It’s embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t fully appreciate Brooks Robinson until a few months before everyone else. That’s when the Hall of Fame third baseman stunned the baseball world by shutting down Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine during the 1970 World Series.
For Brooks, it was all about the gloves. For me, it was a love story.
I had worked in the sports department of The News American for less than a year and asked one of the writers, Chuck McGeehan, if he would agree to me and my girlfriend, Barb, meeting Brooks and getting his autograph. Brooks was Barb’s favorite player. He was many fans’ favorite player. He was a guy I took for granted, until I had a meeting I shouldn’t have had.
Just as the media are told there are no cheers in the press box, it is not acceptable to ask a player for an autograph. I was a copycat and figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask since I didn’t write about the team. McGeehan also did not cover the Orioles, but provided game coverage for a news agency, United Press International, the night Barb and I attended a game that summer.
McGeehan had a thing for me, so he arranged for us to meet Brooks after the game. Barb and I waited outside the locker room at Memorial Stadium with the players’ families and friends. Eventually Brooks came out and said hello. As he took the baseball we had for him to autograph, I noticed he signed with his left hand and often thought that his use of both hands made him a better defensive player.
But it was what he did next that raised my respect for him. His wife, Connie, approached and instead of saying goodbye, he introduced us as if we were acquaintances. He couldn’t have been more gracious, making two teenagers grateful to be in their presence.
Brooks was everything everyone said he was, although to me he was more of an ordinary man than a superstar. He looked more like a regular guy than an athlete, his arm strength was average and he was slow. His reflexes, however, were exceptional, as were his hand-eye coordination and his catching and releasing the ball. Brooks loved the game and practiced as hard in 1970 as he did when he broke in as a second baseman in 1955.
His humility was genuine, even when he put on a dazzling display that put off Reds sluggers such as Johnny Bench and Lee May that fall. Behind Brooks, who also hit .429 with two homers, the Orioles beat the Reds in five games. It didn’t take away the pain of losing the 1969 series to the Miracle Mets, but it did help. It also meant the Orioles had appeared in three of the last five World Series — and won two of them as baseball’s top team.
Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson praised Brooks in his colorful way: “I’m starting to see Brooks [Robinson] in my sleep. If I dropped a paper plate, he would pick it up and throw me first.
May, who would become Brooks’ teammate in 1975, was the first to lose a hit. Brooks caught a smash from a jump into foul territory and lunged to her body not looking to beat May by half a step at first. “Very good (game),” May said. “Where are they plugging Mr. Hoover?” »
Nicknamed “The Human Vacuum Cleaner,” Robinson threw his first World Series chance before making one sensational play after another, including diving saves to his left and right to take away hits from Bench. “I’ll become a left-handed hitter to keep the ball away from this guy,” Bench said.
Brooks took the compliments and the Series MVP award in stride. “I’ve played almost 23 years professionally, and I don’t think I’ve ever had five games in a row like this in terms of the chances of making good plays,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “It doesn’t happen that way. At third base, you can play every day for a week without even getting a ground ball, let alone a tough play. It all came my way that week.
Barb and I had a solid relationship before we met Brooks, but the meeting didn’t hurt. She likes to think the best of everyone, and Brooks is as down-to-earth as they come. It was the last autograph I received, but it was the impression he made that had the most impact.
Brooks turns 85 today. We are approaching 52 years since the greatest World Series an Oriole has had. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, a guy I’m grateful to say I thoroughly enjoyed before it was too late.
Editor’s note: Barb and I are approaching 49 years of marriage. Meeting Brooks didn’t hurt.