Journeyman pitcher Jim Bruske shares odd place in baseball history
Jim Bruske is last man to play for both World Series teams in same season
In 1998, Bruske, a relief pitcher, appeared in games for Padres and Yankees
Rangers catcher Bengie Molina will accomplish feat after starting year with Giants
Ever since 1998, when he pitched for both the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees, Jim Bruske could have bragged to all of his family members and friends that he was the last man to be a part of two World Series teams in the same season.
Though his career was one that screamed Journeyman! (Initially selected by Cleveland as an outfielder in the first round of the 1986 amateur draft, Bruske spent 12 years bouncing up and down, playing in 17 cities for six organizations before retiring in 2001), Bruske had the right to puff out his chest and talk nonstop smack, secure in his status as one of five ballplayers to accomplish the feat (The other four: pitchers Jack Kramer, Johnny Schmitz and Sid Monge and outfielder Lonnie Smith). Sure, there were guys who threw harder ... who won more games ... who piled up the saves and are destined to land in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Jim Bruske had one thing going for him, and ...
"I didn't know," he says. "Not a clue."
Truth is, until a reporter called Bruske late Sunday, the 46-year-old Paradise Valley, Ariz., resident wasn't aware of his quirky place in baseball lore. He knew there couldn't have been many others who shared a similar circumstance, but didn't realize he was the last. Or at least the last until Wednesday, when Texas/San Francisco catcher Bengie Molina crouches behind the plate for Game 1 of the World Series.
"I'm not so into baseball history, but I figured it was pretty rare," says Bruske, now a co-owner of The Marsh Partners, a Scottsdale-based real estate firm. "It just never meant that much to me. But I guess it's interesting."
Twelve years ago, Bruske was enjoying one of the finest seasons of his wayward career, appearing in 35 games as a reliever with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was 3-0 with a 3.48 ERA, and after bouncing around for so long, finally felt at home with an organization. Then on July 23, he was traded to the first-place Padres for somebody named Widd Workman (Really. Widd Workman). "It was exciting, because the Padres were on a roll and it wasn't that far of a move to go from L.A. to San Diego," he says. "Plus, I'd been with the organization in 1997, and they were great people. I was thrilled."
Bruske pitched in five games for Triple A-Las Vegas and four more for the Padres, and couldn't help but think he just might be a part of the club's playoff roster. Exactly one month after being shipped to San Diego, however, he was traded again -- this time to the Yankees for the immortal duo of Ray Ricken and Shea Morenz. "Not so happy," Bruske says. "At the time my son was 2, and my wife wasn't thrilled to be moving all over. So they stayed at our home in Arizona."
On the bright side, Bruske will forever be listed on the Yankees' alltime roster, wedged in between Brian Bruney and Billy Bryan. On the down side, he only appeared in three games. One of them, however, was a bit of a doozy. On Sept. 27, with the AL East and home-field advantage clinched long ago, Bruske was called on to start the final contest of the season. In five innings against Tampa, he allowed four hits and one earned run, winning New York's major league-record 114th game. "After I was done pitching David Wells walked into the clubhouse and congratulated me," Bruske said. "He said, 'You're gonna be in the Hall one day for this one." Bruske laughs. "I'm not in the Hall," he says, "but that was exciting."
Though Bruske didn't expect to make New York's postseason roster, he had hoped to be allowed to put on a uniform, sit in the dugout and watch. Instead, the organization asked him to go to Tampa and stay sharp in the Instructional League, just in case of an injury to another pitcher. Away from the action, bored out of his skull, pitching to 19-year-old kids before 23 fans, Bruske sat in front of the television, torn. "I suppose I rooted for the Yankees, but if I'm going to be 100-percent honest, I really didn't care which team won," he says. "[Padres closer] Trevor Hoffman had called me, and he told me the team had voted me a ring. I was very touched by that."
As will soon be the case with Molina, Bruske owns two pieces of jewelry. He rarely wears the Padres' National League Champions ring or the Yankees' World Series Champions ring, opting instead for the non-flashy bare-fingered look. Speaking like the prototypical baseball vagabond, Bruske says he'll watch the Fall Classic and pull for Molina, a catcher he believes he once worked with. "We were teammates," he says. "He's a helluva catcher and a helluva guy. We played together in ... uh ... ah ... I think, hmm, it was ... it might have been winter ball. Mexico, maybe. Or Puerto Rico or Venezuela. Or the Dominican. I remember throwing to him, I think, and I'm sure we probably might have had a beer together."
Whether Bruske and Molina shared drinks matters not. In 2010, they share something much more precious: Semi-immortal spots on an eclectic list of six.
Jeff Pearlman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out jeffpearlman.com.