George Brunet—All-Time Minor-League Strikeout King, an Enigma and more (Part I)

George Brunet

George Brunet became a hero to a 10-year old Santurce Crabbers fan, 1964-65 Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL) season. The fan was the author, who idolized 37-year old RHP  Rubén Gómez and 27-year old LHP Juan “Terín” Pizarro, Crabbers mainstays. Mound Imports Fred Talbot, Phil Ortega, Jim Dickson, Manly Johnston contributed to the Crabbers, as did 29-year old LHP George Brunet, who pitched 12 summer seasons and six winter campaigns in four different countries before pitching with Santurce in the above season mentioned. So, who was George Brunet?

For starters, he won at least 421 professional games but lost 440 for a .489 PCT. He is the all-time strikeout king of minor-league baseball, with 3,175, just as Nolan Ryan is MLB’s top K artist, with 5,714 career strikeouts. Coincidentally, Rubén Gómez and Juan Pizarro won over 400 professional games. So, the 1964-65 Crabbers are the only Winter League team with a trio of hurlers who posted over 400 professional career wins, per Table I.

Table I: George Brunet Pro Career W-L versus Rubén Gómez and Juan Pizarro

League(s)George BrunetRubén GómezJuan Pizarro
MLB69-9376-86131-105
Minors (U.S. Canada, Mexico)243-24088-57104-47
Panamá (Winter)5-4DNPDNP
Puerto Rico (PRWL)14-19174-119157-110
Mexican Pacific League (Winter)60-54DNPDNP
LIDOM (DR) and Venezuela (VZA)6-8 LIDOM 12-13 VZA8-3 DR 1-0 VZADNP
Semi-Pro (Quebec)DNP27-5DNP
Regular Season409-431374-270392-262
Post-Season and All-Star Games   
World SeriesDNP1-00-0
Caribbean Series4-46-24-2
Inter-American Series#0-1Utility^2-0#
PRWL All-Star GameNA1-0#1-0#
PRWL Semi-Finals1-210-58-2#
PRWL Finals3-211-37-2#
DR and VZA post-season4-0 (VZA)3-3 (DR) 2-1 (VZA)DNP
Post-Season12-934-1422-6
Grand Total421-440408-284414-268

#Partial records for Pizarro. Exclude 1961 and 1964 InterAmerican Series, reinforcing San Juan, plus some semi-final and final series W-L decisions. ^Gómez was on Santurce’s 1961-62 roster but did not pitch. DR: Dominican Republic. Gómez’s SABR bio by the author is at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ruben-gomez/  DNP: Did not participate. Multiple sources.

He began pitching professionally in 1953, post-Calumet [Michigan] High School. (Calumet was the high school George Gipp—future Notre Dame star running back for Knute Rockne’s 1918-1920 teams—attended.) https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/george-brunet/ Andrew Sharp’s SABR bio of Brunet has fascinating details. Part I focuses on Brunet’s Winter League pitching, and some minor-league efforts, 1956-57 through 1959, including:

  • June 25, 1956 no-hitter for Crowley Millers, Class C, Evangeline League#
  • Panamá’s 1956-57 champion Cerveza Balboa Brewers
  • February 1957 Caribbean Series hosted by Havana, Cuba
  • Dominican Republic’s 1958-59 and 1959-60 Estrellas Orientales (EO).

#Brunet’s nine-inning no-hitter was a 3-0 win over the Alexandria Aces.

Panamá Winter League (PRWL), 1956-57

Cerveza Balboa Brewers played a 30-game winter season, with rivals’ Carta Vieja Yankees and Chesterfield Smokers. The Smokers were owned by Carlos Eleta, a noted songwriter (“Historia de un Amor”) and entrepreneur, who later managed prizefighter Roberto Durán. (Panamá City-born actor Rubén Blades portrayed Eleta in the 2016 film Hands of Stone.) On December 21, 1956, Brunet impressed Eleta with a four-hit SHO of the Smokers, a 9-0 win, Game One, of a twin-bill. Brunet whitewashed Carta Vieja, 7-0, on a December 30 five-hitter. Tony Bartirome—a future trainer with the Pittsburgh Pirates—starred for Carta Vieja. Eddie Napoleon, coming off his first year in pro ball with Dothan [Alabama] Cardinals, Class D Alabama-Florida League, played for Eleta’s Smokers. “Panamá was not at the level with Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Venezuela,” recalled Napoleon. “Héctor López was the [only] big-league hitter back then.” (López was Brunet’s 1956-57 teammate.)

Winston Brown and Bob Trice were two other Balboa starters. Trice was the first African-American player with the 1953 Philadelphia Athletics, a franchise that moved to Kansas City (1955) and Oakland (1968). Brown and Trice contributed but perhaps the key win was Brunet’s five-hitter versus Chesterfield, February 1, 1957, a 5-2 pennant-clinching win. Thus, Balboa (16-14) edged Chesterfield (15-15) by one game; and, Carta Vieja (14-16) by two. Brunet won five of nine decisions, with a 2.72 ERA, to tie Humberto Robinson—5-4 with Chesterfield—and Carta Vieja’s Evans Killeen (5-3 W-L) as the loop’s only five-game winners. Brunet toiled 53 innings, equivalent of 286.2, in a 162-game season. Balboa qualified for the six-game Caribbean Series in Havana, Cuba, versus the hosts, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.  Several reinforcements were allowed, including catcher Marcos Cobos (Chesterfield). Cobos replaced Bartirome (from Carta Vieja) due to some technicality and caught Brunet in his starts versus Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez Indians, due to catcher-manager León Kellman’s injury.

Brunet (1-1, 1.76 ERA) became the first pitcher in Caribbean Series history to blank a Puerto Rico team, starting with the 1949 event. On February 10, 1957, Brunet lost to Mayagüez, 7-1, allowing three earned runs but homering off Pete Wojey. Three days later, he pitched a four-hit SHO versus Mayagüez, a 5-0 win. This helped Balboa claim second-place, at 3-3, behind Cuba’s Marianao Tigers (5-1). Mayagüez and the Caracas Lions tied with 2-4 marks. Balboa’s Winston Brown and Marianao’s Jim Bunning, with 2-0 records each, made the Series All-Star Team. Bob Speake (1B) and Luis “Canena” Márquez (RF) represented Mayagüez on the select team. Pompeyo Davalillo (2B) was Caracas’s lone All-Star. Clyde Parris (3B) with Balboa made the squad as did four Marianao position players: Hal Smith (C), José Valdivieso (SS),  Minnie Miñoso (LF), and Solly Drake (CF). Mickey Owen, Mayagüez skipper, complimented Brunet: “He threw hard and showed good control. Our club was not as good as the Caguas team I managed to the Caribbean Series title in Puerto Rico, three years earlier (February 1954).”

Per Table II, Brunet’s 9.98 strikeouts/nine innings, 1957 Caribbean Series, eclipsed Humberto Robinson’s 9.58 figure, set in the 1955 Caribbean Series, hosted by Caracas. Thus, Brunet is Panamá’s all-time Caribbean Series leader, in strikeouts per IP, for one specific series.

Table II: Strikeouts per nine IP, one Caribbean Series, minimum nine IP^

PitcherTeam and SeriesIPKK/ 9 IP
Diego SeguíCaracas (1973)9.21715.82
Terín PizarroCaguas (1958)16.22915.66
Odell JonesLicey (1977)121813.50
Francisco CamposMazatlán (2005)162312.94
Joe HattenAlmendares (1954)11.21612.34
Giancarlo AlvaradoPonce (2009)11.21612.34
Diego SeguíCaracas (1978)121612.00
José AcevedoAguilas Cibaeñas (2003)11.11511.91
Wilson AlvarezZulia (1992)151911.40
Pete WojeyMayagüez (1957)121511.25
Aurelio MonteagudoMagallanes (1970)13.21711.19
Earl StephensonAragua (1972)10.21210.12
George BrunetCerveza Balboa (1957)15.1179.98
Héctor MercadoBayamón (2002)10119.90
Humberto RobinsonCarta Vieja (1955)10.1119.58

^ José Rijo had some Caribbean Series with many K, but less than nine IP.

Sources: Tony Piña Campora, 2014, among others.

Detour to Little Rock, Arkansas

Brunet won a combined 20 games for the 1957 Little Rock Travelers (14-15) and 1958 Travelers (6-5), In 1957, his 235 strikeouts were tops in the Class AA Southern Association. His 1957 performance earned him a spot as one of six Southern Association All-Star hurlers, at season’s end. The league’s top HR hitter was Harmon Killebrew (29) with the Chattanooga Lookouts. Cal Ermer, manager of the fourth-place Lookouts in the eight-team league, would manage the 1960-61 Ponce Lions, in Puerto Rico, when Brunet pitched for the Caguas Criollos. “Brunet mostly threw fastballs back then (1957-58 and 1960-61). He also walked a lot of hitters…” (Brunet walked 127 batters with 1957 Little Rock; in 1954, he issued 132 free passes pitching for the Seminole Oilers, Class D Sooner State League.)

Something of an Enigma: Estrellas Orientales (1958-59 and 1959-60)

The Sporting News of January 21, 1959, page 20, included a piece by Félix Acosta Nuñez, written from Ciudad Trujillo, DR. It was headlined: “Brunet Flashes 2-hit Message to KC.” (Brunet was the property of the A’s but pitched for Little Rock and Buffalo in 1958.)  It noted that: “George Brunet authored one of the most impressive performances of LIDOM, January 11 [1959]. For 8.1 innings, the new Estrellas Orientales (EO_) hurler owned a no-hitter but Águilas Cibaeñas (AC) broke the spell, forcing the left-hander to settle for a two-hit, 10-1 victory. Brunet only 24 [turned 24, January 8, 1959] is something of an enigma.”

Correspondent Nuñez added: “Possessed of blazing speed, he [Brunet] has been rated a top prospect for several years, yet has never been a steady winner. In 1957 with 7th place Little Rock (Southern) Team, he won 14 games but lost 15. He started last (1958) season with Buffalo (International) and was 3-8 before returning to Little Rock, where he finished with a 6-5 mark. [The] Portsider was really back on the beam against AC. With one out in ninth, Jim McDaniels snapped his no-hit bid with a single. Ken Hamlin then doubled to plate the losers’ lone run. Brunet faced only 33 batters, walking six and fanning seven.”

LHP Joe Gibbon hurled for 1958-59 AC, based in Santiago. Gibbon alerted the author he got off to a “bad start,” pitching-wise, and was on the verge of being sent home. “Kenny Hamlin and I were the only Americans without wives or family, and we were going crazy. They checked your mail—if you wrote a letter saying something ‘bad’ about the country, your family would never get it. … I lost three or four in a row. They wanted to run me out of the country; then I started winning.” https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/joe-gibbon/

Brunet’s EO skipper was player-manager Alonzo “Su Majested” (His Majesty) Perry, aka “El Príncipe Azul (Blue Prince), for having contributed to the Licey Tigers in the 1950s, before EO

signed him. EO home games were in San Pedro de Macoris (La Romana). Stateside Imports called them the “Green Team,” due to their green and white uniforms. The 1958-59 Green Team finished last at 25-35, one game behind third-place AC (26-34). Brunet pitched well: 3-4, 2.82 ERA, with 51 strikeouts-to-18 walks, in 73.1 innings. He completed four of 10 starts, and was relieved twice. Five other Stateside starters were a combined 22-30, including Bob Giggie, his future Caguas Criollos teammate. EO only scored 185 runs in 60 games (3.1/game) with a .227 team AVG and 15 HR. Alonzo Perry’s four HR tied him for the team lead.

Table III compares Brunet to Bob Gibson, Joe Gibbon, Juan Marichal, 1958-59 LIDOM season. They were close in age: Brunet (23, would turn 24 on June 8, 1959); Gibbon (23—would turn 24, April 10, 1959); Gibson (23—would turn 24, November 9, 1959); and, Marichal (21—would turn 22, October 20, 1959). Gibson was released by Licey after giving up a three-run HR to Escogido’s Willie McCovey, in the regular season. Licey (30-29) upset Escogido (38-21) in the finals.

Table III: Four LIDOM Starters, 1958-59 Winter Season

PitcherTeamG-GS-CGW-LIPHERKBBERAWHIP
George BrunetEO12-10-43-473.1662351182.821.145
Joe GibbonAC13-11-44-770542551353.211.271
Bob GibsonLicey13-8-02-645502535255.001.667
Juan MarichalEscogido21-14-18-3102.1952571222.201.143

Note: Brunet and Marichal had one SHO each. Source: winterballdata.com (subscription required)

Brunet pitched for EO in their brand-new San Pedro de Macoris stadium, 1959-60. (Dick Stuart and Chuck Harmon of AC homered, October 25, 1959 home opener, but not off Brunet.) On November 15, 1959, Brunet saved a 5-2 win over AC, but was released just before Christmas, with AC at 16-24 and him posting a 3-4 W-L record and 4.75 ERA in 47.1 innings. Fortunately, Brunet was able to join the Caguas Criollos, where Part II begins.

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Special thanks and appreciation to Tony Bartirome, Cal Ermer, Joe Gibbon, Eddie Napoleon, and Mickey Owen. Special thanks to Tony Piña Campora for Brunet’s Caribbean Series statistics; and, to Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League.

Photo credit: Salón de la Fama del Béisbol Mexicano.

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