Thursday, March 25, 2021

Bobby Brown, 1924-2021

It's never good to have to say goodbye to the earliest surviving legends. But it's always good to remember them.

Robert William Brown was born on October 25, 1924 in Seattle, and grew up in San Francisco. He attended Galileo High School, as did fellow baseball players Joe, Vince and Dom DiMaggio; Ping Bodie, Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, Dario Lodigiani, Gino Cimoli, Frank Lucchesi and Walt "No-Neck" Williams; former Levi Strauss chairman and Oakland Athletics owner Walter Haas; sportscaster Joe Angel; football legend-turned-defendant O.J. Simpson and his teammate-turned-accomplice Al Cowlings; basketball pioneer Hank Luisetti; police detective Dave Toschi, the model for both Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt and Clint Eastwood as "Dirty" Harry Callahan; and the current Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed.

Bobby Brown went down the Peninsula, and graduated from Stanford University. Then he got his graduate degree down the coast at UCLA. Then he got his medical degree at Tulane University in New Orleans. All while pursuing a baseball career.

While rooming with Yogi Berra on the road, he finished reading one of his medical textbooks, Boyd's Pathology, at the same time that Yogi finished reading a comic book, and Yogi said, "Mine was great. How'd yours turn out?" It sounds like one of those stories that Yogi's former across-the-street neighbor, catcher-turned-broadcaster Joe Garagiola, made up. But Bobby confirmed that it actually happened.

Bobby made his major league debut in the same game as Yogi, on September 22, 1946, the 1st game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics at Yankee Stadium. Wearing the Number 7 that would later become identified with Mickey Mantle, Bobby played shortstop and batted 3rd, and went 1-for-2 with a walk. Yogi caught and batted 8th, and went 2-for-4, including the 1st of his 358 career home runs (although not in his 1st at-bat). Spurgeon "Spud" Chandler went the distance, and the Yankees won 4-3. The Yankees also won the 2nd game, 7-4, with Bobby again playing shortstop, going 1-for-3.

Through most of his career, Bobby would wear Number 6 and play 3rd base. In 1947, he backed up Billy Johnson. He batted .300 as the regular 3rd baseman in 1948, but in 1949, Casey Stengel came in, and started his platoon system. Brown batted lefthanded, and Johnson batted righthanded, and Stengel -- who famously, and unfairly, said of Brown, "He looks like a feller who's been hitting for twelve years and fielding for one" -- would bat Brown against righthanded pitchers and Johnson against lefties.

Like many less-heralded Yankees, he became an "unlikely hero" who saved his best performances for postseason play. At that time, that meant only the World Series. He got hits in all 3 of his plate appearances in the Yankees' win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

He went 6-for-12 against the Dodgers in 1949, including a bases-loaded triple in Game 4 and a 2-run triple in the clinching Game 5. He went 4-for-12 against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1950, against with a triple in the clinching game, in that case Game 4. He went 5-for-14 against the New York Giants in the 1951 World Series.

After the 1951 season, Bobby married Sara French, a Dallas native that he had met at Tulane. They would go on to have 3 children: Son Peter, who also became a doctor; and daughters Beverley and Kaydee. They lived to see 10 grandchildren.

When Gil McDougald, a righthanded hitter, arrived in 1951, it might have spelled the end for Brown no matter what. But early in the 1952 season, he was drafted into the Korean War, having previously served in the Coast Guard in World War II.

He returned in 1954, but played in only 28 games. By that point, he had his medical degree and license, and no longer needed to play baseball for the money. He played his last game on June 30, 1954, moved to Sara's native Dallas, and became a cardiologist.

He briefly interrupted his medical practice in 1974. The local major league team, the Texas Rangers, was in disarray, and the team's manager, his former Yankee teammate Billy Martin, asked him to serve as the team's interim president. The organization stabilized, to the point where they had finished 2nd in the American League Eastern Division, he returned to medicine after the season.

He attended Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium every year, including in the seasons of 1979, '80 and '81, when another Bobby Brown played for the Yankees. This one was a black outfielder, who helped the Yankees win the Pennant in 1981. Neither one had any connection to the Bobby Brown who sang with the vocal group New Edition and was married to singer Whitney Houston.

In 1984, Bobby Brown the ex-3rd baseman was named President of the American League. He still attended Old-Timers Day, but, as a representative of the entire League, he decided it would be improper of him to wear a Yankee uniform, so he walked onto the field in a suit. In 1992 and 1993, with baseball not having an official Commissioner, he presented the Commissioner's Trophy for winning the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays.
He left the AL Presidency after serving 10 years, and again put on Pinstripes for Old-Timers Day. As late as 2019, he was still attending Old-Timers Day. Due to the COVID pandemic, the event was not held in 2020.
Dr. Bobby Brown died today, March 25, 2021, at the age of 96. Sara had died on March 26, 2012.

He was the last survivor of the 1947 World Champions, the 1949 World Champions, the 1950 World Champions, and the 1951 World Champions. He was also the last surviving teammate of Yankee Hall-of-Famer Bill Dickey, and the last surviving player on either team from Game 6 of the 1947 World Series, the Al Gionfriddo Game.

With his death, the earliest surviving World Series winner is Eddie Robinson, from the 1948 Cleveland Indians. At 100 years old, Eddie was already the oldest living ex-MLB player, and the oldest living ex-Yankee, having helped them with the Pennant in 1955.

The earliest living World Champion Yankee is Art Schallock, who made 28 pitching appearances, plus the last 2 innings of Game 4 of the 1953 World Series vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees lost that game, but won the Series in 6 games. He's now also the earliest-appearing living ex-Yankee, having debuted in 1951. This also makes him the last surviving teammate of Joe DiMaggio. If he makes it to April 25, he'll be 97.

There are now 12 living ex-players who played in the 1940s: Eddie Robinson, Chris Haughey, Eddie Basinski, Tommy Brown (no relation to Bobby), Johnny Groth, Curt Simmons, Carl Erskine, Larry Miggins, Cloyd Boyer (older brother of Ken and Clete, both deceased), Del Crandall, George Elder and Bobby Shantz.

And there are 10 living men who are veterans of both Major League Baseball and World War II: Robinson, Haughey, Groth, Erskine, Miggins, Boyer, Shantz, Ed Mickelson, Bobby Morgan and Frank Saucier.

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