BROOKS ROBINSON – 1960 Most Valuable Oriole
Hall of Fame third-baseman Brooks Robinson needs no introduction to serious baseball fans, particularly those who root for the team based in Baltimore. Number 5’s outstanding play from 1955-1977 earned him undisputed recognition as “Mr. Oriole”, until he personally transferred the title to Cal Ripken, Jr. Robinson’s story has to start somewhere though, so now let’s examine his first of four Most Valuable Oriole campaigns, in 1960.
Robinson was a career .249 hitter when the season began. Though he spent parts of every season with the Orioles since 1955, he’d never surpassed four home runs or thirty-two runs batted in. He sure could field though, and the Birds still believed he would hit, particularly after he earned his way back to the big leagues for good in 1959 with a .332 average at Vancouver. Robinson hit .284 after rejoining the Orioles, and if a team still looking for its’ first winning season had an untouchable in trade, he was it.
The Sporting News named him Baltimore’s most improved player and, strangely, their “most impressive veteran” as well. “Yep,” quipped a 22-year-old Brooks. “I guess it will be up to (37-year-old Gene) Woodling, Hoyt Wilhelm (also 37) and me to keep the kids in line.”
It wasn’t entirely a joke though. The 1960 Orioles were the “Baby Birds”, with an extremely young pitching staff and four starting infielders that spent all or most of 1959 in the minor leagues. Two of Robinson’s housemates, pitcher Chuck Estrada and shortstop Ron Hansen, had been his teammates at Vancouver the previous year. The latter earned American League Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1960, while the former won eighteen games.
Robinson’s only stated goal was a modest one: to hit ten home runs. He got off to a good start on opening day, crushing a two-run blast to deep left at Memorial Stadium to help Baltimore beat the Senators 3-2. Unfortunately, it took him nearly six weeks to connect on another longball. A deep slump kept his batting avergae under .200 until the first week of May, and when his 23rd birthday arrived on the 18th of that month, Robinson was stuck in a 0-23 draught that dropped him back to .204. “I’d better not lose my glove,” he said.
He gave himself a gift by snapping the slump with an infield hit. He added an opposite field safety a few innings later, and proceded to bat .336 over the next eighty-two games, driving in 44 runs and smacking the ten homers he wanted to hit in just over half a season. The Baby Birds played .574 ball during this stretch (47-35) to remain right on the heels of the first-place Yankees.
Robinson, who’d targeted a .270 batting average by the All-Star break during his early season struggles, actually raised his average to .284. Not only that, he was selected to the American League squad for the first time as a reserve, and appeared in both games played that summer.
After the break, Robinson kept hitting. He went 5-5 in the first contest of the second half, hitting for the cycle at Comiskey Park in a victory over the White Sox. Two weeks later, he clobbered his first career grand slam off fellow All-Star Gary Bell of the Indians back in Baltimore. By the second week of August, his batting average had climbed to .305. “He’d be hitting .380 right now if it wasn’t for some of the worst luck imaginable,” insisted Orioles manager Paul Richards.
Robinson developed into a fan favorite that summer, and The Sporting News described him as an “irrepressible kid with the bounce and grin of a boy of twelve”. His loose-jointed acrobatics playing a spectacular third base earned him the nickname “Mr. Impossible” for all the unbelievable plays he made. Watching coach Luman Harris hit grounder after grounder that Robinson gobbled up during infield practice one day, Richards said dryly, “Look at Luman. He hits ’em into Robinson’s glove every time. Isn’t he amazing?”
The highlight of the Orioles season was the first weekend in September, when the Yankees came to town. Robinson drove in the first run of a 5-0 Baltimore win of Friday night that moved the Orioles into a tie for first. The next day, he drove in both Baltimore runs, with a homer among his three hits, to move the Orioles atop the AL standings. Robinson drove in another run in the Sunday finale, as the O’s completed the sweep with their seventh victory in a row!
Robinson had played every inning of every game up to that point, but he missed a doubleheader the next day when a throat infection landed him in Union Memorial Hospital. He got right back in the lineup after that, but hit only .225 in his last twenty games.
When the Baby Birds arrived at Yankee Stadium on September 16, they were still tied for first, but they only scored eight runs in losing four straight. They finished eight games out in second place, but it was easily the best and most exciting season to date since the Orioles arrived in Baltimore.
Robinson’s .294 batting average led the team, his 88 RBI ranked second, and his 14 homers ranked third. He paced the league’s third-basemen in fielding, putouts and assists; good enough to dethrone Boston’s Frank Malzone and win the first of sixteen consecutive Gold Gloves.
When the Most Valuable Player voting was announced, Robinson was the only player named on all twenty-four ballots. He got three first-place votes, but finished a close third overall behind the Yankees M & M boys, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. To cap off a truly wonderful 1960, Robinson married his beatiful bride Connie at the conclusion of the season.
by MALCOLM ALLEN