Rennie Stennett was a 5'11" second baseman from Colon, Panama. Born on April 5th, 1951, the Pirates signed the righty as an unrestricted free agent in 1969. When he debuted with the class "A" level Gastonia Pirates in the Western Carolina League later that season, he put up a .288 batting average in 107 games.
1970 would see Stennett spend most of his season with the Salem Rebels for the class "A" Carolina League (,327, 132 games). He made one appearance at AAA, with the International League Columbus Jets. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a run. After hitting .344 through 80 games with the IL's Charleston Charlies in 1971, Stennett was called to the big club. He wouldn't appear in the minor leagues again for 11 years.
Stennett made his Pirates debut in July. He hit .353 in 50 games at second base, with 24 runs and 15 RBI. He collected multiple hits in 17 of his 50 appearances, including three hits twice and four hits two more times. His best game of the season may have been September 5th, when he scored twice and knocked two in with a double and a home run, going 4-for-5 in a 6-4 Pirates loss to the Montreal Expos. The game was played in the midst of a memorable 18 game hit streak between August 22nd and September 10th, a streak which would see Stennett hit .463, collecting 37 hits in 80 at bats. Pittsburgh won the NL East, seven games in front of the St. Louis Cardinals at 97-65. The Pirates went on to prevail over the San Francisco Giants three games to one in the NLCS before defeating the AL Champion Baltimore Orioles in seven contests. Stennett was not on the active roster at the time.
1972 would see Stennett play in 109 games for the Pirates. He hit .286, scoring 43 runs and knocking in 30 more. He played mostly second base, but also appeared in center, left, and right field, as well as shortstop as needed. He also batted all over the lineup, gathering starts at leadoff, second, third, sixth and seventh. On April 25th, he went 4-of-6, with a double and one run scored in a 5-2, 13 inning win over the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates again took the NL East, at 96-59 a full 11 games in front of the second place Chicago Cubs. The Pirates foes in the NLCS were the Reds, who defeated them three games to two. In the series loss, Stennett went 6-for-21 with two runs scored and an RBI.
In 1973, Stennett appeared in 128 games for the Pirates. He hit 18 doubles and 10 home runs for 55 RBI while hitting a new career low .242. He batted mostly seventh in the order as Pittsburgh's primary second baseman and occasional shortstop. His best game in a mostly forgettable campaign was on May 4th, when he went 3-for-4 with two round trippers and six RBI in a 12-6 victory over the San Diego Padres. The Pirates finished 80-82, only 2.5 games behind the NL East winning New York Mets.
Stennett followed up his worst season with what may have been his best. He played in a career high 157 games in 1974, hitting .291 with 29 runs and seven home runs with 56 RBI. He ranked fifth in the NL with 196 base hits. His performance was enough to have him recieve a few votes in the NL MVP balloting (he was 21st). He led off the Bucs order and played second base in almost every game. On June 15th, he hit a double and a triple in three at bats, accounting for all of Pittsburgh's runs in a 3-2 win over the San Francisco Giants. Stennett finished the season ranked fifth in the NL with a .980 fielding percentage at second base. The Pirates won the NL East at 88-74, beating the second place Cardinals by a game and a half. Stennett had a forgettable postseason, going 1-for-16 as the Pirates were eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games.
1975 would see Stennett play in 148 games for the Bucs at second base. He hit .286 with 89 runs scored, seven home runs and 62 RBI. He would join history in a 22-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on September 16th by going 7-for-7 with five runs, two doubles, a triple and two RBI. He was the third player in history to collect seven hits in a single game, and only the second to do it in a nine inning contest. Including his seven hit performance, he had 41 multiple hit games over the course of the season. He would again place fifth in the NL with a .979 fielding percentage at second base. The Pirates repeated as NL East Champions with a 92-69 record, 6.5 games ahead of second place Philadelphia. Stennett went 3-for-14 as the Pirates were swept in three games by the Reds in the NLCS.
In 1976, Stennett again played in 157 games at second base, hitting .257 with 60 RBI batting first, second, seventh, and eighth. He stole 18 bases, marking the first time in his career he had stolen more than eight. He only struck out 32 times out of 682 plate appearances, placing him in fourth in the NL by striking out once every 20.4 at bats. His .981 fielding percentage placed him third in the NL at second base. On June 22nd, he went 5-for-6 from the plate, scoring and driving in two. Pittsburgh's 92-70 record had them finish the season nine games behind the NL East Champion Phillies.
Stennett enjoyed a career revival in 1977, hitting .336 through 116 contests. He also stole a career high 28 bases. Unfortunately, he broke his leg sliding into second base on August 21st, rendering him ineligible for the batting title by having fewer than the required number of plate appearances. (Teammate Dave Parker eventually won the title by hitting .338, but more on him later). He batted everywhere in the order except for third, eighth, and ninth while making all his appearances at second base (excepting four pinch appearances). He registered more than one base hit in 44 of his 116 contests, including 14 three and four hit performances. On August 11th, he went 4-for-4 in a 9-1 Pirates win over the Mets, driving in two with a double and scoring one. He also posted a career best .982 fielding percentage, ranking fifth in the NL. He would finish 19th when it was time to vote for the NL MVP. Pittsburgh again missed out on the postseason to their instate rivals, losing out by five games to the Phillies with a 96-66 record.
1978 would see Stennett's batting average drop to .243. His prior injury robbed him of his speed, allowing him to swipe a total of two bases through 106 games. On May 21st, in a 7-0 win over the Montreal Expos, he hit a grand slam, one of three home runs on the season. Three days later, in a 10 inning, 6-5 win over the Mets on May 24th, he went 2-for-4 with a walk and three batted in. For the third season in a row, the Pirates finished behind the Phillies for the division title, this time missing out by only 1.5 games with an 88-73 record.
In 1979, Stennett posted a .238 average through 108 games batting from sixth, seventh, and eighth in the lineup at second base. The Pirates beat out the Expos for the division title by two games, at 98-64. In Pittsburgh's three game sweep of the Reds in the NLCS, Stennett only appeared in one game, a ninth inning defensive replacement at second base. When the Pirates faced the Orioles in the World Series, Stennett only played in one game, earning a pinch hit single in the top of the eighth as the Pirates lost game one, 5-4. It was the only plate appearance he ever made in the Fall Classic.
Stennett was granted free agency following the season, and signed on with the San Francisco Giants. In two seasons by the bay, he hit .242 through 158 contests.
All-Time Statline: Nine seasons, 979 games, .278/.309/.366, 1122-for-4037, 458 runs, 164 doubles, 39 triples, 38 home runs, 388 RBI, 69 stolen bases, 182 walks, 311 strikeouts, 13.5 wins above replacement.