Former mentees, teammates remember Brown
D-backs manager Gibson, Tigers broadcaster Price among those who share memories
DETROIT -- Whether it was eating hot dogs during games, making a 13-year career out of being a pinch-hitting extraordinaire or helping the Tigers to a World Series in 1984 as a hitting coach, Gates Brown will always have a strong place in Detroit's history. He passed away on Friday at the age of 74.
Brown finished his career batting .251 (106-for-422) as a pinch-hitter with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and a .779 OPS. He hit five pinch-hit home runs in a four-year span starting in 1963, and batted .325 (13-for-40) with two homers and nine RBIs pinch-hitting in '66.
"Gator was a guy that when I was a little kid, I watched him quite a bit," said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, who grew up as a Tigers fan before having Brown as a hitting coach for six of his 12 years playing in Detroit. "He was an unreal pinch-hitter. I think at the time he was the best Tigers pinch-hitter of all time, had the most hits. Then ironically he was my hitting coach. He was a great guy, real simple."
One of his most infamous memories was in the 1968 season. Gates, who made a ritual of eating hot dogs during games, went into the clubhouse in the middle innings, knowing he didn't usually pinch-hit until the eighth. Manager Mayo Smith wasn't a fan of players eating during the game, so when Smith called into the clubhouse telling Brown he needed him to pinch-hit, Brown was caught off guard and stuffed two hot dogs down his jersey.
"I was in the locker room with him before Wally Moses or somebody grabbed him to come out of the locker room, and that's when he put the hot dogs in his jersey," former teammate and current Tigers radio broadcaster Jim Price said. "I went back to the bullpen and I said, 'Boys, watch out.' And of course, the rest is history."
Brown hit a double and did a headfirst slide into second, smearing mustard all over his jersey.
"He got fined [$100] for it. He said, 'I was getting strong!' Gates used to talk like that," Gibson said as he wiped away tears. "He was a good, good man and I'm sorry to see him pass."
After retiring, Brown spent seven years (1978-84) as the Tigers hitting coach. In that time, he transformed rookies Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell into two of the best hitting infielders in the league.
"We both hit the ball the other way to start with, which I think is a great philosophy when you first get to the big leagues," said Trammell, who is now a bench coach for the D-backs. "We learned how to pull because he told us, 'At some point in time, young man, these pitchers will jam you and you have to learn to turn on the ball.' It took a couple of years, but we evolved. We both came up very, very young, but we ended up being able to [pull the ball], so he was very instrumental for us."
Although Brown was an imposing figure on the field and as a coach, his presence in Detroit won't be forgotten, as he was known to stay around the ballpark to sign autographs and chat with fans and players.
"It's tough. I knew he wasn't doing well, and that was tough enough," Price said. "And now when you hear it, it's really tough. He'll be missed. He was an icon, a big part of the Tiger organization and the Tiger legacy."
Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.