Every season a new hotshot prospect would take aim at the starting third base position with the Detroit Tigers, but every season little Tommy Brookens would emerge with the job. He wasn’t a power hitter, a batting title contender, a great defender, or a superstar, but he was a gritty player who got every ounce of talent out of his undersized body. Brookens was a gamer who earned a ring as a member of the 1984 World Series Champions.
A twin, Brookens’ brother also played professional baseball, but it was Tom who forged a career in the major leagues after being called up by Detroit in 1979. A versatile player, Brookens was able to play not only the hot corner, but also fill in amply at shortstop, second base, and even the outfield when needed. He was also a good baserunner and stealer, swiping as many as 14 bases in a season. His best year at the plate came in his second year – 1980 – when he batted .275 with a career-best nine triples and 66 RBI.
In 1984 when the Tigers roared to a 35-5 start and went on to dominate their competition to win the Series, Brookens shared playing time with Howard Johnson and Barbaro Garbey, but within a few years they were gone and Brookens was still standing, playing 156 games in ’85 and 143 in ’87 when the Tigers again advanced to the post-season.
The most amazing game of Brookens’ career came in 1989 as a member of the New York Yankees, when injuries forced manager Dallas Green to use the veteran Brookens at cleanup for the Bombers. He finished his career with Cleveland in 1989, having accumulated nearly 1,000 hits.
Brookens served as a minor league manager with the Tigers after his playing career, and Sparky Anderson felt that he should someday get a chance to manage in the big leagues. Brookens was part of the Tigers coaching staff when Jim Leyland became Detroit manager in 2006, a position he continued to hold as of 2012.
Detroit announcer Ernie Harwell dubbed Brookens “The Pennsylvania Thumper.”