The world was a crazy place on August 20, 1945. It was just eleven days after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. The world was a little “scary.” Just knowing that entire towns could be blown off the face of the earth in an instant, changed the whole perspective of life as we knew it. The war was almost over. By September 2, 1945, World War II would be a blip in the rearview mirror of history. Maybe it was time to look for something…happy, for a change.
Enter Brooklyn Dodgers utility player, Tommy Brown. He was a local kid, who was born December 6, 1927, in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Brown never knew his father and was raised primarily by an aunt and uncle. That was probably the best thing that could have happened. Brown’s upbringing was such that he was able to make something of himself. He started playing baseball, and he was good enough to be called up to the Majors. Brown made his debut with the Dodgers in 1944, when he was just 16 years old. It was an unusual time, because during World War II, millions of men served overseas, so the ball players were serving in the military. Men like future Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Yogi Berra were among them. That left a group of aspiring teenagers in line for the majors in an almost unheard of shot in the big leagues. Fifteen-year-old Joe Nuxhall was also called up and pitched 2/3 of an inning for the Cincinnati Reds in the summer of 1944. It would be almost like they were replacement players.
On August 3, 1944, while playing for the Newport News (Virginia) Builders of the Class B Piedmont League, Brown got the call that changed not only his life, but baseball history forever. He was headed to the majors, with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Apparently, they had tried Bobby Bragan at shortstop but were looking for someone more mobile. Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher told Brown that day he would play both games of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs. After that shock wore off…for about a second, “Brown, according to a bio on the Society of American Baseball Research web site, advised his manager that he had ridden the train all night, ‘but Leo responded that he didn’t care.'” I guess they were desperate. Brown became the youngest non-pitcher ever to play in a major league game, and the second-youngest overall after Joe Nuxhall, who was 15 years and 316 days old when he first appeared as a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds on June 10, 1944. He got two hits in eight at-bats as the Cubs beat the Dodgers in both games, 6-2 and 7-1. In 1944, he played a total of 46 games, hitting .164 without a homer. Brown, nicknamed “Buckshot,” threw and batted right-handed. He stood 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 170 pounds. Then, on August 20, 1945, he hit a home run…his team’s only run in an 11-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He finished that season with a .245 batting average. That home run may not seem like much, but remember that Brown was just 16 years old at the time. With that “homer” to his credit, Brown remains the youngest player to homer in a Major League Baseball game, a record that will likely never be broken.
Brown played seven more seasons in the big leagues, spending time with the Philadelphia Phillies and Cubs after leaving Brooklyn. He never became anything more than a part-time player, but he will always have the distinction of youngest person to homer to his credit. Brown married a woman from Nashville and stayed in that area after his playing career ended. He worked at the Ford Glass Plant for thirty-five years, before retiring in 1993. He continues to live in retirement in Brentwood, Tennessee.