The first time I was in a newspaper, it wasn't for anything embezzlement-related. That's usually how I lead off the cover letter on my résumé, and it's how I'm leading off this latest installment of Underappreciated Giants. The first six installments were, in order, Stan Javier, Marquis Grissom, Tom O'Malley, F.P. Santangelo, Joel Youngblood, and Scott Garrelts, and you can find all of those here.
Anyway, back to the embezzlement. Or the lack of embezzlement. I was in the newspaper because someone from the San Carlos freebie paper took a picture of 8-year-old me at Fashion Island in San Mateo when I met Chris Brown. Now, if you're old, that grouping of words means something to you. Fashion Island was a mall that had an ice rink, a magnificent arcade, an Orange Julius, and the movie theater where I watched Clue. And Chris Brown was a name that was associated with a baseball player long before it was linked with a singer.
He was the future of the Giants, you know. He was the face of the franchise, and someone the Giants would send to a mall to meet with little kids. He was the best player on a bad team, and those guys have a special burden placed on them.
The 1985 Giants were the only team in franchise history to lose 100 games. Several of the once-dependable veterans had the worst seasons of their careers, and the team underperformed their expected record based on run differential. Everything was miserable, and there wasn't a lot reason to hopet. The slogan was literally -- literally! -- "C'mon Giants, hang in there!" just one season before, but only because "Stick it out" and "ENDURE" were voted down.
And a 23-year-old third baseman came up that season and gave everyone a little bit of hope, popping 16 home runs and hitting .271/.345/.442. For a player who played half of his games in Candlestick in 1985, that was kind of a big deal. Brown finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. The next year, he traded some power for on-base percentage, and he went to the All-Star Game. He doubled off Charlie Hough and scored a run, too.
During all this, the Giants' slogan went from "Oh god no just please watch" to "You gotta like these kids!" Now most of this is rightfully associated with Will Clark, with Robby Thompson getting some credit, too. But Brown was a huge part of that campaign, too. When the '86 season ended, Brown had just turned 25, and he had a career OBP of .360. He was also finished as a productive major leaguer.
The problem was his health. And there was a perception of boy-who-cries-wolf that came along with that problem. The most famous story was that Brown asked out of a minor-league lineup because he slept on his eyelid wrong. Then he was supposedly making up a shoulder ailment until Dr. Frank Jobe had to operate on the shoulder. Brown played 82 games in 1987, and then he played just 97 for the rest of his career, leaving baseball for good when he was 27.
Or, to put it in simpler terms, his "most similar player" according to Baseball Reference when he was 23 was Chipper Jones. When Brown was 27, his age-related comp was Luis Salazar.
I asked Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory, ESPN, FanGraphs, and eventually this comment section to run a ZiPS career projection for Brown after his 1986 season. You can find the table here. The main takeaway is this: He was supposed to be a good player for a long time. Those projected 33.2 wins above replacement would have ranked him as the 37th-best third baseman in history, above guys like Aramis Ramirez, Kevin Seitzer, and Jim Ray Hart.
As is, Brown was worth five wins. After his All-Star season, he was a replacement-level third baseman before leaving the game entirely.
Brown died a few years ago under mysterious circumstances. You can read the sad story here, complete with quotes from friends like Darryl Strawberry and former coaches. He didn't play with the Giants for very long, so it's not like you'd expect the organization to have his name on the outfield wall or anything. But he definitely isn't someone you hear a lot about anymore.
He's still one of the first ballplayers I can remember, though. When it comes to his Giants legacy, Brown will be remembered more as a part of the trade package that brought Kevin Mitchell and Dave Dravecky back from the Padres in one of the great trades in franchise history. But he was something more -- a piece of that transitional roster that brought the Giants out of the Astroturf-fueled doldrums of the '70s and early '80s.
He was a good player on a bad team, and he was an All-Star for a team that hadn't deserved too many of those over the previous decade. He was a homegrown All-Star, even. Raise a glass to Chris Brown tonight, then, and remember those two years when he was a reason for hope in a dark stretch of Giants baseball.