Bobby Bragan dies at 92; former Brooklyn Dodger managed major league teams

Bobby Bragan dies at 92; former Brooklyn Dodger managed major league teams
Bobby Bragan was initially opposed to the integration of baseball. He changed his mind after meeting Jackie Robinson. (Associated Press)
Bobby Bragan, a 1940s Brooklyn Dodger who became known as a colorful manager in the big leagues and in the minors, died Thursday at his Fort Worth home. He was 92.

The Alabama native spent parts of seven seasons between 1940 and 1948 with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Brooklyn Dodgers, playing mostly shortstop and catcher and batting .240 for his career. He missed the 1945 and 1946 seasons to serve in the U.S. military.
Bobby Bragan: A news obituary of baseball player and manager Bobby Bragan in the Jan. 24 Section A referred to "the Los Angeles Angels, who were then in the Pacific Coast League." That baseball franchise is not the same as the current major league baseball team, which began as an expansion club in 1961. —

In 1947, he made his only plate appearance in a World Series game, delivering a pinch-hit double for the Dodgers against the New York Yankees.

During that season, Bragan had been critical of the decision by Dodgers front office executive Branch Rickey to have Jackie Robinson break baseball's color barrier.

"Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., I never mixed much with blacks," Bragan wrote (with Jeff Guinn) in his autobiography, "You Can't Hit the Ball with the Bat on Your Shoulder." "I had never really had much conversation with a black person, much less eaten a meal or shared a train compartment with one. That's what I would have to do if Jackie joined the Dodgers, and I just wasn't going to stand for it."

But Bragan changed course after one road trip with Robinson, telling Rickey that he considered it an honor to be Robinson's teammate.

"I always say that, of all the people I've known in baseball, I respect Branch Rickey the most," Bragan wrote. "I'd have to put Jackie up there on top with him. Mr. Rickey was a genius, and Jackie Robinson is the best proof of that genius. Thanks to the two of them, I was able to overcome my racial prejudice."

Rickey maintained a special interest in Bragan and in 1948 offered Bragan the opportunity to be a player-manager for the Fort Worth Cats, the Dodgers' Class AA team. Bragan remained with the team through 1952, then spent three seasons as player-manager of the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League.

Bragan would go on to manage seven seasons in the major leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1956-57), Cleveland Indians (1958) and Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1963-66), compiling a 443-478 record.

Along the way, he managed future Hall of Fame players such as Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews.

Between his managerial stints at the major league level, Bragan was a Dodger coach and minor league manager for the organization.

As manager of the Dodgers' Class AAA team in Spokane, Wash., Bragan oversaw such future Dodger stars as Maury Wills, Tommy Davis and Frank Howard.

Bragan was long considered one of baseball's more colorful personalities. He tangled often with umpires and once, during the 1953 season while managing the Hollywood Stars, stripped off his uniform on the field and threw articles of clothing and pieces of equipment across the diamond to protest a call.

Another time, Bragan sent nine pinch-hitters to the plate during a single at-bat against the Los Angeles Angels, who were then playing in the Pacific Coast League.

He stayed true to his showmanship and umpire-baiting nature in 2005 when he came out of retirement to manage the minor league Fort Worth Cats for one game.

At age 87, he became the oldest person to manage a professional baseball game, but he was not around for the entire game. He was ejected in the third inning for arguing with the home-plate umpire.

Robert Randall Bragan was born Oct. 30, 1917, in Birmingham, Ala. Four of his brothers played professional baseball, and one, Jimmy, was a major league coach and president of the Southern League.

Bragan worked in the 1970s and 1980s as the Texas Rangers' community director of public relations for the team's speakers bureau. He remained a special assistant to the club for the last 20 years.

He invested in the Dallas-Fort Worth area through his Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which was established in 1991 and annually awards first-year college tuition scholarships to local eighth-graders as a way to encourage them to continue their education.