Before Mike Schmidt, Adrián Beltré and Nolan Arenado, there was Brooks Robinson.
The man who became known as the “Human Vacuum Cleaner,” Robinson played third base like a maestro. And he did it year after year, for more than two decades spent entirely in Baltimore. Still rightfully regarded as one of the best defensive players in baseball history -- at any position -- Robinson set a standard at the hot corner that will be followed for years to come.
Here are 10 stats that stand out about the first-ballot Hall of Famer, who is celebrating his 85th birthday on Wednesday.
Hardware hunter: 16 consecutive Gold Gloves
Though he debuted in the Majors as an 18-year-old in 1955 and had stints with the Orioles in each of the next five seasons, Robinson didn’t stick for good until 1960. That year, he claimed his first American League Gold Glove Award at third base. It wasn’t until 1976, when he played just 71 games at age 39, that someone else took that honor (Aurelio Rodríguez of the Tigers). Excluding pitchers, no other player has more than 13 total Gold Gloves, much less 16 in a row.
First at third: The best defensive 3B in history
Between his brilliance at the hot corner and his enviable longevity, Robinson reached some truly rare air in terms of his career defensive numbers. At third base specifically, he is first in games played (2,870), double plays turned (618), putouts (2,697) and assists (6,205 -- nearly 1,000 more than anyone else). (How many assists is that? It’s more than Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg had plate appearances). Robinson’s 293 Total Zone Runs at third are far and away the highest total on record (since 1953), and the distance between Robinson and the second-place Beltré (125 runs) is the same as the gap between Beltré and 35th-place Eric Soderholm.
Robinson also accrued 39.1 career defensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, which takes into account his defensive stats, as well as a positional adjustment. The only players above Robinson on that list are shortstops Ozzie Smith and Mark Belanger, who for many years shared the left side of the infield with Robinson in Baltimore.
An all-timer: 7th in WAR at 3B
Robinson wasn’t nearly as prolific with the bat as he was with the glove, but he still racked up 2,848 hits, 268 homers, 1,357 RBIs and an above-average OPS+ of 105 (including 111 between 1960-74). Add in that solid hitting, and Robinson ranks as one of the most valuable third basemen of all-time. His 78.5 career WAR, per Baseball-Reference, is seventh highest for a player who spent the majority of his career at the position, trailing only Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Beltré, Wade Boggs, George Brett and Chipper Jones. Robinson led the AL in WAR twice (1962, ‘64) -- taking MVP honors in the latter year -- and finished top three two other times.
Midsummer Classic cornerstone: 18-time All-Star
Robinson played in 18 All-Star Games in his career, a number surpassed only by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial. Multiple All-Star Games being held from 1960-62 boosted his total, but even so, Robinson was an All-Star for 15 straight seasons (1960-74). Only Aaron, Mays, Musial, Cal Ripken Jr., Rod Carew, Carl Yastrzemski and Yogi Berra can match that streak. Robinson made 11 All-Star starts at third base -- including nine from 1964-74 -- tied with Boggs for the most in history. And he more than held his own against All-Star pitchers, with an .808 OPS. In 1966, Robinson went 3-for-4 with hits off three Hall of Famers (Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry) to take MVP honors.
A big October: 1970 postseason hero
Robinson won his first World Series in the Orioles’ sweep of the Dodgers in 1966, but it was in the ‘70 postseason that he truly shined on the biggest stage. Between a three-game AL Championship Series sweep of the Twins and a five-game World Series victory over the Reds, Robinson went 16-for-33 (.485) with two home runs, eight RBIs and a 1.258 OPS, while playing his typically sterling defense. No player has ever hit for a higher average in a single postseason (minimum 30 at-bats), helping Robinson claim World Series MVP honors.
A valuable man: MVP of AL, ASG and WS
Robinson was the AL MVP in 1964, the All-Star Game MVP in ‘66 and the World Series MVP in ‘70. Since the All-Star award debuted in ‘62, only one other player has managed that trifecta. That was Frank Robinson, who was the 1961 NL MVP with the Reds and then, as Brooks Robinson’s Orioles teammate, was the ‘66 AL MVP, ‘66 World Series MVP and ‘71 All-Star Game MVP.
O’s, always: 23 seasons with Baltimore
Robinson signed after graduating from high school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1955, just a year after the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. By that September, Robinson was making his Major League debut as an 18-year-old. He never wore another big league uniform, playing his final game with Baltimore in August 1977, at age 40. Robinson is one of only 16 position players in the Modern Era (since 1900) to appear in at least 23 MLB seasons, and Yastrzemski (Red Sox) is the only other one to do so while playing for a single franchise.
Start ‘em up: 20 Opening Day starts
Every year from 1957-76, there was Robinson, stationed at the hot corner for the Orioles on Opening Day. During that time, Baltimore used six different Opening Day catchers, eight first basemen, seven second basemen, six shortstops and 11 pitchers. Robinson was the constant. The only other players with 20 Opening Day starts at a single position are Ivan Rodriguez (catcher), Joe Morgan (second base), and Mays and Tris Speaker (center field). Only Robinson did it while playing for a single team.
A hot-corner cornerstone: 2,896 games
Over those 23 seasons, Robinson appeared in a staggering total of 2,896 games -- nearly all of them at third base. He ranks 15th all-time in games played and fourth among single-franchise players, after Yastrzemski, Musial and Ripken. Robinson had 17 seasons with at least 144 games played, joining Yaz and Pete Rose as the only players to do that.
Got it in one: A first-ballot HOF
Robinson arrived on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1983, and there was little doubt he was headed for Cooperstown. He sailed in with 92.0% of the vote, ahead of classmate Juan Marichal, as well as 10 others who would eventually gain entry to the Hall as players. At the time, only eight players had ever received a higher percentage on the first ballot, going back to the inaugural class of 1936.