Sunday, July 7, 2013

June 22- Baltimore Orioles

In the long history of Baltimore Orioles caps, and believe me, there are a lot of them, I had just to get my hands on this one. Like a lot of my hats, I picked this one up during the summer of 2010 when I was flush with cash and in between getting a grip of tattoos. I was rolling through the Lids Web site one day in July, I think it was, and immediately threw this one in my cart along with a Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Cedar Rapids Kernels cap. If you’re putting a time stamp on things that would mean I’ve had this cap in my possession for almost three years. The weird thing about it is that I’ve actually never worn it in public. In fact, I literally marked it up and took the stickers off of it a week ago as I threw it on the waiting list to be written about. I can’t really explain why I haven’t worn it up until now, nor can I give a clear answer as to why today I decided to write about it. Let’s just chalk it up as a mistake on my part.

The Orioles wore it for two season from 1963-1965, a fitting bit of irony coinciding with the fact that I’ve had this on the wall for three years before taking it on its maiden voyage. In 1963 the Orioles only used it for their road games. Their home hat from that season is one I still need to purchase and will be a post later in the year. As for 1964-1965, the Orioles made in their official game cap, going 97-65 and 94-68 respectively under then-first-year manager Hank Bauer, one of the most impressive starts by a manager with a new team. In fact, he was such a great manager that the Orioles won their first World Series title in franchise history the following year in 1966 when they switched things up to this now infamous cap. Oddly enough with the amazing records they posted in 1964 and 1965 the Orioles failed to make the postseason as the playoffs only consisted of two teams total, the teams with the best records in the American League and National League. When it came to marking it up I did it with only one guy in mind…

#5-16GG- Brooks Robinson was born in Little Rock, Arkansas to Brooks Calbert and Ethel Mae Robinson. His father worked for a large bakery in Little Rock, Colonial Bakery, and then went to work for the Little Rock Fire Department (rising to the rank of captain), while his mother at first worked for Sears Roebuck & Company, and then in the controller's office at the state capitol. His father played second base for a semi-pro team. Young Brooks Robinson, Jr., delivered the Arkansas Gazette on his bike, and also operated the scoreboard and sold soft drinks at Lamar Porter Field. After he graduated from Little Rock High School on May 27, 1955, where he was scouted for the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball program in Fayetteville, he played in South America in 1955 and in Cuba in 1957. In the off season of 1956-1957, and then again in 1958, he attended two winter semesters at Little Rock University, majoring in business. He went into the army in 1959, joining the Arkansas National Guard right before he was to be drafted into the United States Army.

Robinson was drafted and signed by the Orioles in 1955 after a scout saw him playing in a church league game in Little Rock. He would spend the majority of the 1955 season with the York White Roses of the Piedmont League, hitting .311 with 11 home runs before getting called up to the Majors. He made his debut on September 17th and hit .091 with two singles and one RBI in six games to finish out his season. For the next two seasons Robinson split his time between the AA Texas League San Antonio Missions and a total of 65 more games in the Majors before getting called up for good to start the 1958 season.

He met his future wife, Constance Louise "Connie" Butcher, on an Orioles team flight from Kansas City to Boston in July 1959, where she was working as a flight attendant for United Air Lines. He was so smitten with her that he kept ordering iced teas for her. Some of his teammates encouraged him to go talk to her. After drinking his third glass, he returned it to her in the galley. There he told her: "I want to tell you something. If any of these guys, the Baltimore Orioles, ask you for a date, tell 'em you don't date married men. Understand? I'm the only single guy on the team." Before the plane landed in Boston the two had made a date to go out. He was not the only bachelor on the flight, something he lied about to keep her from talking to them. Brooks and Constance were married in her hometown of Windsor, Ontario, Canada on October 8, 1960.Originally raised a Methodist, Robinson eventually converted in 1970 to the Catholic Church, his wife's faith.

In 1960 the man who would forever be known as “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” was born. Contrary to the legend that has developed around his name, Robinson did still commit a few errors throughout his 23-year career; 263 to be exact. Which means he average a little over 11 errors per season, putting his career fielding percentage at .971, one of the greatest of all-time. Why is this important to know? I’ll get to that in a bit.

As I was saying, in 1960 it all came together. Robinson batted .294 with 14 home runs and 88 RBI. That season gave him a third place finish for the AL MVP award as well as the first Gold Glove of his career and his first All-Star Game appearance. 1961 and 1962 were incredibly productive offensive years as well as he went .287/7/61 with a Gold Glove and All-Star Game appearance (19th in AL MVP voting) and .303/23/86 with a Gold Glove and All-Star Game appearance (ninth in AL MVP voting) respectively. Robinson’s numbers took a little bit of a dip in 1963, but he still won another Gold Glove and made yet another All-Star Game appearance that season.

With almost all of my other caps I do my best to keep the stats, dates and jersey numbers within the real of whichever years the cap was used, in this case 1963-1965. Well, here’s the payoff. In 1964, Robinson had his best season offensively; hitting for a .318 batting average with 28 home runs and led the league with 118 runs batted in, winning the AL MVP for the only time in his career. In the voting, he received 18 of the 20 first-place votes, with Mickey Mantle finishing second. In 1966, he was voted the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, and finished second to team mate Frank Robinson in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting, as the Orioles went on to win the 1966 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the 1970 post-season, Robinson hit for a .583 batting average in the 1970 AL Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins. In the 1970 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson had a .429 batting average with 2 home runs; however, it was his defensive prowess at third base that stood out, making several impressive plays during the series that robbed the Reds of apparent base hits. His performance won him the World Series MVP Award as well as the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year. After the 1970 World Series, Reds’ manager Sparky Anderson quipped, "I'm beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate, he'd pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first."

In his playing career, Robinson was selected for the All-Star team in 15 consecutive years (1960-74), and played in four World Series, won two. He compiled a .267 career batting average with 2,848 hits, 268 home runs and 1357 runs batted in. Robinson led the AL  in fielding percentage a record 11 times, and at the time of his retirement, his .971 career fielding average was the highest ever for a third baseman and helped win him 16 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1960-1975 (16GG). His totals of 2870 games played at third base, 2697 career putouts, 6205 career assists, 8902 career total chances and 618 double plays, were records for third basemen at the time of his retirement. Robinson's 23 seasons with one team set a new major league record, since tied by Carl Yastrzemski. Only Yastrzemski (3308), Hank Aaron (3076) and Stan Musial (3026) played more games for one franchise. Robinson also hit into four triple plays during his career, a major league record. He commented, "I wouldn't mind seeing someone erase my record of hitting into four triple plays."

At the conclusion of his final season in 1977, his jersey number 5 was retired by the Orioles. Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, one of only 16 players to have been honored on the first ballot (not including the five charter members chosen in the first election in 1936). Considered among the greatest all-time Orioles, Robinson and the man usually considered the greatest Baltimore Colt football player, Johnny Unitas, had plaques in their honor in the lobby of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. When the Orioles played their last game there on October 6, 1991, Robinson and Unitas were invited to throw out the ceremonial first balls. (Unitas threw a football.) After the conclusion of the game, several Oriole players took the field in the uniforms of their time and stood at their old positions on the field, Robinson was chosen to be the first player to come out (Cal Ripken, Jr. was chosen to be the last). In 1999, he ranked Number 80 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

A longtime supporter of Scouting, Robinson served for many years on the executive board of the Baltimore Area Council, Boy Scouts of America and is a recipient of the Silver Beaver Award. On December 5, 2006 he was recognized for his accomplishments on and off of the field when he received the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. On May 16, 2007, Radio Tower Drive, a road in Pikesville, Maryland was renamed "Brooks Robinson Drive" in honor of Robinson's 70th birthday.

On July 2, 2008, the minor league team in York, Pennsylvania, where Robinson got his start, held a ceremony honoring him for being voted as a member on the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team. The award was created by Rawlings and voted by fans to celebrate the golden anniversary of the award.

On October 22, 2011, a statue was unveiled on Washington Boulevard in downtown Baltimore depicting Robinson preparing to throw out a runner at first base. Robinson was present for the unveiling of the statue and commented that it "gave him more hair than he deserved". The statue weighs more than 1,500 pounds, is dark gray in color with the exception of a gold colored fielders’ baseball glove, and is located about 300 yards away from the Camden Yards statue of Babe Ruth.

On September 29, 2012, the Orioles unveiled a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of Robinson at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of the Orioles Legends Celebration Series during the 20th anniversary of the ballpark. The unveiling had been previously scheduled to be on May 12, 2012, but had to be rescheduled due to Brooks still slowly recovering after falling off a stage on January 27, 2012.

Brooks Robinson currently serves as president of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA), an organization that assists players and fans to interact off the field. Major League legends Bob Boone, George Brett, Chuck Hinton, Mike Hegan, Robin Yount, Rusty Staub, Carl Erskine and Al Kaline preside as Vice Presidents. As well as the non-profit missions of the MLBPAA, the organization assists former major-leaguers through its wholly owned for-profit organizations MLAM (Major League Alumni Marketing), and MLAS (Major League Alumni Services). MLAM goals include implementing a player pool and gaining compensation for former players through appearances and endorsements, while protecting the name and likeness of former players from unauthorized uses.

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