I felt weird and empty. For a year Brown made me miserable, and I never knew why. We never had a conversation. We never had it out. Now he was dead at 42.
Last March, while attending spring training for this magazine, I ran into King, who now covers the Yankees for the New York Post. He told me about Brown's final spring training, the same year that he died. He showed up in Clearwater with a bandanna covering his bald head, gaunt and weak from chemotherapy, wanting to squeeze every paycheck possible out of his paper, for the benefit of his wife and one-year-old daughter. (In his last full year, Brown earned $791.74 per week, top of scale at his union paper.) He wanted to make a final visit to a place he loved. Some of the players were freaked out by his appearance. His personality, though, was unchanged. Through illness, marriage and fatherhood, he remained the same man.
I asked King about Brown's memorial service. Lee Thomas was there, King said, but no players. The service was at night, during a game. Hagen didn't go. The place was packed, and all you heard was sobbing. King delivered a eulogy.
The Phillies organized a memorial fund in Brown's name for the benefit of his wife, Monica Cassidy; their daughter, Mallory; and Cassidy's daughter, Adria, from a previous marriage. Thomas and Fregosi each made a contribution; then Fregosi asked Hagen to raise money from the Philadelphia writers. Despite the end of his friendship with Brown, Hagen fulfilled Fregosi's wishes ungrudgingly, for the sake of Cassidy and her daughters. His capacity to hold a grudge showed up later, when the owner of Frenchy's put up a plaque behind the bar in memory of Brown. Hagen asked the owner to move the plaque to another part of the restaurant. He didn't want to have to see it every time he sat down for a beer.
When I returned home to Philadelphia from spring training this year, I wondered if I could still figure out something about Brown, about why he was the way he was, about why he treated people the way he did. I wondered if I was too late. With the privilege of holding a reporter's notebook—a reporter on duty can talk to people he otherwise wouldn't and ask questions he otherwise couldn't—I called Brown's parents, his wife, his former wife and a lot of baseball people. I told them I wanted to get to know Bill Brown.
I called Jane Russell, Brown's first wife. They didn't spend a lot of time together. They were married in late January 1984. They went to Hawaii for nine days. Several days after they returned, the groom left for Clearwater for two months for his first spring training. In 1988 Bill and Jane split up. She still loved him then. He was, she said, loyal, generous, loving, supportive, kind. The thing he wasn't was around. He was married, she said, to the beat.
I visited Brown's parents, Dorothy and William M. Brown (which is the byline their first child used on his earliest stories). They live in Ridley Park, Pa., in Delaware County, in a modest, tidy house that shares one wall with the neighbors' house. They could not be nicer, and their son's death probably brings them more pain now than it did the day he died. Dorothy said, "I never worked. My whole life was my three sons. When I lost one of them, I lost part of myself." She described Bill as argumentative from the day he could talk, highly competitive by grade school, always unwilling to conform. Everything he encountered was either good or bad, right or wrong. Nothing was gray. She didn't know where these traits came from. "It's just him," she said.
After retiring as a photographer, Bill Sr. became a union official at the Inquirer and later worked in the national offices of the Newspaper Guild in Washington, D.C. Several times he was the publisher of strike papers. I had wondered if the father would be an older version of the son, if he had been a combative union boss who got in the faces of the suits and said, "No deal? Then we walk!" But I spoke to people who had known him as a union negotiator. He was reasonable, they said. He could compromise. He didn't look for fights.
The elder Browns spoke for a long time about their son's love of soccer, about his high school rock-and-roll band, about his voracious reading, about his work ethic, about how close he was to his brothers, about the people he approved of on the job and the people he didn't. I asked them why their son was so hard on Dick Polman.