MLB Top 5: Pittsburgh Pirates Catchers and Managers

This is the first article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In this installment are catchers and managers

Professional baseball in Pittsburgh began in 1876 when a club called the Alleghenys was formed and played for one year in a minor league called the International Association. The team and league were formed by Denny McKnight, who ran an iron manufacturing company. Five years later, the National League was in Chicago and Boston but did not have a footing in any other big cities, prompting teams from more heavily populated areas to begin clamoring for a new league to be created. At a meeting in Cincinnati in November 1881, McKnight participated as the owner of Allegheny City, one of the six teams that would play in the inaugural season of the American Association the following year and was also named the new league’s chairman.

Allegheny City had mixed results in their five-year stay in the league, but McKnight was removed as president and his team left the league after an incident in 1886. The St. Louis Browns were selling off second baseman Sam Barkley and both Allegheny City and Baltimore matched the $1,000 asking price. McKnight as president ruled in favor of his own club and the rest of the league responded by suspending and fining Barkley. The matter was settled out of court with Barkley being reinstated and playing for Allegheny City, Baltimore getting another player as payment and McKnight being removed from his post due to the embarrassment of the whole issue. Allegheny City joined the National League the following year, but McKnight sold his shares in the team and left baseball for good.

Taking over as face of the club was William Nimick, a bank director and publishing company president. He presided over Allegheny City for five years, during which time the National League faced several challenges for supremacy. When the Players League began in 1890, the new circuit lured many players away the other two options using the promise of higher salaries. The Allegheny club was decimated by players leaving and struggled to a 23-113 record, with both the loss total and the .169 winning percentage being the second worst in major league history (the soon-to-be-defunct Cleveland Spiders went 20-134, .130 in 1899). The Players League folded after one year with most players going back to their previous teams, provided they signed a contract with their existing club before they left. One player who did not do this was Lou Bierbauer, a second baseman for the Philadelphia Quakers club in the American Association, so he became a free agent and signed with the Alleghany City franchise, which was now referred to as Pittsburgh. Bierbauer’s previous club and league referred to Pittsburgh as “Pirates” for how the situation went down and the name has stuck ever since.

Following another poor showing in the standings, Nimick sold his shares in the team, which was now under the primary control of grocery wholesaler William Kerr and lumber and mining executive Phil Auten. The Pirates put together six winning seasons in the 1890s but made it into the top five in the standings only once, a second-place finish after an 81-48 campaign in 1893. With the end of the 19th century approaching, the National League prepared for the impending challenge of a new opponent by contracting four teams to get down to eight. The owner of the Louisville Colonels, Barney Dreyfuss, learned of this and bought a half-interest in the Pirates, with the deal including an option to buy more of the team over time. During the 1899 season, Dreyfuss worked out a 17-player deal between Louisville and Pittsburgh in which the Colonels sent their top players, including outfielders Fred Clarke and Tommy Leach, pitcher Deacon Phillippe and shortstop Honus Wagner, to the Pirates. The move provided Pittsburgh with a wealth of talent that resulted in 13 straight winning seasons and four pennants, including the first three in the century. The Pirates played in the first modern World Series, falling to the Boston Americans, five games to three. After opening Forbes Field in 1909, Pittsburgh won its first title, winning a team-record 110 games in the regular season then outlasting Detroit in seven games.

When the stars of those early teams retired or left, the Pirates fell out of the top spot in the National League and did not return until 1925, whey they became the first team to come back from 3-1 down in the World Series to beat the Washington Nationals. Two years later, they won the pennant again only to get swept by the powerful New York Yankees. After being competitive for the next decade, the Pirates fell to the second division. Dreyfuss passed away in 1932 due to pneumonia and prostate inflammation, leaving control of the team to his wife, Florence, and his son-in-law, William Benswanger, who was president of the club until it was sold in 1946 to a group headed by Indianapolis businessman Frank McKinney Ohio real estate magnate John Galbreath, attorney Thomas Johnson and singer and entertainer Bing Crosby. Four years later, Galbreath and Johnson bought out McKinney and hired Branch Rickey as general manager.

Pittsburgh had a slight rise in the standings before surprising the baseball world by winning 95 games in 1960. The team shocked everyone by edging the Yankees in the World Series, with Bill Mazeroski‘s walk-off home run in Game 7 nearly lost to the world. As was the case with most television at the time, instead of archiving the World Series, the dramatic seventh game was taped over by networks to save space in their archives. The game was thought to be lost until decades later, a reel containing the entire game was found in a wine cellar. Crosby was so nervous about watching the series, he went to Paris and listened to the game on the radio while hiring a company to record the game on 16-millimeter film and leave it for him to watch later.

The Pirates stayed competitive throughout the next two decades. When the major leagues expanded to division play, Pittsburgh won six National League East titles in the 1970s. The club moved into Three Rivers Stadium and won two championships in the decade, with the first being in 1971. That year, the Pirates fielded the first all-black lineup in baseball history, then topped the Giants in the NLCS and came from 3-1 down again in the World Series, this time beating the Orioles thanks to the hitting of star outfielder Roberto Clemente. Pittsburgh and Baltimore squared off again in 1979, with the team using the motto “We Are Family” and riding the hot bat of National League MVP Willie Stargell to their second title of the decade and fifth overall. The Pirates were capable of winning even more had Clemente not died in a plane crash on the way to a humanitarian mission in earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve in 1972.

Pittsburgh fell off during the 1980s with the low point coming with several players being involved with the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985. The team also lost 104 games that season and Galbreath was talking about moving the club if local ownership could not be found. In response, a group called Pittsburgh Associates, which consisted of nine local businesses and four individuals (including Pittsburgh mayor Richard Caliguiri), bought the team and controlled it for more than a decade. One of the public faces of the franchise at the time was team president Carl Barger, an attorney who later became the first president of the Marlins but suffered an aneurysm and died while at the Winter Meetings before the team played a game.

The Pirates returned to prominence, winning three straight division titles in the early 1990s thanks to the hitting of Barry Bonds and the leadership of manager Jim Leyland, but fell in the NLCS each time. The club was sold to newspaper and media company owner Kevin McClatchy. Pittsburgh went 20 seasons without appearing in the playoffs and, despite PNC Park opening to much fanfare in 2001, McClatchy was constantly losing his top players in order to shed payroll. Unfortunately, penny-pinching has remained the norm even after ski and all-season resort owner Robert Nutting bought a controlling interest the franchise in 2007. The Pirates broke their playoff drought by reaching postseason play three straight years in the mid-2010s under manager Clint Hurdle, but the club has not had a winning record since 2015 and lost 100 games in back-to-back years in 2021-22.

The Best Catchers and Managers in Pittsburgh Pirates History


Honorable Mentions – George “Doggie” Miller was a jack-of-all-trades with the Pittsburgh franchise for a decade in the late 19th century (1884-93), beginning with three seasons when the club was in the American Association. Although he was primarily a catcher, he was the first player to appear in at least 20 games at all eight non-pitching positions, with his most common secondary spot being third base. Miller began play with the Alleghenys as a 19-year-old and got his nickname due to his hobby of dog breeding. He refused to use catching equipment, which was becoming commonplace because he said it would make the position too physically demanding. Despite his mannerisms, including a high leg kick before a swing, Miller was a stalwart and endured playing on one of the worst teams ever, the 1890 Alleghenys, and even played in a tripleheader that season. He ended his decade in Pittsburgh ranked ninth in franchise history with 209 stolen bases, which included six seasons with 25 or more, an astonishing feat for a catcher. Miller also totaled 611 runs, 985 hits, 151 doubles, 374 RBIs and 1,269 total bases in 971 games. He played two seasons with St. Louis and one with Louisville then spent seven seasons as a minor league player and manager. Miller passed away due to kidney disease in 1909 at age 44.

Walter Schmidt was known for his defense during a 10-year career, the first nine of which were spent with Pirates (1916-24). The younger brother of Charles “Boss” Schmidt, who played six years with the Tigers in the previous decade, Walter led all catchers in putouts, assists, double plays and fielding percentage in 1921, while also posting his best offensive season with a .282 average and career highs with 111 hits, 38 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Schmidt finished his time in Pittsburgh with 207 runs, 597 hits and 225 RBIs in 729 games. He played one season with the Cardinals, managed for one year in the Pacific Coast League and passed away in 1973 at age 86.

Al Lopez is best known for his time as a manager in Cleveland and Chicago, but he enjoyed a 19-year career as a player. In his youth, he delivered bread by horse and buggy and turned an experience as a practice catcher with the Senators into a two-year minor league stint before being sold to the Dodgers. Lopez spent seven years with the Brooklyn squad and was selected to play in the All-Star Game in 1934 (where he met his future wife). He was traded to the Braves after the 1935 season and again to the Pirates in 1940. Lopez earned his second All-Star selection the following year and won four fielding titles in seven seasons with Pittsburgh (1940-46). He totaled 476 hits and 196 RBIs in 656 games in the Steel City and was traded to Cleveland for his final season. After three years managing in the minors, Lopez was hired to run the Indians, amassing 570 victories in six years, including 111 in the pennant-winning 1954 season. Three years later, he was managing with the White Sox, leading them to five 90-win seasons (giving him 10 for his career) and a pennant for the “Go-Go Sox” in 1959. He was forced to retired due to a stomach condition but returned for three more stints as skipper over the next four years, ending his 17-year career with a 1,410-1,004 record. Lopez had a lengthy and prosperous retirement in Florida thanks to Texas land investments he made during his playing career. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and passed away after suffering a heart attack at age 97 in 2005, four days after the White Sox swept the Astros to win the World Series.

Jim Pagliaroni saw his early career with the Red Sox affected by military service, decreased production due to a platoon and wrist, ankle and elbow injuries. He was traded to the Pirates in 1963, but continued to face injury issues even that kept him on the bench. When Pagliaroni was on the field, he showed great power potential, batting .268 and setting career highs with 17 home runs and 65 RBIs in 1965. He also worked to improve his defense and won the fielding title the following year. However, Pagliaroni continued to battle injuries and eventually lost his starting spot and was traded to the freshly moved Oakland Athletics, finishing his Pirates career with 363 hits and 185 RBIs in 490 games over five seasons (1963-67). He split 1969 between the A’s and expansion Seattle Pilots and retired after the season. The jovial Pagliaroni was a staunch advocate for player rights and Pittsburgh’s representative in the MLB Players Association. Following his playing career, he worked with several real estate and food industry ventures and was a marketing director for the ALS Association, while helps combat Lou Gehrig’s disease. Pagliaroni battled cancer later in life and passed away in 2010 at age 72.

5. Tony Peña – The Dominican Republic native signed with the Pirates in 1975, switched from outfielder to catcher the following year and made his big-league debut with a brief call-up in 1980. Peña would not be a typical all-field, no-hit catcher that had been common in previous eras. In addition to three gold gloves with the Pirates, he would earn four All-Star selections and record an average of .280 or higher five times. Pittsburgh was in contention in 1983 but faded down the stretch and never competed again during Peña’s tenure. He had a career year the following season, batting .286 and posting career highs with 15 home runs, 78 runs batted in, 77 runs and 156 hits. Peña was traded to the Cardinals in 1987, a deal that brought the Pirates several players who contributed to their success in the early 1990s. He batted .286 and had 307 runs, 821 hits, 140 doubles, 63 home runs, 340 RBIs and 1,180 total bases in 801 games over seven seasons with Pittsburgh (1980-86). Peña played for five other teams in his career, reaching the World Series with the Cardinals in 1987 and the Indians in 1995. Two years later, he ended his 18-year career by splitting the season between the White Sox and Astros. After several years as a minor league manager, he had a four-year stint with the Royals, amassing a 198-285 record. Peña was a coach with the Yankees for more than a decade and managed in his native country, including leading the national team to the championship in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

4. Jason Kendall – He was the son of Fred Kendall, a catcher who spent 12 seasons in the major leagues, including 10 with the Padres. The younger Kendall was drafted in the first round by the Pirates in 1992 and was the starter from his first day in the big leagues four years later. He was selected as an All-Star and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting after batting .300 in 130 games. He earned his second selection to the Midsummer Classic in 1998 after batting .327 with 95 runs, 175 hits, 12 home runs and career highs with 75 RBIs and 26 stolen bases, which is a modern record for catchers. Kendall was hitting .332 the following year when a gruesome leg injury ended his season. On a bunt attempt, he stepped on first base awkwardly, tearing four ligaments and causing his right ankle to dislocate so severely that his fibula protruded through his skin.

Kendall not only returned from the injury in 2000, but he was put in the leadoff spot in the Pirates’ batting order. He responded by earning his third and final All-Star selection after batting .320 with 185 hits, 58 RBIs, 22 steals and career bests with 112 runs and 14 homers. Kendall’s numbers dropped the next two years, thanks to thumb and foot injuries that required surgery. His average rebounded and he posted a career-high 191 hits in 2003, but two years later, the always cost-cutting Pirates traded him to the Athletics. Kendall batted .306 (including six seasons at .300 or higher) and had 706 runs, 1,409 hits, 256 doubles, 67 home runs, 471 RBIs, 140 steals and 1,924 total bases in 1,252 games. Although he never won a gold glove award, he improved his defense over his career, leading the league in double plays three times and putouts and assists twice each. Kendall played for four teams over his final six seasons, but the years at the game’s most demanding position took its toll on his production. He spent seven years as a special assignment coach with the Royals, earning a championship ring for the 2015 World Series title, and he currently works in the player development system with the Pirates.

3. George Gibson – He was known for his defense, throwing arm and durability, especially early in his career during Pittsburgh’s prominence in the first decade of the 20th century. Gibson’s strong arm led to a move from second base during a three-year stay in the minor leagues, and he joined the Pirates in 1905. Nicknamed “Hack” due to his resemblance to George Hackenschmidt, a famous weightlifter and champion wrestler of the era, Gibson had his best season in 1909, playing 150 games (an unheard-of number at the time), including a National League-record 134 in a row for the 110-win Pirates. He batted .265, set career highs with 134 hits, 25 doubles and 52 RBIs, and he had both the final hit in Exposition Park and the first hit in Forbes Field. In the World Series, he had six hits, two runs scored, two RBIs and two steals in the victory over the Tigers and proved himself invaluable at learning the tendencies of the Detroit hitters.

After the title victory, Gibson sandwiched two injury-plagued seasons in between four solid campaigns. He fell into a backup role, was placed on waivers at the end of the 1916 season and signed with the Giants. In 12 years with the Pirates (1905-16), Gibson totaled 294 runs, 878 hits, 138 doubles, 341 RBIs and 1,159 total bases in 1,174 games. He also won three fielding titles and led the league in runners caught stealing twice. After his final two seasons as a player-coach with New York, “Hack” was a coach in both the minor leagues and the majors and had two stints as manager in Pittsburgh and one in Chicago with the Cubs. Gibson led the Pirates to a winning record in each of his four full seasons and his tenure included three second-place finishes. He spent six years in total with Pittsburgh (1920-22 and 32-34), compiling a 401-330 overall record. However, his strict demeanor led to his dismissal, and he was a vice president of a team in the Pirates’ minor league system in addition to running his farm in Ontario. Gibson passed away due to cancer in 1967 at age 86 and was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame 20 years later.

2. Forrest “Smoky” Burgess – He signed with the Cubs as a 17-year-old in 1944 and, after spending two years in military service and five in the minor leagues (except for a 1949 call-up as a pinch hitter), he joined Chicago on a full-time basis in 1951. Burgess was traded to Cincinnati and then Philadelphia that offseason, and he spent the rest of the decade helping those teams improve in the standings. He played four seasons and was selected as an All-Star with each team, including 1954, when he hit .368 with the Phillies. Burgess was traded from the Reds to the Pirates before the 1959 season in a seven-player deal that brought three players who would play big parts in Pittsburgh’s championship team the following season.

Burgess began his Pirates career by earning selections to the two All-Star Games held by Major League Baseball in each of his first three seasons. In his first year, he was behind the plate when one of the other players in the trade, Harvey Haddix, threw 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves. Burgess had six hits and two runs in five games against the Yankees in the 1960 World Series. His playing time dwindled until 1964 when, even though he was named an All-Star for a seventh time with the Pirates, he was placed on waivers at the end of the season and picked up by the White Sox. Burgess batted .296 with 543 hits, 51 home runs and 265 RBIs in 586 games over six seasons with Pittsburgh (1959-64). He spent his final four years as a standout pinch-hitter with Chicago, and he retired in 1967 as the game’s all-time leader with 145 pinch hits (he is now in fourth). Burgess ran a car dealership and served as a scout, hitting instructor and minor league coach for the Braves after his playing career. He passed away in 1991 at age 64.

1. Manny Sanguillen – The Panama native was signed by Herb Raybourn, the same scout who later discovered another Panamanian great, Mariano Rivera. Sanguillen had a 30-game callup in 1967 and, after another season in the minors, joined the Pirates in time for their rise to prominence. In September 1969, he was behind the plate in New York when Bob Moose threw a no-hitter against the Mets. The following year, the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in a decade but fell to the Reds. In 1971, Sanguillen earned his first of three All-Star selections and was part of the first all-black starting nine in baseball history. He had his best season at the plate, batting .319 with 170 hits, seven home runs and a career-high 81 runs batted in. Pittsburgh broke through as a team, beating San Francisco in the NLCS before toppling powerful Baltimore in the World Series, with the catcher totaling 11 hits, three runs and two stolen bases.

Sanguillen had another All-Star season the following year but fell to Cincinnati once again in the NLCS. Overall, the Pirates would lose to the “Big Red Machine” (led by the only National League catcher better than theirs, Johnny Bench) three times in six years. Sanguillen was almost part of one of the greatest tragedies in baseball history. He was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico with Pirates teammate and best friend Roberto Clemente, and the two were set to fly to Nicaragua for a humanitarian mission after the country had been devastated by an earthquake, but the catcher misplaced his car keys and missed the flight. The plane crashed off the coast just after takeoff on December 31 and the Hall of Fame outfielder’s body was never found, although his Pittsburgh teammate was one of the divers who looked for him in the caverns and reefs off the coast of the island. Sanguillen tried to replace Clemente in right field for the Pirates in 1973 but moved back to catcher in June. He rebounded for two more stellar seasons, including an All-Star selection in 1975, but battled a sore shoulder the following year. The 1976 offseason was also rough for the Pirates, with Moose dying in a car accident on his 29th birthday, two-time title-winning manager Danny Murtaugh passing away after suffering a stroke and Sanguillen being traded to the Athletics.

Sanguillen played 152 games for Oakland, but a good number were as a designated hitter. Pittsburgh brought the aging catcher back, but he spent most of his time at first base over his final three seasons. Although he played just 56 games in 1979, mostly as a pinch-hitter, Sanguillen was on the World Series roster against the Orioles and won Game 2 with an RBI single in the ninth inning. He was traded to the Indians before the 1981 season but was released during spring training and retired. Known as a bad-ball hitter, Sanguillen played 12 seasons with Pittsburgh (1967, 69-76 and 78-80), winning two titles and batting .299 with 524 runs, 1,343 hits, 188 doubles, 52 triples, 59 homers, 527 RBIs and 1,812 total bases in 1,296 games. He is a spring training catching instructor for the Pirates and operates a barbecue stand behind centerfield at PNC Park.


Honorable Mentions – Harold “Pie” Traynor was a stellar third baseman who earned two All-Star selections, drove in 100 or more runs seven times in a 17-year career and was a member of Pittsburgh’s 1925 championship team. He began managing the team in 1934, even before his playing career ended. Traynor took over for Gibson and pushed his team to be more aggressive. Although the Pirates responded with four winning seasons, the stresses of the job were taking its toll. Traynor was too nice to the players and nearly have a nervous breakdown from his lack of a pennant. He had a chance in 1938 with his team holding a lead in the standings in late September, but they got swept by the Cubs and fell apart in the final week. After the Pirates dropped to sixth the following year, Traynor resigned, finishing with a 457-406 record in six seasons (1934-39). He was a scout for Pittsburgh for three years, worked in a plant producing airplane parts during World War II and was a broadcaster for more than 20 years. Traynor was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1948 and passed away due to complications from emphysema in 1972 at age 73.

Like Traynor, Frankie Frisch was a star player throughout the 1920s and 30s, winning the MVP Award in 1931 and playing in the first three All-Star Games during a 19-year career with the Giants and Cardinals. He had a six-year stretch as a manager in St. Louis, the first five as a player-manager, and he led his “Gashouse Gang” team to a championship in 1934. Frisch spent 1939 as a broadcaster for the Boston Bees (later Braves) before joining the Pirates the following year. The aggressive former second baseman nicknamed the “Fordham Flash” was known for antagonizing umpires during his seven seasons in Pittsburgh (1940-46), but he led the team to a 539-528 record and five winning seasons, including a 90-win campaign in 1944 that was good enough for second place in the National League. Frisch left the Pirates and went back to the radio booth for two years before joining the Giants as a coach. He was named manager of the lowly Cubs part way through the 1949 season but was fired during his third year and retired with a career record of 1,138-1,078. Frisch was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1947 and passed away in 1973 at age 75 due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident.

Bill Virdon was the Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals in 1955 and was a gold glove center fielder during a 12-year career, 11 spent as a center fielder with Pittsburgh. Following his retirement as a player in 1965, he managed in the minor leagues for the Mets and Pirates (and hitting a home run during a six-game stint on the active roster in 1968 due to several players missing time because of military obligations) and was a coach in Pittsburgh. He got passed over multiple times to run the big-league club until he finally was named manager in 1972. Virdon’s team won 96 games and the division title but fell to the Reds in the NLCS. The following year, the Pirates had a losing record, and he was fired with a month left despite his team still being in the running in the mediocre N. L. East. After a 163-128 record with the Pirates, Virdon managed the Yankees for nearly two years, the Astros for eight and the Expos for two, finishing his 13-year managerial career with a 995-921 record and two Sporting News Manager of the Year awards. Virdon was a coach and minor league instructor for 17 years with the Pirates, Astros and Cardinals. He passed away in 2021 at age 90.

In the decade before Traynor and Frisch, Donie Bush was one of the premier infielders in the game during a 16-year career with the Tigers and Nationals that included a trip to the World Series as a rookie in 1909 (a loss to the Pirates). He was a player-manager in his final season with Washington but was not retained and missed out on the team’s back-to-back pennants. After three years as a manager in the minor leagues for his hometown Indianapolis club, Bush was tabbed to run the Pirates in 1927. Pittsburgh won 94 games and took home the National League pennant in a tight race. However, the club ran into the buzzsaw that was the “Murderer’s Row” Yankees, who swept the Pirates in the World Series. Bush led his team to a winning record the following year and the Pirates were in contention in 1929 when he suddenly resigned at the end of August, finishing with a 246-178 record. He had failed stints as a skipper with the White Sox and Reds and returned to the minor leagues, where he helped mold Ted Williams into a better player during his time in Minneapolis. Bush later served as team president of the Indianapolis club and was a scout for the White Sox until he passed away in 1972 at age 84.

5. Clint Hurdle – He had a 10-year playing career as a reserve corner infielder, outfielder and catcher mostly with the Royals, but he failed to live up to his early hype. The son of a data system supervisor for an aircraft company, Hurdle could watch NASA launches from his front yard growing up. He began his coaching career as a minor league manager with the Mets immediately following his 1987 retirement as a player. He joined the expansion Rockies as a minor league hitting instructor in 1993 and worked his way up to being a first base and hitting coach at the major league level. When Buddy Bell was fired early in the 2002 season, Hurdle took over and led Colorado to a respectable finish. In typical Rockies fashion, the team was near the top in all offensive categories while underwhelming with their pitching. Finally, Colorado broke through in 2007, winning 13 of their final 14 regular season games then scoring three times in the 13th inning to beat San Diego in a wild card tiebreaker. “Rocktober” continued with sweeps of the Phillies and Diamondbacks to send the Rockies to their first World Series, but they fell to the Red Sox in four games.

Colorado fell off the following year and after a slow start in 2009, Hurdle was fired, finishing with a 534-625 record. He was the hitting coach of the Rangers for a year before joining the Pirates in 2011 and, after improvement in his first two seasons, Pittsburgh won 94 games in 2013 and made the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades. The Pirates lost to the Cardinals in the Division Series that year and fell in the wild card game in each of the next two years, with 2015 being the last time the team has competed in the postseason. After two losing campaigns, Hurdle helped the Pirates rebound in 2018 but was fired with one game left the following year. He came out of a two-year retirement and went back to the Rockies as a special assistant to the general manager in 2022.

4. Jim Leyland – After seven seasons as a minor league player, he became a minor league coach with the Tigers in 1970, a position he held for more than a decade. Leyland spent four years as a third base coach for Tony La Russa‘s White Sox and, after missing out on the Astros job, he was named manager of the Pirates in 1986. During an 11-year run in Pittsburgh (1986-96), he turned the team from one that finished in last place his first season to one that made three straight trips to the NLCS. The Pirates won 95 games in 1990 and made their first postseason appearance since winning the 1979 World Series, with Leyland winning the Manager of the Year Award for his efforts. Two more trips to the NLCS followed and the skipper took home the top manager prize two years later. However. Pittsburgh lost all three times, including back-to-back seven-game heartbreakers to Atlanta.

The team began to fall off in the standings after star players began testing free agency. The Pirates had three straight losing seasons and Leyland resigned after the 1996 season, finishing his 11-year run (1986-96) with an 851-863 record. He won the title with the Marlins the following year and had a disappointing season with the Rockies before becoming a scout for the Cardinals and rejoining La Russa, who was managing the team. Leyland joined the Tigers in 2006, leading them to 95 wins and the first of two pennants as well as his third Manager of the Year Award. He resigned after the 2013 season and has spent the decade since as a special assistant for both the Tigers and the commissioner’s office. Leyland finished his 22-year career with a 1,769-1,728 record and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Era Committee in 2024.

3. Chuck Tanner – He was a backup outfielder during an eight-year career primarily with the Braves and Cubs. Tanner spent eight years as a minor league skipper with the Angels before being hired to manage the White Sox at the end of the 1970 season. The players responded and, two years later, Chicago finished in second place with 87 wins and Tanner was named Sporting News Manager of the Year. He was replaced in Pittsburgh and joined Oakland where, after one season, he was involved in an unusual trade. Following the 1976 season, with the next person on this list ready to retire, he was traded to the Pirates for star catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000. Over the next nine years (1977-85), Pittsburgh went 711-685 and had six winning seasons.

Tanner brought a new approach in which he mixed and matched his relievers to great success. In 1979, the “We Are Family” Pirates reached the Pinnacle of the baseball world, winning 98 games and sweeping the Reds in the NLCS. Tanner’s mother passed away with Pittsburgh trailing Baltimore three games to one in the World Series, but the team rallied for their manager, coming back to win their fourth title behind the play of Willie Stargell, who won MVP awards in the regular season, NLCS and World Series. The Pirates stayed competitive for the early part of the 1980s but didn’t make the playoffs again under Tanner, who was fired after the team lost 104 games in 1985 and was in the middle of the Pittsburgh drug trials. Tanner managed the Braves for three years after that, ending his career with a 1,352-1,381 record in 19 seasons. He spent 11 years as a special assistant for the Brewers and Indians and served as a senior advisor to the general manager with the Pirates from 2008 until his death in 2011 at age 82.

2. Danny Murtaugh – While he is second on this list, he does hold a major league record for most times retiring in a career. He was an infielder for nine years, mostly with the Phillies and Pirates, and he spent two years with the Army infantry during World War II, marching across Europe and being part of the forces that occupied Japan after the country’s surrender. Following his 1951 retirement as a player, he stayed on with the Pirates as a minor league manager before joining the major league coaching staff in 1956. The following year, he took over as skipper late the following season and was at the helm for Pittsburgh’s resurgence which included a shocking World Series championship over the favored Yankees in 1960. Other than a 93-win season two years later, the Pirates were a middle-of-the-road team and Murtaugh stepped away from the team, citing a frequent flu and stomach issues, but in truth, he had heart problems.

Following two years as a scout and advisor, Murtaugh was coaxed back to the dugout for the second half of 1967. Pittsburgh finished the season at .500 and the manager left a second time, feeling as he was more of a cheerleader than an instructor. He became the team’s director of player development, overseeing the farm system for two years before once again getting the itch to manage, this time at the newly opened Three Rivers Stadium in 1970. The Pirates won 89 games and their first division title, and Murtaugh was named Sporting News Manager of the Year for a second time. He missed part of the following year dealing with chest pains, but his team proved to be stellar all season, posting 97 wins. After dispatching the Giants, the Pirates topped the Orioles in a seven-game World Series, giving Pittsburgh its fourth title and Murtaugh his second. The skipper returned to the front office once again, returning to manage in the 1972 All-Star Game.

Murtaugh returned late in the 1978 season and led the Pirates to three winning records and two playoff appearances. He retired for a fourth and final time after the 1976 season, finishing his 15-year career (1957-61, ’67, 70-71 and 73-76) with a record of 1,115 wins and 950 losses and two championships. Murtaugh got a clean bill of health at a doctor appointment in late November but suffered a stroke later that day and never recovered, passing away two days later at age 59.

1. Fred Clarke – He was the first in a line of Pirates managers who enjoyed a stellar career as a player. Clarke was a farm boy who grew up in Iowa and Kansas and began his professional baseball career in Nebraska in 1892. After playing ball in throughout the Midwest and South for several teams that disbanded while he was there (a common issue in the many baseball leagues of the time), Clarke joined the National League’s Louisville Colonels. He was an aggressive competitor and baserunner who was not afraid to break up double plays or try for diving catches on balls to the outfield. Owner Barney Dreyfuss took a liking to Clarke and kept him from falling into the common pitfalls of players in that era (drinking, womanizing, etc.) and made him a player-manager of the Colonels despite being just 24 years old.

In 1899, Dreyfuss found out that his Louisville team was going to be one of four contracted by the National League the following year and preemptively purchased a 50-percent stake in the Pirates. Once that was finalized, he worked out a 17-player deal between his old team and his new Pittsburgh squad, sending his best players, including Clarke and Honus Wagner, to the Steel City. Clarke continued to play left field and manage the Pirates, turning the team into the first modern baseball dynasty. Pittsburgh won the first three National League pennants after the rival American League came into existence and, after two years of dragging their feet, Senior Circuit officials finally compromised with their younger counterparts. The leagues honored each other’s player contracts, and the first modern World Series was played, with the Pirates falling to the Boston Americans (later Red Sox). The player-manager had nine hits and three runs in a losing effort.

Overall, Pittsburgh had a winning season in Clarke’s first 13 years at the helm and won 90 or more games nine times, including a club-record 110 victories in 1909. Not only did he lead the team from the dugout, but he had a great series at the plate, totaling seven runs, seven RBIs and four hits, including two home runs, in a seven-game win over the Tigers for the Pirates’ first championship. Clarke focused almost solely on his manager duties later in his tenure in Pittsburgh, playing in just 12 games over his final four seasons. He resigned following the 1915 campaign after posting a 1,422-969 record in 16 seasons with the Pirates (1900-15). Clarke was quite successful off the field, with most of his money coming when oil was found on his Kansas ranch. With some of the money, he bought a stake in his longtime franchise, was named vice president and sat on the bench, inspiring his team to come back and win the World Series in 1925. However, some of the players resented his presence, which resulted in three players being removed from the roster in a conflict known as the “ABC Affair.”

Clarke resigned his vice president post and sold his stake in the team after the 1926 season. In addition to the oil on his land, he filed four patents for baseball equipment he designed, including early versions of infield tarp and flip-down sunglasses. He spent his later years ranching, hunting, fishing and working as the president of the National Baseball Congress, an organization that runs a 10-day tournament for community-based teams from all over the United States. Clarke was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 and passed away due to pneumonia in 1960 at age 87.

Upcoming Stories

Pittsburgh Pirates Catchers and Managers
Pittsburgh Pirates First and Third Basemen – coming soon
Pittsburgh Pirates Second Basemen and Shortstops – coming soon
Pittsburgh Pirates Outfielders – coming soon
Pittsburgh Pirates Pitchers – coming soon

Previous Series

A look back at the Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies Catchers and Managers
Philadelphia Phillies First and Third Basemen
Philadelphia Phillies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Philadelphia Phillies Outfielders
Philadelphia Phillies Pitchers

A look back at the Oakland Athletics

Oakland Athletics Catchers and Managers
Oakland Athletics First and Third Basemen
Oakland Athletics Second Basemen and Shortstops
Oakland Athletics Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Oakland Athletics Pitchers

A look back at the New York Yankees

New York Yankees Catchers and Managers
New York Yankees First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
New York Yankees Second Basemen and Shortstops
New York Yankees Outfielders
New York Yankees Pitchers

A look back at the New York Mets

New York Mets Catchers and Managers
New York Mets First and Third Basemen
New York Mets Second Basemen and Shortstops
New York Mets Outfielders
New York Mets Pitchers

A look back at the Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins Catchers and Managers
Minnesota Twins First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Minnesota Twins Second Basemen and Shortstops
Minnesota Twins Outfielders
Minnesota Twins Pitchers

A look back at the Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers Catchers and Managers
Milwaukee Brewers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Milwaukee Brewers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Milwaukee Brewers Outfielders
Milwaukee Brewers Pitchers

A look back at the Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins Catchers and Managers
Miami Marlins First and Third Basemen
Miami Marlins Second Basemen and Shortstops
Miami Marlins Outfielders
Miami Marlins Pitchers

A look back at the Los Angeles Dodgers

A look back at the Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels Catchers and Managers
Los Angeles Angels First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Los Angeles Angels Second Basemen and Shortstops
Los Angeles Angels Outfielders
Los Angeles Angels Pitchers

A look back at the Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers
Kansas City Royals First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Kansas City Royals Second Basemen and Shortstops
Kansas City Royals Outfielders
Kansas City Royals Pitchers

A look back at the Houston Astros

Houston Astros Catchers and Managers
Houston Astros First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Houston Astros Second Basemen and Shortstops
Houston Astros Outfielders
Houston Astros Pitchers

A look back at the Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Detroit Tigers Outfielders
Detroit Tigers Pitchers

A look back at the Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies Catchers and Managers
Colorado Rockies First and Third Basemen
Colorado Rockies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Colorado Rockies Outfielders
Colorado Rockies Pitchers

A look back at the Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers

A look back at the Cincinnati Reds

A look back at the Chicago White Sox

Chicago Cubs Catchers and Managers
Chicago Cubs First and Third Basemen
Chicago Cubs Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago Cubs Outfielders
Chicago Cubs Pitchers

A look back at the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Catchers and Managers
Boston Red Sox First and Third Basemen
Boston Red Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Boston Red Sox Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Boston Red Sox Pitchers

A look back at the Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers

A look back at the Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves Catchers and Managers
Atlanta Braves First and Third Basemen
Atlanta Braves Second Basemen and Shortstops
Atlanta Braves Outfielders
Atlanta Braves Pitchers

A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers

0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x