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Bamberger's year on the Philly beat

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Aussie_Nick, Aug 14, 2006.

  1. Aussie_Nick

    Aussie_Nick Member

    G'day all from down under,
    There was an article a while back in SI by Michael Bamberger about his year on the Philly beat. It went on to say how he was bullied by fellow journo Bill Brown etc etc.

    Anyway, I remember someone posted it here ages back and so far attempts to find it through the search function have proved unsuccessful.

    If anyone could help me out I would greatly appreciate it.

  2. Aussie_Nick

    Aussie_Nick Member

    estreetband75 just sent it to me...

    Thank you.
  3. Overrated

    Overrated Guest

    I'd like to read that.
  4. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Awesome story in which you found yourself rooting for absolutely nobody.

    Not sure SI was the perfect place for it, but an awesome story.
  5. Angola!

    Angola! Guest

    Will someone post it for those of us that haven't read it?
  6. estreetband75

    estreetband75 Member



    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 that.

    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.
  7. estreetband75

    estreetband75 Member

    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 fool.

    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 pants.
  8. estreetband75

    estreetband75 Member

    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 his beers.

    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 two-way street.

    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 meeting.
  9. estreetband75

    estreetband75 Member

    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 meeting.

    "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 paragraphs:

    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 "pencil-necked geek."

    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.
  10. estreetband75

    estreetband75 Member

    "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 people happy."

    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 your problem?"

    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 pissed."

    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 Bill Brown?"

    "What about him?"

    "He died."

    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.
  11. estreetband75

    estreetband75 Member

    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 Dick Polman.
  12. estreetband75

    estreetband75 Member

    "Didn't he come from the newsroom?" Bill Sr. said.

    "That wouldn't be reason enough for Bill not to like him," Dorothy said.

    "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 born.
    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.

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