  27  20 .271 .389 .421 .811  116
   1B   R. Nelson*     26   63 103  15  25   3   2   1   7   5   4 .243 .275 .340 .615   63
   C    E. Fitz Gerald 27   50  87   7  20   5   0   0  12   6   9 .230 .287 .287 .575   54
   2B   D. Murtaugh    33   39  76   5  15   3   0   1   6   8  10 .197 .279 .276 .555   49
   OF   D. Restelli    26   21  38   1   7   1   0   1   3   2   4 .184 .225 .289 .514   36
   SS   S. Rojek       32   13  35   2   8   1   0   0   1   1   2 .229 .243 .257 .500   34
   1B   D. Long*       25   17  33   3   6   1   0   2   3   1   7 .182 .206 .394 .600   56

        Others                 218  23  53   6   2   2  28  17  34 .243 .295 .317 .612   63

        Pitchers               388  45  85   9   3   3  26  18  77 .219 .239 .281 .520   38

        Total                 5341 716 1405 210 58 138 673 568 616 .263 .332 .402 .733   95

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        M. Dickson     34   45  35  18  20  14   2 274 277 142 121   30   95  107 3.97  106
        M. Queen       33   39  21   4   7   9   0 168 149  90  83   21   99  123 4.45   95
        R. Lint*       30   38  17   4   5   9   0 137 159  90  74   11   63   53 4.86   87
        H. Pollet*     30   21  21   4   6   9   0 116 133  72  64   21   46   42 4.97   85
        V. Law         21   28  14   2   6   8   2 114 109  66  57    9   51   41 4.50   94
        C. Chambers*   29   10  10   2   3   6   0  60  64  38  37    5   31   19 5.55   76
        D. Carlsen     24    7   6   2   2   3   0  43  50  22  20    4   14   20 4.19  101

        B. Werle*      30   53   9   2   6   5   6 120 139  78  71   15   41   47 5.33   79
        T. Wilks       35   48   1   1   3   5  12  83  69  31  26    6   24   43 2.82  149
        W. Main        29   45   3   0   3   5   1  72  80  47  39    7   34   41 4.88   86
        C. Dempsey     28   27   6   1   2   5   0  66  75  43  38    4   47   27 5.18   81
        P. LaPalme*    27   25   5   0   1   4   0  54  74  45  35    5   31   25 5.83   72
        J. Walsh       32   12   0   0   0   1   0  24  31  22  19    3   15   11 7.13   59

        Others                   6   0   2   5   0  53  53  37  32    6   38   17 5.43   77

        Total                  154  40  66  88 23 1384 1462 823 716 147  629  616 4.66   90

        * Throws left

In reality, the 1951 Pirates finished in seventh place, at 64-90, on a Pythagorean record of 63-91. So our modifications, while they yield some improvement, do so to only a slight degree.

For all practical purposes, our Pirates present the same set of strengths and flaws as their actual counterparts: the bats surrounding the brilliant Kiner support him well enough that the hitting is all right, but the pitching, beyond the stout performances of ace starter Murry Dickson and ace reliever Ted Wilks, can best be described as “spotty.” We’ll very likely match the seventh-place status of the real Pirates.

But this result should be no surprise. As we summed up the actual Pirates’ 1951 season in our earlier piece:

It wasn’t an unqualified success by any means, but overall in his first season in Pittsburgh, Rickey had rendered some improvement in the competitiveness of the Pirates’ big league roster. Things appeared to be starting to move in the right direction.

By and large, the decisions Rickey made in his first Pittsburgh year were reasonable, which is why we’ve deviated from them so sparingly. It was in his second year that Rickey went just a bit mad.

So let’s plunge into our second year and see how we might fare.

1951-52 offseason: Actual Pirates deals we will make

Nov. 13, 1951: Released outfielder Pete Reiser.

The scrap-heap pickup Reiser had done just fine in his limited exposure for Pittsburgh in 1951. But in typical Reiser fashion, his season had been prematurely ended by a mid-August injury. We will figure, as did Rickey, that it would be less than realistic to expect much more from Pistol Pete, and we’ll free up a roster spot.

Nov. 19, 1951: Drafted infielder Clem Koshorek from the Detroit Tigers in the 1951 Rule 5 draft.

And we can sensibly give this guy a chance to fill it. The 5-foot-4-inch, 165-pound “Scooter” Koshorek was a shortstop who’d poked 36 extra-base hits with a .261 batting average at Double-A in 1951. He might be able to contribute as a utility infielder.

March 4, 1952: Purchased pitcher Jim Suchecki from the St. Louis Browns.

Going 0-6 with a 5.42 ERA for the Browns in ’51 didn’t exactly spiff up the right-hander Suchecki’s resumé. But a closer look revealed something hopeful: American League pitchers overall in 1951 struck out 3.7 batters per nine innings, while Suchecki whiffed 4.7. Moreover, the league-wide walk-to-strikeout ratio was 1.06:1, while Suchecki’s was 1:1.12. This looked like a 24-year-old hurler deserving of another chance.

1952 season: Actual Pirates deals we will modify

The actual Pirates did this:

Aug. 18, 1952: Traded pitcher Ted Wilks and shortstop George Strickland to the Cleveland Indians for infielder Johnny Berardino, pitcher Charlie Sipple, and $50,000 cash.

Berardino and Sipple were the merest tokens; this was just a late-summer fire sale.

As the actual Pirates did (at least for a while), we’ve turned over the first-string shorstop job to Strickland, who was strong defensively, but a guy for whom sustaining a decent batting average was a struggle, never moreso than the ’52 season. However, unlike Rickey, we won’t be ready to give up on him just yet.

Wilks, on the other hand, solidly effective as he would continue to be in 1952, was 36 years old and it was sensible to figure that the window to cash him in might be closing.

So we’ll strip it down to this:

Aug. 18, 1952: Sold pitcher Ted Wilks to the Cleveland Indians.

No doubt our version of the deal won’t persuade the Indians to cough up the full 50 grand, but we’ll get some meaningful cash and still have Strickland around to compete for a job in ’53.

1952 season: Pirates deals we will invoke

Aug. 30, 1952: Purchased infielder Tommy Glaviano from the St. Louis Cardinals.

In actuality on this date the Cards sold Glaviano to the Philadelphia Phillies. But since the in-season trading deadline had passed way back in June, in order for St. Louis to deal Glaviano, he had to clear National League waivers. Which means that in actuality the last-place Pirates declined to claim the 28-year-old Glaviano on waivers, letting him go to fourth-place Philadelphia instead.

Consider that on this date the real-world Pirates’ record was 37-94. Understand that for the balance of the season, no one would start at third base for the actual Pirates other than Dick Smith, who’d never played in the minors as high as Triple-A, and Sonny Senerchia, who’d never played in the minors as high as Single-A.

Understand that in four seasons with the Cardinals, the lowest on-base percentage Glaviano had posted was .356. Understand that in the only year Glaviano was given the chance to play in as many as 100 games, he’d batted .285 and slugged .446.

Glaviano had his weaknesses, to be sure. He was an error-prone third baseman, and at the plate, though he walked a great deal, he struck out almost as often.

But still: here was a dramatic third base upgrade, dangled before Rickey’s eyes for minimal cost, and he shrugged it away. We’ll do no such thing.

1952 season: Actual Pirates deals we will not make

May 3, 1952: Traded pitcher Bill Werle to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher George Munger.

The 31-year-old Werle was pretty much the definition of a mediocre left-handed pitcher. But he was a lefty, filling a necessary role the Pirates had no one better to fill. “Red” Munger, two years older than Werle, had once been a decent pitcher but was now struggling, and was, moreover, not left-handed. This deal served no purpose, and we’ll pass on it.

May 5, 1952: Pitcher Jim Suchecki selected by the Chicago White Sox off waivers.

As we noted above, Suchecki had plenty of rough edges, but he was worth a chance, certainly more than the five-appearance cup of coffee Rickey’s Pirates gave him in early ’52 before cutting him loose. We’ll let him see what he can do coming out of the bullpen over a full season.

May 7, 1952: Outfielder Bill Howerton selected by the New York Giants off waivers.

Talk about a guy not deserving to be cut loose. The 30-year-old platoon outfielder Howerton had hit for a good average with power and plenty of walks for the Cardinals in 1950-51 before being acquired by Pittsburgh as part of the big June, 1951 trade.

Over the balance of ’51, he had proceeded to hit for a good average with power and plenty of walks for the Pirates. And now, with 13 games under his belt in 1952, all Howerton was doing was hitting .320/.452/.440—and Rickey culled him from the roster.

We’ll think better of that.

1952 season results

As may be becoming clear, our path is now starting to meaningfully diverge from that taken by Rickey.

The basic distinction between our 1952 approach and Rickey’s is this: it was in this season that The Mahatma adopted a program of liberally force-feeding significant big league playing time to extremely inexperienced young players.

In a couple of those cases—pitcher Bob Friend and straight-from-the-college-campus rookie Dick Groat, both 21 years old—the youngsters were able to deliver competent performance. But those were distinct exceptions, as the rest of the fuzzy-cheeked brigade peppering the roster struggled, most of them to a pitiful degree.

We won’t do that. We’ll allow our youngest talent to develop in the minor leagues. In their places on the major league roster will be, for sure, a motley crew of journeymen and castoffs, but the one thing they all bring to the table is significant professional experience.

Undoubtedly, the most interesting of our roster fillers is 35-year-old Johnny Lindell. When we acquired him a year earlier, Lindell was still ostensibly an outfielder, but he’d spent the 1951 season in the Pacific Coast League re-inventing himself as a knuckleball pitcher, going 12-9 with a 3.03 ERA while completing 17 of 23 starts.

Way back in 1942, Lindell had arrived in the major leagues as a pitcher, but his bat was so impressive that within the topsy-turvy anything-goes conditions of World War II, the Yankees quickly converted him to the outfield. Now, his career as a hitter played out, Lindell went back to the mound, no longer a hard thrower but featuring the knuckleball he’d toyed with for years. His 1951 PCL success prompts us to give him an opportunity on the big league staff in ’52.

  Pos   Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
 1B-LF  R. Kiner       29  149 516  93 126  17   2  37  89 110  77 .244 .384 .500 .884  141
 2B-SS  D. Cole        26  134 452  42 110  12   1   4  35  32  56 .243 .290 .301 .591   63
   SS   G. Strickland  26  107 320  26  60  10   2   6  28  34  60 .188 .265 .288 .553   52
 3B-2B  J. Merson      30  111 398  42  98  20   2   5  38  22  38 .246 .285 .344 .630   72
   RF   B. Howerton*   30  121 361  50  92  12   5  16  48  48  76 .255 .342 .449 .791  116
   CF   G. Bell*       23  148 532  69 133  23   6  17  68  43  85 .250 .306 .412 .718   96
 LF-CF  G. Metkovich*  31  125 373  44 101  18   3   7  40  32  29 .271 .331 .391 .722   98
   C    J. Garagiola*  26  118 344  36  94  15   4   8  54  50  24 .273 .369 .410 .779  114

   IF   C. Koshorek    27   98 322  28  84  17   0   0  15  26  39 .261 .315 .314 .628   73
   OF   D. Restelli    27   84 219  24  62   9   3   3  18  15  26 .283 .333 .393 .726   99
 3B-SS  P. Castiglione 31   67 214  24  57   9   1   4  20  17   8 .266 .319 .374 .693   90
 RF-3B  E. Dusak       31   85 200  23  42   4   3   4  15  24  40 .210 .289 .320 .609   67
   C    C. McCullough  35   66 172  11  40   5   1   1  15  10  18 .233 .275 .291 .566   56
   1B   R. Nelson*     27   62 109  13  27   4   1   1   9  12   7 .248 .320 .330 .650   79
  P-PH  J. Lindell     35   54  87   7  16   2   0   3   9   7  23 .184 .242 .310 .552   51
   3B   T. Glaviano    28   27  70  12  17   3   0   2   6  15  13 .243 .386 .371 .758  109
   C    E. Fitz Gerald 28   51  73   5  17   1   0   1   7   7  15 .233 .300 .288 .588   62
   3B   D. Smith       24   29  66   8   7   1   0   0   5   9   3 .106 .213 .121 .335   -6

        Others                 194  20  42   4   1   0  12  16  26 .216 .271 .247 .518   43

        Pitchers               348  15  65   8   0   0  18  13  70 .187 .207 .210 .417   15

        Total                 5370 592 1290 194 35 119 549 542 733 .240 .310 .356 .665   82

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        M. Dickson     35   43  34  21  16  18   3 278 278 128 110   26   76  112 3.56  112
        H. Pollet*     31   31  30   9   9  14   0 214 217 111  98   22   71   90 4.12   97
        J. Lindell     35   30  26   7  12  11   0 179 162  85  75   16  103  108 3.77  106
        M. Queen       34   31  28   6   9  12   0 178 158  78  70   16   93   87 3.54  112
        R. Lint*       31   32  16   3   5   8   0 111 124  62  56   10   49   39 4.54   88

        W. Main        30   48  11   2   3  11   4 122 116  59  58   10   42   65 4.28   93
        T. Wilks       36   44   0   0   6   4   8  72  65  32  29    9   31   24 3.63  110
        J. Suchecki    24   35   2   0   3   3   1  66  83  40  34    4   28   33 4.64   86
        P. LaPalme*    28   31   2   0   1   2   1  60  56  33  26    6   37   25 3.90  102
        B. Werle*      31   24   0   0   0   1   1  43  49  28  25    7   16   24 5.23   76

        Others                   6   0   1   5   0  43  53  39  36    7   29   13 7.53   53

        Total                  155  48  65  89 18 1366 1361 695 617 133  575  620 4.07   98

        * Throws left

Just like the actual Pirates, the offense of our Pirates is dealt a blow when the two key hitters in the middle of the order—Kiner and Bell—both see their batting averages plunge. But unlike the actual Pirates, our lineup has the means to compensate for that setback to some degree, as we haven’t undertaken Rickey’s purge of journeymen.

We receive solid contributions from platoon outfielders Howerton and Restelli, and Glaviano provides a boost as the leadoff hitter over the season’s final month. Our offense isn’t good, as the team OPS+ of 82 ranks seventh in the league. But that mark is profoundly superior to the appalling team OPS+ of 73 posted by the actual Pirates.

And unlike the actual Pirates, our pitching staff supporting the front line of starters Dickson and Pollet and relievers Main and Wilks isn’t a disaster. Indeed, Lindell thrives in the opening we’ve provided (in fact, Lindell in 1952 was the pitching sensation of the Pacific Coast League, going 24-9 with a 2.52 ERA, leading the league in wins, complete games, and strikeouts).

Fellow veteran right-hander Mel Queen, whom the actual Pirates farmed out in ’52 despite a decent performance in 1951, does well for us, too (in fact, Queen joined Lindell on the Hollywood Stars in 1952 and went 14-9, 2.41).**

Altogether, our staff is significantly improved over the 1951 version, with an ERA+ close to league-average. The result isn’t a good team, but it’s a ball club miles ahead of the catastrophically waylaid 42-112 actual Pirates. We will most likely finish in seventh again.

In the second year of our rebuilding effort, progress is difficult, but we seem to be making subtle headway, holding our own at the major league level while sustaining the investment in development of talent in the minor leagues.

Next time

Will we be able to take a more distinctly forward step in 1953-54?

References & Resources
* Unlike current-day rules, which require each team to cut down to a 25-man active major league roster as of Opening Day, in this period the rules allowed teams to carry up to 28 players for the first 31 days following their first game. Thus the final “cut-down day” took place in mid-May, and is the explanation for countless releases, waiver claims, and other transactions that occurred in the early weeks of May in the 1940s and 50s.

** During the dreadful seasons of 1952, ’53, and ’54, agonized Pittsburgh sportswriters and fans were prone to crack that the major league Pirates were an inferior ball club to their top farm club, the Stars. Given that the last-place Pirates went 42-112, 50-104, and 53-101 in those years, while Hollywood went 109-71, 106-74, and 101-68, winning the “open classification” PCL pennant twice, that observation may well have been more than just a bitter joke.

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