By Devon POV Mason| Contributor
Rennie Stennett made baseball history twice. Once with his mere presence in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup as a rookie and later with seven hits in seven at-bats in a game. He passed away on Tuesday at the age of 72 from cancer.
Stennett was born in Panama, and first joined the Pirates in the middle of their 1971 World Championship season (his first of two titles with the club).
He batted .353 in 50 games and was part of the first all-minority starting lineup in Major League history on Sept. 1 at Three Rivers Stadium.
Stennett was the leadoff hitter in a 10-7 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in a batting order that included the likes of Gene Clines, Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Jackie Hernandez and the unforgettable pitcher Dock Ellis.
Rennie played 11 seasons in the big leagues, finishing with a .274 batting average and 1,239 hits. He joined Sanguillen, a fellow Panamanian, as two of the best bad-ball hitters of their time.
“I don’t think they went to any kind of hitting instruction,” said outfielder Matt Alexander, a teammate on the 1979 World Series championship team. “They took it up on their own. See the ball, hit the ball. If you threw it up close to the plate, they’ll swing.
Stennett had the uncanny ability to find holes in the defense and never was that more on display than Sept. 16, 1975, against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
He hit safely in all seven of his at-bats, a major league record that stands today.
We remember Rennie Stennett – @Pirates 1971-79; @SFGiants 1980-81. Became only @MLB player to collect 7 hits in a 9-inning game on 9/16/75 at Wrigley Field. "Rennie symbolized what it meant to be a Pittsburgh Pirate,'' said team president Travis Williams. #RestInPeace pic.twitter.com/JmbQoG93e2
— Baseball Digest (@BaseballDigest) May 19, 2021
He recorded hits off both Reuschel brothers, Rick and Paul, and ended that historic day with four singles, two double and a triple.
He had two hits in each the first and fifth innings on the way to the most one-sided shutout in the majors in 75 years, 22-0.
Prior to Stennett’s historic day, 43 players had gone 6-for-6 in a game, including Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Paul Waner.
Many believe he’d gone 8-8 if manager Danny Murtaugh hadn’t sent in Willie Randolph to pinch-run for Stennett after he tripled in the eighth inning. Stennett didn’t stop hitting at Wrigley, as it carried over to the next day with two more hits in his first two at-bats, at the Vet in Philly.
Stennett is remembered as a fierce competitor who hated to strikeout. Indeed, Stennett went to the plate 4,810 times in his career, with only 348 strikeouts. He hit the ball squarely almost 93% of the time.
We are saddened to relay the news that a beloved member of the Pirates family, Rennie Stennett, passed this morning at the age of 72.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Stennett family as we join in their grief. pic.twitter.com/K7ao9X0DEY
— Pirates (@Pirates) May 18, 2021
“Rennie was an intense guy. You’d never know that about him, but he was.” “He’d get so mad at these guys today because of the strikeouts. He told us, teammates, he was embarrassed when he struck out,” teammate Jim Rooker said.
Stennett hit .336 in 1977 — one of two seasons in which he received MVP votes — when he suffered a dislocation of the right ankle when sliding into second base at Three Rivers Stadium. After that, he played four more seasons, but never hit better than .244.
“Had he not gotten injured, he was headed to the Hall of Fame,” teammate and MLBbro Lee Lacy said.
Stennett stayed connected to the Pirates franchise even in retirement, and this year he even reached out to manager Derek Shelton and told him how pleased he was with the current direction of the franchise. Shelton declined to reveal the details of the private message, but he did say, “Anytime you get a guy who had (7) hits in a regular-season game and was a huge part of two World Series, and he talks about the direction the Pirates are going in a positive way, that in itself is impactful to me.
“That message will never be deleted. It will stay with me.”