A tip of the cap to a baseball legend
In his playing days, they called him “The Human Vacuum Cleaner.” And rightfully so, since Baltimore Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. He spent his entire 23-year career with the Orioles, and at one time led the team in career home runs. He won the MVP award in the American League in 1964, and helped power Baltimore to World Series championships in 1966 and 1970 during the team’s glory days, in which they reached the Fall Classic four times in a six-year span.
Robinson, who was the face of the franchise before there was ever a Cal Ripken Jr. or a Manny Machado, will celebrate his 80th birthday tomorrow, Thursday, May 18. And we salute him.
Of course, baseball fans today recognize him as one of the owners of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, this area’s ballclub in the independent Atlantic League. He has visited Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf numerous times, although a couple of health scares — including surgery for prostate cancer, and suffering an injury in a nasty fall from a platform at a charity event — have slowed him a bit in recent years and made him more scarce in these parts.
According to Josh Owens in the Blue Crabs’ public relations department, Robinson is not expected to come down from Baltimore County to visit Waldorf on Thursday evening as the home team takes on the Lancaster Barnstormers (one of three other teams in which Robinson has a stake in the league), but there will be a special birthday tribute to the Hall of Famer between innings.
Robinson has enjoyed a happy connection with Southern Maryland through the Blue Crabs for the past 10 years.
As he was approaching his 70th birthday a decade ago, the Blue Crabs were gearing up for their inaugural season. Robinson and an entourage from the new ballclub went on something of a barnstorming tour through Southern Maryland to whip up interest — and season ticket sales.
First, he visited Patuxent River Naval Air Station, where one lucky fan won a print of an iconic Norman Rockwell oil painting of Robinson autographing a baseball for an excited young boy. When Robinson signed the print for the Pax contest winner, the fan was amazed to see that just as in the painting, the old third baseman autographed it left-handed. Though he batted and threw right-handed, Robinson is a natural lefty — which may account somewhat for his legendary hand-eye coordination in the field and at the plate.
Then, Robinson and his Blue Crabs posse stopped at the College of Southern Maryland campus in Prince Frederick. Robinson regaled the crowd with some old baseball yarns he had certainly spun a thousand times before at banquets, ribbon-cuttings and county fairs, but he told those old chestnuts with a compelling enthusiasm that held their attention rapt. Then, the CSM baseball team presented him with a Hawks jersey — of course, with No. 5 on it.
The last stop on the tour was the stadium itself, where the grounds crew was laying the turf on the infield and outfield in large carpets of sod. There, in an exclusive and extended conversation with this newspaper, Robinson recalled highlights of his playing career, and expressed great zeal for the Blue Crabs and the Atlantic League. “It’s important to keep looking forward,” he said then. “It was a great run with the Orioles, but it’s just as exciting to see this new talent develop and blossom here in Southern Maryland. The game has changed a lot in some ways, but fundamentally, it’s the same as it’s always been.”
So if you can make it to the ballpark Thursday to see the Blue Crabs, exult with the crowd when the birthday tribute for Brooks Robinson comes around. He’s a class act, and always has been.