Buff Biographies: Willard Brown

KC's Willard Brown completes his HR trot as Grays catcher Josh Gibson looks the other way. On the record, Gibson was a big fan of Brown's power. He just didn't enjoy being on the stinger side of it..

KC’s Willard Brown completes his HR trot as Grays catcher Josh Gibson looks the other way. On the record, Gibson was a big fan of Brown’s power. He just didn’t enjoy being on the stinger side of it..

Willard Brown 03 Bob Boyd triumphantly “broke the color line” as the first black member of the Houston Buffs on May 27, 1954. Later that same year, and to much less fanfare, but to quite a bit of baseball interest, the Buffs acquired the second black player in their history. the former great slugging star of the Kansas City Monarchs and future member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the great Willard Brown. They got him in a deal with Dallas, where he had been playing out the dregs of his baseball career as a steady .300 hitting outfielder on his way to 30 plus home runs for the season.

By the time he joined the Buffs, the 39-year old Brown was no longer the svelte-bodied and speedy base runner of his youthful Negro League days, but he still held the edge of being one of the best batting eyes and power-pounding hitters in the higher class minors in 1954. In 108 game for Dallas and 36 for Houston, Willard Brown batted .314 with 36 HR and 120 RBI.

Not bad for an old man.Willard Brown arrived in time to make his own late season contribution the late 1954 Texas League championship of the Houston Buffs. He also returned to Houston for the entire 1955 season, batting .301 with 19 HR and 104 RBI.

After 1955, Willard Brown (BR/TR) (5’11”, 200-240 lb.) finished up his four season minor league career (1953-56) with four clubs, retiring after 1956 with a career minor league average of .309 with 95 HR and 405 RBI. His earlier prime years played out as an incredible H hitter and high average batter and base running fool for the Kansas City Monarchs and several clubs in the Latin winter leagues. Although records for those times (1936-51) are spotty, Brown is credited by most with having hit more home runs than the great Josh Gibson. From 1937 to 1946, Brown helped lead the Monarchs to six pennants in ten seasons

Willard Brown also got a brief stopover in the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1947, the Year of Jackie Robinson, when he and black third baseman Hank Thompson broke into the lineup together on July 20th for a game against the Boston Red Sox. It was also the first time for two black players to appear in a major league lineup together.

Hank Thompson and Willard Brown were the fist blacks to play for the St. Louis Browns on June 20, 1947. Brown would be the first black player to hit an American League home run.

Hank Thompson and Willard Brown were the fist blacks to play for the St. Louis Browns on July 20, 1947. Brown would be the first black player to hit an American League home run.

Things didn’t go well for Brown and Thompson with St. Louis. The impression is that some of the southern white boys on the Browns team didn’t exactly welcome the two new guys with open arms. Regardless, things became a little academic when Brown hit only .179 with one HR in 21 games. Brown and Thompson both left the team before season’s end. Thompson, of course, would make a later return with the New York Giants, but it was a closing door on Willard Brown’s only shot.

Willard Brown didn’t leave the St. Louis Browns with a empty hand. His solo home run, an inside-the-park job, was the first American League home run by a black ballplayer.

How good was Willard Brown? Well, he is respected as one of the great hitters in Negro League history and, in 2006, he was deemed good enough during his prime years for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame,

Willard Brown acquired the Spanish nickname, Ese Hombre (“That Man”) during his playing time in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Fortunately for Houston, Ese Hombre still had some gas left in the tank during his twilight seasons with the Buffs.

Willard Brown liked Houston enough to make it his home after his playing days were done. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana on July 26, 1915, Willard Brown died in Houston at the age of 81 on August 4, 1996.





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9 Responses to “Buff Biographies: Willard Brown”

  1. Wayne Williams Says:

    Another good article. Rrowns Forever,

  2. Dick "Lefty" O'Neal Says:

    Great article. 25 June on Real Sports with Brian Gumble, HBO, check out the feature on our National Negro League Reunion. Also check out the website for my movie, Dreaming of the Majors,www.Dreaming of the Majors.com.
    God speed
    Lefty O’Neal

  3. Mark Westion (aka Marvin Herskowitz) Says:

    I’ve heard it said…that so long as there are memories there will always be feelings. So it was when I read about and saw Willard J. Browns article and picture. It now feels like yesterday when as a St. Louis Browns pitching prospect I arrived at my locker at the Yankee stadium visiting team’s clubhouse. July of 1947! Mr. Brown was sitting on his stool in front of his locker…another wooden stool was nowhere to be found.
    Suddenly the clubhouse’s tumult stopped as everyone stared at the white visitor and the Browns new team member. Mr. Brown rose and pleaded with me to take his stool. No matter how I insisted I’ll make do without one…he finally moved the stool before my locker…and
    the room became noisy again. To this day I wish it hadn’t happened.
    How I wish Mr. Brown took on the attitude of another black newly arrived Brownie…who I feel would never had surrendered
    the stool…and thus enjoyed a long major league baseball career.
    His name? Hank Thompson! ..but now that I am in middle of my 82nd year…The incident has and always will be a memorable part of my life.
    Mark Weston (aka Marvin Herskowitz) Playwrite13@aol.com

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Sorry, but there is no record at Baseball Reference (dot) Com of a Mark Weston/Westion (aka Marvin Herskowitz) ever playing for any major or minor league professional baseball club.

      • Mark Westion (aka Marvin Herskowitz) Says:

        Bill how I wish…you’re correct I never did play professional ball.
        Eventually my arm (right) was disabled during the Korean war
        for of all things occurred while pitching a game in frigid weather
        in March of ’51. In ‘522 on my return to the states…Earl Brucker who was once pitching coach of the A’s asked me to visit the Polo Grounds to work out with the Reds. By then my arm was shot…
        The Reds manager Rogers Hornsby fungoed to me in the outfield before the game. Whenever I threw the ball to where he and a pitching coach I bleieve it was Bucky Walters… stood at 3rd base…my arm would lock and the ball would curve on itw way to the coach..who kept running up the third base line to catch the ball.
        So…that’s it. But I have scouted for the Saint Louis Cardinals under
        George Silvey Jr. and The Browns with minor league head James M. McLaughlin. A bright moment occurred when Tud McGraw became my best man at my wedding. P. S. I don’t recall ever
        stating that I played in the majors or minors. Again…how I wish.
        Bless. MW MH

      • Mark Westion (aka Marvin Herskowitz) Says:

        His name was Tug not Tud…the word is believe.

  4. Bill McCurdy Says:

    Thanks for the follow up clarification, Mark. You don’t have to play professional ball to have the passion for the game that you obviously possess and I want to thank you for sharing your heart and soul …. and ancient wishes …. with all of us here.

    You are also right. – You never stated that you played in the majors or minors, but you did say that “It now feels like yesterday when as a St. Louis Browns pitching prospect I arrived at my locker at the Yankee stadium visiting team’s clubhouse.” – That statement was enough in itself to create the impression that you had some kind of pro career behind you that day. Very few prospects find a locker waiting for them at Yankee Stadium without some kind of prior professional experience.

    Don’t worry about it. Just keep moving. And keep the dream and fond memories alive.

    Regards, Bill McCurdy

    • PlayWrite13@aol.com Says:

      the locker was placed next to the glazed windows…furthest away from the door as possible. I do recall seeing Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig’s lockers across from the one I had…with their uniforms still there. Next stop I’m sure was Cooperstown. Oh, to be 16 and 1/2 again. 🙂 By the by I wonder if you saw the Ken Burns special about baseball on PBS two years ago? If you had then you may have noticed I was interviewed that related how in a way I was responsible for the Cardinals winning the crucial fourth game in the World Series against the Yankees. You’re right baseball has and always will be a passion with me. Even if it no longer resembles the sport I once knew. Have a great day! Mark

  5. nickstickball Says:

    Saw willard brown play for dallas and houston against beaumont in the fifties. I remember him as a big thumper.

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