Brooks Robinson, who spent his entire 23-year major league career with the Orioles and played third base so spectacularly that he was known as “The Human Vacuum Cleaner,” died on Tuesday at 86, the Orioles announced.
“We are deeply saddened to share the news of the passing of Brooks Robinson. 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 Robinson family and the Orioles wrote in a statement.
Robinson, who played with the Orioles from 1955-1977, said at the announcement of Brandon Hyde’s appointment as manager that he’d known every manager in Orioles history.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 18th 1937, Robinson signed with the Orioles in 1955, their second year in Baltimore, and never left.
Robinson made his major league debut at 18 on September 17th, 1955, and didn’t play his last game with the team until August 13th, 1977.
“The old role model,” Jim Palmer said shortly after learning of his death. “Great player, anyone that pays attention to the game knows that he was a great third baseman, but they didn’t get to share him, the kind of person he was, how kind.”
A 16-time Gold Glove winner at third base, Robinson was named to the American League All-Star team 18 times.
While Robinson was a fine hitter, with 268 home runs and a .267 batting average in 2,896 major league games, it was his glove that brought him acclaim.
Robinson won two World Series with the Orioles, a four-game sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966, and five-game win over the Cincinnati Reds in 1970. The Orioles were the underdogs in both Series.
“Today is an incredibly sad day for Baltimore and baseball fans everywhere,” Cal Ripken Jr. said in a statement. “Brooks was Mr. Oriole. He was beloved and rightfully so. His historic career on the field pales to the impact he’s made on so many of us. The memories we all share of Brooks will live on. My thoughts are with Connie and the Robinson family. We lost a great man but were so fortunate to have had him in our lives.”
The Orioles lost two World Series with Robinson — 1969 to the New York Mets, and 1971 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Robinson’s No. 5 was retired by the Orioles in 1978. In 1983, he was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 92 percent of the vote.
“All of us at Major League Baseball are saddened by the loss of Brooks Robinson, one of the greats of our National Pastime and a legend of the Baltimore Orioles.
“Brooks stood among the greatest defensive players who have ever lived. He was a two-time World Series Champion, the 1964 American League MVP, and the winner of 16 consecutive Gold Gloves at third base. He was a model of excellence, durability, loyalty and winning baseball for the Orioles. After his playing career, he continued to make contributions to the game by working with the MLB Players Alumni Association.
“I will always remember Brooks as a true gentleman who represented our game extraordinarily well on and off the field all his life,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Brooks’ family, his many friends across our game, and Orioles fans everywhere.”
He began his professional career with the York White Roses of the Piedmont League before his late-season promotion to the Orioles. Robinson began the 1956 season with San Antonio of the Texas League, and earned another late-season callup to the Orioles.
He started 1957 with the Orioles, and at the end of April, with a .200 batting average, was sent back to San Antonio. After a strong stint there, Robinson was called back to the Orioles in late July, and in late September was hitting .196.
On September 25th, Robinson went 4-for-4 at Yankee Stadium, raising his average 30 points to .226, and finished the season with a .239 average.
In 1958, Robinson spent his first full year with the Orioles, hitting only .238 with three home runs and 32 RBIs in 145 games.
With a .200 average in early May in 1959, Robinson went back to the minor leagues, to Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League for what turned out to be the final time.
After hitting .331 for the Mounties, Robinson was recalled in early July, began hitting well in mid-August and finished the season with a .284 average.
His string of Gold Gloves and All-Star Game appearances began in 1960. In 1964, when he led the AL in games played for the fourth straight year, Robinson was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player when he hit .317 with 28 home runs and a league-leading 118 RBIs, all career highs.
The Orioles, who finished in third place, two games behind the New York Yankees in 1964, added rightfielder Frank Robinson for the 1966 season.
Frank Robinson won the American League Triple Crown, and the Orioles pulled off a stunning sweep the defending World Series champion Dodgers, led by Sandy Koufax, in four straight.
Not long ago, Palmer, who defeated Koufax, 6-0, in Game 2 in ’66, visited Robinson at his home.
“He was just nice and kind and cordial to everybody,” Palmer said. “Great player, great role model. When you decide who you want to emulate, Brooks Robinson. He was the real deal. He was a genuine person. There was no acting or trying to play a role. We were just lucky that we had in our lives. Like Boog [Powell] said, I loved that man. I think we all did.”
Robinson’s greatest fame came after a series of spectacular plays at third base highlighted the Orioles’ win over the Reds in 1970. Manager Sparky Anderson raved about Robinson’s play at third base.
“I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate, he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first,” Anderson said.
Said Pete Rose: “I’ve never seen anything like him in my life,.”
The Orioles traded Frank Robinson after the 1971 Series loss to the Pirates, but Brooks Robinson continued manning third base, even though his offensive skills were slipping.
In 1975, the year Robinson turned 37, he was named to the All-Star team, though he didn’t play because of a sore thumb. His defensive reputation was strong enough that he won the Gold Glove after the season, a year in which he hit only .201.
By 1976, manager Earl Weaver told him that Doug DeCinces would receive the majority of playing time at third, and Robinson requested a trade. He was nearly dealt to the Chicago White Sox, but the trade was never consummated because the Sox wouldn’t guarantee Robinson’s contract through 1978.
Robinson, who hit .211 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 1976, played in only 24 games in 1977, finishing with a .149 average. He retired in August at 41.
After he retired, Robinson became a well received analyst on Oriole telecasts, a job he kept until 1993.
After Tuesday night’s 1-0 Orioles’ win over Washington, manager Brandon Hyde expressed his condolences to Robinson’s family.
“I think a lot of guys played tonight with a heavy heart. It was emotional before the game to hear the news,” Hyde said. “The time he spent with us last year, especially coming in the clubhouse after he threw the first pitch was really motivational, inspirational for our players. He’s an icon in this game, an icon in the city. There’s not many of those.”
Robinson was an active businessman, serving as a spokesman for Crown Petroleum for more than 30 years, and established the Major League Players Alumni Association.
In 2011, Robinson was honored with a statue on a plaza across from Oriole Park in Camden Yards. A year later, he was one of six Oriole legends to be honored with statues inside the ballpark. Weaver, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. were the others — all Hall of Famers.
Robinson married his wife, Constance, a former flight attendant for United Airlines, in 1960. She survives him as well as three sons and a daughter.