He may not be a household name, but Willard “Home Run” Brown was only the fourth black player to play in the major leagues. He made his major league debut on July 19, 1947, with the St. Louis Browns, two days after Hank Thompson became the first black player with the Browns. Unfortunately, Home Run Brown played only 21 games in the majors before returning to the Negro Leagues. His only MLB home run was an inside-the-park home run on August 13, 1947, against Detroit. Both Willard Brown and Hank Thompson were released by St. Louis on August 23.
Born in Shreveport, LA, on June 26, 1915, Willard Jessie Brown was born for baseball. In the 1920s, he was a bat boy for the Kansas City Monarchs during their spring training games in Shreveport. In 1934, at the age of 19, he joined the Monroe Monarchs of the Negro Southern League where he earned $8 per week as a shortstop and pitcher. The following spring, Brown was playing with the Shreveport Acme Giants when the owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, J.L. Wilkinson, noticed him and Buck O’Neil. Wilkinson signed both O’Neil and Brown to play for the Monarchs that season.
Brown played for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1935 to 1949, and also played for the 1941 Veracruz Aguila in the Mexican League and participated in the Puerto Rican Winter League from 1947 to 1950. His career batting average with the Monarchs was .337. After leaving the Monarchs, Brown played for the 1950 Ottawa Nationals in the Class C Border League; the 1951 Jalisco Charros and 1951 Nuevo Laredo Tecolotes of the Mexican League; the Texas League’s 1953-54 Dallas Eagles, 1954-55 Houston Buffaloes, 1956 Austin Senators, 1956 San Antonio Missions, and 1956 Tulsa Oilers; and the 1956 Topeka Hawks of the Western League. He also served in the U.S. Army in 1944.
The details of Brown’s life and baseball career are at times contradictory if you read the various sources closely. Such is the case with many Negro League and Mexican League records. He died in a Veteran’s Administration hospital on August 4, 1996, in Houston, TX, at the age of 81. Ten years later he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with other Negro League players in the special election class of 2006.