Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Vintage Fridays: George Brunet, 1964 Topps #322

There are three Birdland Birthdays being celebrated today. The first two are Lenn Sakata (58 years old) and the late Mark Belanger (would have been 68). The third player, born 77 years ago today, might be the most interesting pitcher that you never knew. George Brunet was an Oriole for 16 unremarkable relief appearances in late 1963, but that's only scratching the surface of his story.

George Brunet, a native of Houghton, MI, began his pro career as a teenager with the independent Shelby (NC) Clippers in 1953. Two years later he signed with the Kansas City Athletics, the first of nine major league organizations to employ him. He didn't have an easy road to the big leagues: despite debuting with the A's at age 21 in 1956, he bounced up and down for a decade before the Angels finally gave him a full season in 1965 to show them what he could do. In the meantime, he pitched in fabulous locales such as Seminole, OK; Alexandria, LA; Hot Springs, AR; Crowley, LA; Abilene, TX; and Columbia, SC. There were also stops in Little Rock, Portland, Louisville, Vancouver, Oklahoma City, Honolulu (OK, that probably wasn't too bad), Rochester, and Eugene, OR. It makes me tired just to type it all out. Little Rock may have been George's least favorite destination: while pitching for the Travelers (then the AA affiliate of the Athletics) in 1957, the southpaw pitched 52.3 consecutive innings without receiving a single run of support from his team's hitters. The drought lasted from June 21 to August 3 and it helps explain how the Southern Association's leading strikeout pitcher (235K in 213 IP) went 14-15 with a 3.42 ERA!

Brunet's aforementioned 1965 season with the Angels was the best of his career. At age 30, he whiffed 141 batters in 197 innings over 41 games (26 starts). Despite a 9-11 record, his earned run average was a career-low and team-best 2.56, and he also paced the team with a 1.1 WHIP and 131 ERA+. That was enough to keep him with the Halos for four full seasons and parts of two more, representing the closest thing to stability that George would find in his career in the U.S. Yet he couldn't shake his tough luck, leading the American League in losses in both 1967 and 1968 despite ERAs of 3.31 and 2.86, respectively. He had a 3.13 ERA overall in 194 games for California, but just a 54-69 won-lost record.

In addition to the A's, O's, and Angels, George also wore the big-league uniforms of the Braves, Colt .45s, Pilots, Senators (Mark II), Pirates, and Cardinals. Former Seattle teammate Jim Bouton claimed that Brunet admitted to never wearing underwear because he didn't want to worry about losing it. Despite his travels, the lefty never appeared in a postseason game in the majors. He was a September pickup for the NL East-winning Pirates in 1970, but was ineligible for the playoffs due to his late acquisition. After throwing his last big league pitch for St. Louis in 1971, Brunet continued to ply his trade in AAA until 1973. Records are incomplete, but he is believed to hold a minor league record with 3,175 career strikeouts.

But the then-38-year-old didn't call it quits in 1973. At the suggestion of former shortstop Chico Carrasquel, he took his equipment south of the border and continued pitching in the Mexican League up through the 1980s! Add it all up and George Brunet logged 37 years as an active professional athlete. He was 54 when he made his last game appearance on the mound - 5 years older than Jamie Moyer is now, incidentally. His 55 career shutouts were a Mexican League record. He stayed in Mexico and helped teach the game to younger men and children up until a heart attack brought his life to a premature end on October 25, 1991. He was posthumously elected to the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Here's to George Brunet, who proved that age is just a number.


Rounding Thirty 3rd said...

Great stuff, Kevin! Thanks for researching and sharing - really amazing career.

Kevin said...

Thanks Tim! I'm sure George Brunet is giving Jamie Moyer something to shoot for.