The year we lost Brooks Robinson - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

The year we lost Brooks Robinson

Photo Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

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After Brooks Robinson’s death on September 26th, many of my colleagues and countless fans shared warm personal anecdotes about their interactions with him.

I didn’t have any special conversations with him, though he was always nice and pleasant to be around and eagerly answered any questions I had.

The Orioles held a public memorial service for Robinson the next week. Hundreds of fans attended, and so many had stories they wanted to share.

Belatedly, I realized there was something I should have asked him about.

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Late in the 1969 season, my father took me to Yankee Stadium to see the Orioles, on their way to the World Series to play the Mets.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, rookie catcher Thurman Munson grounded a ball to third, and Robinson threw wildly to first, allowing Frank Fernandez to score the winning run.

Brooks Robinson’s walk-off error had cost the Orioles a game.

I wondered if the great man remembered that, and surely that must have been the only time that had happened to him, though he did make 264 errors in his long career. He hit only four more home runs, 268.

I’m sure had I asked him about that, he would have given a funny, self-deprecating answer.

Robinson’s death overshadowed all others in Maryland sports in 2023, though there many notables who left us this year.

Several of his teammates during his 23-season career passed away. Dick Hall, one of the greatest relievers in Orioles history, who played with Robinson for nine of those seasons and saved 60 games with a 2.89 ERA, died at 92 in June.

After his playing career, Hall became an accountant.

Pitchers Roric Harrison and Don Hood, who began their careers with the Orioles in the early 1970s, outfielders Dave Nicholson, Albie Pearson and Fred Valentine, who died at the tail end of 2022, all teammates of Robinson, are gone, too.

So is longtime team orthopedist Chick Silberstein, who was especially close to Jim Palmer.

Reliever Dick Drago just missed being a teammate of Robinson’s by a few weeks, though in 1977 Brooks ended the season as a coach with the Orioles.

Outfielder Mike Young, who hit 28 home runs and drove in 81 runs in 1985, died in Brazil at 63 in May.

Reliever Jim Poole’s life ended in October at 57. Poole, who had a 2.86 ERA in four seasons during the 1990s, was stricken with ALS.

Ryan Minor, who replaced Cal Ripken Jr. on the night the Iron Man ended his record consecutive-games streak and later managed in the minors for the Orioles, died last week from colon cancer at 49.

Longtime Oriole scout Deacon Jones died this year at 89.

The number of former Baltimore Colts is dwindling. Longtime defensive tackle Fred Miller, who had 10 sacks in a 14-game season in 1964 and played 10 seasons with the team, died in February at 82.

Dick Bielski, who ended his career as Miller’s was starting, played his final two seasons with the Colts as a tight end. He attended Baltimore’s Patterson High, and died in October at 91.

Sam Ball played each of his five seasons with the Colts at offensive tackle. Like Miller, he was in the 1969 Super Bowl that the Colts lost to the Jets and ended his career with their win over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V two years later. Ball was 79.

Jerry Richardson didn’t have a long playing career. He caught just 15 passes in two seasons and a touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL championship game but made a fortune in the fast food business with Hardee’s.

Richardson used that money to eventually buy the expansion Carolina Panthers but was forced to sell the team in 2017 because of racial and sexual harassment charges. Richardson died in March at 86.

Linebacker Johnie Cooks was the second overall pick in the 1982 NFL draft by the Colts and played during their final two seasons in Baltimore before the team moved to Indianapolis. Cooks died in July at 64.

Maxie Baughn was a terrific NFL linebacker but didn’t play for the Colts. He was an assistant coach for the Ravens in their early years in Baltimore. He died in August at 85.

Quarterback Ryan Mallett, who played in eight games for the Ravens in 2015, 2016 and 2017, drowned in Florida in June. He was just 35.

Running back Alex Collins, who entertained Ravens fans with his celebratory Riverdance, left us much too soon. Collins, who played three seasons with the Ravens, the last in 2018, died in August in a motorcycle accident at 28.

Lew Perkins, who hired Gary Williams as Maryland’s basketball coach but left early in his tenure after a three-year stay as the school’s athletic director, died in July at 86.

Billy Hahn, who spent 12 years as an assistant coach for Williams, died this year, too. Hahn was a point guard for the Terps. He had a fatal heart attack in April. He was 69.

Tara Heiss, who was the MVP of the first women’s ACC championship game in 1978 and a standout point guard for Maryland, died in July at 66. Heiss still ranks third in school history in assists.

Frank Wycheck, a star player at Maryland who had a long career with the Tennessee Titans as a tight end, died at 52 this month after a fall.

Whitey Von Neida, the longest living NBA player and a member of the first Baltimore Bullets team in 1950, died in September at 100.

“Jumping Johnny” Green, a longtime NBA star forward who played two seasons for the Bullets in the mid-1960s, died last month at 89, and Terry Dischinger, who played on the first Bullets team after they moved here from Chicago in 1963, died in October at 82. Dischinger played on the great 1960 Olympic basketball team along with Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.

Tony Roberts, the longtime voice of Notre Dame football on Mutual radio but known around here as the final voice of the Baltimore Bullets, died in August at 94.

Longtime area sportswriter Jon Gallo died that month, too, of a heart attack at 47.

All these sports lives were noteworthy, but none more than Robinson. More than 30 years ago, I attended a Bullets game as a fan when they played a few games a season at  the Baltimore Arena. One night, I heard a familiar voice behind me. It was Brooks with his family enjoying the game.

I didn’t dare interrupt him, but he always made time for those who did.

Answers to Monday’s quiz

1-Milwaukee Brewers
2-Lou Piniella
3-Todd Cruz
4-Heston Kjerstad and James McCann
5-Boston and Cleveland
6-Ron Washington
7-Dave and Steve Johnson
8-Dan Ford
9-Roric Harrison
10-Reggie Jackson
11-Marty Cordova and Jeremy Hellickson
12-Vladimir Guerrero, Sammy Sosa and Miguel Tejada
13-Jake Arrieta, Fernando Valenzuela, Doug Drabek, Pat Hentgen and Rick Sutcliffe
14-Mike Cuellar (tied with Denny McLain in 1969)
15-Second in 1999
16-Jim Traber
17-“We are Family” by Sister Sledge
18-Janae Brach–wife of Brad Brach
19-Old Time Rock n’ Roll by Bob Seger
20-Screenwriter for M*A*S*H, Cheers and The Simpsons
21-Jamie Walker-81 in 2007
22-Eight, 1966 World Series, 1969 ALCS and first game of 1969 World Series
23-Lost the 1971 and 1979 World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games, 0-2
24-Catcher
25-Pedro Florimon in 2011
26-Darren Holmes
27-Juan Samuel in 2010
28-Eleven
29-Harry Brechen, 14 seasons from 1954-1967
30-Luke Appling in 1963

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