By the time Hubie Brooks's weekend extravaganza was over, the San Diego Padres were believers. On Friday night the Montreal Expo shortstop had taken a 92-mph, ankle-high fastball from Lance McCullers and turned it into a tiny white rocket that zipped over the fence in left. "I don't understand it, not that kind of a homer, not on that good a pitch," said Padre infielder Jerry Royster. On Saturday night Brooks swung at an outside fastball from LaMarr Hoyt and lined it over the fence down the rightfield line. "After he hit that one," said Padre manager Steve Boros, "I told [catcher] Terry Kennedy to unbutton Hubie's shirt the next time he came up and see if there was an S on his chest."
Which brings us to the top of the first inning Sunday afternoon. Brooks is batting against Mark Thurmond with the bases loaded and nobody out. Thurmond tries a 2-and-0 changeup. "I was a little fooled," Brooks later admitted. No matter. He keeps his hands back and hits a grand slam to left field. Said Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn, "I mean, first the guy hits two picture pitches for home runs and then he gets fooled on a change-up and hits a grand slam one-handed. That's some big-time hitting."
Brooks is indeed big-time now. As of Sunday he was batting .354 while leading the National League in homers with 10 and in RBIs with 32. He is the most compelling reason why the Expos were within hailing distance, three games, of the best team in baseball, the Mets.
Maybe Brooks shouldn't be such a surprise, coming off a season in which he became the first NL shortstop since Ernie Banks in 1960 to drive in 100 runs. But people tend to remember the pre-Montreal model, the one who played third base for the Mets and dumped singles to right. They recall that he was one of four players the Expos got from New York for catcher Gary Carter two years ago. While there is no argument Carter has helped the Mets immensely, it should be pointed out that since the trade Brooks has hit .284 with 132 RBIs, while Carter has a .274 average and 124 runs batted in.
Brooks has indeed come a long way. In the spring of '85 he confessed that he was unhappy both with the move from New York and the move from third base. He looked terrible at shortstop in the early going but gradually came to accept both his new position and his new city, and in the last two months of the season he drove in 45 of his 100 RBIs.
"Here I am," says Brooks, "playing shortstop, batting cleanup, doing all this, and I don't know what to say because I never thought I'd ever do this."
Brooks has excellent bloodlines—his grandfather Leandrus played with Philadelphia of the Negro National League—and he grew up in Compton, Calif., an area rich in baseball talent. He starred at Arizona State and was the third player drafted in 1978, behind college teammate Bob Horner and Lloyd Moseby. He broke in with the Mets in '81, batting .307. But his average dropped to .249 and .251 the next two years.
"I'm a perfectionist and I didn't handle the bad times well," he says. "I was my own worst enemy. I argued with umpires, I dwelt on the negative, I worried about things I had no control over. When I didn't hit, I didn't play well, period. I could be ridiculous."
His rehabilitation began in the spring of '84. Bill Robinson, his new hitting coach, tinkered with his stance, but more significantly, he convinced Brooks that he could hit for power. He hit 16 homers and drove in 73 runs. Just as Brooks was becoming the greatest third baseman in Mets history—a minor achievement—manager Davey Johnson asked him to move to short for the last five weeks of the pennant race. He convinced the Expos, at least, that he could play there.
He is now quite comfortable in Montreal au poste d'arr√™t-court. Asked last year if he had learned any French, Brooks replied: "A little. Like ménage √† trois."
Brooks is still a little rough at short: With one less error than home run, he has a good chance for a rare double: 30 homers and 30 errors in the same season. But the Expos aren't complaining. Back when Brooks was breaking in at the position, Cubs manager Jim Frey said, "What do I think of Hubie Brooks as a shortstop? As a shortstop, I'd have to say he beat the heck out of us with a three-run homer."