FORT WORTH – The ties that bind Congressman Roger Williams and cardiologist Bobby Brown go far beyond the city limits they both call home.
Those binds – family, friends and, most importantly, baseball – were on display Saturday night at the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Worthington Hotel in downtown Fort Worth where both men were honored with the George H. W. Bush Distinguished Alumnus Award presented by the Lubbock-based National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
“This trophy signifies good deeds done and good achievements done post-baseball career,” Brown said. “Nobody on the face of the earth has had more help than I have in doing good things once I got into practice and out into the world. Fort Worth is one of the greatest place in the country, to live, to raise your family. This award is tremendous and one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. I’m honored to be on the same trophy with President Bush.”
The Bush Award, named after the 41st President of the United States who led Yale to consecutive appearances in the College World Series in 1947-48, recognizes former college baseball managers or players who earned at least one letter who later achieved greatness off the diamond.
Williams, a fixture in Republican politics who represents a district that stretches from Fort Worth to Austin in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Brown, who aside from a 10-year stint at the president of the American League, had practiced medicine in Fort Worth since 1958, both credited their time playing college baseball for setting them on the path to success.
Williams played two years in the Atlanta Braves organization after a stellar career with his hometown TCU Horned Frogs from 1968 to 1971, earning All-Southwest Conference honors as a freshman in 1968. He was later named to the TCU All-Decade Team for the 1960s.
He played for former TCU coach and athletic director Frank Windigger, who was a guest at Williams’ table. He followed Windigger as coach for one season in 1976 and soon learned how different coaching the game then is from coaching today, where the Horned Frogs play in one of the top ballparks in the country, Lupton Stadium.
“Those were big shoes to fill,” Williams said. “I remember [Windigger] told me to be tight on the budget and not spend much money. I first found out if foul balls went on [the roof of] Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, you had to go get them. I also found it that even if a ball was used, you still had to play with it, all you had to do was put shoe polish on it and go play. We played with the heaviest balls of anybody in the Southwest Conference.”
Williams also recounted all the connections between him and Brown with various people in professional baseball, from guys like Ted Williams and Yogi Berra to former Rangers general manager Tom Schieffer and former home run king Hank Aaron. Mostly, however, he spoke about how baseball binds people together as family, which started at TCU.
“What a great opportunity to represent this school, a school I’ve rooted for for 61 years,” Williams said. “As they say, baseball has been very, very good to me, and TCU has been very, very good to me.”
Brown earned his medical degree from Tulane University after playing for the Green Waves and then later the New York Yankees. This came after playing a year for Stanford in 1943 and UCLA in 1944 before transferring to Tulane.
He spoke of his college days and the desire to keep his baseball and medical school lives separate. His medical school professors didn’t take kindly to students whose attentions weren’t fully on becoming a doctor.
But when the Yankees offered him $52,000 when he was drafted and he couldn’t keep his baseball life hidden from his professors, they suddenly had a change of heart.
“Do you think if you play well they would endow a chair of surgery here,” Brown recalled the dean of the medical school quipping.
Brown continued his studies during the offseason, balancing baseball and medical school until he earned his degree in 1950. He served two years in the Korean War from 1952 to 1954, and shortly after retiring from the Yankees began his medical residencies before going back to Tulane for a fellowship in cardiology before opening his practice in Fort Worth in 1958. Aside from a 10-year stint as the president of Major League Baseball’s American League, Fort Worth has been his home.
“You wonder when you hear all this stuff how your head stays the same size,” Brown said. “This flattery can get to you. But I had to hit fifth behind Joe DiMaggio and if there was a big crowd at Yankee Stadium, they were glued to their seats when Joe hit. Then when I came up to hit after Joe, there would be a mass exodus to the bathrooms. Try going through life knowing that 15-20,000 people, when you came up to hit, would rather be in the bathroom than watching you!”
The packed house at the Grand Ballroom was filled mostly with TCU supporters but also a few dignitaries as well, such as Horned Frogs baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle and former Southwest Conference commissioner Steve Hatchell, a good friend of Williams.
Both Williams and Brown received video tributes from numerous friends, including former Texas Rangers general manager and current television color analyst Tom Grieve, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, author Talmage Boston and Lubbock congressman Randy Neugebauer, who said he looks forward to Texas Tech and TCU meeting again in the College World Series as they did in 2014, only this time Williams would have to wear at red Texas Tech shirt after the Red Raiders won.
Schlossnagle credited Williams with being a big factor in getting TCU baseball where it is today.
“I know how important the Bush family is to you and your family,” Schlossnagle said in the video tribute. “I want to thank you for everything that you’ve done, especially for TCU baseball and college baseball in general, whether it be in our local community in Fort Worth or on the national level in Washington, D.C. You’re amazing and I wouldn’t have this job at TCU if it weren’t for people like you.”
National College Baseball Hall of Fame president and CEO Mike Gustafson also read a letter from George H. W. Bush congratulating Brown and Williams on receiving the award, and Bush’s grandson, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, spoke to the crowd as well.
“My family is all about baseball because baseball is all about family,” George P. Bush said. “It’s about a father and son bonding over throwing catch in the yard. It’s about dads coaching Little League and communicating those timely values such as teamwork, effort and discipline. It’s about the family spending the afternoon at the ballpark talking about life. When I think about the values of baseball, I don’t think there’s anyone who epitomizes that more than Roger Williams and Dr. Bobby Brown. Both are great ambassadors of the game.”