Tommy Brown’s Place in Baseball History

On June 5, 1955, Birmingham trounced Nashville 11-8 in what was supposed to have been the first game of a double header. A torrent of rain made it impossible to play the second game. But most of the 3,555 fans at Sulphur Dell were able to witness the Nashville debut of former major leaguer Tommy Brown, recently acquired from Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League.[1]

Brown’s flight from the west coast was delayed for seven hours due to weather conditions at the Ft. Worth airport. Arriving in Nashville at 6:30 AM that Monday morning, and with only a few hours of sleep, the 6’1”, 170-pound third baseman, hit two singles, scored twice, was hit by a pitch, and walked once. In five fielding chances he was perfect, and started three double plays.

His success story had begun 10 years earlier, while World War II was going on. At the age of 16 years and seven months old, on August 3, 1944, he started the first game of a double header for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field against the Chicago Cubs, becoming the youngest position player to appear in a major league game, and the second youngest ever behind pitcher Joe Nuxhall who had first appeared in a game earlier in the season.[2]

Known as “Buckshot”, a name given to him by Dodgers manager Leo Durocher because of his erratic throwing, Brown’s first hit was a double off Chicago left hander Bob Chipman in the seventh inning of the Cubs win, 6-2.

The next season, on August 20, 1945, in front of 6,332 paid fans and 1,046 servicemen at Ebbets Field, he became the youngest player to hit a home run in the majors when he clubbed one off Preacher Roe in the seventh inning. It was the Dodgers’ lone run as Pittsburgh won, 11-1.[3]

Five days later, he had his second career homer. Facing New York Giants left hander Adrian Zabala in the seventh inning of the first game of two, Brown popped one over the Ebbets Field outfield wall, making him the second-youngest major league player to have a round-tripper.[4]

His historic story began a few years before, when at 15 years old he attended a Brooklyn tryout camp in his home town (he was born there on December 6, 1927). Impressing the club with his abilities, the Dodgers invited him to spring training in Bear Mountain, New York, where he was signed to a free agent contract.[5]

Settling in at Newport News (Piedmont League – Class B) where his teammates included Clem Labine and Duke Snider, he played in 91 games and hit .297. Not wanting to answer the call up to Brooklyn because he felt he was hitting so well in the minors, Brown relented and started at shortstop the day he arrived in Brooklyn against the Chicago Cubs on August 3, 1944, his major league debut.

After hitting into a fielder’s choice and pop-up in foul territory in his first two plate appearances, Tommy hit a double for his first major league hit. Although the Dodgers lost to the Cubs, 6-2, it began his career as a capable player even at such a young age.

He was 16 years and seven months old.

In seven seasons he never appeared in more than 57 games for Brooklyn, mostly as a utility player and pinch hitter. He was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on June 8, 1951 for outfielder Dick Whitman. Unable to break into the starting lineup, he was purchased by the Chicago Cubs on June 15, 1952, and given a chance to become the Cubs regular shortstop. When the 1953 season ended, Tommy’s major league career ended at the age of 25. But he was not finished playing professional baseball.

Before being acquired by Nashville, Brown had batted .263 in 152 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 1953, and with the help of Cincinnati Reds general manager Gabe Paul Brown was purchased outright by Nashville from the west coast club after appearing in 24 games.

For the next three years, he was a dependable third baseman for Nashville. During the 1955 season in which he hit for a .299 batting average, his play continued to improve. But his best minor league season was just around the corner.

In 1956, Tommy gets at least one hit in the first 12 games to open the season before his streak is halted on April 22. On May 25 against Birmingham at Sulphur Dell, he entered the game having reached base either with a walk or hit in 16 straight appearances. When he walked four times in his first four times at bat, it extended his streak to 20 games.

But in the eighth inning he lofted a soft fly ball that was caught in left field, and his streak was over. Had he gotten a hit, it would have been his twelfth straight in 12 official plate appearances, which would have tied Pete Thomassie’s Southern Association record.[6]

Leading the league in batting by mid-season, he was a unanimous selection to the league’s All-star team but was purchased by the Reds on July 15 and was on his way to Cincinnati. Still suffering from an injury sustained while landing on his shoulder in a play in Atlanta a few weeks before, Tommy was unable to lift his arm over his head and the Reds sent him back to Nashville to finish the season.[7]

On August 5, Nashville turned its first triple play of the season with Brown starting things off.  In the fourth inning against the Chicks in Memphis with the bases full, he scooped up Jim Landis’ low liner and threw to catcher Frank Baldwin for a force out.  Baldwin’s return throw to Brown forced an out at third, and Brown’s toss to second retired a third Chicks runner.

At season’s end, he had a .316 batting average, hit 10 home runs, and had 85 RBI in 128 games while playing third base. In 1957, his average dropped to .256, and after 39 games with Nashville he was sent to the Chattanooga Lookouts.

His final season was in 1958, as he split the year between Chattanooga and New Orleans Pelicans, when he retired at the age of 31. Keeping his residence in Nashville, he spent the next 35 years working at the Ford Glass plant before moving to Florida, where he now lives.

His 1956 season in Nashville was a special one, but his claim as the youngest major leaguer to hit a home run will always be the special accolade he will hang his hat on.

Sources

Baseball-almanac.com

Baseball-reference.com

Newspapers.com

Retro-sheet.org

Sabr.org

Notes

[1] F. M. Williams, “Barons Crunch Vols, 11 to 8,” Nashville Tennessean, June 6, 1955, 14.

[2] C. Paul Rogers III, “Tommy Brown,” Sabr.org Bio Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/7913ae6c, accessed August 18, 2018.

[3] Harold C. Burr, “Flock Crackup Weakens Grip on 3d Place,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 21, 1945, 11.

[4] “Home Run Records by Age,” Baseball Almanac, http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/rb_hr6.shtml, accessed August 20, 2018.

[5] Rogers.

[6] “Brown Out On 21st AB,” Nashville Tennessean, May 26, 1956, 11.

[7] Rogers.

© 2018 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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