This Date in Pirates History: June 8

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date including one that spent ten years with Pittsburgh. We also have a trade from 1928, complete with links to bios of all three players involved. In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland looks back on a game that eventually involved a lot of walking.

The Trade

On this date in 1928, the Pirates traded catcher Johnny Gooch and first baseman Joe Harris to the Brooklyn Robins for catcher Charlie Hargreaves. At thirty years old, Gooch was in his eighth season in Pittsburgh. He had a .286 average with 215 RBI’s in 551 games, 443 of them as the starting catcher. At the time of the trade, he was hitting .238 in 31 games. Harris was 37 at the time, hitting well, although barely playing. He was a .317 career hitter in his tenth season, batting .391 in 28 plate appearances. Hargreaves was 31 years old, with six seasons in the majors with Brooklyn. He was a strong-armed back-up catcher, playing a total of 231 games with a .267 average, two homers and 61 RBI’s.

After the trade, Harris played 55 games for the Robins, 14 as a starter, hitting .236 with eight RBI’s. It was his last season in the majors, he played another three in the minors. Gooch hit .317 for Brooklyn to finish out the 1928 season, then after one game in 1929, he was sent to the Reds. He hit .272 in 174 games there, then after a two years in the minors, he returned for one season with the 1933 Boston Red Sox. Just like what Brooklyn got with Gooch, Hargreaves also batted above him norm during the rest of that 1928 season, hitting  .285 with 32 RBI’s in 79 games. The downside with his strong arm, was the fact he led all NL catchers in errors in 1928, committing 11 of his 13 miscues while with Pittsburgh. The next year, he caught 101 games, hitting .268 with 44 RBI’s. Charlie played just 11 games for the Pirates in 1930, then spent the rest of that season and the next four in the minors, retiring in 1934.

The Players

Scott Ruskin (1963) Pitcher for the 1990 Pirates. He was signed as a third round draft pick in 1986 by the Pirates, although it was the fifth time he was drafted. He was originally a 14th round pick in 1981 by the Reds, then was drafted in the 4th round by the Rangers, 3rd round by the Indians and finally(before the Pirates took him) he was a first round pick of the Expos in the January 1986 draft. He is of course remembered as a pitcher in the majors for four seasons but Ruskin was originally an outfielder/first baseman. After signing, he hit .355 in 11 GCL games in 1986, then hit .298 with 12 homers, splitting the season between the two A-ball levels the following year. In 1988, Scott moved up to AA and really struggled, hitting .223 with 99 strikeouts in 90 games. The next year when he came to camp, he was a pitcher, starting his season off at high-A ball. After posting a 2.23 ERA in 84.1 innings with 92 strikeouts, he was moved up to AA, where he had a 4.86 ERA with 56 K’s in 63 innings.

Despite the lack of pitching experience, Ruskin made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1990. He would make 44 relief appearances, going 2-2 3.02 in 47.2 innings with two saves. In early August, he was dealt to the Expos along with Willie Greene(and later Moises Alou) in exchange for Zane Smith. Scott pitched another 23 games for Montreal, finishing his rookie season with a 2.75 ERA in 67 appearances. He would pitch 64 games for the Expos in 1991 before being traded(along with Willie Greene again) to the Reds. Scott pitched two years in Cincinnati, spending most of the 1993 season in the minors. He signed with the Royals for 1994, but after being a late cut in Spring Training, he never played again.

Don Robinson (1957) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1978 until 1987. He was a third round pick of the Pirates during the 1975 draft. As an eighteen year old, Don made ten starts in the GCL after being drafted, striking out 70 batters in 66 innings. Moving up to A-ball the next year, he had 12 wins and a 3.24 ERA in 172 innings. The Pirates quickly moved him through the system in 1977, skipping Robinson over high-A and giving him a start at AAA before the year was over. He threw five shutout innings in what would turn out to be his only AAA game of his career. In 1978, Don was a starting pitcher for the Pirates and had a strong rookie season. He went 14-6 3.47 in 228.1 innings, completing nine of his 32 starts. He finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and eighth in the Cy Young voting.

The Pirates won the World Series in 1979, and Robinson was in their starting rotation all season. He made 25 starts and four relief appearances, with an 8-8 record, although that .500 record on a first place team doesn’t tell the whole story. In games that Robinson started, Pittsburgh had an 18-7 record. In the playoffs, he pitched in relief, making six appearances, four of them in the World Series. In 1980, the Pirates dropped to 83-79, with Robinson part of the problem, as the team went 11-14 in his starts. In 1981, he missed most of the season with shoulder problems, twice going on the DL. When he came back, it was as a reliever, making just 14 appearances total during that strike-shortened season. Don returned healthy in 1982, winning a career high and team leading 15 games. One season after pitching only 38.1 innings, he threw 227 over 30 starts and eight relief appearances. The extra work was too much as the shoulder problems reappeared in 1983, limiting him to 36.1 innings. When he came back the next year, Robinson was a reliever, a role his would stay in the rest of his time in Pittsburgh. From 1984 until 1987, he made 187 appearances, saving 39 games and picking up 29 wins.

On July 31, 1987, the Pirates cut ties with Robinson after 13 years in their system, sending him to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Mackey Sasser and cash. Over his ten seasons with the Pirates, Don had a 65-69 record, with an ERA of 3.85 in 1203 innings pitched. He would go on to play five more seasons in the majors, finishing his career up with the 1992 Phillies. Don was an excellent hitting pitcher, three times winning the Silver Slugger award. He finished with a .231 career average and 13 homers, occasionally being used as a pinch hitter. His most impressive feat may have been in 1983, while rehabbing in the Florida Instructional League after the regular season ended. He pitched every five days, then played right field on his off-days. Robinson hit .313, while leading the league with nine homers and 35 RBI’s. His average was higher than the league leader, but he was just four AB’s short of winning the Triple Crown.

George Brunet (1935) Pitcher for the 1970 Pirates. He first made the majors in 1956, spending the better part of his next eight seasons moving between the minors and majors. He had played in the big leagues every season from 1956-1964 (except 1959), yet had just 85 games in at majors by the end of that 1964 seasons, with a 6-13 5.01 record in 219 innings. He finally earned a full-time spot with the Angels in 1965, making a career high of 41 appearances, going 9-11 2.56 in 197 innings. George would win 37 games from 1966-68, posting a 3.31 ERA in each of the first two seasons. The problem was the team didn’t give him the best run support during that time frame, as he lost a total of 49 games, twice leading the AL in losses. Before reaching the Pirates in August of 1970, Brunet played for two teams in 1969(including the Seattle Pilots), then started 1970 with a third different team, the Washington Senators. The Pirates traded minor league pitcher Denny Riddleberger and cash for George on August 31, 1970. He would make 12 appearances over the last month with Pittsburgh, pitching a total of 16.2 innings with 17 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA. In January of 1971, Brunet was included in the Matty Alou for Nelson Briles and Vic Davalillo deal made with the Cardinals. He pitched seven games for St Louis, then went to the minors, finishing his career two years later. Between the minors and majors, he pitched nearly 700 games and almost 500 were as a starter. George won 181 total games, although he also lost 208 times.

Jolly Roger Rewind: June 8, 1989

In one of the most infamous collapses in franchise history, the Pirates squandered a ten-run first inning lead and lost to the Phillies 15-11 at Veterans’ Stadium.

Few games in team history have ever started so promisingly. Sixteen Buccos batted against former Pirate Larry McWilliams and reliever Steve Ontiveros in the first inning. Thirteen reached base safely. Barry Bonds homered, and both Andy Van Slyke and Gary Redus recorded two hits. At one point, eight consecutive batters walked or hit safely. Surveying the apparent massacre, Buc-pitcher-turned-color-commentator Jim Rooker, his voice traversing the airwaves through KDKA-AM’s 50,000-watt signal, mused, “if we don’t win this one, I don’t think I’d want to be on that plane ride home. Matter of fact, if we don’t win, I’ll walk back to Pittsburgh.”

Finally freed to bat in the bottom of the first, the Phillies reached the scoreboard on a two-run homer by Von Hayes, but the blast appeared more like a futile gesture of protest than a harbinger of revolution. More importantly for the Pirates’ fate, starter Bob Walk injured his hamstring on a pitch to Juan Samuel in the first inning. Walk attempted to work through the pain, but his effectiveness was gone.*

Hayes connected on another two-run shot in the third, and when Steve Jeltz added a third two-run blast with two outs in the fourth to cut the lead to 10-6, Jim Leyland took the ball from Walk. The bullpen would somehow have to record sixteen outs to preserve the victory.

On this night, however, the Pirates’ relief cadre was not up to the task. Scoreless innings by Bob Kipper (the fifth) and Bill Landrum (the seventh) now seemed, like the ostensible insurance run that Andy Van Slyke drove in with a fifth-inning double, to be feeble gasps against the now-juggernaut home team. The Phillies drew within 11-10 by battering Kipper and Landrum** for four sixth-inning runs, highlighted by Jeltz’s second homer of the night, a three-run shot.***

Jeff Robinson attempted to hold the lead in the bottom of the eighth, but allowed two walks and a single before wild-pitching in the tying run. Leyland ordered Robinson to intentionally walk Dickie Thon, and brought in Roger Samuels with the bases loaded and one out to maintain the tie. Hits by Darren Daulton (a two-run single) and Curt Ford (a two-run triple) later, the Phillies had a lead so big that when Steve Bedrosian no longer qualified for the save when he entered the game to set down the last three Bucco batters.

It was the Pirates’ seventh loss in a row, and few losses in franchise history had ever been so ignominious, both for on-field and off-field personnel alike. Two days after the season ended, Rooker embarked on a walk of the approximately 315 miles between Veterans Stadium and Three Rivers Stadium, finishing the trek in thirteen days and raising $81,000 for children’s hospitals in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

* “From then on, it was like throwing batting practice,” Walk told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I came in after the inning and told Skip that I’d pulled it again. I think he kind of wanted to take me out, but I messed up. I told him I thought I could get through five or six innings throwing breaking balls up there, but I couldn’t do it.”

** By his conventional box score line, Landrum appears to have performed another in the series of mid-May to mid-June acts of bullpen valor that propelled him from AAA Buffalo to major-league closer in about a month’s time. Closer scrutiny of the play-by-play, however, reveals a slightly less impressive outing; when Landrum entered the game in the sixth, he surrendered back-to-back singles to allow an inherited runner to score.

*** Jeltz, who entered the game with two career home runs in 1,452 at-bats, became the first player in the 107-year history of the Philadelphia franchise to homer from both sides of the plate in a game.

Box score and play-by play

Pittsburgh Press game story

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About John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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