It’s a story my dad has told me many times. He was a Dodgers fan growing up in Brooklyn during the 1940s, and he used to say when a member of the home team homered at Ebbets Field, radio broadcaster Red Barber would call it “another Oldie Goldie.”
That was in deference to Old Gold cigarettes, one of the Dodgers’ sponsors. After the player circled the bases, Barber would roll a carton of Old Gold down the field’s scoreboard screen so the player could collect it.
Except one time.
Seventy years ago, on August 20, 1945, shortstop Tommy Brown connected for his first major-league homer, a one-out solo shot to left field off Pittsburgh’s Preacher Roe. It was the Dodgers’ lone run in an 11-1 loss to the Pirates. With that clout, Brown became the youngest player to hit a major-league home run. He was 17 years, 8 months, 14 days old.
It would be four more years before Brown found himself on a baseball card.
Brown’s homer came during a time when major-league rosters were depleted due to World War II. Brown was too young to go to war, but in the eyes of Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher, apparently not too young to play in the majors. And with regular shortstop Pee Wee Reese serving in the Navy, Durocher needed someone to play the position.
Only two players have homered as 17-year-olds. The other was Danny Murphy, who hit a three-run homer to right field off Cincinnati’s Bob Purkey on September 3, 1960.
It didn’t matter to Brown, who was already a time-tested veteran for the Dodgers. He made his major-league debut a year earlier during a 6-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on August 3, 1944, at Ebbets Field. That made him the youngest position player (16 years, 7 months) to play in a major-league game. He grounded out in his first plate appearance, but later hit a double off Cubs pitcher Bob Chipman. Earlier that season, pitcher Joe Nuxhall became the youngest player ever to break into the majors, as he joined the Cincinnati Reds at age 15 years, 10 months.
Brown’s Baseball Cards
I wondered if my dad, 4 1/2 years younger than Brown, had any of his baseball cards. He didn’t recall, but did mention that he had cards of his idol, Joe DiMaggio (which he tacked to his bedroom wall). That was Brown’s idol, too; in fact, Brown managed to wear the same No. 5 as his hero a few times during his maj0r league career.
Brown’s niche as the youngest in history to circle the bases have made him a curiosity with collectors. His rookie card is in the 1949 Bowman high number series but can usually be found for $50 or less in decent shape. He also appears on the 1949 Eureka Sportstamps issue and again in Bowman’s 1952 and ’53 sets as well as 1952 Topps.
In later years he turned up in Target’s 1990 set that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Dodgers franchise, and there also was a 1991 Historic Limited Editions Brooklyn Dodgers Series original postcard issued.
Ups and Downs of Big League Life
Brown’s nervousness in the majors translated to his throwing arm, which was erratic. Durocher nicknamed him “Buckshot” because of his scatter arm. His throws would elude even 6-foot-6 first baseman Howie Schultz, and he made 16 errors his rookie season and 23 in 1945.
Reese returned from the military for the 1946 season. Brown spent that season serving in the Army. He returned in 1947 and spent four more seasons and 11 games of a fifth with the Dodgers. He appeared in two games of the 1949 World Series as a pinch hitter.
Because of the glut of talent the Dodgers had in the infield, Brown did not see much action. In 1948 he became known as the “one o’clock batting champion” because of his home run hitting during practice. Lyle Spatz, in “The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers,” noted that Brown hit 162 homers in batting practice during 1948 at Ebbets Field. The regular season was a different story, however, as he only connected twice.
Brown’s biggest day as a major-leaguer came on September 18, 1950, at Ebbets Field, when he hit three homers against the Cubs.
Brown was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on June 8, 1951, then spent the last year and a half of his career with the Cubs. His last major-league season was 1953, and he spent the final five years of his professional career in the minors (although he did get a tryout with the Chicago White Sox in 1957) before retiring in 1958.
Brown settled down in Nashville, got married and worked at the Ford Glass Plant for 35 years before retiring in 1993. He turns 88 on December 6.
That makes him an Oldie Goldie for sure.