Primary Positions: Second base, third base, shortstop
Full Name: James Roberson
Date of Birth: April 25, 1910 Date and Place of Death: Dec. 29, 1977, Bath
Burial: Brown Family Cemetery, Jamesville
High School: Jamesville High School
College: N.C. State University, Raleigh
Bats: Both Throws: R Height and Weight: 5-8, 165
Debut Year: 1937 Final Year: 1946 Years Played: 8
Teams and Years: St. Louis Cardinals, 1937-43; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1946
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
890 3512 980 465 319 9 .279 .326 .352 +8.6
Awards/Honors: All-Star, 1942: Boys of Summer Top 100
There was a time in baseball when players like Jimmy Brown were called pepper pots. Such players were, like the 5-8 Brown, small in stature but scrappy in nature. Like him, their uniforms were always dirty, and their shirttails were usually hanging out. Also, like Brown, they played aggressively, attacking every pitch and diving for every ball. And they were loud. Brown’s rapid-fire chatter in the infield was once compared to one of those tobacco auctioneers back home.
Brown anchored the pre-World War II infield for the St. Louis Cardinals for seven years, playing every position but first base. One of the toughest batters to strikeout in the National League, he usually led off and hit .300 or close to it most seasons. His .279 career batting average ties for 20th place among North Carolina players with at least 1,000 at bats. He was an All Star one of those seasons and a Word Series victor.
Mike Gonzalez, a Cardinals’ coach, once said this about the team’s spark plug, as relayed by a sportswriter trying to mimic his Cuban accent: “I satisfy if I have nine Jingy Browns. I do win plenty pennant and make many buckerinos.”
Brown grew up on a small farm along the Roanoke River in Martin County. Tragedy struck when his father, Archie, was killed in an accident when Jimmy was a teenager. His mother, Dare, struggled to raise her nine children.
A pitcher and shortstop at old Jamesville High School, Brown could throw effectively with either arm. A natural right-hander, he had taught himself to throw left handed after breaking his right arm as a child.
Brown was in and out of North Carolina State College, probably because his money kept running out, and he left for good before the end of his senior year in 1933 to sign with the Cardinals.
After struggling at the plate during his second year in the minors, Brown learned to switch hit and batted .309 in 1936. He was in the majors the following year.
Brown was one of the leaders of the 1942 Cardinals team that closed a 10-game gap and overtook the first-place Brooklyn Dodgers by winning 44 of its last 53 games. The team included fellow North Carolinian Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, playing his first full year, in the outfield. They went on to beat the heavily favored New York Yankees in the World Series.
That was also the year that Brown was selected as an All Star, though he hit just .256, the lowest in his major-league career. He did, however, knock in 71 runs from the leadoff position.
Drafted into the Army in 1943, Brown spent the war coaching baseball and basketball teams at a base in Tennessee.
The Cardinals sold Brown for $30,000 to the Pittsburgh Pirates when he returned to the majors in 1946. The layoff had eroded his batting eye and age – he was 36, old for an infielder –had sapped his speed. He hit .241 that season as a part-time player. He was credited, however, in helping defeat another union attempt.
Robert Murphy, a Harvard-educated labor lawyer from Boston, formed the American Baseball Guild in 1946 to unionize major-league players. It was at least the fourth attempt to organize players against the tyranny of team owners who controlled every aspect of a player’s career. Murphy wanted the teams to set minimum salaries for its players, provide for arbitration to settle salary disputes and grievances, and allow players who are sold to get a share of the purchase price.
Murphy chose the Pirates for the union’s first test because of the city’s large union workforce. He claimed to have induced most of the players to join the guild, but William Benswanger, the team’s owner, wouldn’t negotiate. Murphy called for a strike on Friday, June 7, a night game at the Pirates’ Forbes Field. Two-thirds of the team had to approve the strike.
At a tense, players-only meeting on the day of the game, support for the strike collapsed after fierce opposition from Brown and pitcher Rip Sewell. The vote fell four shy of the required super majority. Fans booed the home team when the Pirates took the field that night. About a month after the vote, four men attacked Brown outside the ballpark. He said the men were drunk and that he didn’t know the reason for the attack. Brown wasn’t badly hurt.
Brown never publicly explained his opposition. He was among the highest-paid players on the team. He also was at the end of his career and from a state where unions weren’t popular.
In any case, Brown retired as an active player at the end of the season. Maybe as a reward for his loyalty, the Pirates gave him the managing job at their top farm club. That began a 13-year career as a manager in the minor and winter leagues.
Brown left baseball for good in 1964, and he and his wife, Sarah, lived the rest of their lives on a farm in Bath.