Monday, February 11, 2008

lucky sevens

Rennie Stennett card from Glenn's Pirate Pages

Along with Omar Moreno and Manny Sanguillen, Rennie Stennett was one of the Panamanian stars that Pittsburgh scouts had found and fostered back in the Lumber Company days when Latino players flocked to the team. (Maybe the Pirates should build another academy in Panama too, Mr. Huntington?)

Renaldo Antonio Stennett was signed in 1969 and tore up the minors. He was called up in July of 1971 and hit .353 in 50 games with the big club. His play was duly noted, and he was well on his way to becoming the Pirate second baseman of the future. Stennett hit .286 and .242 the next two seasons while playing 2B, SS, and the OF. His time was quickly approaching.

Bill Mazeroski had been the Pirates second baseman since 1956, and Dave Cash had been groomed to replace Maz. But after watching Stennett bloom, especially in the field, the Pirates unloaded Cash following the 1973 season. Stennett became the Pirates everyday second baseman in 1974 and hit .291. He'd get his name in the history books the following season.

On September 16, 1975, the Pirates were in Chicago, facing Rick Reuschel. He was knocked out early. Stennett led off for the Pirates and lashed a double. Using Sanguillen's heavier bat that day (sorry, don't know why - give me a yell if you do), he was just warming up. Later in the inning, he singled off of Tom Dettore, who was rushed in from the bullpen after Reuschel had been swatted around by the Buccos. Stennett would add a single in the third and a double in the fifth with TD on the mound.

Pittsburgh batted around in the fifth, and Stennett singled in his second at bat of the inning, off Oscar Zamora this time. Buddy Schultz served up another single to him in the seventh. Stennett closed out his day with a triple against Reuschel's brother Paul in the eighth, and Danny Murtaugh gave him a breather, sending in Willie Randolph to pinch run. The Bucs won 22-0.

It was the first 7-for-7 nine-inning hitting show put on since Baltimore O's catcher Wilbert Robinson originally did it - in 1892! And it only took Stennett eight innings to match it. Cesar Gutierrez of the Tigers also went 7-for-7 in 1970, but it took him 12 innings to complete his perfect day.

Stennett ended the year hitting .286. He hit just .257 in 1976 but was having an All Star season in 1977, hitting .336 when he broke his leg in August. He was done for the year, but still finished second in the National League in batting behind teammate Dave Parker's .338 average (though short of the necessary number of at-bats.)

His leg would heal, but his batting eye never came back. Stennett wouldn't hit above .244 after that and was replaced by Phil Garner in 1979 after the Bill Madlock deal. His career ended after the 1981 season as a San Francisco Giant. He signed a big free agent contract with them in 1980, but Joe Morgan beat him out of a job the next year.

His lifetime batting average was .274 over 11 years. The rangy Panamanian, always known as a great gloveman, played over 1,000 games at second with a .978 fielding average, and his career fielding range stat finished way above the league average (5.4 to 4.7). He once handled 410 chances consecutively before committing an error.

He was so highly thought of by Pirate management in the mid 1970s that Dave Cash was shipped to Philly and Willie Randolph to the Yanks, and they were a pretty fair pair of second sackers. Stennett played for division winners in 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, and 1979. He was the second baseman when Murtaugh sent out the first all black team in major league history in 1971. Rennie Stennett ended his Buc stint in style during the 1979 Series when he got a pinch-hit single in his only appearance.

Not a bad little career for a kid from Colon, Panama.


Roberto Ariel Fernández said...

Stennett was very good indeed. Your article has one typo: The year when for one game Murtaugh fielded teh first all African American and Latin team was 1971, not '79. Congratulations on a great blog !

Ron Ieraci said...

Roberto - You're absolutely right; thanks for letting me know. I fixed it up, and thanks too for the kind comment.