Saying goodbye to Brooks Robinson, 'Mr. Oriole'

September 27th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill's Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BALTIMORE -- On Dec. 17, 2018, Brandon Hyde was introduced as Baltimore’s new manager. He shook hands with general manager Mike Elias (hired one month earlier) while donning a white and orange jersey and cap for the first time, sealing the arrival of a new era of Orioles baseball.

Hyde smiled for the cameras and gazed out over the room of spectators. Among them: his wife and family, a large contingent of the local media and, seated in the second chair in the front row ... .

No pressure, right? Robinson is just so synonymous with the franchise that he’s nicknamed “Mr. Oriole.” And he wanted to be there for a turning point in team history.

“I had never met him before and he doesn’t know me, and I’m some guy from Chicago that just gets hired,” Hyde said, “and for him to take the time out to show support ...” 

As Hyde recalled that moment in the same press conference room Tuesday night, the 49-year-old skipper got choked up, his eyes visibly moist and his voice trembling. Only a few hours earlier, the club announced Robinson had died at the age of 86, a loss of one of the greatest players in the history of the Orioles -- and in the history of baseball.

Nearly everybody in Baltimore has a tale about Robinson, so Hyde isn’t alone in that regard. Those who never got an opportunity to watch Robinson play (this writer included), still know so much about him. That’s the type of impact “Mr. Oriole” -- also known as “The Human Vacuum Cleaner,” for his exceptional defense -- had on both the sport and the city.

Robinson was an incredible baseball player. The accolades speak for themselves: 16 Gold Glove Awards at third base (won consecutively from 1960-75), 18 All-Star selections, one American League MVP Award (1964), two World Series championships (‘66 and ‘70), one World Series MVP Award (‘70) and induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“He’s an icon in this game, an icon in this city,” Hyde said.

But Robinson was an even better person. That’s hyperbolic language said about plenty of professional athletes, of course. However, it couldn’t be more true about Robinson. Nobody could possibly say anything bad about the Little Rock, Ark., native, who adopted Baltimore as his home during his MLB career and never left.

“Anyone that pays attention to the game knows that he was a great third baseman,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, Robinson’s Orioles teammate from 1965-77. “But they didn’t get to share him, the kind of person he was, how kind.”

It only took brief interactions with Robinson for people to figure that out. Any fan that met him at a public event (or at the ballpark) can attest to two things -- his friendliness and his passion for the Orioles.

Nobody had a greater love for the Orioles.

“I know he watched us a lot, and last year when he came, he knew all of our players,” said Hyde, who has a personalized signed photo in his office gifted to him by Robinson. “He watched every night. He was really happy with how our team was playing.”

Robinson’s last visit occurred on “Thanks Brooks Day,” held Sept. 24, 2022, 45 years after the end of his playing career. It coincided with the finish of a resurgent year for the Orioles, who had endured five consecutive losing seasons before going 83-79 in ‘22.

On that late-September day, Robinson visited the clubhouse and met a new generation of O’s players. He later threw a ceremonial first pitch that was caught by fellow infielder Gunnar Henderson, a rising star and potential future franchise player in Baltimore.

An Orioles team filled mostly with 20-somethings learned then how special Robinson was.

“Just an all-around great person; he loves the Orioles,” said the 22-year-old Henderson. “Just everything that he’s done for the Orioles, and even off the field, you couldn’t make a better guy. ... I know he’s looking down on us.”

And he’s surely doing so with his warm, hallmark smile that won over Baltimore.