Robin Roberts - A Brief Biography
Robin Roberts was the dominant pitcher in all of baseball from 1950 through 1955, a span of six seasons. As a key member of the fabled 1950 Whiz Kids, Roberts beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in 10 innings on the last day of the season to clinch the pennant for the Phillies. It was Robin's fifth start in eight days. Overall his exceptional career spanned 18 seasons and 286 major league victories from 1948 to 1966.
Roberts' on the field accomplishments were monumental; many would seem impossible in the modem day. He won 20 or more games in six consecutive season, missing a seventh straight 20 year win year on the last day of 1956. His victory totals in those years were 20,21,28,23,23,23 and 19. His best year was 1952 when he won 28 games against only 7 losses, the first of four straight years he led the National League in wins. In 1952 the league's next wininningest pitchers had 18 victories.
Roberts threw over 300 innings for six consecutive years and led the league in complete games five straight times. Although hard to believe today, Roberts once threw 28 straight complete games over two seasons. For the decade of the 1950s, he posted 199 wins, tops for a right-hander and trailing only Warren Spahn. He started a record five All-Star Games for the National League. He was elected to the Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1976.
Roberts was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois, the son of Welsh immigrant parents. He grew up listening to Cubs games on the radio, where he acted out the ballgames as they played. He played baseball, basketball and football in high school and, after graduating in 1944, qualified for the Air Force Cadet "Just a college kid" Robin wasn't getting paid. Training Program and was sent to Michigan State University.
He pitched during the summers of 1946 and 1947 in the semiprofessional Northern League for Montpelier, Vermont under the tutelage of University of Michigan coach Ray Fisher. In the summer of 1947, he came into his own with an 18 and 3 won-loss record, attracting the attention of Major League scouts. Later that summer he worked out for the Philadelphia Phillies in Wrigley Field in Chicago. Phillies' coach Cy Perkins, soon to become Roberts' mentor, was heard to say, "Don't let that kid out of the park." The Phillies signed Roberts for the then very hefty bonus of $25,000 after assuring him that that was enough money to buy his mother a new house.
Roberts graduated from Michigan State University in the spring of 1948 and reported to spring training with the Phillies two weeks late. Although he had an outstanding spring, he was sent to the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Class B Interstate league to open the season. He was called up to the Phillies to stay in June after compiling a 9-1 record and posting 121 strikeouts and a 2.06 earned run average in 96 innings.
Roberts posted a 7-9 record with the Phillies that year and in 1949, his first full season in the major leagues, won 15 while losing the same number. Then came the breakthrough year 1950 when he defeated the Dodgers for the pennant on the last day of the season for his first 20 game season.
After dominating the National league for much of the decade of the 1950s Robin struggled with the bad Phillie teams of the late 1950s. His career reached rock bottom perhaps when he was sold to the Yankees before the 1962 season and was then released by that club without ever appearing in a game. He soon signed with he Baltimore Orioles, however, where he resurrected his career for a young team that would soon win championships, winning 42 games over the next three and a half years. In 1966 Roberts pitched-the first regular season game on Astroturf in the Astrodome as a member of the Houston Astros. He ended his active major league career as a playing pitching coach for Leo Durocher's Chicago Cubs.
Robin Roberts' off-the-field influences on the game of baseball are as significant as his many accomplishments on the playing field. Roberts was instrumental in the hiring of Marvin Miller to be the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association. As the head of the screening committee for the Players' Association, Robin convinced the players' representatives from the individual teams that Miller was the right choice.
Roberts had pushed within the association for a full time executive director since 1960. When Miller was hired in 1966, Roberts' intent was for Miller to negotiate with the owners to improve the players' pension plan and secure their licensing rights. Roberts loved the game, believed it was a privilege to be able to make his living playing it and did not want to do anything to harm the National Pastime. So when he offered Miller the job he exacted a promise from him that the players' union would never strike.
When the Players' Association under the leadership of Miller struck against Major League Baseball for the first time in 1972, Roberts, by then retired as an active player, immediately called Miller to remind him of his promise. Miller said, "Robin, I have been waiting for your call."
Since his retirement from baseball, Roberts worked as a stockbroker and served as a baseball coach at the University of South Florida for 8 years. Now retired, he lives in the Tampa, Florida area. Robin and his late wife, the former Mary Kalnes have four adult sons, seven grandchildren and one great grandson. Roberts remains active in baseball, serving on the Board of Directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and the Ballplayers' Assistance Fund (B.A.T.).
Roberts' playing career, from 1948 through 1966, virtually coincided with the Golden Age of Baseball. He played with and against all of the legendary players of that glorified time; Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Warren Spahn, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Duke Snider, Roger Maris, Richie Ashburn, Yogi Berra, Jim Palmer. He probably faced Jackie Robinson more than any other pitcher. As a young pitcher, he came to know Connie Mack and other legendary figures of the game.
As amply illustrated by his critically acclaimed book, The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant, published in 1996 by Temple University Press, Roberts is also one of the finest storytellers of his generation.
Copyright 2000 C. Paul Rogers III
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