Brown: peerless among PR men, pride of O's

April 30, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

Putting up with sportswriters for 35 years ought to be enough of a hell-on-earth experience to draw a future ticket to heaven; at least a designated seat in the press box. Bob Brown was far and away the best public relations/publicity director to serve any Baltimore team, and now he's headed off to enjoy the sunsets of Florida.

His professionalism, reliability, historical knowledge of the subject -- the Orioles -- and willingness to deal with often "impossible" individuals, making all kinds of demands, made him the second coming of Dale Carnegie. Brown never tried to influence reporters to write fiction stories about the owners he worked for or to advance anyone's candidacy for the Hall of Fame.

No, he couldn't be a shill or part of such a caper because he has too much character to play the role of a jackal. The last time a utility infielder named Bob Johnson was in Baltimore, he said, "Whether your name was Brooks Robinson or a `scrubinee' like me, he treated all of us with the same respect and recognition." A sincere tribute.

Now, the Orioles have made an immensely popular decision. They've named the press box in Brown's honor. Owner Peter Angelos, whom Brown never worked for, said, "It ought to be done so let's do it." A fitting reward for Brown's outstanding performance and longevity.

Brown came out of Tamaqua, Pa., moved to Kennett Square and then to West Chester. He played the outfield at Amherst (class of 1953), never got hit in the head with a fly ball and once had the distinction of being introduced by his father to Connie Mack in Mack's Shibe Park office in Philadelphia.

Brown served 30 months in Japan with the Army intelligence corps, tracking Soviet spies and picking up their signals, whether it was for the squeeze play or the hit-and-run. It was his intention to study the Japanese language when he returned home, and he later enrolled at Georgetown, working part-time for the CIA and, simultaneously, becoming the head copy boy, at age 25, for the Washington Post.

It was at an Amherst homecoming that John Lancaster, then the Orioles' PR head, told him he needed an assistant. Lancaster seemed embarrassed when it came to salary. The best he could offer was $4,500, but Brown said, "I'll take it; I'm making $2,700 at the Post."

With the Orioles, he served as road secretary for eight years, wrapped around doing the PR detail and publishing the most attractive press guides and magazines of any team in all of sports.

He once talked about some of the general managers of the past: "I'd say Lee MacPhail and Frank Cashen gave me a lot of independence in the job," he said. "Put it this way: They gave me a lot of rope to hang myself. Harry Dalton was another jewel. And Hank Peters and Roland Hemond. All men of integrity."

Brown picked up a picture of an Orioles' meeting of scouts and minor-league managers. He reeled off the names: Arthur Ehlers, Barney Lutz, Billy DeMars, Billy Hitchcock, Walter Youse, Cal Ripken Sr., Jim Russo, Fred "Bootnose" Hofmann, Don McShane, Rae Scarborough, Jim Frey, Frank McGowan, Burleigh Grimes, Al Kubski, Earl Weaver, George Staller and Cal Ermer.

They were around when something called the "Oriole Way" was being talked about in the minor leagues. It borders on myth, a topic that's repeated so often it has become almost fact, as if other teams didn't have the same unified approach to teaching fundamentals.

"What should be said is there became an `Oriole Way' because of the type of men doing the teaching," Brown points out. "It was the coaches and managers instructing on the fine points that made the difference, not what came from a manual on how to make the double play or the proper way to hit the cutoff man.

"Those coaches, managers and scouts were exceptional. They made the difference. Jim McLaughlin, the farm director, knew how to use their talents, and the acquisition of Dave McNally and Boog Powell, to mention only two, as high school kids, were exceptional moves by McLaughlin and Russo."

He thinks of the players he saw on their way to the Hall of Fame, such as Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Robin Roberts, plus manager Earl Weaver, and what will certainly come later -- Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.

What is Brown's first memory of Ripken Jr.? "A big, gangling kid. When we drafted him, I figured it was out of courtesy to his father. We took three players in the draft ahead of him. If the Orioles would have missed on Cal, we never would have lived it down. I remember when Cal went out to give his first speech. He asked me what he should say. I told him, `Let's get Bud Freeman in here.' Freeman was an exceptional public speaker and gave Cal a few tips. You could easily see what a bright young fellow he was."

Brown remembers so well some of the outstanding deals the Orioles made, for players such as Frank Robinson, Mike Cuellar, Luis Aparicio, Jim Gentile, Ken Singleton and Peters' trade with the Yankees that brought Rick Dempsey, Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez.

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