Many baseball players, I’m sure, go through periods where they wonder whether the long struggle to get to the big leagues is worth it. During the seasons of 1965 and 1966, Indians shortstop Larry Brown must have been wondering about that nearly every day.
Brown, whose older brother Dick served as the backup catcher for the Indians from 1957 to 1959, joined the Tribe as a mid-season call-up in 1963, alternating between shortstop and second base. In 1964 he became the starting second baseman for the Indians. Although he hit a light .230 that year, he fielded his position well, committing only nine errors in 464 chances.
When the 1965 season began, Brown again started at second base, but was moved to shortstop in late July when Dick Howser fractured an ankle. On September 8, Brown’s young daughter Laurie was injured with a fractured skull when she was hit by a car in the parking lot of the apartment building where the family lived. She recovered from the injury, but understandably worrying about her condition may have affected Brown’s performance. He was hitting .277 before the accident, and finished the season at .253, going 0 for 24 during one seven-game span. The Indians went 87-75 that year, their strongest showing since 1959.
The Indians began the 1966 season with a ten-game winning streak. Brown was again the team’s starting shortstop. On May 4, the Tribe stood at first place in the ten-team American League with a record of 13-1. Brown had very little to do with that great start, as he was hitting only .216 going into the game of May 3. He did have a good game on May 3, though, getting three hits that day at Yankee Stadium in a 1-0 Indians victory. Perhaps after that game Brown thought his luck was about to change.
It did change, but not for the better. On the next day, May 4, Brown, playing short, collided with Indians left fielder Leon Wagner as both men tried to catch a pop fly from the bat of Roger Maris. Brown and Wagner ran into one another at top speed. Wagner suffered a broken nose, and Brown fractured his skull, nose, and right cheekbone.
Speaking to a reporter the next day, Indians third baseman Max Alvis said “I’ve played college football, and I’ve seen split lips, smashed noses, cut faces, and earlobes torn off. But this was the worst I’ve ever seen.”
Brown went on the disabled list and did not play again until June 16. When he returned to the lineup, it was as a second baseman, as his replacement, Chico Salmon, was hitting .302 at the time. Brown reclaimed his position at short on July 6, and Salmon moved over to second base.
Despite that great start—they were 19-6 after 25 games—the Indians finished the 1966 season with a record of 81-81.
Brown continued to play shortstop for the Indians from 1967 to 1969. By 1970 he lost his starting job to Jack Heidemann, and the Indians began to use Brown at second and third base. In April of 1970, Dick Brown died of a brain tumor. Larry left the Indians to attend the funeral in Lake Worth, Florida.
By late 1970 the Indians made it known that they were trying to shop Brown to other teams. In April of 1971 Brown’s contract was sold to the Oakland A’s, for whom he played in 1971 and 1972. In 1973 Brown played for the Baltimore Orioles, and he finished his career in 1974 as a member of the Texas Rangers.
In many ways, Brown was typical of the kind of player the Indians put on the field in the 1960s: someone capable of playing more than one position, but who couldn’t really hit for average or for power. I rooted for him as a kid, but I can’t say I was sorry to see him go. Larry Brown may not have been a great player, but he had a twelve-year major league career, and he certainly saw his share of adversity, and overcame it.