1971 Pirates Profiles- Catcher Milt May #29.
Milt May- the youngest Pittsburgh Pirate at the age of 20 is a second generation major league ballplayer his father former Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Merrill ‘Pinky’ May played for Philadelphia 1939-43 and was a baseball lifer- managing 27 seasons in the minor leagues. Pinky May didn’t get his nickname for having any communist sympathies- but due to his temper [In football Oakland Raiders players would call their coach John Madden ‘Pinky’ too because when he got mad his face would turn red.]
- Drafted in the 11th round of the MLB Draft in 1968 as an infield- the Pirates converted him to catcher and he quickly adjusted to the new position- debuting with the Pirates in late 1970 at the age of 19. He made the team coming out of spring training in 1971 as the back -up to Manny Sanguillen.
- Milt May was considered possibly the slowest runner in the major leagues during his playing days. In the 15 years he played in the majors he only stole 4 bases. Sanguillen the starting catcher ran well for a catcher.
- 6’0′ 190 pounds. Hit left threw right. His batting stance reminded you a little of Carl Yastrzemski’s with the hands held up high.
- With Manny Sanguillen getting the bulk of the starts during the season as the starter- Milt May started 31 games behind the plate- he’d average a start a week. When he played he did well hitting 6 home runs 25 RBI’s with a .278 average. 35 hits in 137 at bats. His rookie season though would be defined in the post-season.
- In Game 4 of the World Series- the first ever night game World Series- the Pirates fell behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning- and two rookies came to the rescue. With 2 outs in the first starter Luke Walker was taken out and replaced by rookie pitcher Bruce Kison who would go 6.1 innings and give up only 1 hit. In the bottom of the 7th inning with 2 outs and runners on first and third- Kison was pinch-hit for by Milt May who singled to right-center field scoring Bob Robertson and giving the Pirates a 4-3 lead- a lead they held on to. May drove in the winning run.
- After 1971- May would spend two more seasons with the Pirates as Sanguillen’s back up. He didn’t play much more in 1972 but his playing time increased a little in 1973 due to the death of The Great One- Roberto Clemente. With Clemente’s untimely death the Pirate management decided to move Sanguillen to right field as his replacement with May taking over behind the plate. Ultimately it didn’t work out- Sanguillen wasn’t comfortable in right field and would eventually be back behind the plate after playing 59 games in right field.
- May was back to being a valuable back up but other teams knew he could play and in the off-season the Pirates traded May for much needed pitching- acquiring left handed pitcher Jerry Reuss from the Houston Astros. Reuss had won 16 games in 1973 for the Astros. The Pirates got the better end of that trade with Reuss being one of their better starting pitchers for a few years. May was a solid starter for the Astros for two years before being traded to Detroit. In his first year in Detroit- six games into the season he broke his ankle and missed the rest of the season. From Detroit May then moved on to the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants- and at the end of his career- the Pirates in August 1983 traded their back up catcher Steve Nicosia to the Giants- for May -who finished his career where he started it in Pittsburgh.
- Milt May had a very solid career-77 home runs, 443 RBI’s a career .263 batting average over 15 seasons. He was 34 years old when his career ended.
- May excelled at things on the field that didn’t show up in the box scores- he was a strong defensive catcher who was known as a good handler of pitchers. He was a smart player- played the game as it should be played, didn’t swing at bad pitches. As the Hall of Famer Duke Snider said of May “He knows how to play the game, and he will do anything he can to win.”
- After his playing career he became a coach under manager Jim Leyland with the Pirates from 1987-96, and followed Leyland to Florida in 1997 and got another World Series ring when the Marlins won the World Series. He would also coach briefly with Tampa Bay before finishing out his coaching career again with Jim Leyland in Colorado in 1999. He did make an unusual coaching move he had been the hitting coach for the Marlins- when he went to Colorado he was the teams pitching coach. Milt was a minor league coach for the Baltimore Orioles organization from 2010-2019. He is now 70 years old -the youngest of the 1971 Pirates.