Larry Brown (Negro Leagues)
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 5' 8", Weight 170 lb.
Catcher Larry Brown was a top Negro League catcher in the 1930s and 1940s, selected to play in the East-West Game seven times even though the first such game was not contested until he was 28. Brown was known primarily as a defensive standout, great at pop-ups, throwing out runners, calling games and blocking potential wild pitches. His job was made more difficult by the variety of trick pitches employed in the Negro Leagues. Double Duty Radcliffe ranks Brown as the top catcher he saw in the Negro Leagues. He was also known for his durability and is credited with 234 games caught in a row around 1930, a very unusual feat in the era. Off the field, he was known for drinking. Offensively, his career average is given as .259 but this appears high from a casual glance. He hit .231/~.333/.385 in the East-West games.
Larry's mother died in 1918 and he began working on the railroads before becoming a baseball player in 1920. Brown began playing semiregularly in top-flight blackball at the age of 17. He began the 1923 season with the Indianapolis ABCs but was released on May 28 after a .176/.305/.235 line in 9 games. Picked up by the Memphis Red Sox, Brown hit .125/.192/.125 in nine contests, but began a decades-long association with that club.
In 1924, Brown became the regular backstop for Memphis and batted .209. After a .255 campaign in 1926, Larry jumped to the Chicago American Giants late in the year and hit .316 for them. In the 1926 Negro World Series, Brown hit .190 and had a crucial error in game eight, but homered in the decisive game nine and threw out four of eight base-runners, a year after this was a major weakness for Chicago. William Hueston, president of the Negro National League, ruled that Brown belonged to Memphis and had to be returned after the series.
Larry hit .255 for Memphis in 1927, .350 in the 1927-1928 Cuban Winter League (third behind Alejandro Oms and Agustin Bejerano and ahead of four Hall-of-Famers), .292 for the Red Sox in 1928 and .267 the next year (he again was with Chicago for a spell, hitting .286. After a .280 Cuban Winter League campaign, the backstop batted .271 in his iron-man season with the New York Lincoln Giants and then hit .385 in a post-season match-up with the Homestead Grays, tops on his team.
Brown hit .219 for the 1931 Harlem Stars and the spent a large chunk of the year back with Memphis. That year, he led the Negro Southern League with two homers, was second with two triples, tied for the lead with two doubles and third with a .319 average (not all box scores are accounted for).
In 1932, still just 26 years old, he moved to the New York Black Yankees and managed just a .089 average. 1933 brought Larry back to the American Giants, where he hit .210 his first year of full time with that team. He was the starting catcher for the West in the 1933 East-West Game. The next year was a rare offensively stellar season, as he batted .380 and again played the entire East-West Game for the West. He received the most votes (43,965) of any catcher in the voting for that year's games, outdrawing Tommy Dukes by over 15,000 and Josh Gibson by 38,000. It should be noted that voting turnout was much higher in the West and no Eastern player came close to being #1 at their position; additionally, Chicago voting levels appear to have been very high, especially in the early years of the Game.
1935 again had Brown outpolling every other catcher (9,475 votes, 266 more than Gibson) but he did not play in that year's contest. He reverted to form at the plate during the season, batting .235. In '36, Larry moved to the Philadelphia Stars and chipped in only a .188 mark. No longer with Chicago, Brown fell to 8th in East-West voting among catchers, with his American Giants replacement, Subby Byas now outpolling Gibson and Biz Mackey. Larry fell further in 1937, hitting only .114.
Brown returned to Memphis in 1938, but his offense did not return as he put up a weak .170. He did play in his third East-West Game. In '39, Larry played in both East-West Games, drawing 408,148 votes, second to Pepper Bassett. In the regular season, he batted .263 for Memphis. In 1940, Brown hit .237 for Memphis and played in his sixth East-West contest.
In the 1941 Mexican League, Larry batted .219/~.306/.240 for the Tampico Lightermen and .194 for Memphis. Appearing in his seventh East-West Game, he continued to outpoll much more famous players like Roy Campanella regularly, finishing third in the voting that year behind Mackey and Bassett.
Brown hit .213 for Memphis in 1942 and .211 in '43, when he became the club's player-manager, guiding them to a 15-11 finish. in 1944, the veteran catcher batted .195 and the Red Sox were 44-51. Replaced by Jelly Taylor as the manager in 1945, the 40-year-old rebounded to .286, his best performance average-wise in 11 years in a talent pool drained by World War II.
Hitting .400 in limited time in 1946, Brown was again a player-manager in 1947 for a 21-20 Memphis club and his career ended the next year.
- Kyle McNary's pitchblackbaseball.com Negro League Player of the Month bio
- The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway
- The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley
- Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester
- The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros
- 1923 Negro National League Yearbook, by Peter Ventura and Patrick Rock, Replay Publishing