December 8 – Happy Birthday Eddie Brinkman
Young Yankee fans have been spoiled by Derek Jeter. When I was a kid, having a shortstop who could rap 200 hits a year or average .300 just didn’t happen. In fact, good-hitting shortstops were so rare that when Minnesota’s Zoilio Versailles hit 19 home runs and drove in 77 in 1965, he was awarded the freaking AL MVP award.
The prototypical shortstop of the 1960′s was a great fielder who was paid to prevent runs with his glove and not worry about producing any with his bat. Eddie Brinkman fit that prototype perfectly. A native of Cincinnati who was a pitcher on the same high school team as Pete Rose, the guy I called “Steady Eddie” made his big league debut with the Senators in 1961, when he was just 19-years-old. By 1963, he was starting for Washington and developing a reputation as one of the league’s smoothest fielding shortstops. He failed to hit above .228 during his first eight years as a Senator, than suddenly got his average up to .266 in 1969 and .262 in ’70. In October of 1970, Brinkman was included in a blockbuster trade that brought two-time Cy Young award winner Denny McLain to Washington along with future Yankee Elliott Maddox, third baseman Don Wert, and reliever Norm McRae. The great fielding third baseman, Aurelio Rodriguez and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan accompanied Brinkman to MoTown.
Brinkman’s sleek fielding continued with his new team but unfortunately, his batting average reverted back toward just north of the Mendoza line. He remained in Detroit for five seasons before getting traded to San Diego in November of 1974. Perhaps sensing the Tigers were about to get rid of him, Brinkman had left Detroit with a bang by smashing a career high 14 home runs during the ’74 season. San Diego owned his contract for jus a few minutes because they immediately shipped him to St Louis to complete a trade they had made with the Cardinals earlier in that year. St. Louis traded him to Texas on June 4, 1975 and nine days later, the Rangers sold the then 33-year-old Brinkman to the Yankees.
Yankee GM Gabe Paul had been trying to acquire Brinkman since the beginning of that ’75 season. He told a New York Times reporter he had called St. Louis GM Bing Devine at least a hundred times about acquiring the shortstop but couldn’t make a deal. The Yankee starting shortstop during that 1975 season was Jim Mason, who averaged just .152 that year and though strong defensively, was not as good a fielder as Brinkman. Paul was hoping those 14 home runs Brinkman had hit the previous season for Detroit were not an aberration, but that’s exactly what that one-year power display turned out to be. Brinkman hit just .175 in his 44 games in pinstripes that season. New York invited him back to their 1976 spring training camp but he was released a week before the team headed north.
He retired with a lifetime average of .224 and 60 home runs during his fifteen years in the big leagues. He won a Gold Glove with Detroit in 1972. After hanging up his glove, he began a long career as a White Sox scout and coach. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 66. His younger brother Chuck was a big league catcher with the White Sox. Brinkman shares his birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher and this former Yankee reliever.