It was Leyland, then managing the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate in Evansville, Ind., who called Brookens into his office on a summer day in 1979 and let him know he was being called up to Detroit. When Brookens' phone rang Monday morning at his home in Fayetteville, Pa., it was Leyland calling to hire him as the Tigers' new first-base coach.
"It's a little ironic I get a call from him again to say I'm getting the call again to Detroit," said Brookens, his enthusiasm sounding a little similar to a rookie just getting the call to The Show.
The Tigers announced Brookens on Monday as their replacement for Andy Van Slyke, who parted ways with the club last month. Not only does Brookens take over coaching first base, but he'll also be in charge of coaching outfielders and baserunning, as Van Slyke was.
It'll be the first big league coaching job for Brookens, who built his resume managing in the Tigers' farm system for the past five years after playing a decade in Detroit.
"Tom Brookens is a quality baseball person that I have known since managing him in the Minor Leagues," Leyland said in a statement. "He has been a member of the Tigers family for many years and we feel he is a perfect fit for our Major League staff."
Brookens will make the jump from Double-A Erie, where he managed the SeaWolves to a 71-70 record this year while working with prospects such as Alex Avila, Scott Sizemore, Casper Wells, Ryan Strieby, Brennan Boesch, Alfredo Figaro, Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt. It marked his second year in Erie after managing Class A West Michigan to a Midwest League championship in 2007.
Brookens began his managerial career in 2005, managing the Tigers' short-season Class A team in Oneonta, N.Y.
To say that a return to the big leagues was a goal might be overstating it. Brookens said he wasn't sure then that he'd like coaching at all, but that managing short-season ball was a way to find out.
"It didn't take me very long that I really did like working with the young players," Brookens said. "And when I went along the first couple years, I still didn't really have a goal.
"It's fun working with these young guys, and then there's a part of you starts to go, 'Well, I wouldn't mind getting back to the big leagues someday."
That kind of experience resonated with Leyland, who managed in Detroit's farm system for 11 years before getting his chance as a third-base coach on Tony La Russa's staff with the White Sox in 1982.
Leyland has talked frequently about the value of managing in the Minors before getting a shot in the big leagues. He also said last month that he would almost surely fill the coaching vacancy from inside the organization.
"I think [Brooken's] a great baseball man," Leyland said by phone Monday. "He's been managing in the Minor Leagues, where you obviously have to know about a lot of phases of the game. This guy's baseball knowledge and his people skills are tremendous."
Some of those skills come from Brookens' personality. Other skills, and his grasp on the game, were honed well before he got into coaching. His ability to relate to young players, he said, came from his role as a father to three girls around the same age as many of the players he has been managing.
"For one thing, I'll have a little bit of a read on some of these players that are coming up," Brookens said. "But when you're managing, you're in the trenches with them every day, and you're dealing with every conceivable situation that can come up."
Then, of course, there was the playing career that followed once Brookens got the call in Detroit. A year after his Major League debut, he had a breakout season in 1980 with a .275 average, 25 doubles, nine triples, 10 homers and 66 RBIs as Detroit's regular third baseman.
The former fourth overall pick in the 1975 First-Year Player Draft either started or shared time at third for much of decade, and was the regular third baseman on the last Tigers team to win a division in 1987. He was a valuable utility infielder on the 1984 World Series championship club, seeing time at third, second base and shortstop.
"That's what you draw on a lot," Brookens said. "Most of the time, when I deal with situations as a manager, it goes back to my playing days, whether I draw on myself and what I've done, or when I draw on playing for Sparky Anderson and playing for Jim Leyland."
Leyland believes Brookens' versatility as a player carried over.
"When he got to the big leagues, he played all around," Leyland said. "I'm sure that helped. But he's a student of the game. He's a great human being. I think he's an outstanding candidate."
Brookens was one of three candidates the Tigers considered for the job. Leyland talked on the phone with Brookens as part of the process, though Leyland said it wasn't a formal interview. The other candidate he called was longtime Tigers Minor League outfield/baserunning coordinator Gene Roof, who coached first base under former Tigers manager Sparky Anderson from 1992-95.
Minor League field coordinator Mike Rojas also was a candidate.
"Gene Roof got a lot of support within the organization, and rightfully so," Leyland said.
In the end, Leyland liked what he felt Brookens could bring to the staff, and mentioned his ability to relate with people. When it came time to finalize the choice, Leyland was the one to let Brookens know he was coming to the big leagues.
"I'm really looking forward to the chance to get back into a big league uniform in Detroit," Brookens said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.