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When Grief Hit, So Did He : Dodgers: Hubie Brooks continued to play after hearing about suicide of his cousin, Donnie Moore.

April 04, 1990|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Hubie Brooks was always the pressure hitter. Every player has his badge, and that was his.

He was the guy counting through the batting order in late innings, hoping that if all else failed, he would be at the plate with the game on the line. And if he was the guy up, and you looked close, you could see him smile.

"You can look at a guy and tell he wanted to be in that situation," said former Montreal teammate Wallace Johnson. "We all looked at Hubie and knew he was one of those guys. In his walk, in his actions, we knew."

Then came July 18, 1989. After Montreal's 7-6 loss to Atlanta, Brooks was summoned to the clubhouse phone. It was his mother calling from Los Angeles. Brooks' cousin and close friend had committed suicide.

She had wanted to call him before he heard it from someone else. But within hours, he was hearing it everywhere. Soon, Hubie Brooks was covering his ears.

His cousin and close friend was former Angel pitcher Donnie Moore.

"He came out after the phone call like he was in another world," Johnson said. "He said, 'Donnie is dead.' Then he didn't say anything else. And we knew he was hurting. We didn't know how long he would be gone."

But the Expos were in first place in a tight race. And Brooks was the pressure hitter.

The next day Buck Rodgers, the Expo manager, asked if him he could play. Brooks said yes. He was used as a pinch-hitter and struck out. The next day Rodgers asked again. Brooks again said yes. He went one for three, hitting a run-scoring double.

Rodgers stopped asking. Brooks did not stop hitting. Beginning on July 20, two days after Moore's death, Brooks went on a six-game hitting streak. The Expos won all six.

"The man persevered," Johnson said. "Unbelievably persevered. Never said anything about the death after the first day. Just went out and played."

Beginning next week, Hubie Brooks will officially bring that perseverance to the Dodgers as their opening-day right fielder. Those wondering whether the stress of returning to his hometown as a high-priced free agent will affect him should check last July's videotapes.

The Dodgers have found their pressure hitter.

"It ain't my style not to play, man," he said last winter when asked about missing a game because of Moore's death. "It ain't my style not to want to be out there when it counts. Donnie always told me, 'You can make it. You can do it.' More than ever, when he died, I wanted to be out there."

For such a smiling, friendly player, Brooks' statistics are ice. Last season he was a .385 hitter with runners on base in the last three innings with his team either tied or trailing by no more than three runs. Statisticians call that a pressure situation.

In the previous eight years of his career, he averaged .347 with the bases loaded. He has hit at least .270 with runners in scoring position for seven consecutive years.

Then there was last July.

"Donnie was my mother's brother's kid," said Brooks, 33, in an interview last winter as he stared into space. "But because we used to visit them so much down in Texas, we became like brothers. Losing him, that's what it was like. It was losing a brother."

Moore, two years older than Brooks, taught him how to throw a baseball. He later taught him to fish. And in recent years, the two spent many winter afternoons sitting, on the bank of a pond near Moore's Orange County home, watching their lines but not watching them, doing more talking than fishing.

"I'm not a good fisherman," Brooks said. "But that wasn't the point. We would sit there and shoot the breeze and he would always be encouraging me. Always pumping me up."

Last winter, for the first time since he can remember, Brooks did not go fishing.

"Why?" Brooks said. "Who would I go with? I only went because of him."

After Brooks learned of the suicide, he spent most of the rest of the summer using that word, why?

In the beginning, it was like a throbbing headache. Later, the word became a dull background drone. But it was always there.

"I ain't done dealing with it yet," Brooks said. "My whole family has to come to grips with it.

"It will be there the remainder of my life. You think about him, and you think, 'Damn, man, why?' What was going through his head? Why didn't he give any of us a sign? What was he trying to tell us?

"The worst part is, he's not here to give any answers."

Brooks said that when he left the phone after learning the bad news last July 18, he was in shock. He began calling relatives, trying to learn about funeral arrangements. He began to think about how many days he would need to be gone.

Then he decided, it wasn't going to work. The best thing for the memory of his cousin would not be to leave the Expos in the middle of a pennant race. The best thing would be to stay and attack that race.

"That first five or six days, it was so rough, but I realized, I got to keep playing," Brooks said, "I do everybody the most good on the field. I go crazy if I don't play. I got to play."

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