1952 Pittsburgh Pirates season

1952 Pittsburgh Pirates
Major League affiliations
Location
Other information
Owner(s) John W. Galbreath (majority shareholder); Bing Crosby, Thomas Johnson, Branch Rickey (minority shareholders)
General manager(s) Branch Rickey
Manager(s) Billy Meyer
Local television none
Local radio WWSW
Rosey Rowswell, Bob Prince
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The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates season was the team's 71st season in Major League Baseball, and their 66th season in the National League. The Pirates posted a record of 42 wins and 112 losses, their worst record since 1890, and one of the worst in major league history.

Offseason

The Pirates were led in 1952 by 70-year-old general manager Branch Rickey and 60-year-old manager Billy Meyer. Meyer had led Pittsburgh to a last-place finish in the National League in 1950. After Rickey was installed as general manager, the Pirates were second-to-last in 1951. Tension was high as the two-year contract of their star slugger, Ralph Kiner, expired before the 1952 season. Kiner was the premier power hitter in baseball, having won the previous six National League home run titles.[2] Rickey voiced what he viewed as inconsistent levels of commitment by Kiner when talking to the media. Kiner received permission to instead negotiate directly with owner John W. Galbreath and agreed to a reported one-year, $90,000 contract, making him the highest-paid player in the National League. Kiner was signed, but the most famous Pirate of all, 78-year-old Hall of Fame member Honus Wagner, decided to retire from his part-time coaching duties with the team. His number was retired, and he was given a lifetime pass to Forbes Field.[3]

Rickey wanted to hold a tryout for dozens of kids from the low minor league levels, and his plan was largely supported by Bing Crosby and the rest of the team's ownership. Rickey hired his former scout and coach Clyde Sukeforth, who had scouted Jackie Robinson for Rickey in the 1940s. Several top young prospects, like Vern Law and Danny O'Connell, were called to military service for the Korean War, and the more experienced Danny Murtaugh retired to accept a minor league managing position. Expectations were high for 23-year-old outfielder Gus Bell to support Kiner in the lineup. Murry Dickson, who had won 21 games in 1951, nearly a third of the entire team's win total, was once again expected to be the anchor of the pitching rotation.[3]

Notable transactions

Regular season

Season summary

A season to forget

The Pirates struggled throughout spring training in 1952.[5] Gus Bell missed training time due to family-related car problems and illness and was sent to the minor leagues.[3] Towards the end of spring training, pitcher Bill Werle was suspended indefinitely and fined $500, only the third player fined in over two decades of Billy Meyer's managing career.[6] Werle professed his innocence and was reinstated before Opening Day but he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals two weeks later.[7]

Thirteen rookies made the Pirates' Opening Day roster, including four teenagers: Bobby Del Greco, Tony Bartirome, Jim Waugh and Lee Walls.[3] After four games, Pittsburgh's record was 2–2 but they quickly tumbled to the bottom of the majors by losing 16 of their next 17 games.[8] The early two-game winning streak matched the longest they would see all year.[9] Their top three pitchers combined to win just one of their first nine games started.[10] Kiner's hitting was affected by the lack of support as well as back problems and his batting average was under .220 several weeks into the season. Kiner's difficulties and a club earned run average over five resulted in a 5–28 record in mid-May.[11] Gus Bell returned from the minors on May 12 and hit for some power but Kiner hit only .241 with 13 home runs and 31 RBIs in the first half which ended with Pittsburgh at 21–59.[11][12] 21-year-old Dick Groat was one of the Pirates' few bright spots in the first half with four hits in his first three games, but others went into long slumps like Jack Merson's 0-for-35, Clyde McCullough's 0-for-24 and Tony Bartirome's 0-for-29.[11]

The second half soon resembled the first with a 2–11 stretch in mid-July.[8] They were mathematically eliminated from pennant contention on August 6 with more than six weeks left to play.[9] In early August, Pittsburgh called up 20-year-old pitcher Ron Necciai from the minors. Necciai had pitched a legendary 27-strikeout game in the minors but gave up five runs in his first inning in the majors.[13] Necciai not only finished the season with poor numbers but also injured his arm and never again pitched in the majors.[11] Branch Rickey's youth movement, derided as "Operation Peach Fuzz", continued unabated.[10] On August 20, the average age of Pittsburgh's starting lineup was only 23 with Kiner and Garagiola being the only non-rookies.[13] On September 5, pitcher Bill Bell made his major league debut at age 18.[14] Including Bell, seven of the eight youngest players in the National League in 1952 were Pittsburgh Pirates.[15] "Rickey's Dinks", as they were sometimes called, were not only young but small. In one game, the entire infield was less than six feet tall.[10]

The Pirates difficulties reached off the field as well. Ralph Kiner, enduring his worst season to-date, received a death threat in an attempt to extort $6,200. Rather than pay, he contacted the authorities and was kept under guard for a time.[11] Financially, Pittsburgh's attendance was the lowest since World War II, falling more than 30% short of the one million budgeted.[9] Branch Rickey sometimes saved money by sending only 21 players on road trips.[11] The final losses for the franchise, including minor leagues and bonuses, were $800,000.[9]

Billy Meyer resigned as manager on September 27, the second-to-last day of the season.[11]

Final results

When the season mercifully ended, Pittsburgh's final record was 42–112. The winning percentage and number of losses were the worst for the franchise since the 1890 season (which was greatly affected by the inclusion of the Players' League) and the worst for any franchise since the 1935 Boston Braves.[16][17] Since 1952, the only non-expansion team to finish worse has been the 2003 Detroit Tigers.[17]

A few individuals came away with positive notes. A late-season home run surge by Ralph Kiner brought him his seventh consecutive home run championship (he finished tied with Hank Sauer with 37 on the year). It was also his last.[11] Dick Groat finished at .284 and was third in National League Rookie of the Year voting.[11][18] Joe Garagiola logged the most playing time of his career and hit .273 with a career-high 54 RBIs, third most on the team behind only Kiner and Gus Bell.[11]

On the flipside, teenagers Tony Bartirome and Bobby Del Greco were regulars but neither hit over .220. Seven other players had at least 40 at-bats but hit under .200.[11] Kiner's home run total (37) was more than the next four highest on the team combined (16, 8, 7, 5). As a team, Pittsburgh was last in the National League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, batting average, slugging percentage, complete games, ERA, walks allowed, home runs allowed, fielding percentage and errors committed.[9][11] Murry Dickson, who won 21 games in 1951, lost 20 games in 1952, going 14–20. Only three other pitchers won more than two games.[11] The pitching staff walked 615 opposing batters while striking out only 564, with 16 different players starting a game during the season.[19]

Among their young players, only Jim Waugh – the youngest – played in the majors again before 1955. Waugh played in 1953, his last year; Ron Necciai and Tony Bartirome never played in the majors after 1952; Bill Bell pitched one inning in 1955, his last; and Bobby Del Greco, Lee Walls and Ron Kline had longer careers but not until several years later. Dick Groat and pitcher Bob Friend were the only players to endure the 1952 season who also played with the 1960 World Series champion Pirates.

Anecdotes, etc.

The failure of the 1952 Pirates was the source of several anecdotes and side-stories. Pittsburgh Press writer Len Biederman recalled an earlier humorous practice by giving Dick Groat a dime while he was in an 0-for-19 slump. When Groat broke out of the slump with a 5-for-5 game, Biederman gave Kiner a quarter with similar positive results so Biederman continued giving coins to various Pirates.[11] Joe Garagiola, the regular catcher for the 1952 Pirates, frequently used the team's struggles in his later career as a baseball sportscaster with lines like, "They talk about Pearl Harbor being something; they should have seen the 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates" and "In an eight-team league, we should've finished ninth."[5][11]

Season standings

National League W L Pct. GB Home Road
Brooklyn Dodgers 9657 0.627 45–33 51–24
New York Giants 9262 0.597 50–27 42–35
St. Louis Cardinals 8866 0.571 48–29 40–37
Philadelphia Phillies 8767 0.565 47–29 40–38
Chicago Cubs 7777 0.500 19½ 42–35 35–42
Cincinnati Reds 6985 0.448 27½ 38–39 31–46
Boston Braves 6489 0.418 32 31–45 33–44
Pittsburgh Pirates 42112 0.273 54½ 23–54 19–58

Record vs. opponents

1952 National League Records

Sources:

Team BOS BR CHC CIN NYG PHI PIT STL
Boston 3–18–112–109–139–139–1315–7–17–15
Brooklyn 18–3–113–9–117–58–1410–1219–311–11
Chicago 10–129–13–113–910–1210–1214–811–11
Cincinnati 13–95–179–136–1610–1216–610–12
New York 13–914–812–1016–610–1215–712–10
Philadelphia 13–912–1012–1012–1012–1016–610–12
Pittsburgh 7–15–13–198–146–167–156–165–17
St. Louis 15–711–1111–1112–1010–1212–1017–5

Game log

1952 Game Log: 42–112 (Home: 23–54; Away: 19–58)
Legend:           = Win           = Loss           = Tie
Bold = Pirates team member

Opening Day lineup

Opening Day Starters
April 15, 1952 @St. Louis
Position Player
PMurry Dickson
CClyde McCullough
1BCatfish Metkovich
2BJack Merson
3BDick Hall
SSClem Koshorek
LFRalph Kiner
CFTed Beard
RFGus Bell

Notable transactions

Roster

1952 Pittsburgh Pirates
Roster
Pitchers Catchers

Infielders

Outfielders Manager

Coaches

Player stats

Batting

Starters by position

Note: Pos = Position; G = Games played; AB = At bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting average; HR = Home runs; RBI = Runs batted in

Pos Player G AB H Avg. HR RBI
CJoe Garagiola11834494.273854
1BTony Bartirome12435578.220016
2BJack Merson11139898.246538
3BPete Castiglione6721457.266418
SSDick Groat95384109.284129
OFRalph Kiner149516126.2443787
OFGus Bell131468117.2501659
OFBobby Del Greco9934174.217120

Other batters

Note: G = Games played; AB = At bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting average; HR = Home runs; RBI = Runs batted in

Player G AB H Avg. HR RBI
Catfish Metkovich125373101.271741
Clem Koshorek9832284.261015
George Strickland7623241.177522
Clyde McCullough6617240.233115
Sonny Senerchia2910022.220311
Brandy Davis559517.17901
Dick Hall268011.13802
Lee Walls328015.18825
Ed Fitz Gerald517317.23317
Dick Smith29667.10605
Johnny Berardino19568.14304
Ted Beard15448.18203
Erv Dusak20276.22213
Bill Howerton13258.32004
Frank Thomas6212.09500
Jim Mangan11132.15402
Jack Phillips110.00000

Pitching

Starting pitchers

Note: G = Games pitched; IP = Innings pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; ERA = Earned run average; SO = Strikeouts

Player G IP W L ERA SO
Murry Dickson43277.214213.57112
Howie Pollet312147164.1290
Ron Necciai1254.2167.0831
Red Munger526.1037.188
Mel Queen23.10229.703

Other pitchers

Note: G = Games pitched; IP = Innings pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; ERA = Earned run average; SO = Strikeouts

Player G IP W L ERA SO
Bob Friend351857174.1875
Woody Main48153.12124.4679
Cal Hogue1983.2184.8434
Ron Kline2778.2075.4927
Jim Waugh1752.1166.3618
Joe Muir1235.2236.3117
Harry Fisher818.1126.875
Bill Bell415.2014.604
Don Carlsen5100110.802

Relief pitchers

Note: G = Games pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; SV = Saves; ERA = Earned run average; SO = Strikeouts

Player G W L SV ERA SO
Ted Wilks445543.6124
Paul LaPalme311203.9225
Jim Suchecki50005.406
Jim Dunn30003.382
Bill Werle50009.001
Ed Wolfe30007.361

Farm system

Level Team League Manager
Open Hollywood Stars Pacific Coast League Fred Haney
AA New Orleans Pelicans Southern Association Danny Murtaugh
A Charleston Rebels Sally League Frank Oceak
A Denver Bears Western League Andy Cohen
B Waco Pirates Big State League Tedd Gullic
B Burlington-Graham Pirates Carolina League Jerry Gardner
C Modesto Reds California League Buck Elliott and Clint Cameron
C Billings Mustangs Pioneer League Cliff Dapper
C St. Jean Canadiens Provincial League Gordon Maltzberger
C Hutchinson Elks Western Association Wes Griffin
D Bristol Twins Appalachian League George Detore
D Brunswick Pirates Georgia–Florida League Mickey O'Neil
D Bartlesville/Pittsburg Pirates Kansas–Oklahoma–Missouri League Hersh Martin and Ed Hayes
D Mayfield Clothiers KITTY League Frank Barrett
D Batavia Clippers PONY League George Genovese

LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: Hollywood, Denver

Bartlesville franchise transferred to Pittsburg (Kansas), July 7, 1952

See also

Notes

  1. From 1882–1906, the team played in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, which became annexed by Pittsburgh as the North Shore in 1907.
  2. Finoli, p. 112.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Finoli, p. 113.
  4. Sonny Senerchia at Baseball Reference
  5. 1 2 O'Toole, p. 66.
  6. O'Toole, p. 64.
  7. O'Toole, p. 64-65.
  8. 1 2 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates Schedule, Box Scores and Splits from Retrosheet.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 O'Toole, p. 77.
  10. 1 2 3 O'Toole, p. 67.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Finoli, p. 114.
  12. O'Toole, p. 70.
  13. 1 2 O'Toole, p. 75.
  14. Bill Bell from Baseball-Reference.com.com.
  15. 1952 National League Expanded Leaderboards from Baseball-Reference.com.com.
  16. Pittsburgh Pirates History & Encyclopedia from Baseball-Reference.com.com.
  17. 1 2 The (dis)honor roll from SI.com – by John Donovan.
  18. 1952 National League Rookie of the Year Award from Baseball-Reference.com.com.
  19. Hollingsworth, Harry (1994). The Best & Worst Baseball Teams of All Time: From the '16 A's to the '27 Yanks to the Present!. United States: SPI Books. p. 190. ISBN 1561713082.
  20. Bill Howerton at Baseball Reference
  21. Dick Groat at Baseball Reference

References

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