While watching the broadcast of the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Cactus League contest this afternoon, I learned that the Pacific Northwest baseball community had lost a legend. That legend is Frederick Charles Brayton. He was known to friends, family and players alike as “Bobo” Brayton.
Bobo was the head coach at Washington State University from 1962 to 1994, which also happened to be his collegiate Alma mater. Brayton was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, partly on the merits of his 1,162 victories (at an astounding .689 winning percentage!), 21 league championships, and two trips to the College World Series. Of those 21 titles, the Cougars won every PAC 8/10 Conference Championship from 1970-1980. His legacy gains further polish when you realize he helped numerous players reach the majors and have successful careers, a group headed by the likes of John Olerud, Scott Hatteberg, and Aaron Sele. Notoriously a fiery coach (though, not quite a Bobby Knight type), Bobo was still widely revered and respected by his players. While it took Olerud time to come around to Bobo’s style, he also said, “You just couldn’t help but love the guy. He was just such a big influence for me.”
Much like celebrated Major Leaguers Ted Williams and Warren Spahn, Bobo took time off during his college playing days to serve towards the end of World War II. When he returned from service in the Army Air Forces, he became a three-sport letterman in his sophomore year at Washington State. In 1947, Bobo became Wazzu’s first ever baseball All-American.
Brayton lived with a twinge of unconventionality that endeared him to all around him. One of the stories that seems to come up again and again is about how he hitchhiked from Birdsview, Washington, to the WSU campus in Pullman. Maybe that seems more unconventional to a Gen-X’er than somebody reared during the Great Depression. Whatever the perspective, it was Bobo’s drive to get to Pullman to play ball and excel at it, that stuck his thumb out enough times to traverse those nearly 370 miles and the Cascade Mountain Range.
He was also the chair of the College World Series Committee during his long coaching career and helped that committee to adopt a 32-team regional format in 1975 (this format is now a 64-team design). That change in format was even known as the “Brayton Plan” in honor of his ingenious insight to develop the format.
Bobo’s toughness and grit is no better illustrated than in the fact that even after suffering near-life-threatening injuries due to a hard line drive to the head, he continued to coach fearlessly and with fire. He, years before possibly his best player John Olerud would experience similar injuries, adopted wearing a batting helmet while on the field and in the dugout. It was a nearly prophetic parallel to Olerud’s wearing of a helmet whilst manning first base.
It is clear that Brayton lived a full life and enjoyed it the best way he could. Surely he enjoyed the fruits of his success, being one of 70 coaches in the history of college baseball to eclipse the one thousand career victory mark. He was fourth on that list the day he hung up his spikes.
This morning he hung up his earthly spikes at the age of 89. Hopefully, the baseball world outside of the Pacific Northwest realizes just what it has lost today.