Bobby Bragan was involved with baseball in some form or fashion for nine decades. His first exposure to the sport was as a player, then as a manager and later as an executive and finally as Fort Worth’s ambassador to the game.
A native of Birmingham, Ala., Bragan was born with baseball in his blood. Bragan came to town as the player/manager of the Fort Worth Cats in 1948 and over the next seven decades became Fort Worth’s Mr. Baseball.
Bragan was born and raised in Birmingham and began his professional baseball career in the Alabama-Florida League with Panama City in 1937. He played two years at Pensacola in the Southeastern League before being sold to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1939. Bragan came up as a shortstop and played for the Phillies from 1940-1942. In 1941, he played all 154 games, batting .251 and driving in 69 runs. In 1942, the team was strapped for catching help because of injuries and military call-ups, and Bobby offered to learn the job.
Dodger general manager Branch Rickey liked the youngster’s dedication and obtained Bragan in a trade for Tex Kraus. He was a backup catcher for the Dodgers during the next two seasons. After spending two years in the military as a 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, Bragan returned in time for the 1947 season. The Dodgers would play the New York Yankees that year in the World Series and Bobby recorded a pinch-hit double as the Yankees beat the Dodgers 4-games-to-3. That would be his only at bat in World Series play. He joined a select list of players who had a 1.000 batting average in the fall classic.
Bragan is without a doubt one of the unique and colorful characters that ever had the pleasure of wearing a Cats’ uniform. He did so as the player/manager of the Cats from 1948-1952 and Fort Worth was never the same.
Bobby’s teams were always competitive and never finished below the .500 mark. The 1948 and 1949 teams won the regular season title in the Texas League. The ’48 club won the league playoffs as well, but lost in the Dixie Series. His best year with the Cats came in 1949 when he batted .295 to go along with seven home runs and 60 RBI.
Bragan would go on to manage in the majors for the Pirates, Indians and Braves. He was the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956 and 1957. Bobby was he skipper of the Cleveland Indians for half a season in ’58. The always upbeat manager landed in Milwaukee in 1963 and led the Braves until they departed for Atlanta after the ’65 season. Bobby made the move to Atlanta and was the first manager of the Atlanta braves. He managed future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Bob Lemon.
In 1992, his autobiography “You Can’t Hit the Ball with the Bat on Your Shoulder: The Life and Times of Bobby Bragan” was released. It chronicled many of the highlights of his baseball career. Many long-time baseball observers admit Bragan was in a class by himself. He built a reputation on intelligence and creative approaches to the game. That might be the understatement of the decade.
Bragan grabbed headlines in 2005 when he managed the Cats for one game, thus becoming the oldest individual to serve as manager in a professional game. Bragan was eight days older than Connie Mack, who managed his last game in 1950. He died on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 at his Fort Worth home at the age of 92.
Until his death, Bobby was the CEO/Chairman of the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which provides college scholarships to students from public schools across the Dallas/Fort Worth metorplex. Every year, 8th grade students are offered the opportunity to compete for these $2,500 scholarships, which are redeemed once the recipient has graduated from high school and enrolled in college. The foundation has been awarding scholarships to deserving youth from our area since 1992, and to date has promised more than $1 million in scholarships to a total of 437 students. More than 98% of BBYF scholarship winners have gone on to college, attending such prestigious institutions as Brandeis, Brown, Dartmouth, MIT, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Rice, Stanford, Texas A&M, Texas Christian University, The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Virginia at Charlottesville, and West Point, among many others.
The mission of the foundation is simple: To support, encourage, and motivate eighth grade students to become outstanding scholars, citizens, and athletes, and to serve as leaders and role models for their peers.