“I made the all-opponent team for USC in football,” Brayton said with no small amount of pride. “It was in the paper; I’ve got it. I liked that. I thought that was pretty good.”
Brayton, who lettered at WSU in baseball (as a 1947 All-American shortstop), football (as a 180-pound linebacker) and basketball (as a guard), was much better than “pretty good” as a baseball coach. His 1,162-523-8 record (.689), 21 league championships and two College World Series appearances in 33 years with the Cougars earned him a spot in the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I enjoyed playing for him,” said Los Angeles Dodgers executive and former all-star third baseman Ron Cey, one of 23 Cougars who played in the major leagues after suiting up for Brayton at WSU from 1962-94. “He was an ambassador for baseball.”
On Friday, Brayton will be inducted into the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony will be held prior to the WSU-Arizona State game at Bailey-Brayton Field.
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“It should be fun,” Brayton said. “I should’ve been (inducted) 20 years ago!”
Famously feisty during his coaching and playing days, Brayton has slowed down physically but not mentally at 86. He’s still a regular at Cougars baseball home games with his beloved Eileen, the WSU co-ed he married 64 years ago.
“It worked out fine,” Brayton said with a laugh.
Brayton, who lives on the family ranch outside Pullman, still speaks with the raspy growl that once terrorized umpires – and, at times, his own players.
“You played out of fear; if you screwed up, you knew you were coming out,” said Dave Ryles, a Philadelphia Phillies scout who played for Brayton in the 1970s after coming through East Bremerton High School and Olympic College.
“Bobo made you grow up fast, but in a very caring environment,” said former major league pitcher Aaron Sele, a Dodgers executive and minor league instructor. “He demanded a lot of you on the field, and he demanded a lot of you as a student-athlete.
“Bobo really helped me grow up.”
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John Olerud, the national college player of the year under Brayton in 1988, said he was initially “pretty intimidated” by Brayton’s in-your-face coaching style.
“It definitely took me a while getting comfortable around Bobo,” said Olerud, who spent 17 years in the major leagues. “It’s kinda like walking on eggshells: ‘OK, I’m not sure where I’m supposed to be, but I’d better be there quick!’
“The more you got to playing with him and got to know him and his personality, his great sense of humor and his heart, you just couldn’t help but love the guy. He was just such a big influence for me.”
Ryles said Brayton was “the king” of Northwest college baseball coaches. Terrel Hansen said playing for Brayton “was awesome” – and demanding.
“He could be a tough one at times,” said Hansen, who played for Brayton in the 1980’s. “I don’t know how many times he called me and (fellow WSU star Jeff) Hooper ‘rocks.’ I guess that was the respect factor we deserved; we were a couple of ‘rocks.’
“You knew what you got with him. You’d better bring your game to the office, because he’s there to play hard and win.”
Brayton had no reason to believe he would become a WSU institution when he arrived in Pullman after graduating with the final senior class at the old high school in Hamilton, east of Sedro-Woolley, in 1943.
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“We played six-man football,” Brayton noted.
Brayton hitchhiked to Pullman from his tiny hometown of Birdsview after a chance conversation with a WSU-bound football player prompted him to scrap plans at the last minute to play football and possibly baseball at Western Washington.
Brayton said he enrolled at WSU “intending to play something,” but without a concrete plan. He rented a room at the fire station for $25 a month and soon established himself as a key football and baseball player despite a two-year break to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
Brayton didn’t need Army duty to learn about discipline and perseverance. His father was killed in a logging accident when Brayton was 10, so Brayton soon began waking up early to milk cows to help his mother pay bills and care for her six children during the Great Depression.
Scott Hatteberg, a former major leaguer who was Sele’s batterymate at WSU, said he learned about Brayton’s fabled grit on autumn trips to tournaments in Canada.
“We would sleep under the stars,” recalled Hatteberg, who now works in the front office and scouts for the Oakland Athletics. “We had to ‘shower’ in the streams. I mean, we roughed it! At least we got tents. He would just lay a sleeping bag down under a tree and talk to himself until he fell asleep. You can’t make it up. I mean, he was just an old-school dude.”
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Brayton started his coaching career as the head football and baseball coach at Yakima Valley Community College. Brayton enjoyed great success on the diamond, but he was almost killed by a line drive that fractured his skull when he was throwing batting practice.
“I was on my back for a month,” he said.
Brayton survived that brush with death (he wore a helmet the remainder of his career) and made Washington State baseball a big-time event.
Brayton’s Cougars routinely attracted bigger crowds and more television, radio and newspaper coverage than other Northwest college baseball teams. Fiercely loyal to WSU, Brayton promoted Cougars baseball relentlessly, and players became family.
“My entire career, I heard him in my head,” Hatteberg said. “He was just a voice that stayed with you.”
“Bobo, he was larger than life,” Olerud said. “Just a legend.”