Saturday, October 21, 2017
Mr. Hard Luck Pitcher
TRIVIA QUESTION: What key pitcher did the Angels trade to get Don Mincher, Jimmie Hall and Pete Cimino from the Twins?
ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: John Kennedy has a 12 year career in the big leagues but only played in the post season twice. He was the Dodgers defensive third baseman in 1965 and 1966, facing the Twins and the Orioles in the World Series.
You've heard the expression "you have to be good to lose 20 games?" Well in 1967 the Angels' George Brunet was so good he lost 19. When it comes to hard luck pitchers, Brunet had probably the hardest luck season ever and it was for a team which was fighting for a pennant nearly all year. He was the guy most responsible for keeping them there.
The season started out reasonably. The lefty Brunet started the season opener against the Detroit Tigers, facing Denny McLain. Brunet pitched a three-hitter, going the distance and the Angels won 4-2. He walked two, struck out nine and the only Tigers to get a hit were Jim Northrup, Gates Brown and Dick McAuliffe. A single, a double and Swingin' Brown hit a home run.
The Angels backed him with 10 hits, three each from Jim Fregosi and Don Mincher who also homered. McLain lasted all of four innings. Mincher was the team slugger finishing with 25 homers on the season.
From there it went downhill fast. Brunet continued to pitch well. By seasons end however, he was 11-19 but heartbreak went with every one of those losses. In 37 starts the Angels scored a total of 84 runs, or 2.27 runs per game. In seven of those games the team backed him with only one run and three times they were shut out. His 3.31 ERA and 1.17 WHIP were amazing, and considering he pitched 250 innings while only giving up 203 hits and 19 home runs, Brunet should have won 20 easily.
Brunet by this time was 32 years old and had been in the big leagues since 1956 when he came up with Kansas City. It was only the second time he'd won in double figures, achieving the task the previous year, winning 13 of 26 decisions for California.
The year 1967 was extremely difficult. They were in it until the end finishing 84-77, seven and a half back of the Red Sox in fifth place. Brunet pitched the final game of the season in relief and picked up a save. Both Ricky Clark and Jim McGlothlin (other starters) both won 12 games and finished over .500, Minnie Rojas saved 27 and pitched more than 120 innings in relief. Brunet was the main guy though and despite the devastation of 1967, he came back in 1968 to pitch even better.
1968 was the year of the pitcher and Brunet lowered his WHIP to 1.05, his ERA was at 3.38, gave up less hits per inning walked fewer batters (68 in 245 innings) and at age 33 had perhaps his finest season finishing 13-17, still under .500.
He never won in double figures again, pitching three more seasons mostly in relief. In 1971 at age 36 he pitched his final seven games with St. Louis. He finished 0-1. His record of 69-93 belies the fact that in 1968 his 13 wins with the Angels were 13 of the teams 67 victories as they finished one notch above bottom dwelling Washington.
If there was ever a more hard luck pitcher than George Brunet, you'd be hard pressed to find one.
Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.