Everything did turn out all right. The Cubs finished the season in a tie with the Giants for die wild-card spot, beat diem in a one-game playoff and played October baseball for the first time since 1984. After the win over die Giants, Ed Lynch, Chicago's G.M., said to Brown, "All is forgiven, all is forgotten—don't ever do it again."
The Cubs promptly got smoked by the Atlanta Braves in three games in the Division Series, but that's not the salient fact. The Cubs, defying their gloomy history, had caught a break and so had the guy who made the error. Brant Brown was not going to be the Bill Buckner of the 1990s.
But he's something.
One night during PirateFest, while Brown was signing autographs, a man came up to the new Pittsburgh centerfielder and said, "You're a fine young player, and we're glad to have you, and I don't want to talk about the catch, but don't worry about it." Brown smiled at the man, signed an autographed picture for him in his swirling script, said thank you and thought, I'm not worried about that play, and you are talking about it. Is that really necessary? There were several similar occurrences during the 90-minute signing session.
"It bothers me that it keeps coming up," Brown said later. "To me, it should have been over and done with the second we won the playoff game with the Giants. What effect did the dropped ball have on the final outcome of the season? None. We were the wild-card team. If we hadn't won the wild card, then you'd always wonder what would have happened if I had caught that ball. But we did win it."
In the off-season Lynch went looking for pitching for the Cubs. He was not looking to move Brown. "Brant is a homegrown player, he's like a son," Lynch says. "As bad as I felt when we lost that Milwaukee game, it was 10 times harder for Brant. The only way we were going to give up Brant Brown was if we could get a pitcher." The Pirates—rich in pitching, in need of an every-day centerfielder—offered righthander Jon Lieber, well suited to Wrigley Field. They wanted Brown.
Minutes after Lynch told Brown of the trade, Brown heard from Pirates manager Gene Lamont. "Welcome," Lamont said. "We're gonna get you 500 at bats." That would be 153 more at bats than Brown had last year, his first full season in the majors.
Later, Cubs first baseman Mark Grace called Brown. "They're doing you a favor," Grace said of his own club. "The Pirates will give you 500 at bats."
That's what Brown was thinking about when he flew off to PirateFest last month. He was leaving a team and a city he loved, but he was going to a place where, for the first time, he would be an every-day player. The move would be another step away from "the mishap in Milwaukee," as Brown sometimes refers to it.
When Brown reached the Westin William Penn in Pittsburgh, he signed in as Will Hunting, borrowing the name of the movie character. ( Brown is a movie buff. When he played minor league ball in Des Moines, he reviewed movies for an AM radio station on a program called Brant Brown's The Big Show.) Brown used the pseudonym because he knew what hotstove league weekends in Chicago were like. They drew the fanatics. "In Chicago, they'd find you," he says. But PirateFest turned out to be different. Friendly, civilized, mellow. It's been a long time since baseball in Pittsburgh created any frenzy.