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BRAGAN, ROBERT RANDALL [BOBBY]

BRAGAN, ROBERT RANDALL [BOBBY] (1917–2010). Robert Randall “Bobby” Bragan, Major League Baseball player, manager, executive, and philanthropist, was born to Walter Lee and Corinne (Roberts) Downs on October 30, 1917, in Birmingham, Alabama. His birth name was Robert Randall Downs. Following the death of Walter Downs in 1921, Corinne married George Washington Bragan, Jr., who adopted Bobby and his brother Walter Lee, Jr.

Bobby Bragan began his professional baseball career in 1937 and played for the Panama City Pelicans in the Class D Alabama-Florida League. He advanced to the Class B Pensacola Pilots in the Class B Southeastern League the following year and played there for two seasons. He hit a combined .304 batting average and impressed the Philadelphia Phillies talent scouts enough that he was signed to a major league contract in 1940. Bobby Bragan and Frances “Gwenn” Best married on March 2, 1941. Two children were born to the couple—a son, Robert Randall (Bobby), Jr., and a daughter, Cissie. He played for the Phillies as an infielder and backup catcher until 1943 when he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Bragan averaged a .233 batting average with 13 home runs and 128 runs batted in (RBIs) for the Phillies.

In Brooklyn, Bragan became acquainted with Branch Rickey, the then general manager of the team and benefitted from the relationship. Bragan worked for the Dodgers in the 1943 and 1944 seasons, entered the military service early in 1945, and returned to the Dodgers in 1947. He was initially opposed to Jackie Robinson playing major league baseball but later came to admire and befriend Robinson.

Early in the 1948 season, Rickey offered Bragan the opportunity to manage the Fort Worth Cats in the Class AA Texas League. He had batted .258 with two home runs and 44 runs batted in for the Dodgers and was a third string catcher at the time. Bragan accepted the job and launched a managerial career that brought him back to the major leagues. He was a player-manager for the Cats from 1948 to 1952. The Cats won the Texas League Championship as well as the Dixie Series in 1948 under Bragan’s management. They finished first in the league standings in 1949 but lost the second round of the playoffs to Tulsa. Bragan managed the Cats to a second place finish in the Texas League in 1950 and dropped to a fourth-place tie in the 1951 season. The Cats finished second in Bragan’s final season as the Cats’ skipper in 1952.

Rickey moved on to become the Pittsburgh Pirates as general manager and tapped Bragan to manage the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1953. Under Bragan’s guidance, the Stars won their second straight PCL title but dipped to second in 1954 and third in 1955. Despite the decline, Bragan was named manager of the Pittsburgh club in 1956. He led them to a seventh-place finish that year and was fired 104 games into the 1957 season with the club ranked again in seventh place. General Manager Joe Brown fired him after he had been hired by the departing Rickey. The following year, Bragan became manager of the Cleveland Indians, who were just four years removed from a World Series. Hank Greenberg hired Bragan, but he was again fired by a new general manager, Frank Lane, before the season ended. He spent two years with the Houston Colt .45s (current Houston Astros) as director of their farm system and the bullpen coach. His final experience as a major league manager came in Milwaukee and Atlanta. He was with the Braves from 1965 to 1968. The team never finished higher than fifth place despite having a combined won loss record of 310 wins and 287 losses.

Bragan never wore a major league uniform after 1968. Despite the end of that phase of his life-long love for the game, he stayed active in other ways. He served seven years as president of the Texas League and proved to be an innovator. He introduced the designated hitter into the Texas League years before it was adopted by the American League in 1973. He urged more domed stadiums and artificial turf and interleague play. Parts of or all of his ideas are current realities in Major League Baseball. Following his tenure as Texas League president, Bragan served as president of National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which oversees Minor League Baseball. Bragan did not like living in St. Petersburg, Florida, and left the job after three years. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981. He worked for Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for four years and was able to return to full-time residency in Fort Worth. Bragan then began his connection with the Texas Rangers and worked in public relations for the team as well as Major League Baseball until 1982, when he became a full-time employee of the Rangers. Bragan briefly married Delores Sparks two years after his wife Gwenn’s death in 1983. Shortly thereafter, Bragan and Roberta Downs married in Fort Worth on March 27, 1985.

In 1992 Bragan formed the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which provides scholarships to eighth grade students to encourage their educational and career dreams. The foundation awarded 584 students with a total of $1.4 million in scholarships of $2,500 each. Nearly 97 percent of those students enrolled in colleges, and the foundation continued its work in the 2010s. Bragan’s third wife Roberta Downs died on June 13, 1993. His final marriage was to Betty Doan on May 12, 1997, in Fort Worth. In recognition of his contribution to baseball, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame inducted Bragan in 2005.

Bobby Bragan died on January 21, 2010, at his home in Fort Worth, and is buried in Greenwood Memorial Cemetery in Fort Worth. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Bobby Bragan and Jeff Guinn, You Can’t Hit the Ball With the Bat on Your Shoulder: The Baseball Life and Times of Bobby Bragan (Fort Worth: The Summit Group, 1992). David Fleitz and Maurice Bouchard, “Bobby Bragan,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, Society for American Baseball Research (http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/83f33669), accessed September 9, 2015. Jeff Guinn and Bobby Bragan, When Panthers Roared: The Fort Worth Cats and Minor League Baseball (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1999).

Bruce Bumbalough

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Handbook of Texas Online, Bruce Bumbalough, "Bragan, Robert Randall [Bobby]," accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbrro.

Uploaded on September 16, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.