Monday, January 25, 2010

Bobby Bragan

Bobby Bragan, who managed the Bucs in 1956-57, died Thursday night in Fort Worth at the age of 92.

He spent seven seasons as a major-league manager with the Pirates (1956-57), where he coached up Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente; Cleveland (1958), with Larry Doby, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Bob Lemon; and the Milwaukee (1963-65)/Atlanta (1966) Braves, where he managed Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn. He compiled a lifetime record of 443-478 and eight Hall-of-Famers.

Bragan was born and raised in Birmingham and began his baseball career in the Alabama-Florida League with Panama City in 1937. He played two years at Pensacola in the Southeastern League before being sold to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1939.

He came up as a shortstop and played for the Phillies from 1940-1942. In 1941, he played all 154 games, batting .251 and driving in 69 runs. In 1942, the team was strapped for catching help because of injuries and military call-ups, and Bragan offered to don the tools of ignorance.

Dodger general manager Branch Rickey liked the youngster’s gumption and traded for him. He was a backup catcher for the Dodgers during the next two seasons.

Bragan was a protégé of sorts for Rickey, a Hall of Fame executive, who gave him his first team at Fort Worth when both were with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then brought Bragan to Hollywood and the Pittsburgh organization, where Rickey was general manager from 1951-55.

After spending two years in the military, Bragan returned in time for the 1947 season. The Dodgers played the New York Yankees that year in the World Series and Bragan pinch-hit a double. That would be his only at bat in World Series play, but enough to place him on the list of players who had a 1.000 batting average in the fall classic.

Also during that season, he was introduced to the brave new world of baseball when Jackie Robinson became his teammate. Bragan had been critical of the Dodgers decision to break baseball's color barrier. But after just one road trip with Robinson, he changed his tune and told Rickey that it was an honor to be Robinson's teammate.

Bragan started the 1948 season with Brooklyn, but Rickey wanted to bring up Roy Campanella from the minors. Rickey offered Bragan the manager's job of the Fort Worth Cats, and he took over in July of 1948, remaining with the Cats for five years. He then managed the Hollywood Stars for the next three years.

In 1956, Bragan was Joe Brown's selection as manager, influenced heavily by the recommendation of the retired Rickey, who was still on the Pirate board. He replaced Fred Haney.

The Bucs were in the midst of a Rickey-inspired youth movement, much like today. Their core consisted of Mazeroski, Clemente, Dick Groat, Vernon Law, Bob Friend, Bill Virdon, Bob Skinner, and Elroy Face. But they were a few seasons away from the World Series champs they would become.

Bragan preached fundamentals, and the club, young as it was, improved by six games from its 1956 season. Bragan was vocal - he would get tossed by the umps a half dozen times that year - and unorthodox, completely ignoring the book when he put together a lineup. Attendance doubled during his maiden voyage.

But the wheels fell off in 1957, and a few days after yet another incident and ejection (and a 36-67 record), he was canned and replaced by coach Danny Murtaugh. Bragan, as good a teacher as he was - and he was good - was old school and brusk, and had lost Maz, Groat, and Clemente, among others, making the change inevitable.

In the foreword to Bragan’s bio, You Can’t Hit the Ball with the Bat on Your Shoulder, Cosell wrote about that day, when Bragan was visiting him in his apartment.

Bragan was playing and singing "Mack the Knife" on Cossell's piano when he was interrupted by a call from Pirates GM Joe Brown.

He took the call, talked for a few minutes, then resumed singing. "What did Joe want?" Cosell asked. "Mack the Knife is back in town," Bragan sang, then quickly added a new verse, "...and I was just fired by Joe Brown."

He went on to manage the Indians in 1958 and the Braves in the sixties.

Bragan worked in the 1970s and 1980s as the Texas Rangers' community director of public relations. He remained a special assistant to the club for the past 20 years.

Bragan made news in 2005 when he managed the Fort Worth Cats for one game, at age 87, becoming the oldest skipper of a pro team. He was eight days older than Connie Mack, who managed his last game in 1950.

Always known as an umpire-baiter, Bragan was ejected in the third inning of his comeback, also becoming the oldest person to be ever be ejected from a pro baseball game.

Bragan was an ambassador for the game in the Fort Worth area while helping the community. He was chairman of the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which provides college scholarships to eighth-grade students from public schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and was known as "Mr. Baseball" for his stories and encyclopedic knowledge of the game's inner workings.

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