Friday, May 13, 2011
#160 - Brooks Robinson
Brooks Robinson is a Hall-of-Famer requiring no introduction. He grew up in Arkansas and went to a high school that did not have a baseball team. He was actually a very good basketball player and had imagined he would go to Arkansas on a hoops scholarship. But a local former minor-leaguer saw him play summer ball after he graduated and wrote a letter to his old teammate who just happened to be Paul Richards, the Baltimore GM and manager of the mid-'50s. Richards sent over a scout and Brooks was signed in '55 for the maximum non-bonus baby amount, $4,000. He then kicked off his career pretty handily, hitting .332 in B ball before seeing some late action in Baltimore. In ' 56 he hit .272 in Double A before another September call-up. Brooks didn't hit too well in his limited time but he did get to hang out with his eventual predecessor, George Kell, who tutored him on third base and some off-field stuff. Brooks then started the '57 season as the regular guy at third but after a couple months of sub-.200 hitting was returned to Double A where he hit .266 over most of the summer. He returned to Baltimore in August and though it took him a while to get his offense churning, he hit over .400 the final three weeks. That gave the Birds the impetus to trade Kell and the next season that looked like an excellent move when Brooks came out of the box strong and was hitting north of .300 through early June. But he then cooled off significantly, showed not too much power, and split starts the balance of the season. Then '59 was nearly an exact replica of '57 but this time he was sent down to Triple A where he killed the ball, and when he returned in the summer, he claimed his spot at last with a .292 average the rest of the way.
When the Sixties arrived, so too did the reign of Robinson as an institution at third base. In 1960, his first uncontested season as a regular, he was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. He would retain the former honor the next 14 seasons and the latter one the next 15. Five of the next six seasons his average wouldn't dip below .284 and outside of '61, when he was moved to the leadoff spot, and '63, when the whole team offense sort of imploded, he averaged 95 RBI's. In the meantime the Orioles, a pretty terrible team when his career began, were riding some excellent young arms, some strong power, and defense to contender-dom. In '64 Brooks had his big MVP season and two years later he would play in his first post-season, fresh off the acquisition of his fellow Mr. Robinson, former Reds slugger Frank. That year the Birds won the Series in a roll over LA as Brooks put up his second 100-RBI season. In '67 both Jim Palmer and Dave McNally went down with big injuries so a title defense wasn't happening and Brooks' offense saw a discount. It remained there in the tough year of '68 and though his average bottomed out in '69, his power sure didn't as he closed the decade the top side of 20 homers and 80 RBI's to help his team return to The Series. But that time around they were the upset losers.
Robinson saw a nice offensive upswing in '70 and '71, both pennant-winning seasons for the Orioles. That first year he pretty much won The Series for Baltimore with his huge bat and an unprecedented defensive show. Then following that second season the O's sent Frank Robinson to LA and Brooks' numbers tumbled pretty hard as Baltimore missed the playoffs. He would then post a .288 average in '74, but that would be his last good one as he only hit .201 in '75, his final year as a regular, and his last as a Gold Glove winner. In '76 he split starts at third with new guy Doug Decinces and in '77 he did some reserve work at the hot corner in his final season. Brooks finished with a .267 average in 23 seasons (a record for seasons with one club) with 2,848 hits, 268 homers, and 1,357 RBIs. On top of the MVP, All-Star games, and Gold Gloves, he is still first in games, chances, putouts, and assists at third base, as well as second in fielding average. In the post-season he hit .303 with five homers and 22 RBIs in 39 games. He made the Hall in '83, voted in on his first shot.
Robinson, about whom nobody has written a bad word, got into some financial problems before he retired that would dog him for a bunch of years. In 1978 he got a job as the color guy for Orioles broadcasts which he did through '93. During that time and thereafter he has been a fixture at many autograph shows. Despite his financial issues, he has done a bunch of work raising money for charities, as well as other work in support of MLB. He sounds like a great guy.
Here's another card for which there is no room for the star-bullets. I'll add one. For the baseball centennial celebrated in '76 - I've mentioned this on other posts - each team was asked to submit its most special moment. For the O's it was the '70 Series win and Brooks' performance in it. He was a pretty modest guy. For almost every interview I found researching this post he would always bring up one record: he hit into five triple plays. I guess he has a pretty good sense of humor as well.
The thing with playing for one team is that these things get tough:
1. Robinson and Luis Aparicio '63 to '67 Orioles;
2. Aparicio and Sparky Lyle '71 Red Sox;
3. Lyle and Jim Ray Hart '73 to '74 Yankees.