02/22/05 9:00 AM ET
'Downtown' will always be No. 1
Brown was selected first in '68 expansion draft
By Mike Scarr / MLB.com
"Downtown" Ollie Brown was the first pick in the 1968 expansion draft by the San Diego Padres, one of two teams that would gain entrance to the National League. The other National League entrant was the Montreal Expos. That year, the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots, which became the Milwaukee Brewers the following season, would join the American League.
But it was the 24-year-old Brown to go No. 1, and the way he remembers it, there couldn't have been a better career move.
"It was a good deal," Brown said. "If I was going to get some playing time in the big leagues, it was a good thing they had that expansion draft because that opened up some positions for a number of players at that time."
Brown was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but moved with his parents to Long Beach, Calif., where he grew up. After one year at Long Beach City College, Brown signed a professional contract with the Giants' organization in 1962. His first stop was in Selma, Va., in rookie ball, but Brown quickly rose through the system before being called up by the Giants in 1965.
"I thought I got up there pretty quick," Brown said. "From the moment I signed, it was only about three years. When I signed, it normally took a lot longer because at the time they had so many minor league teams. I know when I went to my first Spring Training, they had hundreds of ballplayers so usually when you moved up, you went one class at a time. But I was fortunate enough to make jumps and was able to perform at the level to where I skipped a lot of those leagues."
Brown was a regular in the Giants outfield in 1966-67, but his playing time was cut with the emergence of Bobby Bonds in 1968. Then, the Padres came calling.
"At the time, I was in the San Francisco Giants' organization, and I was an outfielder. It was a good thing the expansion draft came along at that time because in those years the Giants were always solid in the outfield.
"When I was with the Giants, they had the Alou brothers, [Matty and Jesus]. They had Willie Mays, and they were thinking of putting Orlando Cepeda or Willie McCovey in the outfield. At the time Bobby Bonds happened to be coming around, too. So they were pretty solid in the outfield."
The Padres in their first year weren't much, finishing last in the six-team NL West in Major League Baseball's first season of divisional play. With a record of 52-110, the Padres closed the year 41 games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves, but Brown and players like Cito Gaston, Nate Colbert, Chris Cannizzaro and Ed Spiezio brought Major League ball to San Diego.
"Offensively we were pretty good, but the pitching was kind of thin," Brown said. "It's all about pitching, no matter what year it is. We had some young arms on the team, but they weren't proven and trying to put together a pitching staff to keep you in the ball game was hard to do. We scored runs, but we also gave up runs. So it took them all those years to come up with players within the organization, plus a few trades here and there, where they could put it all together and get to the championship."
Brown had a good blend of power, speed and a strong arm, and had his best years statistically with the Padres. In 1969, Brown hit .264 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs. The following year, he hit .292 with 34 doubles, 23 homers and 89 RBIs as the offense injected some life into Mission Valley.
Colbert clubbed 38 homers in 1970, a franchise record he would match in 1972 and one that would not be eclipsed until Ken Caminiti hit 40 in 1996. Also in 1970, Gaston hit .318 with 29 homers and 93 RBIs to help the Padres hit the third-most home runs in the NL that season, but the club still lost 99 games.
After the Padres got off to a poor start in 1972, Brown was traded to Oakland for Curt Blefary, Mike Kilkenny and a minor leaguer. He then bounced around to Milwaukee, the Angels and Houston before the Phillies picked him up off waivers in June 1974.
It was in Philadelphia that Brown finally got a taste of the postseason. During his time in San Francisco, the Giants had good clubs but finished in second place four straight years. But in two of Brown's three full seasons in Philadelphia, the Phillies won NL East titles and advanced to the NLCS where they were eliminated by the Reds in 1976 and by the Dodgers in 1977.
"The years I was there we had real good ballclub," Brown said. "The situation I was in there, I played outfield, but I was part of a platoon system. Most of the time it was Jay Johnstone. Whenever there was a right-handed pitcher, he would play, and whenever there was a left-handed, pitcher I would play. The two of us did real well together.
"The years I was there, we won a couple of division titles, but in the National League that's when the Big Red Machine was going along, and they had one of the best teams in baseball and we couldn't get past them when we hooked up in the playoffs. We always fell short of getting to the World Series."
Brown retired after the '77 season. He was just 33, an age today that would put many players in their primes, but after logging 13 years in the Majors, Brown sensed it was time.
"It gets to the point in everybody's career where some guys realize it and other guys don't," Brown said. "It's a cycle, and sooner or later, your turn is going to come up. You realize that this is the end, and you have to accept it and move on."
But Brown was not the only member of the family to play pro sports. His older brother, Willie Brown, played at USC and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1965. As a running back, Willie Brown played two seasons with the Rams and one with the Eagles before retiring in 1967. From there, he went on to be an assistant coach on John McKay's staff at USC and then followed McKay to work with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Younger brother Oscar also attended USC and played five seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 1969-73.
Ollie Brown is now semi-retired and runs a promotional products company, Zoe Designs, out of his home in Buena Park, along with his wife, Sandra. They had two children, son Troy and daughter Danielle. Troy was killed in a car accident four years ago. They also have three grandchildren, with another on the way.
"We see our grandchildren often, and that keeps us busy," Brown said. "That's nice."
There have been a number of favorite Padres to follow, but Ollie Brown will always be No. 1.
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.