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Robinson, Brooks Calbert, Jr.

ROBINSON, Brooks Calbert, Jr.

(b. 15 May 1937 in Little Rock, Arkansas), baseball Hall of Famer who was the greatest fielding third baseman of his era, winning sixteen American League gold gloves from 1960 through 1975, also known for his clutch hitting and outstanding play in the 1970 World Series.

Robinson spent his entire childhood in Little Rock with his younger brother and his parents, Brooks Calbert Robinson, Sr., and Ethel Mae Denker Robinson. He enjoyed all sports, but his favorite was always baseball. Robinson was raised a Methodist. He was humble, unassuming, and cool-headed. Ambidextrous, Robinson wrote and ate left-handed, but batted and threw right-handed in baseball and dribbled and shot primarily with his right hand in basketball.

Robinson gained his love for baseball from his father, who played semiprofessional ball and worked as a fireman. As a youngster, Robinson followed the exploits of Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals. He starred as an All-State basketball player for Little Rock Central High and was offered a basketball scholarship at Little Rock University (later the University of Arkansas). Because his high school did not field a baseball team, he played American Legion ball. He played a major role in his team's success, mostly as a second baseman. George Haynie coached Robinson in high-school basketball and Legion baseball.

Various major league scouts watched Robinson closely while he played Legion ball. Lindsay Deal, a friend of Robinson's father and a former player for Paul Richards in Atlanta, praised his baseball skills in a 1955 letter to Richards, then the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Upon Robinson's high-school graduation in 1955, two teams offered him major league contracts, the Cincinnati Reds and the Orioles. On 1 June 1955 Robinson signed a contract with the Orioles, who were only in their second season after being converted from the St. Louis Browns. They were the perennial last-place finisher in the standings and still thin on talent at most positions.

On the baseball field, Robinson was a manager's dream—always trying to play in every game, injured or not. At six feet, one inch tall and 190 pounds, he was an average base runner in terms of speed, but made few mistakes on the base paths. He had very fast reflexes in the field, a good throwing arm, and a very quick release of his throws to first. Robinson was especially adept at fielding bunts one-handed down the third-base line.

Robinson started his professional career in 1955 by playing for the minor league Orioles' club in York, Pennsylvania, where he batted .331 until being called up to the majors late in the season. He batted two for four against the Washington (D.C.) Senators in his major league debut on 17 September, then was hitless in his last eighteen at bats with the Orioles that season. In a fortuitous move, the York manager George Staller and Richards converted Robinson from a second baseman to a third baseman about midway through his minor league stint. Robinson split the 1956 and 1957 seasons between the Orioles and the San Antonio club. In 1958 he played the entire season for the Orioles; he was a flashy fielder but had only a mediocre batting average of .238 in 145 games. In 1959 he was sent to the Vancouver club of the Pacific Coast League and, after an early season injury to his forearm healed, batted .331 and seemed to gain confidence. After the All-Star break, he returned to the Orioles and hit well for the rest of the season, with a final batting average of .284.

Robinson met his future wife, Connie Louise Butcher, a flight attendant, on a United Airlines flight from Kansas City to Boston in July 1959. They were married on 8 October 1960; the couple had three sons and one daughter. In 1970 Robinson converted to Catholicism to be the same religion as his wife and children.

Robinson first starred for the Orioles in 1960. He batted .294 (175 for 595), slugged 14 home runs, and drove home 88 runs as the Orioles challenged the New York Yankees for first place until mid-September. He won the first of sixteen straight gold gloves in 1960 as the best-fielding third baseman in the American League (AL), and made the first of eighteen All-Star game appearances. Robinson cemented his reputation as a clutch batter and the major league's best-fielding third baseman from 1961 through 1963. He had his best season as a batter in 1964, hitting .317 (194 for 612), second in the AL to Tony Oliva's .323 mark. Robinson smacked twenty-eight home runs and led the league in runs batted in (RBI) with 118. He was selected as the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) as the Orioles finished just two games behind the pennant-winning Yankees.

From 1965 through 1971 Robinson averaged about twenty home runs, eighty-five RBI, and a .270 batting average per season. He teamed up with Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, and Dave McNally, among others, to lead the Orioles to AL pennants in 1966, 1969, 1970, and 1971, and to World Series wins in 1966 over the Dodgers and in 1970 over the Reds. Robinson slammed a home run in his first at bat in the 1966 series and was the MVP of the 1970 series. A national television audience saw him rob Cincinnati's Lee May and Johnny Bench of several hits each. Robinson batted .429 (nine for twenty-one) with two home runs in the 1970 series.

Robinson retired in 1977. That year, the Orioles staged a "Thanks, Brooks" day on 18 September before a record regular-season crowd of 51,798 at Memorial Stadium. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on 31 July 1983, in front of 12,000 fans. Up to that time, it was the largest crowd at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Robinson was the part owner in a restaurant and a sporting goods store during his playing career. After his retirement from playing baseball, he worked as a television commentator for the Orioles, a special assistant for Crown Central Petroleum Company, and for Personal Management Associates, a company providing athletes with counseling and support services.

Many fans and historians rank Robinson as the best-fielding third baseman of all time. He was the cornerstone of the Orioles from 1960 through 1975. His penchant for clutch hitting was especially evident in postseason play-offs and the World Series. In the 1970s Robinson was idolized by a future great player for the Orioles, Cal Ripken, Jr. During the era that the Orioles played at Memorial Stadium (1954–1991), Robinson was the team's franchise player, and eventually was succeeded by Ripken, Jr.

Robinson's autobiographies include, with Fred Bauer, Putting It All Together (1971), and, as told to Jack Tobin, Third Base Is My Home (1974). The Baltimore Orioles 1984 Media Guide contains extensive information on Robinson's playing career. Other books with significant information on Robinson include Gordon Beard, Birds on the Wing: The Story of the Baltimore Orioles (1967), and John Eisenberg, From Thirty-third Street to Camden Yards: An Oral History of the Baltimore Orioles (2001).

Mark R. Millikinm

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