(Sept. 29) 

Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, who died on Sept. 26 at age 86, was so good that even his baseball card made spectacular plays. And he was such a good guy that someone could halfway believe the very white Robinson and his black teammate Frank Robinson really were kin.

Let me explain. In the early 1970s, when children entertained themselves by using their imaginations rather than staring endlessly at a soul-killing, hand-held screen, my older brother constructed baseball stadiums with building blocks and created games by positioning baseball cards on the “playing field” inside the blocks. He would use his fingers to flick balls made of tissue paper from home plate toward, well, wherever they would go.

The rule permutations were complex, but the most simple one was that if a tissue ball rolled onto or directly over any part of an infielder’s card, the result was a groundout, but if it rolled between infielders, it was a single. Except, that is, if Brooks Robinson’s card was at third base. Then, the play would result in an out even if the tissue ball didn’t roll over Robinson but just came somewhere in the vicinity. After all, everybody knew Robinson, “the Human Vacuum Cleaner,” could snag balls that no other fielder could possibly reach.

Robinson’s playing prowess was matched by his affability and sincerity. For a young Southern child watching in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the two Robinsons on the Baltimore Orioles set a salutary example. Announcers such as Curt Gowdy called them “the Brothers Robinson,” and the way they acted around each other, an observer could almost believe it.

Marlins at Orioles 6/17/18

It was even more impressive when, at a slightly older age, I learned that Brooks Robinson was an Arkansan who attended the viciously segregated Little Rock Central High School where, several years after he graduated, angry white parents and children spit on the black “Little Rock Nine” who integrated the school. Coming from that milieu did not poison Brooks’s mind, though: When slugger Frank joined the Orioles in the race riot-prone mid-1960s, Brooks said Frank was “just what we need” and eagerly befriended him.

For young sports fanatics, the two Robinsons’ palpably genuine friendship ranked second only to that of football players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, as portrayed in the frequently TV-aired movie Brian’s Song, as a model of how ethnicity was not a valid way to keep people apart.

And if you put them together on a baseball card, well, they might never lose a game in the Hillyer playroom stadium.



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