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*Gates Brown was born on this date in 1939. He was a Black Major League Baseball player.
William James "Gates" Brown was born in Crestline, Ohio. As a young man, he served time at the Ohio State Reformatory for burglary from 1958 to 1959, where he got the nickname “Gates.” While there, a prison guard who coached the reformatory’s baseball team joined the squad as a catcher encouraged him to play.
The coach contacted several major-league teams after being impressed by Brown's batting ability. Tigers scouts Frank Skaff and Pat Mullin convinced their ballclub to help Brown get paroled a year early and sign him. He chose to join the Tigers despite interest from other teams, such as the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. He explained, "The primary reasons I signed with Detroit is because they didn't have any Black players, and eventually I figured they would; plus, I had been told about the short right porch at Tiger Stadium."
On June 19, 1963, coming off the bench, Brown became the American League's 11th player to hit a home run in his first at-bat. A popular figure among Tigers' fans, Brown may not have had the defensive skills to make the everyday lineup, but he has been considered one of the premier pinch hitters in MLB history. Brown was an outfielder, first baseman, pinch hitter, and designated hitter. He is best remembered for contributing to the 1968 World Series champion Detroit Tigers.
In his pinch-hitting at-bats in the 1968 season, Brown hit for a .450 batting average, the eighth-highest single-season batting average for a pinch hitter (minimum 30 at-bats) in major league history. While 1968 was the year of the pitcher for most of baseball, overall batting was only .230 for the year, and the potent Tigers attack scored 671 runs. That year was the batting high-water mark for Gates Brown, who, with remarkable regularity, came off the bench with clutch hits to spark dramatic ninth-inning comeback victories. Brown's timely hitting was crucial in sealing the Tigers' trip to the World Championship.
Starting in only 17 games that season, but Brown appeared in 49 more as a pinch hitter, he batted .370 (34 for 92) with a .442 on-base percentage and a .685 slugging average. Brown also holds the American League record for the most pinch-hit at-bats in a career, with 414. In his career, Brown collected 107 pinch hits, including 16 pinch homers, and also led twice the AL in pinch hits (1968 and 1974). His most productive season came in 1964, when he posted career-highs in home runs (15), RBIs (54), runs (65), hits (116), doubles (22), triples (6), stolen bases (11) and at-bats (426) in 123 games. From 1971 to 1973, Brown hit 33 home runs with 110 RBI in 571 at-bats, including a .338 average in 1971 (66 for 195). He retired at the end of the 1975 season.
In a 13-season career, Brown was a .257 hitter with 84 home runs and 322 runs batted in 1051 games. In 1978, Brown returned to the Tigers as their hitting coach, a position he would hold through the championship season of 1984. Gates Brown died of a heart attack on September 27, 2013, at a nursing home, aged 74. He had been in failing health for the last years of his life.
The Detroit News
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