Monday, August 22, 2011

#232 - Steve Brye

On another card shot in Oakland we have Steve Brye, center fielder for the Twins. Steve was in the middle of the two busiest seasons of his career when this card came out. After spending the first half of the season as a little-used back-up with a sub-.200 average, Steve was given the center job in late June as Larry Hisle moved to the corner spots and Jim Holt to first base to help make up for the loss of Harmon Killebrew. It worked pretty well for Steve as he played very good defense and pushed his average up a bunch. Like a couple subjects of recent posts Steve was involved in a little bit of controversy but his would not occur for a couple seasons. In a tribute to George Brett, another player in that little drama, Steve swings a bat in this photo loaded up with pine tar.

Steve Brye grew up in Oakland and attended Merritt College there - he also may have attended Portland Community College in Oregon - from where he was drafted as a first rounder by the Twins in '67 as a third baseman. He hit well right off the bat that year in Rookie ball and the next season split between military duty and A ball. In '69 his average slid 100 points but he revived with two big years in '70 - when he was the batting leader in the Double A Southern League - and in '71 at Triple A Portland. It was during that time that he converted to an outfielder. He was pulled up for good later in '71 and did his backup thing behind Bobby Darwin, Tony Oliva, Larry Hisle, Cesar Tovar, and Jim Holt the next two-plus years. In '74 he returned as the starting center fielder - replacing Hisle again - and while he did quite well defensively and hit .283 he wasn't the power source Minnesota felt it needed from that spot. In '75 and '76 he returned to the fourth outfielder role, primarily due to the emergence and stardom of Lyman Bostock. '75 was probably Steve's most productive year offensively with nine homers and 34 RBIs in 246 at bats.

In '76 Brye was playing right field the last day of the season and became - unwittingly or wittingly depending on one's point of view - a factor in that year's AL batting race. In George Brett's final at bat that season he lofted a fly ball that Steve failed to catch and became an inside-the-park home run. It was ruled a hit and got Brett the batting title over his teammate Hal McRae who accused Steve of intentionally letting the ball fall in so Brett would win. Steve probably didn't help his cause by stating that Brett was more deserving of the title since he was an on-field guy that season and McRae was primarily a DH. But all Brye's teammates rushed to his defense, including Rod Carew and Bostock, both black - like McRae - and both also in line for the title themselves (that year only ten points separated the four players and only two points Brett, McRae, and Carew). MLB did an investigation and found nothing to the charge.

In '77 Brye was sold to the Brewers where he again did a reserve thing and was released after the season. He signed with the Pirates for '78 as a free agent then left the same way following the season, unfortunately missing being part of the big '79 year. That year he signed with the Padres for whom he played in Triple A and then retired. Steve hit .258 for his career with 30 homers and 193 RBIs. He is in the top 75 all-time for outfield fielding percentage.

At some point after playing Brye returned to California where he has been relatively low-profile, at least on the web. He has recently played some ball for the Greenwood Ridge Dragons, a senior baseball team based in Sonoma and owned by a local vintner that has done well in national tournaments. He even has a card for that team lined to here. That's all I got.

For the most part Steve was quite a banger in the minors where he finished hitting .296 with an OBA in the .370 area. He never returned to third base in the majors. In '72 he hit .455 in the pinch with a triple in eleven at bats. That would seem to qualify for top guy.

All AL. I could cut this using Jimmy Wynn but he barely played for NY:

1. Brye and Eric Soderholm '71 to '76 Twins;
2. Soderholm and Willie Randolph '80 Yankees;
3. Randolph and Dick Tidrow '76 to '79 Yankees.

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