Reminisce: Honoring Alger’s baseball legend

ALGER — Baseball aficionados and history buffs will have certain names come to mind when it comes to some of the great pitchers of the 1930s and 1940s: Lefty Grove, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez, Spud Chandler, Whit Wyatt or Johnny Vander Meer. However, there is one name that may not come immediately to mind, a name that may not have the same flair as “Lefty,” “Dizzy” or “Spud.” But his impact on the history of America’s pastime during those decades cannot be questioned.

That person is Alger native Ray Brown, and efforts have been underway for some time at Ohio Northern University to ensure that Brown’s name will get more of the recognition it deserves.

Born on Feb. 23, 1908 in Alger, Brown grew into a pitcher known for a “knee-buckling curveball,” according to Ohio Northern history professor David Strittmatter. However, batters in Major League Baseball were not subjected to Brown’s deceptive repertoire. Instead, Brown pitched in the Negro Leagues, pitching for the famed Homestead Grays from 1932 to 1945, a team that won eight pennants over nine years. This league featured such talented players as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell. Brown had also played for teams in Dayton, Indianapolis and Detroit before donning the uniform of the Grays.

During a presentation held in March at the Allen County Museum, Strittmatter related how Brown was so competitive that at one point, he pitched the entire opening game of a doubleheader that was lost 1-0 in the 11th inning after his outfielder dropped a ball. Brown was so incensed about losing that game that he insisted on pitching the next game immediately following, even threatening to quit the team if he was denied. That second game was a complete-game, five-hit shutout, leaving Brown with a body of work that day featuring 20 innings pitched over two games, with eight total hits allowed and only one unearned run allowed.

While such feats may have earned Brown a distinguished place in baseball lore, in reality, he finished his career quietly, playing in relative obscurity for teams in Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico and Canada. From there, Brown faded out of the limelight, dying in 1965 in Dayton.

Brown and other Negro Leagues greats finally achieved some long-overdue recognition decades later.

“The Baseball Hall of Fame had a special committee that was formed in 2005, 40 years after he died, and it was a committee on African American baseball,” Strittmatter said in an article submitted by Ohio Northern University. “They were looking for Black players who had made contributions to the game that maybe were underappreciated, and thus not enshrined in Cooperstown. So, it was a big hall of fame class of 17 players.”

One of these players was Brown, whose election to the Hall of Fame in 2006 came 41 years after his death. However, while Cooperstown, New York may have something to honor Brown’s accomplishments, his history has remained in relative obscurity in the region of his birth. However, Strittmatter and others at Ohio Northern began working to change that, thanks to Strittmatter coming across a 2020 Ada Herald column by Joe Schriner.

“He said he was amazed that in this little town of Alger, which is only about five miles from campus, there’s no mention of their Hall of Famer who was born and raised there and graduated high school from there,” Strittmatter said in March. “He said it was sad but that it was also an opportunity.”

That opportunity came as some of Strittmatter’s students in his “Baseball and American Culture” class began putting together the paperwork to apply for an Ohio Historical Marker to honor Brown. While Hardin County has 16 historical markers currently in place, this would be the first to be centered around baseball, according to Ohio Northern University.

However, along with the application for the marker, funding must be secured, along with the commitment of a sponsor in the community in which the market would be located. That sponsorship came after ONU student Alex Laird spoke with Alger Village Administrator Paul Osborne about the project.

“He approached me from David’s class and asked about the project about the same time a member of (Alger Village) Council sent me a photo of the hall of fame plaque,” Osborne said in the ONU publication. “I thought it was fascinating and I got really excited about it.”

A total of $25,000 in funding was secured thanks to efforts from Ohio Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, that will help pay for a new backstop at Alger’s Village Park, where the marker would be located. Talks have also been underway about renaming the park as the Ray Brown Memorial Park.

Along with the marker, another effort underway at Ohio Northern to honor Brown features a mural that will be featured at the concession stand at the ball diamond in Alger. The idea for the mural was birthed during a conversation between Strittmatter and ONU School of Visual and Performing Arts Director Melissa Eddings-Mancuso, with the mural designed by sophomore studio art student Aubrey Davis of Columbus Grove and painted over the course of the spring semester.

“(The previous semester) I didn’t have too many art classes and I was feeling a little worn thin, so I reached out to Professor Eddings-Mancuso, just to see if she had anything I could get involved in,” Davis said in the ONU publication. “She proposed this project to me, which is an accompaniment with the history department. They wanted to do a mural of this person they had been researching, a visual component to what they were finding out about him.”

Along with Brown, Davis included imagery deeply connected to Ohio in her mural, such as native flowers like red columbine, chicory, buttercup and goldenrod, along with a cardinal, Ohio’s state bird, in flight.

“That was an important inclusion for me personally because knowing what I know about the environment around me gives me a very strong sense of place,” Davis said in the ONU publication. “I feel like supplementing and supplying that in this work really affirms him as an Ohioan and belonging where he grew up.”

An online fundraiser has been set up through GoFundMe to help pay for the marker. Anyone wishing to donate can go to


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Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0391 or on Twitter @cmkelly419.