HOUSTON - Chris Brown's life might be summed up by the numbers that matter on a baseball field: lifetime batting average: .269; games played in the major leagues: 449; year he made the National League All-Star team: 1986.
But those statistics would fill only a fraction of the 45-year-old's biography.
Brown, who died Dec. 26 of injuries from a suspicious house fire, was a gifted athlete who was dogged by injuries during his six seasons playing third base in the majors. He was a devout churchgoer and a proud father determined to provide for his family - but ended up divorced.
And now, he's the center of a puzzle that both police and loved ones are trying to solve.
Brown's two-story home in a Houston suburb was engulfed by flames around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 30. Four hours after firefighters responded to the scene, a gravely injured Brown turned up at a nearby hospital.
Police, who are investigating the case as arson, don't know how Brown got to the hospital, or who may have set the fire.
His death, like much of his life, is tangled in questions and contradictions.
On the high school baseball fields of South Central Los Angeles, Brown was part of a triumvirate of future major leaguers whose blinding talent set them apart: Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis and Brown.
Strawberry and Davis, who met Brown when they were all Little Leaguers, say they both consider him to be the best athlete of the trio. Yet while his two friends went on to 17-year professional careers, Brown faltered in the big leagues.
Police say they have not ruled out anyone, including Brown, as a suspect in the arson. Yet his friends bristle at the suggestion that Brown somehow could have been involved.
"Chris never harmed anyone in his life. He's not going to kill himself. He's not going to hurt anyone else. I know that for a fact," said Strawberry.