Fred Brown

This article was written by Bill Lamb

Generations ago it would have been difficult to determine which was the more unlikely – a fringe major-league ballplayer ascending to the governorship of his home state and later becoming one of its United States senators, or a Democrat being elected to such lofty posts in then rock-solid Republican New Hampshire. Whichever the case, Fred Brown managed these feats. A nine-game outfielder for the 1901-1902 Boston Beaneaters, Brown thereafter embarked on a long and successful career in law and politics. In 1922 he was elected New Hampshire governor. A decade later he was swept into the United States Senate by a nationwide Democratic electoral landslide. Defeated in his bid for a second Senate term, Brown was appointed to the post of comptroller general of the United States by a political ally and personal friend, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sadly, a debilitating stroke brought his time in public office to an abrupt end, and Brown spent the last 15 years of his life as an invalid.

Fred Herbert Brown was an only child, born on April 12, 1879, in Ossipee, a small town at the foot of the White Mountains in central New Hampshire. At the time of Fred’s birth, his father, Dana J. Brown (1859-1941), ran a country store. He later became a banker and local government official, and then late in his life, a probate attorney. Meanwhile, Fred’s mother, the former Nellie Allen (1859-1951), kept house. Brown was educated in the Ossipee grammar school and then Dow Academy, a boarding school located 70miles distant in Franconia.1 By that time, the husky youngster – he would eventually put 190 pounds on a 5-foot-10½ frame – had become a standout baseball player, primarily a pitcher. Decades later, Brown related that he “was baseball crazy from the time he was a kid” in Ossipee.2After graduating from Dow, Fred spent the summer playing ball for a semipro club in Somersworth, a small city in southeastern New Hampshire.3 In the fall of 1899 he matriculated cross-state to Dartmouth College in Hanover. In addition to doing his course work, Fred became a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.4 But where he really made his campus mark was on the baseball diamond. Years after the fact it was reported that Brown, a righty batter and thrower, “started in to pitch for Dartmouth but no catcher could hold his delivery, so Brown had to go behind the bat himself.”5 No statistical evidence of his Dartmouth performance survives, but catcher Brown was later described as “the sensation of the college world.”6

Brown left Dartmouth at the end of his freshman year,7 but it is unclear where he began playing professionally. Baseball-Reference places him with the Jersey City club of the short-lived Atlantic League in 1900.8 But contemporary sources maintain that Brown spent parts of the 1900 season with the Springfield Ponies of the Eastern League, playing under the alias Stearns.9 In any event, Brown spent the ensuing winter in Boston, continuing his education at the local branch of Bryant and Stratton College.10 In January 1901 he was signed to a National League contract by Boston manager Frank Selee.11As the season approached, Sporting Life correspondent Jacob C. Morse voiced his approval of the Beaneaters’ catching situation, declaring that “behind the bat there is a fast brace in [Pat] Moran and Brown. Boston has not been better fortified in batteries for years than this year.”12 But once the campaign began, veteran Malachi Kittridge did most of the catching, with Moran as his backup. Brown saw no action at all behind the plate. Rather, he made his major-league debut on May 4, 1901, as a ninth-inning right-field replacement in a 5-3 victory over New York. Three days later, Brown delivered a base hit in his first major-league at-bat, stroking a ninth-inning pinch-hit single off Brooklyn right-hander Bill Donovan in a 4-2 loss.

Thereafter, Brown saw action in five more Beaneaters games, once in a pinch-hitting role and four times as an outfielder. The most memorable of these appearances occurred on May 14, when he went in as a pinch-runner after teammate Fred Crolius’s finger was split by a pitch from St. Louis Cardinals hurler Jack Harper.13 Although he registered an official 0-for-2 at the plate, Brown proceeded to play “a beautiful game.”14 First, he put Cardinals star shortstop Bobby Wallace out of action with a jarring collision at second base. Later, Brown knocked in a run with a fly ball. Finally, his successful sacrifice bunt helped the Beaneaters build the eighth-inning run that proved decisive in their 4-3 win. Brown also handled his three chances in right field flawlessly. Subsequent appearances did not go as well. Given back-to-back starting assignments on May 24-25, Brown went a combined 0-for-8 at the plate, although he played errorless ball in the outfield. Ironically, this batting tailspin coincided with a singular honor accorded the novice major leaguer – publication of a front-page Sporting Life photograph of “Catcher Fred Brown, of Boston.”15 With his batting average reduced to .143 (2-for-14), with two RBIs, Brown was released shortly thereafter. He finished the 1901 season with the Providence Grays of the Class A Eastern League, batting .286 in 20 games.16

In March 1902 Brown was back at Dartmouth, but not as a student. “Fred Brown of the Boston National League, formerly Dartmouth ’03, is coaching candidates for the baseball team and will remain in Hanover till March 19,” reported the Worcester Daily Spy.17 Thereafter, Brown joined the Beaneaters’ spring camp where his athleticism and versatility were put on display. Just prior to the season’s start, Sporting Life correspondent Morse informed readers that “the Boston club’s all-around player, Fred Brown, has been showing up so well as a pitcher that Manager [Al] Buckenberger has about decided to make him a permanent member of the pitching staff.”18But by the second game of the regular season, circumstances would dictate Brown’s return to the outfield. On April 18 Beaneaters right fielder Pat Carney injured a hand making a catch against the grandstand fence and had to be removed from the game. Replacement Fred Brown went 0-for-2 at the plate against Brooklyn left-hander Doc Newton, but scored a run as Boston fell, 10-4. The next day Carney was back in the Beaneaters lineup for the morning game of a twinbill against the Superbas, but was replaced by Brown in the afternoon contest. That game would prove the highpoint of Brown’s brief major-league tenure. Facing lefty John McMakin, Fred doubled his career hit total, going 2-for-4 (including a double) at bat, and registering an assist from right field in a 5-4 Boston victory.

Fred Brown’s best big-league game was also his last one. Days thereafter, he was again released by Boston, bringing his days in the majors to a close. In nine 1901-1902 games, Brown had batted a cumulative .200 (4-for-20), with two RBIs and two runs scored. He struck out twice, but did not walk or reach base as a hit batsman. Nor did he have a stolen base. Despite being a catcher by trade, all his defensive work was done in the outfield (three games in left, four in right) where Brown handled 10 chances without an error, while posting two assists, giving him a lifetime 1.000 fielding average. Still only 23yearsold, Brown wanted to continue playing. Once again, he signed with Providence, where the spring-training experiment with pitching was resumed. Brown also did some “good work behind the bat” for Providence.19 Unfortunately, a midseason thumb injury shelved Brown for a month, retarding his progress in the box. For the season, he went 4-7 in 11 games pitched for the fifth-place (67-67) Grays. Playing around the diamond in 39 games total, the versatile Brown batted .248, with two homeruns, the only round-trippers of his pro career.20

Reserved by Providence for the 1903 season, Brown took the first tentative steps toward a post-baseball existence. He took up residence in Boston and joined fraternal orders, including the Masons. But for the short term, his life remained on a familiar course. As in the previous year, he returned to Dartmouth in March to supervise the selection of the college baseball team.21 Thereafter, he reported to Providence, where he was slated to share the catching job with Alex Farmer.22 But Brown saw only sparing action that season, mostly as an infield fill-in, his playing time reduced by ankle injuries.23Interestingly, only a day after he had reinjured himself playing, Brown was pressed into service as an emergency umpire when the league-assigned arbiter failed to appear for a game in Worcester. With Brown officiating, Worcester posted a 1-0 victory.24 Whether a coincidence or not, Providence gave Brown his walking papers shortly thereafter. He finished the season with an Eastern League rival, the pennant-bound (92-33) Jersey City Skeeters. Seeing action in only 18 games combined, Brown batted a powerless .277, and his baseball career was now plainly in decline. But this was of small moment, for Brown had already redirected his aspirations. That September he entered Boston University Law School.

During summer law-school recess, Brown continued playing ball. Stepping down a competitive notch, he joined the Haverhill Hustlers of the Class B New England League, where his player-manager was future Hall of Famer Billy Hamilton. Brown proved a useful addition to the club, playing the occasional game in right field and at first, second, and third base, in addition to catching, his primary position. He even took the mound during a late-August game against Nashua, holding the opposition scoreless and striking out four in relief of ejected starter Nick Page.25 Overall, Fred batted .273 in 53 games for the league champion (82-41) Hustlers.26 The following spring, Brown resumed preseason collegiate coaching, this time for Boston University. Under the handsome formal photo of Brown that accompanied announcement of his appointment, the Boston Herald declared that the BU “boys were certainly most fortunate to secure the services as coach of Fred Brown, who played with Haverhill last season, and is without doubt the best utility player the New England League has seen for many a day.”27

Brown returned to Haverhill for the 1905 campaign, his last in Organized Baseball. The acquisition of new talent again relegated Brown to part-time duty, but as a utility player he had no peer. According to incoming Haverhill manager Connie Murphy, “There is no need saying further [about versatility] when that man is under consideration.”28 Splitting play between first base (69 games) and second (13 games), Brown fielded both positions capably, while batting .235 for the second-division (53-51) Hustlers. Once the season ended, however, Fred Brown’s baseball playing days were behind him.

Although he had retired from playing as a still-young 27-year-old, Brown would retain his interest in the game for the remainder of his life.29 His immediate focus, however, was on completing his legal education and entering the practice of law. After graduating from law school in June 1906, Brown relocated to Somersworth, where he spent a year reading law in the office of local attorney James A. Edgerly.30 Admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1907, he shared a legal practice with Edgerly until his mentor’s untimely death the following year. Brown thereupon became a solo practitioner.31 His legal practice prospered and soon made Brown an affluent man. But he remained modest and unpretentious. Unmarried, Fred lived in a rented room and ate most of his meals at a local diner.32

A Democrat in a thoroughly Republican state, Brown then embarked on a career in public service and politics, achieving success in both. In rapid succession he assumed the posts of Somersworth city solicitor (1910-1914), delegate to the New Hampshire constitutional convention (1912), and Democratic Party presidential elector (1912). In early 1914 Brown was elected to the first of nine consecutive one-year terms as mayor of Somersworth. A local political reporter later described Mayor Brown as “an old New England Yankee type, endowed with an abundance of sound judgment and common sense.”33That July Brown was appointed United States attorney for the District of New Hampshire by President Woodrow Wilson, a position that he would hold for the next eight years.34

In 1922 “Brown was prevailed upon to enter the Democratic primary election” and won the party’s nomination for governor by a comfortable plurality of the votes cast.35That November he captured the office, collecting 70,160 votes to the 61,526 polled by Republican candidate Windsor H. Goodnow. Brown was the first Democrat elected governor of New Hampshire in 48 years, with his vote-winning margin being the largest compiled by a Democratic Party gubernatorial hopeful since 1837.36 Unhappily for the new governor, the electorate did not furnish him a sympathetic legislature. Brown championed large-scale tax reform, abolition of the women’s poll tax, and a 48-hour work week, but failed to get such proposals through the heavily Republican state Senate. He did, however, get improvements to the state mental hospital approved and succeeded, through frugal fiscal policy, in entirely eliminating the $900,000 debt accumulated by the state during the World War I era.37 During his time in office, Brown also served as an ex-officio Dartmouth College trustee. He was awarded an honorary A.M. degree by the school in 1923,38 and his career was thereafter followed closely by Dartmouth’s alumni publications. While governor, Brown also altered his marital status. Long a bachelor, he married State House secretary Edna McHarg (1880-1958) in May 1925. Already middle-aged, the couple would have no children.

Breaking New Hampshire’s one-term limit tradition, Brown stood for re-election as governor in 1924, but was defeated handily by Republican John G. Winant. Newly installed Governor Winant then appointed his predecessor to the New Hampshire Public Service Commission.39 Brown served on the commission for the next eight years. Otherwise, the ex-governor returned to his law practice, specializing in handling probate work and public utilities cases for small-fry plaintiffs. In utilities cases, Brown regularly appeared in opposition to corporation interests, and was soon recognized for his expertise in public-power issues.

In November 1932 Brown was among the Democrats ushered into the United States Senate by the FDR landslide. This made him the first Democratic senator elected from New Hampshire in 20 years (and one of only two in the near-century spanned by the period from 1865 to 1962). On Capitol Hill, Senator Brown “took particular interest in questions of public power and served as a member of the joint congressional committee that investigated the Tennessee Valley Authority.”40 Parochial concern for the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, navy yard also prompted him to wangle appointment to the Senate’s Naval Committee. When the chamber was in summer recess, Brown returned home, where he relaxed by fishing for trout and taking in ballgames.41

A “big, bulky man [who] dressed casually, chewed tobacco, and rarely uttered an unnecessary word,”42 Senator Brown cultivated friends on both sides of the political aisle, and was respected and well-liked by his Capitol Hill colleagues. He became particularly close to two future vice presidents, John Nance Garner (D-Texas) and Alben W. Barkley (D-Kentucky), who like Brown were “enthusiastic baseball fans.”43 He also became friendly with President Roosevelt, joining FDR in the presidential box for the opener of the 1933 Senators-Giants World Series.44

Standing for re-election in the fall of 1938, Brown lost to Republican Charles W. Tobey. Once his Senate term was completed, Brown intended to return to Somersworth to resume practicing law. But President Roosevelt would not hear of it. First, FDR offered Brown a federal judgeship, then a number of governmental posts, all of which Brown declined. Finally, and only after consultation with his elderly father, Brown agreed to accept the post of comptroller general of the United States.45 Given his dedication to fiscal restraint, the post of government “spending watchdog” was a perfect fit for Brown. But Comptroller General Brown had been on the job only 14 months when he was stricken by a debilitating stroke. Unable to continue work, he resigned in June 1940. Thereafter, Roosevelt, hopeful that Brown would be able to regain his health, appointed him to the US Tariff Commission. But recovery was not in the offing, and Brown resigned from the commission in 1941.

Lucid but mostly housebound, Brown spent the remainder of his life at home in New Hampshire. As a party elder, he was regularly consulted by aspiring local Democratic Party candidates. Among those dropping by the Brown residence to visit in 1952 was a Senate pal from Missouri, President Harry S. Truman, then campaigning for a return to the White House. In his final years, Brown derived pleasure from listening to baseball on the radio. On February 3, 1955, former New Hampshire Governor and Senator Fred H. Brown suffered a heart attack and died at his home. He was 75. After a funeral service at the First Parish Church (Congregational) in Somersworth, his remains were interred in the Brown family plot at Ossipee Cemetery. The lone immediate survivor was wife, Edna. Bynow retired from office himself, President Truman lamented the passing of his old Senate colleague. Fred Brown was “an able and conscientious worker and a fine gentleman. I was proud to know him,” said Truman.46 Meanwhile, tributes to Brown were placed in the Congressional Record by Senators Norris Cotton (R-New Hampshire), Richard Russell (D-Georgia), and Estes Kefauver (D-Tennessee).47 Today, a formal portrait of Governor Brown hangs in the State House in Concord, and a nearby government building bears his name.48 Only a nine-game major leaguer, Fred Brown had gone far and done much after he left the ballpark behind, stamping a lasting mark on the political history of his native state.49

 

Acknowledgements

The writer is indebted to Peter Carini of the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College; Debora Longo of the Somersworth Public Library, and Frank Kennedy of the Somersworth Historical Society for their assistance with this article.

 

Sources

Sources for the biographical information contained herein include the Fred Brown files at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York; the Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; and the Somersworth Historical Society Museum; various profiles of Brown in political reference works; US Census and family tree info accessed via Ancestry.com; and certain of the newspaper articles cited below, particularly his February 1955 obituaries and a remembrance of Brown published in the New Hampshire Sunday News, July 7, 1956. Special note should be taken of the chapter devoted to Brown in Martin J. Flanagan, The Passing Parade, The Story of Somersworth, New Hampshire: A Personal View, 1910-1981 (Somersworth, New Hampshire: Somersworth Historical Society, 1983). Unless otherwise noted, baseball stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet.

 

Notes

1 See Governors of the State of New Hampshire: Biographical Sketches [hereafter Governors] (Concord, New Hampshire: New Hampshire Historical Society, 1977), 1.

2Yankee (magazine),April 1936, 43.

3 According to the Boston Journal, January 27, 1901.

4Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, May 1955, 85.

5Boston Herald, June 27, 1904.

6Sporting Life, July 9, 1904. Years later Brown, who “got as much kick from college baseball as he did from the big time,” fondly recalled a spirited home-and-home series against Williams College (which the teams split). See “Dartmouth in the New Deal: An Interview with Fred Brown, ’03,” Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, March 1934, 39.

7 According to one biographical profile of Brown, “a lack of funds forced him to leave Dartmouth after one year, and to play professional baseball.” See Kim Pappas, Somersworth’s Most Famous Citizen, an undated manuscript in the Fred Brown file at the Somersworth Historical Society Museum.

8 The Jersey City club disbanded on June 2, 1900. The Atlantic League itself folded 10 days later.

9 See Sporting Life, January 26, 1901, citing an unidentified earlier item published in the Hartford Post. See also, the Boston Journal, January 27, 1901, Sporting Life, February 2, 1901, and the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, March 1934, 39.

10 As per Sporting Life, February 9, 1901. Bryant and Stratton operated a chain of business colleges, most of which were located in the Northeast. See also, the Boston Journal, January 27, 1901, which placed the Brown winter residence in adjoining Cambridge, Massachusetts.

11 As reported in Sporting Life, January 26, 1901. Selee signed Brown on the recommendation of Beaneaters first baseman Fred Tenney who had coached the Dartmouth baseball team during the 1900 preseason, according to the Boston Journal, January 27, 1901.

12Sporting Life, April 27, 1901.

13 Like Brown, Crolius was a rookie and a former Dartmouth baseball star.

14 In the estimation of Sporting Life, May 25, 1901.

15Sporting Life, May 25, 1901.

16 Baseball-Reference lists Brown as a member of the 1901 Providence Grays, but provides no statistics for him. The above stats were taken from the 1902 Reach Guide, 168.

17Worcester Daily Spy, March 10, 1902.

18Sporting Life, April 19, 1902.

19 As reported in the Boston Herald, June 22, 1902.

20 During the season, an unidentified sportswriter observed that “Brown catches, pitches and moves about the baseball field with such total disregard of the eternal fitness of things that it is impossible to characterize him in a baseball sense as anything other than a jack of all trades.” Worcester Daily Spy, June 1, 1902.

21 As reported in the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times, March 28, 1903.

22 As per Sporting Life, February 21, 1903.

23 Brown initially injured his ankle sliding into second base during a June 20 game against Toronto. He reinjured it during a July 4 game in Worcester. See Sporting Life, July 4 and 18, 1903.

24 As reported in the Worcester Daily Spy, July 6, 1903.

25 As per Sporting Life, September 3, 1904.

26 His entry in Baseball-Reference indicates that Brown was also a member of the New Bedford Whalers of the New England League during the 1904 season, but the writer was unable to find a Brown-New Bedford connection.

27Boston Herald, March 2, 1905.

28 As quoted in Sporting Life, April 8, 1905.

29 Brown’s departure from the game was hastened by an arm injury. During his later years in Washington, Brown’s primary relaxations were fishing and watching baseball. He took in Senators games when he could. Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, March 1934, 40. Senator Brown also enjoyed playing poker and reading Western novels, as per Martin J. Flanagan, The Passing Parade, The Story of Somersworth, New Hampshire: A Personal View, 1910-1981 (Somersworth, New Hampshire: Somersworth Historical Society, 1983), 44.

30 Flanagan 36. Brown’s manager on the Somersworth ballclub had been John E. Sullivan, later a close friend and political adviser.

31Governors, 1.

32 See Flanagan, 43. Brown’s likable, unaffected manner was invariably noted in commentaries on his political career. See, e.g., “The Men Who Made New Hampshire: Fred Brown, Winner of a Big 1922 Upset,” by Dr. William Mandrey, New Hampshire Sunday News, July 7, 1956.

33 Flanagan, 36.

34 Ibid. See also One Thousand New Hampshire Notables (Concord, New Hampshire: Rumford Press, 1919), 509. Today the simultaneous holding of a political office like mayor by a state’s chief federal prosecutor would never be permitted.

35Governors, 1-2. The primary vote totals were: Fred H. Brown, 7,954; John C. Hutchins, 6,215; and Albert W. Noone, 2,066. Brown had entered the primary race on the final candidacy filing date, and then only after succumbing to vigorous persuasion by his friend John E. Sullivan, now the Somersworth postmaster. See Flanagan, 36.

36Governors, 2. After Brown’s election, it would take New Hampshire voters 40 more years to elect another Democrat as their governor.

37 See Governors, 2, and Flanagan, 40.

38 As noted in Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, May 1955, 85.

39Governors, 2, and Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, March 1934, 39.

40 As noted in the Brown obituary published in the Washington (DC) Evening Star, February 4, 1955.

41 In 1934 Brown told an inquiring journalist that “I used to be a professional ballplayer. I still follow the sport in the papers. My sole relaxation this summer has been to go to Boston and seeing the Braves and Red Sox play.” See “Senators on Vacation,” by M.E. Hennessy, Boston Globe, August 25, 1934. Two years later, Yankee (magazine)reported that Brown “delights in trout fishing and professional baseball.”

42Boston Herald, February 4, 1955.

43 Flanagan, 41.

44 Flanagan, 47. A photo of FDR throwing out the ceremonial first pitch would become a treasured memento of Brown’s time in Washington, DC.

45 Until Dana Brown’s death in 1941, Fred retained a close relationship with his father “whose sound judgment, common sense, and sage advice he had great respect for,” as per Flanagan, 44. At the ceremony swearing Brown into the comptroller general post, former Senate colleagues presented him with a new silver spittoon and a fresh chaw of tobacco, as per the New York Herald-Tribune, April 12, 1939.

46 As reported in the New York Times and Washington Evening Star, February 4, 1955, and Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, New Hampshire), February 5, 1955.

47 See Congressional Record, remarks of Senators Cotton, Russell, and Kefauver, February 8, 1955.

48 The Fred H. Brown Building at 129 Pleasant Street in Concord houses the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

49 With apologies to Jim Bunning and Vinegar Bend Mizell, perhaps the only ballplayer-politician who really rivals Brown’s elective attainments is John K. Tener. An outfielder-turned-pitcher for American Association (1885), National League (1888-1889), and Players League (1890) clubs, Republican Tener was elected to Congress from a Pennsylvania district in November 1908. Two years later he was elected governor of Pennsylvania. Tener also served as president of the National League (1915-1918), and as a director of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1930s.