By TIM BARTO
Brooks Robinson was the best-fielding third baseman of all time.
That statement will be argued, as all such statements about baseball are, but there are very few people who followed the game who will not include Brooks in the discussion of great third baggers.
He played 23 seasons of big league baseball, from 1955 to 1977, all of them with the same team – the Baltimore Orioles, and won two World Series championships during his career, one of which occurred in 1970, when Brooks almost singlehandedly beat my beloved Cincinnati Reds with the most impressive fielding display in October Classic history. Robinson broke my 8-year-old heart with diving snags and impossible throws from across the diamond, leading me to hold a ridiculous grudge for 53 years.
Death has a way of causing us to reassess feelings, so it’s time to give up this five decade grudge, especially since Brooks Robinson was one of the class acts of baseball. Even Norman Rockwell, that painter of the most ‘Murican of Americana, was a fan, immortalizing Brooks in a piece of art that showed Brooks signing autographs for a young fan. Brooks was a devoted Christian, husband, and father, and Baltimore fans adored him.
As a stereotypical “good-glove-no-bat” baseball player myself, I was enamored with Brooks Robinson’s defensive skills and approach to the game; so much so that I had two posters of him on my walls as a kid. One of them was printed by the Equitable Life Insurance Company, and had the phrase, “Brooks! There’s nobody else exactly like him.” The photo was taken after he robbed Johnny Bench of a line drive base hit in that 1970 Series, and it became the classic action shot of Robinson’s career.
The Gold Glove Award is presented annually to the season’s best defensive player at each position. Brooks won it 16 years in a row. He played over 700 more games at third base than any other player in history, was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1964, and World Series Most Valuable Player for that 1970 performance against the Reds.
The Orioles retired his uniform number (5), and in 1983 he was deservedly elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2020, he received the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award for his dedication to American military members.
It brings back good memories to write about such a man as Brooks Robinson. He bridged that gap between the old school game of the 1950s and the modern game ushered in during the 1970s, and he did it with class. He was not the most athletic of ballplayers, and he was never flashy or self-aggrandizing. As I mentioned, it brings back good memories.
Tim Barto is a lifelong baseball fan who coached for Grace Christian High School and the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks. He is also Vice President of Alaska Family Council. Sitting through 45 minutes of SportsCenter, eagerly awaiting some mention of Brooks Robinson’s passing, led him to write about the man they called the human vacuum cleaner.