Raymond Brown: Underrated Cooperstown Hall of Famer and Caribbean Legend (part 1)

Raymond Brown

Larry Lester, via an August 23, 2020 text message to the author, noted: “Ray Brown was underrated.” Why was this the case? Raymond Brown had a successful career in the Negro Leagues (1931-1945); pitched brilliantly in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico; managed in Mexico and Canada; was a real pro. Per Brown’s SABR bio by Chris Rainey, fellow pitcher and Cooperstown Hall of Famer Hilton Smith—one of Brown’s contemporaries—ranked Brown  at Satchel Paige and Bob Feller’s level. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/raymond-brown/  Ray Brown, in Puerto Rico, beat the 1936 Cincinnati Reds with his hitting, and the 1947 New York Yankees with his pitching, but we will start with Brown’s 15 years in the Negro Leagues.

Homestead Grays, Detroit Wolves, Kansas City Monarchs and Indianapolis ABCs

The 6’1,” 195-pound Brown, a switch-hitter, had a strong enough right arm to play right field (RF). Born February 23, 1908 in Alger (near McDonough Township), Ohio, he was 23 when he pitched for the 1931 Indianapolis ABCs (7-6 W-L) and Kansas City Monarchs: three games, no decisions. (The 1931 Monarchs played the Homestead Grays in a World Series, won by the Grays, five games to four.) The ABCs were managed by Candy Jim Taylor. They featured Hooks Mitchell, Ray Brown and Alto Lane on the mound. Jimmie Crutchfield, their center fielder (CF), was also (1938-39) Brown’s teammate with the San Juan Senators, Puerto Rico Semi-Pro League, and San Juan’s first CF. “Ray did it all—pitch effectively, hit, play defense…” stated Crutchfield (to the author). “Ray Brown and I were teammates with the Indianapolis ABCs, so I knew him real well by the time we played with San Juan. He was a winner.”

After a brief stint with the 1932 Detroit Wolves,  a club with Cool Papa Bell, Willie Wells, Mule Suttles, Quincey Trouppe and Judy Johnson, Brown joined the Homestead Grays that same season, and remained with them through 1945. Perhaps Ray Brown was overshadowed by Satchel Paige, Pittsburgh Crawfords ace, 1932-35; LHP Slim Jones, Philadelphia Stars, who had a publicized 1934 rivalry with Paige; Leroy Matlock, Big Bill Foster, among other hurlers?

Ray Brown proved his effectiveness, going 118-40, a .747 PCT, with the Grays, 1932-1945, per http://www.seamheads.com/NegroLgs/player.php?playerID=brown01ray. Table I follows.

Table I: Raymond Brown’s Regular Season Career, Negro Leagues (1931-1945)

Brown pitched 20 SHO, including 18 with Homestead; one each with the ABC’s and Detroit. Per Larry Lester, Brown pitched in two East-West All-Star games: August 11, 1935 and August 18, 1940. In seven total innings, he allowed eight hits; fanned four; walked none; with a 2.57 ERA, 1.1429 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) and two no-decisions. He completed 145 games, 89 percent of 163 regular season league starts! He was 92-24, .793 PCT, for the Grays, 1937-to-1945, going 14-0 in 1938 (age 30); 16-2 in 1940; 12-1 in 1944. He was one of the best Negro Leagues hurlers. The Pittsburgh Courier alerted the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1938 that Ray Brown, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Buck Leonard were five players who could [immediately] help a big-league club.

World Series Competition: Grays versus 1942 KC Monarchs, 1943-44 Birmingham Black Barons and 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes

Satchel Paige and Willard Brown were two of the best players with the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs; Josh Gibson and Ray Brown were Grays stalwarts. Kansas City bested the Washington Homestead Grays, four games-to-one, in the 1942 Negro Leagues World Series. Paige pitched in at least four of these five contests with a 1-1 mark, 3.23 total runs allowed (TRA) and a dramatic [Game Two] strikeout of Josh Gibson. Ray Brown was 0-1, 9.00 TRA, but got four hits in 10 AB, for a .400 AVG, best for Grays players, with 10+ AB, in this series. Willard Brown (.412 AVG, seven-for-17) was one of four Monarchs with a .400 + AVG. (Barney “Bonnie” Serrell, .556; Jesse Williams, .471, and Joe Greene, .444, were the others, per John Holway.) Leon Day won the only game for the Grays (Game Four) after he signed a special contract. (Day was a Newark Eagles star who got to pitch in that World Series for the Grays.)

The 1943 and 1944 Washington Homestead Grays defeated the Birmingham Black Barons in back-to-back World Series. In 1943, the Grays—managed by Vic Harris—showcased five Cooperstown Hall of Famers: Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Jud Wilson, Cool Papa Bell and Ray Brown—8-1 record in nine starts and eight relief appearances. His no-decisions were in Games One and Five, 1943 World Series, with Roy Partlow taking the loss for the Grays. Brown won Game Three, in Washington, D.C., September 24, 1943, after relieving Partlow, following a 5-5 tie in Game Two, played in Baltimore. Cool Papa Bell’s walk-off single won it, 4-3. Then, on the road in Montgomery, Alabama, Brown won the decisive contest (Game Eight), October 5, with three plus scoreless relief innings, after Johnny Wright gave up four runs. Sammy Bankhead’s RBI single in the top of the eighth plated the winning run.

In 1944, Brown was reunited with new Grays manager, Candy Jim Taylor, his 1931 ABCs skipper. Prior to the 1944 World Series, five Black Barons were badly hurt in an auto accident, including Artie Wilson, and could not participate. Brown won Game Three at Birmingham, 9-0. Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe got the only hit off Brown, who went two-for-five (.400) at the plate. Josh Gibson (eight-for-16, .500 AVG), Sammy Bankhead (seven-for-18, .389 AVG), and Buck Leonard (seven-for-18, .389 AVG) paced the Grays, winners, four games-to-one.

The 1945 Homestead Grays won their ninth straight East (Negro National League) pennant. Per John Holway, they were 20-2 at home, 32-13 overall (.711 PCT). Out West, Cleveland Buckeyes (53-16, .768 PCT) had player-manager Quincy Trouppe catching; Parnell Woods at 3B; Sam “Jet” Jethroe in CF, flanked by Buddy Armour and Ducky Davenport. The 1945 Grays were “ancient” with Jud Wilson (age 46), Cool Papa Bell (40), Buck Leonard (38), Ray Brown (37), Sammy Bankhead (35) and Josh Gibson (34). Cleveland swept the Grays, four straight. Brown started/lost Game Four, 5-0, his final Grays contest, September 18, 1945, in Philadelphia.

Spring Training Success in Puerto Rico versus 1936 Cincinnati Reds

The 1936 Cincinnati Reds did part of their spring training at Sixto Escobar Stadium, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Ray Brown and other Negro Leaguers had barnstormed in Puerto Rico, since the prior (1935) Fall. The Brooklyn Eagles had Ray Brown in RF, batting fourth, versus Cincinnati. Brooklyn won three of their four games, thanks to the pitching of Martín Dihigo (March 5, 1936) and Rodolfo Fernández (Game Two, March 5, 1936); and the hitting of Ray Brown on March 9, 1936. In the home first, on March 9, LF Vic Harris singled. Tetelo Vargas, playing SS, also singled. After 1B Buck Leonard was retired, Ray Brown “knocked a triple to CF, bringing home Harris and Tetelo,” per William F. McNeil’s book Black Baseball Out of Season. In the home third, RF Ed Stone drove in Tetelo with a hit. Ray Brown scored the team’s fourth run on a Reds miscue. Hiram Bithorn, Puerto Rico’s first major-leaguer with the 1942 Chicago Cubs, pitched well until the eighth, when the Reds scored three times, to tie it, 4-4. But Dick Seay, the eighth-place hitter for the Brooklyn Eagles, scored the game-winner in the home ninth, for a 5-4 win. The Eagles had Ray Dandridge at 3B, hitting sixth, and catcher Frank Duncan, batting seventh.

Three Splendid Cuban Winter League Seasons (1936-39)

Raymond Brown with Almendares

His pitching in the Caribbean in the 1930s and 1940s cemented Brown’s legacy as an all-time great. He went 21-4, .840 PCT, for the 1936-37 Santa Clara Leopards, who tied the Marianao Tigers, at 36-30. Almendares (31-35) and Havana (29-37) were third and fourth, respectively. Mariano won a best-of-three playoff to finish 38-31, one game ahead of 37-32 Santa Clara. Brown no-hit the Havana Lions (aka Reds), November 7, 1936, allowing three hits. On December 16, 1936, he pitched 20 innings against Havana, losing an 11-inning duel, 1-0, versus Luis Tiant Sr., and completing Game Two of the twin-bill: a 2-0 win, allowing five hits. In the best-of-three series against Marianao, Brown bested Dihigo, 6-1, Game One; lost to him, 7-3, in Game Three. Marianao took Game Two behind Silvio García. Brown was 21-4 after he went 1-1 in the best-of-three series, included in the regular season. In 1903, Carlos “Bebé” Royer was 18-10 for Havana followed by a 3-2 record in a best-of-five playoff series versus Fe, 21-12 overall.

Brown’s 21 single-season Winter League wins in Cuba remain a record, even if Caribbean historians call it a tie with Boyer’s 21 total wins for Havana in 1903. Satchel Paige had 21 combined wins with the 1939-40 Guayama Brujos (Witches), but he was 19-3 in Puerto Rico’s Semi-Pro League regular season, followed by a 2-0 record versus San Juan in the league finals. Coincidentally, Bill “Thou Shall Not Steal” Perkins caught Brown in Cuba (1936-37) and Paige (1939-40) in Puerto Rico. Brown and Paige combined for 40 regular season wins these two winter seasons. Circling back to Brown, 1937-38 and 1938-39, he was 12-5 (1937-38) and 11-7 (1938-39), for Santa Clara, league champs. The Leopards were 44-18 in 1937-38, and 34-20, in 1938-39. Brown hit four HR in 86 AB, 1937-38, with 14 RBIs. In 1938-39, he had a .230 AVG with one HR and 23 RBIs. In 1936-37, he drove in 27, with one HR and a .311 AVG. His .266 AVG (94-for-353) was against good competition. He was called “Jabao” due to his light complexion. Brown won a October 1938 pre-season game in Cuba, with the Homestead Grays, 2-1. Josh Gibson, his 1938-39 Santa Clara teammate, caught Brown in a special series versus a Cuban All-Star Team, who won four of the six games. Barney and Ray Brown each one contest.

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