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1937 Maple Leafs Opener



City Loses Mr. Baseball

Era Ends as Bob Brown Dies in St. Paul’s at 85


[Vancouver Sun, Friday, June 22, 1962]


The baseball fan is born every spring, but Bob Brown said not long ago. Mr. Brown himself was born again every spring since 1910, when he owned 60 percent of the Vancouver Beavers.

            Spring will come again, but not Robert Paul Brown. He died at 9 p.m. Thursday after a prolonged illness in St. Paul ’s Hospital. He was 85.

            Bob Brown was a frail figure with features etched from parchment these last few years, walking slowly with a cane, helped to his box seat in Capilano Stadium by Mrs. Brown, or assorted old friends. He saw and heard, but sometimes not so quickly as he did years ago when the Vancouver Capilanos were a ball club and he had a red temper to match his red hair.

            In the big picture of Vancouver baseball Bob Brown was a player, a manager, a scout, a club owner, a league president, a member of the minor leagues’ executive council.

            He operated teams in Vancouver continuously in Vancouver from 1910 to 1953. He was revered as a shoestring operator, a shrewd promoter who held his franchise together with bailing wire and bank notes and hope.

            He was the sole survivor of that breed of independent storekeepers—Charlie Graham in San Francisco, Clark Griffith in Washington, Connie Mack in Philadelphia. They were tough men, gallant, proud, tight-fisted, desperately durable, always close to the line of extinction. They work skilfully, against the odds, to keep their clubs alive.

Joe Tinker Was a Playmate

            Bob Brown came alive on July 5, 1876, two weeks after a soldier named Custer was massacred at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He preceded the birth of baseball here, and spanned the history of the game like a long, narrow bridge.

            He was born in Glencoe, Iowa, a narrow spot in a mid-Western highway. He attended Notre Dame University at South Bend, Indiana, from where he took a sabbatical leave in 1898 to enlist in the brief Spanish-American rumpus. He returned from real war to the make-believe battles of campus sport, winning letters in baseball and football before graduating in 1900.

            He migrated to Helena, Montana, as an infielder in that turn-of-the-century summer. One of his playmates was Joe Tinker, later linked in baseball immortality with Frank Chance and Johnny Evers as the double-play combination of the Chicago Cubs.

            Bob touched bases at Helena and Pendleton ( Ore. ) then shifted to Aberdeen ( Wash. ) in 1904. He managed the Aberdeen Black Cats, he caught for them, and ran a shoe business on the side.

            Hal Straight, one of Brown’s left-handed pitchers 30 years ago and former managing editor of The Sun, once said: “Bob came to Vancouver from that shoe store in Aberdeen and brought one of the shoe-strings with him. He did business on it every year afterwards.”

Pennants, Parks and People

            Bob shifted from Aberdeen to Spokane in 1909 and that fall, purchased the Vancouver Beavers from two citizens he was later to recall only as Dixon [sic] and Johnson. He paid them $500 for three-fifths interest in the club. It was the beginning of a Vancouver baseball story he never tired of telling. If you listened long enough to absorb lively speeches punctuated with “by Jingos,” Bob Brown’s baseball came alive as a great composite of pennants, parks and people ...

            There were PENNANTS—Manager Kitty Brashier [sic] gave Brown and the Beavers something to purr about in 1911. They won the pennant in a Northwestern League containing Spokane, Everett, Bellingham, Aberdeen, Bellingham and Victoria. The Beavers were second in the Northwest in 1912, first again in 1913 and 1914.

            Pennants in succeeding summers flew irregularly. Don Osborn hoisted one for the Capilanos in the Western International League in 1942. Bill Brenner raised two more for the same club in 1947 and 1954.

            There were the PARKS—The Beavers deserted the Recreation playground at Homer and Smythe in 1913 when Athletic Park defled the forest above False Creek at Fifth and Hemlock. Bob introduced night baseball to Canada when arc lights chased the tom cats and hoot owls off the Athletic premises in 1930.

Athletic Park contained more than 5,000 seats, considered substantial 50 years ago for a city 100,000 or less. But the park turned ramshackle over the storied seasons and was left the rats and wreckers, the year Capilano Stadium decorated the meadows below Little Mountain ...

Memories of Ruth, Gehrig

            There were the PEOPLE—Dutch Reuther pitched here in 1915, apprenticing for a long career in the big leagues. Lefty Carl Mays threw his famous submarine ball in Vancouver several seasons before he accidentally killed a batter with it in New York .

            Chief Meyers, Vic Holmes, Dave Bancroft, Wimpy Quinn, Harvey Storey, Bill Sayles—all had a cup of Brown’s coffee in the minors before winning cream for it in the majors.

            Faded flashbacks of Bob’s old Inter-City League come crowding back—Jimmy Waters of the Firemen and Johnny Nestman and Cy McLean of the Arrows ... Hal Straight pitching high and tight or low and away, and trying to keep the curve ball below the knees ... Coley Hall sliding into second base ...

Names, more names from a yellowed program. Ernie Kershaw and Don Weaver and Hal Puder ... Dario Lodigiani, who went to the big leagues, and Sandy Robertson, who could have ... Ed Henry and Bill Richardson and Smead Jolley and Lefty Wilkie and Reg Clarkson ... Ernie Paepke and Dave Gray and Norm Trasolini and the Sollway brothers. ... So many for Bob Brown to list and so many left out. It was 52 years since 1910 and his memory lost a step or two going down the line ...

First Choice for Hall of Fame

            Pictures and sounds and people—Lou Gehrig wearing rubber boots and carrying an umbrella in a storm which flooded a major league exhibition at Athletic Park in 1934 ... Babe Ruth wallowing to the plate in the mud, turning to 6,000 zealots sitting soddenly in the downpour and shouting, “Well, if you fans can sit in it, we can play in it” ... Nat Bailey peddling his hot dogs in a high tenor voice, chanting: “A loaf of bread, a pound of meat, and all the mustard you can eat ...”

            Bob retired as proprietor of the Capilanos in 1953, yielding to the pressures of age and change. Baseball had moved from the corner-store to the supermarket, expanded to immense farm systems and huge bonuses to unproved kids. These were foreign to an old hand whose survival had depended on frugality, whose habit at Athletic Park was to start a game with six new balls and six scuffed ones, instead of the customary 12 new ones.

He was president of the Western International League for one year, 1953, administering the league with dignity and affection. When Vancouver deserted the WIL for the Coast League, there was only one candidate for honorary president of the Mounties, Bob Brown.

He added the Mountie games on warm nights, a frail figured stooped in local legend. Two years ago there was only one choice for the first member of Vancouver’s baseball hall of fame, Bob Brown.

His inception into the hall was his last big public appearance. He delighted that day in 1960 when baseball people threw bouquets when he could still smell them. Wired tributes from high people in distant places were read into the public address system at Cap Stadium, and then 3,233 fans were on their feet, clapping.

Bob stepped carefully out of a convertible at home-plate, triumphant in a dark suit and high, white collar. A lively lady walked with him, proudly, as he did for 33 years.

Both made a fine short speech, his voice quavering slightly as it carried to the far reaches of the park. “My friends,” he said, feeling his way … “That’s a fine phrase—‘my friends.’ It’s worth all the million dollars in the world.”

There were cheers when he hailed Vancouver “as a grand city and going to be a great one.” There was a long minute of applause when he finished with, “And I’m been glad I’ve been able to give Vancouver baseball fans, and their kids, something they’ll always remember.”

“April will come again,” Thomas Wolfe said. But not Bob Brown.


Local baseball will not forget Bob Brown


[The Province, June 23, 1952]

Bob Brown, Vancouver’s Mr. Baseball for more than 50 years, is dead.

One of the most respected men in the game that was his life from the turn of the century, Ruby Robert passed away in St. Paul’s Hospital, after a long illness. He would have been 86 on July 5.

Funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Saints Peter and Paul Church, 38th and Cartier. Prayers will be held there Sunday night at 7:30.

Despite failing health, the venerable Mr. Brown turned up for a social gathering for the Vancouver Mounties just before the season opened, and managed to take in the opening game here before he was laid low several weeks ago.

He was as enthusiastic as ever in the fortunes of the Mounties and the game that he had served so well since he came to the Northwest in 1900.

The story of Robert Paul Brown’s life is inseparable from the history of baseball in Oregon, Washington and Vancouver, with a side-trip into Montana.

In a career that took him—battling all the way—from Notre Dame through the Spanish-American War into baseball’s pioneer days, then safely if precariously out of a depression or two into the relative security of the later years, Bob accumulated many honors.

One of the ones of which he was most proud was his unanimous selection as the first member of Vancouver’s own baseball Hall of Fame in 1960.

There’s a plaque commemorating the event in the lobby of Capilano Stadium, one of the two parks he was instrumental in building in the city he adopted back in 1910.

Brown’s last active year was 1953, when he was president of the Western International League. In 1954 he became honorary president of that league, and since 1956 he was honorary president of the Mounties, about whom he was almost as enthusiastic as the numerous clubs he built and ran for more than 40 years before.

Capping his final year as boss of the W.I.L. Capilanos here in 1952, baseball’s bible, the Sporting News, picked him among the top 10 general managers in the game.

It’s the privilege of the very old to talk about the good old days, but the Old Redhead remained forever young because of his consuming interest in the ever-changing game. Tomorrow was another day, and somebody might get four-for-four.

When pressed, though, by the latest in a long list of journalists who had been commissioned to do a three-part series on his remarkable life, Bob would get a reminiscent gleam in his eye and the historians would have another chapter or two.

One of his favorite stories was of the time Umpire Pearl Casey had pulled a watch on him, giving the aggressive little redhead two minutes to get out of the park. The irrepressible Robert solved that dilemma: he grabbed the watch and smashed it up against the stands.

And he liked to talk about some of the players he developed, back in the days when minor league operators were independent and the sale of a player meant survival.

He had Jacques Fournier, and Vean Gregg, and Dutch Reuther and Ray Kramer and he made a million friends in baseball when it was friends, and not working agreements, that kept you supplied with players.

He has some losers, and some winners. Four pennant winners altogether. Two in the old Northwest League, at Aberdeen, Wash., in 1907 and in Vancouver in 1911, when his manager was Kitty Brashear.

Don Osborne won him another in 1942 in the Western International with the Capilanos, and Bill Brenner, who was a 25-year-old catcher when Bob promoted him to the manager’s job in 1946, won another with the Caps in 1947.

Winning that one, Brown has said, was his biggest thrill.

Why? Because he won it by .001 percentage points, that’s why, with the help of a rained out game in Yakima.

When the rains came in Yakima that Saturday night on the eve of the windup of the season, Bob sat up with this reporter and another baseball writer and we figured out that no matter what happened the next day, the Caps were in by the narrowest of margins over Spokane.

Then Bob went happily to bed and missed one of the finest victory parties we ever survived.

By then, he’d had his share.

Following his graduation from Notre Dame—after talking a year out to sit in a Georgia army camp in 1898 waiting to get into the Spanish-American War—Bob moved west from Blancoe, Iowa to play in Helena, Mont., in 1900.

He made stops in Portland, Pendleton, Helena, again, Aberdeen—where he operated a shoe store for two years—and Spokane before buying three-fifths of the Vancouver team in 1910.

The team played then at Recreation Park, Homer and Smythe, but Bob decided to build his own park. On April 15, 1913, 6,000 fans came out to see the new, wonderful Athletic Park at Fifth and Hemlock which Brown had wrought, blasting stumps, carrying fill and hauling sawdust himself.

That was the home, for the next 38 years, of Northwest League pro teams and, from 1924 through 1938, the famed old semi-pro Senior League which made Coley Hall, John Nestman, the Holdens, Charlie Miron, et al household names.

The pros were back in ’39, the Capilanos, and Bob took them, proudly, into the relatively magnificent new Capilano Stadium in 1951.

He had a couple of years to enjoy his new toy before moving up to the WIL presidency in 1953, and then semi-retirement in 1954.

Finally, when he called it quits, he had his baseball mementoes, calls from young men still seeking his advice, and some 50 years of memories to keep him mentally alert and spry.

When the end came, a cycle was completed. His wife Jean was on hand helping to nurse him as she had been in 1926 when they met, she a nurse and he a reluctant patient. Mrs. Brown is his only survivor, unless you could the hundreds of baseball players who’ll always remember him.


[Vancouver Sun, June 23, 1962]

It is not the privilege of any mortal to suggest that another has lived for too long, but for those who knew and necessarily respected him, it is difficult to regard Bob Brown’s last years as part of a life that was a Vancouver legend in our time.

Before he died Thursday night he was old and sick, a gentleman of forlorn dignity bewildered by the changes in Vancouver baseball.

That wasn’t Bob Brown. Neither was he the sanctimonious old Puritan he was painted these last few years. As long as he was Bob Brown he was tough and human and shrewd. He was human and kind and stubborn and generous and calculating and proud.

There may never be a more successful man in Vancouver baseball, for nobody in Vancouver baseball ever won warmer or wilder esteem and nobody relished it more.

He entered professional baseball in 1900, when it was a game for roughnecks. He saw it become respectable. He cultivated it in Vancouver for 53 years, cussing and coddling it and bringing it to a hesitant flower. In the last decade he enjoyed his sports-page designation as a Grand Old Man.

Wished He Was 30 Again

            Six years ago, when he was 80, he was given a Bob Brown Night at Capilano Stadium. It was a tribute to his long span as a player and manager, club owner, league president and member of the minor leagues’ executive counsel.

            “How does it feel to be 80?” the press asked.

            “Fine, fine,” Bob said. “But when I see the rhubarbs start, I wish I was 30.”

            It was the expression of a competitor who used to scrap at the drop of an Anglo-Saxon oath. “No question,” he once said, “Baseball is a fight from start to finish.”

            “D’you think I’m blind?” a disgruntled umpire blurted to a disgruntled Brown.

“No question,” Brown said as he dropped his bat on the umpire’s toes.

Tinker Tampered in Helena

Bob didn’t survive 55 years of baseball without using his wits occasionally. He learned to deaden or slow up baseballs by freezing them in an ice-box. Once, in Aberdeen (Wash.), he frustrated a rival spitball pitcher by throwing him a ball with mustard on it. He made ends meet here by conning players into sweeping out the grandstand on their days off.

He delighted in the combat, and one of his favorites had the combative Joe Tinker as hero. This was in 1901 in Helena (Mont.), on an afternoon when Tinker and Brown and the rest of the Helenas were playing Anaconda. “Funniest thing I ever saw,” Bob recalled. “No question.”

Anaconda has a big third baseman named Butch McIntyre, a mean one and a good one. Whenever a Helena runner approached third base, Mr. McIntyre would stick his ample rump in the road and knock the runner down.

“Butch was too big to bust in the snoot,” Bob said. “But Tinker had a plan. He found a horseshoe nail and stuck it in a cork with the sharp end out.”

The next time Tinker got on base he was suitably armed. He rounded third base on a hit and out popped McInytre’s butt, as fine and full as a Shell Oil truck seen from the rear.

Bob laughed. “Then Tinker gave him the nail—three long, sharp inches of it. McIntyre liked to jump clean to the pitchers’ box.”

¨      ¨      ¨

            It was an irreverent tale, lusty in its fashion, the kind of thing a reporter would hear from Bob Brown if he listened long enough. A guy goes on vacation now knowing Vancouver won’t be the same when he returns. There’ll be no Bob Brown to listen to.


[Columns from Eric Whitehead to come]