As we noted, Bobby Brown, the Yankees infielder turned cardiologist turned American League president, died on March 26 at the age of 96. He was remembered not only for his own illustrious life, but also for the fact that he was one of the last links — if not THE last link — to a legendary Yankees dynasty. His four World Championship teams (1947, 1949-51) featured the likes of DiMaggio, Berra and Rizzuto. Billy Martin and Whitey Ford were just coming up to the majors. Casey Stengel was the manager.
Naturally, Brown had a number of good stories from that era. Berra was a frequent part of them. The two men were roommates in the minor leagues, made their major-league debut in the same game in 1946 and remained lifelong friends. The most famous story was the time Berra was in the hotel room reading a comic book and Brown was reading a medical textbook that was a part of his education. As they put their reading materials down and got into their beds, Berra said, “Well, how did yours turn out?” Both men swore it was true.
Brown also talked about Berra’s rookie season, when the two were called to the majors from Newark of the International League at the end of the ’46 season. “We were all nervous, but Yogi appeared much more nervous than the rest of us,” Brown said of his fellow rookies. “Yogi was assigned to catch Spud Chandler, who had won 19 and had a final chance for his 20th game.
“Spud called him over to a corner of the locker room to acquaint him with his signals. At Newark, Yogi had only three signals: one finger was a fastball, two a curve and three a change of pace. Spud told him that one finger would be a fast pitch, two a curve, three a slider, four a screwball, five a changeup, six a drop and so on. Finally, when he finished the long list of signals, Spud asked Yogi if he understood.”
Berra said he did and then went to a bench near his locker, his face buried in his hands. Brown went over and asked his friend what was wrong. “Well, you see, at Newark I had but three signals for pitches, but this guy Chandler has more pitches than I have fingers.”
Chandler threw a 6-0 shutout against the Philadelphia Athletics on September 29, allowing 5 hits in the process. It was his 20th win of the season, so Berra clearly called the right pitches that day.
Then there was Casey Stengel, who was always good for a story or two. “Casey was unusual, the funniest person you ever met,” Brown said. “He had a good brain and he was a good thinker, but he was hilarious.”
This one came from an interview with Brown in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1994. He noted that Stengel frequently struggled to make out a lineup, because the Yankees teams had so many talented players that he wanted to play or platoon. Brown explained:
“He’d get eight or nine lineup cards and put them all on his desk and he’d fill in the pitcher on all nine of them, and he’d fill in DiMaggio hitting fourth on all of them. Then he’d have all the other combinations. He’d have Rizutto hitting first on one, eighth on another. He’d have different people on all the cards.
“I remember we had a game in Boston, and it was always tough there because Casey would get intrigued with the left field wall and getting right-handed hitters into the lineup. I told Johnny Mize to go find out if we were playing. Casey didn’t have an office in Fenway, so he had all these lineup cards spread out on the floor around his locker.
“Mize came back and said, ‘I think I’m playing. I’m on six of the [lineup] cards. You’re only on three. But I tell you what we have to do. We have to call Pittsburgh because Billy Johnson’s on seven of those cards.
“We’d traded Billy to Pittsburgh six weeks earlier,” Brown said.