The writer, the veteran beat writer covering the local baseball
team for a daily newspaper, lives deep within baseball's aching
heart. Hours before a game begins, hours before fans are
permitted into the ballpark, the scribe moves with expert
nonchalance through the clubhouse, down the runway, along the
dugout and behind the batting cage, collecting quotes and
medical reports and trade rumors, making observations and
judgments, killing time. Bill Brown showed up earlier than most.
Arriving early was part of his code, a catalog of customs
understood only by Brown and a tiny group of writers,
ballplayers and veteran baseball men. Everybody else was a
target of Brown's wrath.
Brownie--there were people who used his nickname in a pathetic
effort to feign intimacy with a man they either feared or
despised--wasn't one of the big pens in Philadelphia. He wrote
for the Delaware County Daily Times, a tabloid filled with
schoolboy track meets and two-alarm fires and wire stories. Its
circulation, about 50,000, was insignificant compared with those
of the two major dailies in town: The Philadelphia Inquirer,
with a circulation of nearly 500,000, and the Philadelphia Daily
News, with about half that. But through sheer force of
personality, Brown, who covered the Phillies daily for a decade
and then some, had undue influence up and down the press box,
within the team and in the stands. It was Brown who decided who
and what was cool.
For years the core of the Phillies' fan base has come from the
working-class towns of Delaware County, on Philadelphia's
southwestern edge, and more than a few of Brown's readers were
men with season tickets who worked out of trucks and read the
paper during coffee breaks. This might explain why Brown's
sentences and paragraphs were so short. His stories were blunt
and often unfavorable to the Phils. He once said, "I can make
even spring training stories negative." His goal was to explain
the inner workings of the clubhouse. Reporting on backbiting was
one of his specialties. His accuracy was astounding, really,
given how much opinion he put into his stories and how often he
used sources he did not name. In his stories there were
constants. Again and again Brown praised players who showed up
early, worked hard and drank beer with the writers.
On any Phillies team there were a few guys who met Brown's
standards. For a while Philadelphia had Lenny Dykstra, Darren
Daulton, John Kruk and Roger McDowell, and they all flourished
in Brown's Sunday columns, in his game stories, in the notes he
filed weekly for The Sporting News. They dressed in a manner
acceptable to Brown, drove cars he approved of, listened to
music he liked. They played hurt. If religion mattered to them,
they didn't say so. On road trips, in the bars of the hotels of
National League cities, the players never said to Brown, "Hey,
this is off the record, dude." Brown knew what he could use in
the paper and what he could not. He decided what was on the
record and what was off. One Phillies manager, Jim Fregosi,
shared Brown's code, and another, Nick Leyva, did not. Both men
were fired in time, of course. But when Leyva was fired, in
1991, hardly anybody in Philadelphia cared. When Fregosi was
fired, in '96, there was outrage. Brown had something to do with
There were also men on the Phillies, and people around the team,
who were so woefully unattuned to Brown's code that he would
have nothing to do with them. He treated these people as if they
had a contagious disease. In the mid-'80s the Phillies had a
manager named John Felske whom Brown found lacking. So Brown
stopped talking to him. A manager refusing to talk to a beat
writer--that occurs. But a beat writer not talking to a manager
he covers? That probably has happened only once.
Felske was in good company. Another Phillie for whom Brown had
no use was Mike Schmidt. Schmidt may have been the best player
ever to wear a Phillies uniform, but he offended Brown. Brown
thought Schmidt was rude to children and didn't sign enough
autographs. For these and other sins Brown voted against Schmidt
when his name appeared on the 1995 Hall of Fame ballot. Schmidt
played third base for the Phillies his entire career, 18 years,
during which he hit 548 homers and won 10 Gold Gloves. But in
the category of character, Brown thought Schmidt was a failure.
"In 11 years of covering major league baseball on a daily basis,
I've never witnessed a more arrogant, egomaniacal, or
thoughtless player," Brown wrote in a Jan. 10, 1995, column
explaining the high purpose of his vote, which was to ensure
that Schmidt not be sent to Cooperstown by unanimous consent in
his first year of eligibility. Brown succeeded.
If Brown had a mentor, it was Peter Pascarelli, who was a
veteran baseball writer when he started covering the Phillies
for the Inquirer in 1983, a year before Brown's rookie season on
the beat. Pascarelli was an acerbic, cynical newspaperman whose
knowledge of baseball was vast, as was his output of stories. If
his output were measured by number of words, Pascarelli typed
Moby Dick annually. The baseball beat man might wear out his
fingertips, Pascarelli taught Brown, but he earned certain
privileges. He could get any story he wanted in the paper
because the readers' appetite for baseball was thought to be
insatiable. His stories ran prominently for the same reason. He
took off November, December and January. He spent six weeks in
Florida during February and March. He never went to the office.
In those days baseball was still the king of the beats. Brown
had covered basketball and football for his paper. But when he
showed up in Clearwater, Fla., for his first spring training, in
February 1984, he knew he had truly arrived. When he wanted to
know what to do, he looked to Pascarelli. Brown was 30 years
old; Pascarelli was 34.
At the end of the 1989 season Pascarelli left the Inquirer. By
all rights Brown should have been Pascarelli's successor. For
one thing, the paper was in Brown's blood. His father had worked
as a photographer for the Inquirer for nearly 20 years. In fact
Brown's introduction to baseball came at his father's knee, in
the photographers' box on the field of Connie Mack Stadium in
the early 1960s. But David Tucker, the sports editor of the
Inquirer, did not want a Pascarelli clone to succeed Pascarelli.
Tucker found his new baseball writer in an unlikely place, in
the newsroom, on the metro desk. Tucker made a dubious choice,
and I'm in a position to say so, because his choice was me. My
only qualifications were a youthful love of baseball and a
single news story, an obituary of Bart Giamatti, the baseball
commissioner. Try it for a year, Tucker said, then we'll talk. I
knew I had to take the job. Baseball was the king of the beats.
I went to spring training in 1990 with a phrase of Giamatti's in
mind: "The ultimate purpose of playing the game of baseball is
to bring pleasure to the American people." My plan for the beat
was, whenever possible, to find joy. Then I arrived in
Clearwater and saw the three-headed monster I would be competing
against, and I knew the mastermind of my plan was, in fact, a
With Pascarelli off the scene, new alliances were formed on the
Phillies beat. Brown teamed up with two other reporters who
shared his value system: Paul Hagen of the Daily News and George
A. King III of a Trenton, N.J., paper, The Times. For the nearly
two months of spring training, the three lived in the same
condominium complex, on Gulf Boulevard in Clearwater Beach. They
had--by coincidence, they said--rented identical cars, red
convertible Chrysler Le Barons. They did all their interviews
together and shared all their notes. They ate and drank together
nightly at a place called Frenchy's, which was said to have the
best grouper burgers in Clearwater. I never knew. It was their
place, and they never invited me to join them. One night, a week
or two into spring training, I saw the three convertibles lined
up outside Frenchy's. I knew I was in trouble.
The Three Amigos--the name was coined by Ray Finocchiaro, the
Phillies' beat man for The News-Journal of Wilmington,
Del.--worked long hours but still did their jobs with a
casualness that was foreign to me. One day, after a good
pitching performance by the Phillies' Ken Howell, King concluded
an interview with Howell by poking his pen in the righthander's
soft stomach and saying, "Good job." Hagen had long
conversations with Dykstra in which he advised the centerfielder
on how to lead his public life. Brown once saw Lee Thomas, the
Phillies' general manager, being interviewed in the stands of
Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in Clearwater by an out-of-town
writer Brown did not like, and he waved his arms frantically at
Thomas to indicate that the writer was not to be trusted. The
Three Amigos' approach was new to me. I had always thought that
some barrier between reporter and subject was a good thing.
They were a curious firm, Hagen, Brown & King. Hagen, married
with two children, was an avuncular man, round in the middle,
with a voice reminiscent of Mr. Magoo's. He carried a briefcase
and concluded his anecdotes by rubbing his knuckles on his shirt
pocket. King, married with no children, was a quiet man with
short arms and legs who had the habit of twisting his neck from
shoulder to shoulder while waiting silently for the clubhouse
doors to open after a game. His appearance never varied: hair
oiled back, a beard, dark glasses (even at night), boat shoes,
and a reporter's notebook stuffed in the back waistband of his
Unlike his compatriots, Brown--divorced, no children--looked
more like a ballplayer than a reporter. He often wore shorts and
T-shirts, expensive sneakers and sunglasses. In summer he had a
deep tan. He was tall and thin-waisted, broad at the shoulders,
athletic. In high school he had played soccer. He ran, lifted
weights, did exercises. He didn't eat red meat. He kept track of
I think Brown considered himself a rebel, but his acts of
rebellion were modest. His spiked haircut, through which he ran
his hands often, was tidy, like that of a punk rocker trying to
please his mom. Sometimes he'd sit through the national anthem,
chewing gum and snapping it loudly. His mood was unpredictable.
He'd often complain about the pace of a game, or a decision by
the official scorer, or anything, by looking out the press box
window and yelling, "Mediocrity reigns!" On days he was on the
warpath, nobody was safe except King and Hagen, Daulton and
Dykstra, maybe a coach or two. On those days especially, his
eyes were electric.
At first I thought Brown didn't hear me when I said hello to
him. Then I realized he wasn't just not saying hello to me, he
wasn't even riding elevators with me. Before long I knew that
any effort I might make with Brown was futile. His hostility
toward me was both sly and overt. He had a habit of walking out
of the manager's office while I was posing a question. A mistake
in the Inquirer was like a present to him. Once in a story I had
Roger McDowell on the mound, struggling, when it should have
been another pitcher. Brown ran the paper to McDowell. Another
day I wrote that the Phils had gone through the motions in a
routine loss. Brown ran that story to the manager.
You never knew what was going to set him off or what he'd find
funny. Once I used the word brio in a game story, and Brown had
a field day, telling his fellow Amigos, "I feel I'm writing with
real brio tonight." Brown could be quite funny, unless you were
the butt of his jokes. The Phillies' third baseman for a while
was Dave Hollins, whom Brown called Head, after Hollins's large
cranium. One Friday night in 1990, Randy Ready, a utility
infielder for the Phillies and one of Brown's guys, weighed
Head's head, I suspect at Brown's urging. In his Sunday column
Brown dutifully reported that Hollins's head weighed 12 pounds.
I thought that was funny. I doubt Hollins did.
Other times Brown's notion of humor just perplexed me. Once I
wrote that the Cincinnati Reds "whomped" the home team. This
tickled Brown. He found a copy of the Inquirer, marked the
offending word with a pink highlighter and passed it through the
press box, to high giggles. I still don't get it.
One of the significant pleasures of the HBK News Agency,
naturally, was to have something in their papers that I didn't
have. They were at a competitive advantage for a number of
reasons. Hagen, Brown and King shared everything. Sometimes they
would literally block other reporters out of interviews. They
were fascinated by the day-to-day minutiae of a baseball season
and would report much of it--particularly, stalled contract
negotiations and rumors of trades and firings. They knew so much
about the Phillies that players would seek out the triumvirate's
opinion of their status. The general manager, in turn, would use
the writers to help him evaluate players. He knew that writers
saw stuff, heard stuff, knew stuff. They were all running on a
One Sunday in late August 1990, at Jack Murphy Stadium in San
Diego, I showed up late for an afternoon Phillies-Padres game.
(In other words, I was there only an hour or two before the
first pitch.) I checked in with Thomas, the general manager, to
see if there had been any roster moves or other news I needed to
know about. I did that daily, checked in with either Thomas or
Bill Giles, the team president. Thomas told me about a team
meeting he had held that morning, in which he told the players
to stop whining to umpires. I wrote it up as a note for the next
day's paper. Late at night, as the first editions of the
Inquirer came off the presses, the Amigos called Philadelphia to
find out if I had the team meeting in the paper on a day they
had marked me for tardiness. They didn't like the answer. At one
in the morning, Hagen called Finocchiaro, who was the chairman
of the Philadelphia-area chapter of the Baseball Writers
Association of America. The Amigos wanted an emergency chapter
When Finocchiaro arrived in Hagen's hotel room, Brown and King
were there. "You're picking Bamberger up," Brown said, beer in
hand. He assumed that Finocchiaro had told me about the team
"My bosses want me to have things that he doesn't have," Hagen
said. King, silent, nodded in agreement.
"You're through as chapter chairman," Brown said. "Don't ever
talk to me again."
"That would be my pleasure," Finocchiaro said. He turned his
back to leave.
Brown, sprawled in a lounge chair, tossed his partly filled beer
can at Finocchiaro. The can bounced at Finocchiaro's feet, and
beer splashed onto the legs of his trousers. The last thing he
heard--this is his version of the scene, and I have no reason to
doubt it--was Brown saying, "Get out of here."
Finocchiaro, who had been on the beat since 1969, laughed off
the incident. I was livid, bewildered, frustrated. I think I
knew then that I would not be returning to the beat for a second
year. Watching the games, writing them up for the next day's
paper, that part I enjoyed. The rest of the time was dreadful.
Brown had won.
Near the end of the season, Brown provided the Amigos with one
final hoot. For a game story in early October, he changed his
byline from Bill Brown to William Brown and began with these two
PHILADELPHIA--A clear and crisp autumnal evening, not quite the
same festal October setting that will grace the league
championship series later in the week, served as a pleasant
enough atmosphere for the Phillies in their 7-6 triumph over the
Chicago Cubs last night at Veterans Stadium.
The game, No. 160 on your handy but dog-eared pocket schedule,
was supposed to have been played way back on April 3, when a
huge opening-day crowd--perhaps as many as 45,000--would have
flocked to the ballpark to cheer their pinstriped heroes and to
partake in the traditional rites of fandom; to inhale the unique
scent of stadium franks, to shell peanuts, to pass three hours
in the facile timelessness that is the national pastime.
This was Brown as satirist, mocking my so-called style. Even the
first half of my byline, Michael, was not acceptable to him.
(Too long, too formal.) Brown's buddies loved the story. I can
still hear their laughter in my ears, just as I can still feel
the heat rising in my cheeks. I got through the playoffs and the
World Series, where, by dint of an alphabetical seating chart,
Brown and I sat elbow to elbow. Eight days after the final game,
I was married. A honeymoon. The winter meetings. And I was gone.
To find a new beat man for the 1991 season, the sports editor
went back to the newsroom and persuaded one of the Inquirer's
best news reporters, Dick Polman, to take the job. Polman's
purpose was the same as mine: to make the paper's baseball
coverage more meaningful to the reader who was a fan but not a
junkie. Brown, no doubt empowered by his experience with me, was
brutal to him. In print Brown once described Polman as a
Among other things, Brown disliked Polman's penchant for wearing
blue jeans, which was odd because Brown often wore dungarees
himself. Polman had four or five pairs of Levi's in circulation,
but Brown convinced the players that Polman wore the same pants
every day, and before long Polman's jeans had become a clubhouse
joke. In a column Brown referred to Polman as Dick Slacksman.
More than once Brown sat in the press box in the vicinity of
Polman and chanted, "Slacksy, Slacksy, he never changes his
drawers." One day Brown knew that Polman had plans to fly on the
team's chartered plane. Polman was wearing his customary
dungarees, unwittingly violating the Phillies' travel-day dress
code. Brown went up to Fregosi, the manager, and told him he
should stop Polman from getting on the plane at the airport.
Fregosi--highly personable, very manipulative--loved this sort
of thing. He once said, only half jokingly, that if the writers
were fighting among themselves they couldn't fight with him. He
agreed with Brown: Polman would not get on the plane in
dungarees. Before trying to board, Polman received some
counterintelligence. Finocchiaro tipped him off to the plot
against him. Polman found a pair of khakis, and the event
Fregosi and Brown imagined was thwarted.
Polman, like me, lasted only a year with the Phils. He left to
escape Brown and to cover a presidential election.
But Brown never lacked for whipping boys. Gene Dias, who worked
in the Phillies' public relations department, was one of his
favorite targets. Dias didn't react until one day in April 1992
in Chicago, when he was pushed too far.
On this day, in the cramped, quiet press box of Wrigley Field,
with the windows closed, Brown went into a diatribe. Ostensibly
addressing his fellow Philadelphia writers, he asked loudly,
"Hey, does Kyle Abbott have a 3-0 record?" In the Phillies'
pregame notes, prepared by Dias, the Philadelphia pitcher was
listed as having won his first three decisions. "I'm sure he'd
like to be 3-0," Brown said.
Dias was sitting immediately behind Brown and next to the
Chicago Cubs' public relations staff. "Sorry," Dias said. "I
made a mistake." Abbott was 0-3.
"You know, every once in a while I think about actually
referring to these notes," Brown said to his press box
neighbors. "But then I realize how worthless they are."
"I made a mistake," Dias repeated.
"If I made mistakes like the mistakes in this thing, you know
what would happen? I'd be fired."
Dias had had enough. "That," he said, "would make a lot of
Brown spun around and screamed, "You better watch what the
f--- you're saying!"
That's when Dias asked the $64,000 question: "What the f--- is
That year the Inquirer had a new beat writer, Frank Fitzpatrick,
the fourth guy to cover the Phils for the paper in four years.
Fitzpatrick had the occasional problem with Brown, but nothing
like what Polman and I had had. For one thing, he was a more
traditional choice. He came from the paper's sports department,
not the newsroom. For another thing, he had lived in Delaware
County all his life. Brown's territory was his, too. They had
friends in common. Fitzpatrick knew the customs of the game. He
was capable, unflappable. He didn't use the word brio. He didn't
wear blue jeans on consecutive days. One time Brown even invited
Fitzpatrick to join the Three Amigos for dinner.
In 1992, as Brown settled into a new marriage, the triumvirate
showed signs of weakening. The first crack came when Brown and
King, to show their lack of respect for the Phillies, failed to
show up for the traditional dinner the team threw for the beat
writers during spring training. Hagen was irritated. The
following year at spring training, Hagen had a story that he
didn't share with his old pals. The pact had been broken.
Later in 1993 Hagen signed a deal to write a book with John
Kruk, the Phillies' first baseman. Fregosi's team, with a motley
collection of players, made it to the sixth game of the World
Series. Brown and King tried to find a book deal to write the
story of the Phillies' implausible success, but they received no
offers. These forays into publishing--one consummated, the other
not--didn't help the trio's relations.
Then relations became worse. Kruk missed spring training in 1994
after learning he had testicular cancer and undergoing surgery.
He joined the Phillies in April, just as his book was coming
out. On the day he returned to Philadelphia, there were fans and
television cameras and reporters at the airport to meet him.
King and Brown didn't go, but Hagen did. While Kruk's luggage
was riding around the baggage carousel, he was busy with the
gathered throng. So Hagen removed Kruk's bags, an act of
subservience witnessed by spies for Brown and King. For weeks
afterward Hagen, while on the road, would show up in press boxes
and find his seat marked with the customary placard with his
name on it and, next to it, the word Skycap.
In time Hagen and King stopped talking altogether, while King
and Brown became tighter than ever. As for Hagen and Brown,
their relationship was reduced to making observations about each
other. When Brown saw Hagen drinking beer and eating pink hot
dogs, he would say, "If I die before you, I'm gonna be really
Then it happened. Sometime in 1994, I heard that Brown was
sick--that he had, of all things, breast cancer. I guessed, in
my ignorance, that it was not too serious, that it was
treatable, that Brown, so health-conscious, would be fine. I
didn't pay much attention. I had lost interest in him.
One day in September 1995 a friend asked, "Did you hear about
"What about him?"
I felt weird and empty. For a year Brown made me miserable, and
I never knew why. We never had a conversation. We never had it
out. Now he was dead at 42.
Last March, while attending spring training for this magazine, I
ran into King, who now covers the Yankees for the New York Post.
He told me about Brown's final spring training, the same year
that he died. He showed up in Clearwater with a bandanna
covering his bald head, gaunt and weak from chemotherapy,
wanting to squeeze every paycheck possible out of his paper, for
the benefit of his wife and one-year-old daughter. (In his last
full year, Brown earned $791.74 per week, top of scale at his
union paper.) He wanted to make a final visit to a place he
loved. Some of the players were freaked out by his appearance.
His personality, though, was unchanged. Through illness,
marriage and fatherhood, he remained the same man.
I asked King about Brown's memorial service. Lee Thomas was
there, King said, but no players. The service was at night,
during a game. Hagen didn't go. The place was packed, and all
you heard was sobbing. King delivered a eulogy.
The Phillies organized a memorial fund in Brown's name for the
benefit of his wife, Monica Cassidy; their daughter, Mallory;
and Cassidy's daughter, Adria, from a previous marriage. Thomas
and Fregosi each made a contribution; then Fregosi asked Hagen
to raise money from the Philadelphia writers. Despite the end of
his friendship with Brown, Hagen fulfilled Fregosi's wishes
ungrudgingly, for the sake of Cassidy and her daughters. His
capacity to hold a grudge showed up later, when the owner of
Frenchy's put up a plaque behind the bar in memory of Brown.
Hagen asked the owner to move the plaque to another part of the
restaurant. He didn't want to have to see it every time he sat
down for a beer.
When I returned home to Philadelphia from spring training this
year, I wondered if I could still figure out something about
Brown, about why he was the way he was, about why he treated
people the way he did. I wondered if I was too late. With the
privilege of holding a reporter's notebook--a reporter on duty
can talk to people he otherwise wouldn't and ask questions he
otherwise couldn't--I called Brown's parents, his wife, his
former wife and a lot of baseball people. I told them I wanted
to get to know Bill Brown.
I called Jane Russell, Brown's first wife. They didn't spend a
lot of time together. They were married in late January 1984.
They went to Hawaii for nine days. Several days after they
returned, the groom left for Clearwater for two months for his
first spring training. In 1988 Bill and Jane split up. She still
loved him then. He was, she said, loyal, generous, loving,
supportive, kind. The thing he wasn't was around. He was
married, she said, to the beat.
I visited Brown's parents, Dorothy and William M. Brown (which
is the byline their first child used on his earliest stories).
They live in Ridley Park, Pa., in Delaware County, in a modest,
tidy house that shares one wall with the neighbors' house. They
could not be nicer, and their son's death probably brings them
more pain now than it did the day he died. Dorothy said, "I
never worked. My whole life was my three sons. When I lost one
of them, I lost part of myself." She described Bill as
argumentative from the day he could talk, highly competitive by
grade school, always unwilling to conform. Everything he
encountered was either good or bad, right or wrong. Nothing was
gray. She didn't know where these traits came from. "It's just
him," she said.
After retiring as a photographer, Bill Sr. became a union
official at the Inquirer and later worked in the national
offices of the Newspaper Guild in Washington, D.C. Several times
he was the publisher of strike papers. I had wondered if the
father would be an older version of the son, if he had been a
combative union boss who got in the faces of the suits and said,
"No deal? Then we walk!" But I spoke to people who had known him
as a union negotiator. He was reasonable, they said. He could
compromise. He didn't look for fights.
The elder Browns spoke for a long time about their son's love of
soccer, about his high school rock-and-roll band, about his
voracious reading, about his work ethic, about how close he was
to his brothers, about the people he approved of on the job and
the people he didn't. I asked them why their son was so hard on
"Didn't he come from the newsroom?" Bill Sr. said.
"That wouldn't be reason enough for Bill not to like him,"
"Oh, yes, it would," Bill Sr. said.
I called up Dykstra and asked him why he was so comfortable with
Brown. "He had the rap down cold," Dykstra said. "He played the
game, maybe not at a high enough level to make it to the majors,
but at a high enough level so that he understood the game. He
knew what a ballplayer goes through."
This surprised me; the highest level of ball Brown ever played
was a Delaware County beer league. I don't think he ever
invented a baseball history for himself. But I think he thought
the way a ballplayer thinks, and in doing so he gave the
impression that he was a player himself. Dissing writers and
young flacks and stars such as Schmidt, who have no time for
their teammates--that's what players do. By doing the same,
Brown became an honorary player himself, a member of the team.
I went to the offices of Brown's paper and talked to his editor,
Bob Tennant. He thought the world of Brown. He admired Brown's
competitiveness, his drive, his independence, his work ethic.
Ninety percent of the time, Tennant said, Brown's stories went
into the paper without a word being changed. I asked him about
Brown's "crisp, autumnal evening" game story.
"He pulled the wool over my eyes with that one," Tennant said.
"I knew he was up to something, but I didn't know what. It was
late at night, and I ran it." I asked if the story served the
paper's readership. "No," the sports editor said. "But the
baseball season's long, and things can get boring."
I called up Larry Shenk, the Phillies' vice president of public
relations. He's been with the team since 1963. He's seen
thousands of baseball people come and go. Few, maybe none,
perplexed him to the degree that Brown did. "He seemed so
angry," Shenk said, "and I never knew what he was so angry about."
I asked Shenk if he knew why Brown never gave me a chance. "When
you came onto the beat, you entered a war zone," Shenk said.
"You were in a turf war, but you didn't even know it."
I visited Monica Cassidy in her home. She's a nurse, quite
beautiful, smart, very private, still in love with her husband,
still tormented by his death. On the shelves of her living room
there were pictures of Brown, and on a coffee table she had
assembled some of his clips. Brown was in San Francisco for the
1989 World Series when the earthquake erupted, and he covered
that. He was in Los Angeles with the Phillies in 1992 when the
Rodney King-related riots broke out, and he covered that, too.
Those stories were at the top of the pile.
Sipping sweet iced tea, sitting in his widow's living room, I
was a little nervous, knowing that Brown would not approve of my
presence. I also felt a little of my residual anger toward him,
something I had not felt in six years. Stumbling, I'm sure, I
asked her why her husband dismissed me without getting to know
me. "He thought you didn't deserve the job," she answered, "that
you hadn't come up through the ranks." Her voice was not cold,
just truthful. "Bill could be arrogant and judgmental. But he
was totally committed to his principles, to what he thought was
right. He was honorable."
Shortly before his death Brown wrote his wife a letter saying
that while his sickness was tragic, it would have been a far
greater tragedy had they never met, and had Mallory never been
Some weeks after he died, his widow flew down to Florida with
his ashes in an urn. It was the dog days of the baseball season,
and the Phillies were heading for another crummy finish. The
team's next spring training would be the first without Brown in
12 years. Cassidy went to a beach in Clearwater, alone, on a
muggy, gray, early-autumn day. She opened the urn and set the
dust free, sent it sailing into the hot breeze off the Gulf of
Mexico. And then Bill Brown was gone. If he was happy anywhere,
that was the place.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY PJ LOUGHRAN It was Brown who decided what was on the record and what was off. [Drawing of Bill Brown speaking to baseball player]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY PJ LOUGHRAN King, Brown and Hagen worked long hours but still did their jobs casually. [Drawing of George A. King III, Bill Brown, and Paul Hagen]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY PJ LOUGHRAN The Three Amigos had--by coincidence, they said--all rented red convertibles. [Drawing of three red cars parked outside restaurant]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY PJ LOUGHRAN In his Sunday column Brown reported that Hollins's head weighed 12 pounds. [Drawing of Bill Brown and another man watching Dave Hollins weigh his head]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY PJ LOUGHRAN Brown had a field day joking about the writing style of his bewildered target. [Drawing of George A. King III and Bill Brown laughing at Michael Bamberger]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY PJ LOUGHRAN Brown arrived in Florida with a bandanna on his head, gaunt and weak from chemotherapy. [Drawing Bill Brown wearing bandana and writing while baseball players watch him]
A manager refusing to talk to a beat writer--that occurs. But a
beat writer not talking to a manager he covers?