This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 8th, Don Robinson

Three former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, plus a trade from 1928.

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 30 years old, Gooch was in his eighth season in Pittsburgh. He had a .286 average with 215 RBIs 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 years old at the time, hitting well, although barely playing. He was a .317 career hitter in his tenth season, and was batting .391 in 28 plate appearances in 1928. 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 RBIs.

After the trade, Harris played 55 games for the Robins, 14 as a starter, hitting .236 with eight RBIs. It was his last season in the majors, though 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 Gooch, Hargreaves batted above his norm during the rest of that 1928 season, hitting .285 with 32 RBIs 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 RBIs. He 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, 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 fourth round by the Rangers, third 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 was 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, he moved up to Double-A 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 Double-A, where he had a 4.86 ERA with 56 strikeouts 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. Ruskin 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. He 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, pitcher for the 1978-87 Pirates. He was a third round pick of the Pirates during the 1975 draft. As an 18-year-old, he 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 Triple-A before the year was over. He threw five shutout innings in what would turn out to be the only Triple-A game of his career. In 1978, he 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 being 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. Robinson returned healthy in 1982, winning a career high (and team best) 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, he had a 65-69 record, with an ERA of 3.85 in 1,203 innings pitched. He would go on to play five more seasons in the majors, finishing his career up with the 1992 Phillies. Robinson 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 RBIs. His average was higher than the league leader, but he was just four at-bats short of winning the Triple Crown.

George Brunet, pitcher for the 1970 Pirates. He first made the majors in 1956, then spent 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. At the time he had 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. Brunet 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 Brunet 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. Brunet won 181 total games, although he also lost 208 times.