Wednesday, August 1, 2012

#409 - Ike Brown

Back in the AL we have Ike Brown outside the batting cage at Comiskey. 1973 would be the last year Ike made any significant contributions in the majors and this is his final card. Manager Billy Martin was a big fan of Ike’s attitude and called him “Boat” as in showboat since Ike was a big performer for the fans. So after Billy’s departure during a .190 season, Ike’s time was probably limited. Like his roommate with a shared surname, Gates Brown (no relation), Ike was a big guy whose specialty was pinch-hitting. Unlike Gates, though, he could play pretty much any position, hence the multi-position designation on his card. He was also an eternal optimist and according to a couple sources the first words out of his mouth every morning were “It’s a beautiful day.”

Ike Brown was a Memphis product who, after a storied high school career, was signed by the Cards in ’60 and then never played for them at any level as he was dropped prior to his first season. He hooked up with the old Negro League team, the Kansas City Monarchs in ’61, which by then was an independent team. Back then Ike was about 180 pounds, had power and speed, and could play anywhere. By late July he was hitting .418 and the team’s owner did a big push for the Tigers to sign him which they did by the end of the year. He began what would be a long minor league career the next year in D ball for a few games before moving up to Single A where he only hit .232 but stole 28 bases in 115 games. For his first few seasons he was primarily a shortstop and after another season of A ball in ’63 he moved up a level to hit .303 in ’64. In ’65 he moved mostly to third as he played all over geographically since for part of the season he was loaned to the ChiSox. In ’66, a season he played in the outfield, he hit .296 which got him promoted for a three year run in Triple A. There he moved back to third since that seemed the likeliest spot for him up top. After a couple seasons there of hitting in the .260’s he put up a monster start to the ’69 season: .356 with 11 homers and 38 RBI’s in 180 at bats. Those numbers got him called up in June.

Brown’s first season up he played mostly at second base where, now over 200 pounds, he must have appeared huge. In the field the next year he concentrated on the same position but really made his mark as a pinch hitter by getting on base in 13 of his 20 appearances in that role. He continued to do well in the pinch in ’71 and, to keep things fresh, was a first baseman in the field. Then in ’72 he got some outfield time and made the most of his post-season experience by helping to win the fourth game of the playoffs with a two-run single in a 3-0 game. In ’74 after only a couple at bats for Detroit he was sent down to Triple A where he hit .258 as he played outfield and both corners. That was his coda as a player and Ike finished with a .256 average, 20 homers, 65 RBI’s, and a .364 OBA in a little over 500 at bats. In the minors he hit .266 with a .375 OBA. He hit .500 in the ’72 playoffs.

In a different way to stay close to baseball after he retired, Brown took umpire classes and eventually that became his new career as he spent a bunch of years umpiring at the high school level in and around Mississippi. He was still at it shortly before his death from cancer in 2001 at age 59. Ike has a detailed bio here.

The star bullets properly reflect Ike’s two biggest moments in the majors. He also had a few three-hit games. He presumably went to high school somewhere in the Memphis area but I have been able to find no details on that part of his life. He was the last veteran of the Negro Leagues to play in the majors.

These two totally missed each other while playing but a recent subject helps:

1. Brown and Duke Sims ’72 to ’73 Tigers;
2. Sims and Bill Russell ’71 to ’72 Dodgers;
3. Russell and Charlie Hough ’70 to ’79 Dodgers.

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