Robin Roberts Dies at 83

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Robin Roberts died today at 83.

I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times over the years. I remember last seeing him this spring, sitting in the Phillies’ clubhouse at Bright House Field in Clearwater and chatting with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and others. Everything you heard about Roberts is a true. He was a Hall of Fame pitcher, but a very, very kind guy, too. No ego at all. He provided me a tremendous amount of his time as I wrote my Phillies book “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly” two summers ago. I thought I’d share you an excerpt from the book, which I hope gives people a sense of how truly special he was on the field.

The excerpt comes from a chapter where I write about the five greatest pitchers in Phillies history. Roberts certainly is one of them.

*

The best pitcher in baseball in the 1950s was…

Warren Spahn? Whitey Ford?

Early Wynn? Don Newcombe?

How about Robin Roberts?

“He was the top pitcher at that time,” Willie Mays said.

“It’s a compliment,” Roberts said. “I certainly enjoyed it. I just showed up and pitched.”

Roberts dominated the ’50s. He won 199 games, more than anybody except Spahn, who won 202. Roberts, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976, won 20 or more games each season from 1950 through 1955. He won 19 games in 1956. He led the National League in strikeouts (1,516), complete games (237), and innings pitched (3,012) in the ’50s. He finished second behind Spahn with 30 shutouts. He finished fourth behind Spahn, Johnny Altonelli, and Sal Maglie with a 3.32 ERA. He threw an astounding 28 straight complete games from 1952 to 1953. He also started for the National League in the 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, and 1955 All-Star Games.

“First of all, he had control,” Mays said. “He didn’t have a good curveball. He had a good fastball that he controlled in and out. He’d never knock you down, but he was quick. He knew what he was doing. I could hit him pretty good, but I never hit home runs against him. I think I hit one home run off him in the last game of a series in ’56. I just scraped the scoreboard in the Polo Grounds. He threw a curveball to me. He never did throw that curveball to me again.”

But Mays had his hands full without the breaking ball.

“He was a hard pitcher,” he said.

The Cy Young didn’t come into existence until 1956, but Roberts finished in the top 10 in National League MVP voting five times in the 1950s. He won The Sporting News’ Pitcher of the Year Award in 1952 and 1955. He went 28-7 with a 2.59 ERA in 1952, his best season in the majors. No National League pitcher had won 28 games since 1935, when Dizzy Dean won 28 for the St. Louis Cardinals. No National League pitcher has won that many games since. Roberts led the league in wins four times (1952-55), innings five times (1951-55), strikeouts twice (1953-54), and complete games five times (1952-56). And despite all those innings, he never walked more than 77 batters in a season.

“He had real good control,” said catcher Stan Lopata, who was Roberts’ teammate from 1948 to 1958. “He had a good fastball. He had a little movement on it. We’ve seen pitchers with better breaking balls, but his big asset was his control. He made them hit. He figured, Hey, I have eight guys out there. Let them earn their money. He had such an easy motion. It snuck up on you. You’d think, Hey, man, I can hit this guy. And then the ball is by you. That easy motion fooled a lot of guys. Yep, they’d all say they could hit him, but they never did.”

That was why Roberts rarely worried about base-runners.

roberts b.jpg“There weren’t too many ballclubs that would steal in the National League, but Andy Seminick and myself would say, ‘Hey, Robbie, how about giving us a chance and hold these guys on?’” Lopata said. “He would say, ‘If they steal second base and third base, they’ve still got to score from third. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s the attitude he had. And he got them out, too. That’s the confidence he had.”

In his only postseason in 1950, Roberts started Game 2 of the World Series against the New York Yankees at Shibe Park. He allowed 10 hits, two runs, three walks, and struck out five in 10 innings in a 2-1 loss. He allowed a solo home run to Joe DiMaggio in the tenth inning to lose the game. Roberts pitched a scoreless inning in relief in Game 4 to finish the Series 0-1 with a 1.64 ERA.

“I was on a good club,” Roberts said. “We were a good team when I won 20 games. When we weren’t a good team I didn’t win 20 games.”

But Roberts is being modest. The Phillies only had three winning seasons in the ’50s, so he won on some teams that played pretty poorly. On the other hand, Spahn’s Milwaukee Braves had eight winning seasons in the ’50s. Put Roberts on a better team, and he probably would have won a few more games. He probably would have won at least 300. He finished 286-245 with a 3.40 ERA in a career that lasted from 1948 to 1966. He started 609 games. He threw an astounding 305 complete games.

“I just assumed that I was going to pitch a complete game,” Roberts said. “I did a lot of times. And in the ones I came out they pinch-hit for me late in the game. So a number I could have finished, but didn’t.” He paused. “But there also were a number of them I shouldn’t have finished and I did,” he said, laughing.

But as good as Roberts was, it is a little surprising today that he is not more recognized for his accomplishments outside of Philadelphia. There are reasons for that. The Phillies made just one World Series with Roberts. The New York Yankees went eight times. The Brooklyn Dodgers went four times (the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series in 1959). The Braves went twice with Spahn. Roberts often jokes that he is not the most recognized Robin Roberts today. The broadcaster is.

“A lot of my friends have gone to the television when they heard Robin Roberts was coming on,” he said. “They saw a prettier picture than me, I’ll tell you that.”

But she couldn’t pitch like Roberts.

“Oh, people know about Robin Roberts,” Mays said. “You may not hear it too much, but they know about him. Even if the fans don’t know, the players do, because he was one of the special pitchers.”

*

The Zo Zone is on Facebook and Twitter. His Phillies book “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly” is available online, and at Delaware Valley bookstores!

11 Comments

Are there any plans to put a “36″ patch on the Phils uniforms?

was just talking about him and Lefty with my dad. WHat awful news., He and all he represented will be missed. TOday’s players could learn alot about being a Mensch from people like Roberts.

In 19 seasons, Roberts started 609 games and completed 305. How about that? On average, 16 complete games in 162 game season. What pitch count?

A sad day for Phillies fans. muleman: they will be wearing a “36″ patch on their uni sleeves for the rest of the season

zach: Glad to hear it. The Phillies always do the right thing at times like these. I’ll be at the game on Friday and I’ll stop by the statue and pay my respects.

The only faint memory I have of seeing him play was in 1965 & 1966 when he was with Houston. It’s a shame that kids (and me) couldn’t see how great these guys were. My earliest memories of great pitchers goes to the mid 60s with Koufax, Marichal, Bunning and Bob Veale, who had some good years with the Pirates.
That’s why the pitch count and 5-man rotations just eat my heart out. Back when guys who pitched out of the bullpen were there because they weren’t good enough to be starters.

Footnote: They pitched every 4 DAYS!

I wonder if the fact that owners can no longer treat players like rented mules, as they did in the good old days, has contributed to the demise of the 4 man rotation.

How about the toll traveling takes? For the first ten years of his career Robin Roberts plied his trade half of the time in Philadelphia and the remainder in places only one time zone away to say nothing of the fact there were only 7 other stops along the way. The Phillies now travel to places with two or three hours time differences. They travel to 15 NL venues and however number of stops inter-league plays adds in a typical year.

But what is so magic about a four man rotation? Let’s go back to the good old days, to a time when men were iron and ships were wooden? Let’s go back to when Jim McCormick pitched. In 1880 he started 74 games and completed 72 of them for a 45 and 28 record and an ERA of 1.85.

Once again, a decent discussion brought to nonsense levels by a pherrisphain comment. It never gets old (does it?)

Rented Mules? I never heard Roberts (or most other players) complain about playing. They loved to play, as they do now. Asking them to pitch every 4 days (or God forbid throw more than 100 pitches) isn’t abusive.

The league when Roberts played had 8 teams and smaller rosters than today. The dilution of talent and expansion make up for the smaller league.

Traveling? Try traveling by train. Players today also have more off-days built into the schedule than players in Roberts’ era. The Phils travel to a two or three hour time difference, but they rarely do so without an off day in between or a 1:00 start time the day before to give them a head start at the airport.
Doubleheaders? What’s a doubleheader, you’d probably ask. They used to actually SCHEDULE THEM.

What’s so magic about a 4-man rotation? How many schlubs are pitching in the big leagues as the fifth man who could easily be thrown into the bullpen (or the minor leagues) without the ensuing headache of “who’s going to be our fifth starter?” A pointless question that shouldn’t have to be asked.
And don’t be ridiculous, I’m not asking to go back to 1880. You only have to go back to the mid 1960s.

Of all the things that have changed about the game over the years (Some good, some bad) the 100-pitch limit placed on pitchers is one of the worst. Often, it ruins a good start when a manager feels forced to bring in a relief pitcher in a close game.

On one hand, players are paid exhorbitant sums of money, but on the other they are not asked to extend themselves to the point that it might actually justify the money they earn.

Hey Pherris, why don’t you send Roy one of your sarcastic notes:

Roberts and Halladay talked a little bit this spring about their abilities to complete games.
“The few that I have don’t really stack up,” Halladay said. “To this day it amazes me how guys did that. Not only five days, but they’re doing it in four-man rotations. It’s obviously pretty impressive. I think the game has changed a little bit, but those are still special people that do those kinds of things. He was one of the best at it. I think it’s just more willingness to want the ball more than anything. For me that’s what it comes down to. Just wanting the ball and wanting to compete. My guess is if you asked those guys, they enjoyed being out there and competing. It wasn’t going the full nine innings, but being able to compete as long as possible.”

muleman Sorry if I offended you with my reference to mules. My apologies to you and your family.

Try traveling by train? When was the last time you traveled by train? Hint: the Broad Street subway doesn’t count. Another hint: one does not experience jet lag traveling on the Broad Street subway any more than one experiences altitude sickness by traveling on the El.

I am sure even someone as thick as a mule can see why one would be more protective of a $6million investment than a $6,000 investment to say nothing of a $60 million investment.

Up is down. Black is white. I agree with pherris. There is no question that the reason pitchers are so protected today is because of the money.
I get my love of baseball from my Dad and he took me to see Robin Roberts pitch a lot, but I was too young to appreciate it. He always told me that Robby was the best pitcher in the 50′s and that he was the best Phillies pitcher ever. Then he saw Carlton and he was perplexed. He finally decided that Carlton was a little better because of his slider, but not by much. Robby was a one pitch pitcher and my Dad always felt that Roberts biggest failing was that he wouldn’t drive guys off the plate. If he did, he would have easily won over 300 games.

I was amazed to see that nobody in th NL has had 28 wins since Robby in 1952. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Halladay did it this year? I thnk he can.

Muleman vs Pherrisphain LIVE on pay-per-view……..
Pan52, you finished your last post with an interesting point. I think if Charlie never goes to an inflexible 5-man rotation and allows the Doc to pitch every 5th day, then he has a chance to do it. If he is forced to wait for the other 4 starters to pitch, his chances will be limited and he will have to get lucky with run support and may even have to run the table minus 2-3 more losses max.

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