Brown passes on legacy of education, athletics

Gail Bennison Special to the Business Press

Anyone who knows 88-year-old Dr. Bobby Brown, the legendary former Yankee third baseman and president of the American League, longtime Fort Worth cardiologist and philanthropist, will tell you that they’ve never seen him rendered speechless. The surprise announcement at a recent TCU – Texas baseball game did just that. During April and May, some of his close friends met secretly to establish an endowed Dr. Bobby Brown TCU Baseball Scholarship. These friends contributed $300,000. The Burnett Foundation then matched that amount. The earnings of the fund will be used to provide an annual scholarship each year for a Texas Christian University baseball player who has excelled both in athletics and academics. “Well, I was amazed!” Brown says of the scholarship announcement. “I knew nothing about it. I’m out at the Lupton Stadium just standing there and they’re talking about a scholarship, and I was totally baffled. I didn’t understand what they were talking about, and then they said they had endowed this $600,000 and brought that big check out with my name on it,” he said. “I just thought I was going out there for some little promotion thing for the baseball team, and I was going to help them out if I could. This was just out of the blue for me. I can always talk, but this time, I was totally speechless.” Brown says it’s important that athletes get a good education. “Most athletes are unable to compete in athletics all their lives,” he says. “Some are good enough to get in the professional range, but by the time they are in their 30s and 40s, I would think they would want to do something else with their lives. Education is the foundation when your athletic pursuits are over.” “When I went to Stanford, there was no way I could’ve gone there without the help from wealthy Stanford alum, Brown says. “And it was because I could play baseball. I had the assistance for that year, and then after going into the Navy, I didn’t have any more problems. Now, I’m going to return the favor for TCU students, with the help from this scholarship. That’s what’s really important to me, that I can contribute in that fashion,” he said. “The only reason I can do this is that all of my friends endowed the scholarship and allowed me to do it in my name. It choked me up when I looked at that list of the people who were so good to me.” The Bobby Brown scholarship will enable a TCU athlete to receive similar help to get an education, says Fort Worth attorney Dee J. Kelly Sr. “When he went to the university in 1942, he had to have some help to do so. I think he’s very happy that this scholarship will help return the favor to help some young man who’s playing baseball at TCU,” says Kelly. Born in Seattle on October 25, 1924, Brown grew up in Washington, New Jersey and California. His father Bill Brown, a semi-professional baseball player in New Jersey and Washington, taught Brown and his brother to play baseball. The New York Yankees got their first look at him when he attended a Yankee try-out camp in Newark. He was 13 at the time, but he told them he was 18. Yankee scouts followed his progress. “I always wanted to be a major league player,” Brown says. “I just love playing baseball.” Brown enrolled at Stanford University as a pre-medical student in 1942, and enlisted in the United States Navy. World War II had begun. The Navy assigned him to the University of California at Los Angeles in its officer training V-12 program. He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946. During the Korean Conflict he was First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps serving as Battalion Surgeon. After completion of his pre-med studies, Brown was assigned to the Tulane University School of Medicine. Brown played shortstop for the varsity baseball teams at all three universities. He was selected All Conference at both Stanford and U.C.L.A. and was captain of his 1944 U.C.L.A. team. He was pursued by most of the major league teams. The Yankees signed him to a professional baseball contract on February 18, 1946 for a total of $54,000. His contract stipulated he would receive $11,000 for 1946, $15,000 for 1947, $18,000 for 1948, as well as receiving a cash bonus of $10,000. “That was a lot of money back then,” Brown says. He came up as a shortstop, but he couldn’t get past Phil Rizzuto, so the Yankees moved him to third base. He played for Newark in the International League in 1946 while still a student at Tulane University School of Medicine. That year he batted .341 and led the league in hits. In September of the same year he was recalled by the Yankees, combining his medical studies and major league baseball, until he retired from baseball in 1954 to begin a three-year residency in internal medicine at San Francisco County Hospital. In 1958 he returned to Tulane, where he completed a fellowship in cardiology. During the golden era from 1946 to 1954 when the team won six pennants, Brown played third base for the Yankees. Under managers Casey Stengel some of his teammates were Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Johnny Mize and Joe Page. Brown played in four World Series, power-hitting for a .439 average. Of his 18 hits, nine were for extra bases. A left-handed hitter, his slugging percentage was .707, fourth behind Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. His .439 average is best all time for players with 40 or more World Series at-bats. While medical school and internships usually kept him from participating in spring training, and despite missing 20 months while serving in the Army, he finished his baseball career at age 29 with a lifetime batting average of .279. Brown and Berra are the last two living members of the Yankees team that won the 1947 World Series. Brown recalls one of his baseball stories about his roommate, the legendary Yogi Berra. “Yogi and I were in Newark in 1946 before we went up with the Yankees at the end of the year. I had to study for a pathology exam. I couldn’t carry a microscope with me on the road trips because it hurt your stomach,” he says laughing. So I would take the textbook Boyd’s Pathology and I would study that during the summer and when I got back to school I had studied for the exam you see. I would study it in the room at odd hours, and Yogi liked to read Superman comics. We were both reading one time and he closed his magazine and I closed my book. He said, ‘You can’t beat these Superman comics. How’d yours come out?” Besides gathering enough stories for his own book, baseball gave Brown enough money to pay for his education when his G.I. Bill expired, Brown says. “When I started my practice, I could put a down payment on my house and start out debt free. That’s what baseball did for me,” he said. Baseball also set him on the path to meet the love of his life. He and Sara French married on October 16, 1951 and had been married for 61 years at the time of her death in March 2012. “She was just perfect,” Brown says. “She woke up every day with a smile on her face. She was responsible for raising our kids because back then doctors weren’t home very much. The kids all turned out great and it was a great testimony for her. It’s lonely without her, but I’m just grateful I had her for so long.” They have three children and 10 grandchildren. Brown says he is proud of them all. Brown entered private practice in Fort Worth in 1958. But baseball called him back. In 1974, he took a six-month leave of absence from his medical practice to become interim president of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club. Brad Corbett had purchased the team and asked for Brown’s help. The 1974 Rangers finished above .500 after two consecutive 100-loss seasons. At the end of the season, Brown went back to his lab coat and stethoscope. Corbett passed away on Christmas Eve in 2012. Brown presented the eulogy. “When Brad and I were together, we had a lot of laughs,” Brown says of his good friend and next door neighbor. “I don’t think we ever had an argument. He did call me all the time wanting to talk about trades. He was all about the trade,” he said. “All I did was try to keep us from doing something foolish while I was there. We didn’t give away the franchise or anything else. We did OK those six months.” Brown retired from his medical practice in 1984 to take on the American League presidency vacated by Lee McPhail, holding that post for 10 years. As American League president, Brown initiated the youth baseball programs throughout the country. Funding was provided by Major League baseball and the Amon G. Carter Foundation. “Bobby Brown is, without question, the most universally liked, respected and revered person I’ve ever met,” says John Robinson, executive vice president of the Amon G. Carter Foundation in Fort Worth. Brown serves on the foundation’s board of directors, and Robinson got to hand him the check. “I’ve had a chance to be with him in foundation-related events where President Bush 41 broke away from a Secret Service contingency to come and ask Bobby when he was going to come to Washington so they could play tennis. I have been at a dinner where the editor of U.S. News and World Reports was wishing he could be anywhere else but this place in Dallas, Texas to speak at this place. But when they said that one of the underwriters was the Amon Carter Foundation and Bobby Brown was there, this crusty old guy turned into a little kid. He wanted Bobby’s autograph. … So, whether it be politicians, people in the media, or other athletes, he is loved and respected.” Fort Worth businessman and close friend John Roach played a big role in the TCU scholarship plans. “He’s done so many things athletically, educationally, and of course, in the medical profession,” Roach says. “He has always encouraged athletes to really get an education and truly be prepared for life after athletics. That’s one of the motivations for the scholarship, to continue to provide the education for athletes. One of Bobby’s greater attributes is that he is the best storyteller that I’ve ever known.” John Roach approached us wanting to raise funds for the scholarship in honor of Bobby Brown, says Neils Agather, executive director of the Burnett Foundation. “He is a longtime friend of Mrs. [Anne] Marion, and he’s someone we really admire, and [it’s] also an opportunity to honor TCU. That’s what this grant did.” Brown says he came to realize the importance of faith in the1980s when Sara became a born again Christian. He soon followed suit. “I realized that the Lord is your savior and that’s your passport to Heaven,” he says. “It was very important to her and it’s very important to me.” Congressman Roger Williams was one of the signers of the scholarship funding request letter. He was unable to be there for the presentation of the check, but had a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol that day in honor of Brown’s career and his life. “I remember when Bobby used to come out to Arlington Heights High School in the mid-60s,” says Williams. “He was my dad’s heart doctor. We’ve shared baseball together and fundraising to build the new ballpark at TCU.” When Brown was with the Rangers, Williams was retiring from playing baseball for the Braves organization. “Being able to fly a flag over the U.S. Capitol to honor my friend Bobby Brown was a big deal. That’s one of the neat things about being a Congressman. You can do stuff like that.”