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

George Brunet was signed by the 1959-60 Caguas Criollos, managed by Vic Power (Víctor Pellot), after posting a 3-4 record for Estrellas Orientales (EO) in the Dominican Republic (LIDOM). EO released Brunet just before Christmas. Fortunately, Caguas was involved in a tight pennant race with the San Juan Senators, whose player-manager was Nino Escalera. San Juan (41-23) edged Caguas (39-24) by 1.5 games. Third-place Mayagüez (35-28) and fourth-place Santurce (25-37) qualified for the post-season, but fifth-place Ponce (17-45) did not.

Brunet’s 1-2 record for Caguas included a 3.91 ERA in 32.2 innings, 17 strikeouts, 19 walks, and 3.91 ERA. But he was masterful in the post-season—blanking Santurce, 5-0, on a four-hitter, January 22, 1960; then, obtaining two more wins in the finals versus San Juan, featuring Roberto Clemente, Carlos Bernier and a pitching staff with Luis “Tite” Arroyo, Jack Fisher, and Ray Rippelmeyer, when Caguas won it, five games-to-one. Brunet bested San Juan, 7-3, on January 26, 1960, to the delight of 6,026 fans at Caguas, followed by a four-hit SHO, 3-0, on January 31. Both were against Arroyo. Miguel J. Frau, The Sporting News correspondent for Puerto Rico’s Winter League (PRWL), wrote this, in the February 10, 1960 issue:

            Southpaw George Brunet (Kansas City), a late-season addition, demonstrated in the final

            playoffs that he, too, would have to be reckoned with in the Caribbean Tourney [Series].

            He and [Bob] Giggie chalked up 2 victories apiece as Caguas whipped San Juan in the

            Finals.

Brunet, age 24, helped propel Caguas into the 1960 Caribbean Series, with post-season wins over Santurce and San Juan. Born on June 8, 1935, he began pitching professionally in 1953, post-Calumet [Michigan] High School. (Calumet was the high school George Gipp—Notre Dame star running back for Knute Rockne’s 1918-1920 teams—attended.) Andrew Sharp wrote Brunet’s SABR bio, at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/george-brunet/ 

1960 Caribbean Series

So, Brunet pitched in his second Caribbean Series, one hosted by Panamá, February 10-15, 1960. Caguas split their first two games, besting Carta Vieja (Panamá), 4-3, behind Terín Pizarro, before losing to Cienfuegos (Cuba), 4-2. Brunet pitched a CG versus Rapiños (Venezuela), losing 6-4, partly due to three errors by teammates. He allowed eight hits; fanned four; walked three. Tommy Davis, Woody Huyke and Félix Torres homered for Caguas. Brunet’s batterymate was Frank Reveira.

Cienfuegos (6-0) was undefeated, followed by Carta Vieja (3-3), Caguas (2-4) and Rapiños (1-5). George Altman of Cienfuegos and Eddie Napoleon of Carta Vieja were co-batting champs, .438 AVG, but Caguas’s Tommy Davis was Series MVP, posting a .409 AVG, three HR, six RBI, .818 SLG, and stealing two bases, to tie teammates’ Orlando Cepeda and Félix Mantilla; Willie Davis of Rapiños and Carta Vieja’s Héctor López. Altman recalled his 1959-60 regular season with Cienfuegos, with 14 HR, before getting hurt and missing a few weeks. He remained in Cuba and helped manager Tony Castaño win the Caribbean Series. Napoleón faced Brunet in the 1956-57 Panamá Winter League. “We were  [always] the underdogs in the Caribbean Series,” recalled Napoleón. “I homered off Pizarro in our {February 13, 1960, 8-7] win over Caguas. That was a special moment.”

Stan Palys led 1960 Caribbean Series hitters with 12 RBI. The author conversed with him in 1992. Palys recalled that Carta Vieja “put up a good fight” in this event. His first son (Stanley) was born in Panamá, 1959-60 winter season, when Palys led the league with 10 HR and 30 RBI. Palys’s SABR bio is at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/stan-palys/ After his MLB debut with the 1953 Philadelphia Phillies, he played for the 1953-54 Ponce Lions, managed by Joe Buzas; was second with Ponce in RBI (27) behind Wito Conde’s 28; third, four HR. Stan Lopata and Willie Smith each hit five.

1960-61 Caguas Criollos

Caguas made it to the league finals but San Juan defeated them, five games-to-three, in a best-of-nine final. Brunet, February 1, 1961, won Game One, 2-1, at Sixto Escobar Stadium, helped by Frank Howard’s 536-foot HR off Jack Fisher, second-longest HR in PRWL history. (Joshua Gibson’s estimated 600-foot HR at Escobar Stadium, for Santurce, March 1, 1942, versus Arecibo, sailed over the pine trees to the Atlantic Ocean.) Caguas won the first half (19-13) but faltered in the second half (11-21). Brunet was 6-9 with a 4.15 ERA in the regular season; 1-1 in the finals.

1962-64 LaGuaira Sharks

Brunet stayed busy in Venezuela, logging 132.2 innings, 1962-63, plus 58 more, 1963-64. José Antonio Casanova, LaGuaira’s 1962-63 owner and first skipper, was a friend of Paul Richards, GM, Houston Colt 45s. Brunet pitched for the 1962-64 Oklahoma City 89ers, Houston’s top farm club. Catcher Merritt Ranew, OF-1B Dave Roberts, and 1B J.C. Hartman were other Houston prospects with LaGuaira—founded in 1577 and located 19 miles southeast of Caracas—a new Venezuelan Professional Baseball League franchise. Imports resided in LaGuaira but the new ballpark was a five-minute drive from Malquetía Airport, 13 miles southwest of Caracas. Fans traveling by bus would pay 50 cents each way, for a $1 round-trip fare, to see LaGuaira home games. LaGuaira replaced the Licoreros de Pampero franchise, in existence, 1955-to-1962.

Elio Chacón, coming off his 1962 NL season as New York Mets shortstop (SS), and the first Venezuelan to wear the Mets uniform, was Brunet’s 1962-63 teammate. Chacón signed his Venezuelan League contract on Opening Night, watching LaGuaira face the Caracas Lions, and entered the game in the seventh inning! Chacón made approximately $1,630 per month in USD (U.S. dollars), for a 42-game winter season, close to 7,000 Bolivares, then. (Elio Chacón was the brother of Pelayo Chacón Jr.; and, son of legendary Cuban baseball player Pelayo Chacón Sr.).

Brunet was the league’s first five-game winner after blanking Caracas, 3-0, on a five-hitter, in an abbreviated six-inning game, December 6, 1962. He was 6-3 with a 2.28 ERA after blanking Oriente, 1-0, later that month. Teammate Marcelino López was also pitching well, giving LaGuaira two solid lefties. The 14-9 Sharks were one game up on 13-10 Caracas and 13-10 Valencia, with last-place Oriente far behind. This was a separate entity from the Occidental League, with Lara Cardinals, Rapiños, Pastora Milkers, and Cabimas. Earl Weaver managed Lara in 1962-63 and recruited Orioles prospects such as RHP Steve Dalkowski to play there. Brunet’s best effort, early January 1963, was a two-hit gem versus Caracas, allowing doubles to brothers Matty and Jesús (Jay) Alou, in an 8-0 victory.

When Oriente folded around Three Kings Day (January 6) 1963, the Venezuelan League was left with three clubs: Caracas, LaGuaira, and Valencia. Then, Pastora and Cabimas would fold in the Occidental League, leaving two clubs (Lara and Rapiños). 

Brunet pitched in the post-season. He first reinforced Valencia when they faced Caracas. His Venezuelan post-season ledger for Valencia was 4-0, 1.95 ERA, with four CG in four starts; 37 IP, 33 H, 42 strikeouts- to-10 walks, with a 1.162 WHIP. On January 29, 1963, he defeated Caracas, 5-4. Two days later, he triumphed 9-3, with 11 strikeouts and just two walks. Teammate Diego Seguí won Game Seven (5-0 SHO), the day (February 1, 1963) after winning Game Five of this series—in the first game of a twin-bill. “That was one highlight of my career,” said Seguí. “I won an [AL 1970] ERA title and pitched in the 1975 World Series. But that [post-season] effort with Valencia was special.”

Valencia then outplayed Rapiños, Occidental League champs, for the overall Venezuelan title, February 2-7, 1963, winning four of six contests. Rapiños had a strong Chicago White Sox link with SS Luis Aparicio (.415 AVG), 1B Deacon Jones—Occidental League Triple Crown Winner (.420-14-49), Don Buford, and RHP Fritz Ackley. They won Game One, 9-1, behind Ackley. However, Marcelino López, Brunet, and Seguí won Games Two-Three-Four, with Brunet prevailing 9-1, on February 4. He had an SHO until the eighth when Buford doubled and came home on a Deacon Jones single. Brunet came back, February 7, on two days rest, to blank Rapiños, 3-0, in a 10-inning effort. Luis Rodríguez’s bases-loaded triple in the 10th won it.

Panamá Wins 1963 Inter-American Series

So, after a 9-8 regular season for LaGuaira, plus a magnificent 4-0 post-season reinforcing Valencia, Brunet came through with another fine effort versus the 1962-63 Mayagüez Indians, February 11, 1963, in Panamá, during a four-team round-robin event, not to be confused with the Caribbean Series—not held from 1961-1969. Brunet gave up two unearned runs to Mayagüez, in losing, 2-0. The Indios’ runs came on a passed ball by Bill Bryan in the second, followed by a third-inning error. And Brunet gave way to veteran Luis Peñalver in the ninth. Line score: Mayagüez 2-5-1 and Valencia 0-2-1.

Final standings were: Chiriquí Bocas Farmers (Panamá): 5-2; Boer Indians (Nicaragua): 4-3; Mayagüez: 3-3; and, Valencia: 1-5. The Farmers won the tie-breaker. Ironically, Brunet watched Juan “Terín” Pizarro—pitching for Mayagüez—no-hit Valencia, on February 8, 1963—opening game, 5-0 win. Pizarro fanned 10 and walked four in no-hitting the Venezuelan champions. Wito Conde’s first-inning backhand catch of an Angel Scull line drive was the play of that game. Two years later, Brunet would join Pizarro on an outstanding pitching staff for the Santurce Crabbers.

1964-65 Santurce Crabbers

Perhaps Brunet’s fine pitching for the 1964-65 Crabbers solidified his role with the 1965-to-1968 California Angels? Brunet was 2-2 in seven starts with the 1964 Los Angeles Angels, prior to his Santurce campaign; 10-6 for 1964 Oklahoma City; 0-1 for Rochester. He was in great physical shape going into spring training in 1965. The author opines that Santurce was a “turning point” in the “Enigma’s Career.” Brunet:

  • Defeated arch-rival San Juan, 12-4, on October 25, 1964 (11,079 paid attendance).
  • Fanned 14 Arecibo Wolves, November 10, 1964, on a two-hitter (6-0 win).
  • Blanked the Caguas Criollos, November 14, 1964; Tony Pérez hit game-winning HR.
  • Struck out 14 and whitewashed Caguas, December 4, 1964, on a three-hitter, 4-0.
  • Shut out Mayagüez, 2-0, via a four-hitter, as Joe Sparma took the loss.

Brunet was selected to start the League All-Star Game by Santurce skipper Preston Gómez, who managed the North American squad. Conversely, Juan “Terín” Pizarro was chosen to start for the Latin American All-Stars by Caguas skipper Luis R. Olmo. The contest was rained out on Three Kings Day, January 6, 1965, but played Monday, January 11, 1965, an off-day. Mayagüez’s Jim Northrup won the pre-game HR-hitting contest over Arecibo’s Johnny Briggs and Santurce’s Tony Pérez. San Juan’s Don Buford and Santurce’s Jesse Gonder teamed to win the wheelbarrow race! The game was an 11-inning affair won by the North Americans, 5-3, when José A. Pagán pitched the final two frames after the Latin Americans ran out of pitchers. José Martínez hit the game-winning two-run HR. Table I includes the rosters of both All-Star Teams. Roberto Clemente got a pinch-hit single for the Latin Americans.

Table I: Latin American-North American Rosters, 1964-65 PRWL All-Star Game

Latin Am. RosterLeague TeamPOSNorth Am. RosterLeague TeamPOS
Woody HuykeCaguasCJesse GonderSanturceC
Héctor ValleCaguasCJerry McNertneySan JuanC
Junior RodríguezMayagüez1BJim BeauchampSanturce1B
Tito FuentesCaguas2BTom McCrawSan Juan1B
Cookie RojasArecibo2BDon BufordSan Juan2B
Sandy Alomar Sr.AreciboSSMarv StaehleSanturce2B
Bert CampanerisCaguasSSArturo Miranda#SanturceSS
José A. PagánCaguas3BHorace Clarke#PonceSS
Ozzie Virgil Sr.Mayagüez3BDanny CaterPonce3B
Tony PérezSanturce3B-OFJoe MorganSanturce3B
Carlos BernierAreciboOFJohnny BriggsAreciboOF
José CardenalCaguasOFJoe GainesSan JuanOF
Roberto ClementeSan JuanOFAlex JohnsonCaguasOF
Román MejíasAreciboOFLou JohnsonSanturceOF
Félix MaldonadoSanturceOFJim NorthrupMayagüezOF
Miguel CuéllarAreciboPGeorge BrunetSanturceP
Luis de LeónPoncePGeorge CulverAreciboP
Ricardo DelgadoMayagüezPJoe HoernerSan JuanP
Mon HernándezAreciboPDennis McLainMayagüezP
Julio NavarroCaguasPSonny SiebertPonceP
Terín PizarroSanturcePTommie SiskSan JuanP
Palillo SantiagoSan JuanPJoe SparmaMayagüezP
Luis TiantPoncePMorris StevensCaguasP

#Miranda, from Puerto Rico; and Clarke, from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, were put on the North American squad, due to player shortages. So was catcher José Cruz and IF José Martínez.

Note: Coaches included Johnny Lipon (Ponce manager) and Bob Swift (Mayagüez manager), North Americans; and, Tony Castaño (Arecibo manager), Nino Escalera (Caguas coach), plus Canena Márquez (Mayagüez coach), Latin Americans. Source: The San Juan Star, January 5, 1965; and The Santurce Crabbers (1999) by the author.

Table II: PRWL 1964-65 ERA and Strikeout Leaders

PitcherTeamStrikeoutsPitcherTeamERA
Dennis McLainMayagüez126Fred TalbotSanturce1.30
Joe SparmaMayagüez96José “Palillo” SantiagoSan Juan1.66
Marcelino LópezCaguas95George BrunetSanturce1.75
Tommie SiskSan Juan95Miguel CuéllarArecibo2.06
George BrunetSanturce94Dennis McLainMayagüez2.08

Source: José Crescioni Benítez.

The three top lefty starters, 1964-65 PRWL, were Brunet, Cuéllar and Pizarro, per Table III. Brunet had the lowest ERA; Cuéllar, a future (1969) AL Cy Young Winner, the most wins; and, Pizarro, the lowest WHIP. Brunet’s W-L record was the least impressive of the three, but he was an excellent Winter League pitcher in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Table III: Brunet, Cuéllar and Pizarro, 1964-65 PRWL Season

PitcherW-LIPHERKBBERAWHIP
George Brunet7-8118942394331.751.076
Miguel Cuéllar12-4127982978332.061.031
Terín Pizarro9-5127.2943072252,120.932
Trio total/avg.28-17372.228682244911.981.012

Source: Jorge Colón Delgado via https://beisbol101.com/juan-terin-pizarro/, https://beisbol101.com/miguel-cuellar-3/ and Brunet’s stats, per EXCEL file.

Santurce captured the league regular season (41-28 W-L) and post-season titles, after besting San Juan and Mayagüez, respectively, in the semis and finals. Veteran Rubén Gómez pitched four strong relief innings to win Game Six versus San Juan. Pizarro won Game Six against Mayagüez. Brunet was 0-2 against San Juan and 0-1 against Mayagüez but except for Game Two of the semi-finals, pitched effectively. In-Game Five, semi-finals, Brunet lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to LHP Joe Hoerner, who recalled: “When you did really well [in Puerto Rico], the people really catered to you. It was a great experience and one I’ll never forget.”

Brunet versus Rubén Gómez and Terín Pizarro, Entire Career

Career-wise, Brunet 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 career K artist, with 5,714. Rubén Gómez and Terín 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 IV.

Table IV: Brunet’s Pro Career W-L versus Gómez and Pizarro

League(s)George BrunetRubén GómezTerín 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^2-1#
PRWL All-Star Game0-0 (1 start)1-0#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-Season12-934-1422-7
Grand Total421-440408-284414-269

#Partial records for Pizarro. Exclude 1961 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.

Part III will transition to Mexico and elaborate on Brunet’s pitching, south of the (U.S.) border.

Special thanks and appreciation to George Altman, Joe Hoerner, Eddie Napoleón, Stan Palys, and Diego Seguí. Special thanks to Tony Piña Campora for Brunet’s Caribbean Series statistics; and, to Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League.

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