From on-deck to down-ballot: A history of PA ballplayers-turned-politicos

Meet the baseball players who executed the shift to politics

Pittsburgh Pirates Jim Rooker pitches against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series.

Pittsburgh Pirates Jim Rooker pitches against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series. Bettmann/Getty Images

We’re all for insider baseball here at City & State, but this is a whole new ballgame. 

As the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates get ready for Opening Day, there’s no better time to look back at the commonwealth’s rich history in America’s pastime – and the politicos who double-dipped in the field. 

Here are some of Pennsylvania’s most notable baseball players-turned-politicians. From five-tool outfielders to five-term lawmakers, they’ve got our vote as all-star double threats. 

John K. Tener

25th Governor of Pennsylvania

Right-handed pitcher and outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Stockings and Pittsburgh Burghers

Stat lines: Born 1863- Died 1946, 25-31 W-L Record; 4.3 ERA, 174 Strikeouts, 

Republican, U.S. Rep. 1909-1911, PA Gov. 1911-1915

John K. Tener
Photo credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

Any story exploring the link between politics and baseball has to mention John K. Tener. Tener, who was born in what is now Northern Ireland, moved to Pittsburgh in 1872. He went on to play professional baseball at the minor league and major league levels, playing in a single game for the Baltimore Orioles in 1885. A pitcher and outfielder, Tener’s career included stints with the Chicago White Stockings, now known as the Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Burghers – arguably the best team name other than the “Steagles.”

Following his time on the diamond, Tener turned to public office. A Republican, Tener was elected to U.S. Congress in 1908 and then successfully ran for governor in 1910. 

Honus Wagner

Shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Candidate for Allegheny County Sheriff

Stat lines: Born 1874- Died 1955, .329 BA, 3,430 hits, 101 HRs, 1,732 RBIs, 722 stolen bases, 8x NL Batting Champion, 5x RBI leader, 5x stolen bases leader, 

Republican candidate for Allegheny County Sheriff, 1928

Honus Wagner
Photo credit: Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

There are plenty of ways to describe Honus Wagner: famous Pirate, greatest shortstop of all time and most valuable baseball card of all time. But there is one thing Wagner could not add to his resume: an election win. 

Wagner, born in Carnegie, played 21 seasons for the Pirates and is regarded as one of the best hitters and baserunners in the history of the sport. But few know that Wagner ran for Allegheny County Sheriff in 1925, only to come up against one thing he couldn’t outrun – presidential politics in Pennsylvania. A coalition of GOP leaders, led by Andrew Mellon, created a “unity ticket” in an effort to ensure Calvin Coolidge’s tax plan got support – that machine left the station without Wagner. 

Wagner was eventually named a deputy sheriff and later accepted a post as sergeant-at-arms of the state legislature. 

Bill Mazeroski

Second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Candidate for Westmoreland County Commissioner

Stat lines: Age 87, .260 BA, 2,016 hits, 138 HRs, 853 RBIs, 10x All-Star, 8x Gold Glove Award winner, 2x WS Champ 

Democratic candidate for Westmoreland County Commissioner, 1987

Bill Mazeroski
Photo credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Apparently, the Pirates have more of a political connection than the Harrisburg Senators. Nicknamed “Maz” or “the Glove,” Bill Mazeroski played for the Pirates from 1956 to 1972, winning two World Series titles, eight Gold Glove Awards and hitting one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. 

In 1987, after his playing days, Mazeroski ran for the Democratic nomination for Westmoreland County Commissioner. Mazeroski, who ran alongside incumbent Ted Simon, ultimately finished second and came up short in the primary race.

Jim Rooker

Right-handed pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates

Candidate for the Pennsylvania and U.S. House of Representatives

Stat lines: Age: 81, 103-109 W-L Record, 3.46 ERA, 976 SOs, 1979 WS Champ

Republican candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, 1996, Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives

Jim Rooker
Photo credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

A southpaw pitcher originally from Oregon, Jim Rooker made a name for himself as a player and broadcaster before attempting to move into politics. Rooker, who had a 3.46 earned run average over his 13-year career, spent his last few seasons in Pittsburgh – where he enjoyed his best seasons and was a member of the 1979 World Series champs. 

Rooker set his sights on other sectors once out of the game, not only running for public office but also training dogs, operating a Steel City-based restaurant and writing children’s literature. His political journey didn’t gain much traction, however, as he lost his bids for both the state and the U.S. House.