Routine Moments in Baseball History: Mike Brown Was an Angel

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Routine Moments in Baseball History: Mike Brown Was an Angel

On one man's struggle to stay in the big leagues.
September 2, 2014, 4:25pm

Welcome back to Routine Moments in Baseball History, a running weekday feature that looks back at plays that have been ignored by the history books because history books only talk about things that are important or interesting. Today's installment is "Mike Brown Was an Angel."

Baseball is a goddamn hard sport, and hardest for those who are just good enough to have a dream of the major leagues but not good enough to get all the way out of the minors. Mike Brown was one such player, a tall, right-handed Californian with hair that flowed out of the back of his cap and an almost tragic inability to hit big league pitching. He'd be hitting the stitches off the ball as an Edmonton Trapper or a Hawaii Islander, but then he'd get promoted to the show only to get sent back down after pitchers picked apart holes in his swing with the ruthlessness of sharks smelling blood in the water.

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He was drafted in 1980 in the seventh round, a fresh-faced 20-year-old, and it was impressive that he made it to the bigs at all. In 1983 he was called up by the California Angels in July but struggled at the plate. In 1984, he was called up again, in May, and this time finished out the year with a respectable .284 average. In 1985 he was on the team from the start, but couldn't shake an early-season slump and got traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in August. He became that team's starting right fielder, but fell apart in 1986: He was hitting just .222 in August when he was sent down to Hawaii. (A curious thing, to get punished by being relocated from Pittsburgh to Hawaii.) Though he came back to the Pirates in September, he didn't improve as a hitter and was released before the 1987 season, then endured a humiliating year in which he got signed and released by the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago White Sox. At the start of the 1988 season, he was stuck on the Toledo Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers' AAA team—then he had his contract purchased by the Angels (who may have had some soft spot for him all this time) and moved back to Edmonton in July.

I run through this all to set the stage for September 2, 1988, when Brown was back roaming the outfield in Anaheim Stadium as if through some sort of miracle. The club had called him up a day before and he had gotten two hits against the Boston Red Sox—he was determined to stick on a roster, finally; he was 28, which is about the age when you're old for a ballplayer and people can start calling you a "career minor leaguer." The team was out of contention, but Brown, at least, was playing for something.

So when he got on base in the seventh with his second single of the night, the Angles down 2-1 against the Red Sox with Tony Armas the runner on third, he took a big, rather incautious lead off of first. The pitcher, Bruce Hurst, noticed this and fired the ball to first baseman Larry Parrish in what felt, to Brown, like a terrifyingly fast pickoff move—but Parrish couldn't hang on to the ball and it popped out of his glove and rolled into foul territory. Brown ran to second, his thoughts whipsawing from Oh no oh noohno to Yes! in the space of a few microseconds. A few pitches later, Bob Boone singled and drove in both runners—meaning that Brown had gone, in the span of a week, from playing minor league ball out in the far reaches of Canada to scoring the go-ahead run against the Red Sox in front of nearly 30,000 cheering fans. What can match the warmth of that feeling, to return to the dugout like a conquering hero, to know that you'll be in the bigs, you'll be an Angel, for at least another week and a lot longer after that if you can just keep this pace up.

The Angels won the game 3-2, but Brown couldn't keep it up. He had a series of hitless games, and by late September he had dropped out of the starting lineup. On October 2, he was brought in as a defensive replacement in left in the eighth inning, which would prove to be the last time he played in the majors. In 1989 he was back in Edmonton, and the following year he had quit baseball for good.

This has been Routine Moments in Baseball History. Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.