Brown in 1966
|Born: May 2, 1939|
|Died: September 27, 2013 (aged 74)|
|June 19, 1963, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 26, 1975, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Runs batted in||322|
|Career highlights and awards|
William James "Gates" Brown (May 2, 1939 - September 27, 2013) was an American Major League Baseball left fielder who spent his entire career with the Detroit Tigers (1963-1975). He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.
Born in Crestline, Ohio, he served time at the Ohio State Reformatory for burglary from 1958 to 1959. He was encouraged by a prison guard who also coached the reformatory's baseball team to join the squad as a catcher. The coach contacted several major-league teams after being impressed by Brown's batting ability. Tigers scouts Frank Skaff and Pat Mullin convinced their ballclub to help Brown get paroled a year early and sign him for US $7,000. He chose to join the Tigers despite interest from other teams such as the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. He explained, "The primary reasons I signed with Detroit is because they didn't have any black players and eventually I figured they would, plus, I had been told about the short right porch at Tiger Stadium."
On June 19, 1963, coming off the bench, Brown became the 11th American League batter to hit a home run in his first at bat. A popular figure among Tigers fans, Brown may not have had the defensive skills to make the everyday lineup but he has been considered one of the premier pinch hitters in MLB history. Brown divided his major league career as an outfielder, first baseman, pinch hitter and designated hitter, all with the Detroit Tigers. He is best remembered for his contribution to the 1968 World Series championship. In his pinch hit at bats in the 1968 season, Brown hit for a .450 batting average, the eighth-highest single season batting average for a pinch hitter (minimum 30 at bats) in major league history.
Brown holds the American League record for the most pinch-hit at bats in a career, with 414. In his career, Brown collected 107 pinch hits including 16 pinch homers - both are also American League career records - and also twice led the AL in pinch hits (1968 and 1974). His most productive season came in 1964, when he posted career-highs in home runs (15), RBIs (54), runs (65), hits (116), doubles (22), triples (6), stolen bases (11) and at bats (426) in 123 games.
While 1968 was called the Year of the Pitcher, overall batting being only .230 for the year, the potent Tigers attack scored 671 runs. 1968 was the batting high-water mark for Gates Brown who, with remarkable regularity, came off the bench with clutch hits to spark dramatic ninth inning comeback victories. Brown's timely hitting was crucial in sealing the Tigers' trip to the World Series. Starting in only 17 games that season, Brown appeared in 49 more as a pinch hitter, achieving a torrid .370 batting average (34 for 92) with a .442 on-base percentage and a .685 slugging average.
On August 7, 1968, Brown wasn't in the starting lineup, and decided to grab two hot dogs from the clubhouse. He was ordered by manager Mayo Smith to pinch hit. He notoriously stuffed the hot dogs in his jersey to hide them from his manager. "I always wanted to get a hit every time I went to the plate. But this was one time I didn't want to get a hit. I'll be damned if I didn't smack one in the gap and I had to slide into second--head first, no less. I was safe with a double. But when I stood up, I had mustard and ketchup and smashed hot dogs and buns all over me. The fielders took one look at me, turned their backs and damned near busted a gut laughing at me. My teammates in the dugout went crazy." After fining Brown $100, Smith said, "What the hell were you doing eating on the bench in the first place?" Brown replied, "I decided to tell him the truth. I said, 'I was hungry. Besides, where else can you eat a hot dog and have the best seat in the house'"
From 1971 to 1973 Brown hit 33 home runs with 110 RBIs in 571 at-bats, including a .338 average in 1971 (66 for 195). He retired at the end of the 1975 season.
In 1978, Brown returned to the Tigers as their hitting coach, a position he would hold through the championship season of 1984, before giving way to Vada Pinson.