The Cleveland Indians were 12-1 on the morning of May 4, 1966, off to their best start in team history. A young team under manager Birdie Tebbetts, the Indians had fine starting pitching and good power. But in the game on May 4th against New York at Yankee Stadium, shortstop Larry Brown drifted back to make a play on a popup in short left field when he collided with a hard-charging Leon Wagner, the team’s left fielder. The collision made a “sickening thud” and Brown got the worst of it. He broke his nose and suffered not one, but multiple skull fractures. It was a scary injury. Brown spent more than two weeks in a hospital.
Without Brown, the Indians chugged on for a while, playing inspired baseball. They built a 4 1/2 game lead in late May and were in first place as late as mid-June. But the wheels fell off. Which is why you have probably never heard any stories about the 1966 Cleveland Indians – they finished in fifth place with a 81-81 record, 17 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. Speaking of birds – Tebbetts didn’t survive the skid – he was fired in August and replaced by George Strickland.
Brown missed six weeks, came back and played pretty poorly. He was a good-field, no-hit middle infielder, something baseball had in large amounts in the 1960s. He spent four more years with the Tribe before bouncing around with several teams. Some said he was never the same ballplayer after the horrible collision with Wagner.
The player who replaced Larry Brown at shortstop after his terrible collision with Leon Wagner on May 4, 1966, was veteran utility infielder Dick Howser.