The virtual 1951-58 Pittsburgh Pirates (Part 3: 1955-56)

So far, we’ve completed half of our eight-season journey of re-rebuilding the 1950s Pirates, testing ourselves to see if we can manage the task better than Branch Rickey. Our record in the first four years hasn’t been good, but we can take some solace in the fact that it hasn’t been remotely as bad as that of the actual Pirates:

   Actual Pirates  Virtual Pirates

    W    L Pos  Year    W    L Pos
   64   90  7   1951   66   88  7
   42  112  8   1952   65   89  7
   50  104  8   1953   64   90  7
   53  101  8   1954   66   88  7

Now it’s time to get ready for 1955.

1954-55 offseason: Actual Pirates deals we will make

Nov. 22, 1954: Drafted outfielder Roberto Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1954 Rule 5 draft.

Here’s what we had to say about this momentous draft pick in our previous series on Rickey’s Pirates:

Rickey made a selection in the Rule 5 draft of November 1954 that would prove to be the most successful in history, when he plucked Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers’ minor league system. But great as Clemente would eventually prove to be, in 1955 he was 20 years old with a grand total of 148 professional at-bats under his belt, and he wasn’t ready for full-time major league play.

Rickey well knew this, and lamented it in a scouting report he personally filed on his young prospect: “I do not believe he can possibly do a major league club any good in 1955. It is just too bad that he could not have had his first year in Class B or C league and then this year he might have profited greatly with a second year as a regular say in Class A.” But under the Rule 5 provisions Rickey was required to keep Clemente in the majors for all of 1955, or risk losing him.

Rule 5 will require us to keep Clemente in the majors in 1955, but it won’t require us to play this very green prospect as a first-stringer.

1954-55 offseason: Pirates deals we will invoke

Nov. 16, 1954: Traded outfielder-first baseman Ralph Kiner to the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Sam Jones, a player to be named later, and $60,000 cash. (On Nov. 30, 1954, the Indians sent outfielder Gale Wade to the Pirates, completing the deal.)

In actuality it was the Cubs making this deal. Unlike the transaction in which the Pirates had sent Kiner to Chicago in 1953, this one wasn’t just a sale dressed up to look like a trade. The 60 grand was a lot of money, to be sure, but in this exchange one of the players other than Kiner was a key talent as well.

Sam Jones had never made it in Cleveland, unable to force his way into the historically great starting staff the Indians featured in the early 1950s. The Indians gave him one chance, in 1952, and Jones bombed, as his control—always his vulnerability—failed him.

But it was only a 36-inning chance, hardly a comprehensive test of Jones’s ability. And in abundantly extensive minor league experience, Jones had been highly impressive. Pitching at the triple-A level in the full seasons of 1951, ’53, and ’54, and for part of ’52, Jones had compiled a won-lost record of 45-33 with a 3.22 ERA, racking up 566 strikeouts in 688 innings, leading his league in strikeouts once and placing second another time.

That’s the kind of arm we’ll have no hesitation about giving a front-line chance. Kiner had been a marvelous player for us, but he’s plainly in decline, and we won’t pass up this opportunity to take on the exceptionally hard-throwing Toothpick Sam.

April, 1955: Traded outfielder Carlos Bernier to the New York Giants for third baseman Rance Pless.

We love Bernier’s gaudy tools, but he hasn’t been able to break into our starting lineup, and with Clemente on board in ’55 we won’t have room for a second right-handed batting backup outfielder. Pless is a 29-year-old career minor leaguer without Bernier’s upside, but he’s a decent ballplayer, a line-drive hitter who can play third, first, or corner outfield, and we do have a spot for him on our bench.

The Giants clearly had no plans to promote Pless to the majors, and it’s plausible that they’d take Bernier in exchange.

1954-55 offseason: Actual Pirates deals we will not make

Jan. 11, 1955: Traded pitcher Paul LaPalme to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ben Wade and cash.

The southpaw LaPalme had been up and down for the Pirates, stepping forward into the starting rotation with a solid year in 1953, and then falling back with a bad year in ’54. But it didn’t make sense to just dump him, as Rickey did here. Wade was a year older than LaPalme, was a right-hander, had been terrible in 1954, and met no Pittsburgh need. We’ll keep LaPalme on hand to compete for one of the left-hander roles on our staff.

1955 season: Actual Pirates deals we will make

June 28, 1955: Signed pitcher Paul Martin as an amateur free agent (Bonus Baby).

Aug. 27, 1955: Signed pitcher Red Swanson as an amateur free agent (Bonus Baby).

Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

1955 season: Pirates deals we will invoke

May 1, 1955: Traded catcher Ed Fitz Gerald to the Cincinnati Redlegs for catcher Hobie Landrith.

Landrith doesn’t excite us, and the journeyman Fitz Gerald had put together a surprisingly strong year with the bat in 1954.

But here’s the thing: Fitz Gerald batted right-handed, and Landrith batted left-handed. Fitz Gerald had been working in a platoon arrangement for us with lefty-hitting Joe Garagiola, but Garagiola, following the 1954 season, retired as a player at the age of 28 in order to pursue a career as a broadcaster. (No one will dispute that he made a wise move.) This left us without a left-handed-batting catcher.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati had spent the ’54 season with not just Landrith, but another lefty-swinging catcher, Ed Bailey, on their roster as well. Then on the final day of April, 1955, the Reds had traded their lone right-handed-batting catcher, Andy Seminick, to the Phillies in a package that returned yet a third left-handed-hitting catcher, Smoky Burgess.

Now, having a lefty-hitting catcher on your team is always a good idea, and having two is really nice. But having three, with no righties, is not such a great arrangement.

In reality, the Reds dealt with this issue by sending the abundantly talented Bailey to the minors, and acquiring a right-handed-batting journeyman, Matt Batts, to serve as their third catcher. We’re presenting them with a better solution here: Fitz Gerald is better than Batts, and Bailey is better than Landrith.

June 28, 1955: Sold pitcher George Zuverink to the Baltimore Orioles.

Our bargain-bin acquisition Zuverink had performed splendidly in 1954. But he was getting creamed in ’55, and so he’ll be the pitcher culled from our roster to make room for the Bonus Baby Martin.

1955 season: Actual Pirates deals we will not make

May 23, 1955: Sold outfielder Sid Gordon to the New York Giants.

We’d never acquired Gordon, who was part of the trade in which the actual Pirates sent Danny O’Connell to Milwaukee following the 1953 season.

1955 season results

The departure of Kiner creates a hole in the outfield, which we’ll opt to fill with a platoon of sophomore Jerry Lynch with Rule 5 rookie Clemente. Landrith will assume the catching role previously handled by Garagiola, and Fitz Gerald’s role will be taken by rookie Jack Shepard.

But the key change to our lineup is presented by the return from two years of military service by dynamic young shortstop Dick Groat. After signing him in 1952, we’d farmed the highly-touted prospect out for most of that season, but now we’ll give him the big league starting job, moving journeyman incumbent Dick Cole into a utility role.

  Pos   Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   D. Long*       29  131 419  63 122  19  13  16  79  48  72 .291 .358 .513 .871  130
 2B-3B  D. O'Connell   28  124 453  42 103  14   5   6  40  28  43 .227 .277 .320 .597   60
   SS   D. Groat       24  151 521  49 139  28   2   4  51  38  26 .267 .311 .351 .662   77
   3B   G. Hatton*     32  126 380  49  91  11   4   5  44  64  29 .239 .342 .329 .671   81
 RF-LF  J. Lynch*      24  116 367  51 103  22   8   7  42  28  44 .281 .328 .441 .769  104
   CF   G. Bell*       26  154 610  93 188  30   8  21  89  52  56 .308 .358 .487 .845  124
 LF-RF  F. Thomas      26  142 510  78 125  16   2  25  82  60  76 .245 .322 .431 .753  100
   C    H. Landrith*   25   92 278  28  69  10   1   5  25  32  37 .248 .322 .345 .667   79

   C    J. Shepard     24   75 211  21  50   8   2   2  18  26  20 .237 .315 .322 .638   72
   IF   D. Cole        29   77 215  16  49   7   3   0  19  16  20 .228 .286 .288 .575   55
 1B-3B  R. Pless       29   78 194  26  52   8   2   4  27  14  30 .268 .316 .392 .708   89
   RF   R. Clemente    20   83 190  23  47   8   4   2  19   6  25 .247 .270 .363 .633   68
   2B   J. O'Brien     24   56 139  15  40   7   1   1  12   9  11 .288 .325 .374 .699   87
   UT   E. O'Brien     24   38  79  11  18   1   0   0   3   5   5 .228 .267 .241 .508   38
   OF   G. Wade*       26   21  56   8  12   3   0   1   2   6   7 .214 .286 .321 .607   63
   C    H. Peterson    25   21  54   7  13   4   0   1   7   5   5 .241 .306 .370 .677   81
   3B   D. Smith       27   32  49   7  10   2   0   0   3   5   6 .204 .278 .245 .523   42
   C    E. Fitz Gerald 31   11  33   4   5   1   0   0   1   3   7 .152 .222 .182 .404   10
   C    N. Koback      19    5   7   0   2   0   0   0   0   0   1 .286 .286 .286 .571   54

        Others                 107  13  24   3   2   2   8  11  16 .224 .292 .346 .637   70

        Pitchers               394  24  82  11   0   2  26  16  92 .208 .225 .251 .476   28

        Total                 5266 628 1344 213 57 104 597 472 628 .255 .312 .377 .689   84

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        S. Jones       29   36  34  10  14  18   0 218 155 106  96   18  162  188 3.96  103
        M. Dickson     38   36  28  12  11  12   0 216 194 100  86   26   85   92 3.58  114
        V. Law         25   43  24   8  11   9   2 201 221  98  85   19   61   82 3.81  107
        B. Friend      24   44  20   9  15   8   4 200 178  80  63   18   52   98 2.84  144  
        L. Donoso*     32   25  13   3   3   7   1  97 103  55  53   16   35   41 4.92   83
        H. Pollet*     34   20  11   1   3   6   1  67  80  50  45   11   28   28 6.04   67

        P. LaPalme*    31   56   0   0   3   4   5  92  81  37  29    9   34   38 2.84  143
        E. Face        27   42  10   4   6   6   7 126 128  58  50   10   40   84 3.57  114
        G. Zuverink    30   14   1   0   0   6   0  28  38  28  23    7   13   13 7.39   55
        L. Pepper      24   14   1   0   0   1   0  20  30  24  23    5   25    7 10.35  39
        R. Bowman*     27    7   2   0   0   3   0  17  25  18  16    2   10    8 8.47   48
        P. Martin      23    7   1   0   0   1   0   7  13  12  11    0   17    3 14.14  29

        Others                   9   1   2   5   0  73  75  44  36    6   33   25 4.44   92

        Total                  154  48  68  86 20 1362 1321 710 616 147  595  707 4.07  100

        * Throws left

For our offense, this is a season of fits and starts. Jerry Lynch nicely rises to his occasion, Dale Long improves splendidly, and Gus Bell sustains his star performance. But Grady Hatton regresses, neither of the catchers hit well, Frank Thomas suffers a bit of an off-year, and Danny O’Connell suffers a lot of an off-year.

The effect on our run production is net negative, as our team OPS+ of 84 is worst in the league.

But on the pitching mound the story is distinctly positive. Jones proves to be a force of nature, striking out everyone he doesn’t walk. But with a less spectacular approach, performing more effectively is young Bob Friend, finally achieving the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for. Friend leads the league in ERA, the first Pirate pitcher to achieve that feat since 1935. Another young right-hander, Vern Law, also takes a great stride forward, and together Jones, Friend and Law join our stalwart veteran Murry Dickson to provide our staff with four 200-inning hurlers, the first time that’s happened in Pittsburgh since 1927.

And there’s good news in the bullpen as well. Paul LaPalme rewards our retention of him by delivering a wonderful performance. Elroy Face returns from the minor leagues as a dramatically improved pitcher, featuring a heavy-sinking forkball and emerging as a strong reliever in his own right.

All this is the basis for a great staff, but we’re unable to get there because our second-line pitching is simply awful. Roger Bowman, who’d blossomed in 1954, implodes in ’55, and while no one expects Bonus Babies to play well, our Bonus Baby pitchers are amazingly bad.

Still, on the whole our pitching is league-average, the first time we’ve attained that status since undertaking this rebuilding project. This yields a Pythagorean record of 68-86, significantly better than the 55-99 mark posted by the actual 1955 Pirates, and the best we’ve managed in our five seasons—alas, it will most likely place us in seventh yet again, for the fifth consecutive year.

That’s frustrating. Yet it’s fair to say that if there’s such a thing as a “strong” seventh-place team, this would be it. We’re fewer than 10 wins shy of .500, fewer than 10 games behind fourth place. We haven’t yet reached a breatkthrough, but we do seem poised for one.

As we move forward in this scenario, we’ll be comparing our performance against that of a new Pittsburgh General Manager. Branch Rickey’s five-year contract expired following the 1955 season, and the Pirates replaced him with a 37-year-old rookie GM, Joe Brown (yes, he was the son of the comic actor).

1955-56 offseason: Actual Pirates deals we will make

Nov. 27, 1955: Drafted pitcher Jack McMahan from the New York Yankees in the 1955 rule 5 draft.

The eternal quest continues for the inexpensive left-handed pitcher.

March 5, 1956: Sold catcher Jim Mangan to the New York Giants.

No room on the roster for this spare part.

1955-56 offseason: Pirates deals we will invoke

Oct. 3, 1955: Released pitcher Howie Pollet.

Actually it was the Cubs doing this. Pollet has generally done okay for us since being acquired way back in mid-1951, but his dreadful 1955 performance suggests that it’s time to say farewell.

1956 season: Actual Pirates deals we will make

April 27, 1956: Released pitcher Paul Martin.

I don’t know the story behind why the Pirates pulled the plug on this Bonus Baby less than a year after signing him, effectively wasting the bonus expense. But based on Martin’s 1955 stat line, all we’ll say is, “Hallelujah!”

1956 season: Actual Pirates deals we will modify

The Pirates did this:

May 5, 1956: Traded pitcher Max Surkont to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Luis Arroyo.

And this:

May 17, 1956: Traded pitcher Dick Littlefield and outfielder Bobby Del Greco to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Bill Virdon.

Frank “Trader” Lane took over as general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the 1955 season, and the following spring he engaged in some of his chronic wheeling-and-dealing with the Pirates. As with so many amid the flood of Lane transactions, neither of these made sense from the St. Louis perspective.

In the first deal, Lane straight-up exchanged a 29-year-old left-hander who’d had a pretty good year for St. Louis in 1955 for a 34-year-old right-hander who was looking about this close to washed up. And in the second, he swapped the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year for a 30-year-old all-too-well-traveled journeyman and a 23-year-old prospect who’d yet to establish himself as a major leaguer. Huh?

No doubt Joe Brown could scarcely believe his good fortune upon receiving these offers, and couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. As for us, we have neither Surkont nor Littlefield, so we can’t make these exact trades. But given that Lane would promptly re-deal both Surkont and Littlefield within a month’s time, it’s obvious that he wasn’t much interested in either one of them particularly; this was just the sort of trading-for-trading’s sake that Lane evidently felt compelled to perform.

So it’s entirely plausible that we could modify these exchanges into a form that would satisfy Lane. We’ll do this:

May 17, 1956: Traded pitchers Paul LaPalme and Bob Purkey and outfielder Bobby Del Greco to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Bill Virdon and pitcher Luis Arroyo.

Indeed, LaPalme and Purkey are a superior couple of pitchers to Surkont and Littlefield, for whatever that would matter.

1956 season: Pirates deals we will invoke

May 1956: Traded infielder Dick Cole to the Milwaukee Braves for outfielder-infielder Jim Pendleton.

Cole was a fine utility infielder, but we’re coming up against the roster cut-down deadline.* Given that the Bonus Baby rules require us to keep the O’Brien brothers in the majors through at least mid-June of ’56, Cole will be squeezed out. Pendleton’s a handyman whom we can store in triple-A in case of emergency. This trade would actually be made in the spring of 1957.

May 1956: Sold third baseman-first baseman Rance Pless to the Kansas City Athletics.

Pless as well was a useful commodity, but we just can’t fit him onto the roster this year.

May 11, 1956: Traded pitchers Murry Dickson and George O’Donnell and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Harvey Haddix.

And it’s time for some more fun with Frantic Frankie Lane.

You think this trade looks curious? How about the one Lane actually executed on this date, with Philadelphia: Lane traded Haddix and pitchers Stu Miller and Ben Flowers for Dickson and pitcher Herm Wehmeier.

Let’s break that one down. If we assume that Miller-and-Flowers was a fair exchange for Wehmeier—I’m not really sure I’d make that deal if I’m the Cardinals, but it’s within the realm of sensible—then that leaves a straight-up swap of Haddix-for-Dickson as the rest of it.

And that’s just nutty: it’s true that Haddix had endured something of an off-year in 1955, but he’d been a major star in 1953-54, he was still just 30 years old, and still among the elite pitchers in the league in strikeouts, strikeouts per inning, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. And it’s true that Dickson had been a reliable workhorse for a decade, but that was kind of the issue: he was now 39 years old.

And if Lane was convinced that Haddix was on the verge of a breakdown on the basis of his rather slow 1956 start—a 5.32 ERA in 24 innings—then what might he be thinking about Dickson’s status of a 5.09 ERA in 23 innings, and a single strikeout—that’s right, one strikeout in 23 innings pitched, against 12 walks—while Haddix had fanned 16?

It was, to repeat, just nutty.

We’ll be eager to surrender Dickson for Haddix, and hey, just to make sure, we’ll toss in a prospect who was putting up some decent stats in Triple-A, plus some cash as a sweetener. Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Lane.

1956 season: Actual Pirates deals we will not make

May 15, 1956: Traded first baseman-outfielder Preston Ward to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Hank Foiles.

May 28, 1956: Traded catcher Toby Atwell to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later and cash. (On Oct. 12, 1956, the Cardinals sent catcher Dick Rand to the Pirates, completing the deal.)

We have neither Ward nor Atwell, as both came to Pittsburgh as part of the Kiner deal in 1953 that we turned down.

June 23, 1956: Traded pitcher Jack McMahan and second baseman Curt Roberts to the Kansas City Athletics for second baseman Spook Jacobs.

We have no interest in Jacobs, and will choose to stick with our 23-year-old Rule 5 pick McMahan, and keep Roberts in the minors.

July 15, 1956: Signed pitcher Howie Pollet as a free agent.

We let this veteran go last fall, and see no reason to bring him back now.

1956 season results

Going into the season, one significant lineup change is at third base, where we’re giving rookie Gene Freese the opportunity to grab the first-string job. In the outfield, we’re now able to send last year’s Rule 5 rookie Roberto Clemente to the minor leagues to further his development. Plus, Jerry Lynch had stepped forward in 1955, but he’s out indefinitely with phlebitis in the right shoulder. This unsettles the picture, allowing room for rookies Lee Walls and Bob Skinner to compete for playing time.

When we acquire Virdon, it isn’t to fill an opening in center field, as Gus Bell is well-established there. We take Virdon simply because the offer is too good to pass up, and plan to work him as part of the outfield rotation.

Another rookie, right-handed pitcher Ron Kline, is our prime candidate to take the role of fifth starter/long reliever.

  Pos   Player        Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   D. Long*       30  148 517  66 136  20   7  27  98  54  85 .263 .326 .485 .812  118
   2B   D. O'Connell   29  132 448  58 111  15   9   2  35  67  38 .248 .339 .335 .674   85
   SS   D. Groat       25  142 520  42 142  19   3   0  41  35  25 .273 .308 .321 .629   72
 3B-LF  F. Thomas      27  157 588  79 166  24   3  25  92  36  61 .282 .325 .461 .786  112
 RF-CF  G. Bell*       27  150 573  88 168  29   7  21  78  47  63 .293 .345 .478 .823  122
 CF-LF  B. Virdon*     25  126 458  69 153  19   9   7  39  30  57 .334 .373 .461 .834  126
 LF-RF  L. Walls       23   95 284  43  78  12   7   7  35  30  50 .275 .340 .440 .780  111
   C    H. Landrith*   26   89 250  19  55   8   2   3  27  32  31 .220 .302 .304 .606   66

   C    J. Shepard     25   80 205  20  50   9   2   6  26  20  30 .244 .302 .395 .697   88
   3B   G. Freese      22   52 166  15  34   7   0   2  12  13  36 .205 .266 .283 .549   50
   C    D. Kravitz*    25   61 127  12  31   4   3   4  19   9  15 .244 .290 .417 .707   90
 L-R-1  B. Skinner*    24   57 117  15  24   4   2   3  16  13  25 .205 .288 .350 .638   73
   3B   G. Hatton*     33   60 106  12  24   1   2   1  11  19  10 .226 .333 .302 .635   75
  2B-P  J. O'Brien     25   73 104  13  18   1   0   0   4   5   7 .173 .202 .183 .384    6
   OF   R. Mejias      25   33  59   6  14   2   1   1   5   2   6 .237 .258 .356 .614   66
   SS   E. O'Brien     25   63  53  17  14   2   0   0   4   2   2 .264 .276 .302 .578   58
   OF   B. Del Greco   23   14  20   4   4   0   0   2   3   3   3 .200 .292 .500 .792  111
   LF   J. Lynch*      25   19  19   1   3   0   1   0   0   1   4 .158 .200 .263 .463   25

        Others                 148  15  36   5   1   2  13   8  15 .243 .277 .331 .608   65

        Pitchers               398  23  73   8   0   2  28  17  92 .183 .201 .219 .420   15

        Total                 5213 634 1348 191 59 115 589 445 657 .259 .311 .384 .695   89

        * Bats left

        Pitcher       Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        B. Friend      25   39  34  14  15  13   3 251 233 107  94   19   67  136 3.37  112
        H. Haddix*     30   31  26  11  12   8   2 207 196  96  81   23   58  152 3.52  107
        R. Kline       24   35  28   6  11  12   3 190 182  76  68   17   58   94 3.22  117
        S. Jones       30   33  28   8  10  13   0 189 153  91  81   19  117  177 3.86   98
        V. Law         26   31  26   5   7  12   2 157 170  86  73   19   39   50 4.18   90

        R. Face        28   68   3   0  12  12  10 122 117  51  47   14   38   87 3.47  109
        L. Arroyo*     29   40   3   0   3   3   3  76  83  38  33    8   35   41 3.91   97
        J. McMahan*    23   35   3   0   0   2   1  59  60  31  27    3   33   20 4.12   92
        N. King        28   19   0   0   3   0   2  30  27  12  11    4   10   13 3.30  115
        L. Pepper      25   10   2   0   1   0   0  20  18   9   5    0   15   14 2.25  168
        R. Swanson     19    9   0   0   0   0   0  12  21  13  13    1    8    5 9.75   39
        J. O'Brien     25    8   0   0   1   0   0  19   8   6   6    2    9    9 2.84  133

        Others                   4   0   1   3   0  44  39  26  23    3   21   12 4.70   80

        Total                  157  44  76  78 26 1376 1307 642 562 132  508  810 3.68  103

        * Throws left

Virdon quickly demonstrates that he deserves an everyday spot, combining a red-hot bat with his superb defense. We eventually install him as the regular center fielder, shifting Bell to right.

Freese struggles with the bat, fails to hold the third base job, and is sent back to Triple-A. We fill that hole (as did the actual Pirates) by shifting 27-year-old Frank Thomas from the outfield to third base for the balance of the year, and Walls emerges as the primary left fielder.

When the dust settles, our offense is meaningfully improved over that of 1955. Yet the team OPS+ of 89, while no longer the league’s worst, remains below average.

But pitching had been our strong suit in 1955, and it’s even stronger this year. Kline proves to be a fine addition, and as Haddix replaces Dickson, we have five solid starters, with Friend emerging as a workhorse ace. Face matures into one of the league’s top firemen. Only two teams in the league present a better staff OPS+ than our 103, and no staff strikes out more than our total of 810.

It’s enough to render our Pirates a genuinely full-season competitive ball club. We aren’t good, but we aren’t bad either: our Pythag record of 76-78 will be enough to land us in fourth place, far ahead of the actual seventh-place Pirates. It’s far and away the best season we’ve enjoyed in our six-year scenario, and the best season for any Pirate team since 1948.

It isn’t a dramatic breakthrough, but there can be no denying that it is a breakthrough. We’re no longer a tail-ender.

And we’re a young team, with lots of players still developing and improving.

Next time

We’ll find out just how good we might be able to become.

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/50s.

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