THE WORLD SERIES : HOME IN A DOME : Brunansky Has Put Down Roots, Put Up Big Numbers in Minnesota

October 20, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — He was a Southern California teen-ager who loved the beach but now he owns a house and boat on Lake Minnetonka, near Minneapolis, not to mention a four-wheel-drive truck to cope with the snow.

He was once one of the Angels' top prospects but now has a six-year, $6.1-million contract with the Minnesota Twins.

He was the subject of Twins' trade speculation last winter but went on to have his best season, a prelude to what has been a comparable postseason.

This finishing flourish represents the best transition of all for Tom Brunansky, a measure of how far the Twins, now just two wins away from a World Series championship, have come since 1982, when they lost 102 games.

"It was like having a Triple-A club in the majors," Brunansky said of the year that Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and he spent their first full summer with the Twins.

"Clubs came in and laughed at us," he said. "If they didn't sweep us, they considered it a bad series. We took our lumps and it hurt, but it was a learning experience. Five years later, we've come full circle."

Now, those five years later and longer yet from West Covina High, where he attracted football and baseball attention, it can be said that Brunansky helped chart the Twins' course.

He is among the team's leaders in practical jokes and one of only seven major leaguers to have hit 20 or more home runs for six straight seasons. He tied his career high with 32 this year and drove in 85 runs while generally batting sixth or seventh in the order, meaning that Gaetti, Hrbek and Kirby Puckett had done a lot of base cleaning ahead of him.

In the five games of the American League playoffs with the Detroit Tigers, Brunansky batted .412 and drove in nine runs. There were those who thought he should have been voted the most valuable player, instead of Gaetti. But Brunansky didn't argue then and he's not arguing now, though it cost him a $25,000 bonus.

"Gary's statement at the time was that you can divide it (the award) 24 ways, and that's how I feel," said Brunansky, who still has a good shot at World Series MVP.

He is hitting .348 through seven postseason games with an on-base average of .483. His eight hits include four doubles and two home runs.

One of the problems for a power hitter operating low in the batting order is that pitchers tend to work around him, a strategy that Tim Laudner and Steve Lombardozzi, hitting eighth and ninth, have tended to spoil, combining for nine RBIs in the seven playoff and World Series games.

Brunansky, who batted fourth behind Hrbek before this year, has accepted his walks--74 during the regular season and 6 in the postseason, where he has scored 7 runs.

"When Kirby developed his power stroke (hitting 31 homers in 1986 and 28 last year), it was obvious he was going to drop from leadoff to No. 3 in the batting order, which was going to move everyone else down," Brunansky said.

"I look around at other clubs and know I'd have a chance to drive in more runs than I do hitting near the bottom here. But the way our lineup is broken up with right- and left-handed hitters, and the way we've been hitting from top to bottom, I still get the chance to drive in runs.

"We have a solid, balanced lineup. If they're going to walk us and try to take the bats out of our hands, fine. Everybody feels comfortable enough with the man behind him. My attitude is, 'OK, drop the bat, take the walk, make them pay.'

"I'm at a point in my career where it doesn't matter where I hit. The name of the game is to win, and the only way to win is as a team. If people were worried about where they hit, we wouldn't be where we are."

Brunansky didn't expect to be where he is until he realized that the Angels of the late '70s and early '80s put a premium on veteran free agents and that young players didn't fit in.

A widely recruited wide receiver, he considered a scholarship offer from Stanford, rejected it and signed with the Angels as their No. 1 draft choice in 1978.

"The big talk when I was (with the Angels) was that they had to win now," Brunansky said. "There was pressure to get it done immediately. They were into signing as many big-name free agents as they could. There was a generation gap between the veterans and young players. Mike Witt was the only young player in that period that they gave a chance to develop.

"I didn't think I had a future there, and when they sent me down at the start of the '82 season I went to Buzzie Bavasi (then the general manager) and told him that if I wasn't one of the best 25 players in the organization, he should trade me and get the pitcher they need. Buzzie said it was a temporary move, that I'd be back soon and that I'd be with the organization for 25 years. It was the kiss of death.

"I went to Spokane, pouted, acted like a kid, realized I had to pull myself out of it and was just starting to swing the bat when they traded me."

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