America’s Pastime

| by Scott Nishimura | Dr. Bobby Brown and U.S. Rep. Roger Williams are 25 years apart in age, but they share numerous common bonds in baseball, family, business and Yogi Berra stories.

Brown, a Tulane University star shortstop who went on to the New York Yankees and is one of two surviving teammates along with Berra who played in the 1947 World Series championship, mentored Williams during the congressman’s early minor league baseball and college managerial career. Williams was a star center fielder for TCU before being signed by the Atlanta Braves as a minor leaguer. Brown, who built a career as a cardiologist in Fort Worth after baseball, was physician to Williams’ father, Jack Williams, who died in 1990.

“He kept my dad alive for a year and a half,” Williams remembers. “Because of that, he got to know his grandchildren.”

And Brown, who lives in Fort Worth, has been a customer of Williams’ family auto dealerships for nearly 60 years. “He hasn’t bought a car anywhere else but from Jack or Roger Williams since 1958,” Williams says.

The two men can readily share stories about Berra, one of baseball’s most enduring characters, who has even made fun of himself in TV ads.

Brown, who played for the Yankees while attending medical school at Tulane: “I couldn’t take a microscope on the road, but I did take a textbook. Yogi liked Superman comics. You could buy them for 10 cents apiece in that day.” On one road trip, Berra and Brown were together, Berra reading a comic book and Brown his Boyd’s Pathology. “He finished one up, and he said, ‘You just can’t beat these Superman comics. How’d yours turn out?’ ” Brown remembers.

Williams, whose Braves got a Spring Training batting tutorial from Mickey Mantle and Berra, who was managing the Yankees by then: One of Williams’ teammates asked Berra how to recognize a fastball from a curveball at the pitcher’s point of release. “A curveball is a fastball with a curve on it,” Berra instructed.

It’s perhaps fitting that Brown, 90, and Williams, 65, will receive the National College Baseball Hall of Fame’s first George H.W. Bush Distinguished Alumni awards on Aug. 29 at the Renaissance Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth. President Bush was the award’s inaugural recipient last year; he played for Yale from 1946 to 1948. To be eligible, an individual must have earned a varsity letter in intercollegiate baseball competition.

“For us to share this award is a big deal,” Williams said.

Brown, who grew up in New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area, played for three universities in three years during World War II. He entered Stanford in 1942 and starred as a freshman infielder for the 1943 ballclub. While at Stanford, he enlisted in the Navy in 1943. In the summer of 1943, he was assigned to a naval unit at UCLA and given five semesters to finish his pre-med courses. Brown was at UCLA for one year, where he played baseball for the Bruins.

In December 1944, Brown was assigned to Tulane Medical School. He played the 1945 season for the university. The Green Wave won 21 of 27 games, including 12 in a row, and Brown batted .444.

The team’s coach was initially skeptical of having a medical student on the team, concerned about Brown’s time. But he gave in after watching Brown field grounders and slash line drives during a workout.

In January 1946, Brown signed a professional contract with the Yankees for a $52,000 bonus over three years, initially playing late that summer for the team, which was already out of the playoff hunt. In the fall of 1947, while in his clinical year at medical school, he arrived to play for the Yankees in the fall during the team’s run to the World Series.

“I did the pinch hitting in the Series,” he recalls. “They couldn’t get me out.”

Brown had the go-ahead hit in Game 7 of the 1947 Series. Afterwards, Larry MacPhail, the Yankees co-owner, told Brown, “If you never get another hit, you’ve earned your money.”

Brown played eight seasons and in four World Series for the Yankees, batting .439 and becoming known as a great clutch hitter while playing alongside Yankee greats like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. After he left baseball, Brown eventually moved to Fort Worth and built a cardiology practice over more than two decades. He retired in 1984 and became president of Major League Baseball’s American League for 10 years.

“I owe everything to Tulane,” he says.

Williams, who grew up in Fort Worth, signed with the TCU Horned Frogs in 1967 after graduating from Arlington Heights High School.

A First Team All-Southwest Conference outfielder in 1969, he led the Horned Frogs in batting average and stolen bases. His batting average in conference games was .396, second in the conference batting race.

In each of his four years, the Horned Frogs finished with a winning record both overall and in Southwest Conference play. In both 1968 and 69, his teams finished 2nd in the Southwest Conference.

He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 25th round following the 1971 season and played three years in the Braves minor league system, where injuries short-circuited his career. He returned to TCU as an assistant coach and served a year as head coach in 1976 before deciding to enter his family’s business. He and his father owned the San Antonio Brewers minor league baseball team, and Williams subsequently moved into the auto business with his father.

Williams later became Texas Secretary of State and was elected to Congress in 2013, serving the sprawling 25th Congressional District that extends from Burleson to San Marcos.

Williams has built a museum on his family’s 127-acre ranch in Willow Park, dedicated to memorializing family, business, sports and political interests. The collection, managed by a full-time curator, starts with letters dating to 1888 and includes extensive baseball memorabilia.

In Congress Williams founded and chairs a bipartisan baseball caucus that holds periodic social gatherings with baseball players and encourages members of both parties to show up.

And they come.

“Everybody’s got a baseball story,” says Williams, who formed the caucus in search of a way to get around Washington’s normal rancor. “They bring baseballs, and they get autographs. We just talk about baseball.”