Robert Randall Bragan (born October
30, 1917, at Birmingham, Alabama) is a former shortstop,
catcher, manager, and coach in American Major League Baseball. He also
was an influential executive in minor league baseball. On August 16,
2005, Bragan came out of retirement to manage the independent Central
League Fort Worth Cats for one game, making him — at 87 years, nine
months and 16 days old — the oldest manager in professional baseball
annals (besting by one week Connie Mack, the manager and part owner of
the Philadelphia Athletics). Always known as an innovator with a sense
of humor — and a world-class umpire-baiter — Bragan was ejected in the
third inning of his "comeback", thus also becoming the oldest person
in any capacity to be ejected from a professional baseball game.
Bragan enjoyed the rest of the Cats' 11-10 victory from a more
comfortable vantage point.
During his major league
career, Bragan never skippered a game past his 49th birthday. He
managed the Pittsburgh Pirates (1956-57), Cleveland Indians (1958) and
Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (1963-66), each time getting fired in the
mid-season of his final campaign (in Cleveland, he lasted a total of
only 67 games of his maiden season before his dismissal). His career
record in the major leagues was below .500: 443-478 (.481).
But Bragan was highly
respected as a minor league pilot, winning championships in 1948-49 at
Fort Worth of the AA Texas League during a successful five-year run,
and with the 1953 Hollywood Stars of the Open-Classification Pacific
Coast League. A photograph of Bragan lying at the feet of an umpire
who had ejected him, still arguing, was published in LIFE
Magazine at the time. Bragan also was a major league coach for the Los
Angeles Dodgers and Houston Colt .45s.
Bragan was a protégé of
Branch Rickey, the Hall of Fame front office executive, who hired him
as an unproven young manager at Fort Worth when both were with the
Brooklyn Dodgers and then brought Bragan to Hollywood and the
Pittsburgh organization, where Rickey was general manager from
1951-55. Bragan started the 1948 season with Brooklyn, but Rickey
wanted to bring up Roy Campanella from the minors. Rickey offered
Bragan the managerial job with the Fort Worth Cats and he took over in
July of ’48, remaining with the Cats for five years.
Ironically, Bragan had
clashed with Rickey in 1947 over the Dodgers' breaking of the baseball
color line after the major-league debut of Jackie Robinson. Bragan —
the Dodgers' second-string catcher at the time — was one of a group of
white players, largely from the American South, who signed a petition
against Robinson's presence. He even asked Rickey to trade him. But
Bragan quickly relented. "After just one road trip, I saw the quality
of Jackie the man and the player," Bragan told mlb.com in 2005. "I
told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a
teammate of Jackie Robinson." And as a manager, Bragan earned a
reputation for fairness and "color-blindedness." When he was the
skipper of the Dodgers' Spokane Indians PCL farm club in 1959, Bragan
played an influential role in helping Maury Wills, a speedy shortstop
whose baseball career had stalled until he learned to switch hit under
Bragan. Said former Dodger general manager Buzzie Bavasi, "Bobby would
call six times a day and tell me over again how Wills had learned to
switch-hit and how he was a great team leader, off and on the field,
and how I was absolutely nuts if I didn't bring him up right away."
Wills would fashion a 14-year MLB career and in 1962 set a new record
for stolen bases in a season, with 104 thefts, breaking Ty Cobb's
47-year-old mark of 96.
Bragan began his
seven-year (1940-44; 1947-48) major league playing career as a
shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies, but by 1943, his first season
with Brooklyn, he had learned how to catch and was for the most part a
backup receiver for the Dodgers for the remainder of his MLB playing
days. A right-handed batter, Bragan hit .240 in 597 games, with 15
career home runs.
In 1969, Bragan, a Fort
Worth resident, began a new career chapter when he became president of
the Texas League. He was so successful, in 1975 he was elected
president of the minor leagues' governing body, the National
Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.
Upon his retirement, Bobby
and his wife, Gwen, made their permanent home in Fort Worth, Texas.
After Gwen Bragan’s death, Bobby married Betty Bloxom. It was Betty
who suggested to Bobby that he establish a scholarship foundation to
encourage youth to do well in school and go on to college. The Bobby
Bragan Youth Foundation (BBYF) was established in 1991.
At 90 years old, Bobby
continues an active schedule, as the Executive Director of the Bobby
Bragan Youth Foundation and making numerous appearances for
civic organizations and businesses, as well as in schools, where he
enjoys entertaining and motivating students. Each year the Bobby
Bragan Youth Foundation honors outstanding athletes for the
achievements on and off of the playing field, honorees have included
Willie Mays, Lou Brock and Brooks Robinson.
Bragan comes from a
baseball family. Five of the six Bragan boys played baseball
professionally. His late brother Jimmy was a minor league player and
longtime coach and scout in major league baseball who himself was
president of the AA Southern League during the 1980s, and the younger
generations of the Bragan family have owned and operated numerous
minor league teams