Fort Worth's Mr. Baseball, Bobby Bragan, Dies

Bobby Bragan, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers 1943-44 and 1947-48 and coached for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959-60, died January 21 at his Fort Worth home at the age of 92. He was nicknamed "Mr. Baseball" and considered Fort Worth's ambassador of the sport.

The Texas Rangers issued the following statement on the passing of Bobby Bragan. "The Texas Rangers join the entire baseball community in mourning the passing of Bobby Bragan. He leaves an unmatched legacy not only in his beloved Fort Worth but also on a much larger scale.

  "In the 1970's and 1980's, Mr. Bragan was a one-man community relations department in his role of Rangers Director of Public Relations/Speakers Bureau. He made hundreds of appearances on behalf of the club, promoting Texas Rangers baseball. Through his efforts, Mr. Bragan helped created countless new Rangers fans and entertained thousands in the process. He had remained a Special Assistant to the team over the last 20 years, and we are privileged to say he was a longtime member of the Rangers family.

   "Our prayers and sympathies go out to his wife Betty and the entire family. The Rangers salute the lifetime of baseball and community excellence that was Bobby Bragan. He will certainly be missed.

  "A great man who always was proud to be a Dodger" said former Los Angeles General Manager Fred Claire.

Bobby Valentine, former Texas Rangers manager, said from his home in Stamford, Conn.: "We are dealing with the loss of one of the great ones. He was amazing, a renaissance man. If I could accomplish even half of what he did in his 92 years, I'd die a happy man. He will be truly, truly missed."

Robert Randall Bragan was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on Oct. 30, 1917. He saw action in parts of seven seasons from 1940-48 for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing mostly shortstop and catcher and batting .240 for his career. He missed the 1945 and 1946 seasons to serve as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Bragan began his professional baseball career in the Alabama-Florida League with Panama City in 1937. Bragan was called up to the Phillies and in 1942, the team was strapped for catching help because of injuries and military call-ups, and Bobby offered to learn the job.

  Dodger general manager Branch Rickey liked the youngster's dedication and obtained Bragan in a trade for Tex Kraus.

When Jackie Robinson was promoted from the Dodgers Montreal farm club in the spring of 1947 to the Dodgers, Bragan was one of a handful of players who protested. A petition was circulated against Robinson but it died aborning when Pee Wee Reese and Pete Reiser refused too sign it.

Rickey called in each of the protesters individually. Many of them quickly reversed their field and backed down but outfielder Dixie Walker and Bragan held their ground. Walker later wrote a letter and asked to be traded, which he was in 1948.

Rickey was furious at Bragan, his third-string catcher, whose position on the field was tenuous at best and he received the worst tongue-lashing of the entire group.

But Bragan held firm.

Rickey said, "You and nobody else is going to tell me who to play on this team. I don't care about a fellow's color or if he's got hair all over him. If he can do the best job, he's going to play. I've got Bruce Edwards and Gil Hodges to catch, you're expendable. Now how to you feel?"

Bragan said, M. Rick, I live in Fort Worth, Texas. My friends would never forgive me for playing with Robinson."

"Would you play any differently with someone like Robinson on the team?" Rickey asked.

"No, sir" Bragan replied. "But if I had my choice, I'd just as soon be traded as stay here."

Rickey stared at him for a long time, then thoughtfully said, "I appreciate your honesty, Bobby."

His honesty earned him Rickey's respect. It took a great deal of courage and a strong sense of worth to risk your position on the team for what he believed in. These were values admired by Rickey and values he had also seen in Robinson.

"That started a great relationship with Mr. Rickey," Bragan would say later. "I'm as great a booster of Mr. Rickey as anyone who every lived. He understood why I took the position took, that I had been raised that way, and within 30 days, maximum, those of us who were reluctant to sit with Jackie in the dining room would readily sit down with him.

"It quickly became apparent to all of us that there wasn't any way we were going to win without Robinson."

Bragan made his only World Series appearance that fall against the Yankees, doubling for Ralph Branca in the sixth inning of the sixth game, driving home a run in a four-run, come-from-behind outburst that gave Brooklyn brief hope of winning the World Championship. He joined a select list of players who had a 1.000 batting average in the fall classic.

In early 1948, it Rickey realized that Bragan's future was not as a player but as a manager. He made Bragan manager of the Fort Worth Double-A team in the Texas League. During a distinguished career, Bragan developed a reputation for helping young black players.

Maury Wills was the first black player on the Cats roster and Bragan first approached him to consider being switch-hitter, changing the light-hitting shortstop into a future National League Most Valuable Player.

He was also instrumental in Tommy Davis' career.

"I was primarily a straightaway hitter," Davis said. "But Bobby told me I would have a better chance to make the majors if I pulled a little, so I changed by style in mid-season." Davis would go on to win two National League batting titles (1962 and 1963) and he still holds the Dodger record for most hits in a season (230).

Bragan also showed what he thought of prejudice, intolerance, hazing, and bigotry when Adrian Zabala joined the team from Cuba. Zabala didn't know a word of English.

"Bobby Bragan helped me out a lot," Zabala said years later. "He taught me to say first base, second base, third base. He showed me that one finger meant fastball, two fingers meant curve." Zabala led the league with a 2.01 ERA.

When Roy Campanella came up to the Dodgers in '48, Bragan, hitting just .167, went down. He landed with the Fort Worth. Making his managing debut, Bragan led the club to both the pennant and a playoff victory. They lost the Dixie Series to Birmingham, but kept rolling in '49. A month into the season, fire destroyed the Fort Worth ballpark.

Bragan had the Cats back on the diamond even as the fire department was still hosing down the rubble of the old grandstands. They won100 games, won the pennant by10 games, and even beat the best players from the rest of the league 2-1 in the all-star game. Bragan caught 111 games without allowing a passed ball, batting a career high .295. However, the Cats lost the playoffs to Tulsa.

Bragan managed the Cats from 1948-1952 and he grabbed headlines in 2005 when he managed the Cats for one game, thus becoming the oldest individual to serve as manager in a professional game. Bragan was eight days older than Connie Mack, who managed his last game in 1950.

Bobby's teams were always competitive and never finished below the .500 mark. The 1948 and 1949 teams won the regular season title in the Texas League. The 1948 club won the league playoffs as well, but lost in the Dixie Series. 

Bragan would go on to manage in the majors for the Pirates, Indians and Braves, compiling a 443-478 record. He was the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956 and 1957. Bobby was he skipper of the Cleveland Indians for half a season in '58. He landed in Milwaukee in 1963 and led the Braves until they departed for Atlanta after the '65 season. Bobby made the move to Atlanta and was the first manager of the Atlanta Braves.

He managed future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Bob Lemon, Bill Mazeroski, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews.

Moving on to various front office jobs, Bragan next distinguished himself as president of the Texas league, 1969-1975. Under his administration the league recovered from near bankruptcy. Bragan subsequently served a term as president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, the minor league governing body, then semi-retired to scouting and administrative work with the Texas Rangers.

From 1992 until his death, Bragan served as the CEO/Chairman of the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which provides college scholarships to students from public schools across the Dallas/Fort Worth metorplex.

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