This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: June 8th, Don Robinson and a Trade with Brooklyn

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 in the majors, and he 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 back-up catcher with a strong arm, 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 Cincinnati 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 out of the University of Florida, although it was the fifth time he was drafted. He was originally a 14th round pick in 1981 by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school, but he decided to attend Florida. He was then was drafted in the fourth round by the Texas Rangers in 1984, a third round by the Cleveland Indians in 1985, and finally (before the Pirates took him) he was a first round pick of the Montreal 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 in 1987, splitting the season between the two A-ball levels. In 1988, he put up an .897 OPS in 26 games at High-A. 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 and post a 4.24 ERA in 63.2 innings before being traded (along with Willie Greene again) to the Reds on December 11, 1991. So he ended up going to two teams that originally drafted him anyway. He pitched two years in Cincinnati, spending most of the 1993 season in the minors. Ruskin went 4-3, 5.03 in 53.2 innings over 57 appearances in 1992, then made four appearances in 1993, though it amounted to one inning and two runs allowed. He signed with the Kansas City Royals for 1994, but after being a late cut in Spring Training, he never played again at any level. In his big league career, he went 11-9, 3.95 in 193.2 innings over 192 appearances, all in relief.

Don Robinson, pitcher for the 1978-87 Pirates. He was a third round pick of the Pirates during the 1975 draft out of high school in West Virginia. 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 was 7-6, 4.06 in 113 innings in Double-A, then 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 National League 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, 3.87 record in 160.2 innings, 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. He gave up three runs over seven innings in the postseason. In 1980, the Pirates dropped to 83-79, with Robinson being part of the problem, as the team went 11-14 in his starts. He was 7-10, 3.99 in 160.1 innings. In 1981, he missed most of the season with shoulder problems, twice going on the disabled list. When he came back, it was as a reliever, making just 16 appearances total during that strike-shortened season, with a 5.87 ERA in 38.1 innings. Robinson returned healthy in 1982, winning a career high (and team best) 15 games, though it came with a 4.28 ERA and a league-leading 26 home runs allowed. One season after pitching just 38.1 innings, he threw 227 innings 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 and a 4.46 ERA. 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, Robinson made 187 appearances, saving 39 games and picking up 29 wins. He had a 3.02 ERA in 122 innings over 51 games in 1984. He was 5-11, 3.87 in 95.1 innings during the disastrous 1985 season, when the Pirates went 57-104. In 1986, he had a 3.38 ERA and 14 saves over 50 games and 69.1 innings. Through the first four months of 1987, he had a 3.86 ERA in 65.1 innings over 42 games. 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 young catcher Mackey Sasser and cash. Over his ten seasons with the Pirates, Robinson 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 Philadelphia Phillies. He was strong with the Giants after the trade, putting up a 2.74 ERA in 42.2 innings. Robinson made 19 starts and 32 relief appearances in 1988 for the Giants, going 10-5, 2.45 in 176.2 innings. He was a full-time starter in 1989, going 12-11, 3.43 in 197 innings. His production slipped off a bit after that year, though he remained in the starting rotation for all of 1990 when he went 10-7, 4.57 in 157.2 innings. During his final year in San Francisco, Robinson had a 5-9, 4.38 record in 121.1 innings over 16 starts and 18 relief appearances. His final season was split between the California Angels and Phillies, making a combined total of 11 starts, with a 5.10 ERA in 60 innings. His final career stats over 15 years saw him go 109-106, 3.79 in 1,958.1 innings.

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. Brunet debuted in Class-D ball at 18 years old in 1953 and did not do well during his first two seasons. He had an 8.05 ERA in limited time in 1953, then posted a 6.37 ERA in 171 innings in 1954. This all happened at the lowest level of the minors, so it’s a bit surprising that he ended up playing so long in the majors. Brunet improved in 1955, though it wasn’t a substantial jump. Still in Class-D, he went 8-9, 4.59 in 157 innings. He also saw brief time for Class-D Hot Springs of the Cotton States League that year. In 1956, he split the season between three levels in the minors, then saw time with the Kansas City Athletics in September. His complete minor league stats aren’t known, but he went 0-6, 3.86 in ten starts for Columbia of the South Atlantic League, which was his highest level in the minors that year. Brunet allowed eight runs in nine innings with the A’s. He was a September call-up again in 1957 after going 14-15, 3.42 in 213 innings for Little Rock of the Southern Association. During this cup of coffee with the A’s, he allowed seven runs in 11.1 innings. He spent all of 1958 and most of 1959 back in the minors, seeing just 4.2 innings (nine runs allowed) with Kansas City. In 1960, Brunet spent most of the year in the majors, seeing time with the A’s and Milwaukee Braves. He combined to go 2-2, 4.95 in the majors, throwing 60 innings over eight starts and 12 relief appearances. In 1961 he was limited to five relief appearances with the Braves, then in 1962 he made 11 starts and six relief appearances for the expansion Houston Colt .45’s, going 2-4, 4.50 in 54 innings. He spent about half of the 1963 season in the majors, playing with Houston and the Baltimore Orioles, who purchased his contract on July 14th. Brunet went 0-4, 6.06 in 32.2 innings over 21 outings. In 1964, Houston purchased him back from Baltimore in May, but his only big league time that year was with the Los Angeles Angels. He went 2-2, 3.61 in 42.1 innings.

Brunet played in the big leagues every season from 1956-1964 (except 1958), 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 California (name changed between 1964-65) 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. He pitched a total of 707.1 innings during that stretch, which was nearly half of his career innings in the majors over his 15-year career. 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. He went 8-12, 4.44 in 164.1 innings in 1969, then had an 8-6, 4.42 record in 118 innings with the Senators through the first five months of 1970. 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 St Louis Cardinals. He pitched seven games for St Louis, then went to the minors, where he finished his career two years later.

In 15 big league seasons, Brunet went 69-93, 3.62 in 1,431.2 innings, making 213 starts and 111 relief appearances. 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. He changed his jersey number often during his big league time, including six different numbers with the Kansas City A’s and two numbers (22 and 4) during his brief time in Pittsburgh. He also wore two numbers during his partial season with the Seattle Pilots.