Day 21: 30 days of baseball books in April 2014 — The book on Brooks, trying to share the glove

brooksrobbook

Not a great Dodger moment: Brooks Robinson leaps for joy with teammates Dave McNally and Andy Echebarren after the Orioles swept the Dodgers in four games in the 1966 World Series.

Not a great Dodger moment: Brooks Robinson leaps for joy with teammates Dave McNally and Andy Etchebarren after the Orioles swept the Dodgers in four games in the 1966 World Series.

    • The pitch: The Brooks Robinson we grew up with in the ’60s and ’70s as the most ultimate warrior wearing Rawlings leather is tough to read about these days.
      The 76 year old took a fall off at a Hollywood, Fla., casino during an appearance in 2012, and he’s involved in a lawsuit against the Seminole Tribe for $10 million in physical damages and future earnings lost. A recent story in the Miami Herald said he still experiences bleeding on the brain, cracks in his spine, and has lost five inches in height. His attorney says Robinson requires constant care, and “has aged 10 years” since that incident.
      Wilson, an Indiana-based ophthalmologist and Society for American Baseball Research member who last year did a biography on Mark Fidrych, makes mention near the end of this book about Robinson’s “near-catastrophic fall,” an event that a “close associate” is quoted as saying that Robinson should never have attended because he was still too weak from a recent recovery that involved prostate cancer as well as complications from a serious infection during some abdominal surgery.
      Wilson quotes former Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson: “It was sickening … I wish I could have taken the fall for him. Seeing my buddy on the floor made me cry.”
      66105fIt still does for us just thinking about his current state.
      The Little Rock, Ark.-native may have already done his autobiography some 40 years ago with Jack Tobin called “Third Base Is My Home,” but what Wilson accomplishes here in re-collecting the data with new interviews and remembrances is open up the otherwise well-insulated life and glorious career of a Hall of Famer. When thought of in the context of current circumstances, it makes you appreciate the man even more.
      First, you understand better his roots in how he got along with having black players as teammates in the South — especially where segregation tension was high — and he went through that time by treating others as he wished to be treated.
      Wilson writes in the preface that since “very little has been written about Brooks Robinson in the past 30 years and his life has never had the full-length, comprehensive biography treatment. I believe the reason for this is that there was a notable lack of conflict or controversy. There was no tragic humiliations; no arrests, no public brawls with spouses, no hints of cheating, substance abuse or scandal. In other words, none of the things that drive books sales.”
      Except, maybe for now in some strange way.
      Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray once wrote some 40 years ago that “In the future, Brooks Robinson will be the standard every third baseman will be measured by,” and that has held up.
      As a defensive specialist, no doubt.
      As someone who also hit over .300 twice, consistently drove in 75 or more runs 11 times in 23 years, and, if you go back to the 1967 All-Star game in Anaheim where Robinson’s sixth-inning homer off Ferguson Jenkins stood up as the only AL run in a 2-1, 15-inning loss, you must remember him much more as an all-around star.
      Wilson makes note that “every single one” of the players who were with him during his career call him the best teammate they ever had. You can maybe measure that more by noting how many people named their kid “Brooks” — the Orioles had a promotion in 2012 for a drawing of free tickets for anyone with a first or middle name of Brooks. There were 493 entrants.
      Brooks plaqueWhat Wilson nicely conveys is how Robinson really has “exhibited many of the values that we now regret as lost.” Yet in this book, he says he does not want to “blindly apply another coat of polish to the statue of a legend.”
      Althought he was contacted and told about the project, Robinson was not part of this book because for two major reasons, Wilson says. One, if out of the respect Wilson had for Robinson’s medical issues. The second reason is that Wilson says “I feel that an inherent weakness of authorized biographies is that the subject has ultimate editorial control … so the author may not be able to critically evaluate sensitive topics.”
      What Wilson is able to do is, by talking to so many of his friends, teammates and those who have been around him for all these years, is present a portrait of Robinson’s character and treatment of fans, “subjects that are impossible for a man to objectively write about himself.”
      Maybe we lose some objectivity as well in reading about a man like Brooks Robinson. We’ve already known going in what kind of man he has been. He may not have been the most well-known Robinson in the game’s history. Or even on his own team during his days playing with Frank Robinson.
      We can’t help but want to know why Brooks Robinson became the man he did. Wilson certainly helps get us there.
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    • More to know:
      == It’s interesting to note that at the website GoodReads.com, one reviewer gave the book four out of five stars, explaining: “Really the only thing preventing this book from 5 stars is the subject’s complete absence of controversy and conflict. Everything else is as compelling in a positive light as any human could be.” Isn’t that kind of a good thing?
      == From Jonathan Yardly in the Washington Post: ” ‘Brooks’ is not quite as successful as ‘The Bird’ because Robinson, though thoroughly likable, is lacking in eccentricity (of which Fidrych had plenty) and had a long career totally unsullied by misbehavior or callousness of any sort (of which too many sports legends have had plenty). Thus he left Wilson with little choice except to write a prolonged encomium. Every syllable of it is deserved — Robinson was, as a player, and is, as a man, totally as advertised — but the treacle at times gets a bit thick, diligently though Wilson tries to keep it under control. …  ‘Brooks’ is an imperfect book, a little heavy on the adulation to my taste, but it is an unabashedly affectionate life of and tribute to a man who deserves every good word that ever has been said or written about him. Only Baltimore really knows how lucky Baltimore has been to have him.”
      == You may note we’ve presented the entire book jacket at the top of this post to preserve the creativity that went into it. How many book jackets do you see that are suitable for framing?
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