Tuesday, September 4, 2012

#426 - Rennie Stennett

When this photo was taken in ’73 it was pretty unknown where Rennie Stennett was going to play. While his card says second base, he had until then pretty much split time between there and the outfield. Then in the wake of Roberto Clemente’s passing following the ’72 season, there was a shot of him returning to the outfield, but instead he spent most of the early part of the season at shortstop after Gene Alley got hurt. Then Dave Cash had to do his military reserve hitch so it was back to second. All this movement helped plague Rennie’s batting average which in mid-season was in the .225 area after he’d averaged.305 up top until then. His average revived a bit but it would still be the lowest of his career for a long while. But the turmoil of ’73 would be erased when Cash got traded to the Phillies and Rennie got the second base gig uncontested in ’74. For the next few seasons he wasn’t going anywhere.

Rennie Stennett was born in Colon, Panama, and then grew up in the Canal Zone where he was a volleyball, basketball, and pitching star at Paraiso High School. After he graduated he played a year in Panama in semi-pro ball where he went 12-4 and hit .400. That second stat impressed visiting scouts more so when he was signed by the Pirates in ’69 and came north for A ball, he began his career as an outfielder. He returned to Single A in ’70, upped his average nearly 40 points, and got two hits in his only Triple A game. In ’71 Rennie stuck in Triple A where he now concentrated on second since the Pirates had a plethora of promising outfielders in the minors and were over-stocked there up top. He responded by hitting the crap out of the ball and by that summer was up in Pittsburgh for good.

Stennett got into games pretty quickly because Bill Mazeroski was hurt and aging fast and Dave Cash was doing his military time. Rennie certainly didn’t disappoint as he hit .353 and was batting leadoff by the time the season was out. But Cash was back by playoff time so Danny Murtaugh had to leave Rennie off the post-season roster. In ’72 he returned, doing time at second and in all three outfield positions, hitting .286 and this time getting playoff play where he hit for the same average. After the Cash trade second was all Rennie’s and he responded awfully well. In ’74 he banged out 196 hits to hit .291. The only real knocks on him at that point was that he never walked – true enough since he was a free swinger – and could be a bit sloppy around the bag, especially when compared to Cash. But Rennie had more range than Dave and that year went 410 straight chances without an error. In ’75 he hit .286, put up his highest RBI total of 62, and made headlines by going seven-for-seven in a game. In ’76 the average came in a bunch but he topped out with nine triples and stole 18 bases, a significant uptick to any total he’d had until then. In ’77 he exploded, stealing 28 bases and putting up a .336 average and a .376 OBA when he went down with a horribly broken ankle in August. That killed his season and probably did significant damage to the rest of his career. He came back in ’78 before the ankle was ready and hit only .243 as he spent time on the DL. In ’79 he fell to .238 as his at bats dropped a tad and Phil Garner took over second mid-way through the season. Rennie only got token time during the post-season run that year but did get a hit against Baltimore in his only at bat. After the season he left as a free agent.

San Francisco signed Stennett for the ’80 season to a then pretty fat contract with a guaranteed bonus. They were hoping he could regenerate some of that ’77 magic but unfortunately for him and them the best he could do was ‘78’s. After hitting .244 with decreased mobility in the field in ’80. manager Frank Robinson wasn’t too happy so in ’81 Rennie got replaced by new acquisition Joe Morgan. During spring training of ’82 the Giants bought out his contract for about a million and Rennie became a poster child for over-spending on undeserving free agents. He spent the rest of the year playing in Mexico for Reynosa and then returned to the States in ’83 where he hit .309 in a pretty decent comeback attempt with Montreal’s Triple A franchise. While he expected a promotion based on that bit of work it didn’t come and that was his last stop for a while in pro ball. He finished with a .274 average with 41 homers and 432 RBI’s. He hit .212 in 14 post-season games and .318 in the minors.

Once his ’83 season petered out Stennett settled in Florida where he briefly had a carpet-cleaning business with some partners. He then joined Davimos Sports Management, a firm founded by former teammate Manny Sanguillen to represent Latin American players in the US. Rennie also played some local ball and in ’89 attempted a comeback with Pittsburgh, nearly making it through spring training. He did put up a pretty good average in the Senior League that year. Since then he has remained a local presence in FLA and still seems to be affiliated with Sanguillen. He is also listed as a partner in a demolition firm down there.

Topps messes up the star bullets a bit with Rennie. In ’71 he only played second so that must have been a hell of a jump to stop that homer in the first bullet. Both of those first two bullets actually happened in ’72. That playoff play was pretty impressive. Playing left, Rennie caught a Cesar Geronimo fly at the line and winged the ball home to nail Bench. The Pirates were down 2-0 when the play happened in the fourth and they won 3-2.

On September 1, 1973 Paul McCartney, his wife Linda, and guitarist Denny Laine would begin recording the album “Band On The Run” in Lagos, Nigeria. I guess that’s where the photos on the posters in the album were shot.

You gotta love those well-traveled reserve guys:

1. Stennett and Ed Kirkpatrick ’74 to ’76 Pirates;
2. Kirkpatrick and Kurt Bevacqua ’73 Royals;
3. Bevacqua and Pete Broberg ’75 to ’76 Brewers.

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