Photo: The Rucker Archive/Icon Sportswire
If you’re going to talk about legends of defensive excellence, the first few names you come up with should include Willie Mays, Ozzie Smith, Roberto Clemente, and of course, Brooks Robinson.
Robinson, the former Orioles third baseman, died earlier this week at age 86.
Robinson won 16 Gold Glove awards. Though two pitchers – Greg Maddux (18 Gold Gloves) and Jim Kaat (16) have won as many as Robinson has, Robinson is the only player to win 16 in a row, doing so every year from 1960 to 1975. The next-most Gold Gloves by a third baseman is 10 by Mike Schmidt and Nolan
Defensive Runs Saved didn’t exist in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but others have tried to create stats to illustrate defensive value. Win Shares is one and Robinson ranks first among third basemen in a component of that, Defensive Win Shares. Another developed by a researcher named Sean Smith exists on Baseball-Reference.com and is called Total Zone Runs. You can learn more about it here.
I feel confident in Total Zone Runs for a few reasons, one being that its Top 5 players overall are Robinson, Andruw Jones, Mark Belanger, Smith, and Clemente and its Top 3 third basemen are Robinson, Adrián Beltré, and Buddy Bell. All of these players were extremely highly regarded for their defense in their respective eras.
For those who might think that Robinson won his last couple of Gold Gloves based on his reputation, a look at Total Zone Runs refutes that. He led AL third basemen in that stat the last 2 years he won the award.
Total Zone Runs draws upon the basic stats, like putouts, assists, and double plays. He’s the all-time third base leader in those too.
Robinson’s most famous defensive play came in the 1970 World Series, when he fielded a smash down the third base line and threw out Lee May from well into foul territory. The Orioles won two World Series with Robinson, the first in 1966 against the Dodgers and this one in 1970 against the Reds. Robinson won
MVP in the latter with both his defense and his offense. He hit .429 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI in 5 games.
Robinson could hit some too. In 23 seasons he totaled 2,848 hits and 268 home runs. He won the AL MVP in 1964, hitting .317 with 28 home runs, an AL-best 118 RBI, and an .889 OPS.
Robinson was immensely popular. He became an Orioles player in 1955 and remained associated with the team until his death. He was known as Mr. Oriole.
When I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, I waited in line for Robinson’s autograph at a baseball card show in New York. It was a long wait because Robinson took the time to talk to and pose for a picture with everyone (myself included). He left as great an impression on someone like me, a kid who never got to see him play, as he did for those who watched him play at a Hall of Fame level. I’ve read numerous tributes that said similar.