After signing his contract with Detroit, it was off to Bristol, TN, the Tigers Rookie League affiliate. At the age of 18, Rico was forced to adapt quickly to living on a monthly paycheck of $250.00 after taxes. That year he appeared in 60 games batting .254. The next year he was off to Lakeland, Florida and Class A ball. At the age of 20, he was promoted to AA ball in London, Florida. At 21, he was again promoted to AAA ball and played for the Toledo Mud Hens. It was at Toledo that he experienced the low point of his career. His production fell off and he was demoted back to AA ball. He finally admitted to the Tigers that he was playing with extreme pain throughout his body. The Tigers sent him to specialists and they diagnosed his problem as Anklosing Spondyltis, a severe form of spinal and joint arthritis. There is no cure for this disease but it can be controlled by medications. His prescribed anti-inflammatory medications enabled his career to continue. In 1992, at the age of 22, he returned to AAA Toledo. It was at this point that he told me he experienced the high point of his career. His Toledo manager told him he was going up to the big club. He immediately shared his excitement with his wife, mother, and father. In 1992, he appeared in nine games with the Detroit Tigers getting 5 hits in 26 at bats. His first hit was a bloop double to left and his first home run, a booming shot into the upper deck in right at Tiger Stadium, was against the Yankees. He was traded to the Mets in 1994. Rico thinks the Tigers traded him because of his condition. He believes, at the time of the trade, the Mets had no knowledge of his diagnosis.
Rico played his next three years (1994-1996) with the Mets. His best year with the Mets was 1995 when he led all first baseman with a .998 fielding average, committing only three errors in 1,208 chances. That year he also batted .280 with 22 home runs. Concerns over Rico’s arthritis condition, led the Mets to ship him off to the Phillies. Rico was a fan-favorite in New York and the Met fans hated to see Rico go. Rico had his three best years with the Phillies (1997-1999). For those three years he averaged over 21 home runs and close to 100 RBIs. In 1998, he led the league with10 sacrifice flies. His best offensive year was 1999 when, at the age of 29, he batted .278 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs. His OPS was .790. After his best year in 1999, Rico signed with the Phillies for $4,200,000, his highest paying one year contract. He told me because of his serious arthritis condition he could only negotiate one year contracts. In October, 1999 he had shoulder surgery, followed by knee surgery in January, 2000. In May of 2000, Rico suffered the same type of injury that Curtis Granderson suffered this year in spring training. A fastball delivered by Matt Blank fractured his arm. Rico was waived that August by the Phillies after appearing in only 38 games. He finished his career in 2001 after brief stints with the Red Sox and Braves.
In our conversation, he was very candid about the three managers he had with the Tigers, Mets, and Phillies. Sparky Anderson was his manager when he first arrived in the majors. He told me Sparky did not like dealing with the young players. He would assign a veteran player to mentor a rookie. Rico loved playing for his next two managers. His manager with the Mets was Dallas Green. He described Green as a tough, no nonsense manager that was a great motivator. With the Phillies his manager was Terry Francona. The years from 1997 to 2000 were Francona’s first years as a manager. Rico called him a player’s manager because of his ability to communicate with his players.
A Philadelphia sportswriter wrote: “In a game filled with selfishness and arrogance, Brogna is a delightful oasis.” To be continued .