On Deck: King of Diamonds, King of Hearts

A baseball card of his life surely would include these stats:

Seasons as a New York Yankee: 8
World Series games played: 17
World Series batting average: .439
World Series on-base percentage: .500
Years as president of the American League: 1
Years a resident of Fort Worth: 63
Months as Texas Rangers president: 6
Wars served in: 2
Appearances on To Tell the Truth: 1
Years married to the same woman: 60
Years as a cardiologist: 30

And because the game of baseball loves nicknames, that card would note his:

the Golden Boy
the Wand
the Quack

Robert William Brown was born in Seattle in 1924 but grew up in California. He was five years old when his father Bill, who played semiprofessional baseball, gave him a bat and declared that son would do father one better: He would become a major league ballplayer.

And son did not disappoint father. The New York Yankees began scouting Bobby Brown when he was a thirteen-year-old shortstop playing American Legion ball. The scouting continued as Brown played baseball at Stanford University in 1942. Sportswriters dubbed him “the Golden Boy.” Of the sixteen major league teams, only Boston didn’t pursue Brown.

But Brown had another profession in mind.

“I was going to be a chemical engineer,” he recalled, “but I found out I hated chemistry. I thought I’d be best in the people business, and premed sounded good . . .,” he told the Star-Telegram in 1988.

With America at war in 1943 Brown was drafted and enrolled in the V-12 Navy College Training Program at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he combined his two interests: baseball and medicine. By 1945 he was at Tulane University, still playing baseball and studying medicine.

Upon Brown’s graduation his father acted as his agent as Bobby sought a major league contract.

One of their first stops was New York City, which had three teams.

Yankees manager Joe McCarthy was impressed by Brown’s level left-handed swing.

“Son,” McCarthy said, “you’re a great hitter. Don’t ever let anyone change you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Bobby said. “My dad will be pleased to hear that. He taught me how to hit.”

“We sure could use a teacher like your father around here,” McCarthy said. “You do everything right.”

Bill Brown also haggled with New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham, asking $60,000 ($700,000 today) in bonus money for his son.

Stoneham said, “That’s too much for a kid who never played professional ball. It’s ridiculous. There’s a terrific gap, you know, between college ball and the big leagues.”

Bill Brown countered with, “I’ll tell you what do, Mr. Stoneham. Let’s make it double or nothing. Take the boy. If he makes it, pay me $120,000. If he doesn’t make it, it won’t cost you a cent.”

Also present at this negotiation was Giants manager Mel Ott.

“Don’t go for that double stuff, Horace,” Ott advised. “This kid is going to make it.”

And he did. But not with the Giants.

Bobby Brown became a New York Yankee. A pin-striper. A member of one of the most storied sports team in American history. When Brown signed in 1946, the Yankees had won the American League pennant seven of the previous ten seasons. And they weren’t done yet.

Father Brown snagged fifty-two thousand Yankee dollars ($600,000 today) for his son, to be paid over three years. Bobby became one of baseball’s first bonus players, although he played only seven games with the Yankees in 1946.

Meanwhile, Brown continued his medical training during the off-season.

Brown spent most of 1946 with the Newark Bears in the International League. The Bears were the Yankees’ top farm club.

The Bears’ young catcher was Lawrence “Yogi” Berra. Brown and Berra became roommates on the road.

Note that also playing in the International League that year was Jackie Robinson.

In 1947 Brown and Berra were called up to the Yankees for spring training in Puerto Rico. “Medical student” Bobby Brown was dubbed a “hot prospect” at third base.

As Yankees Brown and Berra remained roomies on the road.

In later years Brown would tell this story about Berra: One night Berra and Brown were reading in their room. Berra, who had a low-brow taste in literature, was reading a Superman comic book. Berra finished his comic book and put it aside just as Brown closed his book and put it aside.

“So,” Berra asked Brown, “how did yours turn out?”

Brown was reading the two thousand-page Boyd’s Pathology.

Berra later told this one on his roomie:

“You know, Doc never called me ‘Yogi.’ Always ‘Lawrence.’ It was funny. Like if I mentioned I was going to the john, he’d correct me: ‘No, Lawrence. The word is lavatory.’”

What a thrill it must have been for Brown, twenty-three, when he scored on Joe DiMaggio’s first home run of the 1947 season. Brown went 2-for-4 in that game.

And what a thrill six months later when Brown played in his first World Series. It was an early “subway series”: the Bronx Bombers against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The seventh game would be one of the highlights of Brown’s baseball career, a highlight he could still describe a half-century later.

The Yankees were trailing the Dodgers by a run in the fourth inning. Yankees manager Bucky Harris looked down his bench for a pinch-hitter. Brown already had two pitch-hits in the series.

“Brown, go in there and hit for [pitcher Floyd] Bevens,” Harris barked and then added softly, “make it a good one, Bobby.”

Two men were on base when the Golden Boy doubled to left, tying the score.

“He [Dodgers pitcher Hal Gregg] threw a ball on the outside part of the plate,” Brown recalled. “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 seventy-two thousand 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.”

The Yankees took the lead two batters later, winning the game and another championship.

Brown’s application of his bat for that clutch hit earned the Golden Boy a new nickname: “the Wand.”

Brown’s three pinch-hits in that series set a record. It has been tied four times since then. And notice who helped set a World Series record for most consecutive doubles in an inning, with a little help from Pee Wee Reese and Dixie Walker. Yes, Jackie Robinson, like Brown and Berra, had been called up from the International League. Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color line in April 1947.

Two years later in the 1949 World Series, Bobby Brown had a bases-loaded triple in game 4 and a two-run triple in championship-clinching game 5.

In 1950 Brown scored the first run of the World Series—and the only run of the first game as the Yankees won 1-0.

In game 4 Brown drove in DiMaggio with a triple and threw out a runner at home. The Yankees won the series in four games.

As these clutch hits show, Brown, a career .279 hitter during the regular season, rose to the high drama of a World Series. He played in seventeen games as the Yankees steamrolled baseball in the late 1940s and early 1950s, winning the championship in 1947, 1949, 1950, and 1951. In those series, the Yankees needed more than four games only in 1947.

In Brown’s final World Series in 1951 he went 5-for-14 as the Yankees beat the Giants in another subway series.

Yes, a quarter-century before Reggie Jackson became “Mr. October” because of his World Series offense in the 1970s and 1980s, Bobby Brown was an autumnal force in his own right.

Brown’s World Series batting average was .439. Jackson’s: .357.
Brown’s on-base percentage (number of times on base divided by at-bats) was: .500. Jackson’s: .457.
Brown had a .797 slugging percentage (total bases divided by at-bats). Jackson’s: .755.
Brown’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was 1.207. Jackson’s: 1.212.
Brown, Eddie Collins, and Paul O’Neill hold the record for most triples in a five-game World Series: two.

Teammate Tommy Henrich later said of Brown: “He couldn’t run, field, or throw, but with a million dollars on the line, he wouldn’t choke up at the plate. In every pressure situation Bobby was always the one in charge at the plate.”

As Brown continued his medical training, in a sport that delights in bestowing nicknames, his teammates teased the player known as “the Golden Boy” and “the Wand” with a new one: “the Quack.”

“When I made an error,” Brown recalled, “my left fielder would yell, ‘You butcher. With hands like that, I wouldn’t let you operate on my cat,’” he said.

The Quack finally earned his medical degree from Tulane in 1950. It had taken him six years because he had to skip semesters. He reported late to spring training because of medical school and reported late to medical school because of baseball, especially when the Yankees played in the World Series.

Brown said, “I could have been a better player if I wasn’t in med school, but I’d have been a better student, too, if I wasn’t playing ball.”

Baseball also delayed his marriage. He and Sara French of Highland Park in Dallas waited until after the 1951 World Series in October to get married.

By 1952 DiMaggio was retired, replaced by Mickey Mantle. And Brown was in a lineup with some other pretty fair country players: Gil McDougald, Hank Bauer, future Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Jackie Jensen, Johnny Sain, Billy Martin.

The Yankees had to win the 1952 and 1953 World Series without Brown because he spent most of those two seasons in his second war: He served in a MASH unit and a battalion aid station at the front in Korea and spent ten months at base hospitals in Japan.

He returned to the pin stripes in 1954 but played in only twenty-eight games. At age thirty, with surely a few more good seasons—and World Series—ahead of him in the Yankees steamroller, the Golden Boy took himself out of the lineup.

“When I got out of the service again it was 1954,” Brown recalled. “I’d been out of my internship two years. I knew if I didn’t get into my residency I’d really be way behind. I just didn’t feel I could stay out of medicine another two to four years to play ball. Medically, I just had to get into it and get into it full time.”

It was time to go back to medicine—for good.

His top annual salary as a Yankee had been $19,500 ($200,000 today).

But “even then,” he recalled in 1994, “that was more than the dean of my medical school made. . . . My classmates looked at me like I was a wealthy guy because I was a ballplayer.”

By the time Bobby Brown hung up his cleats he had witnessed a lot of baseball history as a Yankee of that era:

He played in the first night games in Yankee Stadium in 1946.
He saw Babe Ruth in that stadium a final time in 1948 when the Yankees retired Ruth’s number 3.
He saw the retirement of teammate Joe DiMaggio in 1951.
In addition to DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, and Rizzuto, Brown played with Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Johnny Mize, and manager Casey Stengel.

Brown once was asked to name the best he had seen play.

DiMaggio, Brown said.

But Brown said DiMaggio’s successor, Mickey Mantle, had the best natural talent he ever saw.

“Here’s the kind of player Mantle was before he got that leg trouble. Let a manager take the fastest man on his team, and Mick would beat him. Match the man with the best arm against Mantle, and he couldn’t get better than a tie. Take his best base runner, he’d be no better than Mickey. Put up his best hitter against him, and it wouldn’t be a contest. He had more things going for him than anybody I ever saw.”

After Brown traded the bat for the stethoscope for good in 1954, the next four years were spent at San Francisco County Hospital and back at Tulane for cardiology residency.

In 1957 Brown (left in photo) took time out to stump the panelists as the ball-playing cardiologist on the game show To Tell the Truth.

In 1958 the Golden Boy came to Cowtown. Brown’s best friend in medical school at Tulane, Albert Goggans, had graduated ahead of Brown and moved to Fort Worth to practice. Goggans liked Fort Worth and invited Brown to visit. Brown also liked Fort Worth, and the two began a cardiology practice here.

(The Albert M. Goggans, M.D. and Robert W. Brown, M.D. Regional Heart Center at Baylor Fort Worth is named in their honor.)

In 1974 Brown put himself back into the lineup. Well, into the front office anyway: He took a leave of absence from cardiology to serve as interim president of the Texas Rangers.

He returned to medicine after the season.

Ten years later, in 1984, he was back in the game. He retired from medicine and succeeded Lee MacPhail as president of the American League. Brown held the post for a decade.

“The toughest part was just trying to be fair to everyone, trying to do what’s right,” Brown recalled. “Making a decision that wouldn’t bite you five years into the future because of the precedent being set.”
(In 1993, as his reign as president of the American League was ending, Brown bought the Koslow house at 4100 Clarke Avenue.)

In 2012 Brown’s wife Sara died seven months short of their sixty-first wedding anniversary

Brown once said: “I think if the system is good to you, you ought to put back into the system.”

And Bobby Brown put back.

He served on several boards, including the Amon G. Carter Foundation, Tarrant County Hospital District, Tarrant County Heart Association, and United Way Doctors Division. He was chairman of Fort Worth’s park and recreation board for six years. He raised money for All Saints Hospital and the East Side branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Fort Worth.

In 1994 Brown was awarded the Bobby Bragan Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1996 he was honored as the city’s outstanding citizen of the year with the Exchange Club’s Golden Deeds Award.

Brown was a regular at the Yankees’ Old-Timers’ Days. The 2016 gathering honored Brown’s roommate Yogi Berra, who died in 2015. In the top inset are Don Larsen, Brown, and Eddie Robinson. In the bottom inset is Whitey Ford.

Brown was the last living member of the 1947 Yankees championship team. The Golden Boy could look back on a made-for-the-movies life as New York Yankee, American League president, and cardiologist.

Asked in 2015 how he wanted to be remembered, Dr. Robert William Brown smiled and said with self-deprecation that his pin-striped teammates would appreciate from the Quack:

“I played damn well for a medical student.”

Bobby Brown—king of diamonds and king of hearts—died at age ninety-six in 2021.

Cowtown at Play

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2 Responses to On Deck: King of Diamonds, King of Hearts

  1. Larry Sams says:

    Met Dr. Brown at his office when I was about 11 years old, he was my grandfather’s cardiologist — I was completely tongue-tied…

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