#Shortstops: Time in a Bottle
But this fragile bit of ephemera has survived some eight decades to tell a story of one of the game’s great but oft-forgotten hurlers.
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His 14 seasons with the Grays came in the midst of a dynasty, with the team capturing eight pennants in a nine-year span. This period also included a one-hitter in the 1944 Negro League World Series and a perfect game in 1945. Brown is among the all-time Negro League leaders in wins, winning percentage and shutouts.
“He was somebody you had to take notice of,” said former Negro Leagues pitcher Wilmer Fields, a teammate of Brown's on the Grays. “As far as rating him No. 1, 2, 3 or 4, where you might rate him, I don't know. But he was a great pitcher.
“He was the top pitcher on our roster. You could find no greater competitor than he was, I'll tell you that. Yeah, he was something else.”
By the late 1930s, it was being reported in newspapers across the country that with Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Brown, the Grays had the three most dangerous players in the Negro National League.
It was also around this time that Jimmy Powers, the longtime sportswriter with the New York Daily News, proclaimed, “Raymond Brown of the Homestead Grays is the best pitcher in baseball today.”
In September 1938, Powers wrote in the Daily News that the Giants should add a number of Negro Leaguers to their roster to bolster their roster in a late-season push for the pennant. Among the seven players Powers named as possibilities were future Hall of Famers Brown, Gibson, Leonard and Ray Dandridge.
In a June 1942 article in the Washington Post, Grays catcher and longtime batterymate Gibson – elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972 – claimed that Brown’s calmness under fire and smooth delivery would ultimately help him defeat the more celebrated Satchel Paige.
“Ray will play along for the break, and when he gets his edge he’ll hold it,” Gibson said. “Satchel seldom loses a ballgame, but when he does lose one it’s usually these calm, steady boys who beat him.”
During his 1973 Hall of Fame induction speech, Irvin said, “I hope my induction will help ease the pain of all of those players who never got a chance to play in the majors.”
Asked years later whether he thought his induction did in fact help, Irvin believed it had.
“I know what Ted Williams had said when he was inducted,” Irvin said, “and I just want to reemphasize the fact that I wished major league fans had the opportunity to see so many great players like Buck Leonard, Josh Gibson, Willie Wells, Ray Dandridge, Raymond Brown and others right on down the line, play when they were in their prime.
“I got a chance to see them, play with them and play against them. I call them the ‘old masters.’ I’m just so happy they finally got a chance to receive some of the recognition that they deserve.”
Brown passed away in 1965 at the age of 56.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum