NEW YORK — At the very first Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium, on the final day of the 1947 season, 22-year-old rookie Bobby Brown watched wide-eyed from the dugout.
Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were on the field. Joe DiMaggio wasn’t a face on a ballpark monument then — he was a teammate.
All of a sudden, the festivities took a dark turn. Hall of Famer Home Run Baker tried to beat out a bunt and collapsed near first base.
Brown was the only one in the surrounding area with any medical training. Quickly summoned to tend to the 61-year-old Baker, Brown rushed out and dispensed his best advice.
“I told him, `Get up, get up!”‘ Brown recalled a few years ago. “I guess it worked.”
Worked out pretty well, too, for Brown, one of baseball’s most distinguished major leaguers on and off the field.
Five-time champion with the New York Yankees. Highest World Series batting average of anyone with at least 35 plate appearances. Veteran of World War II and the Korean War. Prominent cardiologist. American League president.
Brown died at 96 on Thursday in Fort Worth, Texas, the Yankees said. They said he was last remaining person to play for the team in the 1940s.
“Few people who have worn the pinstripes have lived such an accomplished, fulfilled, and wide-ranging life as Dr. Brown, who was beloved by our organization for his warmth, kindness and character,” Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement.
Brown made his big league debut on Sept. 22, 1946, the same day roommate Yogi Berra played his first game.
Often used as a platoon third baseman, Brown was with the Yankees through 1954 and batted .279 with 22 home runs and 237 RBIs. Known as a terrific contact hitter, Brown struck out just 88 times in 1,863 plate appearances.
In the World Series, Brown became a Bronx bruiser.
Just two days after that Old-Timers’ Day episode in 1947, Brown made his debut in the Fall Classic as a pinch-hitter, drawing a bases-loaded walk against Brooklyn. Brown went 3 for 3 in that matchup, including a big, pinch-hit RBI double in a Game 7 win.
Brown hit .439 (18 for 41) with five doubles, three triples and nine RBIs in 17 World Series games, with a .500 on-base percentage.
Born on Oct. 25, 1924, in Seattle, Brown went to the same San Francisco high school as DiMaggio. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served stateside, and signed with the Yankees in 1946.
Brown continued his military service when he was called up by the Army medical corps in the middle of the 1952 season – when New York won another crown – and was overseas during the Korean War for 19 months. He played in 28 games for the Yankees in May and June 1954 before retiring from baseball.
After his playing days, Brown became a longtime practicing cardiologist in Fort Worth. In 1974, he served as president of the Texas Rangers for part of the season.
“Dr. Brown was not only a great baseball player, but a great gentleman and a great patriot. We were fortunate to know him, to work with him, and to call him our friend,” said former President George W. Bush, who once owned the Rangers.
Brown was president of the American League from 1984-94, when he also was on the board of directors for the Hall of Fame.
Commissioner Rob Manfred called him a “proud Yankee” and “quiet star.”
“Dr. Bobby Brown led an extraordinary life, which included great accomplishments on the baseball field and as a leader and executive in our game,” he said in a statement.
Former commissioner Bud Selig praised Brown’s “extraordinary baseball life, both on and off the field,” adding, “he was of great help to me both during my years as a club owner and then as baseball commissioner.”
“Obviously a sad day and a kind of giant in our sport. Did a lot of different, special things in our game,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Brown, who played at Tulane and graduated from its medical school, continued to motivate in all fields in recent times. He spoke last year with Mark Hamilton, a former Tulane star who went on to play for the St. Louis Cardinals and graduated from medical school this past spring.
“Dr. Brown was my childhood inspiration to play Major League Baseball and then enter medicine; the example that my dad provided to show me the two were not mutually exclusive.” Hamilton said in an email to The Associated Press.
Brown is survived by his son, Dr. Pete Brown, daughters, Beverley Dale and Kaydee Bailey, 11 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. Brown’s wife of more than 60 years, Sara, died in 2012.
The Browns made a striking couple for decades. During his final Old-Timers’ Day visit in 2019, Brown recalled their dating days and remembered giving his future wife advice on how she should describe him to her parents.
“Tell your mother that I’m in medical school, studying to be a cardiologist,” he said. “Tell your dad that I play third base for the Yankees.”