Bill Brown: Great Man, Great Broadcaster
by Bill McCurdy, The Pecan Park Eagle
The retirement of Bill Brown from 30 Years as the Play-By-Play Telecaster for the Houston Astros on Thursday came as only a mild surprise to all of us who heard him defer from answering that query at a SABR Meeting only three days earlier, this past Monday night. "I won't be answering any question about my future palns tonight," Brown said, "but something will be coming out soon in that regard."
"Well, Bill, what are you going to do whenever you do actually retire?" Another SABR member asked.
"Go to SABR meetings," Bill answered with a smile.
How typical of Bill Brown to answer in that fashion. He's one of us fans too, you know - and not some rarified sports diva ego who holds himself above us commoner fan members of the greater baseball family because of his truly select and beautiful contribution to our sport as a fine teacher to the others that follow him on the art of baseball telecasting prose. That's what it is, you know? and we are privileged to now have three living veterans in Houston who have given so much to the essential literacy of baseball broadcasting and color coverage on both television and radio. The other two valuable contributors, of course, are the multi-level impacting role player that we all know and love as Larry Dierker - and Greg Lucas, our Human Wide World of Sports guy, who also may be known, for all we know, as either The Toast of Kokomo or The Butler Baritone. Lucas eventually gave his home town heart to the Astros through his own retirement from the FOX Sports network a couple of years ago after a longtime word painter of Astros baseball and other sports.
All three of these men are bright and unique broadcasting contributors. All three men are knowledgeable and sociable treasures. And all three are authors of several fine books on baseball. And we shall look forward to new works from each for as long as the well-spring of baseball knowledge and wisdom continues to flow in each of their bloodstreams as "my-this-time-in-life" passions. One more shared honor that our three living Houston media veterans hold together speaks highly for them all. Larry Dierker, Greg Lucas, and Bill Brown are all inducted members of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. That said, we shall now return to discussing the only one of the three Houston announcer amigos that's retiring at the end of this season, and that's Bill Brown, the only telecaster to do 30 years of continuous broadcasting service for the Houston Astros through another of America's great periods of change.
When Bill Brown began telecasting in Houston in 1987, the Astros were just coming off their most devastating loss to the New York Mets in Game 6 of the NLCS in the autumn of 1986. Bombastically enthusiastic Milo Hamilton was two-years deep in town by then as the secondary broadcaster behind the legendary Gene Elston during the 1985-86 seasons when Brown came aboard. In fact, Elston himself even played a role in the hiring of new guy Bill Brown by getting fired after the '86 season by Astros GM Dick Wagner for giving only a tepid "there it is" statement on TV, followed by silence, as his call of the last out in ace starter Mike Scott's no-hit division clincher win at the Astrodome in the last game of the 1986 regular season. The Elston firing was not a popular decision among most Astros fans, but this is the climate that Bill Brown walked into in Houston in the spring of 1987. It hardly looked like a garden in which 30-year careers could be cultivated in magnificence or significance.
So, how did this long and storied career of Bill Brown's survive and flourish? Allow me to post this humble opinion: Houston had never met any baseball media person like Bill Brown until 1987. We can't claim to know what actually happened inter-personally between Bill Brown and Milo Hamilton, between Bill Brown and the Astros ownership brass, or between Bill Brown and the players, but we do know something about what happened between Bill Brown and the fans from 1987 to 2016. And I also got to know a little more about Bill Brown personally from just being around him socially during my time with the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. In the short time I worked in a minor way as an active research colleague of Bill's for his book on the Astros - and through our mutual involvement in the local SABR chapter from 2004 to date in 2016, I've come to know the man modestly better on the personal level.
Allow me also to share what I've learned about Bill Brown from even light social contact. I'll try to keep it short and sweet:
(1) Bill Brown is not motivated by ego to do what he does so well. He is motivated by his passion for the game - and for his passionate respect for how the game is broadcast - or written - for fans.
(2) Because Bill Brown is not driven by his personal ego, he has the ability to work with those whose makeup hungers or demands that they be treated as the center of the universe, without sacrificing his own integrity.
(3) As noted by former Astros great Craig Biggio in this morning's Houston Chronicle, "Brownie had a special way of talking about the game, being judgmental and being critical and yet also being positive all at the same time. He was special at what he did. He was magnificent with what he did, and he's truly going to be missed."
(4) Brownie also has a resonant, clear-speaking baritone voice. He sounds like the friendly neighbor you wish you had living next door to you in the neighborhood. With that same talent, he could adjust to the gifts and styles of his working partners as well as anyone I've seen at these media level reins. He made the gifted humorist that is Jim DeShaies sound like the baseball resurrection of Mark Twain; he makes Alan Ashby sound like one of the the most astute game-observers to ever travel down the Tim McCarver Freeway; and he helps Geoff Blum get across his sometimes quirky utility player game observations in ways that would have been lost, had Geoff Blum been forced to play second banana to one of baseball's "legend-in-my-own-mind" people. In other words, Bill Brown possesses the rare quality of being one of those people who actually makes it possible for others to give their work their best by his presence - because Bill Brown is not concerned with being "out-shined."
(5) Bottom Line: Bill Brown is one of those wonderful human beings who followed his passion to find the field of his chosen life work. And now he is using that same barometer in making the tough decision to retire at the end of the 2016 Astros regular season.
At his retirement press conference yesterday, Bill Brown cited "faded abilities and a diminished level of passion for game preparation as (his) reasons for stepping away."
People governed by their egos do not make those kinds of honest disclosures. Again, Bill Brown is not such a person. Bill knows that his heart must be in the job full strength. He understands that a slip in passion, the redundant pounding of the same-old-same-old over time, and the normal wear and tear of aging take their toll on how one goes about doing their chosen work.
Bill Brown values that it is far better to note the slip in passion and move on to some other placement of that same energy into something that is both fresh and again playful.
We selfishly are hoping that Bill again catches the writing bug, once he's had some time to catch his second passion wind. His wisdom is a reservoir of information for the minds of all those young people out there who may be thinking of going into sports broadcasting.
Thank you, Bill Brown! And Good Luck, Bill and Dianne Brown! - The world is now yours to enjoy in the moment for as long as you allow yourselves to be free of worldly anxieties - by living for health, wisdom, peace, love, beauty, and creativity - in the only time zone that any of us ever own - the wonderful here and now.