Brooks Robinson, Hall of Fame Orioles third baseman, dies at 86
BALTIMORE — Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, whose deft glovework and folksy manner made him one of the most beloved and accomplished athletes in Baltimore history, has died. He was 86.
The Orioles announced his death in a joint statement with Robinson's family Tuesday. The statement did not say how Robinson died.
Coming of age before the free agent era, Robinson spent his entire 23-year career with the Orioles. He almost single-handedly helped Baltimore defeat Cincinnati in the 1970 World Series and homered in Game 1 of the Orioles' 1966 sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers for their first crown.
Robinson participated in 18 All-Star Games, won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves and earned the 1964 AL Most Valuable Player award after batting .318 with 28 home runs and a league-leading 118 RBIs.
"An integral part of our Orioles Family since 1955, he will continue to leave a lasting impact on our club, our community, and the sport of baseball," the team said.
He finished with 268 homers, drove in 1,357 runs and batted a respectable .267 in 2,896 career games. Not bad for ol' No. 5, the boy from Arkansas.
But he will be forever remembered for his work ethic and the skill he displayed at the hot corner, where he established himself as one of the finest fielding third baseman in baseball history, whether charging slow rollers or snaring liners down the third-base line.
"Brooks was maybe the last guy to get into the clubhouse the day of the game, but he would be the first guy on the field," former Orioles manager Earl Weaver said. "He'd be taking his groundballs, and we'd all go, 'Why does Brooks have to take any groundballs?'
"I wouldn't expect anything else from Brooks. Seeing him work like that meant a lot of any young person coming up. He was so steady, and he steadied everybody else."
Robinson arrived in Baltimore in September 1955 as an 18-year-old after spending most of his first professional season in baseball with Class B York. He went 2 for 22 with the Orioles and struck out 10 times.
He jockeyed between the majors and minors until July 1959, when he stuck around in Baltimore for good.
"Mr. Oriole" was a sports hero to Baltimore
Brooks Calbert Robinson Jr. was born in Little Rock on May 18, 1937. He eventually made Baltimore his home but never really lost his southern twang, which was just fine with fans in blue-collar Baltimore, who appreciated his homespun charm and unassuming demeanor.
Dubbed "Mr. Oriole," he was a sports hero in Charm City, in the pantheon with former Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and Orioles infielder Cal Ripken, who performed for a different generation.
Many Orioles rooters who never got to see Robinson play still were able to enjoy his observations as he was part of team broadcasts.
Ripken was known as The Iron Man because he played in 2,632 consecutive games, but Robinson wasn't fond of sitting on the bench, either. From 1960-1975, he played in at least 152 games in 14 seasons and in 144 games the other two years.
"I'm a guy who just wanted to see his name in the lineup everyday," he said. "To me, baseball was a passion to the point of obsession."
Robinson retired in 1977 after batting only .149 in 24 games. His jersey was retired that year.
Robinson's most memorable performance came as MVP of the 1970 World Series, when the Orioles bounced back from their stunning defeat to the New York Mets the year before and Robinson redeemed himself after batting just 1 for 19 in that series. Because he was so sensational in the field during Baltimore's five-game triumph over the Reds, few remember he hit .429 and homered twice and drove in six runs — or that he made an error on his first play in the field.
In Game 1, Robinson delivered the tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning. One inning earlier, he made a sensational backhanded grab of a hard grounder hit down the line by Lee May, spun around in foul territory and somehow threw out the runner.
Robinson contributed an RBI single in the second game and became forever a part of World Series lore with his standout performance in Game 3. He made a tremendous, leaping grab of a grounder by Tony Perez to start a first-inning double play; charged a slow roller in the second inning and threw out Tommy Helms; then capped his memorable afternoon with a diving catch of a liner by Johnny Bench. The Series ended, fittingly, with a ground out to Robinson in Game 5, a 9-3 Orioles win.
"I'm beginning to see Brooks in my sleep," Reds manager Sparky Anderson said during the Series. "If I dropped this paper plate, he'd pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first."
Anderson also said, "He can throw his glove out there and it will start 10 double plays by itself."
Jim Palmer and other teammates would say that the country got to see what Robinson did routinely during the regular season. Robinson used to blush when asked to recall his heroics in October 1970.
"I tell people that I played 23 seasons and I never did have five games in a row like I did in that World Series," he said. "It was a once in a lifetime five-game series for me, and it just happened to be in a World Series."
His legacy in Maryland continued long after his retirement.
There's a Brooks Robinson Drive in Pikesville, and the annual state high school All-Star game played at Camden Yards is named in his honor.
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