Rennie Stennett, a former second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates who in 1975 became only the second major leaguer to get seven hits in a nine-inning game, died on Tuesday at his daughter’s home in Coconut Creek, Fla. He was 72.
The cause was colon cancer, his daughter, Renee Lugo, said.
Stennett played nine seasons for Pittsburgh, a period of great success for the team. The Pirates won the World Series in 1971 and 1979, finished first in their division five times, and had a powerful lineup with hitters like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Manny Sanguillen and Al Oliver.
Stennett was hitting .278 on Sept. 16, 1975, when he led off against the Chicago Cubs’ starting pitcher, Rick Reuschel. He hit a double and then, as the Pirates batted around in the first inning, hit a run-scoring single off the reliever Tom Dettore. The Pirates scored nine runs in all.
In the third, Stennett again singled off Dettore; in the fifth, he batted twice, doubling off Dettore and then singling in a run against Oscar Zamora to make the score 18-0. He was alerted to the possibility of a six-hit game by the second base umpire, Dutch Rennert.
He got his sixth hit, a single, in the seventh, then tripled in the eighth for his seventh. That tied the record for hits in a nine-inning game, set in 1892 by catcher Wilbert Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles.
“I thought someday that I might get five hits in a game, but I never dreamed I’d get seven,” Stennett told reporters after the Pirates’ 22-0 trouncing of the Cubs.
Reinaldo Antonio Stennett was born on April 5, 1949, in Colon, Panama, and raised in the Canal Zone. His father worked on tugboats on the canal. Early on, Rennie attracted interest from several major league teams but waited to sign with the Pirates until he graduated from high school.
He was called up to the Pirates during the 1971 season after batting .344 at Pittsburgh’s Triple-A team in Charleston, W.Va. He hit .353 — boosted by an 18-game hitting streak — for the Pirates over 50 games.
Stennett had made history before his seven-hit game: On Sept. 1, 1971, in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, he was the leadoff hitter for baseball’s first all-Black and Latino starting lineup.
“When it comes to making out the lineup, I’m colorblind,” the Pirates’ manager, Danny Murtaugh, told reporters after the game. “And my athletes know it.”
After playing multiple positions in his first three seasons, Stennett became the team’s starting second baseman in 1974, taking over for Dave Cash.
Stennett was having his best year in 1977, batting .336, when he fractured his right leg and dislocated his ankle sliding into second base in late August. His season was over, 12 plate appearances short of qualifying for the National League batting title, which his teammate Dave Parker won with a .338 average.
“If he had not broken his ankle, I personally felt he was Hall of Fame-bound,” Al Oliver told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after Stennett’s death. “I have never seen a second baseman with his range. Ever. He could have been the best athlete on our team.”
Stennett batted .243 and .238 the next two seasons; he had only one at-bat (he singled) during the 1979 World Series, in which Phil Garner started each game at second base. The Pirates — a freewheeling team whose theme song was Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” — won in seven games over the Orioles.
He left the Pirates to sign a five-year, $3 million free agent contract with the San Francisco Giants. But he lasted only two seasons — his average was a combined .242 — before being released.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” Stennett told The Boston Globe, recalling how the Giants’ managers, first Dave Bristol and then Frank Robinson, “resented the money I got.”
“The money — it changes a lot of people,” he added. “They look at your different, and you can’t say anything.”
He hung on a bit longer, playing in the Mexican League in 1982 and for the Montreal Expos’ top minor league team in 1983. He tried to make a comeback with the Pirates in 1989 but was cut during spring training.
After retiring from baseball, he worked with the Pirates on marketing and charity events.
In addition to his daughter, Stennett is survived by his sons, Roberto and Rennie Jr.; four grandchildren; and several siblings.