01/22/10 1:09 PM EST
Rangers join in mourning Bragan
Organization salutes man for lifetime of baseball service
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
"I just think his life was really remarkable," Rangers vice president Jim Sundberg said. "To have played and participated in so many different roles and stay active and energized all the way to the age of 92, and to contribute to society and do the things that he did, was remarkable."For the past 30 years, Bragan has been known as "Mister Baseball" in the North Texas, given hundreds of speeches to churches, schools, civic groups and many other organizations on behalf of his foundation, the Rangers and the game. Often he would sing and play the piano during his speaking engagements. "I have never seen a better speaker in my life than Bobby Bragan," said Tom Grieve, longtime Rangers player, executive and broadcaster. "The proof was last year at his gala when he got up at the age of 92 and spoke for 10 minutes about players and statistics without notes and without missing a beat. He had great stories and he loved baseball. "There are a lot of people who you can say are an ambassador to the game of baseball but nobody did it better than Bobby. There are a lot of people who will say he was a good friend. He was the same person whether you were the president or just a fan. No matter who you were, you could feel a connection to Bobby Bragan." Bragan, who was born on Oct. 30, 1917 in Birmingham, Ala., played for the Phillies in 1940-42 and then was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers prior to the 1943 season. He played parts of four seasons for them, finishing after the 1948 season with a .240 batting average in 597 career games. Bragan hit a pinch-double in his only World Series plate appearance, in an 8-6 Dodgers win over the Yankees in Game 6 of the 1947 Series. Bragan, a native of the South, was among a handful of Dodgers who took exception to the signing of Jackie Robinson. Bragan, in his autobiography, "You Can't Hit The Ball With the Bat on Your Shoulders," wrote that, "Even having Jackie in our clubhouse at Ebbets Field was sour for me." But Bragan overcame what he called his "Southern prejudices," and soon became good friends with Robinson. "Jackie and I became close and stayed that way even after I left the Dodgers and beyond to when we were no longer in uniform," Bragan wrote. "We talked about everything." Bragan began his lifelong attachment to Fort Worth when he became the manager of the Dodgers' Minor League affiliate there. He managed the Fort Worth Cats in 1948-52 and won two Southern League titles. He became Pittsburgh's manager in 1956 but was replaced during the 1957 season, and he managed the Indians for 67 games in 1957. He returned to managing in 1963 with the Milwaukee Braves, and had winning records in each of his three full seasons. The Braves won 84, 88 and 86 games in those years but never finished higher than fifth in the 10-team National League. He was dismissed after 112 games in 1966. "I've always said that Bobby was the first one to let me do some things on the field I always wanted to do," Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who played for Bragan with the Braves, said in Bragan's autobiography. "He gave me the green light to run when I wanted. Before, we hadn't had that type of ballclub. We'd just go out and slug away. Bobby showed faith in me. It meant a lot." Bragan also had a significant impact on the career of shortstop Maury Wills while managing him on the Dodgers' Triple-A team in Spokane, Wash., in 1958-59. Wills had been languishing in the Dodgers' farm system until Bragan convinced him to become a switch-hitter and start taking advantage of his speed. During the 1959 season, Bragan recommended Wills be brought to the big leagues and he ended up playing a key role in the Dodgers winning the World Series that year. "Without Bobby Bragan, there would have been no Maury Wills in the Major Leagues," Wills said in the Bragan autobiography. "That simple. The mistakes I made in my career were my own; the successes were mine and Bobby Bragan's. Bobby told me to switch-hit and let me ease into it so I was comfortable. He told me to run the bases, use my God-given speed. He made me believe in myself at a time when it seemed like nobody else did." Bragan served as the president of Minor League Baseball from 1976-1978 and was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. That same year, he managed the Fort Worth Cats -- now an independent league team -- for one game, becoming the oldest man to ever manage in a professional game.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.