Brooks Robinson knows his Hall of Fame résumé — 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, an American League MVP, a World Series MVP, 23 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, reputation as the best defensive third baseman ever — means little to kids fielding grounders in Tamiami or Hialeah.
“The only way they know who I am is if their Dad told ‘em,” Robinson chuckled by phone. “A lot of college kids, they probably don’t know who Brooks Robinson is either.”
At least one set of college kids, FIU’s baseball team, will know who Robinson is after he’s the keynote speaker at Saturday’s Diamond Dinner, the annual event that’s the main fundraiser for FIU’s baseball program. Robinson’s the featured attraction in a night at the FIU main campus’ Graham Center of food, drink and a plethora of auctions benefiting the FIU baseball program.
Robinson’s baseball career, which began each year with spring training at Miami Stadium (later Bobby Maduro Stadium), now exists mainly via legend, Wikipedia, YouTube or MLB.com. Every now and then, Robinson, 77, checks his once self out on the computer. But he probably has a few things a young person would consider worth putting the smartphone down to give a listen.
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For those players coming out of high school who get drafted, Robinson said, “I’d tell a kid, listen, if you don’t need the money, the best thing to do is get a college education.”
That’s not what he did, although he could have played baseball at the University of Arkansas, which actually offered him a basketball scholarship. He said college baseball in the mid-1950s wasn’t close to what it is today so he told his parents he would come back to get his education and took the money offered by the Orioles organization.
“I got $4,000,” he recalled. “If you got more than that, you were going directly to the big leagues. I haven’t seen a player out of high school or college go directly to the big leagues to be an everyday player. No one offered me more than $4,000 and I started my career.”
That $4,000 wasn’t bonus. It was salary.
“My first year, I ate a lot of hot dogs and hamburgers,” he laughed. “I met a lot of good friends. So many wonderful memories.”
There’s probably also a lesson in looking at the positives or not underestimating happiness. You can make many a professional athlete retired for decades grumpy just mentioning the money sloshing around their sport these days. Not Robinson, who doesn’t begrudge the money made by current players, nor knocks their quality and is happy he played when he did.
“No doubt about it – the best time, the best era,” Robinson said. “In the 1971 All-Star Game, 26 players went to the Hall of Fame and both managers. And we had more fun. It was just a relaxed time. The writers and the players got along better. The fans and players got along better.
“Money changed everything,” he said. “In 1977, the year I retired, free agency came about. It’s a different time. Right now, owners, players make more money. Which is good.”
And if you need to be reminded of how hard it is to predict the future of teenage players, understand that the man called “Human Vacuum Cleaner“ started out as an average prospect. And Baltimore started him at second base.
“Average speed, average arm. The question was ‘Could he hit major-league pitching?’” Robinson said.
Only enough for 2,848 hits, 268 home runs and a .267 career batting average.