April 12, 2016

Willard "Home Run" Brown

Willard Jessie Brown was born in Shreveport to a poor family who encouraged his interest in sports and baseball in particular. He became known in the neighborhood as an excellent hitter and joined a minor Negro League team, the Monroe Monarchs, in 1934. As he gained experience on the field, he refined his batting skills to the point that he was signed to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1936 and played professionally with them for eight years. He was the most powerful slugger in the Negro Leagues, possibly in all of baseball, but since records weren't kept consistently there is no way of knowing what his home run total is. It is known that he surpassed the legendary Josh Gibson, who was so impressed by his ability that he bestowed Willard with the nickname that would follow him for life: "Home Run" Brown.

In 1944, Willard enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II and served until the following year when victory was declared. He returned to baseball playing in Puerto Rico, where he played during the Negro League off-season; he had lost none of his talent during his wartime service, reaching averages of .410 at one point. In 1947 he played briefly for the St Louis Browns but the overall lack of talent on his team and the foreign atmosphere of racism affected his hitting; he left the team after only twenty-one games, but not before becoming the first black player to hit a home run in the American League. Returning to Puerto Rico, his averages shot back up and he achieved his greatest season ever, attaining .432, twenty-seven home runs and eighty-six RBI in just sixty games, winning the Triple Crown - a feat he would achieve again in the 1949-1950 season. In 1948 he returned to the Monarchs and remained with them until his retirement in 1950, although he would occasionally suit up for minor league teams in the Texas League until 1956.

After quitting the game for good, he moved to Houston where he lived a quiet life until he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1989; he underwent treatment which helped retard the progression of the disease until it finally claimed him. The greatest home run hitter of the Negro Leagues, and quite possibly all of baseball, passed away on August 4, 1996. Ten years later on February 2006, Willard "Home Run" Brown was elected unanimously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

GPS Coordinates
29° 55.745, -095° 26.850

Section G-2
Houston National Cemetery
Houston

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