PITTSBURGH – Joe L. Brown, the general manager whose shrewd trading and expert rebuilding of the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system resulted in two World Series championships, died after an extended illness. He was 91.
He died Sunday in Albuquerque, N.M., the team said Monday. Less than two months ago, he attended a reunion of the 1960 Pirates.
"As the architect behind the 1960 and 1971 World Series teams, we were honored that Joe was able to return to Pittsburgh in June to help us celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1960 team," team president Frank Coonelly said in a statement. "The ovation he received prior to the game was a special moment for Joe and his family."
Brown, the son of famed comedian Joe E. Brown, succeeded Branch Rickey as the Pirates' general manager following a last-place season in 1955. He stayed on the job through 1976, a span in which the Pirates won the 1960 and 1971 World Series and five NL East titles after division play began in 1969.
Brown traded for 1960 Pirates standouts Don Hoak, Smoky Burgess, Bill Virdon, Harvey Haddix, Dick Schofield and Vinegar Bend Mizell — deals that helped reshape what was the majors' worst club during much of the 1950s into a champion.
His best move might have been bringing in Danny Murtaugh, who managed the 1960 and 1971 World Series teams despite retiring briefly during the 1960s. Murtaugh is the only manager in Pirates history to oversee two World Series winners.
Murtaugh died of a stroke in 1976, two months after he and Brown retired together.
Brown also promoted to the majors Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski as well as Al Oliver, Dave Parker, Steve Blass, Richie Hebner and Manny Sanguillen. By constantly identifying, drafting and signing strong prospects, the Pirates were a contender for much of the 1960s and all the 1970s before Brown retired.
"To put it quite simply, he was one of the classiest guys that I ever ran across in the game," said Blass, who pitched the Pirates to a Game 7 victory over Baltimore in the 1971 World Series. "Straight up, straight-on honest with you, a very good judge of talent. ... I was not a big bonus baby, I was not a big prospect. But he cared about me from day one, and that never ended."
The 1960 team upset the heavily favored New York Yankees in one of the most unpredictable World Series, overcoming losses of 16-3, 12-0 and 10-0 to win Game 7 on a ninth-inning home run by Mazeroski — one of the most storied games in major league history.
Despite his success, Brown wasn't popular among some players. He also negotiated contracts during the time before free agency, when salaries weren't high and even a modest drop in production could mean a pay cut. Still, the players recognized his organizational skills and his passion for maintaining a strong farm system.
"I tried to hold out one year, and I made the fatal mistake of going down to spring training, kind of hanging on the fence watching the guys work out," Blass said. "He came over and said, 'You know you're done.' I said, 'Give me a pen, let's go. Let's sign.' "
Brown's talent gathering was greatly aided by the Pirates' Caribbean scout, Howie Haak, one of the most successful scouts in baseball history.
Brown returned as general manager early in the 1985 season amid a clubhouse cocaine scandal and began overhauling a 104-loss team before Syd Thrift was hired full time later that year.
For the reunion trip to Pittsburgh in June, Brown was in a wheelchair. Former players said he was talkative, enthusiastic and up to date with the game. He spent much of his time talking to Vera Clemente, the wife of the late Hall of Famer.
After retiring, Brown served as the longtime chairman of the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee. The committee was restructured after Mazeroski was chosen in 2001.
Brown resided in Newport Beach, Calif., but had been staying recently in an assisted living center in Albuquerque near his daughter Cynthia's home. He would have been 92 on Sept. 1. He also is survived by a son, Don. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.