Denny McLain won 31 games in 1968 and blew out his arm. Detroit traded the back-to-back Cy Young Award winner to Washington in a seven player deal that included shortstop Ed Brinkman. The infielder was not a good hitter, but played Gold Glove caliber short. Brinkman remained in Detroit for four seasons and led Detroit to the 1972 AL East title. During his tenure, Brinkman the Tigers won their division while Brinkman made an All Star game, won a Gold Glove, and finished in the top 10 in the MVP balloting.
The Washington Senators signed 19-year-old free agent Ed Brinkman in 1961. He made his big league debut on September 6. Brinkman played ten seasons for the Senators earning a reputation for glove work. However, he never represented an offensive threat. He hit .260 or better just twice and batted below .200 three times as a regular. Overall, Brinkman hit .226 as a Senator with a .579 OPS.
Brinkman hit a career best .266 in 1969 and finished 20th in the MVP vote. The 1968 AL MVP, Denny McLain finished 6th and won his second Cy Young Award. In 1970, McLain blew out his arm and Detroit shipped him to Washington in a seven player deal. The Senators also received Elliott Maddox, Norm McRae, and Don Wert. In return, Detroit gained Brinkman, Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan, and Aurelio Rodriguez.
The McLain trade won the AL East for the Tigers. They gained a 20-game winner in Coleman and a starting shortstop and third baseman. Brinkman hit .228 in his first Tiger season. In 1972, the Tigers won a thrilling division race. Brinkman was at the center of the run. He went 72 games without an error, had 233 putouts, 495 assists, and posted a .990 fielding percentage. The shortstop only hit .203, but finished ninth in the MVP vote and the Detroit writers named him “Tiger of the Year.” He added a Gold Glove in the offseason. Modern fans scratch their heads over the support Brinkman received in the 1972 MVP vote. Defense was valued more in 1972 by writers than today.
The Tigers lost a thrilling five game ALCS to Oakland. Brinkman remained in Detroit for two more seasons. He hit .237 and .221 in his final Tiger campaigns. He made the 1973 All Star Team. In 1974, he set career highs with 14 home runs and 54 RBI. He hit 60 homers for his career, so almost ¼ of them came as the Nixon Administration collapsed. The Tigers traded Brinkman to San Diego in November 1974. The Padres immediately shipped him to St Louis. He played 45 total games for three teams before being released in March 1976.
Ed Brinkman finished his career as a statistical anomaly. He played 15 seasons and hit .224. Brinkman holds the Major League record for most seasons with over 400 at bats, less than 15 home runs, and a batting average below .230. In 1965, he set the record for fewest hits (82) for a player appearing in 150 games. Despite this, he twice finished in the top 20 in MVP voting. Fans remember Brinkman for his slick fielding, leadership, and unleashing the f-word on live television during the 1972 AL East title celebration.
Ed Brinkman confounds modern fans. He was not a good hitter, but made All Star teams and garnered MVP votes. He even won Tiger of the Year. In the age of sabermetrics, Brinkman’s value is not quantifiable. As a result, people are left to wonder why he was so highly regarded. Brinkman was a great fielder and leader. His efforts helped an over-the-hill Tiger team to one more moment of glory.