This article was written by Thomas Ayers
Although he displayed a strong batting eye and some extra-base power during his minor-league career, Bobby Brooks had a relatively brief major-league career over parts of four seasons. Nicknamed “The Little Hammer,” Brooks may have been hurt by his short stature (he stood 5-feet-8 and was listed at 165 pounds), which may have led some observers to determine prematurely that he would never be an offensive contributor in the majors.1 After his playing career, Brooks became well-known in his community for coaching Little League baseball, but he was stricken with multiple sclerosis and died at the age of 48.
Robert Brooks Jr. was born on November 1, 1945, in Los Angeles to Robert E. and Flaxie (Phillips) Brooks. One of four children born to the couple, he had two brothers, Chris and Nicki, and a sister, Paulette. Religion played an important role in Brooks’s life. He was baptized at a young age by the Reverend Dwitt Bradley at the Union Baptist Church.2
Brooks started playing Little League baseball at 8 years old and went on to play Babe Ruth League and American Legion baseball. A talented athlete, he went to Narbonne High School in Harbor City, California, after having attended Normont Elementary School and Alexander Fleming Junior High School. At Narbonne, Brooks lettered in baseball, football, and track and field.3 He was one of three big leaguers to have graduated from Narbonne High School, along with pitchers Paul Pettit and Chad Qualls.
After performing as a standout athlete at Narbonne, Brooks attended Los Angeles Harbor Junior College in Wilmington, California, where he played baseball and football. He was twice named to the All-Western State Conference baseball team and once to the All-Conference football team.4
On March 17, 1967, at the age of 21, Brooks married his 20-year-old high-school sweetheart, Valorie Marie Coleman.
Brooks’s performance in his two years at junior college attracted the attention of scout Art Mazmanian of the Kansas City Athletics. In 1965 the Athletics drafted Brooks in the 15th round. Brooks got his first taste of professional baseball with the St. Cloud Rox of the Northern League. The Rox, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, finished 43-23 and won the Northern League title by 12 games. Brooks hit .294 with a .506 slugging percentage in 66 games.5 He led the league with 16 doubles, 46 RBIs, and 51 walks (along with 78 strikeouts). He also tied for the league lead with 8 home runs and 119 total bases.
Brooks began the next season with the Athletics’ Modesto affiliate in the Class A California League. After batting .264 in 110 at-bats, he was promoted and spent most of the season with the Burlington Bees in the Midwest League, where he wasn’t able to replicate his success with Modesto and only posted a .234 batting average, although he did display extra-base power with 14 doubles and 16 home runs.
In 1967 Brooks returned to the Bees for a full season. He hit .274 and posted a .461 slugging percentage, with 20 doubles and 15 home runs. That year also marked the birth of daughter Jaime Louise Brooks, Bobby and Valorie’s first child, on November 11, 1967 in Los Angeles
Brooks stayed in Class A in 1968, at the Peninsula Grays (Hampton, Virginia) in the Carolina League. He batted .256 and hit 26 home runs. He also stole a career-high 22 bases. Not a particularly strong defensive player during his career, Brooks displayed some defensive prowess that season, leading Carolina League outfielders in assists (22) and double plays (9). He was selected for the midseason league All-Star game and named to the end-of-season league All-Star team.6
That season set the stage for the following year, which could be considered Brooks’s breakout year, as the outfielder announced his presence in the upper levels of the minor leagues and finished the year in the majors. Brooks began the year with the Birmingham A’s in the Double-A Southern League, where he played a career-high 140 games, hit .292, posted a .408 on-base percentage, and hit for a .503 slugging percentage. He led the league in runs scored (102), homers (23), and bases on balls (92), and tied for the lead in RBIs (100). It was the only time Brooks broke the 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored threshold in his career. Brooks was also second in the Southern League in total bases (243) and was fifth in batting average (.292). Brooks was one of seven A’s farmhands to make the Southern League All-Star team and play an exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves.7 He was named to the National Association Class AA-East All-Star team.
After the Southern League season, Brooks was called up to Oakland. The 23-year-old made his major-league debut on September 1, 1969, against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. The A’s sat 5½ games behind the Minnesota Twins in the battle for the American League West championship. Brooks pinch-hit in the top of the fifth inning for pitcher Jim Roland with the A’s trailing 5-2 and smacked a double to center field off Lee Stange.
On September 3 the A’s and Red Sox played a doubleheader. In the first game Brooks struck out as a pinch-hitter. In the second game he got his first major-league start, in left field. Batting seventh, Brooks went 0-for-2 with a strikeout, but he reached base twice by drawing a walk and being hit by a pitch.
After making several more pinch-hitting appearances, Brooks was handed his second major-league start on September 11 in Oakland against the Seattle Pilots. Batting third and playing left field, Brooks went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, two runs scored and a walk in a 6-3 victory. He contributed defensively with his first major-league assist, as he threw out Steve Hovley at home plate.
Brooks then started every game for the Athletics through September 28, playing both ends of a doubleheader twice. On the 14th he hit his first major-league home run, off Gary Peters of the Chicago White Sox. He had several other multihit games, including going 3-for-5 with a home run in a 3-2 ten-inning victory against the Kansas City Royals in Kansas City. Brooks was instrumental in that victory, as he hit a solo homer in the top of the third inning, singled in the top of the eighth inning to advance Bert Campaneris to third with two out and then singled Campaneris home in the top of the tenth with the A’s and Royals tied 2-2. On September 23 against the White Sox, Brooks came up in the bottom of the sixth with the A’s losing 2-1 with two runners on and hit a three-run homer off Bart Johnson. The next time Brooks came to bat, he was intentionally walked for the only time in his major-league career.
Brooks had a .241 batting average during his month in the majors, but posted a .396 on-base percentage and a .418 slugging percentage. He went 19-for-79 with five doubles and three home runs. This accounted for more than half of his career major-league at-bats.
Upon arriving in the big leagues, Brooks acquired the nickname “The Hammer.” After he was asked about it, Brooks stated, “Listen … Henry Aaron’s The Hammer. They call me the Little Hammer because they know I admire the man.” Brooks later allowed, “I guess I’m The Hammer of the American League.”8
Despite a relatively strong rookie season, Brooks was sent to the Triple-A American Association to play for the Iowa Oaks in 1970. In 124 games, Brooks hit .286 with a 397 on-base percentage and a .459 slugging percentage. Displaying his trademark strong batting eye, Brooks drew 82 walks to lead the American Association and finished second with 28 doubles. With his 128 hits, 72 runs scored, and 205 total bases all ranking fifth in the American Association that season, Brooks earned an Honorable Mention to the league All-Star team.
Brooks was called up to the A’s in August and struck out in a pinch-hit appearance on August 11. He was sent back to Iowa shortly thereafter, but was recalled when the rosters expanded in September. Brooks started each of Oakland’s last four games and got a hit in each game. In two of those contests he went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs. Brooks finished the year with a .333 batting average and a .722 slugging percentage.
In 1971 Brooks was the last player cut from the A’s in spring training, as he had been the previous season.9 However, he didn’t let this disappointment of returning to Iowa affect him on the field; he had one of his best seasons in professional baseball, batting .272 with a .488 slugging percentage, a .402 on-base percentage, 14 doubles and 23 home runs. He led the American Association in bases on balls (83) and was third in home runs and was named to the American Association All-Star Game. Brooks posted those numbers despite missing about a month with a broken bone in his hand after he was hit by a pitch on May 24. Brooks was just thankful he avoided more serious injury. He said, “It could have been worse. I should be thankful that I got my hands up in time to keep from getting hit in the head.”10
With the A’s winning 101 games and the AL West title and having a strong starting outfield of Joe Rudi, Rick Monday, and Reggie Jackson, with Ángel Mangual as the primary reserve outfielder, Brooks wasn’t recalled to Oakland in September. This was despite the fact that he ended the year on a hot run, collecting five singles, a double, a home run, and ten RBIs during a five-game series in Denver during mid-August and batting .350 over an 18-game stretch in August.11 Brooks’s hot spell at the plate coincided with a switch from a 35-ounce bat to a 31-ounce model, because “I wasn’t getting around quick enough when the pitcher threw one in my kitchen.”12 That offseason, Brooks and his wife had their second child, son Robert Ethan Brooks on January 3, 1972, in Los Angeles. Given that he was Robert Brooks, III, the son often went by the name Ethan.
Facing a crossroads in his career, Brooks was told on the first day of spring training in 1972 by manager Dick Williams that he’d either make the A’s or the team would get him another major league job. Brooks said that was all right with him and that he was glad for the certainty, but also felt short-changed because he hadn’t received more of an opportunity in the major leagues. “I’ve been playing with these people a long time — seven years. It’s been a long, hard grind. I feel I deserved a shot long before,” he said.13 One wonders if his relatively diminutive size was a factor in not being given a longer look in the major leagues.
While all but one of his previous major-league at-bats had come in September, Brooks got his shot from the beginning of the year in 1972, as Oakland released Tommy Davis and Mangual suffered a torn leg muscle that was slow to recover. Brooks hit .344 in spring training with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 18 games. Williams announced that Brooks would be Oakland’s Opening Day center fielder.
Brooks played the entire game in the A’s first 11 contests of the season. On April 30, after those 11 games, he was hitting .171 with no extra-base hits, although he had drawn eight walks and was posting a .326 on-base percentage. During that first month, a highlight for Brooks probably came on April 26 at Yankee Stadium. Batting fifth, Brooks reached base three times off Mike Kekich, with two hits and a walk. It was Brooks’s last multihit game in the majors, and one of the two hits was a two-run single with two out in the seventh inning that drove Kekich from the game. Brooks also reached base three times against Kansas City in Oakland-Alameda Coliseum on April 19. He drew two walks and added a two-run single off Dick Drago in a 4-0 Oakland win.
However, when Brooks failed to seize the opportunity given to him at the beginning of the 1972 season, it may have effectively ended his major-league career. He was relegated to pinch-hitting duty in May and made his last appearance for the A’s on May 13 in a 9-6 loss to the Red Sox when he struck out as a pinch-hitter. Two days later he was sold to the Detroit Tigers, ending his eight seasons in the A’s organization, and the Tigers sent him to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in the International League.
Although he was optimistic that the trade might give him a new start in a fresh environment, Brooks was quite unhappy with the way he had been treated by the A’s and their owner, Charlie Finley. He said, “Charlie has sent players to other clubs before and then brought them back. If that happens to me, I’m not going back.”14
Although he didn’t have a great year in Toledo, Brooks had a nice three-game series from July 7-9 in Syracuse. He hit three home runs in three games, slugging a round-tripper in the first inning of each game15 In 90 games with Toledo, Brooks hit .220, but posted a .372 on-base percentage and a .379 slugging percentage. He drew 65 walks, struck out 65 times, and finished the year with 10 home runs.
On March 25, 1973, Brooks was traded by Detroit to the California Angels for Bruce Kimm. The Angels apparently acquired Brooks primarily to serve as minor-league depth, as he was sent to Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League as spring training drew to a close. However, on May 23 Brooks was called up from Salt Lake City to replace an injured Bobby Valentine. He made a pinch-hit appearance that evening and reached on an error.
The Little Hammer’s last major-league start came on May 29 against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. Brooks started in left field and batted second. He singled off Bill “Spaceman” Lee in his first plate appearance of the game for his last major-league hit, but the Angels wound up losing the pitchers’ duel, 2-1. His last major-league game was on June 5, when he pinch-hit and struck out against John Hiller of the Tigers.
With Salt Lake, Brooks hit .246 with 14 doubles and 12 home runs. He posted a .356 on-base percentage and a .431 slugging percentage. There is no further record of Brooks playing professional baseball again in the United States.
In 1975 Brooks played in the Mexican League for both the Chihuahua Dorados, alongside former major leaguers Roy Foster and Norm McRae, and the Aguascalientes Rieleros, with Jimmy Ray Hart, Horacio Piña, and Santiago Rosario and future major leaguer Angel Moreno.
After he retired, Brooks remained active in baseball and was well-known in the community for coaching in both the Harbor City and Lomita Little Leagues. He was named to the Harbor City Hall of Fame, and the Harbor City Little League renamed its senior baseball diamond Bobby Brooks Field. Brooks and Valorie divorced on August 10, 1978.
On October 11, 1994, Brooks died from multiple sclerosis in Harbor City.16 He was survived by his ex-wife, Valorie; their two children, Jaime and Ethan; two granddaughters; a grandson; his mother; his sister; and his two brothers. Valorie paid tribute to her ex-husband, saying, “He was so giving to this community. He was strong and a tremendous athlete and was loved by everybody.”17
Brooks was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery, and a homegoing ceremony was held for him on October 19 at St. Margaret Mary Church in Lomita, California.18
Bobby Brooks player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. All quotes are taken from clippings in the file.
1 Ron Bergman, “A’s Nail A.L. Foes With The Hammer,” The Sporting News, October 11, 1969.
2 Unidentified clipping, Bobby Brooks National Baseball Hall of Fame File.
3 Bobby Brooks, 1971 Oakland Athletics Press Guide, Bobby Brooks National Baseball Hall of Fame File.
7 “Birmingham Puts Seven on Southern’s All-Stars,” The Sporting News, June 28, 1969.
8 Ron Bergman, “A’s Nail A.L. Foes With The Hammer,” The Sporting News, October 11, 1969.
9 Ron Bergman, “A Seven Year Battle Ends in Triumph for A’s Brooks,” The Sporting News, April 22, 1972.
10 Unidentified clipping, Bobby Brooks National Baseball Hall of Fame File.
11 “Oaks’ Hendrick Gone — But His Bat Lingers On,” The Sporting News, September 4, 1971.
13 Ron Bergman, “A Seven Year Battle Ends in Triumph for A’s Brooks,” The Sporting News, April 22, 1972.
14 Unidentified clipping, Bobby Brooks National Baseball Hall of Fame File.
15 Unidentified clipping, Bobby Brooks National Baseball Hall of Fame File.
16 “Bobby Brooks, former Angel, dies at age 48,” The Daily Breeze, Redondo Beach, California, October 14, 1994.
18 Unidentified clipping, Bobby Brooks National Baseball Hall of Fame File.