Bob Brown is arguably the most important person in the history of baseball in Vancouver. As a player, manager and team owner the man known locally as ‘Mr. Baseball’ left an indelible mark on our city. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Brown was a star athlete at Notre Dame, earning letters in both baseball and football. Brown volunteered to fight in the Spanish-American War as a cavalryman, spending most of the war in a camp in Georgia. During the war he contracted malaria, and was sent back to Montana on furlough.
After his release he returned to Notre Dame to finish his schooling. While back at Notre Dame one of Brown’s fellow football players found Brown a job playing right field with the Helena Senators of the Montana State League. There he played alongside Joe Tinker, famed playmaker of the Tinker to Evers to Chance double play combo. When the Montana State League folded in 1901, Brown and Tinkers moved to Portland to play for a team called the Webfoots. At the end of the season Tinker signed with the Chicago Cubs and Brown helped form a team in Pendleton, Oregon where he became a manager.
In 1904, Brown moved to Aberdeen, Washington where he became part of owner of a shoe store. There he managed a number of local teams, eventually leading the Aberdeen Black Cats to the Northwestern League pennant in 1907. It was during his stint with Aberdeen that Brown first came to Vancouver. The colorful Brown was impressed by the quickly growing port city and saw its potential to be a center for both industry and for sport. In 1908, Brown seized the opportunity to become the part owner of the Spokane Indians buying a one quarter share in the team for $1 while signing a two year contract to manage the team. After recognizing that Vancouver’s team was in financial trouble Brown jumped at the chance to buy the struggling Vancouver Beavers for $500 prior to the 1910 season. To seal the deal Brown set up an elaborate secret meeting at the Hotel Vancouver, plying the team’s owners with whiskey and cigars. Brown sold his shares in the Spokane team for $3000, and set up shop in Vancouver playing for and managing his newly acquired team.
The Vancouver Beavers finished in second place in 1910 and earned $3500 by selling the contracts of pitcher Harry Gardner to Pittsburgh, third baseman Dick Breen to Cincinnati, Charles ‘Cy’ Swain to Washington and the drafting of another outfielder, Bill Brinker, by the Chicago White Sox. After winning the league pennant in 1911, Brown was offered $35,000 by an investors group from San Francisco for the team. He refused the offer and instead chose to build a new park for the Beavers at 5th and Hemlock near the foot of the Granville St. bridge. The new facility named Athletic Park would be the home of professional and semi professional baseball in Vancouver for the next 38 years. The park would play host to the Beavers, the Capilanos, and a variety of touring professional and semi-professional teams from across the US, Canada and Japan. It would also be the location of the first night ballgame played in Canada and west of the Mississippi.
Unfortunately, professional minor league baseball in Vancouver did not survive long after WWI. Instead Brown and others started the semi professional Senior City League, featuring many popular clubs sponsored by local businesses, including the famedVancouver Asahi. In 1939, along with Emil Sick and the Capilano Brewery, he purchased the Vancouver Maple Leafs of the Western International league renaming them the Capilanos after Sick’s Vancouver based brewery. In 1945, he sold the ball club but stayed on as vice-president and general manager.
In 1953, at the age of 77, Brown became the president of the Western International League. The next year he “retired” from baseball and began to lobby to have the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League moved to Vancouver. In 1956 the were relocated and renamed the Vancouver Mounties. Bob Brown was made ‘honorary president’ and public relations director and was also put in charge of the team’s youth program. Brown was convinced that there was plenty of major league talent in British Columbia that deserved to be developed. It would be many years before the likes of Larry Walker, Jason Bay, Jeff Francis, Ryan Dempster, Justin Morneau, Brett Lawrie and others would prove Brown right by making their mark on the major leagues.
Thanks largely to Brown’s hard work and influence baseball is alive and well in Vancouver both at the professional and amateur level. With Brown’s perseverance over 50 years of service, baseball has remained a constant on the local sports scene despite many hardships. Much has been said about Brown over the years, and it seems there are many tales of Brown’s boisterous character for more detailed and colorful accounts of his life check out his biography at the SABR bioproject or atcanadianbaseball.ca