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On Dr. Bobby Brown, a hero beyond his Yankees days

Brown played on some of the best Yankees teams ever, but he stepped away for a higher calling in medicine.

Casey Stengel Shaking Hands with Bobby Brown.

We use the word “hero” across a variety of situations. That title, at different times, can identify an athlete, a first responder, a soldier, or a medical professional. At the height of the Yankees’ dynasty, stretching from the late 1940s through the early 1950s, they had a third baseman who would check all of those boxes in Dr. Bobby Brown.

Brown moved around as a child, living in Seattle and New Jersey before arriving in San Francisco for high school. A star student athlete, at the same high school that saw Joe DiMaggio and his brothers pass through its halls, he caught the eye of college coaches and major-league scouts with his impressive skills on the baseball field.

In 1941, the rising star participated in tryouts for the Reds, Tigers, Yankees, and Dodgers before heading to Stanford University. While studying pre-med, Brown earned the Coast Guard Silver Lifesaving Medal after a Naval aircraft returning from an anti-submarine patrol crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

Brown was on the beach when the plane crashed and reportedly said, “We could see the one person floating in the water. He wasn’t moving so we knew he need help.” It was estimated by Brown and others that he was swimming in the ocean for nearly an hour while assisting the injured crew member and helping to get him to shore.

With World War II exploding around the globe, Brown enlisted in the Navy, but due to his major in pre-med, he was assigned to a unit at UCLA. He continued to play baseball for UCLA while rushing through his required course load in just five semesters. He was also assigned to the San Diego Naval Hospital on temporary duty for part of this time.

At the end of 1944, with all of his pre-med courses complete and still as a member of the Navy, Brown was assigned to Tulane Medical School. Brown negotiated the rare opportunity for a student in medical school to also be allowed to play on the baseball team. Naturally, he excelled on the diamond and in the classroom. Brown was discharged from the Navy and signed with the Yankees in early 1946.

Showing his potential immediately, he finished second to Jackie Robinson in hitting at the top level of the minors in 1946. He debuted for the Yankees that September, on the same day as Yogi Berra. The two young players became roommates and Berra would tell the story that Brown would be reading medical textbooks and journals, while Berra was equally engrossed in a comic book right next to him.

Brown platooned in the lineup with players like Billy Johnson and Gil McDougald for the Yankees, but also saw time at shortstop, second base, and in the outfield during his career. From 1946 through 1951, he hit .284/.372/.384 and helped the Yankees win four World Series titles.

In the regular season, he hit just about league average, but Brown really turned it on in the World Series. Playing in 17 Fall Classic games, he hit .439/.500/.707 with nine RBI. That batting average ranks sixth-best for players in the World Series with at least 25 plate appearances. This included a pinch-hit double in Game Seven of the 1947 World Series that tied to the game and put the winning run on third base.

Brown’s medical knowledge was always part of his calling, and he knew that he would eventually leave baseball for medicine. “The basic truth is this: Just as long as baseball wants me, I will want baseball,” he said in a 1949 interview. “Inevitably, there will be a day when I will have to say to myself, The time has come. Hang up your spikes and your uniform, put away the bats, and get down to working out the Oath of Hippocrates.” An intersection of his two passions came early in 1951, as he was called off the field prior to a game to examine Casey Stengel, who had a kidney stone and had become nauseous.

Early in the 1952 season Brown was drafted for service in Korean War, in what became known as “The Doctor Draft.” He reported to Korea and ran the battalion aid station for the 160th Field Artillery Battalion of the 45th Infantry Division. He was also rotated to provide medical support for the 5th Regimental combat team and the 47th Mobile Army Hospital.

Operating outside of the Korean peninsula at one point, he was assigned to the Tokyo Field Hospital when former teammate Joe DiMaggio and his new bride Marilyn Monroe arrived in Japan as part of their honeymoon. The two former Yankees participated in clinics with some Japanese teams that were going through spring training.

Returning to the Yankees mid-season in 1954, Brown’s bat struggled to catch up as he put up his worst statistical season. Following that campaign he retired from baseball and immediately immersed himself in his residency for internal medicine. Following a fellowship in cardiology, Brown entered private practice as a cardiologist in 1958.

His work as a cardiologist was interrupted in 1974, when he was asked by personal friend and owner of the Texas Rangers Brad Corbett to become the interim president of the team. Always a temporary gig, Brown returned to his medical career after the season.

Baseball was not done with Brown, and the sport called again in 1984, when Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bowie Kuhn retired. After being asked to interview for the commissioners role, Brown was offered the role of president of the American League. He accepted and held this role for a decade.

Dr. Bobby Brown is now 95-years-old and the oldest living Yankee to have won a World Series. He played along side numerous hall-of-famers and was at his best when those around him needed him to step up. Those situations were not limited to the baseball field, as Brown put his skills to the test everywhere from the battlefields of Korea to the rough surf of the Pacific Ocean.