Brooks Robinson: The Greatest Defensive Player in Baseball History, at Any Position (3 of 7)

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Game Two

During the introduction, after Gowdy’s analysis of the crazy play at home plate in Game one, Reds announcer McIntyre gave his analysis of the game:

McIntyre: “Yesterday for the Baltimore Orioles, the offensive star, and the defensive star, had to be third baseman Brooks Robinson. Leading off the 6th inning for the Cincinnati Reds was first baseman Lee May,  who had earlier hit a home run and a single, and look at the play Robinson makes on this hard smash to third base. Deep behind the bag, crossing the foul line, a backhanded stop, up and throwing in one motion, off-balance, he still got enough on the throw to get it to Boog Powell on one bounce, and get Lee May on a very close play. Then, in the very next inning, the Baltimore 7th,  Brooks hit a long drive to deep left field. The ball does carry extremely well down the foul lines here at Riverfront Stadium. Bernie Carbo, back as far as he could go, to the warning track, following the ball – he jumps as high as he can jump, but to no avail: The ball was over the fence, a home run, and the Orioles won it 4-3.” Video of the announcement.

Tony Kubek, roaming around the stands, finds a loquacious Casey Stengel, and asks him about the play at home plate.Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 10.17.34.png

Brooks Robinson’s introduction was interrupted (on the audio) with an update about an event during Canada’s “October Crisis” – the kidnapping of Quebec Labor Minister Pierre Laporte (The October Crisis was an ongoing event of significant import which caused ABC to cut away from Game One at least twice). Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 10.22.20.png

“And the rockets’ red glare ….” – Tony Martin Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 10.30.29.png

The honorary balls were thrown out by former NL President Warren GilesScreenshot 2017-12-21 at 10.35.05.png

[A self-adjusting] “Brooks Robinson at 3rd base ….” Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 10.51.51.png

Bottom of the 1st, Tied 0-0, 2 out, runner on 1st, Bobby Tolan at bat, 2-2 count – The dangerous and scrappy Pete Rose was on 1st, an intrepid Bobby Tolan tried to bunt twice, which against Robinson, is like pissing into the wind, and then hit a ground ball toward shortstop, which Robinson cut off, and then hurriedly threw out a barreling-and-sliding Rose at 2nd base. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 10.55.00.pngScreenshot 2017-12-21 at 11.03.35.pngThis was a very difficult maneuver, as Rose ran the base paths with menace, and second baseman Davey Johnson nearly had his legs amputated – Robinson timed the scoop-and-throw perfectly. It was Robinson’s momentum, as he scampered towards shortstop, that allowed him to get the ball off quickly enough to throw out Rose – the first picture is also the single-longest stride I’ve ever known Robinson to take. As you’ll see on the video, Robinson moved to his left, and cut the ball off from the shortstop, which not only shortens the length of the grounder, but also gives him momentum towards the right side of the infield – he did this better and more frequently than anyone who ever lived. Here are some hard statistics which, in my opinion, clearly demonstrate Robinson’s prowess at this one facet of playing third base: A few months ago, I analyzed, here, Hall of Fame shorstop Luis Aparicio‘s career “Chances” statistic, season-by-season – I cannot think of any possible explanation for the results of that analysis other than “Brooks Robinson,” but judge for yourselves. Video of the play.

Bottom of the 1st, Reds Leading 2-0, 2 out, runner on 3rd, Hal McRae at bat, 0-0 count – I’m not sure whether this was a suicide squeeze (in which Lee May would have broken from 3rd as the pitch was thrown) or a safety squeeze (in which May would have waited for the ball to be bunted – based on May’s proximity to third base, it appears to be a safety squeeze), but either way, it was a big mental error by left-handed pitcher Mike Cuellar, who broke to his right, inexplicably gloved the ball, and tried to flip a backhand throw to the plate – instead of simply letting Robinson handle it. This picture is a subtle, but obvious, indication that Robinson was preparing to execute the play. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 14.58.35.png Notice Robinson’s right leg crossing over his body, as he’s getting ready to bare-hand the ball – almost surely throwing home, in which case he should have gotten the relatively slow-footed May out (it would have been a great play, but that’s what he did for a living; instead, we have one less story to tell our grandchildren about, as Robinson tapped his empty mitt, put his arms down at his sides, and was forced to watch the disaster unfold) – catcher Elrod Hendricks also appears to have been waiting for Robinson’s throw at the first-base side of home plate. This is *exactly* the type of play I’m talking about when I say, “People from Baltimore had been seeing this for years” – viewers might watch this now, and have understandable doubt as to whether Robinson could have pulled it off, but this was something of a routine play for him – May was very lucky that Crazyhorse (Cuellar’s nickname) panicked. Here is the approximate moment when Robinson would have released his throw (note that he had indeed moved to his left, and had already pulled up to make room for Cuellar). Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 15.56.28.png You really need to watch the whole video of this in order to understand it – the more times I see it, the more I think that May would have been tagged out with plenty of time to spare – in this picture, which is about where Robinson would have caught the ball (that’s Cuellar at the top), May had fully eight more strides to take (you can count them on the slow-motion replay). Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.03.08.png Video of the play.

Bottom of the 1st, Reds Leading 3-0, 2 out, runner on 1st, Tommy Helms at bat, 0-0 count – On the very next pitch, Helms ironically hits a routine ground ball to Robinson, who forces the runner at second. In just the first inning, notice how “involved” Robinson is in the game – the Orioles pitched so batters would hit it to third base, and Robinson’s presence imposed itself upon other teams, forcing them to change the way they played (not just in this Series, but always). Note also that Robinson didn’t throw any harder than he needed to – a young buck like Manny Machado would have caught the ball, bent over to tie his shoe, and then fired a bullet to first. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.10.09.png Video of the play.

Top of the 2nd, Reds Leading 3-0, none out, none on, Brooks Robinson at bat, 2-1 count – Lee May exacts his revenge: Robinson hits a weak pop-up to shallow right field, first baseman May and second baseman Helms jostle for position, before May makes the catch. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.21.20.pngScreenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.21.16.png Video of the play.

Top of the 2nd, Reds Leading 3-0, 2 out, none on, Mark Belanger at bat, 1-1 count – This needs to be taken in context and watched after the previous video for some comic relief – Mark Belanger hits an almost-identical pop-up, causing May and Helms to fumble around yet again, and creating a Keystone Cops-type of atmosphere in shallow-right this inning for the Reds. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.37.32.png Video of the play.

Tony Kubek holds a brief interview with the gigantic (6’7″, 275 lbs) Senators’ slugger, Frank Howard, about Mike CuellarScreenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.39.25.png

Bottom of the 2nd, Reds Leading 3-0, 2 out, none on, Pete Rose at bat, 3-0 count – Pete Rose hits a sharp, topspin grounder to 3rd, which takes a high hop at the final moment. Robinson adjusts, and throws Rose out at 1st. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.52.35.pngScreenshot 2017-12-21 at 16.55.28.png Video of the play.

Here are two strange foul pop-ups in the bottom of the 3rd. The first was caught by Elrod Hendricks, who had to tiptoe his way around a camera. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 17.07.28.png Video of the play. The second was dropped by Robinson, who was worried both about the fence (primarily) and another camera (secondarily) – one could argue that Robinson could have caught this, but it’s understandable that he didn’t (refer to this gruesome 1959 incident). If this game had been in Memorial Stadium, Robinson would have felt more comfortable, most likely familiar with every square inch of the park; here, you can almost feel the hook going into his arm <shiver>. Of note: This is the only time in my life that I can remember Robinson looking scared. Gowdy: “‘E’ for Effort; no error. I asked his teammates yesterday if that [“The Play”] was the best play they’d ever seen him make at 3rd – they said, ‘Well, he’s made so many, it’s just one of [indecipherable by me].'” McIntyre: “You know, with that guy down there, great plays have become the rule, instead of the exception.”  Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 17.04.18.png Video of the play.

Bottom of the 3rd, Reds Leading 4-0, 1 out, runner on 1st, Lee May at bat, 3-0 count, Tom Phoebus relieving Cuellar – May rips a line drive down the 3rd-base line – Robinson is standing there with his back to the plate, facing the left-field wall, the umpire having called the screaming line drive fair. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 18.53.30.png Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 18.56.18.png Less than three seconds later, the inning would be over, as Robinson had caught the ball on the short hop which came off the ground almost *behind* him, whirled clockwise, and started an inning-ending double play. Gowdy: “Brooks Robinson and Pie Traynor have been rated the two-greatest fielding third baseman of all-time. Robinson again shows his class in big games – All-Star Games and World Series – a diving stab to start the double play, and around the horn she goes, and Robinson’s sparkling play once again gets the Orioles out of trouble.” [Respectful note to Mr. Gowdy: It wasn’t just All-Star and World Series games – those are the games you announced; he did this *all the time*!] Video of the play. One difference between Robinson and the absolutely spectacular athletes of today (Machado, Andrelton Simmons, Nolen Arenado), all of whom are bigger, faster, and stronger than Robinson, and all of whom have *much* stronger arms: When Robinson fielded the ball – and this play is a fine example – it disappeared into his mitt like a marshmallow – there was probably almost no sound at all; when the modern greats field, it’s as if you can almost feel the crisp *POP* when it hits their mitt, and after they’ve gotten up off the ground, or gotten up from doing a side split (or maybe they’re still on their knees), they’ll rifle a 90 mph bullet to first – Robinson simply did not have these weapons in his arsenal, and it’s the difference between silk and steel. When I was growing up, it was “Pie Traynor and Brooks Robinson,” now it’s “Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson,” tomorrow it will be “Nolen Arenado and Brooks Robinson.” 100 years from now, it will be, simply, “Brooks Robinson.”

Top of the 4th, Reds Leading 4-1, one out, none on, Brooks Robinson at bat, 0-0 count – For the third time in the Series, Robinson grounds to 3rd baseman Tony Perez, who has played a very solid two games thus far. Screenshot 2017-12-21 at 19.11.41.png Video of the play.

Tony Kubek interviews new Detroit Tigers manager, Billy Martin. Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 15.50.05.png

Bottom of the 4th, Reds Leading 4-1, none out, runner on 1st, Tommy Helms at bat, 0-0 count – I have to give the Reds credit: They’ve had a devil-may-care, almost arrogant, attitude about bunting in this Series so far. With a runner on 1st, Helms laid a bunt down the third base line, and instead of fielding it, Robinson somehow had the presence of mind to realize it was going to slowly roll foul (if it hadn’t, it would have been a single for Helms). How did Robinson know? Or maybe it was right at the border where Helms was going to be safe at first? Either way, it was a fine, nearly perfect, sacrifice bunt, except that Robinson somehow willed it to roll foul. Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 15.59.15.png In the picture, you can see that Robinson, once again, was crossing his right foot over to the left side of his body while charging, because he was going to bare-hand the bunt and hurl it to first, except that he saw something to make him back off – I think he noticed that Helms had made contact at 3 o’clock, imparting a slight side-spin on the ball which was to slowly carry it foul. Video of the play.

Tony Kubek interviews Milwaukee Brewers manager, Dave BristolScreenshot 2017-12-22 at 16.10.36.png

Top of the 5th, Reds Leading 4-3, two out, runners on 1st and 3rd, Brooks Robinson at bat, 0-0 count – For the second straight at-bat, Robinson jumped on the first pitch, this time hitting a game-tying, RBI single to right field. Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 16.16.09.png Some people say, “There’s no such thing as being a ‘clutch hitter,'” but they’re wrong: Certain people tend to tense up under pressure situations; others relax and excel, and Robinson tended to do the latter throughout his career, often coming through in big moments. People have forgotten that, in Baltimore’s 3-game sweep of the powerful Minnesota Twins in the 1970 ALCS, Robinson’s batting average was .583. Video of the play. Robinson would also score from 1st base  when Elrod Hendricks hits an opposite-field double down the third-base line. Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 16.22.16.png

Bottom of the 5th, Orioles Leading 6-5, 1 out, none on, Hal McRae at bat, 2-2 count, Moe Drabowsky in to relieve Tom Phoebus – Tolan again hits a sharp grounder to Robinson, who steps to his right, gloves it, and throws Tolan out with a slightly low throw (he got tight, and didn’t follow through). Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 18.55.10.png During the slow-motion replay (NBC has begun to position a camera on Robinson each play), notice that Robinson positioned himself behind the ball, instead of backhanding it – he was really good at this, which allowed him to recover in case of a bobble.Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 19.00.02.png Video of the play.

Bottom of the 6th, Orioles Leading 6-5, 1 out, none on, Angel Bravo at bat, 0-0 count. Angel Bravo fakes a bunt – look how close to the plate Robinson is (you need to watch the film for this one to see just how much he had charged in). Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 19.10.28.pngScreenshot 2017-12-22 at 19.10.35.png Video of the moment.

Bottom of the 7th, Orioles Leading 6-5, 1 out, runners on 1st and 2nd, Bobby Tolan at bat, 2-2 count, Marcelino Lopez in to relive Drabowsky. Tolan hits a high pop-up in foul territory off 3rd – the infield-fly rule is in effect, and Robinson makes an easy (albeit sun-drenched) catch. Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 19.14.32.png Video of the play.

Bottom of the 7th, Orioles Leading 6-5, 2 out, runners on 1st and 2nd, Tony Perez at bat, 2-2 count, Dick Hall in to relieve Marcelino Lopez – Perez hits a semi-hard grounder towards shortstop, Robinson steps to his left, cuts off Belanger, and forces Rose at 2nd base. This was a routine play, but just knowing that there’s essentially no chance of an error in this situation must do wonders for a team’s morale. Boy, you don’t realize how many plays Robinson made in this Series until you type each one of them up – this is exhausting. Do you remember the analysis of Luis Aparicio I mentioned up above? This is a textbook example of what I was talking about.Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 19.21.09.png Video of the play.

Top of the 8th, Orioles Leading 6-5, none out, none on, Brooks Robinson at bat, 0-0 count – For the third-consecutive time, Robinson jumps on the first pitch, this time, hitting a routine grounder to shortstop Darrel Cheney, who throws Robinson out easily at 1st. Screenshot 2017-12-22 at 19.28.11.png Video of the play.

With two out in the top of the 9th, Orioles leading 6-5, Jim Stewart pinch-hitting with a 1-2 count, and the Reds down to their final strike, there was a heart-stopping moment – Stewart drilled a long, fly ball over Paul Blair’s head in deepest center field. Video of the play.

Final Score: Orioles 6, Reds 5 – Box Score

Brooks Robinson’s Cumulative Statistics:
Slash Line: .250 / .250 / .625, OPS: .875, Hits: 2. HRs: 1, RBIs: 2 Runs: 1
Total Chances: 14, Putouts: 4, Assists: 9, Errors: 1, Double-Plays: 1, Fielding Percentage: .928

Continue to Part 4

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