Robinson set gold standard for third basemen in Baltimore and beyond
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TIMORE -- Brooks Robinson last played for the Orioles late in the 1977 season, a whole generation ago. Cal Ripken wouldn't put on an Oriole uniform for four more years. Jim Thome is the only present-day Oriole who had even entered the world.
Still, the years haven't dimmed the affection that Baltimore fans continue to feel for the Hall of Fame third baseman. That fact was proven Saturday at Camden Yards by the wild cheers Robinson received when his bronze sculpture was revealed in the final part of the Orioles Legends Celebration Series before the game with Boston.
The Orioles already unveiled statues of Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Ripken earlier this season. They've been placed in the Legends Area behind center field, just above the bullpens for both teams.
"That is wonderful out there," Brooks Robinson said after the ceremony. "I've admired some of the other ballparks that I've seen the statues in ... but Mr. [Peter] Angelos' generosity here is great. Toby Mendez, I thought he did a fantastic job on all those statues out there."
There also was a pregame ceremony on the field that also gave the fans a chance to once more honor the club's legends. Each entered the field by car down the warning track in foul territory along the right-field line. The cars then dropped them off in front of the Orioles dugout, where they walked to their seats on the field near home plate.
During Robinson's slow ride in the car, it didn't look like he retired 35 years ago. He drew a standing ovation from the large crowd. The fans roared throughout his drive in the car and cheered again when a smaller version of the bronze sculpture was unveiled in front of the pitcher's mound. The Orioles stood in their dugout watching -- as did the Red Sox.
"Brooksie was our Johnny Unitas," said Palmer, a fellow Hall of Famer. "The consummate pro. Everybody who saw him play knows how great a player he was. You just don't find people as gracious and humble as Brooks. I am so fortunate to have had him as a teammate and friend."
Most longtime Orioles fans know something about Robinson's statistics -- and they were staggering. He played 23 seasons with the Orioles and won 16 Gold Gloves, a record total for a position player. He also played in 18 All-Star Games and won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1964 and the World Series MVP for his memorable performance in 1970 and made the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Robinson still follows the Orioles very closely and talked on Saturday about how this year's edition has him thrilled with its success. Robinson said the current Orioles really fit his definition of a team, then gave a few comments on the 2012 Orioles.
He thinks the bullpen's strong work is a big reason for the team's overall success, and he especially enjoys the play of Manny Machado at his old position.
"This kid seems like he can play anywhere," he said. "He's got a great instinct for the ball."
Robinson set the standard for third base with the Orioles and everywhere else. His success on the field, and his kind, gentle nature off it, made him immensely popular with Orioles fans as well as others who follow baseball around the country.
The 75-year old recently has been battling some health issues but looked fine on this day. The fans were calling out to him, yelling and shouting. And Robinson spent most of his speech at the unveiling of the statue thanking people he played and worked with, deflecting attention from himself.
In the end, Robinson said he really likes the idea of the statues in general and being a part of them.
"I just think it's a wonderful ballpark, and it's wonderful for fans to have a look at the guys to have a look at the guys who really helped make this franchise and guys who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame," Robinson said. "I couldn't be happier being out there as one of them."
Louis Angelos, the team's ownership representative, spoke to the crowd at the ceremony about how much Robinson meant to the team and its history.
"It is fitting that our Legends Series concludes with the dedication of Brooks' statue because when you think of the Orioles, you think about Brooks Robinson," Angelos said. "When you think of Brooks Robinson in those 23 seasons, you think of the Orioles, because he, like all of the great Hall of Fame Orioles we have honored in this season-long celebration of Orioles baseball, embody what is best about this ballclub and about this great game."