Brooks Robinson, legendary O's third baseman, dies at 86

Beloved Hall of Famer was one of the greatest defenders in baseball history, winning 16 Gold Gloves

September 27th, 2023

, the legendary third baseman and Hall of Famer affectionately known as "Mr. Oriole" for spending his entire 23-year big league career in Baltimore, has died at 86.

"All of us at Major League Baseball are saddened by the loss of Brooks Robinson, one of the greats of our National Pastime and a legend of the Baltimore Orioles," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "Brooks stood among the greatest defensive players who have ever lived. He was a two-time World Series Champion, the 1964 American League MVP, and the winner of 16 consecutive Gold Gloves at third base. He was a model of excellence, durability, loyalty and winning baseball for the Orioles. After his playing career, he continued to make contributions to the game by working with the MLB Players Alumni Association.

"I will always remember Brooks as a true gentleman who represented our game extraordinarily well on and off the field all his life. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Brooks’ family, his many friends across our game, and Orioles fans everywhere."

The Orioles released a statement on behalf of the team and Robinson's family: "We are deeply saddened to share the news of the passing of Brooks Robinson. An integral part of our Orioles Family since 1955, he will continue to leave a lasting impact on our club, our community, and the sport of baseball."

Nicknamed "The Human Vacuum Cleaner" for his exceptional defense at the hot corner, Robinson won 16 Gold Glove Awards, the most by any non-pitcher in baseball history and tied for the second most by any player, along with pitcher Jim Kaat. Only Greg Maddux (18) won more.

Robinson was an 18-time All-Star, the 1964 American League MVP Award winner and a two-time World Series champion (1966 and ’70), while also being named the MVP of the Fall Classic in ’70. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, becoming the first third baseman to be elected in his first year of eligibility.

Although he eventually became synonymous with Baltimore during his playing career and following his retirement, Brooks Calbert Robinson Jr. was born on May 18, 1937, in Little Rock, Ark., where he attended Little Rock Central High School and went on to play baseball at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In 1955, Robinson signed with the Orioles for $4,000, and he made his debut for the team later that year at the age of 18.

From 1955-59, Robinson played only 304 games for the O’s, spending some time in the Minor Leagues and dealing with numerous injuries. But soon after, Robinson became a fixture in the Orioles’ lineup, where he’d be a stalwart for the better part of two decades.

Robinson’s breakout year came in 1960, when he was named an All-Star for the first time and captured his first Gold Glove. He was then an All-Star every year through ’74 and a Gold Glover every year through ’75.

While Robinson more than held his own at the plate, it was his glovework that always had everybody in amazement.

"He was the best defensive player at any position," the late Frank Robinson, a fellow Hall of Famer and Orioles legend, once said. "I used to stand in the outfield like a fan and watch him make play after play. I used to think, 'Wow! I can’t believe this.'"

As the Orioles excelled in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Brooks Robinson helped lead the franchise to its first two World Series titles in ’66 and ’70. In the latter, he went 9-for-21 with two doubles, two homers, five runs scored and six RBIs in a five-game Series vs. the Reds.

During the mid-1970s, Robinson’s playing time waned. With Doug DeCinces emerging as Baltimore’s starting third baseman in ’76, Robinson appeared in only 71 games that year.

Robinson still returned for the 1977 season, serving as a player-coach. But he played in only 24 games, and on Aug. 21 -- with the Orioles needing to clear a roster spot for Rick Dempsey’s return from an injury -- Robinson ended his playing career by voluntarily going on the retired list at the age of 40.

That was far from the end of Robinson’s time in Baltimore, though, even if he was no longer routinely on the infield dirt at Memorial Stadium. He was there the next year when his No. 5 was retired on April 14, 1978. Robinson also served as a color commentator for the team’s television broadcasts from 1978-92.

Robinson never moved out of Maryland, residing there until his death along with his wife, Connie, whom he met on an Orioles team flight in 1959 while she was working as a flight attendant. Robinson is survived by Connie and their four children -- sons Brooks David, Chris and Michael and daughter Diana.

"He just was nice and cordial and kind. Great player and great role model," said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, Robinson's Orioles teammate from 1965-77. "When you decided who you'd want to emulate, you'd go, 'Brooks Robinson.' Because he was the real deal. He was a genuine person. There was no acting or trying to play a role. We were just lucky that we all had him in our life. Like [former O's first baseman] Boog [Powell] said, 'I loved him.' And I think we all did."

Despite Robinson having health troubles later in his life, he never stayed away from the O’s for long. He underwent successful treatment for prostate cancer in 2009. He had emergency surgery in ’11, when he developed an infection following a routine procedure prior to that. In January 2012, Robinson fell backward in his chair off a raised platform at a charity banquet in Florida, sustaining a fractured scapula and requiring hospitalization.

Still, Robinson came to Camden Yards on Sept. 29, 2012, when a statue of him was unveiled in Legends Park beyond the bullpens in left-center field alongside previously dedicated sculptures of the other five people inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as Orioles: Eddie Murray, Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Robinson and Earl Weaver. It was the second statue of Robinson built in Baltimore; there’s also one just outside the ballpark on the plaza between Washington Boulevard and Russell Street. And on that sculpture, Robinson’s glove is appropriately colored gold.

The statue of Brooks Robinson outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The O’s routinely invited Robinson back for more special events, such as "Thanks, Brooks Day" on Sept. 24, 2022, which honored the 45th anniversary of his retirement.

Those were all tributes and celebrations of the lasting impact Robinson left on the Orioles and Baltimore -- perhaps one larger than any other player in team history and any other athlete in the city’s long past.

Robinson may have been viewed as a superstar in Charm City, but he reached that point with a humbleness that made him even more endearing to his fans. He demonstrated that humility throughout his life, and for that, his legacy will be remembered by the generations to come.

"Brooks never asked anyone to name a candy bar after him," longtime Associated Press sportswriter Gordon Beard once wrote. "In Baltimore, people named their children after him."