Everybody who was anybody in Orioles history showed up to honor him when the Orioles unveiled his statue on the center field plaza Saturday at Camden Yards, and all he wanted to do was thank everybody else and turn his ceremony into a celebration of this year’s amazing, surprising, contending team.
“How ‘bout them O’s?’’ he said, to a huge ovation from the thousands of fans who crowded around the plaza and lined every terrace and exposed walkway with a view of the last bronze in the Legends Celebration Series.
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“What a year, I’m telling you ... I just want to say to Buck (Showalter) and the players, you’ve had a magnificent year, and we know the Yankees lost, that’s better news,’’ he said. “Also Dan Duquette and his staff have done a great job, and of all the teams I’ve seen over the years, you can really say, this was a team effort. It really has been. And I say to you fans, this is just like the playoffs right now, so sit back, enjoy it and pull for the Orioles to win.”
And how about them all-time Orioles. They were all here -- Frank and Earl and Eddie and Cakes and Cal – all six assembled for the only time during the season-long statue series.
“No team has been blessed with such an array of incredible players and a manager who are such exceptional people as much as they are exceptional players,’’ said Louis Angelos, who represented Orioles ownership and has introduced each honoree.
Brooks thanked them all when they all came to thank him, but not before he thanked the fans for all the affection that has come his way in the 57 years that he has been associated with the Orioles and Baltimore.
“I don’t like to call you fans anymore,’’ he said. “I like to call you friends. You’ve all been so wonderful to me and my wife (Connie) since I came to Baltimore back in 1955. I just want to thank all of you. I appreciate it very much. It’s great to see everyone here in a joyous mood.”
The testimonials came from former Orioles executive Charles Steinberg and sportscaster Roy Firestone, whose love affair with Brooks and the Orioles started when he was a batboy at their old spring training facility in Miami.
“How many players had their portrait painted by the legendary Norman Rockwell,’’ Firestone said. “This man lived that portrait...
“’Fifty years from now,’ Brooks once said, ‘my name will just be about five inches of type on some baseball stat sheet.’ Maybe, Brooks. That’s only partially true. The words should say more. They should say ‘Brooks Robinson will forever be remembered as a good man who did good for others, for whom celebrity meant little but reputation meant everything.’”
Like all of the previous ceremonies, the unveiling was followed with an on-field ceremony before the start of the second game of the final three-game series of the year at Camden Yards, but this one seemed to take place on a higher emotional plane. The six players who were immortalized behind center field were brought in one-by-one, each sitting atop the back seat of a Chevrolet convertible and introduced with the kind of musical backtrack that made the farewell ceremony at Memorial Stadium 20 years ago such a heartfelt occasion.
And why not?
It all started with Brooks Robinson – who became the first major star in the constellation Oriole after the franchise moved to Baltimore – so maybe it was fitting that he would be the last to be honored in the Legends Celebration Series, even if that’s not the way it was originally planned.
The Brooks statue was originally scheduled to be the second of the six to be unveiled, but the May ceremony was rescheduled to give Robinson more time to regain his strength after a fall that left him with two shoulder fractures. That decision left his long-time fans even more concerned about his well-being after he looked so frail during his earlier statue unveiling outside the ballpark last October , but he has attended three of the unveilings since then and told The Sun this week that he’s feeling stronger ever day.
He certainly looked it. In contrast to his brief remarks at the Washington Plaza ceremony , he delivered a lengthy speech at this unveiling and a full-throated address to the nearly-full stadium before throwing the ceremonial first pitch to current Orioles star Adam Jones.
“We all have decisions to make in our lives,’’ Robinson said. “My first big decision in my life was in 1955 after I graduated from high school and I made the right decision, signing with the Orioles.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app