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Ashway: Celebrating Bobby Brown, a man of many talents
Denton Ashway

How’s this for entries on a resume: major league ballplayer, cardiologist, American League president.

Stretching the truth?

Not if you’re Bobby Brown.

The Yankees’ original Mr. October passed away March 25 at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. He was 96.

If you want to talk about a life well lived, Bobby Brown might be a fine place to start. In fact, a former teammate, Eddie Robinson, who at the age of 100 is baseball’s oldest living ex-player, once recommended Brown for the job of commissioner of baseball.

“I just thought Bobby could be good at anything,” Robinson told the Dallas Morning News. “He was very sincere and obviously very bright. A very fair individual. And he’d been a baseball player.

“I just can’t speak highly enough of him.”

Born on Oct. 25, 1924 in Seattle, Brown grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and San Francisco. His first life-saving act occurred when he was 19.

While a student at Stanford, Brown was enjoying a day at the beach when he saw a Navy seaplane crash into the Pacific. Brown persuaded a friend to join him in the hourlong swim to rescue the only survivor. For his efforts Brown received the Coast Guard Silver Lifesaving Medal.

Brown enlisted in the Navy and studied at UCLA and Tulane. But in 1946, the Yankees offered him a then-record signing bonus of over $50,000. For the next eight years, Brown would juggle baseball and books. Brown finally received his medical degree from Tulane in 1950 and would always miss spring training due to commitments to his “other” profession.

A left-handed hitting infielder, Brown reached the majors at the end of the ’46 season, after hitting .341 for the Newark Bears. He’d wind up as a .279 career hitter, primarily as a platoon player. He played in more than 100 games in only three seasons but hit .300 in both ‘47 and ’48.

Once October rolled around, Brown rose to the occasion. In 17 games over four World Series, Brown hit .439 with a slash line of .439/.500/.707/1.207. He went 3-for-3 with a walk as a pinch hitter in the ’47 Series. His fourth-inning double in Game 7 tied the game as the Yankees went ahead for good.

That double hit a mesh screen above the right-field wall at Ebbets Field. “It cleared the fence,” Brown told the New York Daily News. “Which would have been the first pinch-hit homer in World Series history. But the screen was in fair territory. Four innings later, Yogi hit the first pinch-hit homer in World Series history.”

Brown hit .500 in the ’49 Series, .333 in the ’50 Series, and .357 in the ’51 Series. In ’49, he hit a three-run triple in Game 4, and a two-run triple in Game 5. In the ’50 Series, he doubled and scored the only run of the opening game.

“He was a helluva player,” Robinson told the News. “A great pinch-hitter. He was a little bit shaky at third base, but he was as good as most there.”

Then duty called again. Brown missed the ’52 Series, all of the ’53 season, and the first month of the ’54 season while serving in Korea.

“My unit landed in Incheon, Korea, on Oct. 1, 1952, the first day of the World Series,” Brown told Baseball Digest in 2003. “It was the worst day of my life. I’m trudging up a quay for a quarter of a mile with everything I owned on my back, going into Korea, and my team is playing in the World Series. My wife had our first baby when I was flying over the Pacific.”

Brown served as a battalion surgeon in a MASH unit near the front lines, and later at an Army hospital in Tokyo.

Every now and then Brown’s two careers would overlap. Brown told the News about the time he and Mickey Mantle carried off a photographer who had collapsed on the field, and later died. Mantle asked, “Hey, was that your first patient?” Brown replied, “Yeah, I guess it was.” Rejoined Mantle, “Oh, man. What a helluva way to break in!”

Yogi Berra and Brown were roommates on the road. Both were reading one night, Berra a comic book, and Brown “Boyd’s Pathology.” Upon finishing his comic, Berra tossed it aside, saying, “Mine was pretty good. How’d yours turn out?”

Brown retired from baseball in ’54, devoting himself to medicine full time. He settled in Fort Worth, Texas, because of his wife, Sara. They would be married for 61 years, because Brown had a plan for securing her parents’ approval. “Tell your father I’m a ballplayer and tell your mother I’m in medical school.”

He did take a six-month sabbatical from medicine to serve as interim president of the Texas Rangers in 1974. On his watch, the team improved by 27 wins, earning the title “Turnaround Gang.”

Brown retired from practicing medicine and went back to baseball in 1984. He felt the highlight of his 10-year term was raising awareness about the dangers of chewing tobacco, and getting it banned in the minor leagues.

But even a seemingly perfect life can include some regrets. According to one of Brown’s eulogists, Talmage Boston, Brown was often asked if he ever thought about how good a ballplayer he might have been had he focused on baseball.

Brown’s reply never changed: “I think about it daily.”