January 22, 1945: Jophery Brown
Born on this day 75 years ago in Grambling, Louisiana, Jophery Brown seemed destined to be a pitcher. Growing to be 6' 2", he had the frame to throw hard and go at talented hitters. He used this strength of his to earn a scholarship to Grambling State University in his hometown.
Brown was drafted in the 21st round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1965 Draft, but wisely decided to stay in school. He drastically improved his draft stock the following year and was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the January Secondary Phase 1966 Draft. However, he was still intent on improving his draft stock even more. It worked, because he was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the second round in the June Draft Secondary Phase a few months later.
He reported to the Cubs' Rookie League team later that season, the Treasure Valley Cubs. There, he went 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA 81 strikeouts in 75 innings. The following year, 1967, saw him get the call up to Single-A Lodi, California, where he got the ball for the Lodi Crushers 36 times. In 24 starts, he was a tough-luck 7-17 with a 4.47 ERA. By his age-23 season, he was ready to take the next step. It appeared the Cubs believed he was ready for that as well.
After jumping from Single-A Lodi to Triple-A Tacoma midway through the 1968 season, Brown earned himself a September call up to the big club. It was unclear how much of an opportunity, if any, he would get with the Cubs, but with Chicago out of the pennant picture, it seemed likely he would get into a game. On September 21, the Cubs visited the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of barely 3,000 fans at Forbes Field. Each team was hovering around .500 and interest wasn't exactly high.
With his team down 4-0 in the fifth inning, Brown got the call. Speedster Maury Wills led off the inning with a single. Freddie Patek bunted him over to second before Matty Alou flied out to left. Brown issued an intentional walk to future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente to set up a force out at second base. Donn Clendenon had no intention of grounding into a double play and slugged a Brown offering to left, which scored Wills easily. Gene Alley whacked a swinging bunt, which was easily handled by catcher Randy Hundley and the inning was over.
Brown came back out for the sixth inning, which went much more smoothly. Jose Pagan and Jerry May each grounded out before Dock Ellis lined out to end the inning. Ellis, who infamously claims to have thrown a no hitter while high on LSD, was the opposing pitcher that day and he was brilliant. He tossed a complete game, allowing just five hits and one earned run. After the Ellis liner, Brown's day was done. Pittsburgh won the game 5-1.
With a handful of games left in the season, Brown was hopeful to make another appearance, but his name was never called. The season wound to an end without him getting another shot despite his relatively solid performance pitching two innings, allowing just two hits and one run. Within a little over a year, his professional baseball career was over. He spent 1969 in Double-A San Antonio and interestingly appeared in three games as an outfielder. Brown handled the two chances he got in the outfield without an error.
At 24 years old, he went 9-10 with a 4.03 ERA, certainly something to build on going forward. However, he had gotten his taste of the major leagues and didn't seem particularly keen on the long journey it would take to get back. With his entire life ahead of him, Brown hung up the cleats short of his 25th birthday. Unfortunately, Brown passed away 11 days shy of his 69th birthday while living in Inglewood, California. The life of a man who spent more than 40 years as a non-baseball player always will come back to one moment, at least in the hearts and minds of sports fans who wish they could've filled his shoes on September 21, 1968.