These days Chris Brown, the San Francisco Giants' 24-year-old third baseman, is a man of considerable pride. He's proud of his .336 batting average, which at week's end was second in the National League. He's proud of his quick, sure and wide-ranging fielding—he has made only four errors in his last 70 games and hasn't thrown a ball away in 109. And he's proud that he has finally won the respect of his teammates.
"Chris has matured into an all-purpose ballplayer," says Giants manager Roger Craig, whose club was battling for first place in the NL West as of Sunday. "He has as much ability as anyone I've seen play the game."
Nobody questioned Brown's ability. However, there has been concern about his desire ever since he played alongside Darryl Strawberry at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles. Brown never appeared in more than 103 games in any of his five full seasons in the minors. Once, while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Brown begged out of a game, claiming that he had "slept on his eye wrong."
As San Francisco lost 100 games in 1985 to finish last in its division, Brown hit a team-high .271, smacked 16 homers and was fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. But he missed 31 games, mostly because of injury, and removed himself from a few others. In fact, so many niggling injuries kept him out of the lineup that his teammates dubbed him the Tinman (no heart). The joke around the clubhouse last summer was that the pitching staff had more complete games than the third baseman.
"I was on Chris pretty hard," says catcher Bob Brenly. "He seemed unable or unwilling to play hurt and with pain." After Brown dived for a ball in spring training this year and lay sprawled in the dirt clutching his face, a doubting teammate said, "A fly must have landed on his neck."
"Chris has been psychoanalyzed by everyone from the players to the fans to the front office," says Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper. "Heck, even the grounds crew probably has a theory. Chris must be tired of reading about what he's all about."
Brown's face has about it a thoughtful, vulnerable quality. "It hurt my pride to get rejected," he says. "To have people say I was dogging it was an injustice. They didn't take the time to know who Chris Brown was. I'm really a quiet person. I like being alone. Just because I'm 6'2" and 210 pounds doesn't mean I'm not sensitive."
Sensitivity flares defiantly in Brown's big green eyes. "I can do things and show no emotion and look like I'm not putting out," he says. "I walk around the field in slow motion. If I had an up-tempo kind of a walk, people would have never thought that."
This comes from a player who says his role model while growing up was not a baseball player but, rather, Bugs Bunny. "Bugs and I are always outfoxing guys," Brown says. "We keep one step ahead of the people out to catch us." Presumably, when Brown passes Dwight Gooden he says, "What's up, Doc?"
Brown may identify with the wily wabbit, but Giants infielder Mike Woodard thinks he's actually more like Baby Huey. "Chris is just a big overgrown kid," said Woodard, before he was sent down last week. "Sometimes he can be lovable, and other times he whines when he doesn't get his way and you feel like breaking his neck. Oh, he can eat—that he can do."
Brown earns his dinner and then some by batting fifth. He is hitting .458 with runners in scoring position, and that takes away the option of pitching around cleanup man Chili Davis. Consequently, Davis is near the top of the league in RBIs with 51. "We're only as good as Chris is," says Craig.
So far this season Brown has confounded even his staunchest critics with a new determination. "The word 'malingerer' is not in my vocabulary," he insists. "I mean, it's in my vocabulary but I never use it."
A couple of months ago Brown pulled a groin muscle while running the bases at Candlestick Park. He wanted to stay in the game so badly that after the inning he hobbled out to third. Perhaps for the first time in his career, Brown had to be waved off the field by his skipper.
"Chris looks as sturdy as a cable car," observes Kuiper. The Giants would be delighted if that car's name should turn out to be Desire.