There are memories and then there are memories and Dr. Bobby Brown’s recollections of his baseball-playing past fit the latter, because they are so sharp and so vivid even as he enters the ninth decade of his life.
“I remember the pitches I did hit and the pitches I didn’t hit,” said the 90-year-old Brown during a 2015 phone interview. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I can see them.”
“If you were a hitter who had any sense at all, you could figure out what you were looking for. If a guy threw a fastball for strikes 80 percent of the time, and a curve 50 percent, and a chance of pace 30 percent, you knew you were going to get the fastball. I made contact a lot. I struck out 88 times in my career. I could always hit the thing.”
Brown is the best World Series hitter that the Yankees have ever had. He hit .439, second-best of anyone who had at least 40 World Series plate appearances.
When I point out that the only player with a higher average (David Ortiz, .455) could dip below Brown if he makes the Series again someday, Brown laughs.
“I didn’t want to say that,” he said. “I’ll let you say it.”
Brown played in four World Series’ in his eight major-league seasons and the Yankees won all four. In fact, the Yankees went 9-1 in the 10 World Series games that Brown started.
Brown, who hit .279 with a .367 on-base percentage in 1,619 at-bats, often played an integral role. In his first World Series, in 1947 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Brown pinch-hit four times. He had three hits and a walk and drove in three runs. In the decisive Game 7, he had a pinch-hit double against Hal Gregg that tied the score in the fourth inning. The Yankees took the lead two batters later and never looked back.
“He threw a ball on the outside part of the plate,” Brown said. “I thought it could have been a ball, but it was hittable. I hit a line drive to left. There was a tremendous roar. It’s the first time I ever really listened to the crowd. They had nearly 72,000 people there that day. I knew where my folks were sitting, and I could see a hat being thrown up in the air. It was my dad’s hat. He was throwing it up, catching it and throwing it up again.”
By 1949, Brown graduated to a starting role and again, made a notable impact on a championship series. He went 6-for-12 with five RBIs batting fifth behind Joe DiMaggio in the three games he started. Brown only hit in the fifth slot 10 times that season (he usually hit sixth or third), but Casey Stengel made a smart move to slot him fifth for the World Series.
In Game 4 that year, Brown made the Dodgers pay for intentionally walking Dimaggio, crushing a three-run triple to extend a Yankees lead from 3-0 to 6-0.
The next day, in Game 5, Brown went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. He had a first-inning RBI single to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead and then hit another triple. This one salted away a series-clinching 10-6 win.
Brown joined an illustrious list of players who hit multiple triples in a World Series lasting four or five games. The names include Lou Gehrig and Paul O’Neill.
“That’s pretty good company,” Brown said. “But they weren’t in medical school either.”
Ah yes, there’s a reason we know him as Dr. Bobby Brown. While playing for the Yankees, Brown had an eye on becoming a doctor.
“I wish I could have spent my winters like everyone else did, trying to improve my baseball skills,” Brown said. “But I couldn’t do that.”
One time, Brown was reading a textbook for exams he knew he would have to take once the season ended. His roommate, Yogi Berra, was reading a collection of Superman comic books. They both put their books down at the same time.
“Man, I love those Superman comics,” Berra said to Brown, who he then asked “How did your book turn out?”
|Highest World Series Batting Average- Yankees History|
|* Minimum 40 plate appearances|
Brown was smart enough to chuckle at that question and was sharp enough to continue pounding opposing pitchers in key spots. He still remembered his batting average in the 1950 World Series (.333) as the Yankees swept the Phillies in four games, three of which were decided by one run.
Brown had another triple in the series clincher, which was important because “the dean of my medical school came up to watch the game.”
Brown’s final World Series appearances came in 1951, when he went 5-for-14 in a win over the New York Giants. It’s not a base hit he remembers, but a blown call by the umpires that cost him a hit (one that would have pushed his average to .463 and kept him from being caught by Ortiz).
“I knew Sal Maglie had a great curveball, but he threw me a fastball down the middle and I was a fraction of a second late,” Brown said. “Willie Mays went back on it. The ball hit his glove, hit the ground and landed in his glove. They called me out. My dad nearly jumped out of the second deck after he saw it (and knew it was a missed call). We had six umps and none saw it. I should have gotten credit for it. I’m still mad I wasn’t looking fastball on that pitch. I think I could have hit it out of the park.”
Brown’s baseball career ended in 1954, as he followed his passion of becoming a cardiologist, a field in which he excelled. Brown returned to baseball many years later as an interim executive for the Texas Rangers and then American League president from 1984 to 1994. He lives happily now in retirement in Fort Worth, Texas and still gets around regularly both to vacation and to travel to fan gatherings to share stories of his big league days.
There are so many elements to Brown’s story from his sports success to his days as a doctor, to the 19 months he spent in Korea and Tokyo treating injuries during the Korean War. His lifesaving skills are a part of a legacy that began when he and college teammate Robert McClean, saved the life of a radioman whose plane crashed while on patrol over the Pacific Ocean.
Brown is remembered as a hero for that rescue.
For his baseball time, he likes to remember that he was a tough hitter, but one who is also very thankful.
“I was able to get through four World Series and not do something that was so extremely bad that they would remember me for decades,” he said. “That was a big relief.”
But how does Brown want to be remembered?
“I played damn well for a medical student,” he said. “I’ll tell you that.”