Rico Brogna Disappears by David Roth



David Roth is a writer from New Jersey who lives in New York. He co-writes the Wall Street Journal’s Daily Fix blog, and writes for The Awl, New York Magazine and Can’t Stop The Bleeding, among others. The Mets make him sad — you can read his laments @david_j_roth.

This is not true for everyone, but to a great extent the spaces in which we live reflect the consciousnesses we live with. The exceptions to this, I imagine, would be your very neat people – it may be true that the man with the alphabetized spice rack or the woman whose shower is a staring-at-the-sun blaze of sanitized tile has a brain that reflects the same order, but a portion of my self-esteem depends on that not being so. If you’ve ever watched the sadly brittled and locked-up pathetics of A&E’s “Hoarders” shuffle through homes choked comatose by shit-piles of knickknacks and emergency food stores and here-to-eternity stockpiles of whatever, you know things are just as crowded in their brains as in their homes – there is just too much in there, and cleaning it all up is likely to be a dirty and sad life’s work. This may be true for you, too, as it is for me – my apartment is clean but cluttered, and while I know where things are around the area from which I’m writing this, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be able to figure it out. And, in my apartment as in my mind, there are baseball cards stashed away in a closet. You know, in case I need them.

And, in my apartment as in my mind, there are baseball cards stashed away in a closet. You know, in case I need them.But to truly see this in action – and this is me finally getting to what I’m going to write about, which is remembering things, and who I’m going to write about, which is Rico Brogna – we’ll have to go to my parents’ house in New Jersey. More years on earth, here, and more space and much, much more stuff. Here, my baseball cards – boxes of them, whole cleared forests of crummy Fleer commons and spooky-serious Donruss Studio portrait cards boxed and stashed in a tweenager’s vision of investing for the future – are in my childhood bedroom, which is actually more apt than a closet as metaphors go. Brogna’s cards are in there – I remember his rookie card, from that one weird set of oversized Bowman cards – although I certainly don’t know where.

It’s like that throughout the place. Everywhere in my parents’ house, there is this moraine of stuff, as if a glacier had retreated through the place and left behind improbable formations of manila folders and maybe-broken electronics and old clothes. It’s not at all hoarding – although the bones hidden around the house by their coddled dog lend a faintly creepy At Home With The Dahmers aspect to certain corners – so much as it’s… well, obviously I need this for my purposes here, but mostly it’s just the accumulation of time, taking up real-world space. All that accreted stuff doesn’t crowd out access to the things my parents need – those things all work, and are easy to reach – but it does encircle, and in some rooms outright surround those things. So, to the downstairs bathroom.

There is some reading material in there, and it is old and weird. There is a disintegrating copy of a Baseball Hall of Shame book, the blown-out binding of which was certainly my fault. There are some old books of cartoons and there is also a scorebook/game-day magazine from a lopsided 1995 Mets win. Half the scoring is done in my looping, weirdly childish hand – I was 16 years old at the time, with penmanship of someone half that age – and the other half in my father’s neater, older one. The scorebook is a mess – the Mets won 13-4, and six of the eight position players who started the game were removed for some amusingly mid-90s Mets backups. Aaron Ledesma replaced Bobby Bonilla, Tim Bogar spelled Jose Vizcaino, and someone named Jeff Barry got his second and final Mets hit in relief of Joe Orsulak. Given the churn of time and event and substances and everything else through my life since then, it’s surprising how well I remember the game. Rico Brogna was one of two Mets starters not lifted from the game (Edgardo Alfonzo, whom I’ll write about if there’s ever a ’90s Second Baseman Week, was the other), and apparently he homered in the game.

This being 1995, the season began late for Brogna right along with everyone else, which was a shame in general and especially in the Brognian particular. At the age of 25, Brogna put up a .289/22/76 slash line in 134 games and notched a career-best 119 OPS+. Given that he also fielded well, was acquired in a rare savvy ’90s Mets trade (the team got him from the Tigers in ’94 for fading prospect Alan Zinter, who wouldn’t reach the Majors until George W. Bush was President) and – in a novel twist for the Mets of that vintage – not a surly, declining turd whose Diamond Kings Years were shrinking behind him, Brogna was about as good as anything the Mets had to offer around then. I know this because I kind of remember it, and because Greg Prince, who is older than me and also has a spectacular Technicolor memory for every Met in history, asserted that Brogna was indeed pretty great. Great in the qualified and sentimental and heroically sliding-scale way that certain types of fans assess these things, but given that that is how I assess these things, I’m okay with the word, here.

But what I remember about Brogna, mostly, is that he wasn’t there when things finally turned around for the Mets later in the decade – he was in Philadelphia by then, where he’d enjoy (if that’s ever the right word for anything an athlete does in Philadelphia) a couple of 20-homer, 100-RBI seasons on some half-lousy teams managed by Terry Francona. My memory of him during those years is also vague – I was in college, where I spent much time vague-ing up my memory and less time paying attention to the Mets. By the time I was back on this coast, it was a different decade and Brogna was playing out the string as a meek-ish platoon first baseman in Boston and then Atlanta.

Brogna has his spot on the list of Mets who deserved better than they got – good guys on bad teams, best players on worst rosters, players who were jettisoned before they ever got to hear anything but desperate cheers in anything but a half-empty Shea Stadium. This is not a short list, and it’s not one that is put together in an unbiased or even semi-rational sort of way. In 1995, Brogna was indeed a very good first baseman. In his post-strike years in Philadelphia, he was a very 1990s first baseman – the sort of player who, judging by metrics that no one was really using then, was not very good at getting on base, didn’t have all that much pop, and in a baseball sense is probably most accurately described a supercharged Doug Mientkiewicz. And in a baseball sense, he’s exactly that memorable.

But what makes Rico Brogna resonate, for me, is how clean his escape from my memory has been, how deep was his dive into the anonymous clutter of things forgotten. As a Met, Brogna was appreciated roughly as much as he should have been, was good and likable when others around him weren’t, offered a little bit of hope in a Mets decade of mostly hopeless baseball and a solid diversion for me in a decade in which my attentions were generally turned inward or elsewhere – and he’s gone, gone, gone, a baseball card disappeared into a stack of the same, boxed up in a room I don’t live in anymore. It’s strange, but there are worse ways to be remembered. Brogna’s still in there, at least, and I was glad to remake his acquaintance in writing this. It’s just that there’s so much else in there, too.

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5 Responses to Rico Brogna Disappears by David Roth

  1. Louise Brogna says:

    I read your article with interest, but, of course, anything with my son’s name attached, is of great interest to me. What times they were while he played MLB! To my mind (and some others who really know the ‘game’),Rico was one of the best first basemen, and a clutch-hitter, too. Now, you will say that I write with a biased pen, but it’s all true. God gave him 91/2 years in the Majors. How generous of Him! As my son stated just recently, it was an awesome privilege to put on the MLB uniform. I know that he’ll hold all those memories close to his heart forever. Louise Brogna

  2. Barry Frey says:

    We remember Rico in Philadelphia with great respect for both his ability and his character. God bless.

  3. Chris Arney says:

    I remember Rico from the 90′s in much the same way as the author. And that memory is still fond in my mind. But I recently had the pleasure of meeting Rico when he came to West Point to talk with cadets. And now I have a memory fond in my heart. He is the type of man that his mother, and everyone else, should be proud of. So I wish him and his family well and thank the author for giving me a brief moment to remember Rico. That and to see if I could find my Rico card. I couldn’t find in in the closet, but it is still there in my mind and heart.

  4. David says:

    Well, we had a garage sale this weekend after moving in about 3 weeks ago. Among the stuff I considered to offer to total strangers for cash and coin (mostly coin) I almost opened the case with old “investments” of ball players’ cards from the last century. I know the last century was only 13+ years ago……but the words make it seem like it was a past life. Rico cards were part of the Tigers I still possessed. Hundreds of them….hundreds of rookies, and many of the Bowman, and many of the “Gold” Leaf which I particularly liked.

    Two young boys came buy and I offered them 2 500-count boxes of older Hockey cards – for $3. They left…. and minutes later came back, running at full steam, dollar bills flapping in the wind. They bought their new found treasure and only glanced at the baseball cards and the stacks of Brogna, 125 in each plastic box. For a moment I felt “how could you …. don’t you know he shoulda/coulda been ….. and his card shoulda/coulda be worth real money today.?”

    I quietly put all those boxes back, closed the lid, and decided to wait another 10 years before letting go (maybe) to some other young boys who might show more respect!…. Be well Rico.

  5. Susan says:

    Wow! So cool to see a comment from Rico’s Mom! And she’s right-he was an excellent first baseman and above average hitter! Speaking for my fellow Phillies fans, we loved him! I met him twice while he was in Philly and found him to be kind and gracious and very easy to talk to! He is a great guy! Hope he is doing well!!