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Voices of the Game, day 8: Al Hrabosky to Jeff Brantley

Three pitchers on this segment of Voices of the Game.

St Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers
Al Hrabosky
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

More biographies of broadcasters! I can’t stop. I won’t stop.

If you want to catch up on earlier entries, you can check out the StoryStream. And if you want the rules of the road, check out the first entry.

36. Al Hrabosky. St. Louis Cardinals. WAR: 10.0

“The Mad Hungarian” was one of the first celebrity relievers, known as much for his antics on the mound as he was for his nasty forkball.

Hrabosky was the first-round pick of the Cardinals in the 1969 draft. While he was a starter in the minors, he got called up to the majors in 1970 to pitch out of the bullpen.

Hrabosky spent most of the 1971 season in the minors as a starter again, but he spent 1972 and 1973 bouncing back and forth between the minors and the St. Louis bullpen.

In 1974, desperate to not get sent back down to the minors, Hrabosky decided to take up meditation and visualization to improve his concentration and consistency. Before every batter, Hrabosky would stand behind the mound with his back to the plate and visualize what he wanted to do while rubbing the baseball with his eyes closed. When he finished, he would slam the baseball into his glove and storm onto the mound, staring at home plate the entire time. Combined with a Fu Manchu-style mustache he had grown, the entire routine looked like something out of pro wrestling. The 5’11” left-handed Hrabosky certainly felt like it helped him intimidate much larger hitters. While the routine was criticized by many, it was beloved by Cardinals fans. Hrabosky was a part of the collection of colorful characters that played the game in that era, alongside others such as pitchers Bill “Spaceman” Lee and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych,

In any event, the routine worked. Hrabosky had a breakout season in 1974, going 8-1 with a 2.95 ERA and nine saves. He followed that up with the best year of his career in 1975, going 13-3 with 22 saves and a 1.66 ERA. He was named “NL Fireman of the Year” for 1975.

Hrabosky’s 1976 season wasn’t quite as good as 1975, but he was still pretty solid with a record of 8-6 with a 3.30 ERA and 13 saves.

But things went south in St. Louis for Hrabosky in 1977. Longtime Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst was replaced by career minor leaguer Vern Rapp. Rapp had been successful in the minors, but he’d never played or coached in the majors before and was eager to establish his authority. A real martinet manager, Rapp instituted a long list of rules, including a ban on all facial hair. Hrabosky complained that he “looked like a golf pro” without his mustache and he couldn’t intimate hitters without it. He had the worst season of his career with a 4.38 ERA.

Hrabosky said he couldn’t play under Rapp and demanded a trade in the offseason, which the Cardinals accommodated by shipping him to Kansas City for two players, including future fellow broadcaster Buck Martinez. (And then Rapp was fired 17 games into the 1978 season with the entire team pretty much in revolt.)

After a strong comeback season in KC in 1978 and a decent followup year in 1979, Hrabosky became a free agent and signed a five-year deal with Atlanta. (Much of the $1.7 million he signed for was deferred over the next 30 years.) Hrabosky’s antics on the mound were a natural for the Braves WTBS telecasts that were going out over the new cable TV that was sweeping the country. He had a good 1980 and 1981 season in Atlanta, but when the Braves got good in 1982, Hrabosky got bad and was released at the end of August. He tried to catch on with the White Sox in 1983 but got cut in Spring Training and retired.

Hrabosky’s career line was 64-35 with a 3.10 ERA and 97 saves. He was mostly a two-pitch pitcher who featured a hard fastball and a nasty forkball, which was his signature pitch.

Hrabosky joined the Cardinals as a broadcaster in 1985 and has been there ever since. The man was made for television.

35. Brian Anderson. Tampa Bay Rays. WAR: 10.9

Let’s clear up some confusion. This is not the Brian Anderson who was a center fielder for the White Sox in the mid-aughts. This is not the Brian Anderson who is currently a third baseman for the Marlins. Nor is this the Brian Anderson who is the play-by-play broadcaster for the Brewers and never played professionally, although that Brian Anderson’s brother Mike did pitch three games for the Reds in 1993.

No, this Brian Anderson was a left-handed pitcher from 1993 to 2005 and is perhaps best remembered as one of the two guys not named Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling who started a game for the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series. (Miguel Bautista is the other.) He’s also known for having three Tommy John surgeries.

Anderson was a star left-handed pitcher for Wright State University and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 1993. He was the third pick in the draft by the Angels that year, just behind Alex Rodriguez and Darren Dreifort. (He had a better career than Dreifort, at least.) He got a September call-up in 1993 and pitched in four games, making one start.

Anderson spent the 1994 and 1995 seasons in the Angels rotation and he was not very good, posting an ERA over 5.00 both years. (Yet he somehow got some Rookie of the Year votes in 1994.)

Traded to Cleveland at the start of Spring Training in 1996, Anderson spent the next two seasons mostly with their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo. But he did make nine major league starts in 1996 and eight in 1997. The Indians did put Anderson on their 1997 playoff roster, which was wise because he pitched well out fo the bullpen and he even got the win in the decisive Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

The Indians left Anderson unprotected in the expansion draft and the Diamondbacks took him with their first pick. He spent the next five years in Arizona, mostly as a starter but also as a “swingman” who would move to the pen when necessary (or when he wasn’t pitching well as a starter.)

Anderson signed back with Cleveland for the 2003 season. He was traded to the Royals in August of that year where he played before tearing his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005. He spent the next three seasons trying to come back. He tore his UCL again in 2006 and had a second Tommy John surgery. He attempted another comeback with the Rays in 2008, but he tore his UCL a third time and finally got the hint and retired. (Also, he underwent the third Tommy John surgery.)

His career numbers were 82-83 with a 4.74 ERA over 13 years with four teams.

Anderson worked as a part-time broadcaster for the Indians in 2007 as he was rehabbing. He worked for the Rays in 2008 and 2009 as a coach and in the front office while filling in as a broadcaster on occasion. He became the Rays full-time color broadcaster in 2010.

34. Jeff Brantley. Cincinnati Reds. WAR: 11.6

Brantley was a member of that famous 1985 Mississippi State baseball team, alongside Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Giants and made his major league debut in August of 1988.

Brantley went to the World Series with the Giants in his rookie season of 1989, which was the series interrupted by an earthquake and San Francisco got swept by the Athletics when play resumed ten days later.

Brantley had a breakout season with the Giants in 1990, becoming the team’s closer. He had an ERA of 1.56 and 19 saves. Brantley made his one and only All-Star Game squad that year.

The Giants tried to make a starter out of Brantley in 1993. That went poorly and he returned to the bullpen in June. Brantley signed with the Reds as a free agent for the 1994 season.

Brantley had the best years of his career in Cincinnati. He was the Reds closer for the next three seasons and was named the Rolaids Relief Man Award in 1996 when he saved 44 games, which was tied for the major-league lead.

Brantley tore his labrum in 1997 and missed the second half of the season. He was never the same. The Reds wisely didn’t gamble on his return to form, dealing him to the Cardinals for Dmitri Young in 1998.

After a poor year in St. Louis, he signed with the Phillies for 1999 and spent two years there. He tried to catch on with the Rangers in 2001 but retired after he was released at the end of May.

Brantley retired with a record of 43-46 with 172 saves and an ERA of 3.39 over 14 seasons.

Brantley was hired by ESPN in 2002 to work on Baseball Tonight and as a color broadcaster. He returned to Cincinnati as a broadcaster in 2007 and has been there ever since