Heckuva Job, Brownie

brown.jpgThe $105 million, seven-year contract the Los Angeles Dodgers signed in 1999 with Kevin Brown has expired.  So, therefore, Brown is likely to retire, according to his agent, Scott Boras.

Brown’s signing was breathtaking.  At the time, he was one of baseball’s top pitchers. He had just finished, in successive seasons, pitching the Florida Marlins and the San Diego Padres into the World Series. It had been a long time since the Dodger rotation featured such a dominant pitcher — a right-hander who could throw a hard, sinking fastball that induced feeble grounders.

However, the signing was not a good move, and it came to symbolize the reign of Kevin Malone, the Dodger GM whose poor decisions arguably still haunt the team today. The problem with the Brown deal was its riskiness. Brown was healthy when he signed, but quickly developed back problems.  So he was frequently missing from the team, all the while consuming $15 million/year of payroll.

Brown had two great years in LA: His first and his last. He was highly competitive, and when he was pitching a good game, you could marvel at his dominance.  But his Dodger teams never made the playoffs.  He was an obnoxious, surly presence; one of those players who seemed to despise the game of baseball despite his gifts. Fans found it hard to root for him.

Dan Evans was the GM who succeeded Malone.  He was pretty good, but when Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004, he put Evans in limbo while he considered whether to replace him.  Evans made his best move, when he was able to convince George Steinbrenner that Kevin Brown would replace Roger Clemens as ace of the Yankee staff — in return for Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban.  

Really, I would’ve given Brown’s contract away for nothing, just to get the $15 mil off the rolls, but Evans got value.  Weaver pitched well before leaving this winter as a free agent. Brazoban is a very promising reliever who has had his ups and downs.  Together, the two pitchers helped the Dodgers win their division in ’04.

But Brown came off the books too late to allow Evans to sign Vladimir Guerrero, the great hitter who had agreed to a Dodger deal.  At that time, McCourt’s ownership was in the process of getting approval, and the story is told that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig leaned on McCourt to veto Guerrero’s signing, because he didn’t want the Dodgers to become a big-spending team.  What got the Dodgers in Selig’s cross-hairs was the Kevin Brown contract.  

brown_hand.jpgBrown’s act didn’t wear well in New York. He was famously destroyed by the Red Sox during a 2004 playoff game.  He disabled himself at a crucial time by punching a wall and breaking his hand.  A quick scan of Yankee blogs shows little in the way of commentary on his retirement. Tom Verducci of SI.com says, “good riddance” while asserting Brown has no shot at the Hall of Fame despite “a brilliant five-year peak in which his worst ERA was 3.00.”   

Which all proves that it is possible to make too much money.  I’m not sure Kevin Brown would agree.  Given his health, he probably should have retired after 2004, but didn’t. Dignity’s worth a lot, but not $15 million, I guess.

5 thoughts on “Heckuva Job, Brownie

  1. Five years with an ERA under 3.00? Two World Series appearances? During that stretch Brown was definitely one of the dominant pitchers in baseball. During some stretches, he was brilliantly unhittable, with an ERA probably well below 2.00. Do you think his surliness and overpayment are the primary reasons why he would not be considered for the HOF? Might baseball writers eventually forget all that? Even though I’m not a Dodgers fan, I had Brown on my fantasy baseball team during that one really good year with LA, and….well, he was “money in the bank.” I never had a single conversation with him, however.

  2. Certainly, if Brown had managed to avoid injuring his back, the Dodgers might’ve gotten into the post-season in 2001 and/or 2002. But he didn’t. The HOF doesn’t accept excuses.

    The point is, GMs who know what they’re doing don’t let Scott Boras talk them into fat 7-year guaranteed contracts for middle-aged pitchers.

  3. A while back, the Bronx Banter blog asked participants for their Yankee highlight of 2005. I submitted the final out of the season, because that meant the end of Kevin Brown.

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