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Brian Downing

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Brian Jay Downing

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[edit] Biographical Information

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Brian Downing played twenty years in the majors and was one of those early body builders, who changed from a weak hitting catcher to a solidly-built outfielder.

As a child growing up in Southern California, Downing attended the 1959 World Series at the Los Angeles Coliseum. After going to Magnolia High School and Cypress College, he was undrafted and was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1969.

After several seasons in the minors, Downing was called up on May 29, 1973 to take the place of injured Ken Henderson. Two days later, he made his big league debut, replacing Bill Melton at third base in the top of the seventh inning, but was injured diving for a foul ball in his first play. After six weeks on the disabled list, he hit his first homer in his second game back, an inside-the-park shot off Mickey Lolich of the Detroit Tigers.

Skipper Chuck Tanner made Downing the Sox back-up catcher in 1974, and he hit 10 home runs as Ed Herrmann's understudy. By the next summer, he became the team's regular behind the plate. However, injuries cut into his playing time in 1977, and Jim Essian saw more games as the club's backstop while the Sox made an unexpected pennant run.

After the 1977 season, Downing was traded to the California Angels in a deal that brought Bobby Bonds, Thad Bosley, and Richard Dotson to Chicago and sent Dave Frost and Chris Knapp to the west coast. He became the Angels regular catcher and was an All-Star Game starter in 1979 while hitting .326 with 12 homers and 75 RBIs. The Angels reached the postseason for the first time in club history that year, but Downing hit just .200 in the ALCS, and the Angels lost to the Baltimore Orioles in four games.

Downing broke his ankle early in the 1980 campaign, and he missed more than four months. Thereafter, he saw most of his playing time in left field. From May 25, 1981 to July 21, 1983, he set an American League record with 244 consecutive errorless games in the outfield. However, after hitting 28 home runs in 1982, he once again struggled in the postseason, batting .182 in the ALCS that October.

In 1986, his last season as the Angels' everyday leftfielder, Downing hit .267 with 20 home runs while driving in a career-best 95 runs as his team won another division title. He hit just .222 in the ALCS that year but had a Series-high 7 RBIs. The following summer, he was moved to designated hitter and had a career-high 29 homers while leading the American League with 106 walks.

Downing left the Angels as a free agent following the 1990 season after thirteen years with the club and signed with the Texas Rangers as a 40-year-old. He hit .278 in each of two seasons there and clubbed 27 home runs during that span.

Not a fast runner, Downing was a throwback in terms of roles, one of the few slow, OBP-oriented leadoff men in the past 30 years. That type of player was very common in the 19th century and through the 1950s before managers went for faster, lower-OBP guys in that spot with the rare exception like Downing.

Downing was also one of the first major leaguers to focus on year-round bodybuilding, and he built a batting cage and a gym in his home. Due to his physique, he was nicknamed "The Incredible Hulk".

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • AL All-Star (1979)
  • AL Bases on Balls Leader (1987)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 6 (1982 & 1984-1988)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 2 (1982 & 1987)

[edit] Further Reading

  • Brian Downing (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, March 1989, pp. 65-67. [1]

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