If you ask his former teammates about Johnny Grubb, they will all eventually use the same words to describe him: “Good guy”.
But the former major league outfielder and member of the 1984 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers was more than just a good guy – he was a good ballplayer and a tough out at the plate in a 16-year career.
Grubb was a first round draft pick but he was never a superstar. He was a solid contributor on almost every team he played for, but he rarely got any press. He was cursed by being “steady” not spectacular. Which suited the humble Grubb just fine.
“I tried to do whatever I could to help my team,” Grubb told author Bruce Markusen in a 2009 interview.
On the ’84 team that featured All-Stars like Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Chet Lemon, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Willie Hernandez, not to mention stars like Kirk Gibson and Darrell Evans, Grubb was easy to overlook. But those who played with him during that magical season appreciated him.
“Johnny could really hit,” Tom Brookens told me back in 2004. “He filled in anywhere and always had a smooth swing off the bench.”
That penchant for coming off the bench and delivering a good at-bat allowed Grubb to forge a second career as a fourth outfielder/DH and pinch-hitter for Sparky Anderson and the Tigers from 1983 to 1987. In ’84 he hit 10 home runs in part-time duty, but five of them came after the sixth inning in games where the Tigers were either leading or trailing by a run. In the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, Grubb stroked a two-run double in the top of the 11th inning on Game Two off closer Dan Quisenberry to give the Tigers a 5-03 victory. In 1986 at the age of 37, the bespectacled Grubb batted .333 in 81 games as Sparky’s left-handed DH and part-time outfielder against southpaws. That year he clubbed 13 homers and had 51 RBI in just 81 games. The veteran hit .400 in 67 plate appearances with runners in scoring position that season.
Performances like that in a part-time role were the signature of Grubb in the latter stages of his career, but earlier he had been a heralded rookie and All-Star for the San Diego Padres. In 1973 he hit .311 and finished sixth in National League Rookie of the Year voting. The next season he was the Padres representative in the All-Star Game. At that stage of his career he was a center fielder and a leadoff hitter, but later he served both in left and right field and hit anywhere his name was penciled in. He earned the reputation as a professional hitter, the sort of guy who could fall out of bed in December and stroke a line single.
After his p[laying career ended Grubb served nearly 10 years as head baseball coach for his high school alma mater in Richmond, Virginia. In that role he coached Cla Meredith, who pitches for the Padres. He resides in Virginia with his family and enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren.
The man who Ernie Harwell called “The Gentleman from Virginia” had a .278 career batting average with 1,153 hits and 99 home runs in 16 seasons.