“Downtown” Ollie Brown, who got his nickname while hitting long home runs for the Fresno Giants and went on to a 13-year career in the major leagues, has died. He was 71.
Brown died last month at his home in Buena Park from complications of mesothelioma, his brother Willie Brown told the Los Angeles Times.
Brown was the middle child in a trio of brothers who all played professional sports. His older brother, Willie, played football and baseball at USC and three seasons in the NFL. He later coached at USC and in the NFL. His younger brother, Oscar, played baseball at USC and spent five seasons in the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves.
During his baseball career — which included stints with six teams — Ollie Brown batted .265 with 102 home runs and drove in 454 runs. He also was known for his strong throwing arm.
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Brown broke into the major leagues in 1965 with the San Francisco Giants, and in 1968 became the first player chosen by the San Diego Padres in the expansion draft, earning another nickname: “The Original Padre.” He batted .292 with a career-best 23 homers and 89 RBIs for the Padres in 1970.
Ollie Lee Brown was born on Feb. 11, 1944, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. His parents took the family west shortly after he was born, settling in Long Beach.
His upbringing in California shaped his pro baseball career.
He signed as a teen with the San Francisco Giants in 1962; he was assigned to a minor league team in Salem, Va., in the Appalachian Rookie League. During a 2013 appearance at USC, Brown told students that on a road trip in West Virginia, he and other African-American players were informed by their manager that they would not be allowed to stay in the team hotel but would be taken to the home of an African American family.
When the team returned to Salem, Ollie Brown told his manager to tell the Giants to move him to another team and location or he would quit baseball.
He was sent to an affiliate in Decatur, Ill., and later flourished for Fresno in the California League, where he hit 40 home runs.
Fresno Bee sports writer Tom Meehan gave Brown his nickname during that 1964 season. It was said that a power hitter “took the pitcher downtown,” and Meehan playfully suggested that some of Brown’s longer shots at Euless Park could’ve reached downtown Fresno.
“I hit a lot of balls to center field,” he told MLB.com in 2012. “And the way the ballpark was situated, when you did hit it over the fence, the ball was going the direction of downtown.”
Baseball lore being what it is, of course, there’s always room for embellishment: At Euless, the only homers hit toward downtown are the ones pulled down the right-field line, typically by left-handed batters. The right-handed Brown’s center-field shots were headed toward southeast Fresno.
Brown made his major league debut with the Giants in 1965 and played on teams that featured Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds and Juan Marichal.
The Padres tabbed him with the first pick in the expansion draft in 1968, when four teams were added to Major League Baseball.