Phillies Royalty: Robin Roberts

January 26th, 2022

When you think of Phillies Royalty, one of the first names that comes to mind is Robin Roberts, the Hall of Fame right-handed pitcher who dominated the National League in the 1950s. Roberts was acclaimed the workhorse of that decade, never missing a start and pitching out of the bullpen an additional 35 times.

He completed 272 of his 472 starts with the Phillies, including 28 in a row at one point (Aug. 28, 1952, through July 5, 1953). For five straight seasons he led the NL in complete games. His high came in 1953, 33 of 41 starts.

Roberts won 20 or more games in six consecutive seasons, 1950-55. In each season, he threw 300 or more innings, setting a Major League record for consecutive seasons leading the league. Only one Phillies pitcher has come close, Steve Carlton, a 20-game winner five times but not consecutive. Lefty topped 300 innings twice, in 1972 and 1980.

Roberts' greatest year was 1952, when he went 28-7 with a 2.59 ERA. He went 21-2 after being 7-5 on June 17. Despite dominating the league, he did not win the MVP Award. Robbie was robbed by the writers.

He pitched all 17 innings in beating the Boston Braves, 7-6, at Shibe Park in the first game of a doubleheader (Sept. 6, 1952), facing 71 batters. Assuming he averaged five pitches per batter (pitch counts weren't keep at that time), he threw 355 pitches. OK, say he averaged four per batter, his pitch count would have been 284. Five days later, he went nine innings in a 3-2 win.

Roberts made 12 consecutive Opening Day assignments for the Phillies, which is yet another nugget that will go untouched.

A Phillies pitcher started the All-Star Game for the National League for six straight years: Roberts (1950-51; '53-55) and Curt Simmons ('52).

Roberts is the only pitcher to win a game against the Braves in their three homes: Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. His 286th and final win came while pitching 2 2/3 relief innings for the Chicago Cubs. It came in Atlanta Stadium (1966) and in his second-to-last Major League appearance.

Twice Robbie led the league in strikeouts. Surprisingly his high was only 198 (1953). Five times he gave up the most home runs.

Many described Robbie as being stubborn on the mound. He had a blazing fastball and pinpoint control. He wouldn’t back hitters off the plate, simply challenging them all the time. His command was unmatched, with only 33 wild pitches in his 4,688 2/3 career innings and 1.7 walks per 9 innings. Oh, and he balked just three times.

Robbie had a sense of humor. It was evident in part of his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 1976: “The Hall of Fame people, I’d like to say, were very nice. I only had one request that they turned down: I asked if it would be appropriate if I would invite everyone that ever hit a home run off me to be here today, but Cooperstown wasn’t big enough. But I am going to have little cards made up that say, ‘I hit a home run off Robbie,’ and mail them to all those gentlemen because I’m sure they’d like to have it in their wallet. There were a lot of them, by the way.” Yes, 505 home runs, a Major League record that stood until Jamie Moyer broke it in 2010.

Roberts’ pro career began in the Minors as a 21-year-old with the Wilmington Blue Rocks (1948). He struck out 17 in his first start and was promoted to the Majors after 11 games (9-1 record). His career ended in the Minors at age 40, pitching 11 games for the Reading Phillies (1967), a 5-3 record.

Just 24 hours after he reported to the Phillies in Philadelphia in 1948, he was on the Shibe Park mound facing the Pirates. He lost, 2-0, allowing five hits in eight innings. He nervously walked the first batter on four pitches.

Two years after his Wilmington debut, Roberts was on the mound in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field facing the Dodgers, who trailed the Whiz Kids by one game in the final game of the season. Dick Sisler’s 10th-inning homer gave the Phillies the pennant. Roberts, making his third start in five days, went the distance, winning his 20th game.

Roberts’ Phillies career ended when his contract was sold to the Yankees on Oct. 16, 1961. Phillies president Bob Carpenter met Robbie at a Tampa restaurant in Spring Training (1962) and told him no one would wear No. 36 again.

An on-the-field pregame ceremony never took place, Robbie once told me. During the 2008 Alumni Weekend, the Phillies saluted Robbie on the 60th anniversary of his Major League debut and “ceremoniously” retired his number. David Montgomery presented Robbie with a framed No. 36 1950s-type Phillies jersey, on Alumni Night. “That was very special,” Robbie said.

That number is also retired by Michigan State University’s baseball program, where he pitched collegiately after coming to school on a basketball scholarship, and the Wilmington Blue Rocks. The Reading Phillies retired the No. 9 he wore there.

Robin Evan Roberts was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1976. Two years later he was the first inductee into the Phillies Baseball Wall of Fame.

The ballpark in his hometown of Springfield, Ill., is named Robin Roberts Stadium.

He threw out a ceremonial first ball during the 2009 World Series at Citizens Bank Park, his final appearance in Philadelphia. He died the following May in Tampa, Fla.