At age 80, ex-O's star Brooks Robinson 'enjoying life'
- Brooks Robinson turned 80 on Thursday.
- The former Orioles third baseman won 16 Gold Gloves.
- Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
There was, Brooks Robinson said, no way to win this one. Not with his glove, and not with his bat.
"The big Eight-Oh has got me," the Orioles' Hall of Famer said.
Robinson turned 80 on Thursday, a milestone for the esteemed third baseman who led Baltimore to world championships in 1966 and 1970. The longest-tenured Oriole player of all time (23 years), he planned to embrace his birthday as he has his baseball achievements — with little fanfare.
"We'll probably go to dinner somewhere," he said from his home in Owings Mills. "Nothing special, really. How old do I feel? I feel like I'm 80. I can't throw a baseball from here to the front door, which is fairly close. I've got a few things that ache, but I'm kind of looking forward to this. [Sportscaster] Chris Berman once said that when you hit 80, you just take what you can get — and that's what I'm gonna do."
His teammates wish him well.
"I can't wait until he turns 90, because it means he'll still be here," said first baseman Boog Powell, 75, who played with Robinson for 14 years. "I've admired and loved him since day one, in 1960, when my dad dropped me off [at age 18] in spring training. When I got out of the car, Brooksie happened to be there, and introduced himself, and told my dad, 'Don't worry, Mr. Powell, I'll take care of him.' And he did that the whole time I was with the Orioles.
"What a treat, to be able to walk out on the same field with him. A ball couldn't be hit too hard, or too soft, for him not to get it. He was a contortionist; nothing got through. You had to see him play every day to appreciate him. If he'd have played in New York, with its press coverage, he could have run for president."
When he saw Robinson recently, Jim Palmer sized him up and quipped, "You don't look a day over 79."
A Hall of Famer, Palmer, 71, recalled the first game he played with Robinson as a rookie pitcher in 1965.
"Growing up a Yankees fan, [New York's] Clete Boyer was my favorite third baseman," Palmer said. "My love affair with Brooks started with the first rocket hit off me down the third base line. From then on, Boyer was no longer my favorite."
Role model: From the start, Robinson was a role model, both on and off the field, Palmer said.
"You always seek out older players for their work ethic and how to treat people, and I always looked up to Brooks," he said. "He wasn't a rah-rah guy but a model human being — and he always conducted himself like he knew how fortunate he was."
Robinson has suffered setbacks in recent years. In 2009, he fought off prostate cancer. Three years later, he plummeted more than 6 feet off a stage at a charity event in Florida, suffering head, back and shoulder injuries.
"When I fell, I cracked four vertebrae, but I've had no problems since," he said. "I'm enjoying life."
Nowadays, he covets time spent with his four children, 10 grandchildren and his wife, Connie. They've been married 56 years.
"I've done everything I wanted to," Robinson said. "I'm tired of traveling and don't even like going to the airport. I go to three or four Orioles games a year, but watch them mostly on TV. I'm a homebody now, with my family — and that's good enough for me."
Name will live on: Now and then, he'll attend a sports memorabilia show where, invariably, he'll meet someone named Brooks.
"I get lots of letters [from Brookses] and send them all photos saying, 'I'm honored that you wear my name,'" Robinson said.
Several years ago, while watching a hockey game on TV, he discovered Brooks Laich, a forward for the Washington Capitals.
"He must be named for you," Connie Robinson said.
No way, her husband said. Laich hails from Saskatchewan, Canada.
Soon after, at a memorabilia show in Chantilly, Va., Robinson was approached by Laich, who was wielding a baseball bat.
"He said, 'You were my dad's favorite player,'" said Robinson, who signed the bat for Laich's father.
Machado comparison: While his stellar play in the Orioles' 1970 World Series victory over the Cincinnati Reds earned him the Most Valuable Player award and nationwide acclaim, Robinson balks at looking back.
"I don't like to watch any old films, especially of me," he said.
He'd as soon speak of Manny Machado, the Orioles third baseman to whom Robinson presented a Gold Glove award in 2013.
"Manny is pretty good and as strong as any kid," Robinson said. "I put my hand on his shoulder and gave him a hug. He's, like, a rock."
But not yet Robinson's equal, Powell said.
"When people ask me to compare them, I say, 'When Manny gets 16 Gold Gloves [as Robinson did], I'll tell you what I think,'" Powell said.
Love of the game: An 18-time All Star, Robinson was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1983. He knows what put him there.
"I had a little talent, but I got everything out of my ability," he said. "But that's not why I'm in the Hall of Fame. My love of the game overrode everything."
Remember the photo of Robinson leaping high in the air toward pitcher Dave McNally, after the final out of the 1966 World Series? That season "was my happiest moment in baseball," he said. But the picture elicits bittersweet memories as well.
"Every time I think of Dave and Mark Belanger and Paul Blair (all deceased) and all the great times we had, I say, 'Man, they were too young to pass away,'" he said.
"I'm pretty sure there's a field of dreams up there, but I'm not looking forward to joining them yet."