Brooks Robinson, then and now.
Baltimore, MD – Terence Moore, a columnist for MLB.com perhaps said it best. “There was Brooks Robinson and there was nobody else,” Moore wrote. “Folks are getting amnesia regarding the greatest third baseman ever when it comes to fielding, throwing and breathing.”
Yes, Chipper Jones was very good and had a long career with the Atlanta Braves. New York Yankees fans can always throw Clete Boyer or even Greg Nettles’ names into the discussion. Of course, Phillies’ fans will tell you Mike Schmidt was, without a doubt, the best third baseman there ever was. I remember seeing Scott Rolen play for the Phils’ Double A minor league team back in the 1990s and thought he might turn out to be the best ever. However, any discussion about third base begins and ends with Brooks Robinson.
May 18, 1937 was the day Brooks Calbert Robinson Jr. was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was signed as an amateur free agent by the Orioles in 1955, one year after the club—previously the St. Louis Browns—arrived in Baltimore. Robinson played some ball in the late 1950s in South America and Cuba before becoming a member of the major league roster.
One of Brooks’ greatest catches ever didn’t happen on a baseball diamond but in an airplane in 1959. While on a team flight he became smitten with a flight attendant named Connie. He told her he was the only single man on the ball club (he wasn’t) and had negotiated a date with her before getting off the plane. Brooks and Connie were married in her hometown of Windsor, Ontario in October, 1960. They have four children.
In 1964 Robinson beat out the legendary Mickey Mantle in the race for American League Most Valuable Player. As good as he was with the glove, Brooks Robinson led the American League in runs batted in as the Orioles strong run for the pennant faded in September. There would be no fading in 1966, as Brooks and another man named Robinson—Frank Robinson—led the Orioles to the American League pennant and a World Series sweep over the Dodgers. While that series win in 1966 was the result of the team’s surprisingly lights-out pitching—including a pair of 1-0 games in Baltimore finishing off the series—the 1970 World Series belonged to Brooks. Against the highly touted Cincinnati Reds, Brooks Robinson hit .429 and hit two home runs. He also made several outstanding plays in the field much to the frustration of the Reds. With a 3 games to 1 series lead and game five heading to the win column for the Orioles, Robinson was selected as the 1970 World Series’ Most Valuable Player.
Towards the end of his career Robinson was named a “player-coach,” something he was clearly unhappy about. He wanted to play and didn’t care much for coaching. When it was clear he was not the everyday starter at third base, Robinson was ready to retire. When he retired in 1977, the Orioles also retired his number, 5.
The same year the Orioles won their last World Series (to date), Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his induction speech Robinson saluted the city and fans of Baltimore.
Between Brooks Robinson and the team’s current young and talented third baseman, Manny Machado, there are an infinite number of occupants in the Orioles’ hot corner. Cal Ripken Jr.—who moved from shortstop to third in 1997 as his career was winding down—is one of the more notable successors. Robinson’s immediate successor, Doug DeCinces, was also pretty good. However, he left the Orioles via free agency and became a major league journeyman. Some of the others included Todd Cruz, Todd Zeile (who must have played for every single team in the majors at one time), Wayne Gross (an absolute butcher with the glove) and Ryan Minor.
Baltimore has frequently and properly reciprocated Brooks’ appreciation. He threw out the first pitch at the final Orioles game at Memorial Stadium in 1991. There are two statues of Brooks in Baltimore—one on Washington Boulevard that was unveiled in 2011 and a bronze sculpture at Camden Yards unveiled in September of 2012.
In addition to enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, in 1999 The Sporting News named Brooks Robinson to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Robinson’s assessment of his own talents suggests a realization that it was the steady play at third that has given him baseball immortality status. “It’s a pretty sure thing that the player’s bat is what speaks loudest at contract time, but there are moments when the glove has the last word,” he said.
But the glove doesn’t get the last word today, we do. Happy 80th birthday, Brooks Robinson—Best Third Baseman EVER!
Contact Marty Madden at email@example.com