Renaldo “Rennie” Stennett: Talented Panamanian Big Leaguer and Winter Ball Player

Rennie Stennett was the only modern era (1900-present) big leaguer to go 7-for-7 in a nine-inning game: September 16, 1975, in Pittsburgh’s 22-0 win versus the Chicago Cubs. He played second base as part of the first (September 1, 1971) all-Black and Latino lineup in MLB history, when Pittsburgh defeated Philadelphia, 10-7. Nine of Stennett’s 11 major-league seasons were with 1971-79 Pittsburgh, followed by 1980-81 with San Francisco. He passed away at age 72, in Coconut Creek, Florida, on May 18, 2021. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/31467032/former-pittsburgh-pirates-second-baseman-rennie-stennett-loses-battle-cancer-age-72

Colón, Panamá to U.S. Minors (1969-1971)

Stennett was born in Colón, Panamá, April 5, 1949, although his SABR bio by Joseph Wancho noted it was April 5, 1951. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/rennie-stennett/  He grew up in the same neighborhood as Rod Carew; went to the same high school—Paraiso.  Per Wancho, Stennett pitched to catcher Manny Sanguillén on their 1964 sandlot team. Stennett spoke better English than Spanish, raised in the Canal Zone. Sanguillén—brought up in Colón—had a much better grasp of Spanish than English.

The Pittsburgh Pirates scout in the Canal Zone was C. Herbert (Herb) Raybourn, future New York Yankees Panamá scout. Raybourn signed Stennett for the Pirates. He had three solid minor-league seasons—1969 Gastonia, Class A Western Carolinas League (.288 AVG as an OF); 1970 Salem (Virginia), Class A Carolina League, where he led the league in AVG (.326), hits (176), and triples (9). After learning the ropes at 2B with Bradenton, 1970 Florida Instructional League, he batted .344 in 80 games for Charleston (West Virginia), Pittsburgh’s 1971 Triple-A affiliate, International League. Joe Morgan, his Charleston manager, noted, per Wancho, “He does everything very well and has a whale of an arm.”

1971 Pittsburgh Pirates

Stennett’s promotion to Pittsburgh came when 2B Dave Cash and 3B Richie Hebner began back-to-back July 1970 military Reserve drills. His big-league debut was July 10, versus Atlanta. On August 5, John Strohmayer, Montreal Expos RHP, hit José A. Pagán with a pitch, which broke Pagán’s left wrist and resulted in more playing time for Stennett. “I became good friends with José [Pagán] on the 1970-71 Caguas Criollos club,” recalled Strohmayer.” “I threw José a 1-2 fastball inside—he was looking for a slider outside—and the pitch came in and broke his wrist,” noted Strohmayer. “In fact, when I hit José, and heard that sickening thud and crack, I said, ‘Oh, no, geez, here’s a guy who’s my friend.’ I found out he had a broken wrist from a clubhouse report. A couple of innings later, Roberto Clemente, a good friend of José, hit a comebacker to me—wanted to hit the ball out of the park and show me I couldn’t hit his friend and get away with it…made a big loop, and said a few things in Spanish which weren’t so pleasant.”     

On September 1, 1971, Stennett led off and played 2B versus Philadelphia. He started a five-run rally with a hit off LHP Woody Fryman. Pittsburgh’s historic, first-ever, all-African-American and Afro-Caribbean line-up, at Three Rivers Stadium, in a 10-7 victory, was:

  • Stennett, 2B
  • Gene Clines, CF
  • Roberto Clemente, RF
  • Willie Stargell, LF
  • Manny Sanguillén, C
  • Dave Cash, 3B
  • Al Oliver, 1B
  • Jackie Hernández, SS
  • Dock Ellis, P
First-ever, all-African-American and Afro-Caribbean line-up.

Fryman lasted one-third of an inning; Ellis retired four hitters. Bob Moose, Bob Veale, and Luke Walker (winner) pitched in relief. The entire Pittsburgh starting line-up had winter ball and Mexico experience.

Table I: Winter League and Mexican League Teams of Pittsburgh’s September 1, 1971 Line-up

PlayerPOSWinter League and Mexico TeamsLeague
Rennie Stennett2BSan Juan (SJ) Senators (1971-73)PRWL^
  Aguilas Cibaeñas (1974-75, 76-77, 78-79)LIDOM^^
  Tigres de Aragua (1981-82)VENEZUELA
  Broncos de Reynosa (1982)MEXICAN
Gene ClinesCFÁguilas Cibaeñas abbreviated: AC  (1970-72)LIDOM^^
Roberto ClementeRFSanturce Crabbers (1952-56); Caguas Criollos (1956-58); SJ (1959-1971)PRWL^
Willie StargellLFÁC (1963-64)LIDOM^^
Manny SanguillénCAC (1967-68, 1969-70)LIDOM^^
  SJ (1970-71, 72-73); Bayamón CowboysPRWL^
  (1976-78); Ponce Lions (1978-80)PRWL^
Dave Cash3BAC (1969-70)LIDOM ^^
  SJ (1970-71)PRWL^
Al Oliver1BSJ (1970-71)PRWL^
Jackie HernándezSSAlmendares Scorpions (1960-61 taxi squad)CUBA
  Possibly Cardenales de Lara (1962-63)Occidental
  Estrellas Orientales (1963-64)LIDOM
  Boer Indios (1965-66)NICARAGUA
  Cardenales de Lara (1965-67); Aragua (67-68)VENEZUELA
  Ponce (1968-73); SJ (73-74)PRWL^
  Cardenales de Villa Hermosa (1975)MEXICAN
  Tecolotes de Nuevo Laredo (1976)MEXICAN
  Águilas de Zulia (1976-77)VENEZUELA
  Arroceros de San Francisco (1977)DOM SUM&
Dock EllisRHPAC (1966-68)LIDOM^^
  Ponce (1979-80)PRWL^

^Puerto Rico Winter League; ^^Liga Dominicana (Dominican Winter League); &Dominican Summer League. Winning pitcher Luke Walker pitched for 1966-67 Arecibo Wolves, PRWL. Bob Veale pitched for 1962-63 Ponce Lions and 1963-64 AC.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PIT/PIT197109010.shtml

After Pittsburgh’s historic September 1, 1971 win, Stennett had a .345 AVG, with Clemente at .341. Stennett finished at .353 in 50 games, with 54 hits in 153 AB. (Clemente’s .341 year-end AVG, trailed Joe Torre’s .363; Ralph Garr’s .343; and Glenn Beckert’s .342.) Stennett was inactivated when the Pirates placed José A. Pagán on their post-season roster. Pagán and Clemente drove in Pittsburgh’s two runs, Game Seven, 1971 World Series versus Baltimore, a 2-1 win, behind Steve Blass, who pitched for 1963-64 AC, LIDOM. The author and Jorge Colón Delgado rooted for the Orioles, with many ex-Santurce Crabbers players, e.g., Jim Palmer, Paul Blair, Davey Johnson, Dave Leonhard…with catcher Elrod Henricks; Santurce skipper Frank Robinson; and soon-to-be 1971-72 Santurce OF Merv Rettenmund. Jorge and the author, as Santurce fans, were disappointed by Game Seven, due to the Santurce-San Juan (SJ) rivalry. (Pagán was about to join SJ, 1971-72 season; and, Clemente managed SJ, 1970-71.) The Santurce-SJ “City Championship” Series, since 1939-40, was akin to the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry.     

San Juan (SJ) Senators

Rennie Stennett with San Juan

The 1971-72 and 1972-73 Senators were loaded with Pittsburgh prospects from Stennett to Richard Zisk, plus Milt May, Carl Taylor, Bruce Kison, and Bob Johnson. Kison went to Puerto Rico shortly after winning Game Five—the first night game in World Series history—1971 World Series. “Throughout the [Puerto Rico] league you faced legitimate major league players with two-to-three years under their belts,” said Kison. “It provided you with really good feedback from the organization’s standpoint, in terms of facing major league caliber play—reassured me I could pitch well in the big leagues.”

Stennett’s 1971-72 double-play partner was Tim Foli. Pedro “Chicken” García backed up Foli and Stennett, and filled in at 3B for Pagán. Stennett posted a .293 AVG in 232 AB for manager Bill Virdon, his 1971 Pirates coach. Virdon led San Juan (39-30) to a regular-season title and semi-final series win over Caguas, four games-to-two. The Senators were devoured by the Ponce Lions, four games-to-one, in the finals. The author conversed with Virdon prior to a March 1993 Pirates spring training game in Bradenton, Florida. He said: “I had a good look at all our Pittsburgh prospects; it was a very competitive league.” Virdon had kind words for Roberto Clemente: “I saw him quite often in Puerto Rico. Roberto would come to some of our games. He was an exceptional human being—very articulate, very sharp, very smart. I can’t say enough about Roberto as a teammate, someone who I coached and managed.”

Jon Matlack gave up Clemente’s 3,000th NL hit, September 30, 1972, and struggled early in the 1971-72 season for San Juan. Virdon put him in the bullpen for a spell to work out the kinks. “I had to rise to the next level if I was going to compete,” said Matlack. “It was the next step up the ladder that helped me ease into the big leagues the following spring and an important cog in the machine that was my development as a pitcher. Puerto Rico was an important piece of the puzzle that helped me become the pitcher I ended up being.”

Stennett returned to San Juan, 1972-73 and had a .248 AVG in 137 AB. Zisk returned and led the league with 14 HR and 46 RBIs. Milt May enjoyed both winters, as Stennett’s teammate. “What was unique was the fact I hadn’t been off the mainland U.S. my whole life. It was a vacation spot where I stayed, and a lot of tourists went to the area.”

Águilas Cibaeñas (AC)

Pittsburgh sent prospects to Santiago, Dominican Republic, to play for AC, starting with Bill Mazeroski, 1955-56. In 1974-75, SS Franklin Taveras teamed with Stennett as AC’s double-play combo. Stennett hit superbly: 75 hits/224 AB,  a .335 AVG, with nine SB. AC (28-28) finished second. They bested Licey, three-games-to-one, in the semis. With speedster Miguel Diloné and catcher Charlie Moore leading the charge, they topped Estrellas Orientales (EO), five games-to-four, in the finals. Diloné stole eight bases and catcher Charlie Moore was series MVP. EO hurlers Joaquín Andujar and J.R. Richard and sluggers George Foster and Kurt Bevacqua did their best.

Stennett played in two Caribbean Series events hosted by San Juan, Puerto Rico, February 1975 and February 1979. The 1975 event was won by the 5-1 Bayamón Cowboys, managed by José A. Pagán. AC was 3-3 in the 1975 Caribbean Series, tied with Mexico’s Naranjeros de Hermosillo. Aragua (1-5) finished fourth. AC won the final game over Bayamón, 5-4, February 6. Bill Castro won it; John Candelaria—Stennett’s Pittsburgh teammate—lost in relief.  In 1979, Magallanes Navigators from Venezuela won this event (5-1), followed by AC (4-2), Caguas (2-4), and Mexico’s Mayos de Navojoa (1-5).

Johnny Lipon managed Stennett with 1978-79 AC, league champions, 35-24 record, before sweeping Escogido in five straight final series games. Stennett went 14-for-52 (.269 AVG). “Rennie was a very nice fellow and a pleasure to manage,” said Lipon, who also managed in Venezuela, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. Pancho Coímbre, a Pittsburgh Pirates scout and Ponce Lions batting coach, mid-1960s, was a Lipon favorite from his years in the Caribbean. Lipon spoke with Satchel Paige—pitching for the Miami Marlins. Paige told Lipon that “Coímbre was the best hitter he had ever faced.”

Stennett’s other AC season was 1976-77, with a .364 AVG—48 hits/132 AB. His three LIDOM regular seasons had 137 hits in 408 AB, .336 AVG, three HR, and 56 RBIs. He stole 18 bases.

1979 World Series Champs

Stennett concluded his Pittsburgh career with a pinch-hit in the 1979 World Series versus Baltimore. Mark Brown, a Pirates fan from Somerset, [Western] Pennsylvania, “Always thought of Stennett as a solid second baseman—he was OUR 2nd baseman, and that made him special. I was probably influenced by the overwhelming dominance of the Reds Joe Morgan during those ‘Big Red Machine’ years, both fielding and hitting…[but] Stennett’s 7/7, though, in 1975 was and remains an amazing feat.” https://www.diariolibre.com/deportes/blogs/brv/rennie-stennett-bateo-de-7-7-FC26353017

Aragua Tigers, Reynosa Broncos, Wichita Aeros and Cumulative Stats

After two seasons with San Francisco (1980 and 1981), Stennett played for the 1981-82 Aragua Tigers in Venezuela, with 11 hits in 41 AB, a .268 AVG. David Concepción, Vic Davalillo and Diego Seguí were teammates. Stennett joined Mexico’s Reynosa Broncos in 1982. He went 30-for-92 (.326 AVG) with one HR and 18 RBIs.  Stennett’s combined Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Mexico hitting stats were 280 hits in 910 AB, a .308 AVG, six HR, and 108 RBIs. Stennett may have played pro baseball in Panamá.

He accumulated 454 hits in 1,428 minor-league AB, a .318 AVG, after his 1983 Class Triple-A season (51-for-165, .309 AVG) with Wichita Aeros, a Montreal Expos affiliate. His big-league stats included 1,239 hits in 4,521 AB (.274 AVG), 41 HR and 432 RBIs. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/stennre01.shtml 

The author, a second baseman for his Robinson School baseball team in Santurce, 1970-73, saw Stennett play 2B for SJ, versus their arch-rival Santurce Crabbers, 1971-73. Rennie Stennett will be missed. Rest in peace.  https://triblive.com/sports/pirates-great-rennie-stennett-dies-at-age-72/

Thanks to Bruce Kison, Johnny Lipon, Jon Matlack, Milt May, John Strohmayer, and Bill Virdon. Mark Brown provided insights on Stennett, as a Pirates fan (age 11-19), 1971-79.

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