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DonRocks

Brooks Robinson (1937-), Baltimore Orioles 3rd Baseman (1955-1977) and The Greatest Defensive Baseball Player of All Time

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Brooks Robinson means more to me than any other athlete who has ever lived.

I suppose over the months and years, I'll be writing more about Brooks, but suffice it to say that in the 1980s, someone asked me who the three people I wanted to meet more than anyone in the world were. My response? Ronald Reagan, Vladimir Horowitz, and Brooks Robinson.

Roy Firestone, American sports commentator, appears to feel the same way that I do about this gentle giant of a man - a giant not in athletic stature, but in an everyman's way that we can all relate to.

While I certainly have many things to add, I can't think of a better place to begin than with Roy Firestone's tribute to Brooks Robinson, my childhood hero:

Some highlights from the 1970 World Series:

I was beaming with pride for my hero during the 1970 Series, not because he did anything particularly unusual, but because he did what he *always* did, and the nation got a good sampling of it - all except for fielding bunts. For example, his teammate, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, said: 

"He was the best defensive player at any position. I used to stand in the outfield and watch him make play after play. I used to think WOW, I can't believe this."

Hall of Famer Johnny Bench: "I will become a left-handed hitter to keep the ball away from that guy."

Hall of Famer Pete Rose: "Brooks Robinson belongs in a higher league."

Hall of Famer Third Baseman George Brett: "He charged everything. He reacted as the ball was coming off the bat. Sometimes when the ball was going to the bat."

That refers, somewhat, to his skills at fielding the bunt which I've never seen since. He would force entire teams to change their strategies and give up bunting (this, in an era when bunting, sacrifices, and stolen bases meant a lot in baseball). I cannot find a single video of this, but, bunting aside, what I saw in 1970, I watched almost every single day in the summer. The 1970 series was great, yes, but he used to do that stuff day-in, day-out, and nobody knew. That's why I was so proud of my hero - he had finally gotten the national exposure he deserved (although that was a good series, even for him). I love this man.

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After reading the above and watching the videos I discussed Brooksie with a work colleague who is an Orioles fan and originally from Western Md.  One thing he mentioned is that there are a lot of guys around his age named Brooks all born in Md.

My colleague used to go to old Memorial Stadium.  I'm older, and in fact lived within walking distance of Memorial stadium at that time and into the mid 70's.  I went to O's games when Brooks was playing.  I, sad to say, didn't get to that 1970 WS where Brooks was a super star.  But as a former resident of Baltimore...the testimonial to him is oh so appropriate and on target.

Brooks was the brightest of baseball stars and the nicest of personalities.   The video from the 1970 WS is just so great.  Brooks' reflexes, flexibility, timing, everything were just so spectacular.  Leaping and diving to right and left, sweeping up hard blasts from the big red machine.

How great was that?  

Thanks for the post.

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Thank you Don.  The two videos were a thrill and the second video brought back a flood of memories.  I lived in Baltimore from the early to mid 70's and got to watch and experience those years of great Orioles teams.  I was a student at first and couldn't afford WS tickets and that terrific '70 WS, noted as the Brooks Robinson series.   What a terrific WS it must have been.  What a wondrous 2nd video, seeing Brooks sweep up every last hard smash down the left field line, leaping right and left, turning rocketing hits into outs and double plays, squashing the powerful Big Red Machine.  

I did get to a lot of regular season games and later got to the 1979 WS against Pittsburgh...ahhh... I fondly recall Memorial Stadium.  For a number of years I lived in walking distance of Memorial Stadium.  As good as the Orioles were in those years, attendance was not always that great.  Some of my fondest recollections of that time involved stopping at a neighborhood bar named the Stadium Lounge, located around Greenmount and 33rd, getting a huge ham and swiss, the width wider than one could open one's mouth, slathering it with mustard, downing a number of inexpensive Natl Boh's and ambling over to Memorial Stadium, with a couple of friends.   

Attendance wasn't great.  We'd park ourselves high up in the inexpensive outfield seats, get peanuts and beers, remove ourselves from most fans and later discreetly pull out the jays.  Later we tried to barter jays for beers with concessionaires.  (sometimes it worked).

The Orioles were a dynasty of sorts, every year putting out a team that could challenge for the league championship and WS.  Brooks was a star among stars and a true Baltimore icon, being loved by fans for reasons well beyond his baseball exploits.  He was a humble, truly gracious human being.  The first video personifies that.

Thanks to those videos I flashed  on some others one can see by clicking on the additional videos advertised at the end of the two referenced above.  Teammates loved and admired him, the community loved, admired and respected him and he became a complete member of the Baltimore community.

Brooks was a wonderful first baseball player to identify as a hero.  Truly a "role model".  

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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On 4/3/2014 at 9:51 AM, daveo said:

Brooks was a wonderful first baseball player to identify as a hero.  Truly a "role model".  

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

I don't think today's youth could realize how important Brooks Robinson was to me as a child.

Nearly every Oriole home game was televised, using only a center-field camera (just having them broadcast in color was a thrill). You could barely see the balls and strikes.

When I was 8 or 9, I could name every roster on every major league team.

What's not in these highlight reels is how amazingly Robinson could field a bunt. Nobody could get a bunt single off of him - he would sprint in, and in one motion, pick up the ball with his bare hand, and flip it across his body to first base. 

There was one time, late in his career, when I read in the paper that he made three errors in one inning. I couldn't have felt any more betrayed than if someone had assaulted my parents.

I didn't see any of those 1970 World Series Games in person, but I did see the 1969 All-Star Game at RFK, and also what was billed as "The 8th World Series Game" in 1972 - it was an exhibition game against the Pirates (who beat the Orioles in 7 games in the 1971 World Series) - incidentally, the Orioles won that game, "tying the series at 4 games each" (in my mind).

One time, I met Brooks Robinson at a Crown Gasoline Station in Laurel, where he was signing autographed posters. I was so scared that I didn't say a word - he probably thought I was some random kid; little did he know he was signing a poster for a teenager who worshipped him more than any other living human being. I found that poster, just last week, ripped, crumpled, and pretty much destroyed - I made the mistake of recycling it rather than having the presence of mind to cut out the autograph and keep it. I saw him once again, with Matt, at Bowie Stadium, about 20 years ago - he was hobbled by arthritis, but I didn't care. It was Brooks Robinson.

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The only sad thing about this is that Brooks played before free agency. He never made the kind of money that mid-level players make today. I don't know what he might have done with all that cash; but, I'll bet it would have been more edifying than squiring Madonna around town.

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Don:  I've been engaged in a gruesome mind boggling job of immense detail and its driving me crazy.  One personal saving grace is to troll through sports trivia:  I happened to find two articles on the same subject that I found surprising...again about the Orioles team you followed in your youth.

I moved to Baltimore during the period when the Orioles were a simply spectacular team.  It was in the midst of their tremendous run during which they were always competitive, often won their league, and sometimes won the World Series.  Brooks Robinson was one of the heroes and certainly a terrific ball player, citizen, great character and a terrific role model.   The team had other great players, some of whom didn't have his outstanding personal traits, but they were similarly great.

In retrospect I think I took that team for granted.  On the other hand there wasn't an internet and world wide focus and endless writing on every topic under the sun.  I think the town took that magnificent team for granted or likewise didn't give them the kind of celebrity status people and athletes and film and music stars get today.

In any case, besides the fact that one of the above articles references just how historically great the Orioles of Brooksie, et al were relative to the entire history of baseball, I ran into another article/topic that again references the "greats" on that team.

Two articles on the "10 best pitchers of baseball" since 1960 or defined as "modern times".  10 best.  That is in comparison to what would be thousands of pitchers during that span.  Here is one of them

In both lists number 10 was Jim Palmer, a teammate of Brooksie.  The two lists have the same pitchers, though in different orders.

In any case Palmer was a superb pitcher and a character on that team.  He was a real star.  He was also an extraordinarily good looking man, who among other things modeled underwear!!!!  He was articulate, opinionated, and he had a history of arguing with Earl Weaver.  That made for interesting copy.     In these days, he is one of many teammates who lauds Brooks Robinson.

But Palmer was a tremendous star.  A star among stars, in fact.   

In more modern times with the way the game has changed its astonishing those Orioles of old with Palmer as one of some excellent pitching staffs, had a season where 4 starting pitchers each won 20 or more games.  That is astounding in today's world of baseball, during which there are seasons when nobody in either league wins 20 games.

The articles calls these the best pitchers in "modern times".  Well modern today with relief pitchers galore is different from modern than.    In any case Palmer was one more guy that made those teams special.   Really special.  

Great team to follow as a youth.

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Go to 2:48 in this video. :)

I'm telling everyone: I used to come home from school, and watch Brooks Robinson do things like this on a regular basis.

"He was the best defensive player at any position. I used to stand in the outfield and watch him make play after play. I used to think, 'WOW, I can't believe this.'" -- Frank Robinson

People are probably sick of me talking about Brooks Robinson, but I'm telling you, it wasn't just the 1970 World Series; it was an almost daily thing to see him charge a bunt, barehand the pickup, and sidearm the ball to first, just in time - and he did not have a strong arm; he just somehow made things happen.

I look at this video of Andrelton Simmons, and I think to myself, "My God, even Brooks Robinson wasn't this good," and there's just no way he could make some of the plays that Simmons does, but for whatever reason - and I don't think I'm imagining this - he *was* that good.

I guess it's like comparing Larry Bird and Michael Jordan? Of *course* Jordan was better, but Bird had some sort of pact with the devil that enabled him to do things supernaturally, and I think even Jordan couldn't have done some of the things that Bird did.

This footage is the rarest of the rare - so rare that nobody on YouTube even seemed to know what it is, other than being from the 1966 All-Star Game. 

What it is (at least the first two pitches), is 1966 All-Star MVP Brooks Robinson hitting a triple off of Sandy Koufax (that Hank Aaron stumbled on), and then scoring on a Koufax wild pitch. The NL outfield starters that game were Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente!

So Brooks Robinson was the AL MVP (1964), the All-Star Game MVP (1966), and the World Series MVP (1970). 

And Frank Robinson was the AL MVP (1966), the All-Star Game MVP (1971), and the World Series MVP (1966).

Has anyone else besides these two ever won all three awards? Has anyone else besides Brooks done it in three different years?

(I should add that Frank Robinson also won the Triple Crown in 1966 - that was a good year for him. And he was the NL MVP (1961) making him the only player ever to win the award in both leagues.)

People might look at this famous picture of Brooks Robinson, and say, "So what? There's one of Graig Nettles even more stretched out than that!" But what people aren't realizing is that Brooks has caught the ball, and is looking up, showing the ball to the home-plate umpire, saying 'Yes, I caught this' - all before he even hit the ground. Take a closer look at the picture. Right above Brooks' cap, there's a guy in the left-field bullpen, walking away - he *missed* the play.

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At a baseball card show once -- I believe it was in the early 90s at Marshall High School -- in that brief 15-20 seconds you get with him while he's signing your items, I asked Brooks about those plays in the '70 Series, which I thought were other-wordly. He just said something like "Ah, I was just in the right place at the right time."

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It's so cool to peruse this list of major-league players who've played 20+ seasons with one club. Brooks Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski lead the list with 23 seasons each.

I'd never heard of Ted Lyons before, but I'm willing to bet he's an icon in Chicago - all of these players mean an enormous amount to their respective cities. During the four-year span of 1930-1933, the White Sox fielded *three* of these players - Lyons, Luke Appling, and Red Faber. What a great time that must have been to be a White Sox fan.

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"Team of Dreams: Brooks Robinson Recalls His Orioles' World Series Teams" by Andy Piper on thonline.com

[Just a moderator's note: I don't want to hog this forum with constant Brooks Robinson posts, so I encourage everyone to post about their favorite players, teams, or anything else they want to post about, as often as they want, hell, once a week in the same topic if they wish - me, I'll probably post about Brooks several times a year ... I get misty-eyed every time I think of him, and Father Time pulling him further-and-further away from the game.]

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On 11/6/2015 at 1:43 PM, outsideshot said:

More like the 1966 O's ...they swept the series in 4!

But I was only 4-5 that season, and don't remember it. :(

I unashamedly admit that Brooks Robinson is my hero - despite being 78 years old, he's the only thing left in this world that makes me feel like a kid again. I understand that I'm annoying with my hero worship, but please don't let that change your opinion of Brooks Robinson.

Speaking of not remembering things, in Robinson's outlying offensive season, 1964, I was 2-3 years old (I think childhood heros form when they are instilled in your memory as soon as you begin to develop one, and Brooks was there before, during, and after for me). I knew he led the AL in RBIs that year - which I've always found perplexing, because I don't think of him *at all* as an offensive player - but I didn't realize he had quite the season he had in 1964:

AL Most Valuable Player

#1 in RBIs (118)
#1 in Games Played (163)
#1 in Sacrifice Flies (10)
#1 in Wins-Above-Replacement for Position Players (8.1)
#2 in Batting Average (.317)
#2 in Wins Above Replacement for All Players (8.1)
#2 in Hits (198)
#2 in Total Bases (319)
#3 in Doubles (35)
#3 in Extra-Base Hits (66)
#3 in Offensive WAR (6.4)
#4 in On-Base Percentage (.388)
#4 in Singles (128)
#4 (tie) in Times On-Base (249)
#6 in Slugging Percentage (.521, Are You Kidding Me?)
#6 in On-Base Plus Slugging (.889)
#7 in Defensive WAR (2.2, Huh?)
#8 in At-Bats (612)
#8 in Plate Appearances (685)
#8 (tie) in Intentional Walks (10)
#10 (tie) in Home Runs (23)

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I got a kick out of this article and I suspect someone else here will also agree with its findings as to the BEST Defensive Baseball team(s)  E.V.E.R  I liked the article b/c I used to go to their games.  Old Memorial Stadium, at that time one of baseball's best teams, annually a favorite to win the AL and the World Series, and yet it just didn't get big crowds.  During the summer you could stretch out in the upper deck on a day game, get a tan, drink beer, (smoke a doobie), nobody would bother you, and more often than not the O's would trounce the opposition.  Later during the game with so many empty seats you could park yourself in the lower deck and watch from up close, all for a paltry sum.

Brooks was the well known hero/magician with amazing reactions, flexibility, and an unerring arm.  Boy, Belanger was good.  I remember that, but I scarcely remember him, beyond being a "stick"... a really skinny guy.  Paul Blair was a freaking shot in center field with great speed, you could see him getting a great jump on hard to catch balls, and he was athletic, nimble, and agile, simply a stunning outfielder.

And sooner or later one of the big guns (including Brooksie) would club a 3 run home run and the O's would win another one.   Excellent article and appropriate choice for best ever (at least IMHO).  

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On 1/26/2016 at 4:14 PM, DaveO said:

I got a kick out of this article and I suspect someone else here will also agree with its findings as to the BEST Defensive Baseball team(s)  E.V.E.R  I liked the article b/c I used to go to their games.  Old Memorial Stadium, at that time one of baseball's best teams, annually a favorite to win the AL and the World Series, and yet it just didn't get big crowds.  During the summer you could stretch out in the upper deck on a day game, get a tan, drink beer, (smoke a doobie), nobody would bother you, and more often than not the O's would trounce the opposition.  Later during the game with so many empty seats you could park yourself in the lower deck and watch from up close, all for a paltry sum.

Brooks was the well known hero/magician with amazing reactions, flexibility, and an unerring arm.  Boy, Belanger was good.  I remember that, but I scarcely remember him, beyond being a "stick"... a really skinny guy.  Paul Blair was a freaking shot in center field with great speed, you could see him getting a great jump on hard to catch balls, and he was athletic, nimble, and agile, simply a stunning outfielder.  

And sooner or later one of the big guns (including Brooksie) would club a 3 run home run and the O's would win another one.   Excellent article and appropriate choice for best ever (at least IMHO).   

Thanks for posting this; my heart skipped a beat when I saw it - remember the Yogi Berra posts from about a year ago? 

Brooks is not a young man, and realistically, I know his days aren't infinite.

That's why I'm dedicating our Baltimore Forum to him, right now (I'm a big proponent of tributes and thank-yous being made while the person can still appreciate them, not that Brooksie will ever see any of these).

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On 5/29/2014 at 0:37 AM, DonRocks said:

It's funny - back in 1970, I think that in many ways, I knew more about Major League Baseball than I know today. In my eyes, Dave McNally was the club's ace, followed by Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar in no particular order. Put yourself in that time period: There was no internet, no "online stats," and only The Washington Post, Channel 13, my older brother, and a slew of baseball cards as resources to form an opinion - this was mine, when I was nine.

On 5/29/2014 at 10:02 AM, DaveO said:

Don:  Possibly your memory and what "scribes" might have written then just might jive.  McNally was older, more experienced and was a strong pitcher in his own right.  As of '70 Palmer was still a young dude.   

This gives some statistical backing to my vague memory:

Jun 17, 2013 - "Max Scherzer and Pitchers with the Longest Winning (Undefeated) Streaks to Start a Baseball Season" by Vin Getz on sportslistoftheday.com

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Thinking about triple plays, Brooks Robinson holds the all-time record by hitting into four of them in his career.

I also happened to just see this video by Boog Powell about meeting Robinson for the very first time.

Talking about his major-league record, Robinson said, "I wouldn't mind seeing someone erase my record of hitting into four triple plays."

But looking at the SABR triple play spreadsheet Pat posted, I see that Powell was on base during 3 of those 4 occasions - Powell was a large man, and lumbered as he ran (although unbelievably, he once legged out an inside-the-park home run). I suspect that having Powell on base didn't help prevent Robinson from setting this record that nobody wants to own.

As for committing 3 errors in 1 inning, I'm afraid Robinson can't assign any blame to Powell. I think I mentioned this once before, but when I heard that on the radio, I felt as if someone had shot my mother - a feeling of disbelief and total betrayal (I was nine years old, and this was my jolting wake-up call that Gods do not roam the Earth).

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I have rewatched the entire 1970 World Series, and captured screenshots from each play involving Brooks Robinson. If I'm ever feeling up to it, I'm going to write an analysis on why Brooks Robinson is *so much more* than what statistics can show. The pictures, plus the video, plus my commentary, will convince everyone beyond any doubt that this man was the single greatest defensive baseball player who ever lived. I've detected things from the videos that only a devout Brooks Robinson / Orioles fan can detect.

For now, I'd like to present some statistics that don't show up on advanced metrics:

Many of us remember the great Mark Belanger (8 Gold Gloves), but most Orioles fans remember the great Luis Aparicio (9 Gold Gloves) in name only, even though he's alive and well!

Aparicio was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1956, played his 1st seven seasons for the Chicago White Sox, then his next five for the Orioles alongside Brooks Robinson, then he went back to the White Sox for the following three seasons. In summary: 7 White Sox, 5 Orioles, 3 White Sox (and then some more for some other teams). Aparicio is in the Baseball Hall of Fame - primarily for his defense and base-running abilities.

I want to examine those first 15 seasons. I've always said that, not only could Brooks Robinson smother the 3rd-base line, but he so regularly cut to his left, and picked up ground balls heading towards the shortstop, that he was able to catch the ball about 5-10 feet closer to home plate (than the shortstop would have), and his momentum towards first base gave him a lot of extra velocity on his throws.

Let's look at Luis Aparicio's "Chances" statistic during those first 15 seasons - "Chances" are how many times he had a chance to make a putout, either from catching the ball in the air, fielding a ground ball, etc.

White Sox
1. 759
2. 715
3. 759
4. 765
5. 874
6. 781
7. 752
Average = 772.14

Orioles
8.    690
9.    712
10.  697
11.  761
12.  579
Average = 687.80

White Sox
13. 823
14. 831
15. 752
Average = 802.00

The discrepancy should be obvious, but in case it's not - Aparicio's 4 seasons when he had the fewest "Chances" came playing next to Brooks Robinson. There could, of course, be several reasons for this, but I put forth that Brooks Robinson was cutting to his left and taking some of those Chances away from Aparicio - not in a selfish way, but in a way that would have the greatest chance of getting the batter out at first base.

The more I gaze at Aparicio's yearly defensive statistics, the more confident I am in this conclusion.

Compared to his 1st 7 seasons with the White Sox, in season #8 with the Orioles, Aparicio, up until this point:

* had the fewest Chances of his career
* had the fewest Assists of his career by over 10%
* (this is important) did *not* have the fewest Put-Outs of his career (think about what this means - line drives, double-play pivots, etc.)
* had the fewest Double-Plays of his career
* had the fewest Errors of his career
* had the highest Fielding Percentage of his *entire* career

I also think this is significant enough where I'm going to go ahead and predict that advanced metrics will eventually include player-with-player statistics, i.e., what Aparicio did when playing next to Robinson, as opposed to what Aparicio did when playing next to Fred Hatfield (1956), Bubba Phillips (1957, 1959), Billy Goodman (1958), Gene Freese (1960), Al Smith (1961-1962), Pete Ward (1968), and Bill Melton (1969-1970). While the above bullet points aren't conclusive (Aparicio did tend to play more games per season with the White Sox), they are thought-provoking and compelling - and my goodness, what an assortment of third-basemen!

---

I also extracted this excerpt from this 2004 article by John Eisenberg in the Baltimore Sun - this sums up what I've been harping on for many years (and I know everyone is sick of it, but posts like this are going to keep coming):

Most fans associate Robinson's prowess with the 1970 World Series, when he discouraged the Cincinnati Reds with a series of seemingly impossible plays and was named the series' Most Valuable Player after the Orioles' championship.

"But we kind of laughed at the fuss everyone made," said Dick Hall, an Orioles reliever that year. "We'd seen him make those kinds of plays for years."

Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks still remembers his first "Brooks moment." The team was in Oakland for the 1968 season opener. Hendricks was a rookie catcher, fresh from the Mexican League. Robinson was 30, in his prime.

Early in the game, Oakland's fleet Bert Campaneris pushed a bunt between the mound and third as a runner on first sprinted for second.

"Where I'd come from, that was a hit," Hendricks recalled. "Brooks was on it instantly, and without even looking, threw to second for a force. Then there was a throw to first, double play, inning over in half a second.

"I was sitting in the bullpen and my mouth fell open. I went, 'You've got to be kidding me. I don't believe what I just saw.'"

His veteran bullpen mates just shrugged.

---

Larry Bird is the Brooks Robinson of basketball.

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I just realized that Brooks Robinson was in possession of the Gold Glove from before I took my first breath, until when I was in high school.

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It just dawned on me (and I mean in the past sixty seconds) that Brooks Robinson might have worn #5 because 3rd base is Position #5. Now, he played some 2nd base early in his career, so this is just a theory, but it could make for a darned good apocryphal legend a hundred years in the future.

Mike Schmidt my ass. Without *any* disrespect to the great Philly, if Mike Schmidt had played on the same team as Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt would have been voted into the Hall of Fame as an excellent Left Fielder. (Admittedly, I read that somewhere once, but it's just too good not to steal.)

If you want to know why I'm including this (rough-around-the-edges) hymnal, skip to 1:57.

I'm more than willing to give Mike Schmidt a substantial edge in offense (it's really not that close), but did you know that they both had the same career batting average?  (Remember that Brooks played most of his career pre-1969, when there was a higher pitcher's mound and larger strike zone.)

Mike Schmidt was a fine power hitter who happened to play 3rd base; Brooks Robinson was a 3rd-baseman. It's as great as the difference between Lang Lang and Sviatislov Richter. I acknowledge Schmidt's greatness, his philanthropy, and his *10* Gold Gloves, but none of it matters. Brooks Robinson changed the way opponents played the game - he was better at what he did than anyone who ever lived, and when I finish my presentation, you'll see why the (also great) Manny Machado isn't even *close* to being a peer - and I really, really like Manny Machado, who has always been kind and respectful to Brooks.

I said this before, and I'm more motivated now-than-ever to do it: I rewatched the entire 1970 World Series, and I'm going to make an online presentation about how Brooks Robinson was the greatest defensive player - at 3rd base, or any position - by a great margin.

Darn it, people my age or older need to start coming out with more anecdotes, because Brooks is now 80, and he needs to be remembered a thousand years from now - yeah, he was that good. Believe it or not, I have tears in my eyes right now at the thought that Brooks won't be with us forever. Click here.

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