Standing on the pitcher's mound, righthander Tom Brennan starts into his windup. He raises his left leg until his knee is waist high, lowers his hands and freezes. Then, as if remembering there is more to do, he whips the ball sidearm across his body, falling forward and landing in perfect fielding position.
Brennan's career as a professional ballplayer has been as fragmented as his delivery. Last season he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, having earned the final spot on their roster. He spent two months clinging to his job, knowing all along that he was only filling in until veteran Bob Welch came off the disabled list. When Welch returned, Brennan was sent to the Albuquerque Dukes, where he spent the rest of the season. Last month he was playing winter ball, a middle relief man for Licey in the Dominican Republic. This spring he will play for any team, major or minor, that gives him a chance.
Brennan's 12-year odyssey through professional baseball resembles a train schedule, with stops in 22 cities covering six countries, highlighted by brief stints with three major league clubs. As a rule he plays 10½ to 11 months each year, and he has never made more than the minimum salary. In a game that has home plates, home runs and home teams, Brennan and his wife, Bridget, are always visitors.
In the U.S. the Brennans have no address, no phone number and no furniture. Tom doesn't even have his own bats. All he has is a silver 1977 Chevy van, dubbed Mr. Van by Bridget.
February 3, 1986
Brennan's distinctive wind-up is, if nothing else, provocative. "The first time I saw Tom pitch, I thought, 'What the hell is this?' " says Dodger relief pitcher Ken Howell, who played with Brennan a year ago. "I thought it was a joke."
"I don't want to blame anyone for this windup," says the 33-year-old Brennan, who is called, naturally, the Flamingo. "I don't think an unusual style gets good hitters out. Good pitches do. If it gave everyone trouble, I'd have had an illustrious major league career.
"I'm sure it has hurt me, too. I know some people look at it and say, 'There's no way he can get anyone out with it.' "
And there have been times when those people were right. But there have also been times when Brennan has gotten everyone out. As a Dodger, Brennan retired the first 20 batters he faced. He was 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA after four appearances. Alas, Brennan faltered, and by the time he was shuttled back to the minors in early June his ERA was 7.39.
It was obvious Brennan needed a tune-up. He made a few mechanical adjustments at Albuquerque and after a month with the Dukes was 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, a remarkable figure in the hit-happy Pacific Coast League. But again he tailed off, finishing the season 6-5, with a 3.76 ERA.
In fact, one of the brighter moments of the season came on the Fourth of July in a game against the Las Vegas Stars. Brennan was working on a shutout when he took the mound in the top of the eighth. As Brennan started throwing his warmup pitches, fans started throwing fireworks onto the field.
"Someone fired a two-foot rocket that looked like an ICBM into the middle of the infield, and the umpire called the game," 'says Brennan, admitting that, even in his multifarious career, this had been a first.
Given a choice, Brennan avoids such clamor. He is so quiet that his teammates in Oklahoma City Class AAA years ago facetiously nicknamed him Gabby. When he wasn't playing baseball, he could be found in his room or the library, reading.
"He's weird," says Bill De Lury, the Dodgers' traveling secretary. "He actually reads good books."
Yes, Brennan likes Kierkegaard, Camus, Sartre and a few other existential curveballs rarely seen at the major league level. On the Dodger bus last spring, reliever Steve Howe looked at one of Brennan's books with suspicion and asked, "What is that" Just a paperback tome entitled Opera Themes and Plots that details story lines and scores not found in The Sporting News.
Brennan has seen Amadeus more than 10 times. He thinks of Mahler as a guy who wrote some dandy symphonies, not someone who pitches for the Braves. He owns several thousand records, not one of them listed in The Book of Baseball Records. But Brennan is not entirely highbrow. His impressive video collection includes 64 episodes of The Three Stooges and 37 of The Honeymooners.
Brennan just happens to be that rare ballplayer who knows the difference between Groucho Marx and Karl Marx and can comfortably discuss both. Howell recalls games of Trivial Pursuit played in the Licey bullpen. "We would ask some ridiculous history question and laugh," Howell says. "Then Tom would come up with a weird name, and we'd say 'Damn, that's the answer.' "
Brennan even looks donnish. His hair has been gray since high school, which Brennan attributes to his genes, not his career worries. His father, Tom, played football for the Fighting Irish and was known as the Gray-Haired End from Notre Dame.
Perhaps the initial graying of young Tom was hastened somewhat by his Chicago high school baseball career, in which he won four games and lost 10 for St. Leo's Lions. Brennan played college ball for the Lewis University Flyers in Romeoville, Ill. In 1974 he graduated with a B.A. in English and pitched well enough—he was an NAIA All-America with a 12-1 record—for the Cleveland Indians to take a flyer, making Brennan the fourth pick in the first round of the June draft.
But after more than two years in Class AAA, Brennan was demoted to Class A. He had come out of college as an over-the-top power pitcher, but as a pro he developed control problems. To correct them Brennan started slowing his motion. Eventually, he began delivering the ball sidearm, then added the pause. As his control improved he gained confidence. In 1978 he went to winter ball in Venezuela, was 12-4 and was named pitcher of the year.
Still waiting for a call from the majors, Tom married Bridget Stewart before the 1980 season. The two had met in Reno. Tom was there for a Class A ballgame, and Bridget was playing fast-pitch soft-ball; both their teams were from San Jose. Bridget is able to catch Tom's pitching, and she can throw him batting practice.
Brennan finally reached the majors in September 1981, pitching in seven games for the Indians. He played for the Tribe all of 1982 and part of '83. The following year he was traded to the White Sox, pitching in four games.
"I try to sell myself as a utility pitcher who can do a little bit of everything," Brennan says, "long relief, short relief and spot starting." His is a seemingly tireless arm, one that has never been injured. "Maybe the adhesions just haven't had a chance to build," he jokes.
Back in the minors last year, Brennan earned the 25th spot on the Dodger roster with an 11th-inning, 1lth-hour save in the final game of spring training.
But anyone who makes his living standing on one leg understands how precarious life can be. Brennan waited for four weeks before making a deposit on an apartment, which, like all his others, had a month-to-month lease. (In 1984 he had paid a deposit on an apartment and the next day the Sox sent him to Denver.)
His decision to acquire at least a temporary residence in Los Angeles was prompted by his first—and, as it turned out, only—victory in a Dodger uniform, a 4-2 win over the Giants on April 24. After the game Brennan was asked if he could name one opera that most related to his life. "La Boh√®me" he said. Indeed, Brennan's path has been colorfully unconventional.
"I've met thousands of good people through baseball. If I ever had to live in one spot, I think I'd go crazy. A lot of my buddies I played ball with would give their right arm to be in the majors. I try not to lose sight of that."