Eddie Brinkman was a fine fielding shortstop, one of the best of his time. He once played nearly half a season – 72 games – without committing an error. His glove was about as dependable as you’ll ever find.
The only problem with Brinkman was that he couldn’t hit a lick. He might as well have been swinging a limp noodle at the plate, rather than a piece of lumber. Edwin Albert Brinkman had nearly 6,000 official at-bats in the big leagues, and finagled them to the tune of a lifetime .224 average. In 1972, playing everyday for the Tigers, Brinkman managed a .203 mark – his steady glove keeping him in Billy Martin’s lineup. He had six home runs in 516 at-bats.
So you can only imagine the stunned looks on the faces of Tigers fans who crowded into Tiger Stadium on August 13, 1972 when it was announced over the public address system by the late, great Joe Gentile: “Batting fourth, playing shortstop, number 8, Eddie Brinkman.”
Eddie Brinkman??!! Batting cleanup? The spot of Horton and Killebrew and Aaron and Stargell? Skinny Eddie Brinkman, the man with the Golden Glove and the aluminum foil bat?
Today’s Tigers manager, Jim Leyland, has been reaching deep into his bag of tricks while his talented team struggles under the pressure of too much pre-season praise and regular season underachievement. He’s tried players switching positions. He’s tried yelling and screaming. He’s tried reminding them that they’re good. He’s tried players changing spots in the batting order.
Ahh, that last one – Martin tried that, too. But his method was a bit less scientific. And it’s why Brinkman was the Tigers’ cleanup hitter that August day.
The ’72 Tigers were an old, fragmenting team, still built around the core of the 1968 world champs. Precious few new, young players were being injected into the lineup, mainly because the Tigers’ farm system wasn’t growing any. And it was Martin’s charge to cajole this group of aging vets into one more act of triumph. That he pulled it off should go down as one of the greatest managerial displays ever seen in Detroit. But then again, no one said Billy couldn’t manage. I certainly never did.
So when Martin’s graybeards lost five out of six to slip into second place behind the Baltimore Orioles in the divisional race, Martin had an idea. And when Billy had an idea, there really wasn’t anything that was going to stop him from implementing it. Such headstrongness cost him a few jobs – in many different cities.
What would happen, Martin wondered, if he selected his next batting order out of a hat?
Place the names of the eight position players (there was no DH in 1972) into a baseball cap, and have someone reach in and pluck the names out. And that would be today’s batting order. No joke.
So Martin did that, and here’s what resulted:
1. Norm Cash 1B
2. Jim Northrup RF
3. Willie Horton LF
4. Eddie Brinkman SS
5. Tony Taylor 2B
6. Duke Sims C
7. Mickey Stanley CF
8. Aurelio Rodriguez 3B
9. Woodie Fryman P
Martin’s experiment could have been even more skewed, really. Besides Stormin’ Norman Cash batting leadoff (that was weird) and Brinkman hitting fourth, the rest of the lineup wasn’t all that out of whack.
Oh, and the Tigers won, beating the Indians 3-2 – Cash with two hits and Brinkman doubling home a run. Told ya Billy could manage a little bit.
Martin’s impulsiveness worked; will Jim Leyland follow suit?
Martin worked his magic through the end of the regular season, nudging his old-timers a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox to claim the AL East flag. Then they lost a heartbreaking ALCS, 3 games to 2, to the Oakland A’s. No more lineups drawn out of a hat, but maybe there should have been.
Jim Leyland won’t resort to such chicanery – I don’t think – in order to shake his team out of its malaise, which is now entering its second month. Leyland’s impulsive at times, but he’s no Billy Martin in that sense. Few ever were.
The other night, his Tigers again going gently into the night with nary a whimper, Leyland tried yet another tactic as he spoke into the tape recorders and microphones from behind his desk. He, in one breath, combined sober self-reflection with hope and optimism.
“It’s not that anybody’s not trying. We’re a slow team. When he don’t hit we look lethargic. But we’re a good team. I believe that. But it’s not because of lack of effort.”
The game before, the Tigers awoke from their daze long enough to rally for a 10-9 victory over the vaunted Red Sox. They did it against closer Jonathon Papelbon, who’s a genuine door slammer. Then they went back into hibernation the next night, prompting Leyland to wax sage and wise.
It’s only May 10, and Jim Leyland has run through most of his gamut with his maddening ball club.
But he hasn’t tried drawing a batting order out of a hat. Maybe he’s saving that one, like something in a glass case with the words “Break only in emergency” painted on it.
The old St. Louis Browns, owned by crazy Bill Veeck (as in wreck), once let their fans manage a game, complete with large placards that had the words YES and NO on either side. An attendant would flash a piece of poster board with a question like, “Infield in?” and then wait for the response from the section which possessed the placards. The Browns won that game, too.