CINCINNATI — Jay Bruce was asked what he knew about Frank Robinson and he said, “Probably not enough. I don’t think too many people know much about him except the guys who played with him.”
Bruce and Robinson have a couple of things in common, the first of which is that both were born in Beaumont, Tex.
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And then there is the numbers game is Bruce is playing this season — a pursuit of something that Robinson accomplished when he roamed the outfield for the Cincinnati Reds.
Only 45 players in major league history have hit at least 30 home runs, hit 45 doubles and driven in 100 runs in a single season. And Frank Robinson is the only member of the Cincinnati Reds to do it (1962, 39-51-126). With 36 games to play, Bruce is creeping ever closer to join one of baseball’s legendary players and an icon in Cincinnati.
Bruce has 24 homers, 33 doubles and 81 RBI — a pace that would permit him to reach 30 homers, 42 doubles and 104 RBI.
“I know he was one bad man on a baseball field,” said Bruce. “I’ve known, of course, that he was born in Beaumont and that would be really nice to join him.”
Asked if he has met Robinson, who was in baseball’s Hall of Fame (1982) before Bruce was born (1987), Bruce said “Oh, yeah. Several times. He has been in our clubhouse and he knows I’m from Beaumont. I’m not a big memorabilia guy, but I went to a sporting goods store and bought a vintage jersey with his name on number on it. He was nice enough to sign it for me at a Civil Rights Game here a couple of years ago. I’m going to hang it in my new house.
“But Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr., those guys who changed the game when it came to combining power and speed, those are ballplayers, those are guys I admire.”
Bruce paused to smile and said, “It’s crazy that Frank Robinson was born in Beaumont. It’s nuts. He is not big in Beaumont, you don’t hear much about it, but he is big to me. Definitely the best player to come out of Beaumont.”
Bruce smiled and said, “But I still have some time.”
Bruce, though, knows he needs to reach down and pull up his socks because they’ve been drooping at the plate this month. That, though, is not breaking news. Bruce is one of baseball’s streakiest hitters — he either never makes an out or he always makes an out.
Nevertheless, his offensive numbers continue to pile up in a heap. His 180 RBI over the last two season tie him with Allen Craig of the St. Louis Cardinals for the most in the National League. And the only other player in the majors with at least 33 doubles and 24 home runs is Baltimore’s Chris Davis.
“This month has been a down month for me, so far, and we still have 10 games left,” he said. “But this feels different from the other down periods I’ve had in the past years.”
Manager Dusty Baker constantly talks to Bruce about missing good pitches, about fouling them off instead of putting them in play. And Bruce agrees.
“It is a matter of executing the opportunities I get,” he said. “In the past it was a matter of giving away at-bats, not being into the at-bat. But right now I’m putting together good at-bats, but I’m not finishing them. And I can put my finger on it — it’s fouling good pitches off. This month has been more than others. I’ve been getting good pitches and putting myself into position to be successful, but I haven’t finished the at-bats.”
In the past Bruce’s funks lasted for agonizingly long periods, 30 to 35 at-bats. Bruce believes those demonic descents are shortening.
“It is all about how quickly I can right the ship,” he said. “I get out of it much quicker than I have in the past. It hasn’t been a fun month for me but we’re playing good baseball and I have finish off nice and help the team win the division.”
His August numbers are painful — 12 for 61 (.197) with never more than one hit in a game this month and only two homers, two doubles and seven RBI.
Bruce’s mind, though, is on overtaking the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates to win the National League Central.
“We have 13 games left with St. Louis (seven) and Pittsburgh (six), so our destiny is in our own hands,” he said. “We’ve played very well this year and so far those two teams have played better. There are still 36 games, plenty of baseball to go. We have a lot of work to do and I have a lot of work to do to make some very nice things happen.”