Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh Pirates’

Houston Buffs: Ted Wilks.

November 17, 2009

Right hander Ted Wilks broke into baseball with the 1938 Houston Buffs. His 3-5 record with an ERA of  2.74. He pitched well enough that rookie season to earn a promotion that same year to Rochester, where he posted a 4-2 mark with an ERA of 3.94. A subtle difference in how he was used at Houston and Rochester was nothing less than a career harbinger on things to come. Here in Houston, Ted was primarily a starting pitcher; at Rochester, Wilks saw most of his mound action in relief.

The following three seasons saw Ted Wilks back in Houston for more seasoning. He went 14-15 with a 2.60 ERA in 1939; 13-10 with a 2.51 ERA in 1940; and 20-10 with a 2.50 ERA for the 1941 Buffs. All three Buff clubs (1939-41) finished in first place; the ’40 club also won the league pennant playoffs; and Ted Wilks was a big part of that Buff era of success.

After going 12-9, 2.41, for the ’42 Columbus Redbirds and 16-8, 2.66, for the same club in ’43, Ted Wilks finally joined the big club in St. Louis in time to help the 1944 Cardinals take another world Series crown with the streetcar series win over the same hometown Brown of the American League. Wilks was used pretty evenly in 1944 as a starter and reliever (21/15), going 17-4 with another sub-three ERA of 2.64 on the season.

In his eight seasons as a Cardinal (1944-51), Ted Wilks won 54 games against only 20 losses, posting a sub-three ERA on three separate occasions. It was early during this period that he moved from split duty as a starter-reliever to recognition and exclusive use as one of the top relief pitchers in the game.

On June 15, 1951, the Cardinals traded Ted Wilks, Bill Howerton, Howie Pollet, Joe Garagiola, and Dick Cole to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for pitcher Cliff Chambers and outfielder Wally Westlake.

Wilks went 8-10 in two seasons with the Pirates (1951-52) before he was again dealt away, this time  to the Cleveland Indians on August 18, 1952, along with shortstop George Strickland for infielder Johnny (General Hospital) Berardino, minor league pitcher Charlie Sipple, and $50,000 cash. By this time, Wilks was was pretty much out of gas for major league ball. He posted no decisions in his two partial seasons with Cleveland (1952-53) and he finished his major league career working only 15 1/3 innings in the American League city.

Ted Wilks finished his total career working four poor seasons of minor league ball (1953-55: Indianapolis; 1956: Austin) before retiring for good. He finished up with a career minor league record of 91-65, 2.70 for 10 seasons – and a career major league record of 59-30, 3.26. Ted wilks posted 46 saves as a major leaguer. The “save” stat for his minor league work is not readily available.

Like a number of ballplayers whose careers passed through Houston, upstate New Yorker Ted Wilks adopted Houston as his post-career home town. He died here in Houston in 1989 at the age of 73 and he is buried in the East End at Forest Park Cemetery on Lawndale. His final resting place is only two miles from where he first took the mound as a Houston Buff in 1938.

Rest in Peace, Prince Ted, but stay ready to come into the game whenever old St. Peter dials your number.

Houston Buffs: Danny Murtaugh.

November 16, 2009

Murtaugh (L) & Mazeroski were all smiles after Game 7 in 1960!

Danny Murtaugh started out his baseball career as a tough-nosed 20-year old infielder from Chester, PA for the 1937 Cambridge Cardinals of the Class D Eastern Shore league. He batted .297 in his rookie season, following that year with a .312 mark in his second round with the ’39 Cambridge club in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. He played shortstop his first season; second base his second year. At 5’9″ and 165 pounds, Danny had the right body type and low center of gravity for a middle infielder. More importantly, he had the right kind of aggressive attitude as a critical playmaker.
After batting .255 and .326 in a split-season performance for Columbus and Rochester in 1939, Murtaugh joined the 1940 Texas League Champion Houston Buffs of the Texas League. This time around, Danny played third base, batting .299. The following season, Danny Murtaugh returned to the 1941 Buffs as a second baseman and batted .317 in 69 games. His performance was good enough to get him dealt to Philadelphia (NL), where Danny broke into the big leagues with as a “good field, seldom hit” second baseman (.219) who also reached base often enough to lead the National League in stolen bases with 18.
Murtaugh then improved steadily with the Phils, batting .241 in 1942 and .273 in 1943. Military service got the call in 1944-45. Danny returned in 1946, but, after a handful of at bats with the Phils, he was dealt back to the Cardinals and assigned again to Rochester. This time he excelled, hitting .322 over the road of a whole season.
Dealt next to Boston (NL) in the off-season, Danny again picked up a hand scoop of at bats with the Braves before he was assigned to AAA Milwaukee, where he again did well, batting a “Punch and Judy” .302 in 119 games.
Then Danny Murtaugh acquired his lasting identity. He was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played second base for four seasons (1948-51). In the two seasons he played over 100 games for the Pirates, Murtaugh batted .290 in 1948 and .294 in 1950. He finished his nine major league season career in 1951 with a total batting average of .254 and a strong reputation for tough, heads up baseball savvy.
Danny Murtaugh’s ability earned him a four-year assignment by the Pirates as a minor league manager for New Orleans (1952-54) and Charleston (1955). He continued to play ball a little in 1952-53, wrapping up his nine season, 901-game minor league career with an impressive .297 batting average.
Danny Murtaugh began the memorable phase of his career when he took over as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957. For eight consecutive years (1957-64), Danny Murtaugh steadied the Pirates and led them in 1960 to their first pennant since 1927 and first World Series title since 1925. Who among us fans with blood flowing in our veins will ever forget Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic and iconic home run that gave the Pirates a freak-out, walk off victory over the New York Yankees in extra innings at Forbes Field in Game Seven back in 1960?
Pittsburgh’s administration never forgot the moment either. They brought Danny Murtaugh back three additional times as manager in 1967, in 1970-71, and one more time in 1973-76. He guided the Pirates to a second World Series title on his watch in 1971.
I’ve never read anything from anyone in the Pittsburgh organization back in those days that ever reflected badly on Danny Murtaugh as a manager. He really comes across as a never-give-up winner who believed in the value of solid fundamentally sound baseball and the importance of players psychologically leaning into the game with an attitude toward winning as the only acceptable outcome. It was the same attitude that some of us in Houston got to see in person through one of his former players who became a manager here and elsewhere. In his own quiet way, Bill Virdon exuded that same winning Murtaugh attitude. One doesn’t have to be a loudmouth screamer to be totally dedicated to winning.
Sadly, we lost Danny Murtaugh early. He passed away at his home in Chester, PA in 1976 at age 59. Happily, Danny spent most of his last year on earth doing the thing he did best: managing the Pittsburgh Pirates.