--Buck O'Neil, Monarchs first baseman
Leaguer of the Month
"Home Run" Brown
Willard Brown was on the short list of players who were mentioned as "can't miss" prospects at the time when Jackie Robinson was chosen to break the Major League's color line.
In the 1940s Brown was perhaps second only to Josh Gibson in power hitting, and perhaps second to none in footspeed (Cool Papa Bell was in his 40s by this time).
Brown grew up in Shreveport, LA and played his first pro ball with the 1934 Monroe Monarchs, a team that also boasted star pitchers Barney Morris and Hilton Smith. Smith signed with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1936 and, except for timeouts for military service in World War II and a shot at organized ball, he stayed with them until 1950.
Brown had all the tools to be one of the best players ever: a great glove, arm, speed and power. Other players agreed, though, that he was a "Sunday player," meaning that he played hard in front of big crowds but loafed on other occasions.
Regardless, Brown put up some impressive numbers in his career. He was an All-Star 5 times, and batted in the cleanup spot for the Monarchs as they won the Negro American League pennant 5 times in 6 years from '37 to '42. In 1945 he belted 4 homers in a game.
Brown was a fan favorite in the Puerto Rican winter leagues where he was nicknamed "Esse Hombre" meaning "the man!" Brown won the Puerto Rican batting title 3 straight years ('47-'50) and had home runs totals of 18, 16 and 14 in the short season.
Brown served in the Army in 1944 and '45, and helped his team win the G.I. World Series by blasting a homer off of Major Leaguer Ewell Blackwell.
During the 1946 Negro League World Series, Brown, Ted Strong and Satchel Paige all went AWOL from the Monarchs right before game 7, supposedly lining up their winter league contracts, and the Monarchs lost to the Newark Eagles 3-2.
In 1947, only a
few months after Jackie Robinson broke into the Majors with Brooklyn,
the St. Louis Browns signed Brown and Hank Thompson.
Brown was the first black player in American League history to homer
(an inside-the-park smash). Brown didn't want to be in St. Louis,
though, St. Louis fans didn't want him in St. Louis, and he was soon
he finished his Negro League career.
Brown retired in Houston, where he remained a celebrity until the day he died.
Brown may have not
lived up to his full potential, but he certainly had a lot of fun playing