In '77, Brooks offered final thrill

Sun Staff

Brooks Robinson was crowding 40, but on that April night in 1977, hislegions of fans were able to banish the depressing thought of his age fromtheir minds. Robinson stood in front of his locker after the game, smiling.With a wink, he said, "The kid can still play."

The kid had one more home run in his bat, anyway. With the Oriolestrailing the Cleveland Indians 5-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning, Robinsonhad hit a game-winning, three-run homer as a pinch hitter for Larry Harlow. Itwas his 268th and last.

During that final season, his farewell tour around the American Leaguethat would culminate with "Thanks, Brooks" Day on Sept. 18, Robinson was nolonger a regular, and he spent most of his time in the clubhouse, knowing itwas unlikely he would play.

"He hung out in the clubhouse in his underwear eating potato chips,"pitcher Scott McGregor said. "When Earl [Weaver] wanted him to pinch hit orthe public address announcer was calling him out to be applauded, we had torun back and tell him to throw his uniform on."

When Robinson was summoned to pinch hit against Dave LaRoche that night,many in the crowd of 4,826 were heading for the exits after the Indians scoredthree runs in the top of the 10th.

"I kept fouling off pitches, seven or eight of them, several just out ofreach in the stands, close to being caught," said Robinson, who is celebratinghis 58th birthday today. "I'm sure LaRoche had been told to throw as hard hecould, figuring I couldn't catch up with his fastball late in my career. Fromall that swinging, I got arm-weary."

But then LaRoche made a costly mistake. Jim Palmer, who remembers thesethings, said LaRoche threw a curve. No. 268 dropped into the left-fieldstands, barely.

"Outside of our World Series wins, seeing Brooks fighting off thosepitches to run the count to 3-and-2 and finally hitting ahome run was one of my biggest thrills," Weaver said.

Five months later, Robinson wanted "Thanks, Brooks" Day to be no more thanthat -- thanks, no gifts. Any donations, he said,should go to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Children's Center. But people paid himno heed.

Owner Jerry Hoffberger gave him a car. Rawlings gave him replicas of his16 Gold Gloves, because he had given all but two of the originals to Boys'Clubs and charities. And Doug DeCinces, his successor, gave him third base.

"I pulled the bag out and ran over and gave it to him and said, 'Hey,third base is always yours,' " said DeCinces, who hit a three-run homer in hisfirst at-bat against the Boston Red Sox that day. "I was the unfortunate onewho followed Brooks and got the wrath of the fans who said I could neverreplace him."

The only person who incurred the fans' wrath that day was American Leaguepresident Lee Mac Phail, who was booed lustily before making a presentation toRobinson because he had upheld a forfeit against the Orioles.

"Earl had taken his team off the field in Toronto, complaining the fieldwas hazardous," MacPhail said, referring to tarpaulins and mooring blocksadjacent to the left-field line. "The game was forfeited, and, as leaguepresident, I had to rule on it. As it happened, I made the ruling the daybefore Brooks' day.

"On the field for the ceremony, Chuck Thompson introduced me, and 50,000fans booed. I stepped to the mike. More boos. I stepped back. I tried again.More boos. I didn't know what to do.

"Then out of the dugout came Weaver. He wasn't any happier about my rulingon the forfeit than the fans, but he put his arm around me and said into themike, 'Don't boo this man.' The booing stopped, and I made the presentation."

It was a day, Palmer said, that was "a great occasion for everybody -- atime to relive all Brooks' great plays and hits." Weaver recalled thateveryone was caught up in the emotion of the moment: "All that cheering,people so appreciative of Brooks, brought tears to the eyes and a certainfeeling in the stomach."

Then, before the game, Weaver said it into the microphone for everyone:

"Thanks, Brooks. Thanks 1 million times."

Remembering the moment

"Nobody wanted to see his career end. That last home run put it out ofpeople's minds for a while."

-Jim Palmer

"Brooks never changed, despite all the attention. He was always so humble,signing autographs with a smile."

-pitching coach George Bamberger

"I can almost feel Brooks' presence when I stand where he stood." -Cal Ripken Jr.

"Let's face it, Baltimore loves Brooks Robinson." -William Donald Schaefer

"That day was real special. I had watched him all my life on TV, and I wasawed just to be there." -Scott McGregor

"You could feel the emotion building. It was overwhelming to see a greatplayer so appreciated for what he had done. I saw him make great plays when Iplayed (1976-86), but older players would say, 'You should have seen him inthe 1960s and early '70s.' " -Tippy Martinez

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