Nickname: Dave, Lefty
Teams: Dallas Black Giants (1917-1918), Chicago American Giants (1918-1922), New York Lincoln Giants (1923-1925), Gilkerson 's Union Giants (1926)
Height: 5' 10'' Weight: 170
Born: 1896, San Marcos, Texas
Died: Denver, Colorado
Mixing outstanding speed, a good curve, a hard drop, and excellent control in a relatively short but sterling career, the smart left-hander was the ace of Rube Foster's dominating Chicago American Giants clubs of the early 1920s. His clutch pitching in 1920-1922 (10-2, 11-3, and 8-3 in league contests for a composite .784 winning percentage) was a primary factor in the club winning the first three Negro National League championships. In 1921 he is credited with three victories in a playoff against the Bacharach Giants.
After leaving the American Giants, Brown and Ed Rile jumped to East Coast clubs when the Eastern Colored League was formed in 1923. His first year, after moving East to the New York Lincoln Giants, was disappointing as he suffered a losing season (4-7), but his resilience manifested itself in 1924 as his superb control continued to make him a consistent and effective pitcher, being almost unbeatable when he was right, which was most of the time. He defeated the Brooklyn Royal Giants' "Cannonball Dick" Redding 3-1 for the New York City championship. Following the 1924 season, veteran player and manager Ben Taylor regarded Brown and Nip Winters as being "without doubt ... our greatest left-handers."
There was always a mystery about Brown, even dating back to when he was pitching with the Dallas Black Giants in 1917-1918. During the intervening winter he was involved in a highway robbery before he was first picked up by Rube Foster the following spring. Stories persisted that he was a fugitive from justice even then, and Foster put up a $20,000 bond to get Brown a parole from the highway robbery conviction.
Despite his reputation for having difficulty obeying the law, he is reputed not to have been a troublemaker and was described by some teammates as being a "gentleman," a "timid, nice guy," and a "kind, wonderful fellow." Others called him "jolly" and "joking all the time." Whatever his true character, the popular pitcher was a good fielder but a weak hitter.
But he was in demand even in Cuba, and showed a 17-12 composite record for his three Cuban winter league seasons. His most notable Cuban performance came in the winter of 1923-1924, when he posted a 7-3 record for the Santa Clara team that is considered the greatest Cuban team of all time. After he returned to the United States he was listed on the roster of the Lincoln Giants during the early spring, but had made his exit before the opening of the season.
He began his career in the black major leagues in 1918, after a brush with the law, and ended it abruptly, in like manner, when he again ran afoul of the law in 1925. After killing a man in a barroom fight that year, apparently in an argument involving cocaine, he dropped out of sight to avoid arrest on a murder charge. Oliver Marcelle and Frank Wickware were with him when the fight started. The next day at the ballfield they were picked up, but Brown was not there. While the FBI was searching for him, it is reported that he traveled throughout the Midwest, playing for semi-pro teams under the alias "Lefty Wilson."
Sometimes he toured with Gilkerson's Union Giants, as he did in 1926, and in 1927 he was with a white team in Bertha, Minnesota. He was also reported to have pitched with teams in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1929 and Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1930. Unverified reports also persist that he died in Denver, Colorado, under mysterious circumstances.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.