With his seventh pitch of this season Kevin Brown will have
earned more than the median household income of the 10,797 folks
of Wilkinson County, Ga. The first of Brown's twice-monthly
paychecks will bring him $1.25 million, as much as a median wage
earner in Wilkinson County makes in 46 years, a lifetime of
work. Still, while Brown may rest his head at night in a Beverly
Hills mansion after earning about four grand per pitch from the
Los Angeles Dodgers, he is never far from Wilkinson County. "I'm
afraid we'll be the Beverly Hillbillies--'Here come the
Clampetts,'" says his wife, Candace, laughing. Candace was 13
when she met Kevin, who is three years older, and 19 when they
Wilkinson County is smack in the center of Georgia. The middle
of nowhere. There, in the town of McIntyre (pop. 552), Kevin
Brown grew up. The county, which begins about 20 miles east of
Macon, is a haunting sepia photograph come to life, though
barely. A somber stain of umber blots the landscape, as if
reddish-brown ink had spilled from the sky. Rusted metal roofs
hang heavily over the dark wood planks of tottering houses, and
long-dead autos lie like toppled gravestones in dirt the color
of a fresh scab. This is a place where collarless dogs chase
cars down country roads, where one out of every eight families
lives below the poverty level, where there is no obvious sign of
the 30 households that, according to the last census, earn
$100,000 or more per year, and where there are some 38 churches
to offer reminders that everyone is destined for a better place.
"Got a cell phone with you?" Kevin's mother, Carolyn, asks a
visitor who is about to drive from Macon to McIntyre. "That's
the country country over there, you know."
BUSINESS DISTRICT reads the green sign with the white arrow
pointing to Main Street in McIntyre, a single block that begins
at a salvage yard and ends at a filling station, with a hardware
store, a police station and an unmarked convenience store in
between. At 5 p.m. on a weekday in February you could play a
chess match in the middle of Main Street without vehicular
interruption. The police station is locked shut. No one is inside.
An old-timer remembers having no indoor plumbing or electricity
in his home in McIntyre as recently as 1948, when he was 19
years old. He remembers the gaps in the floorboards of his old
house, through which you could see the earth; the three meals of
cornmeal each day; the patched pants he wore to school, which so
embarrassed him that many times he just wouldn't go; and the 60
cents or so per hour he made as a teenager mining kaolin, the
fine white clay that is the only reason McIntyre is inhabited at
That old-timer is Gerald Brown, who by the grace of his son
Kevin's freakish right arm is sipping coffee in a leather chair
in a spacious four-bedroom brick house in Macon--out of
Wilkinson County. From his front steps Gerald can see the
15,000-square-foot mansion Kevin is building, the brick fortress
that sits on 70-plus acres of land and makes Gerald and
Carolyn's spread look like one of those plastic Monopoly houses.
As a boy Gerald walked a mile to fetch a bucket of water. Kevin
grew up in a family of five in a 1,300-square-foot house with
one bathroom, where no one knew the luxury of a long shower. His
new estate will be flush with 10 bathrooms.
In the reddish-brown dirt of McIntyre and especially in the
creases of Gerald's square face are clues as to why Kevin throws
a baseball with a fury like that of no other man alive. In those
same places are also clues as to why, unless you saw Kevin
playing with his own two sons or flying one of his
remote-control airplanes or watching one of the 89 episodes of
Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation he keeps in his
video library, you might never have seen him smile.
"There were teammates who hated his guts," says Tom House,
Brown's pitching coach during his first six major league
seasons, with the Texas Rangers. "People who have Kevin's makeup
are pretty much oblivious to other people's feelings. There's
not a lot of empathy in Kevin. Like a lot of athletes, he is a
narcissistic individual who's paid a lot of money to be that
way. Oh, he's a hard-ass, all right. But I'd like to think that,
at heart, he's a great kid."
"I guess that comes naturally," Gerald says of his son's brutish
single-mindedness. "I was the same way. I thought I had to be
perfect in everything I did." Gerald is a short, stocky man who
even in winter wears short-sleeved shirts, which bare his
muscular tattooed arms. He has a twinkle in his eyes of the
Jimmy Cagney tough-guy sort. Carolyn says that if he were a
ballplayer--both she and Gerald played softball--he would be
Chuck Knoblauch, the New York Yankees' hard-nosed second baseman.
"I always worked as hard as I could," Gerald says. "For someone
with a seventh-grade education to become the foreman for heavy
equipment [for a company that mines kaolin], I did all right by
myself. With Kevin, I told him if he wanted to do something, the
only way was to do it to the best of his ability. I remember one
time before a game he got into a scrap with another boy and he
said, 'I ain't goin' to play.' I said, 'Boy, you go get your
butt on that dadgum field.' If you want to do something, do it
right or quit."
Gerald takes a sip of coffee. On the mug is a picture of Kevin
in the uniform of the San Diego Padres, for whom he played last
year. Carolyn spotted a stack of the mugs in an airport shop in
San Diego and bought out the supply. Of course, her son is not
smiling on the ceramic; he's giving his usual chilly,
One day in 1997, when Kevin Brown was playing for the Florida
Marlins, a radio reporter asked him for a sound bite. It was one
of the first days of spring training, when baseball players are
usually in a good mood. "One usable sound bite, huh?" Brown
replied. "It would probably be, 'Bite me.'" Later in the season,
when another reporter asked him about the possible sale of the
Marlins, Brown said, "I'm ignoring the issue, just like I'm
ignoring you." And that fall he welcomed the national media into
the Marlins' clubhouse on the eve of the franchise's first World
Series appearance by shouting, "Get these f-----s out of here.
We can't get any work done." On occasion he has telephoned the
press box while watching a game on the clubhouse TV to ream out
his team's broadcaster for a mistake--such as misidentifying a
pitch that was just thrown.
When Brown was with Texas in '94, he and the other Rangers were
obliged to wear baggy, old-fashioned uniforms one night as part
of a promotion. Brown saw Rangers president Tom Schieffer and
another team executive on the field before the game and spat
out, "You're the f-----s who make us wear these things."
Brown tears up clubhouses in fits of rage so regularly that his
teams have kept running tabs. He has smashed at least two
televisions, ripped an oversized wooden Padres logo from a wall,
left scores of divots in clubhouse drywall, put his fist through
one glass door and kicked in another. After one smashing, when
someone asked Brown what he had been trying to do, he replied
icily, "Cut my tendon." Just two weeks ago at Dodgertown he
pulverized a toilet with a baseball bat after he was scalded in
the shower when someone flushed the commode.
Toronto assistant G.M. Dave Stewart, who was San Diego's
pitching coach last year, has compared Brown's game-day visage
to that of a serial killer. Brown still gets so agitated on the
mound when he makes a mistake or is stung by a bit of bad
fortune that Candace can see from the stands that he's about to
explode. She says, "He gets this look in his eyes, and he starts
twitching, and it's like, Uh-oh." No one dares to sit near him
or talk to him between innings. He has been heard to curse
himself aloud--after throwing a 1-2-3 inning.
He has also been known to shoot dagger-sharp looks at fielders
who have dared to make mistakes behind him. "When he played
here," says a Rangers official, "the infielders were uptight
because he had this way of looking right through them." (Texas
wanted no part of the pitcher this winter when he was a free
Brown has been equally hostile to coaches who have visited him
on the mound. "There were a couple of cases when he said things
I didn't like," says Stewart. "In a different situation I would
have settled it in a different way."
Says House, "You could not have programmed someone to say the
absolute wrong thing at the absolute wrong time any better than
Kevin did it." There is still truth in that. Before Brown
decided on his place in Beverly Hills, he complained about the
"sticker shock" he received from Southern California real
estate--this from a man who will be paid $105 million over the
next seven years. And when he is asked about the Padres' being
swept in the '98 World Series by the New York Yankees, the
winningest team in the history of baseball, he asserts that the
outcome would have been different if a 2-2 pitch by San Diego
reliever Mark Langston to Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez in
the seventh inning of Game 1 had been called a strike. "That
stands out as a big turning point," says Brown, who couldn't
hold a 5-2 lead earlier in the same inning. Martinez hit
Langston's 3-2 pitch for a grand slam. "They had the talent and
the breaks," Brown says of the Yankees. "The Series looked bad
on paper, but we really should have won three of those games."
Brown spent at least an hour before Game 1 covered in blankets
on a training table, warding off chills from the flu. He didn't
tell Stewart or Padres manager Bruce Bochy about his condition.
Stewart still seethes over that.
Brown is disbelieving when told of his reputation among
teammates, foes and the media as a spring-loaded pitcher ready
to go off at any moment. "No one's ever told me that," he says.
"I think [the reputation in the media] started because a beat
writer in Texas continually took shots at me, and I wouldn't let
him get away with it. I got in his face several times. But since
then--with Baltimore, Florida, San Diego--I haven't had any
problems. Listen, I'm my own worst critic, but sometimes guys
try to tell me what I'm thinking without asking me. I hate that.
And I won't kiss anybody's ass."
"I'm one of the guys who gets along with him," says New York
Mets pitcher Al Leiter, who played with Brown in Florida. "He's
so stressed out that it's real tough to get Kevin to have a
belly laugh. But sometimes I think his tough-guy facade is just
that--a facade. He's actually hiding a dweeby, nerdy kind of
guy. What I tried to do with him, like I do with [Mets catcher
Mike] Piazza, was get in his face. They take themselves way too
seriously, and I tell them to lighten up.
"Kevin's the most dominant pitcher I've ever played with. But is
he the kind of guy to have an influence in the clubhouse and
make [everyone else] play better? No, Brownie can't do that."
"You can hear the ball as soon as it leaves his hand," says
Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild, Brown's pitching
coach with the '97 Marlins. Brown's ball spins so fast that it
hisses as the seams cut through the air. No other active
pitcher--maybe none ever--can make the ball sink as viciously as
Brown can while throwing it so hard. He is unique: a power
sinkerball pitcher. One of his first catchers in Texas, Mike
Stanley, called him Chainsaw because of the way his pitches
chewed up bats and hitters' and catchers' hands. Another Texas
catcher, former Gold Glove winner Jim Sundberg, spent most of
1989, his last year in the big leagues, with a pack of ice on
his left thumb; Brown's dancing bricks repeatedly bent the thumb
Brown has won 20 games only once--for the Rangers in 1992, the
season after he began seeing a sports psychologist (with whom he
still talks today)--and has never won the Cy Young Award. He is
pitching for his fifth team in six years. He has fewer World
Series wins than Jay Powell, having failed to win any of his
four starts. His career record (139-99, for a .584 winning
percentage) approximates that of the Chicago Cubs' unspectacular
Kevin Tapani (120-87, .580). So why did the Dodgers give Brown
the first nine-figure contract in baseball? That's easy: Brown
is one of the rare players who, by himself, can make the
difference in getting a team to the World Series. And at 34, an
age at which Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, another Dodgers
righthander with a mean streak, was retired, Brown confoundingly
is in his prime.
Brown was examined by Dr. Frank Jobe, the renowned orthopedic
surgeon, before his contract with the Dodgers was made official.
At the end of the exam Jobe shook his head and told Brown,
"Well, I think the Dodgers got themselves a bargain."
"What do you mean?" Brown asked.
"I mean," Jobe said, "they should have signed you for 10 years,
not seven. With the shape your arm is in, I don't see any reason
why you can't pitch that long."
Over the past three seasons Brown has gone 51-26 with a 2.33
ERA--little more than half the ERA of all National League
pitchers combined in that span (4.22). Last year he threw the
ball harder than he ever had (97 mph tops) while striking out
257 batters, 25% more than he had in any other season. In 452 at
bats with any count that included two strikes, batters got only
62 hits off him (.137) and not a single home run.
There are physiological reasons that Brown is such a pitching
oddity. At 6'4" and 200 pounds, he has the wingspan and wiry
strength of a basketball player. "He can scratch his knees
without bending over," House says. Though Brown's windup is
unorthodox--he has an exaggerated hip turn, leading with his
butt, and can throw any pitch from any arm angle--he maintains
flawless balance, and his amazing extension maximizes the whip
effect of his long arm. Other pitchers "reach back" for
something extra; Brown reaches forward. "The first time I saw
him up close," Rothschild says, "was his first day throwing in
spring training. After a long winter he gets up on the mound and
just starts airing it out. It looked like the middle of the
season. I couldn't believe it."
Most pitchers throw once between starts, usually at
three-quarters speed, just to maintain the feel of their
pitches. Brown throws twice between starts, going full bore.
Stewart says such a workload alarmed him. "Not just how much he
throws, but the intensity," Stewart says. "Your arm only has so
many throws in it. We talked a little bit about it. You know
what he told me? 'I'll taper it if I can.'"
Brown never has mastered a finesse pitch, nor has he needed one.
Everything about him is hard. "He's such a maximum-effort guy
without a real nice, fluid delivery, and he's wound so tight,
that you wonder if one day his elbow is just going to go," says
one American League general manager. Of course, Brown has heard
that sort of talk, heard it for years. Mechanics be damned, he
knows what is best for him. "If you listen to your body, it will
tell you whether you are doing too much or not enough," Brown
says. "I don't believe you have only so many throws. This is how
I stay sharp: The more time my hand is on the ball, the more
comfortable I am."
Outside of his 21-11 breakout year in Texas, Brown was 57-53
with the Rangers, not including a 1-11 nightmare for three minor
league teams in 1987. In what would be a recurring struggle in
his nine years in the Rangers organization, Brown could not
synchronize his natural ability with the mechanics being taught
him. Carolyn says, "One day Gerald and I went to have breakfast
with Kevin in Mississippi [where he was with the Double A Tulsa
Drillers]. We knew he was trying so hard to please them with his
mechanics. Gerald said, 'Well, you've tried their way, now maybe
you should go back to pitching the way you did at Georgia Tech.'
Kevin was probably thinking that anyway. All he needed was his
daddy to give him permission to do it. That night he just threw
so hard and so well." The battle over mechanics, however,
continued throughout Brown's tenure with the Rangers. Brown
thinks the team's emphasis on technique stymied his progress,
but he says, "Tom House is such a nice guy that I was willing to
try anything. If he was a jerk, it would have been easy not to
listen to him."
In '95 Brown signed with the Orioles as a free agent without so
much as a phone call from the Rangers, who were pleased to be
rid of him. He went 10-9 that season despite a 3.60 ERA. "Mike
Mussina won 19 games with almost the same ERA [3.29]," Brown
says of his Baltimore teammate. Brown was miserable. Mixing the
incendiary Georgian with the cool, cliquish veterans on the
Orioles went over about as well as a heavy-metal band at a
Republican fund-raiser. "It was a quiet team, just put it that
way," Brown says.
In December he moved on to Florida as a free agent and figured
on a long career there, until owner Wayne Huizenga gutted the
Marlins after their world championship. Brown was traded to the
Padres in the purge. After helping San Diego get to the World
Series--he went 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA and finished third in the
Cy Young voting--he turned away offers from the Padres, Orioles
and Colorado Rockies to take the Dodgers' dough. "It blew my
mind," Carolyn says of the $105 million, "and I believe it blew
Kevin's mind. I always told him no athlete was worth $1 million
a year. But I said, 'If they're going to give it to somebody,
I'm glad they gave it to you.'"
Kevin Brown was finished with baseball in 1983, of that he was
fairly certain. At 6'2" and 160 pounds, he hadn't even been the
top starting pitcher at Wilkinson County High. It's unlikely,
Brown says, that any scout saw him play. "It's a remote place,"
he says, "and my junior and senior years were the first years my
coach ever coached. He didn't know much of anything about
As a boy he had dreamed of being a marine biologist, but later,
when he learned that the profession would take him far from
Wilkinson County, for low pay, he decided on being an engineer
like Candace's dad, Roy Ethridge. Kevin's own father never
wanted Kevin to follow him into the mines. Kevin was a brilliant
student who enrolled at Georgia Tech to study chemical
engineering. The summer before college began he took a
work-scholarship job in the pilot plant lab of Engelhard
Corporation, the kaolin-mining company for which his father
worked. Kaolin is so important to central Georgia that The
Wilkinson County News proudly declares each week atop Page One,
CIRCULATING IN THE HEART OF THE RICHEST KAOLIN TERRITORY IN THE
WHOLE WORLD. Processed kaolin looks like flour and is used in
the manufacture of porcelain, brick cement and high-grade white
paper, and it is also a filler in paints, plastics and rubber.
"That's all there is around here," says Danny Williams, who
worked in the lab with Brown. "If the kaolin ever dried up,
McIntyre would dry up with it."
During lunch breaks Brown, Williams and the other guys in the
lab would play baseball with a wad of aluminum foil and a
spatula. It was the only sort of baseball Brown was playing that
summer when Kenny Walters, a magnet operator at the same plant
in McIntyre, came to visit him in the lab. Walters was the
captain of a mostly black semipro team from a nearby town that
was playing in a Labor Day weekend tournament in Valdosta, Ga.
He needed a pitcher and had heard about Brown from Williams.
Brown said no thanks, he wasn't interested. Walters came back
"three or four times," Williams says, "until we all said, 'Why
don't you just go play ball with that guy?' Kevin finally said
In Valdosta, Brown relieved Walters, who also pitched, in the
Saturday game, and on Labor Day he threw a complete-game
victory. Brown went back to work on Tuesday. The phone rang in
the lab. Someone answered it and shouted to Kevin, "It's a scout
for the New York Mets!"
After Brown hung up, Williams asked, "What did they want?"
"Well, they want me," Brown said.
"Want you for what?"
Until that call, Candace says, Kevin "never thought he was that
good." Kevin told the scout, Julian Morgan--who had been in
Valdosta and had seen some of Brown's performance--that he was
committed to attending Georgia Tech. Morgan telephoned the Tech
baseball coach, Jim Morris, to tell him about the kid and make
sure he went out for the team. So Brown tried out. He was so raw
that he had never pitched in a pair of metal spikes, and he
didn't know you could push off the side of the rubber from a
hole in front of it; he had always put his right foot on top of
the slab. "After the first day I pitched, they brought me
inside, gave me a locker and said, 'Congratulations. You're on
the team,'" Brown says. Three years later, having added 8 mph to
his fastball, he was the fourth player picked in the draft, by
"If he hadn't gone to Valdosta, he'd probably still be here,"
says Williams, who still works for Engelhard as a lab technician
in nearby Gordon. "And he'd probably be my boss."
McIntyre is such a nondescript spot that it used to be known
simply as Station No. 16. The town's most famous product--other
than kaolin, of course--is not celebrated as a hero. At his old
high school, with its rusting backstop out back, a secretary
answers a knock on the front door after classes have ended. The
visitor asks if there is an acknowledgment in the school of its
famous alumnus. A plaque? A trophy? A picture?
"Kevin Brown?" the secretary says warily. "No, there's nothing.
Nothing at all." Then she closes the door and turns away.
About a quarter mile down the road, behind the elementary
school, the Wilkinson County High baseball team is practicing on
the current varsity diamond. "Kevin Brown?" says one of the
players. "Don't mention that name around here. He's a jerk. The
guy gives $1 million to Los Angeles high schools [actually, an
inner-city baseball program], and we have to buy our own
uniforms. He doesn't even care about his own school."
Told of this, Brown says, "I have given money to the school in
the past, and I may in the future."
People in McIntyre are also mad at Brown "because he doesn't say
he's from McIntyre," says the father of one player. "He gets to
the World Series, and all of a sudden he's from Macon."
In Macon, a Kevin Brown that hitters will never see is laughing
as he chases his four-year-old son, Grayson, around the modest
house he has lived in for the past nine years. His family is so
important to him that he persuaded the Dodgers to give him 12
round-trips a year between Macon and Los Angeles on a private
jet, which will cost the team about $480,000 annually. Brown
splurged on the two-acre Beverly Hills lot because he wanted
Grayson and his eight-year-old brother, Ridge, to have a
backyard in which to play. "He's like his father, a country boy
who likes to have space around him," Carolyn says. And, yes, she
adds, "Kevin smiles a lot. He's really still a kid. I tell
Candace all the time, 'You don't have two boys. You have three
"I know his reputation, and that's not the Kevin Brown I know,"
says Sandy Johnson, the Rangers scouting director who signed him
and is now an assistant general manager for the Arizona
Diamondbacks. "He's always been very cordial, a real Southern
gentleman. I like him. And with the way he takes care of himself
and the arm he has, he can probably pitch into his 40s, like
Brown played five seasons with Nolan Ryan in Texas without
getting close to him. He did not seek Ryan's counsel. He is
blunt about identifying his mentor: "No one."
"Kevin is a product of a very conditional environment," House
says. "He had extraordinary expectations placed on him and had
to meet those conditions to get acceptance. Lots of athletes
grow up with that conditional acceptance. The makeups of Nolan
Ryan and Kevin are very similar. The difference is, Nolan was
more adept at communicating. I think now you'll see Kevin begin
to blossom. There is affirmation that he is among the elite
pitchers in the game. By the time he's done, he's going to be
revered by everyone. I'm not saying he's going to be as revered
as Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver. But it'll be close."
Gerald used to go to almost all of Kevin's high school games and
even most of his practices. He and Carolyn saw all of Kevin's
college games that were within a day's drive of McIntyre.
Carolyn still enjoys traveling to watch her son, though Gerald,
who had a heart attack in 1994, now prefers sitting at home in
front of the TV.
In the winter days without baseball, Carolyn and Gerald pass the
time watching tapes of Kevin's games. One day they choose a game
from May 11, 1998, just because it is a duel against Leiter,
Kevin's friend. The camera keeps zooming in on the face of the
baddest dude in baseball. It is contorted by the maximum effort
Kevin's father demanded--the flared nostrils, the deeply
furrowed brow, the quivering lower lip thrust forward and the
huffing and puffing behind a three-day beard. Sometimes it
appears as if Brown can blow a baseball past a hitter on sheer
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. COVER Baseball Preview '99 Mean Streak Kevin Brown Has Nasty Stuff (And he's one Ornery S.O.B.)
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. [T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Never better With a long arm and a whiplike delivery, the 34-year-old Brown is throwing harder and striking out more batters than ever.
COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER Kaolin man Gerald (with Carolyn) has devoted his life to looking after the mines' heavy machinery, but he never wanted Kevin to follow in his footsteps.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR. Homebody About the only time Kevin is seen smiling is when he's relaxing with Candace and the boys, Grayson (standing) and Ridge.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR.
"You can hear the ball as soon as it leaves his hand," says
Rothschild. It spins so fast that it hisses as the seams cut
through the air.
"People who have Kevin's makeup are pretty much oblivious to
other people's feelings," says House. "There's not a lot of
empathy in Kevin."
Brown splurged on the two-acre lot in Beverly Hills because,
Carolyn says, "he's like his father, a country boy who likes to
have space around him."
"I think now you'll see Kevin blossom," says House. "There is
affirmation that he is among the elite pitchers. By the time
he's done, he'll be revered."