BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — It was after midnight when Jeremy Brown got back home.
He had just gotten done with his shift at the No. 7 mine at Jim Walter Resources in Brookwood. This particular night in 2009, Brown came out of the shaft to find that he was out of a job. He had been laid off.
Walking into his house in Oak Grove, Brown remembers seeing his pregnant wife, Shelli, asleep on the bed. The news could wait until the morning.
“I let her know the next day,” Brown said.
Brown losing his job came a year after deciding to step away from a childhood dream. In 2008, he retired from the Oakland A’s, who had picked him up during the 2002 season ahead of their storied team.
Many baseball fans may only know Brown through Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, “Moneyball,” which detailed A’s general manager Billy Beane’s attempt at a new strategy to do more with less and put together a winning team. To moviegoers, Brown may be known for a short snippet of the 2011 movie adaptation of the book starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
Those who know Brown feel that neither the book or the movie put Brown in the best light. To them, it didn’t show the player they knew.
In the 20 years since the “Moneyball” team, Brown has not talked much publicly about the book or the movie. Even Brent Boyd, who played baseball with him at the University of Alabama, doesn’t know how he feels about it.
“I’ll be honest: I’ve talked to this man a lot and it’s never come up,” Boyd said. “I’ve never asked him about how he felt about that.”
What “Moneyball” didn’t capture was life after baseball for Brown, including his return to the diamond, this time as a coach.
Called up to ‘The Show’
For a kid from Hueytown, it was everything to get called up to play professional baseball.
Brown had been eyeing making it to Major League baseball since he played high school ball. While playing at the University of Alabama, Brown was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 19th round in 2001. However, he and a couple of other teammates decided to finish out their senior year at UA.
Jim Wells, who led Alabama’s baseball program from 1995 to 2009, recalls that what made Brown one of the best players he ever coached was his ability to play any position on the field. At first, Brown was put at first base. Eventually, Brown settled on catcher.
“He was a key guy, even as a freshman,” Wells said. “After that, he had become the main guy. He contributed immediately.”
Lance Cormier, who played with Brown at Alabama and played against him a few times in Minor League Baseball, said Brown, who he remembers would walk up to bat to the tune of Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” may not have had the typical look of a baseball player, but he made up for that in plays.
“For Jeremy, he had to grind,” Cormier said. “He wasn’t 6’4″. You had to watch him 10 times before you said ‘This guy can play.'”
His last year at Alabama, Brown received the Johnny Bench National Collegiate Catcher of the Year award, recognizing the best catchers in college baseball.
“The biggest thing for Jeremy was how he could hit a baseball,” Boyd said. “Being beside him every day, watching him do his work, he could do things with the bat that couldn’t’ be taught.”
As Oakland was looking to put together its next team for the 2002 season, general manager Billy Beane decided to go in a different direction. Faced with a smaller budget than teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, Beane and his team decided to take a more mathematical approach to the game through sabermetrics, looking at players who could get on base and get runs.
For them, Brown fit that mold and that June, Brown was selected during the first round of the MLB Draft.
“It was a couple of nights before the draft,” Brown said about when he first heard from the A’s about coming over to Oakland.
Brown said Beane and his staff made it clear early on what they were trying to accomplish with him and the new class of teammates.
“What they said was true,” he said.
Like many players in their first season in the MLB, Brown was sent to Minor League ball, first playing a couple of weeks in Vancouver before going to the A’s farm team, the Visalia Oaks. It was during his time with the Oaks that he had one hit that was seen around the world.
During one game in October 2002, Brown hit a homerun, albeit unknowingly because he was concentrating on rounding first before losing his balance and falling. Lewis captured the moment in the book. Even part of it was re-enacted for the movie.
“He looks out into the gap in left center field. The outfielders are just standing there: they’ve stopped chasing the ball. The ball’s gone. The triple of Jeremy Brown’s imagination, in reality, is a home run,” Lewis wrote.
Brown still remembers the hit.
“I just remember hitting a home run, was seeing if it would hit the wall, and I just tripped,” he said.
In the movie, Brown’s homerun was used as an uplifting moment.
“How can anybody not be romantic about baseball,” said Brad Pitt, who played Beane in the movie.
Parts of the book were not particularly flattering to Brown, let alone the movie. One chapter about him dealt with how Brown was not the typically good-looking or athletic player that would come up in the first round.
“‘Jeremy Brown is a bad body catcher,’ says the most vocal of the old scouts,” Lewis wrote in the book.
However, Lewis wrote that other people in the organization recognized the talent Brown had of getting on base.
“‘He’s the only player in the history of the SEC with three hundred hits and two hundred walks,’ says Paul (Depodesta), looking up from his computer,” Lewis wrote.
The media seemed to be obsessed with how Jeremy looked. The New York Times called Brown, who weighed a little over 220 pounds in those days, “portly.” Other players quoted in articles would say things like “He never met a pizza he didn’t like.” ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick described him as “a former University of Alabama catcher with a potent bat, a discerning eye and a physique straight out of a Tuesday night bowling league.”
In Crasnick’s article for ESPN that was published after the “Moneyball” movie was released, different players felt the exposure from the book was too much for Brown.
“He was a very ‘aw-shucks,’ quiet, nice guy who went about his business,” said Scott Hatteberg, who played in Oakland from 2002-05. “There were all these expectations, and he was in a best-selling book, and a lot of it wasn’t flattering. I’m sure the added pressure was very difficult on him. And I know from speaking to some of his teammates that it was hard for him.”
Brown, who admitted that he doesn’t usually seek out attention, said he felt the book was spot-on about what was going on with both him and the A’s during the 2002 season.
“They did their due diligence,” he said. “I never felt slighted.”
Despite what some of his teammates felt was the effect “Moneyball” on him, Brown said he doesn’t mind his place in “Moneyball.”
“First of all, it’s cool being portrayed in a movie,” Brown said. “My friends had a good time with it. I wasn’t shaken or anything.”
Brown has not seen “Moneyball” all the way through, adding he saw his homerun scene a few years ago at home while his family was watching the movie. He only had one problem with that.
“He looked more like a lineman than a baseball player,” Brown said.
Wells didn’t particularly like the depiction either. What was meant as a kind of uplifting scene showing an unlikely player hitting a homerun—never mind that Brown would hit 10 homeruns that season with Visalia—didn’t sit well with him.
“I didn’t like the way they handled that,” he said. “That wasn’t fair to Jeremy and it was wrong. For us to know Jeremy and to read that, it really bothered me.”
Leaving and rediscovering baseball
Brown played a couple of more seasons in Visalia and other places before getting called up to the A’s in 2006. That season, he played in five games with 10 at-bats. However, by 2008, Brown had decided to retire from baseball and leave the A’s. He was 28 years old.
“It’s a shame. The kid could really hit. We certainly understand his family’s more important at this point,” Beane told the Associated Press after Brown’s retirement. “It caught us a little by surprise. Things like this, personal issues, come up. … It’s absolutely an open door.”
Brown didn’t get into the personal reasons that went into his decision to hang up his glove. For him, it was just time to go back home.
“I thought it was time to get back home and be around family,” Brown said.
Brown doesn’t have any hurt feelings about not getting more playing time with the A’s. For him, it was a matter of space.
“You have to look at it that all these guys are good, but there are only so many spots,” he said.
After briefly working at a baseball academy in Alabama, Brown went to work in the mines, the same ones his father had worked for over 30 years. First getting laid off after a few months in 2009, Brown was unemployed for three months before he picked up work at the mine again. However, by 2015, he had been laid off again. Tired of the long hours and uncertainty, Brown decided to take another path.
Deciding to try something else in the next chapter of his life, Brown decided to finish his degree in human performance at UA. He was able to finish it one one semester, later going on to receive his master’s degree in physical education from the University of West Alabama.
In 2018, Brown received his first head high school coaching job at Bessemer Academy, leading the team to the state finals in 2021. After a short stint as an assistant coach at Oxford High School, Brown took the head job at Grissom High School in Huntsville earlier this summer.
These days, Brown is doing what he can to get the team ready. He recently held tryouts and is now gathering his assistant coaches together to get the team ready.
Many of those who know Brown said he has what it takes to be a good baseball coach.
“My guess, he’s going to be good at that,” Wells said. “He knows the game and he’s good with kids.”
Boyd, who himself coached at Daphne High School for years before stepping down in June, said Brown has many good qualities that would lend themselves well to coaching, especially when it comes to being relatable to a young player and being able to pick up what they’re saying.
“There are a lot of people who can have one of those traits, but not both,” Boyd said. “It’s almost like you have a cheat code to be able to understand it quicker, and then regurgitate it.”
In fact, Brown believes things worked out the way they were always meant to.
“Obviously, there are all kinds of scenarios that could’ve happened and what didn’t,” he said. “This is part of God’s plan for me. I wouldn’t go and change where I am today for anything.”
Boyd said Brown is in the right place to help the next generation of players, many of whom weren’t even born when he played for the A’s.
“Baseball has give him the avenue to change people’s lives, and he’s done such a great job of that his whole life,” Boyd said.
In the 20 years since leaving Tuscaloosa, getting pulled up to Major League Baseball, leaving to work in the coal mines and now back on the baseball diamond, Brown said life is good.
“Being around baseball is really all I’ve ever wanted to do and I get to do it every day,” Brown said.