Chris Brown’s short stint with Tigers was his last stop in a troubled baseball career

Third baseman Chris Brown made the All-Star team with the Giants in 1986. but he had a troubled career after that.

Third baseman Chris Brown made the All-Star team with the Giants in 1986. but he had a troubled career after that.

He is only a buried footnote in Detroit Tigers’ history, a barely-remembered blip on the radar screen of the 1980s.

But Chris Brown was once a rising star in the major leagues. His career, and his post-baseball life, was a tale of unfulfilled promise, brought down by problems much of his own making.

By the time he was acquired by Detroit, along with utility man Keith Moreland, in a trade with San Diego on October 28, 1988 (Detroit gave up pitcher Walt Terrell), Brown was an old 26 years of age, by baseball standards. He was coming off two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons with the Padres in which he hit a combined .234. Less than three years removed from an All-Star season with the San Francisco Giants, Brown’s future seemed anything but assured.

It had been a long, long winding road that led to the Motor City.

Born on August 15, 1961 in Jackson, Mississippi, Brown’s family eventually moved to Southern California. He was a teammate of Darryl Strawberry on the Crenshaw High School baseball team. The 6’1” 180 pound Brown had a strong, powerful swing, and a canon for an arm.

The San Francisco Giants were interested, drafting him in the 2nd round of the 1979 amateur draft. He played his first season in professional ball with the Great Falls Giants of the Pioneer (rookie) league as a 17-year-old.

In the minor leagues, Brown showed only occasional flashes of brilliance, never hitting higher than .289 or more than 10 home runs in a season. He also sat out games with minor injuries, some of them quite suspect. He once missed a game in the Dominican Winter League because he had “slept on his eye wrong.”

Finally, in September 1984, the Giants called him up. By the next season, he’d made great strides, hitting .271 with 16 home runs as a 23-year-old. He even made the Topps rookie all-star team at third base.

Brown’s breakout season was 1985. He hit .317 and made the All-Star team. But there were the growing indications that he was something of a malcontent. He played the game with a lackadaisicalness that bothered fans, teammates, and management. He continued to miss random games with various injuries that many said were only in his head, or, even worse, faked. Teammates took to calling him The Tin Man, and it was not a term of endearment. And he could be short and brittle with the media.

Teammate Joel Youngblood was not a Brown fan. “He makes me sick,” he once said of Brown’s penchant for sitting out games.
But there were also a couple of legitimate shoulder injuries that hampered Brown’s development. He had one shoulder operation, and his jaw was broken by a Danny Cox fastball in 1987.

The Giants finally grew tired of his act. Midway through the 1987 season, they shuffled him off to the Padres in a multi-player deal.
Life in San Diego wasn’t any better for Brown. The injuries mounted, while his batting average hovered in the .230’s. He quickly wore out his welcome.

But the Tigers decided to take a chance on Brown.

The experiment didn’t start well. Brown showed up in Lakeland overweight, and it went downhill from there.

Manager Sparky Anderson simply did not take to Brown from the beginning. That came as no surprise. What did come as a surprise was that the Tiger front office didn’t see the train wreck coming beforehand, given Sparky’s track record with players he felt weren’t giving 100 percent. Brown’s short stint in Detroit was an abject failure, as his .193 average, with no home runs and only four RBIs in 17 games would attest. His .909 fielding percentage at the hot corner didn’t help matters.

The Tigers finally released Brown on May 19, 1989. He latched on with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization a few weeks later. They sent him to Triple-A Buffalo, where he hit .343 in 181 at-bats, but Brown never played a game in the Steel City. He played for a short time in the Mexican League, and with the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A team at Indianapolis, but Brown’s days as a major leaguer were over.

But Brown’s life went on. He settled in Houston with his wife and two children. Soon after the September 11 attacks, he ended up working for Halliburton in Iraq, delivering diesel fuel in an 18-wheel truck. Brown came under enemy fire on at least two separate occasions. In one of them, fellow Halliburton workers were killed; in another, a masked man pointed an AK-47 at him. Brown swerved the truck, and a bullet hit his windshield.

How ironic that a player who was openly vilified for being “soft” would end up in a war zone, laying his life on the line daily. “It’s a place I would’ve never thought 20 years ago that I’d be,” he said. “There’s always a danger factor around us. I try not to worry about it. I just take it day-by-day. The Lord will take care of me.”

Brown had fond memories of his days as a player. His highlight was being named to the All-Star Game. “Just to know for one night you were there with the greatest players in the world, that was really special,” he said.

Brown died on December 26, 2006, at the young age of 45, due to complications from burns he suffered in a mysterious fire in a vacant home he owned in Sugar Land, Texas.

His teammate on that 1986 All-Star Game, none other than Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, observed about Brown: “No telling how great he could have been.”