It was a war letter home from Korea, but there was a nugget in there that still makes Eddie Robinson laugh. His old Yankees teammate, Bobby Brown, a left-handed-hitting infielder with a sweet swing, was serving in the Army Medical Corps and wrote to another member of the club -- Robinson can’t remember which one -- and that player read the letter aloud to the entire team.
When he got to one part, the entire room howled.
“He said he had a test tube over there that was big enough to put [Casey] Stengel’s head in,” Robinson says, chuckling. “He said we could examine it. Everyone broke up over that. Even Casey laughed.
“Bobby was a terrific teammate. All the guys loved him.”
That letter is perhaps an apt snapshot of the amazing Bobby Brown -- ballplayer, doctor and a man of good humor with a twinkle in his eye.
“It really was amazing, all that he did,” says the 100-year-old Robinson, who, up until the COVID-19 pandemic, enjoyed dinner with his friend once a month in Fort Worth, Texas, where they both lived. “He was an outstanding person.”
Brown, who died in March at age 96, was a World Series star who went to medical school while playing for the Yankees and later became a renowned cardiologist and then the president of the American League. He was a husband and father to three kids -- daughters Kaydee Bailey and Beverley Dale and a son, Dr. Pete Brown. He was also an old-school gentleman who wrote thank-you notes for everything on his own stationery and had a long-lasting effect on people who met and worked with him.
“I wish he had written a book,” says Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox owner who knew Brown dating back to Brown’s days as AL president. “I talked to him about it, but he just didn’t want to do it. He didn’t have the ego required to write a book. Someone should’ve written a book about him.”
Brown attended the same high school as his future teammate Joe DiMaggio and DiMaggio’s brothers, Dom and Vince. Years later, he eulogized Joe at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Brown was Yogi Berra’s road roommate, a remarkable tennis player and a terrific storyteller who charmed everyone from teammates and patients to, of course, Sara, his beloved wife of six decades, who many in baseball say was just as delightful as her husband.
It was to Sara that he delivered maybe his greatest line, a mic-drop quip that anyone would have been proud to author. The homecoming queen at Tulane, Sara French asked Brown what she should tell her parents about the man courting her. “Tell your mother that I’m in medical school studying to be a cardiologist,” he replied. “Tell your dad that I play third base for the Yankees.”
Brown was a Yankee from 1946-52 and '54, spending his entire career in pinstripes. He lost baseball time to military service and usually missed spring training during his first few years since he was still in med school.
Still, he was an important part of Stengel’s platoon system. In 548 career games, Brown batted .279 with a .367 on-base percentage. He drew 214 walks and struck out only 88 times.
“He was a very good ballplayer, a better hitter than he was a fielder,” Robinson recalls. “He was particularly good in the postseason. I think he was an average fielder and if you’re in the big leagues, that means you’re pretty good. There were only 16 teams when we played.”
Brown was at his best in the cauldron of October, going 18-for-41 (.439) for four World Series champs -- 1947, 1949, 1950 and 1951. His batting average is the highest in MLB postseason history, and he shares records for triples in a World Series of six or fewer games (two in 1949) and most pinch-hits (three in 1947). He had several huge Fall Classic hits, including a pinch-hit double in Game 7 of the 1947 World Series that drove in the tying run.
Brown had stories galore from his playing days. In the minors, he lost the 1946 International League batting title to Jackie Robinson, who outhit him, .349 to .341. His wedding to Sara was delayed a few days in October of 1951 because rain threatened the World Series.
DiMaggio, Brown said, was the best player he ever saw. His highest salary from his playing days was $19,500. He marveled at Stengel’s machinations -- the manager wrote out multiple lineup cards before games, putting the pitcher ninth and DiMaggio fourth on all of them and then shuffling players up and down the order.
Brown and Berra had their MLB debuts on the same day, in the first game of a Sept. 22, 1946, doubleheader. Berra, the future Hall of Famer, batted eighth and went 2-for-4 with a homer. Brown, the phenom infielder, hit third and was 1-for-2 in a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia A’s.
Brown and Berra often roomed together on the road, which led to this famous story: The two were reading before lights out, Berra nose-deep in a comic book while Brown was poring over a pathology textbook, preparing for his future life as a cardiologist. Before going to sleep, Berra asked Brown, “How’d yours turn out?”
Even with his success on the field, Brown was always drawn toward medicine. In various interviews over the years, though, he admitted to wondering, “What if?” about baseball. Tom Grieve -- who played for the Texas Rangers in 1974 when Brown had a brief stint as interim club president and was the Rangers’ general manager when Brown was AL president -- recalls Brown being asked if he thought about what his baseball career might have been had he not become a doctor. “I think about it every day,” Grieve says Brown replied. But then, Grieve adds, Brown talked about how important it was to him to be a doctor.
Brown, who had enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served stateside during World War II, was called up by the Army Medical Corps during the 1952 season and spent 19 months overseas. He played 28 games for the Yankees in May and June of 1954 before retiring from baseball to begin his medical residency.
“I think he loved being a player, and it was just a wonderful opportunity,” says Bailey, his daughter. “He always had his eyes set on becoming a doctor and knew that’s what he needed to get to. He loved the friendships, and he had great stories.
“The Korean War interrupted baseball at the end, but he was glad to serve his country. When he was a cardiologist and settled in Fort Worth with a family, he didn’t dwell on baseball. But he had memorabilia he would show us in the library of our house. We knew he had played baseball -- and with some really important people. He talked more about it the older we got. Really, when we were young, he was a hard-working cardiologist. He loved being in touch with the baseball group, but he wasn’t reliving it. It was a great memory to share.”
Being a doctor gave Brown the chance to contribute to society, and he treasured that. Baseball lured him back, though, twice. In his brief time with the Rangers, the club improved from 57-105 in 1973 to 84-76 in 1974 with Brown’s old teammate, Billy Martin, managing. Brown never took any credit, instead saying that it belonged to Martin and pitcher Fergie Jenkins.
From 1984-94, Brown served as president of the AL. Robinson, who now has a podcast called “The Golden Age of Baseball with Eddie Robinson,” thought his old pal should have been commissioner.
In those days, there was a rivalry of sorts between the AL and NL. But when Bill White, the former player, became NL president in 1989, Brown reached out.
“We were supposed to be adversaries because he was with the other league, but he really took me in, talked to me about the league president’s duties,” White says. “It wasn’t AL against NL, it was two former players -- one a lot smarter than the other -- and he helped me out.”
Here’s a hint as to how Brown ran the AL office: “One thing he always said that I often say now was, ‘We can disagree without being disagreeable,’” says Phyllis Merhige, who retired from MLB as senior vice president of club relations after working in baseball for 43 years. Brown promoted her to vice president of media relations in 1992, a time when, as Merhige puts it, “There were not many women in ranking positions.” Often, Merhige says, she would walk into a press box and be the only woman there. “Everything would stop,” she says.
“I credit him, from his generation, for giving me that opportunity and being open-minded about it,” Merhige adds. “That’s pretty cool.”
They had an awkward first meeting, though, at least for Merhige. She was tasked with waiting with Brown while the final touches were being put on the announcement that he would be named AL president. Merhige was a heavy smoker at the time and was craving a Marlboro. She didn’t dare light up in front of a cardiologist, though. They waited two hours.
Merhige and Brown became great friends, and she has vivid memories of working together. Brown frequently spoke at banquets, and he kept detailed notes in case he was invited back another year: He didn’t want to spin the same yarns.
“He was a great friend of George H.W. Bush and when Bush was President, he invited the Browns to dinner at the White House,” Merhige says. Brown “was over the moon about that.
“He played tennis every day, too. He never ate lunch. He took his racquet and his bag and went to his tennis club every day.”
When there was a special occasion and the entire office celebrated, Brown usually ordered soup. “Most of us were eating steak and chicken,” Merhige recalls. “He ate the soup quickly and systematically, and I asked him about it once. It was an old habit from medical school, when he didn’t have a lot of time and had to eat in a few minutes.”
Through it all, Brown maintained ties with old teammates. DiMaggio was a frequent guest at the World Series or the All-Star Game, sitting in Brown’s suite. Merhige loved to hear Brown’s stories about knowing DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.
“He used to pull me over once in a while to meet Joe,” Merhige says. “It was a big deal to Dr. Brown. He enjoyed being one of the guys that Joe trusted.”
With his myriad accomplishments, was there one he was most proud of? Dale, his daughter, believes it’s going to medical school while playing for the Yankees.
“It was really, really hard to pull that off,” she writes in an email. “He had to go to the dean of Tulane Medical School and personally plead his case. The dean thought he was crazy and asked him why on earth he would want to do that. He explained that he would be making a good bit of money. It was probably more than what the dean was making! The dean was reluctant, but my dad begged him to please give him a chance and let him try to make it work.
“The dean relented and, with lots of hard work and burning the candle at both ends, my dad was able to achieve his goals of becoming a doctor and playing for the Yankees. He was forever grateful to Tulane.”
After he retired, Brown cherished Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium; the whole Brown family did. Brown wrote thank-you notes to everyone connected with the event, whether they made travel arrangements or set aside tickets, says Debbie Tymon, the Yankees’ senior vice president of marketing.
“Even when he got his registration packet,” Tymon says. Around the marketing office, people would exclaim, “‘I got a note from Dr. Brown!’ They were always personal and addressed what you did. Beautiful penmanship.
“I’ve saved every note he ever wrote me.”
At his last Old-Timers’ Day, in 2019, Brown sat on the dugout bench with Tymon and recalled sitting in a similar spot in the old Stadium as a player, watching those festivities.
He told Tymon: “I watched the Yankee greats be introduced. I never thought, at that point, I would ever be one of them.”
That same day, Brian Richards was assigned to accompany Brown and help walk him out to the field during Old-Timers' introductions. It turned into a moving experience for Richards, the curator of the New York Yankees Museum.
The two chatted in the dugout beforehand, and Richards asked Brown about Brown’s famous quote to his future wife: “He said, ‘Sara,’ in an almost whisper,” Richards says. “You could tell he was still in love with her.”
When Richards went to help Brown off the field after the ceremonies, he said, “You looked great out there, Bobby. Did you hear all those cheers for you?”
“His eyes were just glowing,” Richards says. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody look like that. Seventy years dropped away. You saw this look of so much pride. It was like it was 1947 all over again. It was just beautiful to behold. He held my right hand, and together we walked off the field. It was such a special moment.
“I came home, and I cried when I told my wife the story. Here was this very sweet old man who had accomplished so much in two completely different fields, and he was the best of the best in both of them.”
This story appears in the May 2021 edition of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at www.yankees.com/publications.