In 1972, an over-the-hill Tiger gang won the American League East with a dramatic final run at glory. The team featured Hall of Famer Al Kaline, 22-game winner Mickey Lolich, 19-game winner Joe Coleman, and several all-time Tiger greats. Despite the talent, a .224 career hitter finished higher than any other Tiger in the MVP race and won Tiger of the Year honors. Slick-fielding shortstop Ed Brinkman batted just .203, but set fielding records for the AL East champions. Unfortunately, Brinkman missed most of the postseason due to injury. The postseason defeat showcased Brinkman’s importance. In the end, a weak-hitting shortstop proved the MVP for a veteran team filled with aging stars.
Brinkman debuted for the Washington Senators in September 1961. The glove man played 10 seasons in Washington, but never hit above .266. At the time, teams expected little offensively from the shortstop position. As a result, the Senators accepted a career .226 hitter in their everyday lineup. When former 30-game winner and two-time Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain became available, Washington agreed to part with their steady shortstop. The Tigers also received starting third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez and pitcher Joe Coleman.
The new Tiger acquisitions breathed life into a veteran club. Detroit won the 1968 World Series, but did not seriously contend the next couple seasons. The Baltimore Orioles formed one of history’s greatest teams making it difficult for the entire division. The Orioles finally stumbled in 1972. That season, the Tigers won the American League East by a half game over Boston. Coleman won 19 games, Rodriguez hit .236 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI, Kaline batted .313, and Lolich won 22 games. Meanwhile, Brinkman provided steady defense from his perch at shortstop.
Kaline, Lolich, and Bill Freehan all received MVP votes at season’s end. However, all three finished behind Brinkman who led the leagues in games played with 156, but batted an anemic .203 with 6 home runs, 49 RBI, and .538 OPS. The RBI total represented a career high which Brinkman later surpassed with 54 in 1974. In four Tiger seasons, the infielder hit just .222 with a .582 OPS. Before joining Detroit, he set the record for fewest hits (82) for a player appearing in 150 or more games.
Offense was not Brinkman’s strong suit. On the other hand, he set many fielding records in 1972 while leading the Tiger infield. The Tiger posted the highest fielding percentage (.900) at shortstop for a player with 150 or more games. Additionally, he played 72 error-less contests, fielded 331 chances without a miscue, and committed just seven errors all season long. His efforts led to the only Gold Glove of Brinkman’s career. These four records explain the writers logic when casting their MVP votes. Although he finished ninth in the overall MVP election, local reporters awarded Brinkman the Tiger of the Year Award. The Tiger of the Year ruptured a disc in his back limiting him to a single ALCS game. The Tigers fell to the Oakland A’s in five hard fought games.
Brinkman led the league in games played (162) and made his only All Star team in 1973. The next season the shortstop set career highs in home runs (14), RBI (54), and slugging (.347). Detroit shipped their star to the Cardinals in the 1974 off season. He played for three teams in 1975 before retiring at age 33. For his career, Brinkman batted .224 with 60 home runs, 461 RBI, and .580 OPS.
The 1972 Detroit Tigers boasted a number of stars including Hall of Famer Al Kaline and World Series hero Mickey Lolich. Despite this, light-hitting shortstop Ed Brinkman emerged the team’s star for one amazing season. Although he batted just .203, Brinkman set four major fielding records while anchoring his position. His glove performance impressed voters, solidified the Tigers, and helped the squad to the playoffs. A ruptured disc prevented Brinkman from appearing in four games of the ALCS. Detroit lost the series in five games.