New INF Brooks Conrad does several things that have caught the Rays' attention — the energy with which he plays, the versatility he provides, the quality of his at-bats. But it's something he doesn't do that has become his most talked-about trait: wear batting gloves. One of a, um, handful of big-leaguers in recent times to go bare-handed — or, as some call it, naked — Conrad has been doing it that way since he started using wood bats. "It's a personal preference thing," he said. "I just kind of like the feel of the bat in my hands." As a result, his hands are calloused and often discolored as he uses a mix of rosin, pine tar and dirt to keep them dry and give him a good grip on the bat. (A telling sign is how dirty his uniform gets as he's always wiping his hands on his pants.) On a particularly hot or wet day he might resort to gloves for batting practice (so as not to waste time swiping the dirt before each swing), but he really would rather not.
The 'Raw Dog' cometh
Conrad's approach in Atlanta earned him the honor of a nickname bestowed by future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones: Raw Dog. "That's become a slang term for no batting gloves, to go up there and Raw Dog it," Conrad explained. "He started throwing it out there, and it stuck."
Notable players who went without batting gloves all, or most, of the time were George Brett, Mark Grace, Vlad Guerrero, Moises Alou and Jorge Posada. Also, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez. "In 1985 I was in (Class A) Winston-Salem and I was raking and I was using gloves," Martinez said. "My glove ripped, I got some new ones and I went like 1-for-20-something, so I took them off, threw them down and said I wasn't wearing gloves anymore. I got three hits the next day and ever since then I never wore them."
Long way to Tampa Bay
A star at Arizona State and an eighth-round draft pick in 2001 by the Astros, Conrad spent 7½ seasons in the minors before getting to the big leagues (six games with the A's in 2008) and another 1½ before getting to stay, with the Braves in 2010-11. Nontendered by Atlanta after last season, he faced a tough decision — "It was really close" — between minor-league offers from the Brewers and Rays (who had Joe Maddon call to recruit him). He picked Milwaukee, struggled and spent time in Triple A, and was designated for assignment June 19 when the Brewers needed a roster spot. With more than 20 teams passing, he was finally a Ray, as they claimed him off waivers for $20,000 and assumed his $510,000 salary.
Conrad had a reputation for delivering in the clutch for Atlanta, including two pinch-hit grand slams. But what Conrad may be most known for is making a postseason record-tying three errors in a 2010 NL Division Series game against the Giants, which pretty much cost the Braves the series. But Conrad was also known for the standup way in which he handled himself in the glare of the national spotlight afterward. "You've got to own up to your mistakes," Conrad says now. "That's how I was raised. That's how you have to handle the situation. You can't put blame on anybody else. The only way to get through something like that is to get past it, own up to it and move on."
More on Conrad
He worked odd jobs during his minor-league offseasons — valet parking, helping his dad do maintenance at a junior college, driving a forklift and taking random assignments through a temp agency. … He is a natural right-handed hitter but started switch-hitting as a kid when his dad noticed he could swing it lefty also. … Though he never played football, he is a huge fan: "I'm a crazy Chargers nut, I watch every game."
All in a name
Though Conrad grew up near San Diego, his parents, Gail and Jerry, both huge baseball fans, had a special fondness for a certain Baltimore Hall of Fame third baseman. "He was one of their favorite players of the time, and they had a son, so they named me after Brooks Robinson," Conrad explained. … His middle name, Litchfield, is his mom's maiden name. … Manager Joe Maddon has another nickname for him, based on his resemblance in looks, and style of play, to a former Ray: Brooks Wigginton.
Former Rays C Dioner Navarro, hitting .331 for the Reds' Triple-A team, made the International League All-Star team; he'll be joined by ex-Rays Dan Johnson and Russ Canzler. … Ben Zobrist tied for fifth as the most underrated position player in a Sports Illustrated poll of big-leaguers; Texas' Michael Young was first. … Joe Maddon told Sirius XM radio if he had "inside information" on an opponent, as the Nats did with Joel Peralta, he "would not have utilized it." … Teams may play 19 intradivision games next season, up from 18.
Got a minute? | Brooks Conrad
Something you're scared of? Snakes. Do not like snakes.
Favorite TV show? Definitely Friends.
Go-to karaoke song? If the boys made me do it, like on the bus, I'd probably go with Gin and Juice, by Snoop Dogg. I can nail that one.
Late-night snack? Cheez-Its.
Celebrity crush? Jessica Biel.