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1952 Pittsburgh Pirates season

1952Pittsburgh Pirates
Major league affiliations Location 1952 Information Owner(s) John W. GalbreathGeneral Manager(s) Branch RickeyManager(s) Billy MeyerLocal television none Local radio WWSW
Rosey Rowswell, Bob Prince

The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates season was the 71st season of the Pittsburgh Pirates 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.

Contents

Offseason and expectations

The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates were led by 70-year-old general manager Branch Rickey and 60-year-old manager Billy Meyer. Meyer 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.[1] Rickey voiced inconsistent levels of commitment to 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.[2]

Branch 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.[2]

A season to forget

The Pirates struggled for all of spring training in 1952.[3] Gus Bell missed training time due to family-related car problems and illness and was sent to the minor leagues.[2] 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.[4] Werle professed his innocence and was reinstated before Opening Day but he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals two weeks later.[5]

13 rookies made the Pirates' Opening Day roster including four teenagers, Bobby Del Greco, Tony Bartirome, Jim Waugh and Lee Walls.[2] 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.[6] The early two-game winning streak matched the longest they would see all year.[7] Their top three pitchers combined to win just one of their first nine games started.[8] 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.[9] 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.[9][10] 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.[9]

The second half soon resembled the first with a 2-11 stretch in mid-July.[6] They were mathematically eliminated from pennant contention on August 6 with more than six weeks left to play.[7] 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.[11] Necciai not only finished the season with poor numbers but also injured his arm and never again pitched in the majors.[9] Branch Rickey's youth movement, derided as "Operation Peach Fuzz", continued unabated.[8] On August 20, the average age of Pittsburgh's starting lineup was only 23 with Kiner and Garagiola being the only non-rookies.[11] On September 5, pitcher Bill Bell made his major league debut at age 18.[12] Including Bell, seven of the eight youngest players in the National League in 1952 were Pittsburgh Pirates.[13] "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.[8]

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.[9] Financially, Pittsburgh's attendance was the lowest since World War II, falling more than 30% short of the one million budgeted.[7] Branch Rickey sometimes saved money by sending only 21 players on road trips.[9] The final losses for the franchise, including minor leagues and bonuses, were $800,000.[7]

Billy Meyer resigned as manager on September 27, the second-to-last day of the season.[9]

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.[14][15] Since 1952, the only non-expansion team to finish worse has been the 2003 Detroit Tigers.[15]

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.[9] Dick Groat finished at .284 and was third in National League Rookie of the Year voting.[9][16] Joe Garagiola lodged 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.[9]

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.[9] 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.[7][9] 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.[9]

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 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.[9] 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."[3][9]

Regular season

Opening Day Starters

Season standings

National LeagueW L GB Pct. Brooklyn Dodgers96 57 -- .627 New York Giants92 62 4.5 .597 St. Louis Cardinals88 66 8.5 .571 Philadelphia Phillies87 67 9.5 .565 Chicago Cubs77 77 19.5 .500 Cincinnati Reds69 85 27.5 .448 Boston Braves64 89 32 .418 Pittsburgh Pirates42 112 54.5 .273

Roster

1952 Pittsburgh Pirates roster v • d • eRoster Pitchers Catchers

Infielders

Outfielders

Manager

Batting

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 Joe Garagiola118 344 94 .273 8 54 Tony Bartirome 124 355 78 .220 0 16 Jack Merson111 398 98 .246 5 38 Pete Castiglione 67 214 57 .266 4 18 Dick Groat95 384 109 .284 1 29 Ralph Kiner149 516 126 .244 37 87 Gus Bell131 468 117 .250 16 59 Bobby Del Greco99 341 74 .217 1 20

Other batters

Player G AB H Avg. HR RBI Catfish Metkovich125 373 101 .271 7 41 Clem Koshorek 98 322 84 .261 0 15 George Strickland76 232 41 .177 5 22 Clyde McCullough66 172 40 .233 1 15 Sonny Senerchia 29 100 22 .220 3 11 Brandy Davis55 95 17 .179 0 1 Dick Hall26 80 11 .138 0 2 Lee Walls32 80 15 .188 2 5 Ed Fitz Gerald51 73 17 .233 1 7 Dick Smith 29 66 7 .106 0 5 Johnny Berardino19 56 8 .143 0 4 Ted Beard 15 44 8 .182 0 3 Erv Dusak20 27 6 .222 1 3 Bill Howerton 13 25 8 .320 0 4 Frank Thomas6 21 2 .095 0 0 Jim Mangan11 13 2 .154 0 2 Jack Phillips1 1 0 .000 0 0

Starting pitchers

Player G IP W L ERA SO Murry Dickson43 277⅔ 14 21 3.57 112 Howie Pollet31 214 7 16 4.12 90 Bob Friend35 185 7 17 4.18 75 Cal Hogue 19 83⅔ 1 8 4.84 34 Ron Necciai12 54⅔ 1 6 7.08 31

Other pitchers

Player G IP W L ERA Jim Waugh 17 52⅓ 1 6 6.36 Joe Muir 12 35⅔ 2 3 6.31 Red Munger5 26⅓ 0 3 7.18 Harry Fisher 8 18⅓ 1 2 6.87 Bill Bell 4 15⅔ 0 1 4.60 Don Carlsen 5 10 0 1 10.80 Jim Suchecki5 10 0 0 5.40 Jim Dunn 3 5⅓ 0 0 3.38 Bill Werle5 4 0 0 9.00 Ed Wolfe 3 3⅔ 0 0 7.36 Mel Queen2 3⅓ 0 2 29.70

Player G W L SV ERA SO Ted Wilks44 5 5 4 3.61 24 Woody Main 48 2 12 2 4.46 79 Paul LaPalme 31 1 2 0 3.92 25 Ron Kline27 0 7 0 5.49 27

Notes

  1. ^ Finoli, p. 112.
  2. ^ a b c d Finoli, p. 113.
  3. ^ a b O'Toole, p. 66.
  4. ^ O'Toole, p. 64.
  5. ^ O'Toole, p. 64-65.
  6. ^ a b 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates Schedule, Box Scores and Splits from Retrosheet.
  7. ^ a b c d e O'Toole, p. 77.
  8. ^ a b c O'Toole, p. 67.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Finoli, p. 114.
  10. ^ O'Toole, p. 70.
  11. ^ a b O'Toole, p. 75.
  12. ^ Bill Bell from Baseball-Reference.com.
  13. ^ 1952 National League Expanded Leaderboards from Baseball-Reference.com.
  14. ^ Pittsburgh Pirates History & Encyclopedia from Baseball-Reference.com.
  15. ^ a b The (dis)honor roll from SI.com - by John Donovan.
  16. ^ 1952 National League Rookie of the Year Award from Baseball-Reference.com.

References

v • d • e1952 MLB seasonby team American League BostonChicagoClevelandDetroitNew YorkPhiladelphiaSt. LouisWashington
National League BostonBrooklynChicagoCincinnatiNew YorkPhiladelphia• Pittsburgh • St. Louis
1952 All-Star Game • 1952 World Series v • d • ePittsburgh PiratesBased in Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaThe FranchiseHistorySeasonsRecordsAwardsPlayersManagers and OwnersBroadcastersAll articlesBallparks Exposition ParkRecreation ParkExposition ParkForbes FieldThree Rivers StadiumPNC ParkCulture Pirate ParrotGreat Pierogi RaceLoreDrug ScandalWe Are FamilyImportant Figures Roberto ClementeWillie StargellMax CareyHonus WagnerFred ClarkeRalph KinerPie TraynorBob FriendPaul WanerLloyd WanerArky VaughanRoy FaceBill MazeroskiVern LawDick GroatAl OliverDave ParkerBarry BondsJason KendallJack WilsonJason BayFreddy SanchezRetired Numbers 1489112021334042Minors AAA: Indianapolis Indians• AA: Altoona Curve• A: Lynchburg HillcatsHickory CrawdadsState College Spikes• Rookie: Gulf Coast PiratesDominican LeagueWorld Series
Championships (5) 19091925196019711979League Pennants American Association: none • National League: 190119021903190919251927196019711979Division Titles Eastern: 197019711972197419751979199019911992• Central: none • Wild Card: none   Seasons (127) 1880s 1880 • 1882 • 188218831884188518861887188818891890s 18901891189218931894189518961897189818991900s 19001901190219031904190519061907190819091910s 19101911191219131914191519161917191819191920s 19201921192219231924192519261927192819291930s 19301931193219331934193519361937193819391940s 19401941194219431944194519461947194819491950s 19501951• 1952 • 19531954195519561957195819591960s 19601961196219631964196519661967196819691970s 19701971197219731974197519761977197819791980s 19801981198219831984198519861987198819891990s 19901991199219931994199519961997199819992000s 200020012002200320042005200620072008 Categories: Pittsburgh Pirates seasons | 1952 Major League Baseball season

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