The future NHLer was on an amazing team at Yale. But the team that produced Bob Brooke and three other professional athletes wasn't the hockey squad, but the Eli baseball squad.
Bob Brooke made his athletic reputation as a hockey player, an Olympian and NHL player who still holds Yale's career record for assists. Yet it's his time on the 1981 Yale baseball team that is his most unique Ivy accomplishment.
Brooke played in what baseball Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons has called "one of the greatest college games ever" -- an NCAA regional playoff game against New York's St. John's University. The game featured two future major league greats -- Yale's Ron Darling and St. John's Frank Viola -- locked up in an extra-innings pitchers' duel that saw Darling pitch an eleven inning no-hitter before losing in the twelfth on a single, error, and double steal. The game was immortalized by the New Yorker's Roger Angell, who penned an essay describing it that has been anthologized many times.
Playing a prominent role in the game, Brooke hit a ground-rule double to right center field off Viola in his first at bat and assisted in a rally-killing pickoff at second in the sixth inning, a "timed play brilliantly completed by his shortstop, Bob Brooke," in Angell's elegant prose. The first hit off of Darling "looped softly over [Brooke's] head and into left." Brooke, for his part, simply calls it "the intense game."
What's most remarkable about the game is the Yale team itself. Four starters would go on to professional sports careers but only one, Darling, would go on to play major league baseball. Center fielder Rich Diana, who hit a double in the game, played a year for the Miami Dolphins before going on Yale Medical School and a career as an orthopedic surgeon. Left fielder Joe Dufek, who hit an eighth-inning single, had an NFL career with the Buffalo Bills. And Brooke, of course, played in the NHL. Of the rest of the starters there would be three law school graduates, another physician, and an art school grad -- not your typical college baseball team.
In high school hockey Brooke led the state of Massachusetts in scoring, but wanted to play hockey and baseball in college. He learned that "not many allowed me the chance to start at the varsity level in two sports," says Brooke. Yale did, and he found it difficult to turn down "a college that offered me the chance to compete at the highest level athletically, with the kind of academic credentials Yale could offer."
Former Yale coach Tim Taylor was instrumental in the development of Brooke's hockey career. "Without Tim's insistence, I am not sure I would have been selected to the U.S. Junior Team that competed in Helsinki, Finland over Christmas and New Years my freshman year," Brooke says. "It was at that tournament that I first got recognized by pro scouts." He was selected by the St. Louis Blues with their third pick of the 1980 draft.
But he had some hockey to play at Yale first. Brooke was Yale's statistical leader for three seasons, and still leads in career assists with 113. He was also four year All-Ivy (twice first team), and first-team All-ECAC and All-American in 1982-83, as well as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy.
Majoring in economics, Brooke found he could readily combine athletics and academics because "maintaining a focus on time management has always allowed me to be efficient with my time, both in high school and college." Interestingly, he found that his fellow multi-talented Yale students helped him keep a competitive edge academically, because "the students down the hall were rehearsing a play for three hours each day, or practicing as a concert pianist, for the same hours I was devoting to athletics."
In 1984 Brooke made the U.S. Olympic Hockey team, becoming the most recent Yale alum to do so. Immediately after playing at Sarajevo he began his NHL career, scoring his first goal for the New York Rangers with his very first NHL shot on March 11, 1984. "I'm not in any hurry to break into the league," he told the New York Times soon after being drafted. He wouldn't need to be, as he would enjoy a seven-year career with the Rangers, Minnesota North Stars, and New Jersey Devils, and play in more than 500 games.
He always knew his NHL career could end at any time and prepared for it, working in investment banking on Wall Street for several offseasons. Accepted to Harvard Business School in 1990, Brooke "made it part of negotiations with New Jersey for a longer-term contract." The negotiations ended with the Devils trading him to Winnepeg but Brooke opted for Harvard, ending his NHL career. Graduating with an M.B.A. in 1992 Brooke began a second career in the financial services industry as an institutional salesman and investment advisor. He's also heavily involved in his children's sports, warning in an email interview that any response might be delayed as "I may be off to the next rink or other sideline as all three of my kids are involved in loads of activities."
Daughter Tara, 15, is on a national champion pom squad, while Brian, a high school senior, is a hockey goalie who was all-conference in tennis and golf. Son Kevin, 12, plays peewee hockey, lacrosse, and golf.
"Yale is a wonderful academic place to spend four years" says Brooke. "The opportunities as an undergraduate at Yale are fantastic." He is concerned, however, that some at Yale, and other Ivy League schools, believe that "somehow excellence in academics cannot co-exist with excellence in non-academic disciplines. It is possible to combine competitive athletics with top academics," he asserts. Yes, it is. Bob Brooke's career is proof of that.
Ed. note -- In Roger Angell’s classic essay “The Web of the Game,” Angell sat during the game next to “Smoky Joe” Wood, hero of the 1912 World Series, who later coached at Yale from 1923 to 1942. Wood’s take on Ron Darling? “This fellow’s a lot better than [John] Broaca ever was.” Broaca pitched for Wood at Yale, then went on to a career with the great New York Yankees teams of the 1930s, playing alongside Columbia’s Lou Gehrig and Brown’s Irving “Bump” Hadley.
— Stephen Eschenbach