Positions: p, of, manager
Teams: Dayton Marcos (1930), Indianapolis ABCs (1931), Detroit Wolves (1932), Homestead Grays (1932-1945, 1947-1948), Mexican League (1939, 1946-1949), Canadian League (1950-1953)
Height: 6' 1'' Weight: 195
Born: February 23, 1908, Ashland Grove, Ohio
Died: February 8, 1965, Dayton, Ohio
National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee (2006)
The Homestead Gray's ace had a sinker, slider, and a fine fastball, but his curveball was his best pitch. So confident was Ray in all of his pitches that he would throw a curve with a 3-0 count on the batter. Later in his career he developed an effective knuckleball, and he had good control of all his pitches. During his nineteen-year career he pitched in two East-West All Star games (1935 and 1940) without a decision. As the mainstay of the Homestead Grays during their dynasty period, Ray pitched a total of seven games in the World Series of 1942-1945, earning a 3-2 World Series ledger. This included a one-hit shutout of the Birmingham Black Barons in the 1944 World Series. However, the workhorse's best pitching gem was yet to come, when he pitched a perfect game in a seven-inning contest against the Chicago American Giants in 1945.
Before turning to professional baseball, Brown played high school baseball in Indian Lake, Ohio, and attended Wilberforce University, but left before graduation to sign with the Homestead Grays. He continued his studies in the off-season, and after graduating in 1935, the handsome hurler married the daughter of Grays' owner Cum Posey in a ceremony at home plate on the Fourth of July. The slender, light-complected athlete was a steel-armed competitor and always ready to play. But the hard drinker was considered temperamental by some and, as Posey's son-in-law, was thought by others to receive preferential consideration.
In 1935 he sported a 12-3 pitching ledger, but Brown was not only an outstanding pitcher, he was also a good hitter from both sides of the plate, and often played the outfield when not toeing the rubber. When he first joined the Grays, he played centerfield and batted in a prominent spot in the batting order, but as the years passed, he concentrated more on his pitching. In 1936 he was selected for the Negro National League All Star team that devastated the opposition in the Denver Post Tournament, winning the title easily without a loss.
With the great offensive support generated by the powerhouse bats in the Grays' lineup, he enjoyed a high degree of success and ranks high in winning percentage among Negro League pitchers of all time. Throughout his career he had long winning streaks, including one stretch in 1936-1937 when he won 28 straight games over two seasons.
In 1938 the Grays fielded the strongest team of their nine straight pennant winners, and he was picked for the East-West All Star game but was withheld from participation by the club and the East lost, causing some owners to demand that the best players be allowed to represent their league in future contests. Brown finished the season with a 10-2 record and was one of five players designated by the Pittsburgh Courier as certain major-league stars and recommended to the Pittsburgh Pirates to sign if they wanted to be guaranteed a pennant. The other players identified were Josh Gibson. Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, and Satchel Paige. Few baseball historians doubt that with these five stars added to the Pittsburgh roster (giving them a total of seven Hall of Famers) the Pirates would have more than overcome the 2-game deficit by which the Chicago Cubs won the pennant when Gabby Hartnett hit his famous "homer in the gloaming."
In May 1939, after playing winter ball and angry at the Grays' contract offer for the coming season, Brown wrote Newark Eagles' owner Abe Manley, offering to play with the Eagles for $215 per month. With Manley not accepting his offer, he opted instead to pitch in Mexico and posted a 15-8 record before returning to the Grays late in the season. Rejoining the rotation, he won four of his five decisions as Homestead annexed another of their nine straight pennants, albeit a tainted one, as they lost a postseason tournament to the Baltimore Elite Giants.
The 1940 season brought another All Star year for Brown (18-3, 2.53 ERA) and another pennant for the Grays. In 1941 the big right-hander was credited with 27 straight wins against all competition (10-4, 2.72 ERA in league contests) as the Grays won their fifth straight Negro National League flag. In the league championship playoffs against the New York Cubans, he tossed a shutout in the deciding contest, and contributed three hits, including a home run and a double, to the offense. In 1942 he was 13-6 as the Grays swept to another pennant but lost to the Kansas City Monarchs in the World Series. The next two years, Brown posted marks of 8-1 and 9-3 and the Grays won both the pennant and the World Series each season. Although he dropped to a 3-2 record in league play, the 1945 season brought another pennant, extending the Grays' skein to nine straight flags.
Brown made his home in Homestead during the off-season, except when he was playing in the Latin American Leagues. A favorite in Cuba, he won more games in the winter leagues than any other black American pitcher, having a 4-20 record to show for his five seasons there, while batting .266. With Santa Clara in 1936-1937, he led the Cuban League in wins, posting a 21-3 record and spinning a no-hit, 7-0 victory over Havana on November 7, 1936. The next winter (1937-1938) he again led the league in wins, with 12, and pitched Santa Clara to the championship. Pitching for Ponce in the winter of 1941-1942, he also led the Puerto Rican League in victories, when he posted a 12-4 ledger with a 1.82 ERA. Six winters later he was still pitching effective ball, as he registered a 1.05 ERA in Puerto Rico. The next winter, 1948-1949, he was the manager for Caracas in the Venezuelan League.
In 1946 he left the Grays for another stint in Mexico, where he was 13-9 with a 3.52 ERA for Tampico, and followed with marks of 10-12, 13-4, and 15-11 with respective ERAs of 3.24, 3.53, and 3.40 in 1947-1949. Leaving the Mexico City ballclub after the 1949 season, he went to Sherbrooke in the Canadian Provincial League and was 6-1 and 11-10 in 1950-1951, also playing outfield the latter year as the club won the provincial championship. In 1953 he pitched two games for the Thetford Miners' ballclub and won his only decision. Apparently this was his last baseball decision ever, and he went out a winner. After his baseball career ended, he remarried and settled in Canada for several years, but had returned to the United States by the time of his death. He was inducetd into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.