A smooth-fielding but brittle first baseman, Brogna had trouble hitting left-handed pitchers and staying in the lineup during his first years in the majors. First diagnosed in 1991 with ankylosing spondylitis, a severe form of spinal arthritis, Brogna took medication daily throughout his career. His questionable health forced a trade from the Mets to the Phillies in November 1996, but he recovered to become an important cog in Philadelphia’s offensive attack for three seasons.
Brogna was recruited as a quarterback by Clemson, but signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1988 after being selected 26th overall. With Cecil Fielder at first, the Tigers traded him to the New York Mets prior to the 1994 season. He was called up late in the year and became an immediate fan favorite, dubbed “Rico Suave” after a popular song of the time.
Brogna spent his first seasons with the Mets platooning with David Segui. He led all NL first basemen in 1995 with a .998 fielding average, committing only three errors in 1,208 chances, and hit .280 with 22 homers. But his 1996 season was shortened by shoulder surgery in July. When it was unclear how or if he would recover, the Mets traded for Toronto’s John Olerud and swapped Brogna to the Phillies, an unpopular trade in New York at the time.
Brogna hit only .148 against lefties playing full-time for Philadelphia in 1997, but socked twenty homers, a feat he would repeat in 1998 and top in 1999. “In a game filled with selfishness and arrogance, Brogna is a delightful oasis,” wrote Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer that season, but the emergence of phenom Pat Burrell and the acquisition of Travis Lee the following year meant that Brogna’s days in Philadelphia were numbered.
More injuries marked the beginning of the end for the steady first baseman after a banner season in 1999. He underwent shoulder surgery that October, knee surgery in January, and a fastball from Expos reliever Matt Blank fractured his wrist the following May. Brogna was waived in August after appearing in just 38 games for the Phils, and retired less than a year later after brief stints with the Red Sox and Braves to start a new career as a high-school football coach in Connecticut.