Pirates' Top 5 right fielders: Berry's take

May 12th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … and don't forget to participate in the Twitter poll.

Pirates All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF

Here is Adam Berry’s ranking of the top 5 right fielders in Pirates history.

1) Roberto Clemente, 1955-72
Key fact: Hall of Famer and two-time World Series champion remains one of baseball’s most iconic figures

An icon on and off the field, stands behind only Honus Wagner on the list of the Pirates’ greatest players of all time. It’s almost impossible to overstate his long-lasting impact on the Pirates organization, his native Puerto Rico, the city of Pittsburgh and the game of baseball.

As a pioneering Latin American superstar, Clemente won two World Series, earned the 1966 National League MVP Award, took home 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and won four batting titles during his 18-year career in Pittsburgh.

He recorded exactly 3,000 hits as a career .317 batter, slugged 240 homers, drove in 1,305 runs and possessed an unbelievably strong and accurate throwing arm that allowed him to lead NL outfielders in assists five times. As legendary broadcaster Vin Scully once said, Clemente “could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.”

Clemente went 9-for-29 in the 1960 World Series and batted .414 with a pair of homers in the 1971 Fall Classic. He played in 14 World Series games and had at least one hit in all of them. As Roger Angell wrote during the ‘71 World Series, Clemente -- the Series MVP -- “played a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before … as if it were a form of punishment for everyone else on the field.”

He tragically died at the age of 38 on Dec. 31, 1972, when he was on board a plane of earthquake relief supplies bound for Nicaragua that crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Hall of Fame waived the typical five-year waiting period and inducted the renowned right fielder and humanitarian in 1973.

That year, Major League Baseball also renamed its Commissioner’s Award after Clemente. The Clemente Award is still presented annually to the player who best represents baseball -- and Clemente’s legacy -- through sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions on and off the field. He truly lived by these words: “Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.”

2) Paul Waner, 1926-40
Key fact: Hall of Famer and 1927 NL MVP ended 20-year career with 3,152 hits

Just how good a hitter was ? In his rookie year, he batted .336 with an MLB-leading 22 triples. In his sophomore season, he hit .380 with 18 triples and 131 RBIs and won the NL MVP Award. And that was only the beginning.

Yes, “Big Poison” is one of the finest all-around players in Pirates history, and he would undoubtedly be remembered as the Pirates’ best right fielder if not for the singular greatness of Clemente. In 15 years with Pittsburgh, the left-handed-hitting Waner batted .340/.407/.490 with 2,868 hits, 558 doubles and 1,177 RBIs while walking nearly three times as often as he struck out.

Waner went on to win two more batting titles in 1934 (.362) and ’36 (.373), and he finished second in the NL MVP voting in ’34. He hit .300 or better in 13 of his 15 seasons with the Pirates, and he was more than just a singles hitter despite his home run total of 109 in Pittsburgh. Waner twice led the NL in doubles, peaking at 62 in 1932, and twice led the Majors in triples as well.

He bounced around Brooklyn, Boston and New York to join the 3,000-hit club and finish a 20-year playing career that ended in 1945, and he was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 1952.

It’s difficult to compare players across different eras, but consider this: By the Wins Above Replacement metric, Waner (69.4, per Baseball Reference) ranks behind only Wagner (120.1) and Clemente (94.8) in Pirates history. The only thing missing from his résumé is a championship. Although he went 5-for-15 in his lone World Series appearance, the Pirates lost in four games to the 1927 “Murderers’ Row” Yankees.

3) Dave Parker, 1973-83
Key fact: 1978 NL MVP and ‘79 World Series champion was among the game’s best at his peak

The “Cobra” played and spoke with swagger, and his exploits were the stuff of legend.

There was the home run he hit in Charleston, W.V., that landed in a coal car on a passing train and resurfaced in Columbus, Ohio. There was the time he literally hit the cover off a ball. There was his record-breaking contract, the first in baseball history to pay $1 million per season. There were the amazing throws in the 1979 All-Star Game. There’s that amazing photo of him wearing the T-shirt that reads, “If you hear any noise, it’s just me and the boys boppin.” And there’s the well-known rhyme: “When the leaves turn brown, I’ll be wearing the batting crown.”

Faced with the burden of succeeding Clemente in right field, lived up to the hype. In 11 years with the Pirates, he hit .305/.353/.494 with 166 homers, 758 RBIs and 123 steals. He won the NL MVP in 1978, and he was nearly just as good in ’77 and ’79. During that time, the lefty-swinging slugger – listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds – was just as imposing as his frame might suggest.

He won that batting crown twice, in ’77 and ’78, and took home three straight Gold Glove Awards from ’77-79. He earned his first Gold Glove by racking up a remarkable 26 outfield assists. He was a key member of the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates, batting .341 in the postseason as the Bucs marched to World Series victory.

Parker petered out in Pittsburgh due to injuries, weight gain and his involvement in a drug scandal, a period that has likely affected his chances of entering the Hall of Fame, but he bounced back later in his career with the Reds, A’s and Brewers. Living with Parkinson's disease since 2012, Parker still has the swagger of a Hall of Famer, with the hardware to back it up.

“[I] did everything that I could do toward making the Hall of Fame. If I don’t make it, I doubt if I’ll do it again,” Parker said last year. “The numbers are there. I was reflected in baseball as one of the No. 1 players of my era. You can’t do no more.”

4) Kiki Cuyler, 1921-27
Key fact: Hall of Famer and 1925 World Series champion recorded 17.5 WAR in brief Pirates tenure

You might notice that the first three players on this list manned right field in Pittsburgh for a combined 44 of the Pirates’ 133 years in the National League. If only for that reason, there’s a noticeable drop-off in terms of career-long impact after the elite trio of Clemente, Waner and Parker.

But how about short-term impact and a big moment on the game’s biggest stage? That’s where comes in. He essentially played only 3 1/2 years in Pittsburgh, covering 512 games from 1924-27, but he was one of the NL’s best during that time, and he was in right field during his best season.

In 1924, Cuyler hit .354 with 85 RBIs and 32 steals in 117 games. In ’25, he batted .357 with 43 doubles, 26 triples, 18 home runs, 102 RBIs, 144 runs and 41 steals in 153 games – good for second in the NL MVP voting behind Rogers Hornsby.

He started all seven games of the 1925 World Series in right field and famously hit a tiebreaking double off Walter Johnson in the eighth inning of Game 7 to complete the Pirates’ comeback from a 3-1 Series deficit.

Along came Waner to take over in right field, and Cuyler – benched amid a dispute with management – didn’t even play during the 1927 World Series. He was traded that November to the Cubs, and he spent the next 7 1/2 years in Chicago. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968, 18 years after his death.

5) Patsy Donovan, 1892-99
Key fact: He ranks fourth in franchise history with 312 steals among his 518 career stolen bases

We put some more recent right fielders at other positions during this exercise – Orlando Merced at first base, Bobby Bonilla at third, etc. – so let’s go way back in Pirates history to round out this list. Patsy Donovan, born in Ireland, played exclusively in an era during which his home team’s city was federally recognized as Pittsburg, minus the “h.”

He was never the best player on his team, but he was a solid singles hitter – with a career .307 average and .354 on-base percentage for the Pirates – and to this day ranks behind only Max Carey, Honus Wagner and Omar Moreno in stolen bases for the Pirates. During his 17-year career, he also racked up 265 outfield assists.

Donovan twice served as player-manager for the Pirates, leading his team to a 60-71 record in 1897 and a superior 69-58 mark in 1899 before he was replaced by Fred Clarke. Donovan twice brushed with stardom during his post-playing days, however: He helped the Red Sox sign a young Babe Ruth in 1914, and he served as the high school coach of George H.W. Bush.