THT: Thanks so much for agreeing to sit down and talk with us today.
GBLA: Hey, no problem. Always happy to take a load off the shoulder!
THT: Are you comfortable there on that pillow?
GBLA: Comfortable on this pillow? Son, after you’ve been through what I’ve been through in my days, sittin’ around on a pillow is real comfortable!
THT: Okay, then. How about we start with an update on what you’re up to these days.
GBLA: Well, we’re in heaven, of course. George and me, that is. And let me tell ya: heaven is one hell of place to spend your retirement!
THT: Well, uh –
GBLA: That’s a JOKE, son!
THT: Oh, yeah. Ha Ha!
GBLA: Heaven’s great. Me and George are havin’ a ball.
THT: So, what’s heaven like?
GBLA: Well, it turns out heaven is whatever you want it to be! Yeah! How about that. Believe me, there were plenty of folks who always said George and me would never wind up in heaven. Shows ta go ya what they know, don’t it. So anyway, for George and me, heaven is this: every day we play ball all day. George gets to pitch a shutout, and I get to throw all the curves and scroogies I please, and never hurt a bit. And every night, George gets to eat all the steaks and drink all the beers he wants – and he never gains a pound or gets a hangover, and I never get tired from bein’ bent so many times. How about that!
THT: Well, it’s great to hear that things are going so well.
GBLA: Believe me, young fella, they sure are. And I ain’t tellin’ you everything, either. Let’s just say this: me and Jayne Mansfield’s left arm have been spendin’ a lot of time together. Nuff said, huh!
THT: I think we can let our imaginations take it from there. So, let’s talk about some of the old times. How about telling us about how you and George got started in pro ball.
GBLA: Happy to do it. Georgie and I had quite a bit of success pitching high school ball up there in Keeweenaw County, Michigan. You know where Keeweenaw County is?
THT: Um, let’s see. I believe it’s on the Upper Peninsula?
GBLA: You believe right about that. It is on the Upper Peninsula. But not just anywhere on the Upper Peninsula. We’re talkin’ about the very northernmost tip of the very northernmost part of the Upper Peninsula. Nothin’ but cold and windy Lake Superior on three sides, doncha know.
THT: Wow, that is way up there.
GBLA: That it is. And my point about that is, even though George and me pitched some pretty doggone good high school ball up there, we didn’t exactly attract the attention of a lot of big league scouts. But George really wanted to play pro ball, he had a lotta confidence that he could do it. So his high school coach knew somebody who knew somebody, that kinda thing, and a couple weeks after graduation George got a letter in the mail with a bus ticket in it to Shelby, North Carolina. Seems there was this team down there, Class D, the Shelby Farmers of the Tar Heel League, that was offering George a contract. So George and me, we got on that bus, we’d never been anywhere further from home than Ontario — right across the lake ya know — George and me, we got on that bus, and rode it for 36 hours all the way down to North Carolina. We’d never been anywhere like that before.
THT: The Tar Heel League.
GBLA: Yup. A funny name, huh. Me and George never did figure out what it meant.
THT: So did you and George do well down there?
GBLA: Well, you know, way back then – this was 1953 – I could throw hard as anything, but I was pretty wild, too. That’s how it is when you’re just eighteen, doncha know. And George didn’t know much about how to use me, neither. So we had our good moments, but we had our struggles too. Nineteen innings, we had seventeen strikeouts, but gave up nineteen runs.
THT: You remember those statistics?
GBLA: [Laughs.] Well, I always was a good hand with the figures.
THT: Okay, and so –
GBLA: Get it? A “good hand”?
THT: Oh! Right! A good hand!
GBLA: Try to keep up with me, young fella. Anyways, that was just the start of the ride. The long, wild ride. After just a few weeks, Shelby let us go. But George was never a shy one, and he was always talkin’ to people who were talkin’ to people, you know, and the very day Shelby was givin’ us the release, George gets a telephone call from somebody down in Louisiana, said if he could pay his own way down there, the Alexandria Aces in the Evangeline League would give him a tryout.
THT: I’m guessing you and George took the bus down to Louisiana.
GBLA: Well, to tell the truth we hitchhiked down there; George always would be a careful one with his money, in his way. But, yessir, we went on down there, and I showed ’em my best gas in the tryout, and they gave George a contract.
THT: So it was still only a few weeks past George’s high school graduation, and you and he had never been far from home before, and you were already in your second new league, all the way down in Louisiana.
GBLA: Yeah, but you know somethin’? We probably shoulda been scared to death, but George and me were both so young, we didn’t know enough to be scared. I just loved to throw, and Georgie just loved to play ball, and both of us just couldn’t believe we were actually gettin’ paid for this. It sure beat workin’ in a sawmill, which was what we did after we went back to Michigan that winter. I was sure I was gonna lose a finger or two doin’ that. Travelin’ to strange places and pitchin’ baseballs was a whole lot less scary than that.
THT: So did you go back to Louisiana the next season?
GBLA: No, but you know George, he was always talkin’ to people. I don’t know the details of it, but he got us an offer the next spring to go down to Oklahoma, to the Sooner State League, to play for the Seminole Oilers. We played there that whole season, 1954. Didn’t win too many games, but it was real good experience. And you know somethin’? That year, 1954, it would be the last time we’d play for only one team all season long until 1965.
THT: The long, wild ride.
GBLA: Ha! You are payin’ attention, arncha! The long and wild ride. I told ya that I was always a good hand with the figures, well I’m a pretty sharp one with the facts, too. How about these towns: Hot Springs, Arkansas, then back to Seminole, Oklahoma, then down to Abilene, Texas, then back down to Louisiana — Crowley, Louisiana — and then over to Columbia, South Carolina.
THT: Those are all the minor league teams you pitched for?
GBLA: Young fella, those are just the minor league teams we pitched for in the next two years! And then in September of 1956, we finally got called up to the majors. The Kansas City Athletics, they was the team that had got a hold of George’s contract somewhere along the line. They called us up, and there we was, just twenty-one years old, and guess who that nut Lou Boudreau brings us into the game to face — our very first major league game — guess who he brings us in to face, with the bases loaded and two outs!
THT: Well, it probably would have been a left-handed batter —
GBLA: That’s right! Ted Williams himself, that’s who! And you know what? George had me snap off a beauty of an overhand curve, and old Ted Williams hit an easy little groundout. How about that!
THT: Your first batter in the majors, and you got Ted Williams out.
GBLA: George always liked to say: it was all downhill from then on!
THT: On the long and wild ride.
GBLA: Yessir! How about I throw a few more towns at ya: Little Rock, Arkansas. Buffalo, New York. Portland, Oregon. Louisville, Kentucky. With Louisville, that was after we got traded over to the Milwaukee Braves, in 1960. Then the Braves sent us up to Vancouver, British Columbia. Then after that we went over to the Houston Colt .45s organization, and they sent us out to Honolulu, Hawaii, and then back to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
THT: You were in your mid-twenties by this time, right?
GBLA: Right, and let me tell ya something. With that Houston Colt .45s organization, even though we didn’t get to pitch a whole lot in the majors, or do all that well when we did, it was with that organization that George and me finally really started to learn how to pitch, and not just throw. Paul Richards was in charge there, and he was a nasty son of a beehive, but he really did know his stuff when it came to pitchin’, and he had his managers and coaches always tellin’ us, tellin’ us, tellin’ us — the best pitch in baseball is strike one! We finally realized it was better to throw a so-so pitch for a strike than a real nasty pitch for a ball.
THT: Sometimes the simplest lessons are the hardest ones to learn.
GBLA: You are a pretty sharp one, there, arncha!? You better believe it. It took me and Georgie at least ten years to get it. Anyways, we got sold to the Baltimore Orioles, and then they sent us to Rochester, New York, and then the Colt .45s bought us back again and sent us back to Oklahoma City, and then we got sold again, to the Los Angeles Angels. We got to pitch there for Bill Rigney, who was a heckuva nice fella, and he was the one who really finally gave us the chance to show what we could do. And so me and George was finally in the big leagues to stay for a little while.
THT: Ok, wait! I know what team you played for next, after the Angels. It was the Seattle Pilots, in 1969.
GBLA: Right you are. We had a good long run with the Angels, but by ’69 some of the old zip wasn’t quite there on the heater. We was 34 years old by this time. So that July we got sold to the Pilots.
THT: Right, and I know that because I have some quotes about George from Jim Bouton’s book about that season, Ball Four. I wonder if I could get your reaction to these quotes.
GBLA: Fire away! Bouton was an odd one, but he was a nice enough guy, for a city fella, anyways.
THT: The first quote is Bouton’s reaction when he hears that the Pilots have acquired George. Bouton writes, “The Pilots have just bought George Brunet from the Angels for something just over the waiver price. He’ll fit right in on this ballclub. He’s crazy.”
GBLA: [Laughs.] Well it takes one to know one! But “crazy” would be a pretty good way to describe old Georgie, you betcha.
THT: Fair enough. Okay, the other one is a few weeks later. Bouton writes:
I watched Brunet getting dressed and I nearly fell off my stool. ‘George, I got to know something,’ I said. ‘This is not a knock. I don’t mind guys who do things differently. But I got to know. Did you forget to put on your undershorts?‘
‘No, I never wear undershorts,’ Brunet said. ‘Hell, the only time you need them is if you get into a car wreck. Besides, this way I don’t have to worry about losing them.’
GBLA: Well, here’s the thing about that. There was a lotta things George did different than other folks. Lots of people laughed at him about some stuff, thought George was strange. Hell, he sure got a lot of those “left-hander” cracks sent in his direction — just how did folks think that made me feel? Anyways, the thing is this: just because George did things different, don’t mean he did them wrong. Maybe everyone else was wrong. George did all right in his life, just doin’ it his own way. George did all right.
THT: He set some career records, didn’t he.
GBLA: Well, I like to think that him and me did it together, ya know!
THT: By all means, you and George did it together. So isn’t one of the records for the longest professional baseball career?
GBLA: Yessir, and lemme tell ya how that all came about. After the Seattle Pilots in ’69, we got traded to the Washington Senators — where Ted Williams was the manager, how about that! — and then later in 1970 we got traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where we won first place in the division. Then from the Pirates we got traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Then in May of 1971 the Cardinals gave George his release. We were 36 years old, and we’d been in pro ball for 19 years, and some folks asked George if maybe it was time to retire, and go back home up to Calumet, Michigan, and look into doin’ somethin’ different than baseball.
But George? Not on yer life! Nothin’ he ever wanted to do except play ball. Well, that and deer huntin’, and nobody was gonna pay him to do that! So he says, you know someplace where I always really liked playin’? Hawaii! So, you know George, he knows somebody who knows somebody, and next thing ya know we’re on a plane to Honolulu, and we pitched for the Islanders for the rest of ’71 and all of 1972. Won fourteen games for the Islanders in ’72, which was the most wins we’d had in a season since way back in 1957.
THT: And you did it at the age of, what, 37?.
GBLA: Does that sound old to you? Ha! We still had a long ways ta go! But where was I? Okay, 1973. The Hawaii ball club moved to Eugene, Oregon that year — a nice little town, but not as much fun as Waikiki Beach, ya know! So anyways, during that ’73 season, the Eugene ball club was strugglin’ to make ends meet, and they had to give George his release. So now George was thinkin’ maybe this was it, after all. We went back up to Calumet, and went fishin’ and such, and George told the folks he was happy with it, but I knew he wasn’t. But then guess what: George got another one a them telephone calls!
THT: Let me guess: he knew somebody who knew somebody.
GBLA: You got it! See, George and me had played a lot of winter ball over the years, down in Puerto Rico. George loved it down there, and taught himself how to talk Spanish a little bit. Had some real good times, and made some good friends. Well, one a these friends was a fella from Venezuela named Alfonso Carrasquel, the American guys mostly called him Chico. Was a real good shortstop in the American League back when George was first comin’ up. Anyways, Carrasquel calls George and says, hey, if you wanna come down and play in Mexico, I can get you a job pitchin’ for Poza Rica in the Mexican League.
THT: And this is still in 1973?
GBLA: Yep, later that summer. So me and George headed on down south of the border! Poza Rica is way down near the Gulf coast, in the state they call Veracruz. A long, long way from Keeweenaw County, lemme tell ya! Real, real nice place, warm weather, lotsa friendly people, even though we couldn’t understand a lot of what they was sayin’ most of the time. Maybe that was what was what was so much fun! Anyways, we weren’t down there very long at all before George decided that, of all the places we’d been to and played ball in over all the years, this just might be the best of ’em all.
THT: The long and wild ride to Mexico.
GBLA: Ain’t it funny how things go! We never woulda thought that’s where we’d go, but that’s where we went, and it turned out to be the place we stayed for the longest of anywhere. We pitched for Poza Rica all the way through 1978. One of those years we had the best record we ever had: seventeen wins and only nine losses. And then we moved on to another team, Coatzacoalcos — don’t ask me to spell it! — and for one team or another, we just kept on pitchin’ in the Mexican League for year after year, all the way through 1989.
THT: So let me add this up: from 1953 through 1989 is —
GBLA: Thirty-seven years! That’s right! So far as anyone ever told us, that’s the longest anyone ever played straight through. So that’s one record. Also we set the record for most minor league strikeouts, with more than three thousand. That’s two records. And we set a third record, too, the record for most shutouts in the Mexican League. But lemme tell ya the thing that I personally was most proud of: thirty-seven years in pro baseball, and I never got injured once. Sure, I got sore plenty of times, but never bad enough that George couldn’t limber me up and pitch. Thirty-seven years and we was never on that disabled list, not one time.
THT: That is impressive. So how did the long and wild ride ever come to an end?
GBLA: Well, I never gave out, but George’s old ticker did. He had his first heart attack in 1981 — man, you shoulda felt the pain in me! — but George recovered from that okay and just kept on pitchin’. But the heart never was really quite the same after that. George found himself with less energy, gettin’ outta breath more, that kind of stuff. Finally even he had to admit, at age 54, it was time to give up playin’ ball. But he sure never retired from the game, no sir. Stayed in Mexico because he loved it down there, kept on workin’ in baseball, as a coach, as a manager, and puttin’ on baseball clinics for kids. He just loved the game. Kept active in baseball right up to the last heart attack, down in Poza Rica, in ’91. It was a great place to live, and so I guess you could say it was a great place to die too.
THT: And from there it was straight to heaven?
GBLA: You better believe it! And heaven is a lot like Poza Rica, actually, except the ball game never gets rained out! Plus, the toilets don’t back up.
THT: So, any advice for any young arms that you’d like to pass along?
GBLA: Just keep on throwin’! George never babied me, kept me workin’ pretty close to every day, from the time we was just kids. He had a dream and he followed it, and never looked back. I’m proud to say I helped him make it pretty much come true. We had a real, real good time.
References & Resources
George Brunet’s career record (through 1984) is found in the SABR publication Minor League Baseball Stars, Volume II (1985). Brunet’s photo graces the cover.
The Ball Four quotes are from pages 282 and 307.
A few Brunet stories were discovered on this site: http://www.brandx.net/pilots/feed36.html
Grateful props to very helpful Primates, Repoz, Jed, and NTNgod, who provided links filling me in on the specifics on Brunet’s 1991 death.
I haven’t been able to track down a complete career listing for Brunet. Going from the one I have, through 1984, Brunet had won 244 minor league games, and lost 242, with a 3.27 ERA in 666 games and 4041 innings. Tangotiger’s Pitch Count Estimator has him at 66,827 estimated minor league pitches through 1984, plus an additional 23,044 estimated major league pitches.