BROOKS ROBINSON – 1962 Most Valuable Oriole
Brooks Robinson became the first multiple winner of Most Valuable Oriole honors in 1962, reclaiming his title a season after being miscast as a leadoff hitter.
Though he started both All-Star Games in 1961 and earned his second straight Gold Glove, Robinson’s home run total dropped in half and he was overshadowed nationally by Yankees third-sacker Clete Boyer, who put on a defensive clinic in the World Series. However, the Red Sox’ Frank Malzone -the American League’s perennial Gold Glove third baseman before Robinson- knew who was the class of the Junior Circuit. “Boyer is a good third-baseman,” conceded Malzone. “But there is a fellow down in Baltimore by the name of Robinson who has more range and will out-hit him.” In 1962, a 25-year-old Brooksie made Malzone look like a genius.
It started during the off-season. Never one to rock the boat, Robinson nevertheless made it clear that he didn’t want to remain in the leadoff spot. That was just fine with the Orioles new manager. “It’s commendable that Brooks already is thinking about ways to win games,” said Billy Hitchcock. “He wants to get down in the order so he can drive in some runs.”
Robinson only knocked in three while struggling through a .203 April, but he batted .322 in May with 23 RBI and tied a major league record by clubbing grand slams in consecutive games. Unfortunately the Baltimore pitchers weren’t getting the job done, and the O’s finished the month with a sub-.500 record.
Though they never climbed higher than fourth place after digging themselves such a hole, the Birds played good baseball in June and July led by the powerful bats of Robinson and Jim Gentile. The latter followed up his 46-homer 1961 with another 21 before the All-Star break, while Robinson matched his career best with 14 in the first half alone.
Of course, it was with the glove on his left hand that Robinson’s greatness really shone. Bent forward on his toes -semi-crouching in the defensive stance he learned from George Kell- Robinson was peerless when it came to charging toppers or bunts, making the play in one sweeping motion. In 1962, Robinson’s stellar glove work inspired umpire Ed Hurley to remark, “He plays third base like he came down from a higher league.”
Minor league manager Lou Fitzgerald noted that his biggest thrill while working for the Orioles was hitting ground balls to Robinson. “He doesn’t catch them. He absorbs them,” said Fitzgerald.
Pie Traynor, a Hall-of-Famer at the hot corner for the Pirates of the 1920’s and 1930’s observed that, “(Robinson) has exceptional reflexes and the strong hitters can’t seem to get the ball past him.”
Robinson’s defense was becoming the stuff of legend, but he was more dangerous than ever with a bat in his hands…sometimes even to himself. In Detroit in late May, he hit a ball so hard during batting practice that it ricocheted off the cage and knocked out pieces of two of his front teeth. Later, his bat slipped from his hands during a September BP session, requiring three stitches to close a wound in his forehead after it bounced back off the cage. Of course, Robinson played all 162 games anyway.
Driving the ball to the gap in left-centerfield frequently, he hit .357 in August in what was the hottest month of his career to date. Robinson followed a 4-4 effort against the White Sox on August 22 with a 12-19 performance the next three days with the Yankees visiting Memorial Stadium as the Baltimore swept a five-game series. The members of the New York bullpen turned around and stared at the scoreboard to see where the Orioles had stationed their spy. “Hitting is easy when you’re stealing their signs,” Robinson said with a big smile. “Seriously, the Yankees thought we were, but we weren’t.”
Unfortunately, a 1-9 road trip dropped the Orioles back under .500 and they limped to the finish line. The 1962 Orioles -no-hit by Angels rookie Bo Belinksy in May- struck out a record 21 times against Senators journeyman Tom Cheney and barely averaged three runs per game in September en route to their first losing season of the 1960’s. The guy you couldn’t blame was Robinson.
Brooksie finally pushed his batting average over .300 to stay with a 14-game hit streak, and he finished the season at .303. During the streak, he won a Sunday afternoon contest against the Angels with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the fourteenth. Robinson finished the season with 23 longballs, a total he would only better once in his career, and finished one behind Gentile for the team lead with 86 RBI. With 308 total bases, Robinson fell one short of the top total in the American League and, of course, he won another Gold Glove.
All of this helps explain why Robinson’s teammates nicknamed him “Elliot Ness” (i.e. the Untouchable), but the best description I could find of Brooks Robinson circa 1962 comes from legendary Baltimore newspaperman John Steadman:
“All that’s recognized as class in personality and professional ability is exemplified in the characteristics of Brooks Calbert Robinson, Jr., who befits success like the glove he wears.”
By MALCOLM ALLEN