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Baseball Scout Has Made a Name for Himself

July 08, 1993|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SOUTHEAST AREA — 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 Dodger 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.

"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 see players in the inner city like Eric and Darryl anymore," Brown said. "There are players with talent, but they're not as fundamentally sound. Part of the problem is that there isn't a Connie Mack program in Compton anymore. It became too dangerous to play at the parks. Darryl used to stand around the parking lot after a game. You can't do that anymore."

Davis, who attended Fremont, played on a Connie Mack team called the E.C. All-Stars in 1978 and the Compton Moose in 1979 with Strawberry and Chris Brown, who both went to Crenshaw. Among others on the team were Reggie Montgomery and Chris Green, who later played in the minors, and Kerwin Danley, now a National League umpire.

"We had 12 or 13 players that were drafted (by major league organizations) off that team," Davis said. "We had so much talent."

Davis and Strawberry became best friends while playing for the E.C. All-Stars, and in 1979, when they were members of the Compton Moose, the team went to the finals of the Pacific Regionals in Seattle. The team never played in the Connie Mack World Series because several players quit after getting drafted in 1980.

Strawberry, selected by the New York Mets, was the first player taken overall in the 1980 draft and Davis was selected in the eighth round by the Reds.

Brown and Davis also said that too many potential ballplayers have become drug runners instead of base stealers.

"I have had 14-year-old kids work out with me and then their beepers go off," Brown said. "They come back a few minutes later with a pocket full of money."

Said Davis: "These kids are making up to $5,000 a day dealing cocaine. We didn't have a drug problem when I was going to school. The only thing kids could sell was marijuana and no one I knew wanted to go to jail because of a $5 sale."

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 playing at Fremont High and Los Angeles City College, Brown was approached 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 attention when he persuaded the Cincinnati Reds to draft and sign 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."

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