Sunday, December 29, 2013

#383 Chris Brown

Card thoughts: Chris Brown in the #12 Jose Uribe pose. Note the initials on the underside of the bill of his hat. If Topps had returned to the “All-Star Rookie” cards just one year earlier, you’d be seeing a cup on this card.

The player: A high school teammate of Darryl Strawberry, Brown was a second round draft pick in the 1979 draft. Despite an ordinary minor league career, he made his debut in 1984, hitting .286 over 23 games.

The incumbent starter at third base, #177 Joel Youngblood, was really just there as an emergency measure. When he moved back to his customary utility role in 1985, Brown surprisingly earned the job out spring training. After hitting 16 home runs and driving in 61, he placed fourth in the Rookie of the Year balloting. If anything, his fielding at third stood out even more, as he led the league in fielding percentage, and showed excellent range at that position.

Brown continued his hot hitting in 1986, as he made the all star team after hitting .338, with an .877 OPS at the break. Despite finishing the year in the top ten in batting (.317), he barely played at all during September due to a shoulder injury. Initially, doctors could find nothing wrong with Brown, and he was accused of being a malingerer. But further examination revealed a problem, and he was sidelined for part of the next season.

Perhaps Brown enjoyed getting paid for not playingor he was resentful that his injury claim wasn’t believedbecause for the rest his career, he was noted for claiming bizarre injuries in order to get out of the lineup. That may have been why the Giants gave up on Brown so soon after his standout 1986 campaign, shipping him in a huge deal to the Padres in July of 1987.

Although he still hit for power, Brown’s average plummeted to .232, and he was in and out of the lineup that year and the next. The Padres, like the Giants, finally tired of Brown’s lackadaisical attitude (he was nicknamed the “Tin Man”—no heart) and sent him with #266 Keith Moreland to the Tigers for Walt Terrell. Sparky Anderson was a no-nonsense manager and, when Brown claimed he couldn’t play in a game because he slept on his eye wrong, that was the final straw and he was released. After a short stint with AAA Buffalo (Pirates), Brown retired from baseball at the young age of 28.

In retirement, Brown worked in construction where he was just as injury prone. While working on the Getty museum in LA, his cement mixer keeled over and Brown injured his back and neck. After relocating to Houston and operating a crane, he ended up driving a transport truck for Halliburton during the Iraq war where he was shot at multiple times. So ironically, the man who was considered “soft” while playing baseball ended up taking a job that required more courage than most of his “tough guy” teammates ever showed. Perhaps it wasn’t that Brown was a weakling. Maybe, despite his talent, he just didn’t like playing baseball and he just slacked off instead of quitting.

Brown died under mysterious circumstances in Sugar Land, Texas (a suburb of Houston) in 2006. After his tour of duty in Iraq, his life fell apart, and he burned to death in a vacant house he owned, and no one knows whether the fire was intentional or an accident.

Rear guard: Brown's first hit was a single leading off the fifth inning with the Giants getting slaughtered 10-1. He was soon erased at second on a ground ball to short by perennial Mendoza line flirter #289 Johnnie LeMaster.

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