Remembering 'Original Padre' Ollie Brown

First pick in 1968 Expansion Draft died last month at age 71

Remembering 'Original Padre' Ollie Brown

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Ollie Brown has a special spot in my memory bank.

I remember Oct. 14, 1968, as clearly as if it were yesterday. Maybe clearer.

That was the day that Major League Baseball set aside for the Expansion Draft to stock the two National League teams scheduled to begin play in 1969 -- the San Diego Padres and the Montreal Expos. The American League's Draft for its two expansion teams -- the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals -- would be held the following day.

Decades before ESPN and the Internet, there was no live coverage of the Expansion Draft. I was tuned into KFMB Radio, which promised to announce the Padres' picks "as soon as possible" after they were made.

I waited, listening to my transistor radio as I did the daily bookwork that went with being The San Diego Union's high school beat writer.

Then, the name of the Padres' first pick came across the radio. The Padres selected San Francisco Giants outfielder Ollie Brown with the first overall pick of the Expansion Draft.

I remember scrambling through the pages of my "Who's Who in Baseball," which 46 1/2 years ago was today's baseball-reference.com.

Actually, I already knew about Brown. At the age of 24, he had already played parts of four seasons with the Giants, hitting .249 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs in 865 at-bats.

He was also from a great athletic heritage. Older brother Willie was John McKay's first I-formation tailback at USC and a key member of the Trojans' 1962 National Championship team. Long before the Gwynns, the Browns were touted as the power athletic family in Long Beach, Calif.

Brown was a special talent, a bonus baby before the introduction of the First-Year Player Draft. He launched his career as a pitcher-outfielder, and in 1963 threw a no-hitter in the Midwest League. But his speed, power and defense dictated that he'd be on the field every day. He earned his nickname, "Downtown," while hitting 40 homers for Fresno as the Most Valuable Player of the California League in 1964. Beyond the outfield at the ballpark was downtown Fresno, the direction toward which Ollie hit his homers.

And on Oct. 14, 1968, he became the first Padre. That will never, ever change. Ollie Brown will always be "the original Padre," which became his second nickname. Over the winter of 1968-69 and through the first months of that long first season, Brown was the face of the Padres. He was everywhere, promoting the team.

Brown led the Padres in batting average in two of their first three seasons. He hit .272 for San Diego, with 52 homers and 208 RBIs in 458 games, until he was traded to the Oakland A's on May 17, 1972. An excellent outfielder, Brown also had one of the strongest throwing arms possessed by a Padres outfielder.

But even in 1969, he ceased becoming the "face of the franchise." The power displayed by Nate Colbert thrust the first baseman into the spotlight.

Ollie Brown, however, was and will always be the first Padre.

The Padres learned on Saturday of his passing last month at the age of 71, due to complications from mesothelioma.

Rest in Peace, Ollie Brown.

FROM THE SCOREBOOK:

• Right-handed starting pitcher Andrew Cashner suffered his fifth loss in as many outings on Saturday and fell to 1-7 in eight starts, despite a 3.24 ERA. The Padres have scored a total of two runs in support of Cashner while he was on the mound over his last five starts, getting shut out twice. Cashner allowed three runs in the first inning on Saturday, snapping his Major League-record string of 21 straight home starts in which he allowed two or fewer earned runs.

• Center fielder Melvin Upton Jr. will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A El Paso on Monday. But it will be more like Spring Training for Upton, who was acquired from Atlanta in the same trade that brought RHP Craig Kimbrel from the Braves. He has been on the disabled list since the start of the season with sesamoid inflammation (the bone behind the ball) in his left foot. He won't play every day at the start of the assignment and will have between 50 and 70 at-bats before he is ready to join the Padres.

• Catcher Austin Hedges made his first start at Petco Park on Saturday night and threw out the first two would-be basestealers of his career.

• Right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, who has given up 15 runs on 20 hits over eight total innings in his last two starts, will make at least one more start, although he might be pushed back in the rotation. Despaigne gave up eight runs on 10 hits to the Nationals on Friday night. Either Despaigne or Cashner will start the last game of the Cubs series -- and the current homestand -- on Thursday night.