The Times' Mike DiGiovanna and Miguel Bustillo do a nice job with the mysterious death of former Crenshaw High baseball star Chris Brown. He was close friends with Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, who had much better major league careers, and they talk about their friend who died Tuesday in a Texas hospital after being burned in a house fire. Brown apparently told relatives he had been kidnapped by robbers, tied up and left to die in the house when it was set afire. Police, though, seem to be investigating the incident as arson. Brown was in the midst of a messy divorce and had until recently been working as a truck driver in Iraq for Halliburton.
"It's just crazy; it doesn't make any sense," said Darryl Strawberry, an eight-time big league All-Star who played with Brown at Crenshaw. "Nobody really knows what happened. It doesn't sound right. He was not a violent person. He didn't have a history of trouble."
Brown, along with Strawberry and Eric Davis, another childhood friend, was part of an exceptionally gifted generation of young ballplayers that rose from South Central Los Angeles in the 1970s to the big leagues. The three formed such a close bond that John Moseley, their youth league coach, said they were "bound together by some magnetic force."
But while Strawberry and Davis, a Fremont High graduate, enjoyed distinguished 17-year major league careers — Strawberry grappling with drug and alcohol addiction along the way — Brown fizzled after six seasons with San Francisco, San Diego and Detroit. A string of injuries, some of which made teammates and coaches question his toughness, and underachievement ended a career in which he batted .269 with 38 home runs and 184 runs batted in from 1984 to 1989.
Afterward, Brown worked at various construction jobs in California and Houston. In 2003, he began driving fuel trucks between Iraq and Kuwait for Halliburton Co., the construction and oil-field company that holds many of the contracts to rebuild Iraq.
When Brown returned in June from his third one-year stint in Iraq, his life began to unravel. First, he lost his job. Then he lost his wife, Lisa, who moved out of their house with the couple's 9-year-old daughter, Paris.
At 1:26 a.m. on Nov. 30, the Sugar Land Fire Department responded to a call in a residential neighborhood.
"When we made it to the location, the house was fully engulfed," said Doug Adolph, fire department spokesman. "The house was vacant when our firefighters arrived. There was no one there, and we confirmed with neighbors that the house had been vacant for some time."
It was not until hours later that morning that Sugar Land authorities learned from a hospital official that Brown had been inside.
Davis found it difficult to reconcile the story of the fire with the person he knew.
"He's not the type of guy to even think like that," Davis said. "It's almost preposterous to think he'd consider setting his house, or himself, on fire. But you can never say never about anything."
Brown's reputation in baseball as a malingerer and a difficult teammate gets an airing in the piece.
Photo of Strawberry, Brown and Davis: Los Angeles Times