I like the idea of writing about a notable player’s notable walk-off every so often, so today I picked a notable player I like –- Orioles Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson.
When I was 12, I went to a baseball card show on Staten Island where Robinson was signing autographs. Since my dad was a vendor at the show, we got a freebie, and I got an autograph and (at Robinson’s insistence) a picture with Robinson. He couldn’t have been nicer. I’ve heard he’s that way with everyone.
The other story I like comes from Curt Gowdy, whom I got to interview when I worked at ESPN. He said he went on a hunting trip with Robinson once, and when they got back to the hotel, Robinson paused for a moment. Gowdy asked what was wrong, and Robinson said something to the effect of “I can’t believe we got beat by the Mets in 1969.”
So this brings us to Robinson and walk-offs, and he may have had one better than this, but I really like this one, so this is the story I’ll share.
In 1977, Brooks Robinson was 39 and at the end of an illustrious 23-year career that was best known for his 16 Gold Glove Awards for unbelievable defense. The Orioles had a young potential star at third base in Doug DeCinces, so Robinson was limited to a reserve role. The Orioles were playing the Indians, a team managed by former Orioles legend Frank Robinson, on April 19. Brooks Robinson hadn’t played in a week.
He watched from the bench as the teams battled to a 2-2 tie through nine innings. In the top of the 10th, the Indians scored three times. They could have scored more had Buddy Bell and Andre Thornton (two good hitters) not struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Those turned out to be two important outs. In the bottom of the 10th, Ken Singleton singled and Doug Decinces walked to bring the tying run to the plate. Eddie Murray struck out, but Lee May followed with a single that scored Singleton. Earl Weaver, perhaps playing a hunch, called on Brooks Robinson to pinch-hit for lefty-hitting Larry Harlow against lefty pitcher Dave LaRoche (Adam’s father).
Bill Tanton, a columnist for Baltimore’s Evening Sun estimated that only hundreds remained from a crowd of 4,826. They saw an epic at-bat, one with seven foul balls and a 3-2 count. It kind of had the feel of Kirk Gibson against Dennis Eckersley, but with smaller stakes. And it ended similarly, with Robinson homering (to left field instead of right field) to win the game, and raising his fist in celebration.
“I feel like a little kid every time I put the uniform on,” Robinson told reporters after the game.
It was the 268th and last home run of Robinson’s major league career. He’d have 44 more at-bats before retirement. This was a good at-bat to remember him by.
Brooks Robinson Minutiae
– Brooks Robinson hit eight walk-off home runs, which I can say with 99.99% certainty is a Browns/Orioles franchise record. Baseball-Reference’s data dates to 1925 and there’s no one from the Browns within striking distance. Eddie Murray ranks second with six.
– Brooks Robinson had a walk-off RBI in Game 6 of the 1971 World Series. He hit a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning against the Pirates. Future Indians manager Frank Robinson scored the winning run.
I was at that game keeping the box-score for AP. My dad, Gordon Beard, was a veteran reporter for AP and got me the job. I was seventeen. It was my third year at the job. I sat in the front row of the press box. The press was supposed to be impartial and many of the reporters were packing up so they could get to the locker rooms for interviews. Then, Brooks hits the homerun, and everyone in the press box stood up and cheered him all the way around the bases. a moment I will never forget. I had never seen such a scene in the press box and never have since.