MLB Top 5: Pittsburgh Pirates Pitchers

This is the fifth and final article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In this installment are right- and left-handed starters as well as relief pitchers.

The Pirates have more than their fair share of talented starting pitchers throughout their history. Pittsburgh boasts 17 pitches with at least 100 victories with the club and several were top pitchers in their respective eras. However, only three are in the Baseball Hall of Fame and none of them are there because of their exploits with the franchise. Much like their Pennsylvania neighbors, many of the Pirates closers were capable, but at times inconsistent.

The Best Pitchers in Pittsburgh Pirates History

Right-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – James “Pud” Galvin was the son of immigrants who came to this country and settled in St. Louis after the Great Irish Famine of 1845-49. Although his hands were reportedly not large enough to throw a curveball, he fooled hitters with a fastball and changeup, both of which he threw with pinpoint control. He was also one of the best pitchers in the field, and any hitters who did reach base had a good chance of being caught off guard by his pickoff move, which was the most successful of the era. Galvin began his career with his hometown Brown Stockings in 1875, the final year of the original major league, the National Association, leading the league with a 1.16 earned run average. He spent the next three years in minor leagues, including 1878 with Buffalo, and played for the Bisons when they joined the National League the following year.

“Pud” (nicknamed for his ability to turn hitters into pudding with his fastball) spent the better part of seven seasons in Buffalo, winning 218 games and throwing two no-hitters before his performance declined and he was unceremoniously cut during the 1885 season. He quickly signed with the Alleghenys, bouncing back to win 20 or more games in four straight years. Following a season in the Players League, Galvin returned to the newly named Pirates but was sold to the St. Louis Browns, where he ended his Major League career in 1892. He ranks fourth in franchise history in complete games (225), ninth in innings (2,084 2/3, reaching more than 400 in a season three times) and tenth in wins (126-110) to go with a 3.10 ERA and 17 shutouts. A father of 11, Galvin pitched two more years in the minor leagues, then had a variety of jobs including umpire, bricklayer and saloon owner, but he died in poverty in 1902 at age 45 due to chronic gastritis. After his death, he was largely forgotten, despite the two no-hitters and being the first pitcher in major league history to win 300 games (he finished his career with a 365-310 record). Galvin was given a long-overdue honor when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1965.

Before he was the last pitcher to win 40 games in the major leagues in 1904, Jack Chesbro played in the minor leagues in New York and Baltimore before joining the Pirates in 1899. He steadily improved with Pittsburgh, winning 21 games in 1901 and leading the league with a 28-6 mark the following year, and he also led the league in shutouts twice to help his club win the first two pennants of the 20th century. “Happy Jack” was sold to the New York Highlanders (later Yankees) before the 1903 season, finishing his Pirates tenure with a 70-38 record, a 2.89 earned run average, 92 complete games and 17 shutouts, including eight in 1902, which is tied for second in team history). Except for his record-setting 41-12 season, most of his campaigns were similar to his time in Pittsburgh. Chesbro finished his major league career with the Red Sox in 1909, amassing 198 wins in total. He spent the next decade-plus pitching for semipro teams in the Northeast and coaching at UMass. In 1931, Chesbro was checking the water pipeline on his farm when he suffered a heart attack and passed away at age 57. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee in 1946.

While he was best known for his time with the Boston Beaneaters (later Braves), Vic Willis spent four years with the Pirates and helped them win their first championship. He used his control, change of pace and most importantly, what would now be called a 12-to-6 curveball to win 20 or more games in four of his first five seasons. Willis would also lead the league in ERA with a 2.50 mark in 1899, and he topped the circuit in complete games and shutouts twice each and posted league bests with 410 innings and 225 strikeouts. After leading the league in losses for two straight years, he was traded to the Pirates, and he responded by winning 20 games in each of his seasons in Pittsburgh and throwing two one-hitters. Willis went 22-11 on Pittsburgh’s title-winning team in 1909 but lost his only start against the Tigers in Game 6. He was waived and played his final season with the Cardinals. Willis is the all-time franchise leader in earned run average (2.08), and he ranks ninth in shutouts (23) to go with an 89-46 record and 108 complete games. He ran a hotel and coached youth baseball after his retirement, passed away due to a stroke in 1947 at age 71 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1995.

Howie Camnitz was a curveball specialist and another of the great Pirates starters in the first decade of the 20th century. He had a brief run with the Pirates in 1904 and another two years later before making the club full-time in 1907. Camnitz developed into one of the best pitchers in the game, winning 20 or more games three times in nine seasons with Pittsburgh (1904 and 06-13). However, none were better than the 1909 championship season, when he was the team’s ace, going 25-6 with a 1.62 earned run average, 20 complete games and six shutouts. Although the Pirates won the title, he was hit hard by the Tigers in the World Series, going 0-1 and giving up five earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings. After a 6-17 start in 1913, which included a high walk rate and dropping strikeout total, Camnitz was traded to the Phillies and spent two years in the Federal League before retiring after the 1915 season. He ended his time in Pittsburgh ranked eighth in franchise history with a 2.63 ERA and tied for 12th in wins (116-84) to go with 116 complete games, 19 shutouts and 806 strikeouts. Camnitz worked in auto sales for more than 40 years, retiring a month before passing away in 1960 at age 78.

After a failed tryout with the Giants in 1916, Ray Kremer spent eight years in the Pacific Coast League before joining the Pirates as a 29-year-old in 1924. After going 18-10 and leading the National League with four shutouts in 1924, he went on to lead the league twice each in wins and earned run average over a 10-year career spent entirely with Pittsburgh (1924-33). In his second season, Kremer went 17-8 to help the Pirates reach the World Series and, after losing Game 3 and keeping his team alive with a win in Game 6, he held Washington at bay in relief in the deciding game, allowing Pittsburgh to come back and win their second title. He led the league with 20 wins and a 2.61 ERA in 1926 and won 19 more the next year as the Pirates won the pennant but fell to the Yankees in the World Series. Kremer won 20 games in 1930, but the campaign was known as the “Year of the Hitter,” which was reflected in his 5.02 ERA. His stats continued to decline over his final three seasons, resulting in his release in 1933. Kremer finished his Pirates career tied for seventh in franchise history in wins (143-85), and he ranks ninth in games started (247) and tenth in innings (1,954 2/3) to go with a 3.76 ERA and 134 complete games. He played two more years with Oakland’s PCL team, was a postal carrier after his baseball career and passed away in 1965 at age 71.

Truett “Rip” Sewell was a member of a baseball family, with three cousins reaching the major leagues in the 1920s and 30s. Sewell had a tryout and brief run with Detroit in 1932, but never made it back to the Tigers after a fight with star first baseman Hank Greenberg. After five seasons in the minors, he was traded to Pittsburgh, where he slowly grew into one of the best pitchers in the National League. Although he was a hard thrower, a hunting incident in which he was accidentally shot in his foot, led to a change in his delivery. Because of this, he also developed a secret weapon called a “blooper pitch” (also referred to as an “Eephus pitch”), which had a 25-foot arch before dropping over the plate. Sewell led the National League with a 21-9 record and 25 complete games in 1943, leading to his first of four straight All-Star appearances. He had a memorable moment in his final Midsummer Classic in 1946 when Ted Williams crushed a “blooper” for a home run. Sewell retired after the 1949 season, with Sewell finishing his 12-year Pirates career (1938-49) ranked seventh in franchise history in innings (2,108 2/3), tied for seventh in wins (143-97), tenth in games started (243) and complete games (137) and tied for tenth in shutouts (20) to go with a 3.43 earned run average. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame member passed away in 1989 at age 82.

Steve Blass was signed by the Pirates out of high school in 1960 but struggled in his first call-up four years later. After another year in the minors, he returned with better control of his fastball and slider, and he ended up spending his entire 10-year career in Pittsburgh (1964 and 66-74). In 1968, he went 18-6 and set career highs with a 2.12 earned run average, 12 complete games and seven shutouts. Over the next few years, the Pirates would become contenders, thanks to a fantastic lineup known as the “Lumber Company” and a solid pitching staff led by Blass. He went 15-8 with a league-best five shutouts in 1971, then won two games against the Orioles in the World Series, including the deciding Game 7. Blass finished second in the Cy Young Award voting and earned his only All-Star selection after winning a career-high 19 games in 1972 but after that, his career came unglued. He spent most of the next two seasons unable to get batters out (even in the minor leagues), and he retired after being released in 1975. Blass ranks seventh in franchise history with 896 strikeouts to go with a 103-76 record and a 3.63 ERA. He had several jobs outside of baseball before joining Pittsburgh’s broadcast crew as an analyst, a role he would hold for more than 35 years until his retirement in 2019.

Dock Ellis was a talented but troubled player who admitted to drug and alcohol use before and during his playing career. He was originally signed by the Pirates in 1964, but his $60,000 bonus was reduced to just $2,500 after he was arrested for stealing a car. Ellis started his major league career as a reliever but became a starter in 1969. The following year, he went 13-10 and threw a no-hitter against the Padres on July 12 after using LSD and speed before the game. In 1971, Ellis earned Cy Young Award consideration and started in his only All-Star Game after posting a 19-9 record, a 3.06 earned run average, 11 complete games and 137 strikeouts. He was also the starting pitcher in a September game in which the Pirates made history by fielding an all-minority lineup. Ellis lost his only start of the World Series, but Pittsburgh beat Baltimore for the team’s fourth championship. He began to have arm troubles and his numbers declined later in his Pirates career, and a rant after a bullpen demotion earned him a 30-day suspension and a trade to the Yankees after the 1975 season.

Ellis bounced around baseball creating controversy over the next four years, playing for three teams and seven managers during the 1977 seasons alone. He also played for three teams in 1979, including a three-game stint with the Pirates. However, when Pittsburgh released Ellis after the season, he went into a rage that was so bad his wife left him and never returned. In nine years with Pittsburgh (1968-75 and ’79), he ranks ninth in franchise history with 869 strikeouts and posted a 96-80 record with a 3.16 ERA and 51 complete games. He finally got clean in 1980 with the help of former big-league pitcher Don Newcombe, who got him into a rehab facility. After getting clean, Ellis began working to help other addicts and inmates with their own struggles with drugs and alcohol. He passed away in 2008 at age 63 due to a combination of heart damage and cirrhosis of the liver.

Joining Blass and Ellis in that talented rotation in 1971 was Bob Moose, who signed with the Pirates a week after graduating high school in 1965 and made his big-league debut two years later. He proved himself as a long reliever over his first two seasons, but he had his greatest moment as a starter in 1969. That season, he had a career-best 14-4 record and threw a no-hitter against the eventual champion Mets in late September. Moose fell off a bit over the next two seasons thanks to reserve duty with the Marines and elbow issues, but he made four appearances in the 1971 playoffs, helping the Pirates win the title. He was solid but inconsistent the following two years and then developed arm issues. Moose had swelling and discoloration in his pitching arm, which turned out to be a blood clot in his shoulder. He was moved to the bullpen in 1975 and put together two straight solid campaigns. After the 1976 season, Moose was on his way to a team party at a golf course in Ohio when he lost control of his Corvette in the rain and ran into an oncoming car. Four others sustained slight injuries, but he died at the scene on his 29th birthday. In 10 seasons (1967-76), Moose finished with a 76-71 record, a 3.50 earned run average and 827 strikeouts in 1,303 1/3 innings.

In a glaring indictment of the team’s ability to develop starting pitchers, Doug Drabek is the most recent starter to appear on these lists. He was drafted by the White Sox in 1983 and was sent to the Yankees the following year before being moved to the Pirates in after the 1986 season. Using his above-average slider and fastball, Drabek posted double-digit win totals in each of his six seasons with Pittsburgh (1987-92), and he reached 15 wins on four occasions. His best year was 1990, when he won the Cy Young Award after leading the league with a 22-6 record, posting a 2.76 earned run average and coming within one out of a no-hitter against the Phillies in August. He won exactly 15 games in each of the next two years, as the Pirates won three straight division titles, and he went 2-5 in the playoffs but lost all three of his starts against the Braves in the 1992 NLCS. Drabek finished his Pittsburgh career with a 92-62 record, a 3.02 ERA, 36 complete games, 16 shutouts and 820 strikeouts. He signed with the Astros and pitched respectably despite leading the league with 18 losses in 1993. Drabek earned his only All-Star selection the following year, but he began to decline after the players’ strike. He spent one season each with the White Sox and Orioles and turned to coaching after his retirement. Drabek had spent most of his time as a pitching coach in the Diamondbacks organization, and he currently holds that role with the team’s Triple-A affiliate, the Reno Aces.

5. Vern Law – The Idaho native was signed by the Pirates out of high school and joined the big-league club in 1950. After spending two years on an Army base in Virginia playing first base during the Korean War, Law returned but was inconsistent for most of the 1950s. He took a big step forward in 1959, going 18-9 with a 2.98 earned run average and 20 complete games for Pittsburgh’s fourth-place club. Law and the team both reached the top the following year, with the pitcher earning his only All-Star selections and winning the Cy Young Award after posting a 20-9 record, a 3.08 ERA and 18 complete games, which tied for the league lead. Meanwhile, the Pirates finally put everything together and won the pennant. The 1960 World Series was a contrast of styles, with the Yankees winning their three games by blowout and the Pirates taking three close contests, with Law winning Games 1 and 4. He started Game 7 on three days’ rest but was working on a sprained ankle that was injured during Pittsburgh’s pennant-winning celebration. Law pitched into the sixth inning, but the teams went back and for late in the game until the Pirates won their first title in 35 years on Bill Mazeroski‘s home run leading off the bottom of the ninth.

Unfortunately, Law had arm issues from changing his delivery due to the ankle injury, which affected him over the next three seasons. After a brief retirement, he returned in 1964 and won 17 games the following year. The man nicknamed “Deacon” due to his status as an elder in the Mormon church lost effectiveness over his final two seasons and retired in 1967 after suffering a groin injury. Law finished his 16-year career (1950-51 and 54-67) ranked third in franchise history in games started (364), fourth in games pitched (483) and innings (2,672), fifth in strikeouts (1,092), tied for fifth in shutouts (28) and sixth in wins (162-147) to go with a 3.77 ERA and 119 complete games. He stayed in baseball after his playing career, serving as the pitching coach for the Pirates, as well as a scout for the White Sox and a coach and manager in the minors, Japan and in college with Brigham Young University. His son, Vance, enjoyed an 11-year major league career as an infielder and was the manager at BYU.

4. Sam Leever – The curveball specialist was nicknamed the “Goshen Schoolmaster” due to both his serious disposition and his former career as a teacher in a Cincinnati suburb. After a brief call-up in 1898, Leever went 21-18 with a 3.18 earned run average and led the league with 51 games and 379 innings. Over his remaining 11 seasons, he never and a losing record or an ERA above 3.00. Leever and the Pirates succeeded despite management going with an unconventional five-man rotation early in the 20th century. He posted at least 15 wins eight times, including a career-best 25-7 mark with a league-leading 2.06 ERA and seven shutouts to help Pittsburgh reach the first modern World Series in 1903. However, he injured his shoulder in a trapshooting accident and lost both of his starts as the Pirates fell to the Boston Americans (later Red Sox).

Leever won 60 games over the next three seasons and posted a career-best 1.66 ERA in 1907. The following year, he won 15 games despite pitching nearly half the time in relief, but Pittsburgh’s late-season surge fell short. Leever came out of the bullpen most of the time to go 8-1 in 1909, but he did not pitch in the World Series as the Pirates beat the Tigers for their first title. He was released in 1911 and spent two years in the minor leagues, one as a player and another as a manager, before retiring from baseball. Leever finished his Pirates career ranked second in complete games (241) and shutouts (39), tied for second in wins (194-100), fourth in ERA (2.47), fifth in games started (299) and innings (2,660 2/3) and tenth in games pitched (388) to go with 847 shutouts. He continued to teach in his hometown while also serving as a postmaster, running a farm and becoming a top-notch trapshooter. Leever passed away in 1953 at age 81.

3. Bob Friend – Although he had a losing record throughout his 15-year Pirates career (1951-65), he was nicknamed the “Warrior” after never having endured a stint on the disabled list while helping Pittsburgh through some of its worst years. Friend was the son of an orchestra leader in Indiana and signed with the Pirates in 1950. A year later, he was in the major leagues, getting his feet wet for a team that was struggling. Friend’s breakthrough came in 1955, when he went 14-9 and led the league with a 2.83 earned run average, the first player to do so on a last-place team. He led the league in games started and innings each of the next two years before putting together his best season. In 1958, Friend made the All-Star team and finished third in the Cy Young Award voting after leading the league with a 22-14 record and 38 starts as Pittsburgh jumped up to second place in the standings. Both team and pitcher relapsed the following year, with Friend leading the league with 19 losses and the Pirates dropping to fourth.

The “Warrior” returned in 1960, as Friend was an All-Star once again thanks to an 18-12 record with a 3.00 ERA, 16 complete games, four shutouts and 183 strikeouts, which was a career-high and a team record at the time. Despite losing both of his starts in the World Series, the Pirates held off the Yankees to win their third championship. Although he led the league with 19 losses once again the following year, Friend was a consistently good pitcher for the first half of the decade until he was traded to the Yankees after the 1965 season. The four-time All-Star ended his time in Pittsburgh as the franchise’s all-time leader in innings (3,480 1/3), games started (477) and strikeouts (1,682), and he ranks third in games pitched (568) and shutouts (35), fourth in wins (191-218) and eighth in complete games (161) to go with a 3.55 ERA. Friend split his final season between the Yankees and Mets before he retired to work as an insurance broker, serve as Allegheny County controller for eight years, sing in a barbershop quartet at run an annual fundraiser for a children’s hospital in Pittsburgh. His son, Bob Jr., became a successful golfer on the PGA Tour. Friend passed away in 2019 at age 88.

2. Charles “Babe” Adams – The Indiana farm boy was born left-handed but strengthened his right hand and learned his masterful control (his career 1.29 walks per nine inning rate ranks second in major league history) by throwing rocks at tree stumps. Adams began his professional career with the Cardinals, losing his only start in 1906 before being sold to the Pirates the following year. After spending 1908 in the minors, he came to Pittsburgh full-time as a 27-year-old, going 12-3 with a major league rookie record 1.11 earned run average while splitting time between the rotation and bullpen to help the Pirates win the pennant. Adams won three games against Detroit in the World Series, including a shutout in Game 7, helping Pittsburgh win its first championship. The curveball specialist would continue his strong showing by winning at least 18 games in three of the next four seasons.

Adams had solid showings in 1914-15, including a complete game, 21-inning loss to the Giants in July 1914, but overuse led to arm issues, which necessitated him spending the entire 1917 season in the minor leagues. He returned for three starts at the end of the following year and won 17 in the ensuing two, including 1920, when he led the league with eight shutouts. Adams went 14-5 in 1921 and continued to be a decent pitcher into his 40s. He spent most of his last three years coming out of the bullpen and was released late in the 1926 season after being involved in the “ABC Affair,” in which he was among three players who attempted to get vice president and former star outfielder and manager Fred Clarke to stay out of day-to-day team affairs. In 18 seasons with Pittsburgh (1907, 09-16 and 18-26), Adams is the all-time franchise leader in shutouts (44) ranks tied for second in wins (194-140), third in innings (2,991 1/3), fourth in games started (353), fifth in games pitched (481) and sixth in complete games (205) and strikeouts (1,036) to go with a 2.76 ERA. He spent two years in the minors before returning to Missouri, where he ran a farm and worked as a newspaper sports reporter before his death in 1968 at age 86.

1. Charles “Deacon” Phillippe – He was born in a tiny Virginia town and moved around the Midwest before signing with Louisville as a 27-year-old in 1899. Phillippe threw a no-hitter against the Giants in late May and went 21-17 with the Colonels and was part of a massive trade to the Pirates when owner Barney Dreyfuss found out his Kentucky team would be contracted after the season. He continued his fantastic pitching with his new team, using pinpoint control to win at least 20 games in his first four seasons with Pittsburgh and five overall. Phillippe joined Leever in winning 25 games for the 1903 club that won the pennant, and he outdueled the legendary Cy Young to win the first game of the first modern World Series. He went 3-2 overall against the Americans, but Boston prevailed five games to three. After missing half of the following season due to an illness that settled in his eyes, Phillippe returned to his winning ways in 1905, going 20-13 with a 2.19 earned run average and a career-best 133 strikeouts.

Following two more solid seasons, Phillippe began to develop arm issues and that, coupled with a broken finger after being hit with a line drive, marred his 1908 and led to a slow move to the bullpen. He was a part-time starter in 1909, going 8-3 and throwing six solid innings in relief during the 1909 World Series, helping the Pirates beat the Tigers for their first championship. Phillippe went 14-2 out of the bullpen in 1910 but retired as a player after just three appearances the following year, finishing his 12-year Pirates run (1900-11) ranked fifth in wins (168-92), ERA (2.50) and complete games (209), sixth in innings (2,286), tied for seventh in shutouts (25), eighth in games started (251) and tenth in strikeouts (861). He is also the all-time record holder with 1.25 walks per nine innings, just ahead of his former teammate Adams. Phillippe coached two minor league Pittsburgh teams and held various jobs in the community, including scout and ticked agent for the Pirates and owner of a cigar store. He passed away in 1952 at age 79.

Left-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – Like many players in the early days of baseball, John F. “Denny” Driscoll made his living in baseball by “revolving” or jumping from team to team based on how favorable of terms you could get. He got his first taste of National League play in 1880 as an outfielder and Galvin’s backup at pitcher for the Buffalo Bisons. Two years later, Driscoll joined the first-year Allegheny City team in the American Association, which would become the Pirates the following decade. He went 13-9 and both led the league and set a franchise record that still stands with a 1.21 earned run average. Driscoll’s numbers fell in 1883 (18-21, 3.99), and he went to Louisville the following year. However, baseball’s change to an overhand delivery was his undoing, and the crafty lefty played a year in the minors before succumbing to consumption (now called tuberculosis) in 1886 at age 30.

Frank Killen continued the string of stellar starters in the Steel City, with the stubborn southpaw spending six years with his hometown Pirates (1893-98). His career path started with the American Association’s Milwaukee Brewers in 1891, then went to the National League’s Senators before being traded from Washington to Pittsburgh. Despite the 1890s being a banner decade for hitters, Killen used his fastball and curveball to win a league-leading 36 games in his first season with the Pirates, a total that no major league lefty has matched or surpassed in the past 130 years. His 1894 season was marred when his left wrist was broken by a line drive and the following year, he suffered a hand injury and a gruesome spiking on his ankle from an opposing runner led to him contracting blood poisoning. Despite a sprained leg in 1896, Killen bounced back, leading the league with a 30-18 record, 44 complete games, five shutouts and 432 1/3 innings. His numbers fell the following year and the team finally got tired of his attitude and released him in 1898. Killen ranks seventh in franchise history with 163 complete games to go with a 112-82 record and a 3.97 earned run average. He went back to Washington, then Boston and finally the Chicago Orphans (later Cubs), where his major league career ended in 1900. Killen played three years in the minors then was a manager and umpire. Killen served as a railroad detective and owned a hotel, cigar store and tavern before his passing from a heart attack in 1939 at age 69.

Although none of what he threw would be described today as “plus pitches,” Albert “Lefty” Leifield used accuracy and surprise to keep hitters off balance throughout his eight seasons in Pittsburgh (1905-12). He worked in a shoe factory and pitched on an independent team, eventually earning a tryout with the Pirates. Leifield had six straight seasons with at least 15 wins beginning in 1906 when he went 18-13 with a career-best 1.87 earned run average. He followed that with another campaign in which he had a 2.33 ERA and set career highs with a 20-16 record and 112 strikeouts. In 1909, Leifield had another gem of a year, going 19-8 with a 2.37 ERA, and the Pirates won their first championship despite his loss against the Tigers in Game 4. After one more solid year, he started having arm troubles, which limited his effectiveness and led to a trade to the Cubs in 1912. Leifield retired for a year and worked at a grocery store, but his arm strength returned, and he played in the minors with San Francisco before returning to the majors with St. Louis in 1918. He pitched three years with the Browns before he was released, retired as a player and worked as a coach for the next decade. Leifield worked for the St. Louis Water Department for 26 years and passed away in 1970 at age 87.

5. John Candelaria – He starred in both baseball and basketball in his native New York City before being drafted by the Pirates in the second round in 1972. He joined Pittsburgh three years later and set a rookie record by striking out 14 batters in Game 3 of the NLCS, but Cincinnati won in 10 innings to sweep the series. Candelaria went 16-7 and set career highs with 11 complete games and four shutouts the following year, then had his best season in 1977, earning his only All-Star selection while going 20-5 with a league-leading 2.34 earned run average. He was a consistent double-digit winning pitcher over the rest of his time with the Pirates, and he posted a 14-9 record in the 1979 regular season and a 1-1 mark in the World Series victory over the Orioles. “Candy Man” had his best game in 1976. On an August night when the team gave away candy bars for his start, he shut down the Dodgers for the fifth no-hitter in franchise history and the first at home in nearly 70 years (since Nick Maddox in 1907).

Candelaria had persistent back issues throughout his career that stemmed back to his childhood, and he also had shoulder and elbow injuries that limited his effectiveness at times. He faced personal tragedy when his one-year-old son nearly drowned in a pool on Christmas Day 1984. The boy survived, but never regained consciousness, spending nearly a year in a coma before passing away. Candelaria was known for spats with management, who finally had enough in 1985 and traded to the Angels. He spent the next seven years bouncing to seven teams before returning to the Pirates for one unsuccessful season in 1993 that also included a DUI arrest. Candelaria ended his 12-year run in Pittsburgh (1975-85 and ’93) ranked fourth in franchise history in strikeouts (1,159), sixth in games started (271) and 11th in wins (124-87) to go with a 3.17 ERA and 45 complete games. He finished his 19-year career with 177 wins and has stayed out of baseball in recent years.

4. Jesse Tannehill – His father was a talented amateur player and his brother, Lee, was an infielder for the Chicago White Stockings. Tannehill made his debut with the Reds in 1894 but didn’t become a regular major leaguer until he signed with the Pirates three years later. Over his six seasons in Pittsburgh (1897-1902), he won 20 or more games four times and in 1901, he posted an 18-10 record and led the league with a 2.18 earned run average. A control pitcher who threw to contact, Tannehill’s out pitch was an incredibly slow curveball. The two-time pennant-winner was released after the 1902 season when he was found to be secretly negotiating with the new American League. He finished his time with the Pirates ranked ninth in franchise history with 149 complete games to go with a 116-58 record, a 2.75 ERA and 17 shoutouts.

He and Chesbro left for the New York Highlanders, although Tannehill would last one season before spending five with Boston (throwing a no-hitter with the Americans in 1904) and one with Washington. After a year in the minors, he made his last appearance in the majors, getting shelled in an Opening Day loss with the Reds in 1911. Tannehill spent three more years as a player in the minor leagues, then remained in the game as a coach and umpire, including a one-year stint with the Phillies in 1920. In addition to his 197 wins as a pitcher, he was no slouch at the plate, ending his career with a .255 average and spending time as an outfielder and pinch-hitter when he wasn’t on the mound. Tannehill worked in a machine shop following his playing days and passed away after suffering a stroke in 1956 at age 82.

3. Ed “Cannonball” Morris – He started his major league career when baseball rules changed to allow pitchers to use an overhand delivery. The 1884 season became the first “Year of the Pitcher,” with Morris winning 34 games with the American Association’s Columbus Buckeyes. He spent the next five years with the Allegheny City/Pittsburgh franchise, using a unique jumping delivery to overpower hitters. Morris’ first two seasons in the Steel City were legendary in terms of stats. He went 39-24 in 1885, led the league and set team records with 63 starts and complete games, seven shutouts, 298 strikeouts and 581 innings. The following year, he was even better, setting franchise marks with 326 strikeouts and a league-best 41-20 record with 12 shutouts, tied his own record with 63 starts and complete games and amassing 555 1/3 innings.

In Pittsburgh’s first season in the National League, Morris fell to 14-22 and “only” 317 2/3 innings, but he rebounded to a 29-23 record, a 2.31 earned run average, 480 innings and league-best totals of 55 starts and 54 complete games. All of those innings began to wear on Morris’ arm. He made just 21 starts in 1889 and 15 with Pittsburgh’s entry in the Players League the following year before retiring. Morris ranks third in franchise history in complete games (235), tied for seventh in shutouts (25), eighth in innings (2,104) and strikeouts (890) and ninth in wins (129-102) to go with a 2.81 ERA. He was a deputy warden in a Pennsylvania prison and died in 1937 at age 74.

2. Bob Veale – He was the son of a Negro League pitcher with the Homestead Grays. Veale found success in the same city after he was signed by the Pirates in 1958. The hard thrower joined the big-league club four years later, mostly coming out of the bullpen for his first two seasons. In his first full season in 1964, Veale tied a team record with 12 strikeouts in a June start, matched it two weeks later and set a new mark by striking out 15 Milwaukee Braves in late September. He finished the season with an 18-12 record and 250 strikeouts, edging Bob Gibson for the most in the league. The following year, Veale made his first of two straight All-Star teams, going 17-12 and setting career highs with seven shutouts and 276 strikeouts (including 16 against the Pirates on June 1), a mark which ranked third in team history and second in the National League behind Sandy Koufax.

Following four straight seasons with at least 16 wins, the bespectacled Veale began to deal with back, shoulder and elbow injuries that caused his strikeout rate to drop, but he was still around 170 each year. He was moved to the bullpen in 1971 and went 6-0 but his ERA skyrocketed. He made one appearance in the World Series that year, giving up a run in 2/3 of an inning in Game 2. Veale was sent to the minors and later signed by Boston, where he spent his final three seasons. He ended his 11-year run with the Pirates (1962-72) ranked second in franchise history in strikeouts (1,652), seventh in games started (255), tied for tenth in shutouts (20) and tied for 12th in wins (116-91) to go with a 3.06 ERA and 78 complete games. After sitting out a year, Veale worked as a minor-league pitching instructor with the Braves and Yankees. After retiring as a coach, he was a groundskeeper at iconic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, where he played as a youth, and he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

1. Wilbur Cooper – His first professional season was 1911 when he played for a Marion, Ohio, club that was owned by future U. S. President Warren Harding. After a fantastic late-season call-up with the Pirates the following year and a strong showing out of the bullpen in 1913, Cooper spent most of the rest of his 13 seasons with Pittsburgh (1912-24) in the starting rotation. He posted his first of nine campaigns with at least 15 wins, going 16-15 with a 2.13earned run average in 1914 and, after a dreadful following year, he bounced back to post a 12-11 record and a career-best 1.87 ERA. Relying on pinpoint control with his fastball, curve and changeup, Cooper won 17 or more games in eight consecutive seasons, amassed 20 or more four times, including a career-high 24 in 1920 and a league-best 22 the following year. He also was known as a quick worker, once starting a game that was completed in just 59 minutes (take that, pitch clock!).

While Cooper continued to churn out spectacular seasons, the Pirates began to rise in the standings. He was traded to the Cubs after the 1924 season, missing out on the team’s title the following year. Cooper is Pittsburgh’s all-time franchise leader in wins (202-159) and complete games (263, including a post-World War I team record 29 in 1921), and he ranks second in games started (369) and innings (3,199), third in strikeouts (1,191), fourth in shutouts (33) and sixth in games pitched (469) to go with a 2.74 ERA. Cooper spent one year with the Cubs and split 1926 between Chicago and Detroit before he was released. He went to the minor leagues, where he pitched for four seasons and managed for three more before retiring from baseball. Cooper worked in real estate and was still beloved by his major league town. In a city-wide poll in 1969, he was voted as the greatest pitcher in Pirates history. Cooper passed away after suffering a heart attack in 1973 at age 81.

Relief Pitchers

Dishonorable Mention – Felipe Vazquez was born as Felipe Rivero but changed his last name in 2018 to honor his sister, who he says played a big part of his baseball career. He signed with the Rays in 2008 and played in the MLB All-Star Futures Game four years later. Vazquez was traded to the Nationals in 2014 and was sent to the Pirates for another closer in the last two years. Known for a fastball that topped 100 miles per hour and an above-average changeup, he was a two-time All-Star who went 15-8 with a 2.17 earned run average, 306 strikeouts in 232 2/3 innings (11.8 per nine innings) and 86 saves, which ranks sixth in franchise history.

All of that was squandered thanks to several incidents in 2019. Vazquez was suspended for his role in a bench-clearing brawl, and he got in a fight, leading to a teammate breaking his finger, which required season-ending surgery. However, the worst by far was a late-season arrest stemming from an alleged sexual relationship he had with a minor in both Florida and Pennsylvania. The following year, Vazquez faced separate child pornography charges in Missouri, although he claims the girl presented an ID showing that she was at least 18. In 2021, he was convicted on 15 counts in Pennsylvania, 10 of which were related to sexual abuse of a minor. While he was still facing charges in both Missouri and Florida, Vazquez was sentenced to 2-4 years in Pennsylvania state prison. In 2023, he was denied appeal and was deported to his home country of Venezuela.

Honorable Mentions – Jose Mesa was best known for his time in Cleveland, where he was a two-time All-Star and a key member of two pennant-winning teams. “Señor Smoke” had a solid season in 2004, going 5-2 with a 3.25 earned run average and 43 saves, which ranks third in team history. He fell apart the following year, posting a 2-8 record with 27 saves while his ERA jumped by a run and a half. After ranking eighth in the Pittsburgh franchise with 70 saves, Mesa moved on to Colorado in 2006 and split the following season between Detroit and a second stint with Philadelphia. He finished his 19-year career with 321 saves and 1,022 games, and he is one of just 11 major leaguers to reach that mark.

Mike Williams – He was drafted by the Phillies and spent six years as a long reliever and spot starter. His most memorable moment came during a July 1993 marathon game. Despite giving up one run in six innings of relief, Williams was the winning pitcher when Philadelphia scored two runs off Los Angeles in the bottom of the 20th inning. After one season with the Royals, he signed with the Pirates and spent one season as in middle relief before being installed as the closer. Williams had at least 20 saves in each of the next five seasons, including 2002, when he made his first All-Star team after notching 46 saves, which ranks second in team history. He was named to the Midsummer Classic the following year with 25 saves despite his 6.14 earned run average being the highest ever by an All-Star. Williams was traded back to the Phillies late in the season, and he retired shortly after, finishing his Pirates career with a 15-23 record, a 3.78 ERA, 312 strikeouts in 321 2/3 innings and 140 saves, which ranks third in franchise history.

David Bednar was a late-round selection of the Padres in 2016 but, after spending nearly four years in the minors and struggling in two late-season call-ups, he was traded to his hometown Pirates in a three-team deal in 2021. After spending his first season as a setup man, Bednar has used four-seam and split-fingered fastballs, as well as a curve, to rack up saves in Pittsburgh. His best season to date was 2023, when he went 3-3 with a 2.00 earned run average, 80 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings and a league-leading 39 saves. Coming into the 2024 season, the two-time All-Star nicknamed “The Renegade” ranks tenth in franchise history with 61 saves, and he should have no problem moving up this list if he continues the performance he posted in his first three years with the Pirates (2021-present).

5. Joel Hanrahan was an Iowa native who was drafted in the second round by the Dodgers in 2000. He never pitched with Los Angeles and signed with Washington following six years in the minor leagues. After making 11 starts as a rookie in 2007, Hanrahan came out of the bullpen for the rest of his career. He was traded to the Pirates after struggling at the start of the 2009 season and impressed in 33 appearances. Using a stellar fastball, “The Hammer” excelled as a setup man, striking out 100 batters in just 69 2/3 innings in 2010 before taking over the closer role. He earned two straight All-Star selections and set a franchise record with 76 saves in 2011-12, including 40 in his first year at the back of the bullpen.

Hanrahan was traded to the Red Sox for another player on this list after his stellar two-year run but injuries soon derailed his promising career. He started the 2013 season with a hamstring injury then, after recording his 100th save in early May, he suffered a damaged flexor tendon in his right elbow that required Tommy John surgery. Hanrahan signed with the Tigers but missed all of the 2014 season. During rehab, doctors found a torn ulnar collateral ligament which needed another reconstructive surgery and led to his retirement late in 2016. In four years with the Pirates (2009-12), Hanrahan went 10-8 with a 2.59 earned run average, 265 strikeouts in 229 1/3 innings and 82 saves, which ranks seventh in franchise history. He has served as a minor league pitching coach with the Pirates and Nationals following his playing days.

4. Dave Giusti – The upstate New York native and Syracuse grad joined expansion Houston in 1962 and was primarily a starter over his six years with the Colt .45s/Astros franchise. Before the 1969 season, Giusti was acquired by the Cardinals, selected by the Padres in the expansion draft and traded back to St. Louis, where he spent one year before he was sent to Pittsburgh. Despite being upset that he would not be in the starting rotation for his new team, he was very effective in his role as a “closer” who could throw more than one inning. Giusti tallied 20 or more saves in his first four seasons with the Pirates, including a league-leading 30 in 1971. In the postseason, he threw 10 2/3 innings over seven scoreless appearances and notched three saves to help his team win the World Series.

After three straight snubs (including one by his own manager), Giusti finally was selected as an All-Star thanks to a 9-2 record, a 2.37 earned run average and 20 saves in 1973. Although he continued to pitch well, his stats began to drop thanks to elbow issues, and he was traded to Oakland. Giusti retired after splitting the 1977 season between the Athletics and Cubs, finishing his seven-year tenure with the Pirates (1970-76) with a 47-28 record, a 2.94 ERA, 410 games (eighth in franchise history) and 133 saves, which is fourth among Pittsburgh pitchers and was the National League record at the time of his retirement. Following his playing days, he was a salesman for an industrial fabrication company and corporate sales manager for American Express.

3. Mark Melancon – He was drafted by the Yankees in 2006 and played for the Astros and Red Sox before being traded to the Pirates for Hanrahan after the 2012 season. Melancon was a setup man and closer with his new team, making the All-Star team after posting a 1.39 earned run average and 16 saves in his first year with Pittsburgh. He earned a full-time spot at the back of the bullpen in 2014, notching 33 saves to go with a 1.90 ERA. Melancon was named an All-Star in each of the following two seasons, earning the Hoffman Reliever Award after leading the league and setting a franchise record with 51 saves in 2015. He added 30 more to go with a 1.51 ERA the next year before he was traded to the Nationals (for Vazquez).

In four seasons with the Pirates (2013-16), he went 10-10 with a 1.80 ERA, 241 strikeouts in 260 1/3 innings and 130 saves, which ranks fifth in team history. Melancon spent time with four other teams over the next six seasons and made the All-Star team in his only campaign with the Padres in 2021. He missed the entire 2023 season after suffering a shoulder spring in spring training with the Diamondbacks and is currently a free agent.

2. Kent Tekulve – The bespectacled hurler signed with the Pirates in 1969 and was converted to the bullpen on a full-time basis the following year. Tekulve joined the big-league club for good in 1975 and used his unorthodox submarine delivery to set up for Giusti, and later Goose Gossage, in the early part of his career. When Gossage signed with the Yankees, Tekulve became a workhorse closer, amassing 20 or more saves four times and leading the league in appearances on three occasions. He topped the N. L. in the category in 1978- (including a franchise-record 94 in 1979) and recorded 31 saves in each season. After three straight second-place finishes, the Pirates finally won the pennant, with Tekulve saving the clincher and adding three more in a victory over the Orioles in the World Series.

Following two seasons where he earned Cy Young Award consideration, Tekulve earned his first All-Star selection in 1980, but he was starting to have arm issues and his usually dominant sinker was not as effective. He had a resurgence in 1983, posting a 1.64 ERA and 18 saves, but he was traded to the Phillies less than two years later. Tekulve ranks second in franchise history in both games pitched (722) and saves (158), and he also has a 70-61 record and a 2.69 ERA. He continued to make plenty of appearances with Philadelphia, including a league-high 90 in 1987. Tekulve spent his final season with the Reds in 1989, ending his 16-year career with 1,050 appearances. Following his retirement, he was a broadcaster with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, worked as a scout for the Pirates and was the general manager and pitching coach for an independent team in Western Pennsylvania.

1. Roy Face – He came to the Pirates as a Rule 5 draft pick from the Dodgers in 1952, the same way the team would acquire superstar outfielder Roberto Clemente two years later. Face became the first great ace reliever during his heyday, and he and Hoyt Wilhelm went back and forth for the top spot in the games pitched and saves categories, with the future Hall of Famer eventually pulling away in both. Although he had a solid fastball and curveball, his career took off after he learned to throw the forkball in the minors, and he added a slider a few years into his major league career. Face converted to the bullpen in 1956 and led the league in games twice and saves three times over his 15 seasons with Pittsburgh (1953 and 55-68).

Face put together an all-time season in 1959. Coming into the campaign, he had won his last five decisions the year before and preceded to rattle off 17 more before taking the loss in the first game of a September doubleheader against Los Angeles. Face finished the year going 18-1, a single-season record for wins by a reliever, to go with a major league record .947 winning percentage and a 2.70 earned run average. The season marked the first of three straight in which he was named to both All-Star Games held by Major League Baseball. The following year, Face went 10-8 with a 2.90 ERA, 24 saves, and a league-best 68 appearances to help Pittsburgh win the pennant. Although he allowed six runs in 10 1/3 innings against the Yankees, he saved each of the Pirates’ first three victories before their thrilling Game 7 clincher.

Earning the nickname “Baron of the Bullpen” from a Pirates beat writer, Face led the league in saves in each of the next two years, including 1962, when he posted career-bests with 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA. His numbers ballooned over the next two years, and he fought through an injury-riddled 1965 season. Face had respectable showings in each of his final three seasons in Pittsburgh before being traded to Detroit in 1968. He is the all-time franchise leader in games (802) and saves (186) and ranks 18th in wins (100-93) to go with a 3.46 ERA and 842 strikeouts in 1,314 2/3 innings. After tying Walter Johnson’s record for most pitching appearances for one team (later broken by Trevor Hoffman), Face pitched just two games with the Tigers and spent his final season with the expansion Expos in 1969, retiring with 191 career saves. He followed the family tradition of working as a carpenter, doing so in between seasons and working full-time at Mayview State Hospital just outside of Pittsburgh until 1990 (the building was razed in 2013).

Upcoming Stories

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

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