Grave Story: Jack Brewer (1918-2003)

Here lies Jack Brewer, who reached the majors after missing three seasons due to military service during World War II. Brewer pitched for the New York Giants between 1944 and 1946.

Jack Herndon Brewer was born in Los Angeles on April 21, 1918. He was part of a Polytechnic High School baseball team that once had back-to-back no-hitters during a 1935 tournament. Johnny Brysch blanked Chino, followed by Brewer tossing a 6-1 no-no against St. Augustine the next day. He fanned 11 batters in the game. That gem was just one of Brewer’s heroics as a teenaged pitcher in California. While playing for the Long Beach Merchants in 1936, he struck out seven batters in a row in a victory over the Compton Odd Fellows. Reds Scout Johnny Angel was in the crowd to witness the feat, and he soon signed the 18-year-old to a contract. Or so he thought. A day after it was announced that Brewer had signed with Cincinnati, Jack’s father, Harry Brewer, made it known that his son had not signed with the Reds or any other team, for that matter. Instead, Brewer went back to attending and pitching for Long Beach Junior College.

Source: The Minneapolis Star, May 27, 1946.

The Poly High class of 1937 had a pretty impressive team: Vern Stephens, Chuck Stevens, Bobby Sturgeon and Brewer all reached the major leagues. The high school also boasts Tony Gwynn and Chase Utley as alumni.

See Jack Brewer at Baseball Almanac

Brewer, with a hard-to-hit fastball, a sharp curve and a changeup, routinely racked up double-digit strikeout totals at the collegiate and amateur level. He once struck out 17 batters in a 1937 game against Ventura and followed it up with a no-hitter against Fullerton J.C. in his next start. Instead of turning his attention to the big leagues, Brewer committed to the University of Southern California and pitched for the Trojans in 1938. While there, he was roommates with Lou Zamperini, a long-distance runner who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Zamperini later entered the Air Force and survived one of the most harrowing stories of World War II that you’ll ever read.

Between 1938 and ’39, he was 10-3 for the Trojans in league competition (i.e. conference games). However, he struggled through the 1940 season with illness and a poor offense and won just twice. The New York Giants didn’t let one bad season get in the way of signing him, and Brewer became a Giant in June of 1940. Before he went to the minors, the team let him join the big-league club for a bit. He was amazed at the crowd of 35,000 fans who watched the Giants and Pirates play.

“I never saw so many people at a ball game,” he wrote in a letter. “The players told me that they are already sold out for July 4 with Brooklyn. That means about 60,000 persons. Imagine me pitching out there in front of a crowd like that. It makes me scared to think about it.”

Brewer pitched briefly for Jersey City of the International League before spending most of 1940 with Knoxville. He was used primarily as a reliever and won 3 games with a 4.50 ERA. He also hit a solid .276, including a 4-for-4 day against Birmingham. In his first full season in the minors in 1941, he won 7 and lost 11 for the Clinton Giants of the Three-I League. He walked 71 batters in 143 innings and had a 4.15 ERA. Over the offseason, the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League announced that they had purchased the contract of Brewer. The righthander never pitched for his hometown team.

Brewer should have been rounding into form after spring training with the Stars in March of 1942. Instead, he was working in radio engineering at an aircraft plant, and his essential defense job took precedence over baseball. Aside from participating in an exhibition game against the traveling Philadelphia Royal Giants Negro Leagues team in November, there is no record of Brewer playing ball in 1942. That exhibition game, incidentally, included Verne Stephens, Bob Lemon, Cliff Dapper and Chuck Stevens for the Long Beach All-Stars and Chet Brewer, Biz Mackey and Howard Easterling for the Stars.

This Bowman PCL card is, I believe, the only one issued of Brewer during his playing career. Source:

Brewer was commissioned as an ensign in the Naval Reserve in February of 1943 and was assigned to the U.S. fleet following training. He remained in the Navy for about a year and a half until receiving a medical discharge with an ear problem. He quickly rejoined the Giants in early July of 1944 and was brought directly to the majors — even though he hadn’t touched a baseball in a year and a half, he later said.

The Giants, which were a .500 team at the time, were desperate for pitchers. Brewer, who was now 26 years old and three years removed from his last season in pro ball, was immediately thrown into a start in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 15, 1944. Player/manager Mel Ott gave his pitcher a 1-run lead in the top of the first with an RBI triple. Brewer gave up a solo homer to Tony Lupien, the second batter he faced in the majors, to make it a 1-1 tie. That run was all that the Phillies could manage off him. Brewer allowed just 5 hits in a 5-1 complete game. He only walked 1 batter and struck out 3. He also singled in the top of the ninth inning off reliever Barney Mussill and scored on a force play by Ott. The only time he was in trouble came in the eighth inning, when he allowed two baserunners on a hit and walk. But Brewer fanned pinch-hitter Croaker Triplett to get out of the jam.

That win was the only one that Brewer picked up for the Giants in 1944. He continued to pitch regularly, making 7 starts in 14 appearances. He finished with a 1-4 record and 5.56 ERA, with 8 home runs allowed in 55 innings. Manager Ott counted on big things from him and a couple of other rookies in 1945, but Brewer was the only one who was up to the task. He made 21 starts in 28 appearances for the Giants that year and fashioned an 8-6 record and 3.83 ERA, with 8 complete games. He also received no-decisions in at least four games where he left with the score tied, including a 10-inning, 2-run performance against Philadelphia. He only struck out 49 batters and had a WHIP of 1.378, but his ERA+ was still 101, which made him just a little bit better than the average pitcher that season.

Brewer downed the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 on August 17, 1945, after a stretch when he pitched no-decisions in extra-inning games or had to get help from the bullpen to win. When Ott told him that he was getting the start, Brewer told him, “Well, it’s about time I showed that I can win a game without going into extra innings and without any relief. I feel that this is that time.” He was right. He not only went the distance in the win, but he also beat an ex-Army pitcher, Ken Gables. Brewer singled twice and helped account for one of the runs.

Source: Tri-City Herald, June 22, 1951.

Brewer was praised in the papers as being the only rookie on Ott’s 1945 pitching staff who wasn’t a flop. For all his good work in 1945, his time in the major leagues ended after one relief outing in 1946. He was sent to pitch against the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 18 with the Giants losing 5-0. He gave up a run in the fourth inning on an RBI triple from Pee Wee Reese, and then the Dodgers ran him out of the game in the fifth inning. Pete Reiser walked, stole second, advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Ernie Lombardi and stole home. Then Gene Hermanski walked, stole second and scored on a Carl Furillo single. Then Furillo stole second base. Brewer finally retired the side but gave up 3 runs in 2 innings on 3 hits, 2 walks and 4 stolen bases. He was sent down to the minor leagues soon after.

“Maybe Ott sent me down to learn how to keep a runner on the bag,” he quipped.

Over parts of 3 seasons, Brewer made 43 appearances, including 28 starts. He had a 9-10 record and 4.36 ERA, with 10 complete games. He struck out 73 batters in 216-2/3 innings and walked 76. Home runs proved to be a weakness, as he surrendered 22 long balls. Batters hit a combined .270 against him.

Brewer ended up with the Minneapolis Millers, and he struggled at first because of the lack of usage. He quickly recovered and at one point had a stretch where he allowed just 2 earned runs in 43-1/3 innings. He won 14 games for the Millers with an ERA of 3.46. He signed with the San Francisco Seals of the PCL for the 1947 season and turned in the best season of his career. He had a 16-14 record and 2.79 ERA while logging a career-high 287 innings. He completed 23 of his 38 appearances and added 122 strikeouts – also a career best.

Brewer’s 1948 season started off great, with four straight wins. But he pitched worse as the season wore on, and he finished with a 15-11 record and 4.28 ERA. He was even worse in 1949, losing 11 of 16 decisions with a 5.12 ERA. He was traded to Sacramento of the PCL for the 1950 season, but he was rocked in his only two appearances before being released. He pitched for a semipro team in Yuba City and threw a no-hitter against the Oroville Olives. He returned for one more season of professional ball in 1951, with the Tri-City Braves (Kennewick, Wash.) of the Western International League. He dropped 14 of 17 decisions, and batters managed 158 hits off him in 112 innings. Brewer was 33 years old when he retired from professional baseball.

While Brewer played for the Seals, he was managed by the legendary Lefty O’Doul. O’Doul apparently had a weakness for sweets and would focus so much on his mid-game licorice drops that he would turn his back to the action. Ventura County Star columnist Ernie Beyer reported about a time when O’Doul was enjoying his snacks and didn’t notice that Brewer was getting shelled on the mound, with no reliever warming up in the pen. The story was told by long-time Seal coach and manager Dario “Lodi” Lodigiani.

“The next batter slammed one through the infield and Brewer, in disgust, stuck his glove in his pocket and trudged off the field,” said Lodi. “O’Doul looked back at the field. ‘What’s happening?’ he asked, then exploded, ‘Where in Hell is the pitcher?’ as he spotted the empty mound. He turned just in time to see Brewer disappearing into the chute that led to the clubhouse.’”

Brewer’s post-baseball life is difficult to track. He completed his schooling at USC, getting a master’s degree in philosophy and psychology. He and his wife Dorothy were married in 1948, and they had at least two daughters, Madelaine and Mary Leigh.

Jack Brewer died in Sun City, Calif., on November 30, 2003. He was 85 years old.  He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif. His grave is marked with the words “Husband Father Patriot.”

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