Macho Low, Part 9: Brad Brink was ready to try something new

From a top draft pick to “damaged goods” to becoming an award-winning teacher, the 1993 Phillies were merely a brief stop on one reliever’s journey.

There were some big personalities on the 1993 Phillies. But they weren’t the only ones. As part of a commemoration of the team’s 25th anniversary, we’re taking a look at the back-ups, drop-ins, and less-remembered Phillies who didn’t make it into a lot of the archival footage.

Brad Brink

Position: Top draft pick/arm problem-haver

Age: 28

Stats: 3.00 ERA, 8 SO, 3 BB in 6.0 IP

This past March, three pitchers from the University of Southern California strung together a no-hitter in a 2-0 win over Utah. Kyle Hurt, Austin Manning, and Connor Lunn managed to do what only one other tandem of Trojan hurlers had managed to do for the USC baseball program since 1986.

That year, on February 18, two pitchers punched through Cal State, 2-1, without allowing the opposing team to record a hit. The final frames were locked down by a pitcher named Brian Brooks, who wound up being drafted by the Padres that year as an outfielder. But the first seven innings of the game belonged to a future Phillies draft pick named Brad Brink.

The Phillies’ Clearwater farm teams of the mid-1980s were not an easy bunch to watch. Phillies legend Granny Hamner came through to serve as the team’s manager and once became disgusted enough with his roster that he entered the clubhouse before a game and told John Timberlake, the Director of Florida Operations, that he could set the lineup. He also said that starting the team’s current third baseman was like “going to war with a popgun.” He also kept calling the San Diego Chicken a “pigeon.”

While reflecting on these lean years at Low-A, Timberlake mentions that among the largely forgettable Clearwater rosters were a few names worth recalling: Pat Combs, Bruce Ruffin, and Brad Brink.

Brink was taken by the Phillies out of USC in the first round of the 1986 MLB draft, the seventh overall pick; one spot behind Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, and Matt Williams. Brink only spent a few games in Clearwater before earning a regular role in Triple-A by 1988.

Brink had thrown a lot of innings at USC, and the wear and tear was starting to chew up his throwing arm. Initially, the shoulder problems that surfaced were thought to be a small rotator cuff tear, the remedy for which was for him to pitch through it (That doesn’t sound right). Three starts later, it was time for reconstructive surgery. He missed all of 1990.

The following season was all about rebuilding, and Brink spent time on every level of the farm system as the Phillies raced to reassemble the arm of their first round draft pick, in hopes of getting to use him for something. Anything.

But don’t worry about the Phillies. You’d think that Brink’s shoulder problems would make them gun shy about drafting a pitcher in the first round for a year or so, but they plunged right on ahead and grabbed Pat Combs in 1988 and Tyler Green in 1991. Together, Brink, Combs, and Green all developed throwing issues that made them much less precious commodities than their standings as top picks would seem to indicate.

“Arguably,” writes Hank Davis in Small-Town Heroes: Images of Minor League Baseball, “all three pitchers were damaged goods, accidents waiting to happen, when they signed.”

Mmm.

But before you knew it, Brink was back, throwing 125 innings for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 1992 with a 3.46 ERA. Finally, the Phillies felt confident or desperate enough to promote their No. 1 pick from 1986 to the big leagues, where he could contribute to a last-place pitching staff. On May 17, Brink got his shot. He allowed three walks, seven hits, and four earned runs, most of which were contained to a rocky second inning. Brink would make six more starts in 1992, as well as a relief appearance on October 4 to close out the year.

The Phillies lost every one of them. It wasn’t until his final appearance on the season that he was able to enter live play without allowing a run.

The season ended, baseball players returned to their sleep pods for the off-season, Philadelphia successfully fought off waves of winter marauders and remained standing upon the arrival of the following spring. Brink made two appearances for the 1993 Phillies: Once, before they clinched the pennant, he relieved Ben Rivera on September 12 and allowed an RBI single to Ken Caminiti in a 9-2 blow-out against the Astros.

Then, the day after the Phillies clinched the NL East in Pittsburgh, Brink appeared in the game discussed in Jeff Manto’s entry in this series; the game in which the Phillies trotted out a post-clinch, post-hangover lineup the likes of which the world did not deserve. Brink split eight innings of work with Kevin Foster, allowing a home run, three walks, a wild pitch, five strikeouts, and only one earned run (Foster took the brunt of the punishment, allowing eight earned runs in four innings).

The Phillies did their thing in 1994, but that thing no longer included their top draft pick from 1986. Brink was plucked off waivers by the Giants and made his final MLB appearances in four games for San Francisco in 1994.

Brink’s career shifted from the playing side of baseball to the even more fun, even more sexy business side. Why play the game when you can manage the people who play the game? Nearing the end of his career, Brink was approached by Jeff Moorad of Leigh Steinberg’s sports rep agency and burned himself out working for them for a few years before deciding to move home to Modesto, CA and raise his daughters full-time.

He shifted to the equally compensated field of education, and so dominated in his second profession that he won a Teacher of the Year Award while teaching second grade at Carroll Fowler Elementary School in Ceres, California. As a baseball instructor, he got to communicate with young pitchers, and was able to convey the importance of taking care of shoulders and elbows while repeatedly victimizing your body with the unnatural motion of pitching: “I learned to take care of my shoulder after my first surgery,” Brink said, “which was probably a little late. Now, I can pass this knowledge on to the youngsters.”

His career may have been short, but perhaps the mark of true success is the friends we make along the way. No? Fine. Nevertheless, Brink remained a popular man among his former teammates: He hunted and fished with Ricky Jordan. He stayed in touch with Will Clark and Matt Williams. And anytime a writer needed a decent quote on the USC hurler with the unfortunate shoulder, there was always a former teammate a phone call or an email away who had a few kinds words to say on Brad Brink.

“A sincere, genuine, honest man,” said former minor leaguer Jon Valenti in a profile in the Modesto View. “To this day he still dominates hitters, even half his age. A true pitcher of solid mechanics and intelligence. Too bad I still own him at the plate… lol.”

But that doesn’t mean Brink can’t swing a stick.

References:

“Movin’ on Up,” by Robert Gordon and Tom Burgoyne

“Small-Town Heroes: Images of Minor League Baseball,” by Hank Davis

Modesto View, April 2007 issue: “Meet and Greet: Brad Brink”

“Baseball’s First-year Player Draft, Team by Team Through 1999,” by W.C. Madden

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