Scott Brosius

Brosius — a rural boy at heart — called a small town south of Portland, Oregon home; but he would eventually find fame in the hustle and bustle of New York. Scott’s father had been a Mickey Mantle fan, and his son would later wear Mantle’s number 7 with the A’s even though his favorite player growing up had been Dale Murphy. Surprisingly, Scott had never seen a major-league game in person when the A’s drafted him in the 20th round in 1987 and his Single-A team was invited to Milwaukee County Stadium to play the Brewers’ Single-A affiliate. “The Brewers played the Twins first,” recalled Brosius. “Tim Laudner from the Twins hit a foul ball right to me…All these kids wanted me to give it to them, and I told them, “Hey, it’s my first game too.”

Never one of the A’s top prospects, Brosius found the road to regular playing time a difficult one. Earnie Riles, filling in for an injured Carney Lansford, was Oakland’s incumbent third baseman when Brosius was called up to the A’s for the first time in 1991 (on August 4, his father’s birthday); Lansford returned for 1992, retired, and was replaced by a Craig Paquette-Kevin Seitzer tandem for the 1993 season. (That year, Brosius actually played most of his 70 games in the outfield.) Neither Seitzer nor Paquette proved to be the answer at third, so Brosius got his chance in 1994. But, limited by a fatal uppercut, he hit just .238 despite 14 homers and 49 RBI in 96 games.

1995 was a streaky season for Brosius (.263, 17, 46), who shared third with Paquette (.226, 13, 49) but was often asked by manager Tony LaRussa to take over at another position. During the season, the versatile Brosius appeared everywhere in the field except behind the plate and on the mound. On June 21, he batted leadoff against the Twins in place of left fielder Rickey Henderson — the all-time leader in leadoff home runs — and hit Pat Mahomes’ first pitch over the left-field fence. On May 20, the normally-slow Brosius had set a club record with two triples against Kansas City at Royals Stadium — in his words, because “the centerfielder fell down twice.”

Working with hitting coach Jim Lefebvre had helped Brosius to improve his hitting by flattening his swing, but it was his outstanding defense during the season that stood out. (Lansford, then an Oakland coach, dubbed him “Flypaper.”) “I’d rather save a run than produce a run,” Brosius later remarked.

Brosius blossomed in 1996. At the start of spring training, prospect Jason Giambi had been slotted in at third by new manager Art Howe, but Mark McGwire‘s recurring back injury forced Giambi to first. By the time McGwire returned to the lineup, Brosius had wrapped up the hot corner. The gritty third baseman started the season with just one error in his first 104 chances, but was forced to miss seven weeks of the season after a Mark Gubicza fastball fractured his right arm in early May. At the time, Brosius was hitting .351 with eight homers and 21 RBIs. He finished his exceptional season with 22 homers and 71 RBIs to go along with an unprecedented .304 batting average, second only to McGwire’s .312 mark. He also led the American League with a .365 batting average with runners in scoring position. But Brosius’ fine totals masked a late-season slump that saw him make eight errors in his last 57 games and hit just .213 in September.

The following year, his problems continued. In mid-April, A’s hitting coach Denny Walling had discovered a mechanical flaw in Brosius’ stance, but Brosius had already lost the confidence that characterized his earlier success. Despite Walling’s correction, Brosius finished the month with a .181 batting average and followed it up with an embarrassing .147 mark in May. Deep into June, with Brosius’ average mired at .195, Frank Blackman of the San Francisco Examiner noted that Brosius had “become an expert at the helmet bounce and the bat fling.” And for good reason. Some critics charged that Brosius’ new $2.55 million contract was to blame; Brosius responded by admitting, “when I get my paychecks, I feel bad.”

Obviously, so did the A’s management. “There are a lot of adjectives I could use to describe Scott’s season, and ‘bizarre’ would be one of the more benign,” said GM Sandy Alderson in June. “At some point it’s not funny anymore.” With prospects Mark Bellhorn and Eric Chavez waiting in the wings, Brosius’ days were numbered, and a recurring knee injury that sidelined him late in the season sealed his fate. By the end of the season, Brosius’ average had fallen 101 points from the year before, to .203. Only three other players in history had had worse dropoffs — Norm Cash (1961-62), Max Carey (1925-1926), and Doc Farrell (1927-28). After the season, Brosius was sent to New York as the player to be named later in a deal that brought starter Kenny Rogers to Oakland.

The Yankees, who were simply happy to get rid of Rogers (after all, they had included Rogers’ 1998 salary in the deal) expected Brosius to platoon with Dale Sveum or Mike Lowell at third, as incumbent Charlie Hayes had been sent to the San Francisco Giants before the season. But in a remarkable comeback, Brosius hit .300 with 19 homers and a personal-best 98 RBIs as the Yankees swarmed to 114 wins — the most in American League history. In the process, Brosius was named to his first All-Star Game ever. His father, six weeks removed from colon cancer surgery, and his grandfather both attended the game at Coors Field.

In the World Series, Brosius’ star shined even brighter. He hit .471 with two homers and six RBIs in the Yanks’ four-game sweep of San Diego; his two consecutive homers in Game Three helped the Yankees overcome a three-run, seventh-inning deficit to win the game. The second, off Padre closer Trevor Hoffman (who had converted 53 of 54 save chances during the regular season) put the Yanks out in front by two runs. In Game Four, with his club clinging to a one-run lead in the eighth, Brosius poked a bases-loaded single over a drawn-in infield to score Derek Jeter from third. After fielding the series’ final out, a champagne-soaked Brosius was named World Series MVP. Ever-humble, with his teammates chanting his name in the background, Brosius refused to take credit for the win, instead thanking his teammates for the opportunity to play on baseball’s biggest stage.

Brosius’ 1999 season was bittersweet. Throughout the season, he took time off from the team to be with his ailing father and his production at the plate dropped. But he was sparkling on defense, winning his first Gold Glove, and despite his father’s death in September, he helped lead the Yankees to a World Series Championship.