Another day, another set of broadcaster bios.
33. Rick Manning. Cleveland Indians. WAR: 11.7.
Manning was the second pick of the 1972 draft by the Indians out of high school in Niagara Falls, NY. He made his major league debut as a 20-year-old rookie in 1975.
Manning had a reputation as a strong defensive center fielder and he won the Gold Glove in 1976. The modern defensive stats are more mixed on his defense, but it’s hard to know how much faith to put into those retroactive numbers.
But on offense, Manning was a disaster. He hit for a decent average, but he had no power and didn’t walk much. He did steal a lot of bases, but he also was caught stealing a lot, negating that value. In the early days of The Baseball Abstract, sabermetric godfather Bill James would regularly rip Manning. In the 1982 Abstract, James wrote of Manning “I can’t for the life of me figure out why [the manager] keeps playing Rick Manning. The guy’s a joke,” and the proceeded to explain why.
Also Manning forced the Indians to trade Dennis Eckersley to the Red Sox because he had an affair with Eckersley's wife, who eventually left Eckersley for Manning. Eckersley is still upset about this.
This was covered up at the time and Manning was a pretty popular player on some crappy Indians teams of the late-seventies and early-eighties. At the trade deadline in 1983, the Brewers were looking to upgrade their outfield defense and traded Gorman Thomas to Cleveland for Manning.
I was growing up in Wisconsin when this deal was made and I cannot express how unpopular this deal was with Brewers fans. Thomas was a hugely popular player and a better player than Manning, although he was older and starting to rapidly decline. Manning was never able to win the fans in Milwaukee over. He became even less popular in 1987 when he hit a walk-off single in extra innings against Cleveland. Even though the Brewers won, Manning’s single meant that on-base hitter Paul Molitor was denied a chance to extend his 39-game hitting streak. Brewers fans booed the walk-off single.
Manning spent five years in Milwaukee and had a total WAR of 0.1 over those five seasons. He retired after that 1987 season.
Manning played 1555 games over 13 seasons. He hit .257/.313/.341 with 56 home runs and 168 steals.
Manning joined the Indians broadcast team in 1990 and he’s been there ever since.
32. Bob Brenly. Arizona Diamondbacks. WAR: 12.7
Cubs fans who remember Brenly’s days as a Cubs broadcaster are familiar with his self-depreciating comments about his playing days. Listening to Bob, you might think he was a crappy ball player. In fact, Brenly was a very good ballplayer who simply had a short career.
As he points out on the air every year at draft time, Brenly went undrafted in 1976 out of Ohio University. He signed as a free agent third baseman with the Giants that summer.
A funny thing happened in the minors with Brenly. He hit everywhere he went. He hit for average. He hit for power. He drew walks. He hit in Fresno and he hit in Cedar Rapids. He hit in Shreveport and he hit in Phoenix, which was a Triple-A city back then. His defense at third base was not as good and the Giants moved Brenly to catcher in 1979. Learning to catch takes some time and that delayed Brenly’s arrival in San Francisco even further.
Brenly finally made his major league debut at age 27 in the second-half of the strike-interrupted 1981 season. He hit .333 in 19 games down the stretch that year.
Brenly was the backup catcher for the Giants in 1982 and took over the Giants starting job in 1983. In 1984, Brenly had his best season at the age of 30 and made his only All-Star Game. He finished the 1984 season with a line of .291/.352/.464 with 20 home runs.
Brenly had a reputation as a below-average defensive catcher, but the stats don’t bear that out. He was terrible at third base, which he played in a pinch. He famously made a major-league record four errors in one inning on September 14, 1986 when he was asked to fill in at third. He also hit two home runs in that game, including a walk-off game winner.
The late start to Brenly’s career and the physical demands of catching meant the end came quickly. He hit .189 with just five home runs in 1988 and he was released at the end of the season. The Blue Jays signed him for 1989, but cut bait on him mid-season when he didn’t get any better. The Giants brought him back as a third catcher in September in their 1989 stretch drive. He didn’t make the postseason roster and his playing career was over.
Over 871 games in nine seasons, Brenly hit .247/.330/.403 with 91 home runs.
The Cubs hired Brenly as a radio broadcaster for the 1990 and 1991 seasons. He left in 1992 to serve as a coach for the Giants. He was named the manager of the Diamondbacks for the 2001 season and the team won the World Series in his first year managing. Arizona won the NL West again in 2002, but fell to third in 2003. Brenly was fired during the D-Backs 2004 season when they finished the year losing 111 games.
Brenly rejoined the Cubs as a TV color broadcaster in 2005, He left to broadcast Diamondbacks games in 2012. He’s become a grumpy old man there.
31. Ray Fosse. Oakland Athletics. WAR 12.9.
Unless you regularly watch Athletics games (which I do), you probably only know Fosse as the guy who got run over by Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game.
That incident has become a Rorschach test on how you feel about Pete Rose. If you’re a fan, it shows how “Charlie Hustle” was a hard-nosed competitor who just wanted to win. If you don’t like Rose, it’s a sign that he’s willing to cross lines to win, including cripple a fellow player in a meaningless exhibition game.
But let’s talk about Fosse the player and not Fosse the victim. Ray Fosse was the seventh pick by the Cleveland Indians in the first ever MLB Draft in 1965. He was a high school catcher from Marion, IL.
Fosse made his major-league debut in September 1967. He spent all of 1968 (save one at-bat) in the minors (and in military service), but he came up to the majors for good in 1969. Unfortunately, a broken finger meant he missed two months of the season.
Fosse was installed as the Indians’ starting catcher for the Indians early in the 1970 season. He performed so well that he was named as a backup catcher for the American League in the All-Star Game.
Unbelievably, Fosse didn’t miss any time after the collision. X-rays showed that it was only a bad bruise and Fosse continued to play the rest of the 1970 season without going on the disabled list despite being in such terrible pain that he couldn’t lift his arm above his shoulder or stretch it out to his side. He finished the year hitting .307/.361/.469 with 18 home runs over 120 games. He hit almost as well in the second half was the first. Fosse also won the Gold Glove for 1970 and was named to the Sporting News post-season All-Star Team.
The X-rays were wrong. Fosse’s shoulder had swelled up so much that the technology of the time couldn’t detect that his shoulder was actually broken. By the time the swelling went down the next year and a second X-ray was taken, the bones had already fused back together incorrectly. Fosse is still in pain to this day from the collision.
The common wisdom is that the collision with Rose ruined Fosse’s career. His health, yes, but Fosse came back and was named to the All-Star game again in 1971, although he missed the game with a torn ligament in his hand. Fosse finished the 1971 season with a line of .276/.329/.397 with 12 home runs. He won his second Gold Glove as well.
Fosse was traded to the defending World Series champion Oakland A’s for the 1973 season. He was the starting catcher for A’s as they won another World Series, providing great defense although his offense had started to slip.
The “Swingin’ A’s” of the 1970s were called that for many reasons, and one of them was the fact that they used to throw punches at their teammates. During the 1974 season, outfielders Reggie Jackson and Bill North got into a fight in the Oakland clubhouse. Fosse was injured breaking up the fight and missed two months in the middle of the season. He returned in August and was once again the A’s starting catcher as they won their third-straight title in October. But Fosse had the worst season of his career, hitting under .200.
By 1975, Fosse couldn’t hit at all. He lost his starting catching job to Gene Tenace and only hit .140 with no home runs that year. With the on-set of free agency, A’s owner Charlie O. Finley opted to sell all his players rather than pay them, and Fosse was sold back to Cleveland for the 1976 season. He had a bounce-back season with the Indians, hitting .301, but his shoulder problems had completely sapped his power.
The Indians traded Fosse to the Mariners in September of 1977, where he played 11 games before reaching free agency. He signed with the Brewers for 1978, but he tore up his knee in Spring Training and missed the entire season. Fosse spent the entire 1979 season with Milwaukee, but he was the third catcher and only played in 19 games. He was released in Spring Training of 1980 and retired.
Fosse’s final career line was .256/.306/.367 in 924 games over 12 seasons.
Fosse made some baseball instructional videos after retiring and eventually ended up working for the Athletics public relations department. He became the color broadcaster for A’s in 1986 and he’s been there ever since.