Obituary: Brian DuBois (1967-2023)

RIP to Brian DuBois, former major-leaguer and one of the greatest high school pitchers of his era. He died on February 13 at the age of 55 from cancer. DuBois, a resident of Appleton, Wis., played for the Detroit Tigers in 1989 and 1990.

Brian Andrew DuBois was born in Joliet, Ill., on April 18, 1967. He attended Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, Ill., and it is not hyperbole to say he became one of the most dominant high school pitchers in the country. In his senior year of 1985, the left-handed pitcher had a 0.08 ERA. That is not a typo — he gave up 1 earned run in 107-2/3 innings. He struck out 265 batters, allowed 24 hits (22 singles and 2 doubles), picked 15 runners off base, and had a record of 15-0, including 4 no-hitters. Braidwood won the Class-A State championship that year when DuBois threw a 1-hit, 5-0 win — pitching his third game in two days. His four-year strikeout total of 634 is still the 17th-highest total in U.S. high school baseball history. Unsurprisingly, he was a high draft pick — Fourth Round by the Baltimore Orioles — in the 1985 June Amateur Draft.

See Brian DuBois on Baseball Almanac

Success didn’t come quite as easily in pro ball as it had in high school, and DuBois spent the next four seasons in Rookie-level or Class-A ball. He pitched in a combined 18 games in 1985 and ’86, pitching well in Rookie-level Bluefield but suffering a 7.08 ERA in his first stint at Class-A Hagerstown. He didn’t play a full season until he turned in an 8-9 record and 3.89 ERA for Hagerstown in 1987. Even more impressively, he picked off 33 baserunners. He had 10 games with 2 pickoffs and 3 games with 3. He won a combined 14 games in 1988 while pitching for Virginia and Hagerstown of the Carolina League, including a near no-hitter against the Prince William Yankees. The only hit DuBois allowed in the 8-0 win was an infield single to future Marlin Mitch Lyden with 2 outs in the ninth inning.

Source: Chicago Tribune, June 10, 1985.

DuBois’ breakout, 14-win season in 1988 was a mixture of highs and lows. He battled tendonitis in the spring and was assigned initially to the Virginia Generals, a co-op team, instead of the Orioles’ Class-A Hagerstown Suns. He was frustrated and pitched poorly and was close to quitting baseball entirely. Then the Orioles brought him back to Hagerstown to fill out an injury-depleted pitching staff. “After they called, something just clicked in my head. It was confidence,” DuBois later told Joe Cybulski of the Detroit Free Press. “I had never really pitched with confidence before. My first three years, it seems like I always pitched scared.”

DuBois stayed with Hagerstown as the team moved to the Double-A Eastern League in 1989. He was promoted to Triple-A Rochester and had a 3-1 record and a 1.80 ERA in 4 starts but became part of a trading deadline deal. On July 29, the Orioles sent him to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder/DH Keith Moreland. Within the span of little more than a calendar year, DuBois had gone from a fringe minor-leaguer to a valuable trading chip, as the Orioles made a push for the AL East title — ultimately falling 2 games short to Toronto.

“He progressed a long way in this game,” Orioles pitching coach Dick Bosman said of DuBois. “The kid has worked hard and pitched his way into being a prospect.”

The Tigers assigned DuBois to Triple-A Toledo, but after three starts, he was brought to the major leagues. Detroit in 1989 was a terrible team that lost 103 games, and a fine performance by DuBois over the final two months of the season was utterly wasted. He made 5 starts and lost 4 of them, but his ERA was a sparkling 1.75. His major-league debut came on August 17 against the New York Yankees. he was admittedly nervous and walked 3 batters, including an intentional walk to Steve Balboni in the first inning. DuBois threw 11 straight balls in the inning and allowed 2 runs to score. Those were the only runs he allowed in 6 innings of work and lost 2-1. He didn’t allow any earned runs in either of his next two starts but, thanks to errors by his third basemen, he gave 2 unearned runs to Toronto for a no-decision and 4 unearned runs to Boston (thanks to an Ellis Burks grand slam) and took another loss. He was brought into the September 6 game against Kansas City in relief and earned a rare 5-inning save in an 11-5 win. DuBois then took the loss in each of his final 2 starts, against Minnesota on the 15th and Toronto on the 25th. His game against the Jays was particularly good, as he allowed 4 hits over 7 innings. One of those hits, though, was a 2-run home run to Tony Fernandez, resulting in a 2-0 loss.

“He made one mistake,” said Toronto manager Cito Gaston. “He got a changeup up. Otherwise, he pitched a great game.”

The 1.75 ERA is a little misleading, because half of the 14 runs he allowed were unearned. His FIP, which measures a pitcher’s individual performance a little better than ERA does, is a higher 4.35. DuBois struck out 13 and walked 17 in his 6 appearances, but batters hit just .218 against him. Detroit’s offense failed DuBois as badly as the defense did, as batters hit .217 and scored a total of 6 runs in his 4 losses. DuBois’ successful audition might have made him a favorite to win a starting job in 1990, but with a veteran-heavy starting rotation (including Jack Morris, Frank Tanana, Dan Petry and Walt Terrell), the best manager Sparky Anderson could have done was use DuBois in the bullpen as the one lefty arm. When the Tigers acquired southpaw reliever Jerry Don Gleaton in spring training, DuBois was sent back to start the season in Toledo. He was brought back to the majors in May, but his first two starts both resulted in losses to the Blue Jays. He finally picked up a win in Chicago against the White Sox on May 18. Many of DuBois’ friends and family were in the Comiskey Park stands to cheer him on as he allowed 2 runs in 5 innings in an 8-2 Detroit victory.

“It’s about time. It seems like years since I won,” DuBois said after the game. Not only was it his first major-league victory, but it also came in a ballpark where he once attended games as a boy. DuBois won two of his next three decisions but lost two games in a row, leaving his record at 3-5. After getting no-decisions in his next three starts, including a pair of short outings against Oakland and the White Sox, DuBois had a disastrous relief outing against the Royals on July 5. Working on a day’s rest after a 3-2/3 inning start on July 3, the southpaw gave up 7 runs on 8 hits in 2 innings. The game sent his ERA up by almost an entire run to 5.09 on the season. It was also the final appearance of his major-league career.

DuBois was sent back to Toledo shortly after that relief outing. He was not effective in the minors and was claimed off waivers by Baltimore on August 29. It was noted in reports of the acquisition that the Tigers felt that DuBois had just a mediocre fastball and needed his changeup to be an effective pitcher. More troubling was the report that DuBois had suffered an arm injury that might require offseason surgery. Baltimore picked him up anyway, but 16 days after the acquisition, he underwent Tommy John surgery. DuBois tried to come back in 1991, but his first rehab assignment ended after one pitch. He needed a second surgery to re-attach the ligament to the bone in his left elbow and missed the entire 1992 season.

After throwing one pitch over the previous two years, DuBois rebounded to win 12 games at three different levels in the Orioles’ minor leagues in 1993. His fastball had lost a few miles per hour, but he was still an effective finesse pitcher. By the Fourth of July, he had already been promoted to Double-A Bowie after dominating at High-A Frederick with a 6-2 record and 1.55 ERA. “More and more people are coming back quicker and quicker,” DuBois said. “I’ve got a start, but I’m really just happy to be pitching.” After a handful of starts at Bowie, manager Don Buford said that the only thing the left-hander still needed to return to the majors was “a telephone call.” DuBois was eventually promoted to Rochester but struggled in 3 starts, as he wore down from a long season.

DuBois was a candidate for the Orioles rotation going into 1994, but he was ultimately returned to the minors. After pitching poorly in Rochester, he was released at the end of May and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. He found some success as a reliever for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in ’94 and ’95, but he did not reach the majors — the 1994 strike that ended the season also took away potential September promotions for DuBois and a host of other minor leaguers. He won 8 games as a starter for the independent Aberdeen Pheasants of the Prairie League in 1996, and that was the final season for DuBois as a professional ballplayer.

Over parts of two seasons, DuBois had a 3-9 record with 1 save in 18 games, including 16 starts. He had a 3.82 ERA and a 104 ERA+. In 94-1/3 innings, he struck out 47 batters and walked 39, and he allowed 11 home runs. He also won 59 games in his 10-year minor-league career.

DuBois returned to the Midwest and settled in Appleton. He worked for AT&T and also served as a pitching coach for Reed-Custer High School and in a summer collegiate league. He is survived by sons Tyler and Zach, his mother, three siblings and a large extended family.

For more information: RW Patterson Funeral Home

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