Former Detroit Tigers player and coach Gates Brown has died at the age of 74. Brown served an important role on each of the last two Tigers' World Championship teams. He was a key bench player for the 1968 World Series winners and the hitting coach for the "Bless You Boys" 1984 champs.
Brown will long be remembered as one of the best pinch-hitters in the annals of Major League Baseball. His 1968 season is one for the ages. Brown played in 67 games, hitting .370/.442/.685 in what was considered one of the most pitching dominant years in baseball history. What was even more remarkable about Brown's 1968 season was he came off the bench in 51 of those games, hitting .455/.538/.818 (52 plate appearances, 20-for-44). That's an OPS of 1.357 as a substitute.
Brown joined the Tigers in 1963, spending his entire 13 season career with the team, retiring in 1975. Over those 13 seasons, Brown appeared in 1051 games, hitting .257/.330/.420 with 84 home runs and 322 RBIs.
After his retirement as a player, Brown joined Sparky Anderson's coaching staff, serving as as hitting coach from 1978 to 1984.
Brown still holds American League records for most pinch-hits with 107 and pinch-hit at bats in a career with 414. His 107 pinch-hits rank 15th all-time in MLB. Brown is one of 114 players who hit a home run in their first major league at bat. He's also a member of a more exclusive club, one of just 17 whose first MLB appearance was a pinch-hit home run.
Brown's life story is an incredible one. In 1958, at the age of 19, Brown was convicted of burglary. He served his sentence in the Ohio State Reformatory, released in 1959. During his incarceration, Brown played on the prison team, showing so much potential at the plate his coach contacted several MLB teams. Tigers' scouts were impressed, helped Brown earn his parole, and the rest is baseball history.
As Brown himself would say about his misspent youth:
"I took a little English, a little math, some science, a few hubcaps, and some wheel covers."
The most famous baseball incident surrounding Brown occurred in 1968. He was unexpectedly called on to pinch-hit by manager Mayo Smith after grabbing a couple of hot dogs. He proceeded to enter the game with the hot dogs stuffed his his jersey. Brown doubled and slid head first into second base ... covered in smashed hot dogs, ketchup and mustard!
The story of Gates Brown is a remarkable one, from convict to beloved member of two Detroit Tigers championship teams. He will be missed by Tigers fans everywhere.