Besides having one of the more memorable names and birthplaces in the Deadball Era, Dave Brain managed to make some indelible marks in the record book. Mired on poor teams for his whole career, Brain was an early home run king with a mediocre batting average (.252 career). Defensively, he was an infielder who could make spectacular plays, but had a penchant for making errors. His major league career spanned only seven years, five as a regular, but in that time he branded his name in the record books for both honorable and notorious feats.
David Leonard Brain was born on January 24, 1879, in Hereford, England. Little is known about his early life, although he appears to have only started playing baseball at the age of 19. Brain’s professional baseball career began with Des Moines of the Western League in 1900 at age 21. He played third base, hit .305, and stole 27 bases. Among his 112 hits, 52 were for extra bases, including 13 triples. Later that year, he played third and shortstop briefly for Chicago of the American League, which was a minor league at the time.
With the elevation of the A.L. to major league status in 1901, Dave made his major league debut in Chicago on April 24 of that year, but was ultimately limited to five games at second base. The 22-year-old’s fielding was one of the features as the White Stockings won their initial three games. This glory, however, was short-lived. Chicago lost its next two games, and Brain’s errors were a significant factor. Though he hit well, 7 hits in 20 at bats, his inadequate fielding resulted in his being demoted to St. Paul of the Western League. He was shifted back to third and hit .262 with 11 triples and led the league with 13 homers. These statistics exemplify Brain’s offensive abilities and limitations throughout his career, i.e., the tendency to produce power numbers despite a less than sterling batting average.
During 1902, Brain had his best professional year while playing third base for Buffalo of the Eastern League. As team captain he produced a .331 batting average with 44 extra-base hits, 247 total bases, and 37 steals. He also led the league with 127 runs scored.
Dave was promptly snapped up by St. Louis of the National League. Despite hitting only .231 in 1903, Brain led the Cardinals with 60 RBIs and 15 triples, the latter being fourth best in the league. Stealing 21 bases demonstrated his decent speed that season, and he averaged 14 per season from 1903-07.
Dave’s offensive production significantly improved in 1904. He was the team leader in doubles, triples, homers and a career high 72 RBIs. The right-handed hitter’s seven home runs were second in the league to Harry Lumley’s nine. Brain’s 43 extra-base hits ranked fourth in the National League, and he was sixth in triples and seventh in doubles. The term “slugger” was an appropriate designation. During the 1903-04 seasons, Dave played 131 games at short and 76 at third. His versatility was further exhibited in 1904 when he played first, second, and the outfield.
Transition and establishing his name in the record books would mark Brain’s 1905 season. On July 4, 1905, Brain was hitting .228 and was traded to Pittsburgh for infielder George McBride, whose average was .218. During Brain’s five years as a regular, the 1905 Pirates were the only club of which he was a member that had an above .500 record. Since Honus Wagner was the Pirates’ shortstop, Brain was used almost exclusively at third base. He finished the season hitting .247 with 63 RBIs and 11 triples. As for establishing individual records, on May 29, 1905, the Englishman hit three triples against Pittsburgh; he duplicated the feat on August 8, 1905, while playing for Pittsburgh versus Boston, also delivering the game-winning single for his new team. Thanks to this performance, Brain holds several major league records. He is tied with many others for most triples in a game since 1900 and for the all-time record for most consecutive triples in a nine-inning game with three. Dave shares with three other players the all-time record for most times with three triples in one game during a career with two. Lastly, he is the only hitter in major league history to have three triples in one game twice in one season.
On December 15, 1905, the Pirates traded Brain, Del Howard, and Vive Lindaman to the Boston Nationals for Vic Willis. Willis, who had achieved 151 career victories, had fallen to 12-29 in 1905 but would win 89 games during the next four years. As for the newly traded third baseman, his salary was cut; this would be the beginning of serious disputes with the Boston ownership. On the playing field the 1906 Doves produced one of the most dismal seasons in history by finishing a record 66.5 games behind the Cubs (who won 116 games). Since 1900, no team has finished further behind the club who had the league’s best record. Dave’s offensive numbers took a downturn that season, but his five homers ranked him sixth in the league. Four of his homers were hit at home, and Regal Shoes, a leading sporting goods company of that era, awarded him four pairs of their baseball shoes. As for fielding futility, he placed himself in the record books on June 11, 1906. When Dave committed five errors that day, he established the major league record for most errors in a game by a third baseman since 1900. One newspaper read, “Dave Brain was in trouble all through the game. He went after all kinds of grounders with dash and spirit, but if he did not fumble, he managed to throw wild, and compiled a most unusual total of errors.”
Brain’s career fielding percentage for his 431 games at third was .913. This was in contrast to a league average over his career of .924. In light of the above, one can question why he was deemed a skillful fielder. First, when examining the fielding statistics of a Deadball Era player, it is necessary to consider poor field conditions, glove size, and so forth. Second, since such factors contributed to significantly lower fielding percentages, it becomes important to compare Brain with his peers. Indeed, a detailed statistical analysis presents a more objective assessment of Brain’s fielding accomplishments. In 1906, he led all third sackers with 48 errors, and his fielding percentage was .917 while the league average was .931. Harry Steinfeldt ranked first at .954. From this perspective, David’s fielding ability does not appear as atrocious, merely below average. However, in the 1906 campaign, he ranked first in putouts, double plays and range factor at 3.82 (a STATS’ category) and was second in assists. Total Baseball‘s category of fielding runs (number of runs a fielder saved) rates Brain as second among all fielders that year and an above-average fielder over his career. When one considers such factors along with the statistic that his career range factor was 3.72 compared to the 3.25 league average for third basemen, Brain was clearly a competent, possibly above-average fielder. Interestingly enough, in his 165 games at shortstop, Brain’s career fielding percentage (.915) was about the same as the league’s (.918) while his range (5.19) was somewhat below average (5.36).
In 1907, David did not sign a contract until late March. “You never can tell,” he said, “I am never in a hurry to sign so there is nothing significant about getting in line at this late date. I am perfectly satisfied with the offer made me.” Brain was able to be quite diplomatic when he needed to be. The Doves’ spring training was marred by the unfortunate death of one of their players, Cozy Dolan, who succumbed to typhoid fever. The funeral took place in Boston, and David was one of the pallbearers for his fallen teammate. As for the 1907 season, Brain reached the pinnacle of his career. He led both leagues with 10 home runs, all in his home park. In the National League, Brain ranked third with 43 extra-base hits and was fifth in doubles, total bases, and slugging average. Although he committed 47 errors at third and had a .916 fielding percentage (league average was .928), Brain finished first in range factor at 4.07 and double plays and second in putouts and assists. Once again, he placed second in saving runs among all the league’s fielders. Based on his hitting and fielding achievements, Total Baseball ranked him as the second most valuable performer in the National League that year, including pitchers. He was surpassed only by Wagner.
Despite Brain’s outstanding statistics, the 1907 Doves ended the season in seventh place, 47 games out of first. In the off-season, Boston’s President George Dovey restructured the team. This involved an eight-player trade with the New York Giants and the slashing of salaries. Several players, including Dave, became holdouts. According to manager Joe Kelley, Brain was demanding an $800 raise and other concessions such as the team contributing to the cost of baseball uniforms. The talk that Kelley did not want Brain “has set everybody by the ears.” In addition, the manager stated that “if I cannot make a trade that is of advantage to the Boston club, Brain will be retained as a member of the team.” Therefore, even though Kelley was not enthralled by the holdout, he would not let go of his star player without appropriate compensation. On April 13, the third baseman released the following statement: “Misleading statements have appeared in various papers regarding the situation between Mr. Dovey and myself. The facts are that I asked him for a raise in salary last year, but as he had just invested in the Boston club, he asked me to continue at the salary I had been getting, and promised to give me an advance for the season of 1908. I was much surprised, therefore, when he sent me a contract this year at a reduced salary. I returned it to him reminding him of his promise, and offered to accept a raise of $400 for the season. Mr. Dovey replied that that was too much, but said nothing more. After waiting for nearly two weeks I wrote Mr. Dovey that I understood he did not intend having me on his team and asked him to give me a release so that I could secure a position on some other team. This he refused to do, and there the matter rests.”
In mid-May, Brain’s holdout ended when he was sold to Cincinnati. The National Baseball Commission reinstated him but fined him $50. The Doves were fined $25. Based on the information at hand, this was done because Boston had allowed Brain to practice with Cincinnati before he had been signed by the latter. His new team was hoping he would supply offense, but in 16 games as an outfielder, Dave hit a paltry .109. In July 1908, he was sold to the Giants because McGraw needed a utility player. The previous year’s slugger continued to falter. This was partly due to illness. Even though Brain played four positions with New York, he only had 17 at bats and a .176 batting average. He did collect a salary of $3200, and the Giants’ catcher Roger Bresnahan cited this as an example of how John McGraw cared for his players, “even for a player who sat on the bench all last summer.” In 1909, McGraw sold Dave to Columbus of the American Association but he refused to go because he wanted a salary of $3200. The club offered him $1800. One newspaper account related, “Dave always came high.” Buffalo of the Eastern League did sign him, and he led the league with 15 triples but only hit .234 with 2 homers. Brain’s abilities continued to deteriorate, and he was out of professional baseball after 1910.
His baseball career over, Brain moved to California. He married Elizabeth Broderson in 1913 and had one daughter, Eugenia, in 1915. He worked for the National Biscuit Company and then as a credit manager at Standard Oil Company for twenty years until 1938. During the depression in the 1930s, David studied to become a chiropractor and passed the required California exam. Dr. Brain died of congestive heart failure on May 25, 1959. He was cremated and buried at Rose Hills Cemetery in Whittier, California.
What can be said about David Brain the man? His post-baseball career, battles with management, and the 1908 press release confirm that he was an intelligent, articulate individual. Concerning his contract squabbles, some might describe him as obstinate and possessing an over-inflated ego. Others would state that he was committed to his beliefs and was much more than just a baseball player. Two letters in Brain’s Hall of Fame file, one from his son-in-law and the other from a friend, offer insight into his character. Brain is revealed as a humble and private person who found fulfillment through his family and close friends. And he enjoyed talking about his baseball experiences with this inner circle.
In a relatively brief career, David Brain was an impact player. He led his league in a number of categories, and established or tied records that remain unbroken to this day. From 1904-07, he was one of baseball’s premier sluggers. His 26 home runs during this period ranks second only to Harry Lumley’s 34. The Englishman will also remain the answer to the following trivia question: Who is the only player to win a season’s home run title in the American or National League (since 1893) and never have another extra-base hit the rest of his major league career? As is evident, it is not possible to keep David out of the record book.
Evening Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island)
Carter, Craig, ed. The Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book. St. Louis, 2001.
Hall of Fame File
James, Bill. Stats All-Time Major League Handbook. 2nd ed. Morton Grove, 2002.
Lee, Bill. The Baseball Necrology. Jefferson, North Carolina, 2003
Spatz, Lyle, ed. The SABR Baseball List & Record Book. New York, 2007.
Thorn, John; Palmer, Pete; and Gershman, Michael. Total Baseball. 6th ed. New York, 1999.
Tourangeau, Dixie. “1901 Openers: The War Is On,” The National Pastime, n. 21, 2001, pp.32-35.
The primary source for this biography was the Evening Times, which was printed daily. It not only covered the Boston teams, but also included syndicated stories from other newspapers.
I thank Steve Constantelos, who edited this biography in 2002. Additional material has been incorporated into this article since that time.