Thursday, August 20, 2015

Today's Anniversary: An MLB Record Likely to Stand the Test of Time is Held by a Brooklyn Dodger

Today is a very unique anniversary.  In fact, it marks a record held by a former Brooklyn Dodger ballplayer that has stood for 70 years, and it probably will never be broken.

So, what feat was accomplished on this day?

On August 20, 1945 a fresh faced 17-year-old shortstop, who had already debuted in Dodger Blue the season prior at the age of 16-years and seven months, became the youngest MLB ballplayer to hit a home run in a game.  His name is Tommy Brown and he was 17-years and 257 days old when he did it.  BTW, he is also the second youngest when he hit home run #2 five days later.

I know you're wondering, how is it that someone so young made it up to the show?  After all, Tommy was not a top-flight prospect.  Instead, he played ball as a teen during WWII - a period when many MLB'ers were doing their duty for God and country.

In Tommy's case, Pee Wee Reese was still overseas, and he was remembered by Branch Rickey as being a mobile fielder during spring training (although he wasn't exactly sure-handed).  So need overcame experience.  The youngster got the call from the Class B Piedmont League, and played both ends of a doubleheader on August 3, 1944 for his very first experience on a Major League field.  He went on to be the regular shortstop for the Dodgers, playing in 46 games, that season.  BTW, he is only the second youngest person to ever play Major League ball.  Joe Nuxhall had pitched a game earlier that season at the ripe age of 15.

The following season he again started in the minors but came up to Brooklyn during the tail end of the 1945 season during the pennant chase.  Just over two weeks later he hit his record setting home run against Preacher Roe of the Pirates.  It was the Dodgers lone score that day.

For a fantastic biography on Tommy Brown check out C. Paul Rogers III biography at SABR, here.  Below is a short excerpt about how he came to be signed by Brooklyn:
Tommy Brown was a local kid; he was born December 6, 1927, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. He never knew his father and was raised primarily by an aunt and uncle. He quit school at a young age to work with his uncle unloading barges on the docks of New York. Brown spent his free time playing baseball on the pavement and cobblestone streets and in the famous Brooklyn Parade Grounds. The Dodgers held open tryouts there in 1943 and a friend who played first base on Tommy’s team talked Brown into going with him. They joined about 2,500 other kids and Brown arrived without a glove or spikes, items he did not own. After three days the Dodgers told him and a handful of others that they would hear from the team. Brown was only fifteen years old. Over the winter, the club offered him a chance to attend spring training in Bear Mountain, New York. His “bonus” was the 25-cent fee for the ferry.
Below are his career statistics, via Baseball Reference:

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