Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man

This has been a rotten December for ex-San Francisco Giant infielders.

First, we received the news three weeks ago that Jose Uribe, shortstop for the Giants in those heady late-'80s days of "You Gotta Like These Kids," had been killed an an automobile accident in his native Dominican Republic.

Now, the sad news arrives that Chris Brown, who as the Giants' third baseman shared the left side of the San Francisco infield with Uribe during the 1985 and '86 seasons, died yesterday from injuries sustained in a November 30 fire at his Houston-area home.

Brown was 45 years old, a mere four months my senior.

I recall Chris Brown as a decent hitter (he racked up a .317 batting average in 1986, and made the National League All-Star team) with surprisingly little power for a corner player (his highest seasonal home run total was 16, as a rookie in 1985). Sadly, he was also a stone-gloved fielder — perhaps the worst defensive third baseman I ever saw on a regular basis, if you don't count either the Cincinnati Reds' embarrassing experiment with Johnny Bench late in the Hall of Famer's career, or Pedro Guerrero's 1983 debacle with the Los Angeles Dodgers. (At the nadir of that '83 season, in which Guerrero's defensive miscues provided nightly fodder for sports commentators nationwide, Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda asked Guerrero in a team meeting what he was thinking about while standing at third base. Pedro's refreshingly candid reply: "I'm hoping they don't hit it to me.")

During his playing days — which spanned parts of six major league seasons, including post-S.F. stops in San Diego and Detroit — Brown's teammates nicknamed him "the Tin Man," after the Wizard of Oz character. The tag was a not-so-subtle insinuation that Brown's penchant for sitting out games with apparently minor injuries was indicative of his lack of heart.

Ironically, Brown spent much of the past few years dodging bullets and roadside bombs in Iraq, as a fuel truck driver for Halliburton. Perhaps that was his way of laying all of those questions about his courage and mental toughness to rest.

Now, it's Chris Brown himself being laid to rest.

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