This article contains minor spoilers for Tuesday night’s episode of This is Us.
The NBC drama This Is Us has long established, through various different time periods, that the Pearson family are big fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. Multiple episodes of the show have depicting the family watching the Steelers through the years, including times when they have won the Super Bowl.
On Tuesday night’s new episode of the series, as previewed on NBC’s website, we see a rare reference to a different Pittsburgh sports team, the Pirates. The episode contains a flashback to 1992, with a young Kevin insisting on going to an autograph signing being held by then-Pirates pitcher John Smiley. Kevin especially wanted to go to meet Smiley, because he had heard rumors that the pitcher was going to be traded to the Minnesota Twins.
In the scene, Kevin does indeed meet Smiley, who is played by actor Troy Doherty. Kevin, it turned out, had even studied Smiley’s baseball cards, and discovered information about the pitcher’s hobbies.
Smiley, per Baseball Reference, was indeed traded from the Pirates to the Twins on March 17, 1992, with the Pirates acquiring pitcher Denny Neagle and outfielder Midre Cummings from Minnesota. Neagle would go on to have a 13-year major league career, while Cummings played 11 years with a variety of teams.
While the show got a lot of the details right, it doesn’t appear the rumors of Smiley going to Minnesota were so heavy that a kid who was a Pirates fan would have heard about them, much less mentioned it to Smiley at an autograph signing.
“I’m surprised and shocked by it,” Smiley was quoted as saying by Deseret News the day after the trade. “I had no idea this was coming. I had no desire to leave Pittsburgh. This is the only organization I’ve ever known. I’m very disappointed. I’m going to miss these guys.”
In addition, Smiley was 27 at the time of the trade, and the actor playing him appears to be in his early 20s.
When the Pirates were a contending team in the early 1990s, led by Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, lefthander Smiley was their pitching ace, winning a career-high 20 games in 1991, his final year with Pittsburgh. After Smiley was traded to the Twins, who had won the World Series in 1991, he won 16 games and with a 3.21 earned run average, in what turned out to be his only year in Minnesota.
John Smiley pitched a total of 13 years in the major leagues, winning 126 games and posting a 3.80 career ERA with the Pirates, Twins, Cincinnati Reds, and Cleveland Indians.