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Five things about No. 5, Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, now 83 years old

All eyes are on the ball as Brooks Robinson gets ready to catch a toss by his son Michael before an Orioles game Aug. 22, 1965, at Memorial Stadium.
All eyes are on the ball as Brooks Robinson gets ready to catch a toss by his son Michael before an Orioles game Aug. 22, 1965, at Memorial Stadium.(Paul Hutchins / Baltimore Sun)

You didn’t think we would forget Brooks Robinson’s birthday, did you?

Robinson, whose exploits with the Orioles from 1955 to 1977 landed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame, turned 83 on Monday.

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Here are five things about No. 5.

Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson leaps toward catcher Andy Etchebarren and pitcher Dave McNally after the Orioles defeated the Dodgers, 1-0, to sweep the 1966 World Series in four games.
Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson leaps toward catcher Andy Etchebarren and pitcher Dave McNally after the Orioles defeated the Dodgers, 1-0, to sweep the 1966 World Series in four games.(Sun file photo)

No, Brooks couldn’t fly

We’ve all seen the 1966 picture of Robinson soaring in from third base to greet winning pitcher Dave McNally and catcher Andy Etchebarren moments after the Orioles clinched their first World Series championship.

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"I've autographed so many of those pictures," Robinson told The Baltimore Sun’s Mike Klingaman in 2012, "and people still ask, 'How did you jump so high?' I tell them it was trick photography."

Even now, first baseman Boog Powell said in the article, "we tease Brooks about the picture. I ask him, 'Who did you pay to get yourself [airbrushed] that high?'

"Truth is, I was running toward the mound from the other side, and I jumped 3 feet higher than Brooks. But the photographers didn't get my picture."

Brooks Robinson circles the bases after a home run against the Oakland Athletics. He didn't have much of a second gear.
Brooks Robinson circles the bases after a home run against the Oakland Athletics. He didn't have much of a second gear.(Baltimore Sun file photo)

He couldn’t run either

Robinson’s name is all over the history books for all the right reasons — he won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, was an 18-time All-Star and was named a World Series Most Valuable Player — but there’s one distinction he’d like to forget.

"I wouldn't mind seeing someone erase my record of hitting into four triple plays,” he once said.

To be fair, triple plays are often freakish occurrences that have more to do with luck than legs. But face it, Brooks was a plodder, stealing just 28 bases and getting caught 22 times in 23 major league seasons.

“We weren’t much of a speed team,” Robinson told MLB.com five years ago. “Over the years, we had only a couple of guys who could run. You know they had [Olympic sprinter] Jesse Owens come talk to us one spring to teach us how to get out of the box quicker. I don’t think it helped me too much. ... It must be in our blood, Orioles blood. I know Cal [Ripken Jr.] hit into a lot of double plays. It’s his record now. But I told him he needed to hit into some triple plays, too, just to take the heat off me.”

An early 1970s Orioles batting helmet from The Brooks Robinson Collection at Heritage Auctions. Robinson tinkered with the standard-issue protective gear.
An early 1970s Orioles batting helmet from The Brooks Robinson Collection at Heritage Auctions. Robinson tinkered with the standard-issue protective gear.(Heritage Auctions)

What was the deal with his batting helmet?

If it always looked as if Robinson’s batting helmet had been retrofitted, that’s because it was.

Here’s how he explained his cutting edge fashion to Heritage Auctions in 2015:

“Back in the early seventies, the Commissioner’s Office made it mandatory for anyone coming into the big leagues to wear an earflap on your helmet. If you were already in Major League Baseball you had a choice whether to do that or not. Of course, I wanted to wear the flap because it gave me more protection. But when I got the helmet with the flap and put it on, it seemed like the bill was a little longer than my normal hat and consequently when I went up to hit I could see the brim and part of the flap. It made me lose my concentration. I took care of it by taking a hacksaw blade and cut about 1½ inches off the brim and about half an inch off the flap. That’s how I got my short brim.”

One more thing about his headgear. After the Orioles won that 1966 Series, an advertisement appeared in The Sporting News stating that Robinson had played the four games with a Koolon band replacing his hatband.

“It’s made of mesh, absorbent and aluminum," the ad read. "When moistened, it uses the principle of evaporation to keep you much cooler from head to toe, for three-four hours. To re-cool, just re-wet.”

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It turns out the hot corner was air-conditioned. Who knew?

Orioles legend Brooks Robinson signs a ball for a young fan at the 2019 Orioles FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Orioles legend Brooks Robinson signs a ball for a young fan at the 2019 Orioles FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center.(Ulysses Munoz / The Baltimore Sun)

There wasn’t a more humble star

One reason Robinson is beloved in Baltimore is his personable, accommodating nature.

“When fans ask Brooks Robinson for his autograph,” late Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson once said, “he complied while finding out how many kids you have, what your dad does, where you live, how old you are, and if you have a dog.”

Another reason was his humility.

As Joe Falls of The Detroit News put it: “How many interviews, how many questions — how many times you approached him and got only courtesy and decency in return. A true gentleman who never took himself seriously. I always had the idea he didn’t know he was Brooks Robinson.”

The proof of that is in Robinson’s less-than-glittering scouting report of himself.

“Fifty years from now I’ll be just 3 inches of type in a record book,” he said to Sport magazine early in his career.

Or as he told the Dallas Times_Herald toward the end of it in 1975: "I've always said when I broke in I was an average player. I had an average arm, average speed and definitely an average bat. I am still average in all of those."

Or in retirement on the Yes Network: “I watch baseball today 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?’”

Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson robs the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Bench of a hit in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1970 World Series.
Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson robs the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Bench of a hit in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1970 World Series. (UPI photo)

But others were happy to toot his horn

Maybe Robinson should have hired Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson as a press agent.

“He can throw his glove out there and it will start 10 double plays by itself,” said Anderson, whose Cincinnati Reds team was victimized by Robinson’s fielding exploits in the 1970 World Series.

“I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped a paper plate, he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.”

Catcher Johnny Bench wasn’t about to be outdone by his manager.

"I will become a left-handed hitter to keep the ball away from that guy," the Hall of Famer said.

And noting that Robinson had won a Dodge Charger from Sport magazine for winning the World Series MVP award, Bench said, “The rumor is that the car has an oversized glove compartment.”

Or as Bench’s teammate, Pete Rose, said: “Brooks Robinson belongs in a higher league.”

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