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

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 National League 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. As for value received in the deal, Hargreaves was above average defensively in Pittsburgh, but that was off-set by his offense, resulting in -0.4 WAR. The Robins got 0.0 from both players, though Gooch had a little positive value after leaving Brooklyn, so the Pirates would have been better off keeping him.

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, followed by 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 with a double and a walk in 11 GCL games in 1986, which was his only action that first year. He then hit .298 with 53 runs, 12 doubles, 12 homers, 53 RBIs and 17 steals (in 17 attempts) in 1987, splitting the season between the two A-ball levels (Macon of the South Atlantic League and Salem of the Carolina League). In 1988, he put up a .292 average and an .897 OPS in 26 games at High-A Salem, then moved up to Double-A Harrisburg of the Eastern League and really struggled, hitting .223/.278/.317 with 99 strikeouts in 90 games. He stole 17 bases again, though he was caught eight times. Those stats in Salem looked promising, but he was already 25 years old at the time, so it wasn’t a good sign to see him struggle that bad in Double-A at that age.

Ruskin was a pitcher when he came to camp in 1989, starting his season off with Salem. After posting a 2.23 ERA in 84.1 innings with 92 strikeouts, he was moved up to Harrisburg, where he had a 4.86 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 63 innings. He went from never pitching in pro ball (he pitched in college) to making 23 starts and three relief appearances, pitching five complete games and a total of 147.1 innings, with 128 strikeouts. Despite the lack of pitching experience, Ruskin made the Pirates Opening Day roster in 1990. His minor league manager at Salem (Rocky Bridges, who had 22 years of managerial experience) said that while he didn’t throw hard, he had the best curveball that he has even seen and his changeup was nearly as good, and he threw both for strikes. Ruskin 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 Montreal Expos along with Willie Greene (and later, Moises Alou) in exchange for Zane Smith. Ruskin pitched another 23 games for Montreal in 1990, finishing his rookie season with a 2.75 ERA in 75.1 innings over 67 appearances. He would pitch 64 games for the Expos in 1991, posting a 4.24 ERA in 63.2 innings before being traded (along with Willie Greene again) to the Cincinnati Reds on December 11, 1991. With the trade to both Montreal and Cinncinati, he ended up going to two teams that originally drafted him anyway. He pitched two years with the Reds, 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. The rest of the year was spent at Triple-A Indianapolis of the American Association, where he had a 5.14 ERA in 56 innings, though it came with 28 saves. 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, Ruskin 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, while posting a 2-3, 2.45 record. Moving up to A-ball the next year, he had a 12-9, 3.24 record and 132 strikeouts in 172 innings with Charleston of the Western Carolinas League. The Pirates quickly moved him through the system in 1977, skipping Robinson over Advanced-A completely, and giving him a start at Triple-A before the year was over. He was 7-6, 4.06 with 103 strikeouts in 113 innings with Double-A Shreveport of the Texas League, then he threw five shutout innings for Columbus of the International League, 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 had 135 strikeouts, which ended up being his second highest total in a season. 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 and 96 strikeouts in 160.2 innings, although that .500 record on a first place team doesn’t tell the whole story. In games that Robinson started that year, 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. He wasn’t much of a workhorse (for the era) during the 1979-80 seasons, completing a total of seven games in 49 starts. He missed most of the 1981 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. He had six complete games and he struck out a career high 165 batters, a number he never approached over the rest of his career. He also won his first Silver Slugger award that year, hitting .282 with two homers and 16 RBIs.

The extra work for Robinson in 1982 was too much, as the shoulder problems reappeared in 1983, limiting him to 36.1 innings and a 4.46 ERA over six starts and three relief outings. When he came back the next year, it was as 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 5-6, 3.02 record and ten saves in 122 innings over 51 games (one start) in 1984.  He was 5-11, 3.87 in 95.1 innings during the disastrous 1985 season, when the Pirates went 57-104. He started in six of his 44 appearances and finished up with three saves. 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 and 12 saves 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, 3.85 record in 1,203 innings pitched, with 217 relief appearances, 126 starts, 22 complete games, three shutouts and 43 saves.

Robinson would go on to play five more full seasons in the majors after leaving Pittsburgh, finishing his career up with the 1992 Philadelphia Phillies. He was strong with the Giants after the trade, putting up a 5-1, 2.74 record and seven saves in 42.2 innings over 25 games. He pitched three innings in the playoffs that year and he allowed three runs. Robinson made 19 starts and 32 relief appearances in 1988 for the Giants, going 10-5, 2.45 in 176.2 innings, with six saves and two shutouts. He was a full-time starter in 1989, going 12-11, 3.43 in 197 innings. He made 32 starts, threw five complete games and his final career shutout. Despite a .185 average, he won his second Silver Slugger award, thanks in part to hitting three homers. 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 over 25 starts and one relief outing. He won the Silver Slugger again, this time with a .143 average, two homers and a .397 OPS. That season the Giants went to the World Series against the Oakland A’s and he got the start in the deciding game four, losing after allowing four runs in 1.2 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. He failed to complete a game, but he picked up his last career save. 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, with 295 relief appearances, 229 starts, 34 complete games, six shutouts and 57 saves.

Robinson finished with a .231 career average, 23 doubles and 13 homers, while 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 with Shelby of the Tar Heel League, then posted a 6.37 ERA and a 132:123 BB/SO ratio in 171 innings in 1954 with Seminole of the Sooner State League. That 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 his control in 1955 back with Seminole, where he went 8-9, 4.59 in 157 innings, with a 102:141 BB/SO ratio. He also saw brief time for Class-C Hot Springs of the Cotton States League that year, putting together a 3-2 record in nine appearances. He split the 1956 season between three levels in the minors, then saw time with the Kansas City Athletics in September. His stats with Crowley of the Class-C Evangeline League were impressive that season, going 7-2, 2.17 in 11 starts, with 114 strikeouts in 87 innings. His complete minor league stats aren’t known from that year with Abilene of the Class-B Big State League (he went 2-3 in ten appearances), but we known he went 0-6, 3.86 in 56 innings over ten starts for Columbia of the Class-A South Atlantic League, which was his highest level in the minors that year. Brunet allowed eight runs and 11 walks in nine innings with the 1956 A’s. It was quite a jump through the minors that year, but it helped that the A’s had a 52-105 record that season.

Brunet was a September call-up again in 1957 after going 14-15, 3.42, with 235 strikeouts in 213 innings for Little Rock of the Double-A Southern Association. During his second cup of coffee with the A’s, he allowed seven runs in 11.1 innings over two starts and two relief appearances. He spent all of 1958 and most of 1959 back in the minors, seeing just 4.2 innings (nine runs allowed) with Kansas City. He split 1958 between Little Rock and Buffalo of the Triple-A International League, combining to go 9-13, 4.34, with 156 strikeouts over 191 innings. In 1959 he was with Portland of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he went 5-13, 3.78 in 138 innings over 20 starts and eight relief appearances. Brunet spent most of the 1960 season in the majors, seeing time with the A’s and Milwaukee Braves. He combined to go 2-2, 4.95, throwing 60 innings over eight starts and 12 relief appearances. In 1961, his big league time was limited to five relief appearances with the Braves, and he allowed three runs in five innings. The rest of the year was spent with Vancouver of the PCL, where he had a 5-4, 3.81 record in 104 innings. Brunet made 11 starts and six relief appearances in 1962 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 (two starts). In 1964, Houston purchased him back from Baltimore in May, but his only big league time that year was with the Los Angeles Angels, who purchased his contract on August 18th. He went 2-2, 3.61 in 42.1 innings over seven starts and three relief appearances.

Brunet played in the big leagues every season from 1956-1964 (except 1958), yet had just 85 games in at majors by age 29 at 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 (26 starts), going 9-11, 2.56 in 197 innings, with eight complete games, three shutouts and two saves. Brunet would win 37 games from 1966-68, but 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 American League in losses (1967 and 1968). 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. He went 13-13, 3.31 in 212 innings over 32 starts and nine relief appearances in 1966. He had eight complete games, two shutouts and 148 strikeouts. He had an identical 3.31 ERA in 1967, but it came with an 11-19 record. He set career highs with 250 innings and 165 strikeouts. In 1968, Brunet had a 13-17, 2.86 record in 36 starts and three relief appearances. He had eight complete games, with a career high five shutouts.

Brunet played for two teams in 1969, starting with the Angels, before being sold to the expansion Seattle Pilots on July 31st. He went 6-7, 3.84 in 100.2 innings with the Angels, then finished up 2-5, 5.37 in 63.2 innings with the Pilots. He started 1970 with the Washington Senators after a December 4, 1969 trade, though by that time it was the Milwaukee Brewers making the deal. He 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, allowing six runs in 9.1 innings, then went to the minors, where he pitched until 1973.

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. That wasn’t his entire pro career though. He went to Mexico in 1973 and continued to pitch there regularly until he was 49 years old in 1984, though he made some appearances after that time as well. His full stats aren’t known, but he is credited with over 4,600 innings and over 3,500 strikeouts, and both numbers could be much higher. 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.

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