Everything you have read about Brooks Robinson is true. There never was a more modest and genuine athlete and person than the Orioles Hall of Fame third baseman who died in Baltimore on Tu Sep 26 at the age of 86. The sad news arrived as the Orioles were on the verge of clinching their first AL East divisional title since 2014.
On Monday Oct 2, Camden Yards hosted a public memorial for a man who truly believed that his admirers were "not fans but friends." Maybe the late AP sportswriter Gordon Beard said it best on "Thanks, Brooks" Day in August 1977 just after he retired. Reggie Jackson might have a candy bar named after him in NYC (briefly), but Gordon said that in Baltimore people name babies after Brooks. And Brooks made it a point to keep in touch with most of his namesakes.
In one of the touching remembrances that have poured out since Brooks' passing, Baltimore writer Michael Olesker remembered that Brooks' mother,
Ethel, told him that he grew up across the street from a school for children with disabilities. He always played with those kids as if they were his equals.
When I was working in the late 1970s on my book about baseball's chaotic labor relations THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND, I talked to Brooks about his role as an important leader in the nascent Players Association. One of the big reasons for my Oriole fandom that began in the late 1960s was that their great teams were not just excellent on the field but they had leaders in the MLBPA like Brooks and shortstop Mark Belanger. Even manager Earl Weaver didn't spew the owners' line of death to the game if the perpetual reserve system was reformed.
Brooks told me the story about how he was signed after his high school graduation in 1955 by the Orioles. The Birds' major domo Paul Richards had played in the minor leagues with Lindsey Deal, an Arkansas area scout for the club who projected Brooks as the future real deal at third base.
Brooks' father, a fine semi-pro player who was now a fire department captain, was able to negotiate a major league contract and a $4000 bonus, just small enough to keep his son from being forced on a major league roster (under the bonus rules from 1953-1957).
The Cincinnati Reds cried foul, claiming more money had been slipped under the table. Brooks remembered that after he was flown to commissioner Ford Frick's office in New York, he had to put his hand on a Bible and swear that he didn't accept any additional money.
As the Players Association developed muscle starting in 1966 under Marvin Miller's leadership, Brooks emerged as one of the leaders wanting to get the players a fair deal. During the 1972 strike over payments to the players pension fund, Brooks offered his home to Miller for a meeting with the
entire team to explain the union's position.
He would call that period "the worst ten days of my life" and he was even booed when the season started 10 days late. But that ill-feeling among the fans couldn't last. He was always so likable and genuine. Along with Baltimore Colts football quarterback John Unitas, he became one of the most revered people in the city. And unlike Unitas, Brooks wound up playing his entire career in Baltimore.
There has long been no other player wearing a #5 in a Baltimore uniform. But his spirit will certainly be felt as the Orioles take on the powerful
Texas Rangers this weekend in the best-of-five ALDS (divisional series). Fortunately I don't have to predict for a living and I just hope there is some memorable baseball ahead for us. Because as I often say, "The only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away."
In closing, here is a link to a Zoom conversation about my new book on scouting BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES. I will be having it with Bruce Markusen of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Thursday Oct 12 at 7p EDT.
It is a free Zoom, but you must register in advance. lf there is a problem with the link, go to baseballhall.org - Click Visit, then Events, then
Virtual Authors Series.
As always, take it easy but take it, and stay positive, test negative. I did test positive a couple of weeks ago but I'm on the mend but being more
cautious in public places. Keep those masks handy!