In this regular feature, we will help you acquaint yourself with some of the finest practitioners of the most thankless task in baseball to ever don the “tools of ignorance” for our beloved Chicago Baseball teams. This week we feature Jim Brown.
The worst chapter in baseball history was the color barrier. It was started by a Chicago team – the White Stockings (later to be the Cubs), when Cap Anson refused to have him team take the field until Toledo took Moses Fleetwood Walker out of their lineup – even though Walker wasn’t in the lineup anyway, due to injury.
Once the color line was established, teams of black players formed and played each other, or would play white teams in more accomodating conditions. But Walker was the last black player at the Major League level until Jackie Robinson in 1947.
By 1920, Rube Foster founded the Negro National League, and he was also manager and co-owner of the Chicago American Giants. The American Giants played their games at South Side Park, aka Schorling Park, at 39th and Wentworth.
When the new league launched, the American Giants – who were already playing as an independent team – was one of the charter members, and one player they had was young catcher Jim Brown.
James R. Brown was born May 16, 1892 in San Marcos, Texas, near Austin. Brown was playing in the Texas Colored League for the Dallas Black Giants with pitcher Dave Brown when both signed with the Chicago American Giants. Dave Brown had been involved in a highway robbery, and Foster had to pay $20,000 for his parole in order to get him to Chicago to pitch.
Jim Brown was a backup catcher in 1919. In 1920, he hit .235 in a part-time role as the American Giants won the inaugural NNL title. Brown hit 289/344/410 for Chicago in 1921, almost evenly splitting catching duties. In 1922, Jim batted 268/324/371 as Chicago’s primary backstop. In postseason play, he was 4 for 18. He went one for three against major league pitchers in exhibitions.
In 1923, Brown slumped to .243/.313/.332 despite hitting cleanup on a pennant-winning team including sluggers John Beckwith and Cristobal Torriente. Brown hit 2 home runs in 239 AB. In fact, based upon the statistics available, he never had a double digit home run season in league play. He went three for seven in an exhibition series against the Detroit Tigers, facing Herman Pillette and Hooks Dauss.
Brown hit .272 in 1924 then fell to .232 in 1925, the last season Rube Foster managed the American Giants prior to suffering a nervous breakdown. Moving to first base in 1926, he hit 294/375/436 for his best offensive season to lead Chicago. He batted .250 in a postseason series against the Kansas City Monarchs but was just 4 for 36 in the 1926 Negro World Series.
Brown batted .292 in 1927 and was 7 for 16 in the postseason. He had an operation in 1928 and missed part of the season. In 1929, Brown became Chicago’s manager; now an outfielder, he only hit .237. He guided the club to a 44-25 record in his one year at the helm.
As player/manager for Chicago in 1930, Brown batted .321. He slumped to .222 in 1931, when he returned to catcher. In 1932, he managed the short-lived Cleveland Stars and also played outfield for the Louisville Black Caps. Brown spent the next three years as a bench player back in Chicago.
Brown faded from there, staying with minor teams for a few years and managing at times. He served as manager of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Gophers of the Negro Major Baseball League in 1942.
When he finally hung up the spikes, his career slash line was 274/339/374 (according to his Seamheads page, which is the best resource for Negro League statistics). So he was good enough to play for 17 years, but not in the upper echelon of Negro League catchers, with players like Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey or (future CotW) Quincy Trouppe.
He was involved in a gambling-related incident in 1943 which resulted in his being thrown from a moving car. He broke his neck and died from the fall.