Throughout A big league career that began in 1984 and lasted six seasons, Chris Brown was considered a gifted third baseman whose performance rarely matched his talent. The mighty swing and powerful throwing arm of this onetime All-Star were undone by a brittle body and an even more fragile psyche. Teammates vilified him as the Tin Man: no heart. During stints with the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers, Brown suffered a seemingly endless array of maladies, some minor (bruised tooth root), some major (broken jaw). While playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, he begged out of a game claiming that he had "slept on his eye wrong."
"I've seen Chris do things in the field that would make your head spin," Larry Bowa, his manager with San Diego, told SI in 1989. "He'd make great plays. He'd hit balls 500 feet. Then he'd show up the next day and say he was too hurt to play."
Fifteen years after his retirement at 28, the softest ballplayer of the '80s has one of the hardest jobs of the 2000s. For the last 10 months Brown has been a civilian contractor in Iraq, driving an 18-wheeler loaded with diesel fuel for Halliburton. Wearing a helmet and a bullet-proof vest, he has been the target of snipers and has motored through mortar fire. More than 40 Halliburton employees have been killed during the war in Iraq, and others have been taken hostage. "I believe God has a plan for me," says Brown. "Regardless of where I am, I figure the Lord will come get me. I might as well be making good money."
After leaving baseball in 1989 with a career average of .269, Brown worked in construction until '96, when the cement truck he was backing up slid off a hill at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and fell on its side. Brown suffered back and neck injuries. Two years later he moved with his wife, Lisa, to Houston, where he operated a crane for a company that built skyscrapers. After the economy went south, he took the job in the Middle East. "So far, not a scratch," Brown says. "And I haven't missed a day."