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"The Brooks Robinson Story" (1967) - Biography by Sportswriter Jack Zanger


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Most people won't have heard of Jack Zanger, because he, unfortunately, passed away in 1970 from a brain tumor at age 43.

I first read "The Brooks Robinson Story" when I checked it out from a school library - I can't remember if I was in Junior High School, but I think I was; it might even have been in Elementary School.

Either way, this biography was published right after Baltimore's 1966 sweep of Los Angeles (Game 2 of that series being Sandy Koufax's final game ever - he lost, primarily because center-fielder Willie Davis committed 3 errors on 2 batted balls: Koufax's ERA that game, through 6 innings pitched, was 1.50, so he has nothing to be ashamed of).

This book is *much* more interesting to me now than it was when I was a kid, because it was written mid-career, and Brooks had yet to reach his inevitable decline - he'd have three more World Series to play in (1969-1971), but because of this, the book is skewed towards Robinson's days in Little Rock, Arkansas, and cleared up why he spent his first five years shuffling back-and-forth between the majors and the minors (he played for three different minor-league teams: York (Appalachian League), San Antonio (Texas League), and Vancouver (Pacific Coast League). During that time, he injured his knee twice, the second requiring surgery, and in 1959, a freak play in Vancouver resulted in a hook becoming stuck in his arm, severing a tendon in half (the manager had to physically pull his arm off the hook)! Had the Vancouver injury been one centimeter further away, it would have severed a nerve, and none of us would ever have heard of Brooks Robinson.

Other than some interesting facts about Robinson's early career - which I never really knew about (I had no idea, for example, that he was named "Mr. Impossible" as far back as 1960), this book is directed at a teenage-level, and is written in very "wholesome" prose.

What the writing style reminds me of is the writing in Fulton Oursler's "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (yes, I actually read that book - a "biography" of Jesus written in quasi-novel format, at a level the masses can understand, and it was (I'm not saying this to be disrespectful) dreadfully bad writing). If you want to know why I read it, it's because I bought a set of hardcover books at an antique store, and this was in there - I had heard of it, but didn't really know what it was (all religious issues aside, it's just not a well-written book, and I don't understand why it's so famous; well, I do, but if you care about great literature, you should avoid it - it's like reading a Norman Rockwell painting).

Anyway, the takeaways for me were:

* Robinson's junior-high and high school days - he became starting quarterback when the #1 player became injured, and his senior year, was an All-State basketball player.

* Robinson's early professional days, during which he sustained three very problematic injuries.

* And this quote at the end of the 1965 season, right after the Orioles traded for Frank Robinson (the Reds team owner said he "was an old 30"). The quote comes from a third-year player, and ex-teammate of Frank Robinson's named Pete Rose. Quoting directly from Jack Zanger's book:

"At a banquet that winter, Brooks ran into Pete Rose and Gordy Coleman of the Cincinatti Reds. 'Don't believe any of that 'old thirty' stuff,' Rose told him. 'Frank's a great man to have on your club.'"

I'm sorry that Jack Zanger passed away before he could have seen Brooks get his due in the 1970 World Series, but that series really wasn't anything new to people, like Zanger, who already had seen what Robinson had been doing, day-in and day-out, for the previous ten years.

"The Brooks Robinson Story" is for die-hard Brooks Robinson fans only, who want every piece of information there is to find out about the man. Of greater interest to most people would be Brooks' own autobiography that came out in 1974: "Third Base Is My Home" (although Zanger's book was an "authorized biography" with plenty of quotes (which are from the distant past, so I don't understand why they were quotes and not paraphrases)). There's also a second biography published in 2014 by Doug Wilson entitled, "Brooks: The Biography of Brooks Robinson" which would certainly be more complete in terms of Robinson's career, which ended in 1977.

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