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HUMBLE BROOKS DEFLECTS PRAISE, CONNECTS FOR CHARITY

You don't say no to Sandy Unitas.

As much as Brooks Robinson would have preferred to stay home tonight, Unitas wouldn't let him.

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Instead, Robinson will be honored at the Babe Ruth Museum's annual gala. It's a big-deal affair at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with the usual VIP cocktail reception and a host of heavy hitters - Cal Ripken Jr., Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Wes Unseld among them - on hand to celebrate the life and career of the legendary Orioles third baseman.

They're calling it "An Evening with Brooks," which has a nice understated ring to it.

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But the truth is, it almost didn't happen, since the man himself was planning "An Evening on Brooks' Couch in Front of the TV" until Unitas, a museum board member, called a few months ago.

The widow of Baltimore Colts great John Unitas knew getting the low-key Robinson to attend an affair in his honor would be a hard sell.

"Sandy said, 'I know what you're going to say when I ask you this question,' " Robinson recalled the other day. " 'You're going to say the same thing John always said: No.'

"And I did. I said, 'No, thank you, I've been honored enough.' "

But Sandy Unitas was persistent.

Money from the gala would go for a good cause, she told him, for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

Brooks Robinson was always a soft touch for charity. Besides, he had had his own scare with prostate cancer months earlier before undergoing successful radiation treatment.

So after a minute or two, he caved. And after Unitas hung up, the next sound you heard was the museum's board of directors pounding the conference table for joy and shouting: "Print up the programs, boys! Brooks is on board!"

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"We think he's the most beloved Oriole of all time and the face of Orioles baseball," said Mike Gibbons, the museum's executive director.

The reason he's beloved, Gibbons continued, "is mostly because he's such a nice human being. I also think Brooks came along in the infancy of the Orioles' franchise. And we watched him grow up and as the team grew, we grew as fans."

It's hard to believe Brooks Robinson, ever youthful-looking, is 72 now.

He has homes in Owings Mills and Southern California and stays busy as president of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and minority owner of independent league teams in Waldorf, York, Pa., Lancaster, Pa., and Camden, N.J.

But when you're considered possibly the greatest third baseman in history, you're always defined by your own baseball career.

The numbers are still dazzling after all these years. Twenty-three seasons with the Orioles until his retirement in 1977. Fifteen consecutive All-Star Game appearances, 18 all told. Sixteen consecutive Gold Gloves, earning him the nickname "The Human Vacuum Cleaner."

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American League Most Valuable Player in 1964 after hitting .317 with 28 homers and 118 RBIs. World Series MVP in 1970 after almost single-handedly helping the Orioles beat the Cincinnati Reds. All-Star Game MVP in 1966.

Then came the magical summer of 1983, when they waved him into the Hall of Fame and it seemed all of Baltimore showed up in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the induction.

I was there in the middle of it all, covering it for the old Evening Sun, a sea of orange and black T-shirts and jerseys on the lawn as far as the eye could see.

By some estimates, nearly 100,000 Orioles fans descended on the tiny village in upstate New York that day.

Baltimore loved Brooks Robinson almost from the moment he first pulled on an Orioles uniform, loved him until the day he peeled off the No. 5 jersey for the last time, loved him throughout his years as a color commentator on Orioles broadcasts with Chuck Thompson and Scott Garceau.

And Brooks Robinson loved this city right back.

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He was a Baltimore icon, like the great John Unitas.

And he was as comfortable with that as he was in his own skin.

Maybe that's why when you ask Robinson what accomplishment over his long career he values most, he doesn't hesitate.

"It's not winning an MVP award or a World Series," he told me. "It's playing longer with one team than any other player in the history of the game."

Let me end this with my favorite Brooks Robinson quote of all time.

I bring it up mostly because it says so much about the man, about his humility and decency, about how he never took himself too seriously.

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"I watch baseball today," he once said, "and a third baseman makes a great play, they say, 'That's a Brooks Robinson play!' And I ask myself: 'Did I ever do that?' "

He sure did.

As the saying goes, you could look it up.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

If you go

What: "An Evening with Brooks"

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When: Tonight, 6 to 9:30; VIP and cocktail begins at 6 p.m.; program begins at 7:30

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall: 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: $105 for the cocktail reception and program; $55 for program only; available at the door

More information: 410-727-1539, ext. 3033, or baberuthmuseum.com


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