Discover more from Good Stuff
Remembering Brooks Robinson
The "Human Vacuum Cleaner" redefined the third base position while inspiring generations of fans.
The Human Vacuum Cleaner.
Is there a more perfect nickname than Brooks Robinson's? The Orioles third base legend, who died Tuesday at the age of 86, redefined the possibilities of defense at the hot corner.
He was an acrobat. A magician. Someone who turned sure doubles into outs.
A human vacuum cleaner.
Robinson, who played for Baltimore from 1955 until 1977, had cat-quick reflexes, good instincts to the ball, and a speedy release.
If you hit it in his vicinity, you might as well have walked back to the dugout.
His legacy was forged in the World Series, when he danced and dove his way into millions of living rooms. His Orioles won championships in 1966 and 1970, and he also played in the Fall Classic in 1969 and 1971.
The 1970 series against the Reds, Robinson was especially dominant, winning MVP honors with otherworldly defense and a .429 batting average.
In the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game, Robinson lunged into foul territory to snare a ball hit by another eventual hall of famer, Johnny Bench, then secured the final out on a Pat Corrales groundout.
As Reds manager Sparky Anderson said while eating in the clubhouse, "I'm beginning to see him in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate, he'd pick it up on one hop and throw me out."
Grainy highlights from the Fall Classics live on. But given the way he performed when the lights were brightest, it makes you wonder: how many other great plays did he make that didn't survive on video?
Statistics support the adoration — and 16 Gold Gloves — heaped on Robinson. In terms of defensive wins above replacement, or dWAR, Robinson is the top-ranked third baseman of all-time, with 39.1 — more than 12 dWAR ahead of Adrian Beltre. No other position features such a wide margin between the first- and second-ranked players.
Nolan Arenado, the best defensive third baseman in the game today, is at 19.1 dWAR.
The game has had a handful of other great defensive third basemen across the years, among them Clete Boyer, Graig Nettles, Mike Schmidt, Ken Caminiti, Matt Williams, Robin Ventura, Scott Rolen, Beltre, Arenado, and Manny Machado. But it feels like the best they could possibly do is remind you of Robinson. To do something that make you think of him.
Such was the case when Gary Tuck, a manager in the Astros system in the mid-1980s, approached Robinson to introduce him to an up-and-coming Caminiti.
“I took Kenny from our clubhouse over to the field and said, ‘Brooks, I’m Gary Tuck, the manager of the Columbus Astros. This is the next Brooks Robinson, Ken Caminiti,’” Tuck said. A decade later, Robinson would be crossing paths with Caminiti again to present him with a Gold Glove award.
But so many years after his career ended, Robinson remains in a class of his own.
If defense were Robinson's only legacy, that would have been enough, but he also happened to be the classiest guy the game has ever seen, someone whose goodwill and friendliness spanned across generations of fans. People who warn you never to meet your idols clearly didn't know about Robinson.
The Human Vacuum Cleaner just had a way of drawing you in.