Editor’s note: “As Told To Amy G,” presented by Toyota, will feature exclusive conversations with Giants staff, players and alums, as well as interesting figures around Major League Baseball, throughout the 2019 season. Today, Bob Brenly remembers his days as a Giants catcher, his lengthy bond with Mike Krukow and that infamous four-error day.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t know Bob Brenly as a Giant. My first real recollection of him was as the 2001 World Series-winning manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks -- Gonzo (Luis Gonzales) hit the game-winning single off Mariano Rivera, Jay Bell scored, and Brenly threw his arms up in victory.
It wasn’t until 2008, my first year covering the team, that Mike Krukow schooled me on Bob Brenly the Giant. Brenly was Kruk’s personal battery mate for seven seasons, and the two formed an amazing bond. Being that I now have 12 seasons in with Kruk, getting to know Bob over the years has been pretty easy.
I opened our interview with a question about Mike, and it brought an instant smile to Brenly’s face. But no one would have guessed Mike eventually would want Bob to be his personal battery mate -- not after witnessing their first time working with each other.
I can speak to this personally: Mike Krukow is one of the best people on the planet, but if he’s going to be your friend, if he’s going to trust you -- really trust you -- you’re gonna have to prove to him you’re worth it.
Krukow is a hard get, but once he’s in with someone, it’s for life.
“He had a habit of if he was throwing to a catcher for the first time, he was going to make it as difficult as possible. He shook off every sign, and not only did he shake off the sign, he would step off the rubber with this look of disgust and roll his eyes just to embarrass the living daylight out of a young, stupid catcher.
“When he did it to me in San Diego, I wasn't aware this was one of his things. I'm hanging signs, and he's shaking his head and shaking his head, and -- bam! -- a base hit. Bam! -- a base hit, another base hit, another base hit, and he's still shaking me off. So, finally I called timeout as the pitcher was coming to the plate, and I went to the mound and took a while because I wasn't sure what I was going to say. This is a veteran major league pitcher, and I’m a dumb catcher. So, finally I got to the mound and said, 'Well, let's see if you can get the blankety-blank pitcher out,' and I slammed the ball down in his glove, and I walked back behind home plate, and I think that was the moment where he went, 'OK, I can work with this guy. He's on the same wavelength that I am.’
"After that, I sort of developed into his personal catcher, and it got to the place where I would put a sign down, and he wouldn't shake off anymore. He would just start his delivery, and I would know he was going to throw something else. It was like thinking with one brain, and I loved that part of the game. Working with Mike Krukow, it was one of the great joys of my career.”
That friendship blossomed well beyond the diamond. Their families became intertwined through a love of culture, music and a lot of laughter. And when it comes to the intensity that surrounds this game, Krukow and Brenly always have known when it’s time to lighten up things.
“Oh yeah, great friends. We both love classic rock and sometimes oddball music. Jennifer and my wife, Joan, became very good friends as well, and we tried to make sure the team stayed loose when they needed to stay loose, and maybe cracked the whip a little bit if they needed that, too. We hosted parties, we rented a cruise ship out on the Bay one time and dressed up like the guy from ‘The Love Boat,’ Captain Stubing, and had the entire ballclub. ... But yeah, we tried to be as inclusive as we could, to make sure everybody felt like they were a part of it.”
One of Mike Krukow’s favorite things about Bob is something you might not know about him: He has a vast knowledge and passion for music. Kruk and his entire family (five kids) all are musically talented, and he has great respect for anyone who has an ear and wants to strum to a beat or two. Brenly fit the bill.
“I’ve always loved music, and I loved going to concerts and music festivals, but it really started when I retired as a player and went into broadcasting. I had a lot of free time, and you can get into a lot of trouble in this game with free time, and I always wanted to learn to play a guitar. And we happened to be in Philadelphia, and I went to a thrift shop. I think it was $75, and I ended up with a cheap acoustic guitar, and I just kind of started teaching myself. I bought books that taught me chords and things like that.
“It's been like 30 years, and I'm not much better than I was when I started, but I enjoy the living daylights out of it. I take a guitar on every road trip now. I have a little portable amp I can listen to with headphones, and with modern technology, I have apps that you can play along with your music on the iPad, so I find it very relaxing and a very productive hobby.”
When Brenly decided to hang up his cleats, he received an offer to go into broadcasting with the Cubs. He snagged the opportunity to remain in the game in a different capacity, but he never cut ties with the orange and black, and eventually came back West in yet another role -- coach, with a chance to work with his greatest mentor, Roger Craig.
“After my second year doing radio, Al Rosen called toward the end of the season and asked if I would be interested in being a coach. And right away, I said, 'No, I don't have any interest in riding the buses again. I don't want to go to Cedar Rapids. I've already done the minor leagues.' And he says, ‘Oh no, no. In the big leagues.' And, well, that was a different story.
“We had some conversations, and I thought getting an opportunity to coach under Roger -- who I probably have more respect for than any man I've ever been around in the game of baseball -- I thought, ‘This is a good way to see if this is something I really want to do.’ I think in the back of my mind I always thought coaching and managing might be something to do, but here was an open door -- a chance to actually get in there and see if it was something I enjoyed.
“So, I left the booth in Chicago, came back to the Giants, one year with Roger -- of course, everything that happened in '93 [the Giants’ 103-59 season], and Dusty [Baker] took over, and I'm very grateful he kept me on his staff. There was a possibility of some changes, but Dusty insisted that I stay on his staff, and I'll forever be grateful for that.”
So, all I had to do was throw out the date -- Sept. 14, 1986 -- and …
“Nobody will ever let me forget that day, but it's one of the best comeback stories of all time.”
I said: “You're just trying to help out and play third base that day, right? You weren't even a third baseman.”
“I was already in the dugout with my catcher's gear on, ready to start the game, and Bob Lillis, I believe it was, came up to me and said, 'You're going to have to play third base today. Chris Brown injured himself in batting practice.’ So, I took the gear off, I borrowed a glove from Brad Wellman, one of our utility infielders, and I went down to play third base that day, which wasn't that unusual. I had played quite a bit at third. I was a third baseman in the minor leagues for the better part of three or four full seasons, so it wasn't a big deal -- it happened all the time.
“But that particular day, Mike LaCoss was on the mound pitching against the Braves, and it just seemed like every ball that was put in play was coming my direction, and I just kept kicking one after another. Made one error on one play, made two errors on one ball when I booted it, and then picked it up and threw it away. Then I made another error, and I think there was even a line drive hit just over my head that hit my glove and went into left field, and the entire ballpark was waiting and watching the board to see, 'Hit or an error? Hit or an error?' Well, fortunately, they called it a hit, so I had the four errors in one inning to allow four runs to score, and as Kruk and Kuip and all my teammates back then would tell you, usually in those situations, I destroyed the dugout. I threw bats, I broke helmets, I kicked the restroom door, but for some unknown reason that day, I had this incredible sense of calm came over to me.
"I just sat down in the dugout, and guys were trying to run to the other side [of the dugout] to get out of the line of fire. But it just all of a sudden slowed down. My next at-bat, the ball looked like a beach ball. I felt like I had minutes to make up my mind to swing or not, and I hit a home run and put us on the board. Came up later with the bases loaded and got a hit to drive in a couple more, and then with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning, I hit the home run to win it against Paul Assenmacher. To this day, it almost felt like somebody else was doing it and I was just watching and was just going along with whatever was happening on the field.
"My teammates met me at home plate, and Roger had this big grin on his face and later said in the postgame interview, 'He should win Comeback Player of the Year for that one game.’ It was just one of those days that's hard to describe, and there's no way you can predict anything like that happening. It just seemed like I was always around when weird things happened.
“I get snail-mail letters, and emails from time to time, from ministers all over the country that use it as motivation, and use it in their sermons on Sunday mornings. So, I guess that game's going to live on forever.”
Seems appropriate that we wrap up the interview back where we started, with Brenly’s relationship with the Giants and two of his best Giants friends, Kruk and Kuip.
Our Toyota Fan Question comes from @natsmom77 on Twitter:
“Well, there was no doubt it was Kruk that was in more trouble. He was sneaky. Duane would go over to somebody else and say, 'Hey ...' and you know, he was always in the corner wiping his hands saying, 'I had nothing to do with it,' when you know darn well that it was Kuip that started the whole thing, that Kruk would end up taking the heat for a lot of them.
“I don’t know if I could remember a specific [offense], you know? We had so much fun with that stuff, and so much of it was just ridiculous, but it was all about camaraderie and being able not only to dish it out to your teammates but also take it from your teammates, and there were too many with Krukow to single out one. But Kuip was the sneaky one -- he was.
“I'll tell you one quick Kuiper story. We had a pitching coach by the name of Herm Starrette, and Herm was a very agreeable gentleman. And Kuip one day, I was sitting on a bench next to him, and he says, ‘Watch this.’ And he went down to Herm, and he says, ‘Herm’ -- we were, I believe, playing the Phillies’ Greg Gross, one of their good left-handed pinch-hitters -- ‘Herm, that Greg Gross, boy I liked that guy. He always comes up with big base hits late in the game,’ and Herm just [said], 'By golly, Kuip, I like him a lot, too.’
"And then Kuip came back to me and says, ‘Now you go down there and tell him you hate Greg Gross.’ So, then I would walk down and very casually [say], ‘You know, Herm, I can't stand that Greg Gross. He’s always up there taking his time between pitches, and he acts like he owns the field.’ ... [Herm says] ‘I know, Bobby. I never have liked him.’
"So, we used to have a lot of fun with Herm, kind of playing ping pong with him, but then you know, once again, Kuip was always behind all of it, stirring it up.”
Follow Amy G on Twitter @AmyGGiants, on Instagram @amyg, on Facebook, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Giants coverage all season.