Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gene Brabender (#289)

Here is Pilots' starting pitcher Gene Brabender, warming up in Yankee Stadium. I was surprised to see today that Gene only played for 5 seasons (1966-70). Although his first 3 seasons were with the Orioles (which is how I remember him), he was traded to the expansion Pilots seemingly minutes before the start of the 1969 season, and went on to lead the staff in wins, strikeouts, and most other pitching categories.

Brabender started out in the Dodgers' chain (I also didn’t know that) in 1961. After 3 seasons as a starting pitcher (mostly in Class D and Class A), Gene lost 2 seasons to military service, then was selected by Baltimore in the post-1965 Rule 5 draft.

He made the Orioles from the get-go in 1966, making his debut in May. Brabender pitched in 31 games as a rookie, all but one in relief.

Gene began the 1967 season back in the minors, getting the triple-A fine-tuning he missed earlier. Recalled in late-July, he started 14 games (completing 3) over the final 2 months of the season.  

In 1967, only Dave McNally remained a top-5 starting pitcher from the previous season's World Champion pitching staff that swept the ’66 World Series. (Injuries cut down Jim Palmer and Wally Bunker, and Steve Barber was traded away by mid-season. ) In their place were rookies Tom Phoebus and Jim Hardin, Brabender, and Pete Richert who was acquired from Washington.

Gene's last season with the O's was 1968. With McNally, Hardin, and Phoebus each making 35+ starts, Brabender was a swing man, only starting 15 of his 37 games.

In 1969 the Orioles acquired starting pitcher Mike Cuellar from the Astros. With Palmer once again healthy and reliever Dick Hall back from his 2-year stint with the Phillies, Baltimore's pitching staff was not only solid, but crowded. Gene was traded to the Pilots during the final week of Spring Training for utility man Chico Salmon. Brabender led the upstart Pilots with 13 wins, 139 strikeouts, 29 starts, and 202 innings pitched. He was also one of Jim Bouton's favorite subjects in his book Ball Four.

Gene's final season was 1970 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Other pitchers acquired in the off-season (such as Lew Krausse, Ken Sanders, Bob Bolin, and Dave Baldwin) surpassed him, cutting his workload down from 40 games in 1969 to 29 in 1970. Of course, having a 6-15 record and a 6.02 ERA probably had something to do with it.

Brabender was traded to the Angels in January 1971 for outfielder Bill Voss. His final card is in the 1971 set (as an Angel), but he played the entire season with the Angels' AAA team, the retired.

He passed away in 1996 at age 55.

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