Brumley and Green. Who do you like? If the season started tomorrow, who would you take?
Brumley and Green. Brumley has the bat, Green has the glove. But who is good in the clubhouse? Who is good in the clutch?
Brumley and Green. Mike Brumley is from Oklahoma, grew up a “redneck,” doing leaf tobacco before he was doing multiplication tables, fist-fighting before dinner. Gary Green went to college in Oklahoma but hates country music, doesn’t associate much with rednecks and never did anything wilder than a panty raid.
Brumley and Green. Or is it Green and Brumley? Or is it Wilford Brimley?
In the span of a week, the two shortstops have become the story of Padre spring training while raising the two biggest questions:
Which one will replace Dickie Thon as the Padres’ backup/platoon-mate to Garry Templeton, a job that could involve as many as 80 starts? And how did Padre Manager Jack McKeon ever let a quiet camp erupt into this, an honest-to-goodness position fight between two honest-to-goodness opposites?
“I have no idea what is happening,” Brumley says.
“No idea,” Green says.
“What has happened,” McKeon says, “is that we’re throwing a couple of guys out there and saying, ‘Take your best shot. You want to play here? You show us.’ ”
Wait a minute. Didn’t McKeon come to camp saying that there was just three positions open--one pitcher, a fifth outfielder and an all-around utility player? Didn’t he imply that the backup shortstop job, not included in that list, belonged to Brumley, who hit .315 at triple-A Las Vegas last year?
Sure. But that was before Brumley committed two errors in the first spring game. And another error in the sixth game. And then there was the grounder through his legs that should have been an error in the eighth spring game.
“I’m trying to do too much, I’m trying too hard, I’m afraid to make a mistake,” Brumley said.
In the meantime, Green, who has had two average years at Las Vegas and was just at camp as an invited outsider, was committing two errors. But he was looking smoother and more relaxed and, well, just better.
“The way I figure it,” Green said, “whatever happens is going to happen. If they don’t know I can play, well, I know I can play.”
Surmised teammate Rob Nelson, who played with both at Las Vegas last season: “It’s obvious, Brumley is really playing tense, while Green is playing like, ‘The hell with it, might as well compete with this guy, nothing better to do.’ ”
So where does it stand now? The way it stood Saturday during the Padres’ 9-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners, which is the same way it will probably stand throughout the next couple of weeks. Green played the first five innings. Brumley played the last four. Each batted twice. It’s like a boxing match, but the contestants cannot be in the same ring at the same time.
Saturday, Round 1. Green steps to the plate in the fourth inning with Marvell Wynne on third and one out. The pitch comes home and suddenly, so does Wynne. It’s a squeeze play. Green sticks out the bat, the ball plops down in front of the plate, Wynne scores.
“We normally wouldn’t squeeze in that situation because we had such a lead (5-1), but I saw it as a little test for Green,” McKeon said. “And he came through.”
Said Green, who is hitting .090 this spring: “I knew the bunt was coming. Larry Bowa (former manager) used to always test me like that too. And every time I’d get that bunt down just like it.”
Saturday, Round 2. Brumley steps to the plate in the eighth with runners on first and second and two outs. He hits a long fly ball down the left-field line . . . foul. He works the count to three and two. And then he pops the ball to right field for a single to score a run.
“That’s also what we’re looking for,” McKeon said.
“You know, I can do this job ,” said Brumley, hitting .200. “I’ve done it before. I just have to remember that.”
This duel is interesting because it is involves more than just bats or gloves. It involves different philosophies, different personalities, even different grins.
Mike Brumley’s smile is tight, like, “Sure, I’m happy, what about it?” Gary Green’s smile is easy, like, “Yeah, I’m happy, big deal.”
“Mike is so intense out there,” Nelson observed, “while Green is just the opposite. He looks lazy, not bending his knees, letting his glove swing free, no big deal. But he’s not lazy at all.”
It’s just that Green has had things relatively smooth compared to Brumley, who has never had anything he didn’t take.
Green, 6-3, 170 pounds, is the son of former Pittsburgh big leaguer Fred Green. He grew up hanging around the ballpark while his father, retired from the game by then, would pitch batting practice to the likes of Dave Parker and Willie Stargell.
“I’ve been exposed to the game so much, it comes natural to me, like no big deal,” Green said. “If people say I’m not intense enough, well, having watched major leaguers, I know all about having good days and bad days and how to handle your ups and downs over the long haul.”
A bad day for Brumley was ending up in a hospital. He comes from the south side of Oklahoma City, where in high school he was just 5-8, 128 pounds and an easy target in a recently segregated school system torn by racial tension.
“I never backed down, but I couldn’t,” Brumley said. “You learn to do your share of fighting.”
His father was also a former big leaguer, catcher Mike Brumley of the Washington Senators. But by the time the younger Mike was growing up, his father had become a preacher, and all the sermonizing in the world didn’t help his situation.
In eighth grade, a buddy was shot and killed in a riot. Around a corner at Jefferson Middle School or Southeast High, there was always a confrontation waiting.
“I remember once I was caught after school with no protection and surrounded by this gang, but they let me go because I was a baseball player,” Brumley said. “A few minutes later, down the hall they grabbed a friend of mine and beat him so he needed about 170 stitches.”
But even being a baseball star didn’t always help. Once, after his high school team had defeated a rival, the losing team followed the Southeast team’s caravan of cars and surrounded them. They smashed their windshields and started a fight in the middle of the street, complete with bats used in that day’s game.
“We’re all in uniform and slugging it out,” Brumley remembered. “Sometimes it’s a wonder I’m still here.”
He’s in San Diego because the Chicago Cubs quit on him after four years and sent him over with Keith Moreland as part of the deal that sent Goose Gossage to the Cubs.
Green is in San Diego because, after starring for four years at Oklahoma State and playing on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, he seemed good enough to be a first-round June draft pick.
Different backgrounds, different paths, but now, just one job.
So who do you like? Brumley or Green?
“Can they toss a coin?” Rob Nelson said.
“It’s early yet,” McKeon said. “Let’s just watch. And watch.”
There were several bright spots for the Padres in Saturday’s 9-4 victory over Seattle, which improved the Padres’ spring record to 5-3-1. Starting pitcher Bruce Hurst was as good as he has been this spring, allowing one run on four hits with four strikeouts in five innings. “The man was just a master out there, wasn’t he?” McKeon raved. “He has such control of all his pitches.” . . . John Kruk, making his first start of the spring in right field, had two hits and ran well, even stealing on a failed hit and run. “He looks good, but I’ve been telling you that,” McKeon said of Kruk, who appears nearly recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery in January. . . . Rob Nelson made another good impression in his attempt to force his way on to the team, hitting a two-run single to the opposite field (left) after shortening his home-run-or-strikeout swing. “I was very impressed with that, it was a very good at-bat,” McKeon said. . . . Saturday’s negatives were not lost in McKeon’s smile. He is concerned with the play of catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., whom McKeon was showcasing for a possible trade to Seattle. Alomar went 0 for 3, meaning he is now 0 for 14 this spring. He also threw a ball into center field on one steal attempt and had a low throw on another. “I had a talk to him before the game, just told him to swing the bat and have some fun,” McKeon said. . . . Two of the Mariners mentioned in a possible deal with San Diego--center fielder Mickey Brantley and third baseman Jim Presley--were both decent. Brantley went 0 for 3 but made a good running catch. Presley doubled and scored a run. . . . Padre Dave Leiper struggled again, allowing two runs on five hits in just two innings. In five spring “A” game innings, he has allowed five runs. . . . McKeon will play his regular-season starting lineup for the first time today against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. Coincidentally, it will also be the Padres only “national” spring appearance, as the game will be carried on the WGN superstation.