Born William James Brown, the Tigers took a chance on the Ohio native in 1960 when they signed him right out of prison. Brown was in state prison for burglarly and got a chance to play on prison baseball team where he awed his coach with his hitting skills. (Interestingly, it wasn’t the last time the Tigers signed someone straight out of the pen. In 1973, the Tigers signed speedster Ron LeFlore who was in a Michigan prison for armed robbery after he impressed Billy Martin with his skills).
Brown made his big league debut with the Tigers in 1963 and homered in his very first at bat.
Not known for his defensive skills, Brown proved effective as a pinch hitter. His 107 pinch hits remain the most in American League history. Sixteen of those pinch hits were for home runs.
Brown was an integral part of the Tigers 1968 World Series championship. He hit .450 in a pinch hitting capacity (18 for 40). One of those pinch hits, however, came when he had two hot dogs hidden in his uniform. Gates had just fixed himself two hot dogs when Tigers manager Mayo Smith called upon him to pinch hit. It was the one time he did not relish getting up to bat.
Brown retired following the 1975 season. However, Brown would don a Tiger uniform again in 1978 when he was hired as their hitting coach. He remained in that role through 1984 when he would earn another World Series ring. Although his health had declined in recent years, he remained a fan favorite in Detroit and continued to appear at team functions.
Brown made his last public appearance in May during a 45th anniversary reunion of the ’68 Tigers.
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