Sunday, December 4, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #95 Brian Downing

Continuing the series of posts featuring my favorite top 100 ballplayers of all-time.

As I work through this list, a couple of themes will develop. One of them will be my affinity for former White Sox players. Not many people remember Brian Downing as a member of the Sox, he put his best seasons together for the Angels and Rangers. But I do.

He had trouble making his high school and junior college teams, but Brian made the most of his major league opportunity after impressing the Sox scouts at an "all comers" tryout in 1969. In his first play of his major league debut in 1973 he injured himself diving for a foul ball and missed the next six weeks. When he returned, he got his first home run... an inside the parker.

After the 1977 season, Downing was traded to the California Angels in a ill-fated deal that brought Bobby Bonds to Comiskey for 26 games. It was in Anaheim, he transformed himself into a quality major league ballplayer. He made his only All Star game in 1979, and infamously found himself on the wrong side of Dave Parker's cannon arm in right field. When he departed from the Angels after the 1990 season he was their career leader in games, at bats, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBI, and bases on balls.

I most vividly remember Brian Downing for his strange, yet very productive open batting stance. He was also the first non-speedster lead-off hitter I can remember. Brian Downing's game was all about on-base-percentage and every time I saw him do something positive, it pained me when I considered he could be doing that for the White Sox. Check out this nice Prime 9 video from MLB network where they named him as one of the best designated hitters ever.

As I was researching for this post, I ran into a couple of unsubstantiated references to Downing and steroid use. Nothing of any substance comes up with any of those links. It is a shame, we live in a world any ballplayer who changes his body, gets stronger, and has some turnaround success is automatically branded as a suspected PED user.

I am not burying my head in the sand, but before throwing Brian Downing into the mob of juicers, keep in mind that nobody lifted weights in baseball back in the '70s. It is completely reasonable Downing just started lifting and it made a big difference in his body and his hitting.


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