Listening to the Joe. L Brown show on KDKA radio was almost like a religious experience.

When I was a kid, I listened to it every Sunday morning on the way home from St. Bernard’s church in Mt. Lebanon. I could hum a few bars of the theme song if you asked me. It was “With a Little Bit of Luck”.

Joe Brown died today, two weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.

With Nellie King dying last week, that’s two great baseball men that we’ve lost.

When I used to love baseball, there was no better compliment that I could give a guy than to say he was a good baseball man.

Joe L. Brown was one of the last remnants of the Pittsburgh Pirates that I followed and loved growing up. He not only put together two World Series winners in 1960 and 1971, he oversaw a franchise that, for at least 20 years, went into every season with a legitimate chance to win a pennant.

He also played a role in the 1979 World Series winner. Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Manny Sanguillen, Kent Tekulve, Omar Moreno, Ed Ott and Steve Nicosia were signed when he was GM.

The Pirates have had one good team in the last 55 years that was not built, at least in part, by Joe. L Brown.  That was the 1988-92 team that won three division championships.

He was smarter than just about everybody else when there was a level playing field. He had his super scout, Howie Haak, who kept stocking the Pirates’ farm system with great Latin players.

He was the boss of the Pirates when the Pirates were every bit as big as the Steelers are now and the Steelers were something to do between Pirates seasons.

When I was a kid, Joe L. Brown was every bit as important to me as the mayor of Pittsburgh or the governor of Pennsylvania. He had an air of superiority and seriousness about him that you don’t see much any more in sports exectuives. Or maybe I just got that impression because I was a kid.

I got to know him when I started working in Pittsburgh and that was one of the many things that made working in the town where I grew up so interesting.

  • tomh

    John, Did Brown fire Prince? I though it was the GM. of KDKA. Maybe im wrong.

    • JohnSteigerwald


  • http://Mobil'sJipzeeCab Mobil Smith

    I remember crying as a child when Joe L. traded away my hero Frank Thomas in what turned out to be one of the great trades that led to the 1960 World Series Champions.

    • JohnSteigerwald

      I made a note to mention in my column this weekend the time a few days after that trade, that I saw Brown in the Isaly’s on Beverly Rd. in Mt. Lebanon and wanted to go up and kick him in the shins. I was 10 1/2. Thomas was a Pittsburgh guy who had done something no righthanded hitter had ever done at Forbes Field. He hit more than 30 home runs–35 to be exact. Kiner did it several times but only when they shortened the fences. (Greenberg Gardens).

  • gatherer47

    I rememember Nellie talking about the night Joe L.came to the house and gave him the news he was being fired.Nellie said he knew he was in trouble when he offered Joe an Iron City beer and Joe replied “I don’t drink Iron City.By the way Tom Bender was Joe’s co-host on his weekly radio show.

    • JohnSteigerwald

      I’ll have you know that I was Tom Bender’s paperboy. Raise your hand if you don’t know what a paperboy is. (was)

  • Goose

    Hwy Ivan, when he drafted Barry Bonds he was the best baseball player on the planet. . . and he wasn’t taking steroids. . . learn the facts before you take shots at legends!

    • IvanHlinka

      “Hwy Ivan, when he drafted Barry Bonds he was the best baseball player on the planet. . . and he wasn’t taking steroids. . . learn the facts before you take shots at legends!”

      Um, I was COMPLIMENTING Brown.

      John said:

      “The Pirates have had one good team in the last 55 years that was not built, at least in part, by Joe. L Brown. That was the 1988-92 team that won three division championships”

      That’s not true. He drafted Bonds and added Bream. So he had a direct hand in that era of Pirate baseball as well.

      • JohnSteigerwald

        As my friend Bob Smizik told me earier, he also hired Syd Thrift who put the last good Pirates team together.

  • Bobzilla

    I always felt that Joe Brown and Danny Murtaugh were as important to the Pirates as Dan Rooney and Chuck Noll were to the Steelers.

    • JohnSteigerwald

      Joe L. Brown provided more good product and more excitement than any man in Pittsburgh sports history. No one man had more to do with providing this region with great sports entertainment.

      • Bobzilla

        What a sensational time that was in the 1970s, when both the Pirates and Steelers dominated their respective sports. You could also count on both Pitt and Penn State to provide meaningful college football seasons. Those were the days.

        • JohnSteigerwald

          And I’m criticized for saying things were better in the past. It’s not an opinion. It’s an indisputable fact and has nothing to do with the fact that I’ll soon be 62.

  • Chuck Y


    It seems so sad that two of the more principled members who were associated with the Pirates are gone within a matter of days. Joe L. Brown and Nellie King are much bigger in history and death. That would anyone from the North Shore who continues to push bobbleheads, catch phrases, fireworks, post-game concerts and nearly 20 years of “The Pirate Way.”

    R-I-P Joe and Nellie!!

    • JohnSteigerwald

      Brown’s dumbest move was firing Nellie and Bob Prince.

  • Ken

    It’s sad to hear about his passing. His Pirates teams, and they were HIS Pirates teams, were such a huge part of my growing up in the 70s. They produced some much talent back then. I remember telling my friends, in one of the worst predictions in history, that the Pirates would always be competitive because of the farm system that Brown built.

    The worst thing that ever happened to that franchise (maybe except for Clemente’s death and the Galbreaths selling the team in ’85) was when Brown decided to retire after 1976 when he was only 57 years old. Nothing could have kept the Pirates competitive in today’s era without a salary cap, but the great era that the Bucs enjoyed in the 70’s might have stretched out another 10 or 15 years.

    • Niblick

      It’s also sad to know that as time goes on, anybody that was connected with winning Pirates baseball will be gone from this planet. For the past 20 years or so, there are no memories of great players, general managers, or even announcers.

      • JohnSteigerwald

        The Pirates are a MLB team in name only. They’re dead to me.

  • IvanHlinka

    Brown also traded Bill Madlock for RJ Reynolds and Sid Bream. Two key cogs on the 1990 division champions.

  • IvanHlinka

    Um….John, Joe L. Brown was the GM when the Pirates drafted Barry Bonds.

    You’re welcome.

    • Goose

      I remember how cool it was on those Summer mornings listing to the Gunner and Joe L Brown talking baseball, and knowing that in a few minutes the game would be coming on.

      Hearing the crack of the bats in the background, and listening to the “way a baya” (that is background chatter that doesn’t make any sense”).

      I remember as a kid going to the games and seeing the “gunner” and Joe L on the field and thinking about how cool it was that they were down there on that emerald green turf.

      Maybe someday a bunch of us old guys will form our own “thousand man march” and trek to the Nutting Family headquarters and let them know that they have not only stolen our childhood memories, they have turn a generation of die hard Pirate fans, into malcontents!

      Joe L Brown died this week but to you, me and thousands of Pirate fans the Pirates died in 1980!

      • JohnSteigerwald