Bob Brower, a 1978 graduate and the only athlete ever to letter in four sports in one year at James Madison High School, is one of those legendary figures. The type of figure whose name has grown in local sports lore. The plaque on Madison's wall of fame just outside the gymnasium in which Brower's No. 10 jersey was retired, reads: "One of the greatest athletes ever at JM."
Everyone has a Bobby Brower story. Some stories have been exaggerated over the years, but some haven't and the line between truth and legend has been blurred, but it's only because Brower was such a standout athlete that it's difficult to find the line between fact and fiction. The one about him going out for the football team in his senior year and compiling over 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns and being named the Player of the Year in his first year of organized football — that story is true. The story about him arm-wrestling 350-pound football players for a little extra cash in the bars near the Duke University campus — where he starred on both the baseball and football teams during college — well, those stories are also true. It's also true that Brower was an all-region selection in all four of his sports: baseball, basketball, football and track.
"He crushed the ball. It went over the fence and into the parking lot," remembered former NFL and Clemson football player Billy Davis, who was a sophomore at Mt. Vernon in the spring of 1978 when he watched Brower's towering home run sail nearly 420 feet. "He was a stud."
That's what former Madison baseball coach Don Roth remembers about Brower, his power to the opposite field.
"He was a talented athlete and it doesn't matter what sport you are talking about," said Roth, who is now a substitute teacher and lives near Fredericksburg. "What stuck in my mind was his power to right centerfield as a hitter. He could take pitches a long way to that direction." Brower was an outfielder for Madison before continuing his career at Duke, where he led the nation in triples, was an All-ACC selection and broke four ACC records while hitting .370 in his junior year (1981). He led the team in runs (53), triples (11), home runs (9), RBI (35), and stolen bases (30) helping Duke to a 29-10 record in 1981. He still holds the single-season record for triples (11) and ranks second for single-season stolen bases (30). The 5-foot-11, 185-pound center fielder went undrafted in 1982 and felt at odds with himself after having given up both football and basketball.
He had walked away from the Duke University football team in order to focus on baseball. "I was a jack of all trades and master of none," remembered Brower. "It's time I try to master one of these sports." Brower chose baseball because it was the only sport that the natural athlete could not master.
"It was the only sport that I couldn't, and I don't want to say master, it was the only thing I couldn't consistently be good at it," said Brower, who eventually signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Texas Rangers, where he played the first three years of his major league career before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1989.
"BASKETBALL WAS my love," said Brower. "That's what I spent all my time practicing on. I didn't practice the other sports." Brower fell in love with basketball from an early age. He remembers watching his neighbor Vince Vilani, a 6-foot-4 post player for Madison's 1975 dominating 20-2 squad, do what he wanted to do — dominate the court and put on a show. Vilani's father would bring Brower to the games.
"I used to go to those games and sit on the rafters by myself," remembered Brower. "It was so much bigger than life back then. You were so in awe. I said 'hey, if I work hard enough I can be on varsity by the time I'm a senior."
The 14-year-old spent his first year on the freshman team. He spent up to six hours a day practicing. He would turn saw horses on their sides and pretend that they were defenders.
"I would play all the time. There wasn't a day I wasn't up at Nottoway Park."
Brower was not a prolific scorer, but he fought for rebounds and used his grit to outmuscle opponents.
"He had a great feel for the game of basketball," said former Madison basketball coach Clint Hannah. "He was a great leaper. He had a great feel for the fundamentals of the game. He really understood the game, he was an extension of [the coaching staff] on the floor." Despite being 5-foot-11, the successful high-jumper for the track team could dunk by the time he was a sophomore. He was brought up to the varsity team that year and was named a starter before the season was over. He had great quickness and speed, partially because of his time spent with the track team. Brower competed in the 100-meter, 220-meter, triple-jump, long jump, high jump, 440-meter relay and 880-meter relay for track coach Tom Riley.
In fact, Brower ran track and played baseball during the same seasons.
Brower would practice with the track team "and then go over to the little shed between the track and baseball field and change into my uniform and go play the baseball game," he said.
FOOTBALL WAS a sport that Brower was coaxed into for his senior year by Riley — who was also the running back coach for coach Chuck Sell's football program.
"He was just a man among boys quite honestly," said Hannah.
Brower made his mark in the second game of the season when the tailback took a sweep right for an 80-yard touchdown which he remembered came out of just "sheer adrenaline and fear," he said. "You are running for your life."
"He just blows everybody away," remembered Hannah, who was an assistant coach on the football team. "Every time he touched the ball he is scoring." Brower, in his only year of organized football since youth ball in eighth grade, was an all-district, all-region and all-state selection and was the player of the year. For Brower though, the thing that sticks out in his competitive mind the most is a loss. The 34-14 regional finals loss to Robinson in his only year of football. Madison was ranked as the No. 1 team in the state and the Rams were gunning for them.
"Before the game we could hear them rocking the locker room," said Brower, who was named the Football Player of the Year in 1978 helping the Warhawks to a 10-1-1 finish.
"That changed my life forever. I got scholarships from all these schools up and down the east coast," he said. "I knew it would open up doors and help me get a degree."
Brower attended Duke where he starred on both the football and baseball teams. Injuries and surgeries hampered his major league baseball career after Duke, but Brower still managed to hit 14 home runs for the Rangers in 1987.
For the last 12 years, Brower has been the Vice President of the Scott Boras Corporation — a professional sports player agent company that has represented players such as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams. "I really oversee the amatuer draft," said Brower. Brower now lives in Kansas with his wife Shelley and 11-year-old Dakota and 8-year-old Brooks.
Football: Lettered at RB 1978-1980
Yards: 556 yards, 1 TD
Top performance: 22 carries, 124 yards versus North Carolina (1978)
Baseball: Lettered at OF 1979-1982
Hits: 142, 2B: 13, 3B: 20
Batting Average: .320
Records: 3rd all time in career triples (20), career stolen bases (75) and 14th in batting average (.320).
Local Legend: Ronnie Slingerman, Madison baseball, 1968
Ronnie Slingerman was a 3-sport athlete at Madison High School and won a state title with the baseball team in 1968. Slingerman, referred to by current Madison baseball coach Mark Gjormand as a "legend," earned that status by coming up big in big games. Slingerman's baseball teams won the region all four of his years and also won the first official state championship game in 1968.
"There was no state tournament in 1967 or 1966," said Slingerman. "We never got a chance to do what we could have done." He set the record for most home runs in a single season (6) in 16 games in his senior season with the Warhawks. That record has since been broken. "The thing I remembered most, was that I didn't have great numbers, but I always seemed to do well in the big games," said Slingerman. One of those big games was the 1968 state championship in which he hit a two-run homer which pushed Madison past Highland Springs for the 4-3 victory. Slingerman, also a pitcher, threw a 2-hit shutout against Woodson in the district championship in 1967 and a no-hitter against Jefferson in the region final that year. He was Madison's baseball MVP in his junior and senior years and was drafted out of high school by Seattle in the 10th round. He was the MVP of the football team as a senior after playing quarterback for three seasons. He also played defense for the Warhawks' football team and "never left the field for three years," said Slingerman with a laugh. He was also captain of the football, baseball and basketball teams. After playing baseball at High Point College — where he hit 38 home runs (3rd all-time) and was named the team MVP twice, Slingerman was again drafted by the Chicago White Sox. He spent three years in the minor league system. He currently lives in Vienna with his wife of 21 years, Julie. His daughter Veronica will enter Madison as a freshman this year. Slingerman is still heavily involved with local baseball and Madison.
Games AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA
256 582 104 141 21 3 17 60 29 .242
.968 field percentage
*Traded by the Texas Rangers to the NY Yankees for Bob Meacham (1989)
Bob Brower is 11 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.