Over the course of his career, Brunet has struck out 3,631 batters, which easily surpasses Walter Johnson's major league lifetime record of 3,508. Even more amazing, Brunet has pitched all this time with nothing on under his uniform pants, which certainly makes him the greatest pitcher in baseball history never to wear a jockstrap and cup. "I just always felt more comfortable that way," he says. "Of course, getting out of the way of ground balls up the middle has cost me a few singles over the years."
His independent streak has always gotten Brunet in trouble. Perhaps the best measure of his arm is that it has persuaded so many teams to overlook the rest of him. "I was never a guy to hang around and kiss anyone's butt," he says. "I didn't have the right kind of personality for managers. If I didn't pitch as well as I did, I wouldn't have had any career at all."
Brunet mentions the spring of 1959, when he was going north with the A's as the fifth starter. A couple of nights before the A's broke camp, he and some of the boys were painting West Palm Beach, Fla. red. About 3 a.m. Brunet found himself directing traffic in front of the team's hotel. One of the cars he stopped contained Parke Carroll, the A's G.M., and Harry Craft, the manager. After Brunet showed up late for a team meeting the next day, George Selkirk, the farm director, called him in for a little chat. "George told me I really screwed up," Brunet recalls. "He said they were going to have to make an example of me and send me down." The A's did more than just send him down. Early the next season they traded him to the Braves.
In Milwaukee, Brunet found his role model, Pitcher Bob Buhl. "One time we were pulling into a city," he says, "and Charlie Dressen [the manager] gets up in the front of the bus and says that anybody not in their room by midnight will be fined $500. Well, Buhl marches right up to Dressen, peels $500 off his bankroll, hands it to him and walks off the bus. Now that's class."
Brunet even antagonized the one manager who gave him a chance, Bill Rigney. "I lost a lot of one-run games with the Angels," he says, "and Rigney used to say to me, 'I owe you a game,' every time he took me out. But one time I really got angry when he took me out, and we had words in the dugout. He knew enough to stop, but I just had to keep going. Finally, Rigney starts counting, '$100, $200, $300.' I didn't stop until he hit $700. Then I went in and tore the clubhouse apart. The next day I came in and wrote out a check for $700 to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Fund."
Brunet was never much for running, either, which annoyed his pitching coaches and helped build his considerable girth. Nowadays Brunet looks a little like Yastrzemski gone to seed. In 1973 Hawaii Manager Rocky Bridges gave him his walking papers because, he said, Brunet was out of shape. After a brief stop in Eugene, Ore. Brunet was out of baseball. "I spent part of the year coaching some kids in a Senior Division league in Anaheim," he says. "We weren't far from the Angels' ball park, so I could see the lights every night. One night I just looked at those lights and said, 'What the hell am I doing here?' "
So Brunet headed for Mexico, Poza Rica to be exact. He became one of the best pitchers in the league (62-55, 2.55 ERA) on one of the worst teams. In 1977—this should come as a chuckle to his former managers—Brunet even took over as the manager of Poza Rica. "It wasn't bad, but it got embarrassing losing every night," he says, explaining why he went back to pitching. On June 20 of that year, at the age of 42, he threw a no-hitter. He pitched in Poza Rica again in 1978, striking out 208 batters in 246 innings, and last year he was traded twice—to the expansion team in Coatzacoalcos and then to Mexico City. Overall, he won 14 games and had a 3.13 ERA. Before the start of this season he was again traded, this time to a new team in Veracruz. Before the strike began on July 2, he was 11-10 with a 2.61 ERA.
Brunet says he's devoted to his three children back home in Anaheim, but he only gives them the three or four weeks between seasons. He is sensitive to the hardships of the Mexican ballplayer, who earns as little as $400 a month, yet as soon as the strike (over the formation of a players' association) was called, he found himself another team.
Brunet has adapted well to Mexican life. Most ballplayers from the States don't last more than a year or two, but Brunet is now in his eighth season. Each established club is allowed only three imports, while expansion teams get four, and former major-leaguers like George Scott, Mike Kekich, Clarence Gaston, Mike Paul and Bart Johnson have found their way south of the border. The Mexican League is Class AAA in designation, but it seems closer to Double A in performance. An American can make good money—Brunet earns about $3,500 a month—and it's a way to keep a career alive. That is, if you call this living.
For one thing, there's the travel. A short bus trip is six hours. Gaston recalls going from Le�n to Tabasco in 21 hours—approximately the time it takes to travel from Philadelphia to Miami. Players can pass the hours by counting the crosses at the side of the road on hairpin turns. If the buses don't get to the players, Montezuma's revenge will. Almost nobody escapes. And sometimes the illness can be much worse. One Veracruz relief pitcher went on the disabled list this year with food poisoning.