Negro League team: Kansas City Monarchs,1935-1943;1946-1951
Major League team: St. Louis Browns, 1947
Of all the great Negro League sluggers, Willard Brown (1915-1996) is one of the least remembered. Part of that could be due to his attitude. Despite superior talent, he was described by one Negro League historian as "stubborn and very relaxed." But his nickname was "Home Run," and the person who dubbed him that was Josh Gibson.
Brown signed to play ball with the Monroe (Louisiana) Monarchs in 1934 for $10 a week. But his abilities were quickly identified by Kansas City Monarchs owner J.L. Wilkinson, who stunned the youngster with a $250 bonus, $125 monthly pay, and a dollar a day for meal money.
Brown was simply one of the best players on the incredible Monarchs team, helping them win six pennants from 1937 to 1946. Before his career ended, he had played in eight East-West All-Star Games. He was considered one of the fastest players in the game.
His batting style was less than disciplined, but highly effective. In addition to easily topping .300 every year, he led the league in homers eight times and in RBI once. But a modern-day batting coach would get instant headaches over a batter who swung at balls that bounced in front of the plate-even if he once did hit one of those out of the park.
The signing of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers opened the doors for talented players such as Brown to reach the white major leagues. St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck signed both Brown and Hank Thompson for his team. But because Brown was considered a "can't miss" prospect, he was brought straight to the majors, without an adjustment period in the minor leagues. It didn't work out.
Although he became the first African-American to homer in an American League game (an inside-the-park shot off Hal Newhouser), Brown was cut after 21 games and never made it back to the bigs.
If Brown was frustrated by the experience, he found a perfect way to show it. Playing for Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League that year, he was unstoppable, taking the Triple Crown with a .432 average, 27 homers, and 86 RBI-in just 60 games.
Back with the Monarchs in 1948, he hit .374. He then powered 18 homers for Santurce that winter. In 1949, he batted .371 for the Monarchs and led the league with 83 RBI. He kept on rolling back in Puerto Rico, winning his second Triple Crown and third batting title in four years, driving in 97 runs in just 331 at bats. The Puerto Ricans gave him a new nickname: "Ese Hombre" ("That Man").
Brown finished his career with five seasons in the minor leagues, including a 35-homer campaign in the Texas League in 1954. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Special Committee on Negro Leagues in 2006.
Here are Willard Brown's Negro League Statistics*:
|BA||G ||AB ||H ||2B ||3B ||HR ||SB |
*Note: Brown's career statistics are incomplete.
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