When the Detroit Tigers released their longest tenured player earlier this season, Brandon Inge found himself in a position he’d never been in, unemployed. With the early season struggles of Josh Donaldson and the A’s efforts to find lightning in a bottle with the likes of Luke Hughes and Eric Sogard failing, Billy Beane was quick to contact Inge. At that point I was lukewarm on the idea of adding Inge, but the match seemed to be perfectly aligned, so I tried to look at it with an open mind. Keep in mind at this point in the season the A’s were in the midst of their struggles and adding Inge looked to be nothing but adding a placeholder on a team that would struggle to stay afloat.
Little did we know what would happen next.
Through his first 5 games Inge didn’t do much of anything, and seemed to show that the Tigers were right that his days as a useful major leaguer were over. Then something clicked with Inge on May 6th against the Tampa Bay Rays. Inge hit a huge home run and drove in 4 that night as the A’s beat the Rays. The next game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Inge hit a dramatic walk off grand slam to beat the Jays. After a night off from driving in 4 runs a game, Inge stuck it to his former team the Detroit Tigers, first in a losing effort, then in a rout of the Tigers. Inge’s incredible run of 4 out of 5 games driving in 4 runs had only been done once before, by a guy named Lou Gehrig. And this was someone the A’s plucked from the scrap heap.
As the season progressed Inge’s incredible hot streak cooled down, to a point that many believed he was just a flash in the pan and he would never regain that stroke. But eventually he would.
Inge’s value to this team though goes far beyond his play on the field. On a team riddle with rookies and young players, Inge provided a strong veteran leadership to the team that catapulted him to the top of the clubhouse hierarchy. Not only was he able to keep all the younger players on an even keel, especially as the team pulled itself out from the doldrums of ineptitude, but he was able to do it while providing a light hearted atmosphere for the other players also. The source of the fun was a simple dance that came from a rap song, and it goes by the name of Bernie.
Suddenly we began to see little gestures that eluded to the dance, Inge and Coco Crisp “Bernied” after a walk off win, Inge would do a very subtle Bernie dance after a big hit. The dance became a craze, all the fans in the right field bleachers would rise as one and do the Bernie dance everytime Inge would come up to the plate with “Movin’ Like Bernie” blasting on the PA system, Brodie Brazil would do it on the post game show on CSN California.
Then came that fateful night in Chicago, Inge dove for a ball towards the line and as he hit the ground he immediately knew something had gone terribly wrong. Inge had dislocated his shoulder on the play. Then in a stunning turn of events Inge popped his shoulder back into place right there on the field and deemed himself fit to continue playing. He would contribute with the bat shortly thereafter with a big RBI single. There was some thought that he had dodged a bullet and would be good to go in a couple days perhaps, but that was not the case. Inge went on the DL to attempt to heal his ailing shoulder.
He was activated this past Saturday, it was a big deal to have him back even though Josh Donaldson had seemed to figure out how to hit during his absence. It was during the Bernie celebration, Terry Kiser who played Bernie in the movie was there. It was perfect. Inge though made a throw across the diamond early in the game and it appeared something wasn’t right. He stuck around long enough to deliver an RBI double, but he would leave the game after that. Word came down that he had reaggravated his shoulder injury, and it would later be revealed that he would need surgery to repair the damage. Inge’s season was essentially over.
Unlike the loss of Bartolo Colon to the PED suspension, this loss really subtracts a vital cog to the machine that has put the A’s into contention. Inge will not be able to proceed as the A’s push for the playoffs, but his presence will still be felt. He will no doubt continue to provide that leadership for the A’s, and the hope is that he knows how much his efforts on the field and his presence off the field have meant to the A’s fans.
From the box seats, to the bleachers, to the Inge-A-Turtles who reside in right field, we thank you Brandon for everything you’ve done. Without your contributions we would not be enjoying this unexpected ride as our beloved team fights for not only a spot in the postseason but for relevance.
There’s no doubt Inge’s value to the A’s goes far beyond his numbers, and hopefully that keeps him in the fold as we move into 2013. So to Brandon Inge, on behalf of A’s fans everywhere I say thank you.