Steve Braun was a semi-regular third baseman and outfielder with the Minnesota Twins from 1971 to 1976. His steady bat and ability to reach base kept him in the lineup more often than not. He was drafted by the expansion Seattle Mariners for the team’s inaugural season, traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1978, and had a brief stint with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1980. In the latter part of his career, Braun was almost exclusively a pinch hitter, a role at which he excelled through dogged preparation. He played with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1981 to 1985 and was a key contributor for the 1982 World Series champions before retiring as the franchise’s all-time leader in pinch hits.
Stephen Russell Braun was born on May 8, 1948, in Trenton, New Jersey, the first of the nine children born to Steven and Marion Braun. During Steve’s childhood, the family lived in Washington’s Crossing near the Delaware River before moving to nearby Trenton. The elder Steve, who stood 5-foot-8, had played basketball at Rider College and passed his love of sports to his children.1 On Sundays, the whole family would go to a park and shag fly balls.2 The younger Steve grew up playing baseball, basketball, football, and golf, and, like his father, was a fan of the New York Yankees. By age 10, Steve regularly performed an exercise routine designed by his father to build his strength, and he would bounce the ball off a cellar wall to improve his quickness.3 Steve would credit his father for pushing him to reach his potential.
Braun attended Hopewell Valley High School in Pennington, just north of Trenton. Basketball was his favorite sport, but it was baseball in which the 5-foot-10 athlete would have a future. A right-handed thrower and lefty hitter, Braun played second base and shortstop for Hopewell Valley and the Lambertville American Legion team. Pete Appleton, a former big league pitcher who held positions as a minor league manager and scout with the Senators and Twins, lived near a park where Steve practiced ball with his father and brothers. While tending to his garden, Appleton took notice of young Steve and recommended him to the Twins.4 Minnesota scouts Benny Borgmann and Jack McKeon visited Braun and his family at their home.5 Scouts with the Braves, Pirates, Phillies, and Cubs had also been in contact with Braun, but it was the Twins who selected him in the 10th round of the 1966 June amateur draft. His contract included a $5,000 bonus.6
Braun, then 18 years old, was assigned to the Twins’ rookie-level team in the Gulf Coast League for the 1966 season. Playing second base, he hit .230 in 42 games. Beginning 1967 with the Single-A Wisconsin Rapids Twins in the Midwest League, he appeared in 10 games, all but one as a pinch hitter, until mandatory roster trimming sent him back to the GCL, where he hit .245 in 54 contests. He displayed an excellent batting eye, recording an OBP of .398.
Following the 1967 season, Braun was drafted again, this time by the United States Army during the Vietnam War. He served a two-year tour of duty stationed in Germany. He kept his baseball skills sharp by playing 20-25 games a year on a semipro team.7 He also bulked up, adding 15 pounds of muscle by lifting weights – not a common or encouraged practice in baseball then.8 “I was a 160-pound weakling, but then I went into the Army and started lifting weights. That helped,” Braun said years later. “And while I was in the service, I got hold of Ted Williams’s book on the science of hitting, and that was a big help, too.”9
Discharged in the fall of 1969, Braun reported to the Florida Instructional League. In 36 games, he hit .317 with a .407 OBP. The team included Bert Blyleven, Rick Dempsey, and Eric Soderholm and compiled a 28-12 record. With his baseball career back on track, he spent the 1970 season with the Lynchburg (Virginia) Twins in the Single-A Carolina League. He played third base and hit .279 with four home runs and 43 RBIs in 118 games. Despite missing time with a finger injury, he earned a spot on the Carolina League All-Star team. “Where I really starting excelling was in the instructional fall program,” Braun recalled in 2011. “I hit over .300 both years I was down there. That was against the really good competition.” It was during this time that he received a helpful hitting tip from Jesse Flores, a pitching coach. Flores pointed out that Braun made outs when he chased high pitches and was successful when he swung at pitches lower in the strike zone. “I started laying off the high pitch more often and laying off the pitcher’s pitch, and that’s what propelled me right to the big leagues,” said Braun.
Braun was invited to his first big league spring training in 1971. Rod Carew missed 10 days with a dental problem, giving him an extended look.10 He also received a warm welcome from the team’s veteran slugger, Harmon Killebrew, who encouraged the youngster to relax and enjoy himself. “When he said those words to me,” Braun recalled years later, “it relaxed me enough that I had a great spring training.”11 Despite having never played above Single-A, the 22-year-old made the opening day roster. Forty years later, he vividly recalled the moment he found out he made the club: “I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was taking double-play pivots at second base, and Frank Crosetti was instructing me. Bill Rigney was standing in short center field. He said, ‘Hey Frank, tell Braun to come over here.’ So, I went out to short center field, and I remember the exact words he said: ‘How do you think you are going to like playing in the American League?’ It almost floored me. I was coming out of A-ball, and most guys don’t make the team out of A-ball.”
Braun’s self-proclaimed best and favorite position was second base, but that spot was held down by Carew. Third base was manned by another future Hall of Famer, Killebrew, so Braun was mostly limited to pinch-hitting duties early on. He made his major league debut on Opening Day and grounded into a fielder’s choice against Brewers reliever Marty Pattin. Ten days later he recorded his first big league hit when he singled off Angels hurler Dave LaRoche. After just 21 plate appearances in the Twins’ first 21 contests, Braun had a pair of three-hit games during the first week of May, and his name started showing up on the lineup card more often. First baseman Rich Reese was off to a slow start, so Rigney moved Killebrew to first and gave Braun frequent starts at third. Another career first came on May 21 when Braun hit a home run off the A’s Darold Knowles; he replicated the feat the following day versus Catfish Hunter. In total, Braun played in 128 games and amassed 402 plate appearances while hitting .254 with five homers and 35 RBIs. He struck out 50 times and walked 48, the only time in his pro career that he would total more strikeouts than free passes. The versatile rookie played mostly third base, but also saw time at second base, shortstop, and left field.
Braun got off to a blistering start in his sophomore season of 1972 with 20 hits in his first 40 at bats. Despite this, he played only semi-regularly during the first three months. Most of his starts came at third base, but he continued to fill in at second, short, and left. “I’m afraid I’m going to be labeled a utility player,” Braun told one reporter. “I want to be considered a good prospect, not just a guy they can put in when somebody else isn’t playing.”12 He missed two weeks in early July with an ankle sprain, during which time the Twins replaced Rigney with Frank Quilici. Upon Braun’s return from the injury, he saw more regular playing time under the new skipper. “I played him all over the place to keep his bat in the lineup,” Quilici said years later. “He would try anything you wanted and did anything to help the club, he was a real team guy.”13
Playing winter ball in Venezuela, he worked on base running and found a power stroke. “I hit only two home runs all last season, but in winter ball I hit six in 140 times up as I picked up some power. I hit .331 even though I missed three weeks after being hit on the foot by a pitched ball,” Braun told Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune.14 The off-season also included the first of many contract disputes between Braun and Twins owner Calvin Griffith, who had a reputation for frugality. Threatening to retire rather than accept Griffith’s offer of a $500 raise from the major league minimum $13,500,15 Braun joined several players, including Jim Kaat, Blyleven, Carew, and Killebrew, as holdouts when spring training began.16 On March 4, he agreed to a deal “for about $18,000.”17 Though Griffith’s preference was for Braun to play left field, Quilici utilized him as his primary third baseman in 1973. Playing regularly, Braun maintained a batting average that hovered between .290 and .300 for most of the season before finishing at .283 after missing the last three weeks of the season while undergoing surgery for torn cartilage in his left knee.18 That off-season, Steve married Diane Zrust of Springfield, Minnesota. The couple later had two children, Erin and Stephen.
In what became an annual occurrence, Braun and Griffith had another disagreement over salary before the 1974 season. However, there was now a Final Offer Arbitration process in place as part of the 1973 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Griffith offered $25,000, but Braun wanted $31,500, a figure derived from salaries of three comparable players: Steve Garvey, Wayne Garrett, and Al Gallagher.19 Braun filed for arbitration and won the case.
Early in spring training, Quilici indicated he planned to play Braun in the outfield and give former first-round draft pick Soderholm a chance to play third. In late March, New York’s Daily News reported that the Yankees, in need of a second baseman, offered pitchers Fritz Peterson and Sam McDowell for Braun, but the Twins balked. Braun remained in the Twin Cities, playing 108 games in left field and 17 at third base. He often sat against left-handed pitching, though he managed a respectable .264 average versus southpaws. By then in his fourth year in the majors, Braun had proven to be a productive hitter and expressed frustration with being a platoon player. “I’d love to play with the Twins and help them become a winner,” he told the Associated Press. “But I’ve got pride and somebody in the organization apparently doesn’t think I can do the job…I would prefer to play here if I play. If not, I want to be a regular somewhere else.”20 Griffith held on to Braun.
In 1975, Braun and the Twins again went to arbitration when the two sides were $4,500 apart in negotiations. This time Braun lost the case, and his salary was set at $36,500.21 Looked at by some in the organization as a player without a position, he saw action in left field and both corner infield spots during spring training. The Twins went north with a starting outfield of Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock, and Bobby Darwin. Braun began the season as the starting first baseman but committed three errors in nine games. The team demoted the struggling Bostock, and Quilici moved Braun back to left field, where he got regular at bats. At the suggestion of Twins trainer Dick Martin, Braun worked to improve his stamina by running two and a half miles and lifting weights three times per week.22 He also had begun to work with a hypnotist to improve his concentration, following the lead of Carew. With a combination of regular playing time, improved strength, and a focus on the mental side of the game, Braun enjoyed the best season of his career. In 136 games, he hit .302 with a .381 OBP, 11 home runs, 45 RBIs, and a 3.7 WAR.
Braun took up transcendental meditation during the offseason and carried the practice over into the 1976 season. “When I heard on television about TM and how it had helped players like Larry Bowa and Steve Carlton of the Phillies, I decided to give it a try,” he explained.23 Braun abandoned meditation after hitting just .213 through May 20 and went back to hypnosis.24 He also used hitting advice given by teammate Tony Oliva to work his way out of the slump. Braun’s batting average steadily improved; after the All-Star Game, he batted .316 and reached base at a .421 clip. New Twins manager Gene Mauch used Braun most frequently at designated hitter and often as leadoff man, where he hit in 62 of his 111 starts.
Braun continued to quarrel with Twins’ ownership over his salary, and he played the 1976 season without a contract. He later explained this strategy: “I had held out that year. I didn’t like the contract that the Twins offered me, so I played without a contract. I signed my contract after the season was over with the stipulation that I would be left unprotected in the expansion draft. I got all my retroactive pay at the salary I wanted plus being unprotected.” The Seattle Mariners selected him in the fourth round with the 38th overall pick of the expansion draft.
On April 6, 1977, Braun hit third and played left field for the Mariners in their inaugural game at the Kingdome, going 1-for-3 with a walk against Frank Tanana in a losing effort. Braun hit .314 in April with an eye-popping .484 OBP while starting 23 of the M’s first 24 games in left field. His numbers tailed off in May and June, and by the All-Star break he was hitting just .230. Down the stretch, Braun was often used at DH and off the bench. He set career highs with 544 plate appearances and 139 games played, but hit just .235 with five home runs and an OPS of .666. Relegated to pinch-hitting and a part-time DH role to start the 1978 season, he was hitting only .230 on June 1, when Seattle traded him to the Royals for pitcher Jim Colborn. The deal was consummated on the golf course between the clubs’ skippers, recalled Royals manager Whitey Herzog in 2021. “I was playing golf in Kansas City with Darrell Johnson, my teammate in Denver and Baltimore, and he was managing Seattle at the time. We got to talkin’ and I had a couple outfielders who were hurt. I always liked Brauny when he played in Minnesota. Man, he was a good hitter. He made good contact, always hit .280. I was very happy to acquire him.”25
Braun later recalled what Herzog said to him about his role: “Listen Steve, I know you’ve played a lot the last several years. Here you’re going to be my backup, be my pinch hitter, play once in a while.” The Royals won 92 games, and Braun found himself on a playoff-bound team for the first time. He hit .263 in 64 games and credited Royals hitting coach Charlie Lau with playing a key role in his turnaround.26 In September he played a particularly important role, hitting .412 (14-for-34) during one 11-game stretch. In the ALCS, he appeared in two games and was 0-for-5 with a walk as the Yankees captured the American League pennant.
Braun returned to Kansas City in 1979 on a one-year contract, pinch hitting and backing up left fielder Willie Wilson as the Royals finished in second place behind the Angels. After selling cars in the off-season, Braun began his third season with the Royals, who had replaced Herzog with Jim Frey. Braun still longed to be an everyday player, but Kansas City’s lineup was tough to crack. “It’s up to me to prove to the manager I’m better than what we have out there. Until I do that, I’ve got no beef other than to go out there and bust my tail as hard as I can to do the job I have,” he expressed at the time.27 His tenure with Kansas City ended when he was released on June 2, 1980, after being used sparingly and managing just one hit in 23 at bats. The Blue Jays signed Braun on June 21 and assigned him to Triple-A Syracuse, where he hit .328 in 19 games. After getting called up to Toronto in July, he hit .273 while serving as a pinch hitter and occasional DH with just one appearance at third base.
Herzog had been hired by the Cardinals in 1980 as both field manager and general manager. Braun was a free agent heading into the 1981 season, and Herzog signed the veteran as a non-roster spring training invitee and then to a major league pact just before the start of the season. Braun was used almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter and served as the Cardinals’ sixth outfielder, a role he would fulfill for five seasons with St. Louis. After years of pining to be a starter, he accepted the less-than-glamorous role. “I take great pride in pinch-hitting ability,” Braun said in 1983. “If Whitey wants me to play in the outfield, I’m ready. But I know what my role is. I find it very satisfying to do a job successfully that most guys don’t want to do.”28
Braun started only a handful of games each year (his high was 13 in 1983), so he used a combination of mental and physical skills to stay sharp. Closely observing the game from the dugout, he would think ahead to how he might be used and against which relievers he might hit. Batting practice pitchers, like bullpen coach Dave Ricketts, would simulate opposing hurlers he might face. “That preparation helped my confidence. We all know that confidence is the most important attribute a hitter has,” he later explained.
In 1982, St. Louis advanced to the World Series to face the Milwaukee Brewers, and Braun was a key contributor. In Game Two, he drew a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth inning, which broke a 4-4 tie and proved to be the decisive run. Braun called it “the most important at bat of my lifetime.”29 In Game Seven, he entered the game at DH in the sixth inning. After grounding out in his first at bat with a runner on third, Braun came through in the eighth with a single off Mike Caldwell to drive in Keith Hernandez. The run gave the Cardinals a 6-3 lead, which Bruce Sutter preserved in the ninth to win the game and the Series.
Herzog shared his memories of Braun in a 2021 interview. “In ’82, when we won the World’s championship, I had [Braun] and Dane Iorg, and I would call them two professional pinch-hitters. Brauny would go down in the runway and meditate. He’d take a god dang nap and picture what the guy was going to throw him. He was really something. Brauny, for cryin’ out loud, he’d always go deep in the count. He was a good breaking ball hitter, he didn’t strike out, and even when he didn’t get a hit, he’d always seem to go 3-and-2 in the count and put the ball in play. I was lucky to have both of ’em.”30
Braun maintained a batting average between .272 and .276 each season between 1982 and 1984, an impressive accomplishment considering that he started just 29 games during that period. His role on the team as essentially an exclusive pinch hitter is illustrated in a story shared by Herzog. “One day we’re playing in Candlestick. The clubhouse for the visiting team was in the right field corner. Brauny came out of the clubhouse, and he was carryin’ his bat over his shoulder, and he also had his glove hangin’ on his bat. When he got to the dugout, I could see he had a bad night. His eyes were all puffed up and when he got to the bench, I said ‘Brauny, I don’t care if you had a bad night or you don’t feel right, because I know you’ll be alright by game time. And I’m glad to see you’ve got your bat, but what in the hell are you doing with that glove hanging on there? You ain’t gonna be using it.’ Ozzie [Smith, Terry] Pendleton, and Tom] Herr all laughed like hell.”31
In 1984, Braun became just the ninth player in major league history to reach 100 pinch hits.32 With the emergence of young corner outfielders Vince Coleman and Andy Van Slyke in 1985, Braun saw his name in the starting lineup only five times, and three of those occurrences came in April. Nonetheless, the skilled batsman found his moments to shine. On July 21, the Cardinals faced the Dodgers and were in danger of getting swept in the four-game series after Los Angeles took the first three games. With the game tied, 2-2, in the 10th inning, Braun hit for reliever Jeff Lahti. Dodgers hurler Tom Niedenfuer threw a fastball down the middle, and Braun clubbed it for a decisive two-run homer, raising his fist in the air as he rounded first base.33 (Niedenfuer would famously serve up home runs to Braun’s teammates Smith and Jack Clark in the NLCS.) St. Louis returned to the World Series to face Kansas City. Braun was hitless in his only at bat, which came in the Cardinals’ Game Seven defeat.
The Cardinals decided to play the 1986 season with 24 players rather than 25 as a cost-cutting measure.34 All of the major league clubs did so, in fact – and the Major League Baseball Players Association challenged the practice, filing a grievance in May 1986.35 However, an arbitrator upheld the 24-man limit in 1987.36 Rosters did not return to 25 men until 1990.37 The so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” among the owners – or from the players’ standpoint, collusion – prevented the Cardinals from dedicating a roster spot to an exclusive pinch hitter. Thus, they released Braun from the 40-man roster but signed him to a minor league contract to serve as insurance for the big club. The 38-year-old played 50 games with the Triple-A Louisville Redbirds and hit .273. In June, when he pulled a hamstring and no return to the majors was imminent, he told Louisville manager Jim Fregosi that he was retiring. “I had a hard time getting the words out of my mouth,” said Braun, “It was a tough conversation to have.”38
Over the course of his 15-year big league career, Braun had a slash line of .271/.371/.367, accumulating 989 hits. He never truly had a chance to be an everyday player, though his statistics projected over 162 games were impressive. “I always wondered what my numbers would look like getting 600 at bats,” Braun said in 2021. “Based on my ’76 numbers and adding 100 at bats, I could have scored 90 and driven in 75 runs, which are pretty fair numbers out of the leadoff spot.”39 Braun batted .281 in 482 plate appearances as a pinch hitter. He was the Cardinals’ all-time pinch hits leader with 60 at the time of his retirement.40 As of 2021, his mark of 114 career pinch hits is tied for 11th all-time. He is one of 18 players in history to reach the 100 pinch-hit mark, and one of just three in that club to hit over .280, behind only Manny Mota and Smoky Burgess.41 His .386 OBP ranks at the top of the 100 pinch hit group.
Braun’s years of studying hitting made for an easy transition to the next phase of his career as a coach. It was a job he thought might someday suit him as far back as the late 1970s while working with Charlie Lau.42 He served as a minor league hitting instructor in the St. Louis organization for four seasons before joining Herzog’s staff as the Cardinals’ hitting coach in 1990. “My basic philosophy is knowing the fundamentals,” said Braun after he was hired. “There are two things that I’m going to be concentrating on…one is strike zone discipline. The other is situation hitting.”43
Herzog quit during the 1990 season and was ultimately replaced by Joe Torre. With a new regime in place, Braun was out of a job after one season. That winter, he was hired by the Red Sox as a minor-league hitting instructor. In 1999, Braun was assigned to the role of hitting coach for the Trenton Thunder, Boston’s affiliate in the Double-A Eastern League. In 2003, the Thunder became affiliated with the New York Yankees, and Braun remained with the club for two seasons. He stepped down after growing tired of the bus rides.44
Braun remained in the Trenton area for a time following his playing career. He ran summer baseball camps for area youth and operated an indoor baseball academy. On November 17, 2009, he was inducted into the Hopewell Valley High School Distinguished Graduate Hall of Fame.45 As of 2021, now a Florida resident, he reported that he was enjoying retirement on the golf course.
Special thanks to Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog for providing his memories (telephone interview with Eric Vickrey, May 20, 2021) and to Steve Braun for sharing thoughts about his career (e-mail to Eric Vickrey, May 17, 2021).
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Evan Katz.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes from Steve Braun are from a telephone interview with John Swol for twinstrivia.com on December 14, 2011.
1 Dave Kindred, “Weightlifting Gave Steve Brawn, but Luck Gave him his Big Chance,” Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), June 4, 1972: 52.
2 Dan Stoneking, “Braun Surprises Everyone,” Minneapolis Star, May 8, 1971: 12.
4 Steve Braun Interview with John Swol, December 14, 2011, https://twinstrivia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Braun.mp3, Accessed February 1, 2021.
5 Milton Richman, “Cold Feet Part of Game,” Spokane Chronicle, January 29, 1975: 16.
7 Braun-Swol Interview.
9 Chan Keith, “Braun Feels Invincible Now,” Minneapolis Star, June 12, 1974: 75.
10 Ed Hayes, “He’s Hero at Home,” Orlando Evening Star, April 1, 1971: 77.
11 Bruce Markusen, “Talking Ball with Steve Braun,” Hardball Times, July 15, 2011, https://tht.fangraphs.com/talking-ball-with-steve-braun/, Accessed February 9, 2021.
13 “Steve Braun Interview,” https://twinstrivia.com/interview-archives/steve-braun-interview/, Accessed February 1, 2021.
14 Sid Hartman, “Braun Wants a Bigger Raise,” Star Tribune, February 20, 1973: 18.
16 Dan Stoneking, “Twins Sign Perry, Thompson, Sanders,” Star Tribune, March 3, 1973: 7.
17 Dan Stoneking, “Kaat: Settle or Trade Me,” Star Tribune, March 5, 1973: 22.
18 Sid Hartman, “Jottings,” Star Tribune, September 10, 1973: 24.
20 “Braun: Play or Trade,” Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa), June 23, 1974: 57.
21 Chan Keith, “Rookie Key to Braun’s Trade,” Minneapolis Star, March 12, 1975: 70.
22 Brent Kallestad, “Soderholm, Braun are Sold on Aerobics,” Winona Daily News, June 22, 1975: 24.
23 Chan Keith, “Happier Daze for Braun,” Minneapolis Star, June 25, 1976: 32.
24 Keith, “Happier Daze for Braun.”
25 Telephone interview between Whitey Herzog and the author, May 20, 2021.
26 Neal Russo, “Braun has Hefty Goal as Pinch Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 14, 1981: 29.
27 Del Black, “He’s Ever Ready,” Kansas City Star, March 27, 1980: 69.
28 Lyndal Scranton, “When Cardinals Need Hits, They Call on Braun,” Springfield Leader and Press, July 24, 1983: 57.
29 “Braun Happy to Accept Congratulations on Walk,” St. Joseph News Press (St. Joseph, Missouri), October 14, 1982: 11.
30 Herzog interview.
31 Herzog interview.
32 “Braun Delivers to Help Cards Trip Montreal,” Springfield News-Leader (Springfield, Missouri), September 26, 1984: 29.
33 Rick Hummel, “Braun’s Blast Tops Dodgers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 22, 1985: 17.
34 Rick Hummel, “Cards Drop Braun,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 31, 1985: 24.
35 “24-Man Roster Is Challenged,” New York Times, May 14, 1986: D-30.
36 “Arbitrator scores one for major-league owners, upholds 24-man rosters,” Baltimore Sun, April 16, 1987: 47.
37 “Major-league teams stop roster trimming at 25 players,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1990: 25.
38 Rick Bozich, “Brainy Braun was a Big Hit,” Courier-Journal, June 29, 1986: 13.
39 Email communication between Steve Braun and the author, May 17, 2021.
40 Dan O’Neill, “A New Voice: Braun Plans to Coach Hitting Basics,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 21, 1990: 24.
44 Braun-Swol Interview.
45 Jay Dunn, “Braun Shares his Baseball Knowledge with Area Youths,” Bucks Local News, http://www.buckslocalnews.com/pennington_post/braun-shares-his-baseball-knowledge-with-area-youths/article_a4af7ab7-15d6-5ff2-8a69-7e0c9bee6ac7.html, Accessed February 9, 2021.