Kevin Brown gets the call

CHICAGO, IL.—The waiting is finally over for Kevin Brown. Garnering 77% of the vote on his first try today, he is the newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“It’s a great day,” said Brown from his home in Macon, Ga. “This is what you dream about when you’re a kid, and I’m just so honored. When you think about baseball, you think about guys like Rube Marquard and Jesse Haines. The thought of being one of them is just incredible.”

Brown, who won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997 and ERA titles in 1996 and 2000, was named to six All-Star Games during an illustrious 19-year career. Feared for his surly attitude on the mound and devastating sinkerball, he was also known during his prime as an outstanding big game pitcher. This was perhaps best illustrated by his duel with Randy Johnson in the first game of the 1998 National League Division Series, when he surrendered just two hits and struck out 16, helping his team win a taut 2-1 classic.

“When Brownie was on the hill you knew who was in charge,” said Hall of Fame teammate Tony Gwynn. “That guy was just filthy.”

Brown, the fourth overall pick in the 1986 draft, was inconsistent in his early career with the Texas Rangers, known for explosions of temper. At 27, he led the majors with 21 wins, but it wasn’t until he turned 31 that he began to truly harness his talent and develop into a holy terror all baseball learned to fear. That year he ran up an astounding 1.89 ERA with the Marlins, beginning a six-year run of pitching as good as nearly any you’ll ever see. Brown went 92-45 with a 2.53 ERA at the height of baseball’s offensive explosion, ranking as perhaps the best pitcher in the game during a time when greats such as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine were at or near their best.

“You never wanted to hit against that guy,” said fellow inductee Larry Walker. “I’m not even going to lie, man—I faked a hangover a couple of times to get out of facing him!”

After serving as the ace of a World Series winner in 1997 and the National League champion San Diego Padres in 1998, Brown became baseball’s first $100 million man when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Staggering as the deal was, he held up his end despite injuries, going 58-32 with a 2.53 ERA in the deal’s first five years.

“We basically got four years of Cy Young-type pitching in the five years we had him,” recalled former Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone, who inked the contract. “You can’t ask for anything more than that, and it tells you a lot about what kind of competitor and what kind of man he was that he came through that way under all that pressure.”

The end of Brown’s career was not without controversy. A stint with the New York Yankees ended badly, with Brown turning the same intensity that fueled his greatness against himself, breaking his non-pitching hand while punching a wall in frustration. That injury was a key in the team’s notorious collapse against the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 playoffs. His manager at the time, Joe Torre, recalled that incident today.

“I was angry at the time, sure,” he said, “but it told me a lot about just how much he cared. He wanted to be excellent, and that’s why he was.”

Brown was also named in George Mitchell’s report on performance enhancing drugs in baseball. It was thought by many analysts that this would affect Brown’s chances, but this proved not to be the case.

“I think everybody believes he was doing something,” said Jack Hanratty of the Visalia Bugle, who voted for Brown, “but having that kind of stain on your reputation is its own punishment. I’m not saying I like it, but he was a great pitcher and that’s what this is about.”

“You don’t want this to just be a library and a plaque of Jackie Robinson,” added fellow voter Billy Coxcomb of the Peoria Planet, in reference to Brown’s occasional off-field issues, which included menacing a neighbor with a gun during a debate over yard debris. “Maybe he was a jerk, I didn’t cover him, but there are a lot of jerks in the Hall of Fame.”

Ultimately, though, it won’t be the controversy that’s remembered, but the excellence. With a 211-144 record and a 3.28 ERA, Brown fits comfortably alongside the likes of Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale and Jim Bunning—not in the first tier of immortals, perhaps, but in the next rung down.

“I’m just so proud today,” he said. “It’s just great to know that all the work you put in pays off in the end.”