It all started when I stumbled upon a documentary about the 1969 Seattle Pilots (released circa 2010). You can skip Part One (it’s only a snippet) and begin here: The Seattle Pilots: Short Flight into History.
The Seattle Pilots were an American professional baseball team based in Seattle, Washington for one season, 1969. The Pilots played home games at Sick’s Stadium and were a member of the West Division of Major League Baseball’s American League. On April 1, 1970, they moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and changed their name to the Brewers.
Jim Bouton played for the 1969 Seattle Pilots, and wrote a book about it. It is no exaggeration to state the Ball Four is one of the seminal texts in American sporting history, and I fairly devoured it at the age of 12, with repeat readings for years to follow.
Save for Ball Four, the Pilots would remain little more than an archaic footnote in major league history. It explains why 40-plus years after reading it for the first time, this documentary brings the ill-fated Pilots vibrantly back to life through both archival footage and filmed appearances by surviving players — and their ranks have thinned considerably, before and since filming.
Most of those still here to tell the tale are in their mid- to late-70s. Sicks Stadium is long demolished. Seattle was awarded a second expansion franchise in 1977, and the Mariners have succeeded where their predecessors failed.
Internet + baseball fan = Memorial Day weekend rabbit hole doubleheader, and so it is that I began researching the life of pitcher George Brunet, who features prominently in Bouton’s book, most famously during a digression about the usefulness of underwear. Brunet also is the topic of a fine anecdote in the film, as related by Greg Goosen (repeated here).
The Brunet narrative trail has been blazed, starting here.
Cooperstown Confidential: The wild life of George Brunet, by Bruce Markusen (Hardballtimes)
… We know plenty about the stars, the legends, the Hall of Famers. We know their stories; we enjoy hearing about them. But it is the journeymen, the less talented players who truly fascinate me. They seem to be the most colorful; they have to overcome the greatest adversities. Their stories are often the most compelling, if only we are willing to dig and search.
One of those journeymen who has intrigued me is George Brunet. I first became aware of him in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. I then heard about his exploits, at an advanced age well into his 50s, in the Mexican League.
In every sense, Brunet was a baseball lifer, amply fulfilling the many cliches about southpaw eccentricities and emptying more than a few bottles along the way. His career in the big leagues was average at best, though good enough for parts of 15 seasons. Today, such longevity is awarded with millions.
But that’s only the half of it, as Brunet played in the minors, majors and Mexican League for 37 consecutive years, from just after high school to the age of 54 — from Eisenhower through George H.W. Bush.
All told, Brunet pitched more than 6,000 innings and set the minor league record for strikeouts (3,175). He finally retired in 1989. Remaining in Mexico, he died only two years later following a heart attack.
Markusen has it pegged. The journeymen among ballplayers are the most interesting, probably for the same reason Bull Durham is the best baseball movie.
It’s all about the stories.