By David Driver
The encyclopedic records of Major League Baseball stretch back nearly 150 years, with information available from a number of sources, including the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), baseballreference.com and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
And through all those generations, only one person born in Laurel made it to the majors, according to baseballreference.com — outfielder Jim Brown, who was born in Laurel in 1891.
“Brown was the third and youngest child born to James Sylvester and Annie Powers Brown on March 31, 1891, in Laurel,” according to an article by Tim Copeland of SABR. “Brown’s father was born in Ellicott City in October 1850. His mother was born in Port Deposit on February 14, 1856.
“Nicholas Snowden’s stone flour mill opened in 1811 on the site that would eventually become Laurel Factory, Maryland. That grist mill became a cotton mill in 1824 and by the turn of the twentieth century would be Laurel’s largest employer,” added SABR. “Census records indicate that it was the source of employment for Brown’s father from the 1880s through at least 1910, when James S. Brown was listed as one of the mill’s boss weavers.”
Brown spent several years playing minor league baseball in 28 different towns, according to SABR.
He made his debut in the majors on Sept. 13, 1915, for the St. Louis Cardinals against Brooklyn. Brown came off the bench to play outfield that day, and he had one hit in two at-bats.
Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem was behind the plate that day calling balls and strikes. Klem would work in 18 World Series as an arbitrator.
The starting shortstop for the Cardinals in that game was Rogers Hornsby, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1942.
His debut game was the only Major League match Brown appeared in that year.
In 1916, with Philadelphia Athletics of the American League, he played in 14 games, with a batting average of .238. That would be his last season in the majors. His manager was Connie Mack, another hall of famer.
Brown’s last minor league season was 1926, with a team in Dubuque, Iowa. The outfielder played in more than 1,200 games in the minors, with 53 homers in more than 4,000 at-bats.
According to SABR, he worked as an actor, gripman, cameraman and studio worker in the Las Angeles area in the 1930s. Records reveal he was unemployed for a time in San Diego and was in jail briefly in 1942.
Brown died Oct. 22, 1944, in Bradwood, Oregon and was buried in nearby Astoria.
“Brown’s death certificate showed that he was a carpenter working in the movie industry and that he had been in Oregon for about two months. The Astoria Daily Budget reported on October 23, 1944, that Brown ‘had complained of his heart recently and that death was caused by a heart attack,’ but it provided no insight as to why Brown was in Bradwood. His body was taken to Hughes-Ransom Mortuary in Astoria, Oregon, where an inventory revealed $18.39 in cash and coins and a wallet containing his Social Security card and his Selective Service registration card,” according to SABR.
At least one other Major League player lived in Laurel for a brief time.
And that was former Orioles’ pitcher Steve Bechler, who died during spring training on Feb. 17, 2003 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Bechler, who was 23, died of heat stroke; tests revealed the right-hander had taken the supplement ephedra, which contributed to his death, according to published reports.
Bechler pitched in three games for the Orioles in 2002. He was born in Medford, Oregon —about 350 miles south of where Laurel native Brown is buried.