At 91, Bobby Bragan continues to amaze

By JIM REEVES, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
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There was something a little miraculous, a little magical, a little out of the ordinary on a chilled November evening in Fort Worth on Tuesday. People were talking baseball.

Blame/credit the guy we call Mr. Baseball around here: the amazing Bobby Bragan.

On a night when you couldn’t turn around without bumping into somebody who is somebody in baseball, such as Bobby Valentine, or Eddie Robinson, or Dr. Bobby Brown, in the midst of All-Stars such as Michael Young and Ian Kinsler, on an evening on which Mr. Ranger, Tom Grieve, was deservedly the chief honoree, the man who continues to stand above it all, like a revered orchestra leader, is baseball’s No. 1 goodwill ambassador in Fort Worth, Robert Randall Bragan.

And what sweet music to the ears.

He just turned 91 three weeks ago, and most of us can only dream about having half his energy and drive.

Bragan was at the Fort Worth Convention Center with a few thousand of his best friends to oversee his annual Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award Gala.

When Bragan is involved, it’s always a gala.

He could have regaled us with song, or his piano-playing talents. He could have recited poetry, or done his own outstanding rendition of Casey at the Bat. Instead, he just did what he does best of all. He told a few baseball stories in that distinctive gravelly voice, and held us in the palm of his hand.

It remains, after all these years, an amazingly comfortable place to be.

Bragan is one of those rare individuals who can take over a room by simply walking into it. His presence commands attention. His voice demands instant silence.

You just don’t want to miss a single word.

"He’s a guy who amazes me," Valentine said in introducing his mentor. "He amazes with me with his intellect. He amazes me with his energy. He amazes me with his love of baseball.

"He’s a guy I’ve learned from every time I’m ever with him. I’ve learned about baseball. I’ve learned about life."

They met for the first time when Grieve hired Valentine to manage the Rangers in 1985. Bragan was already working for the Rangers, basically being paid to be himself.

Two more kindred spirits never met.

Both were Type-A, high- energy personalities with a deep and abiding love for the game of baseball. There was an instant connection, and Valentine has been a Bragan protégé ever since. It’s definitely a mutual admiration society.

"Valentine just signed a $4 million a year, lifetime contract [to manage the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan]," Bragan told the crowd. "Bobby said he didn’t know if the owner was talking about [the owner’s] lifetime or Bobby’s lifetime.

"Last year, Bobby was our auctioneer. He said we have three items left to auction. He said, 'I’m going to give $25,000 for all three items, and that’s the end of the auction.’ "

The year before, Valentine had auctioned off the final four items in the live auction for $35,000, then went up to his hotel room to sleep for a few hours, got on a plane and took a 20-hour flight to Japan.

"A thousand people met him at the airport, and he spoke to them for 20 minutes in Japanese," Bragan reported. "No other major league manager can do that."

It’s easy to imagine one that could have, if he’d set his mind to it many years ago, but he’s 91 now and is happy spending most of his time right here in Fort Worth.

That’s good news for us.

Bragan, who says the three greatest men he ever met were Jackie Robinson, legendary Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey and Billy Graham, credits his parents and his family for helping shape his philosophy of life.

"We knew God was in control," Bragan said.

He tried to pass that idea onto his Fort Worth Cats players years ago.

Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams remembers Bragan’s influence when he played for him at LaGrave Field back in 1949.

"If any of his players would go to church with him on Sunday, he would buy breakfast," Williams told Fort Worth, Texas magazine in a recent article. "We were kids without money. I think Bobby knew we were coming for the food as well as the religion."

Funny, I do the same thing with my kids today, hoping that something will stick to them other than the pancake syrup.

Bragan’s primary concern today is kids. His Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation has awarded more than 400 scholarships, totaling more than $1 million over the past 15 years. The annual gala, with its live and silent auctions, is the chief fundraiser.

One of the requirements for the eighth-grade students who apply for the Bragan Foundation scholarship is to write an essay about a role model.

Hmmmm. Looks like I’m about halfway through the application process.

Jim Reeves, 817-390-7760

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