WASHINGTON — Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson learned Wednesday that one of his gloves is to be displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, along with a trove of other artifacts from the careers of Willie Mays, Ted Williams and other baseball icons.
“They’ll still remember me,” said the 80-year-old former third baseman, winner of 16 Gold Glove awards for his defensive prowess.
And then: “What glove is it?”
It’s a weathered Rawlings glove from the 1974 season with “Brooks” scrawled in faded black ink on the little finger.
On Wednesday, the Smithsonian said it was adding the glove along with about a dozen other baseball items, including a hat and jersey worn by Williams, a glove and bat used by Hank Aaron and a ball signed by the 1927 New York Yankees, to its collection.
Robinson’s glove was laid out on a table for the media to examine, next to a cap, shoes and glove used by Mays. Baseball cards of the players were propped up next to the memorabilia.
None of the items were yet encased in glass. “Don’t touch!” said the museum’s director, John Gray, with a smile.
None of the players were present at the unveiling. Robinson, who was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1983, said in a telephone interview that he was touched to be associated with such a mainstream venue where millions are expected to see the old glove.
“It’s wonderful,” he said.
The Hall of Fame displays the glove Robinson wore during the 1970 World Series, in which he was named Most Valuable Player.
The Smithsonian said the 1974 glove — along with much of the other memorabilia — is expected to be included in a permanent “American Culture” exhibit. The exhibit, however, isn’t likely to open until around 2020.
The 1974 glove “was the only game-used glove that he retained,” said Michael Heffner, president of Lelands, a sports auction house. “So now it’s at the Smithsonian. There is no better place than having it for fans everywhere.’”
The glove — and the other items showcased Wednesday — were acquired by Thomas Tull, a collector, businessman and Hollywood film producer, who donated them to the museum.
“I’ve gotten to know Brooks from sitting on the Hall of Fame board with him,” Tull said. “When I was growing, up my favorite player was Graig Nettles — the Yankee third baseman — and I would always say Graig Nettles is the greatest thing of all time. Any my uncle would always say, ‘No, no. You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s Brooks Robinson.’ You want to have Brooks Robinson’s glove because that’s his calling card.”
Tull, who produced such films as “300,” “The Dark Knight” and “Straight Outta Compton,” bought the glove about six years ago.
Robinson has sold many of his personal relics and used the proceeds on the charitable foundation he oversees with his wife.
He played with the Orioles for 23 seasons — from 1955 to 1977 — making him the longest-tenured Oriole player of all time.
“Brooks Robinson is an American treasure so it is incredibly fitting for his glove to be on display at a museum that celebrates the best of American culture,” the Orioles said in a statement Wednesday.
“Brooks set a standard of excellence at the hot corner, but it was off the field where he fully embodied what it means to be an Oriole. From Little Rock, to Baltimore, to Cooperstown, and now to the Smithsonian, Brooks paved his way and inspired generations of baseball fans locally and around the country. He is and will always be Mr. Oriole and an excellent ambassador for our national pastime.”
The history museum already features some baseball pieces, but they are not all in one place.
A helmet of Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski, who is of Polish ancestry, is part of the “Many Voices, One Nation” exhibition. The museum also possesses a ticket booth from the original Yankee Stadium and a jersey and helmet from the late Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente, but those aren’t displayed now.
The newly-acquired items “will help researchers and visitors explore the connections between baseball and America’s history and cultural life,” said curator Eric Jentsch.
Robinson has suffered setbacks in recent years. In 2009, he fought off prostate cancer. Three years later, he tumbled more than 6 feet off a stage at a charity event in Florida, suffering head, back and shoulder injuries.
When he turned 80 in May, he said: “I can't throw a baseball from here to the front door, which is fairly close.”
But Robinson said Wednesday he is doing fine and hopes to one day visit the museum and be reunited with his glove.
“Baseball has been a part of our history going way back,” he said. “So that’s nice.”