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All-Star Scout : Brown Watches as the Young Talent He Nurtured Blooms in the Majors

June 06, 1993|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For 28 years, Earl Brown Jr. has tracked the comings and goings of Southern Pacific Railroad cars, working the graveyard shift. A former professional ballplayer in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, Brown kept his afternoons free so he could coach--and later scout--inner-city youths.

During the late '60s and into the mid '70s, he drove around Los Angeles picking up players until he had enough to field a team. His lineup card featured players with common names, but there was nothing common about their style of play.

Brown still calls his proteges by their first names--Chris, Chet, Eric, Darryl, Ozzie and Eddie. But the rest of the baseball world knows them as Brown, Lemon, Davis, Strawberry, Smith and Murray.

"The world doesn't know about Earl Brown Jr., but he was the coach that taught us all how to play baseball," said Chris Brown (no relation), who played from 1984 to '89 with the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers.

"He developed all those guys and more, but never got credit for it."

A major league scout for the past 15 years, Brown, 48, is working toward adding more players to the list of stars he has nurtured. He is a consultant scout for the Cincinnati Reds and has spent the last three months preparing for the June amateur draft, which began Thursday. This week he will begin to try to sign the area players the Reds drafted.

"It is so hard to find players that no one else has seen," Brown said. "I look for athletes who run track or play basketball. I know who can play baseball."

But while Brown can easily recognize talent, getting those players onto the diamond has become more difficult in recent years, he said. The sharp rise in basketball's popularity has lured away many, and the chronic negative influences of some neighborhoods has drawn away others.

"You don't have the same type of kids playing baseball," Brown said. "They are not getting the same training and the game has become too expensive to play."

But Brown remains sufficiently enthusiastic about baseball that he continues to spend his free time at high school fields looking to sign the next superstar, much like then-scout and now Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda did when he signed Brown 30 years ago.

After starring at Fremont High and Los Angeles City College, Brown was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1963. He chose to remain a free agent and was later signed by Lasorda. Brown played four seasons in the Dodger organization, but never batted above .275 in the minor leagues and last played for the Dodgers' affiliate in Albuquerque in the double-A Texas League before being released in 1966.

Brown already was working with the railroad and had a part-time job in the Recreation and Parks Department at Manchester Park (now the Algin Sutton Recreation Center). He became a volunteer coach at Washington High in 1976 and returned to college to earn a liberal-arts degree from Cal State Long Beach in 1980.

Former Fremont Coach Phil Pote, who became a scout with the Oakland A's and is now with the Seattle Mariners, gave Brown his first scouting assignment in 1979 for the A's. A year later, Brown gained notoriety when he persuaded the Cincinnati Reds to draft and sign Eric Davis.

"I've known Earl since I was a 10th-grader," Davis said. "He always had a good vision of talent. That was his trademark. You never had to look for Earl. He found you."

Brown also developed a reputation by running successful youth all-star teams. In addition to baseball, he also coached an all-star basketball team called the Watts Magicians. Among his top players were Walter "Chipper" Bentley, former Cal State Los Angeles star Raymond Lewis, former NBA and UCLA star David Greenwood and current Los Angeles Clipper John Williams.

Brown is a junior-varsity basketball coach at Westchester High, which won City 4-A titles in 1991 and '92.

But baseball was where Brown made his mark. His most famous team--the 1968 Manchester Hawks, which played at Manchester Park, featured Chet Lemon, who went on to play with the Detroit Tigers; Ozzie Smith, now with the St. Louis Cardinals; Eddie Murray, now with the New York Mets, and Murray's younger brother Rich, who later played for the San Francisco Giants. The four, who were between 9 and 12 years old, threw four consecutive shutouts in one tournament, and the victories were so one-sided that opposing coaches and parents began to question their ages.

"I always had to bring a briefcase with their birth certificates to the game," Brown said. "No one would believe my kids were the same age as their opponents. Most of the time they were younger."

Said Smith: "He was a good coach, probably one of the best coaches around."

Although his teams rarely practiced, they were fundamentally ahead of the competition because they played three or four games a day during the summer. Brown's players were running double cutoffs and hit-and-run plays while opponents were still learning how to throw and catch.

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