Hall of Famer and former Vancouver Mountie Brooks Robinson dies

Brooks Robinson played with the Vancouver Mounties in 1959.

September 26, 2023

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Legendary Baltimore Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86.

The Baltimore Orioles made the announcement on Tuesday evening. No cause of death was released.

“We are deeply saddened to share the news of the passing of Brooks Robinson,” said a statement issued by the Orioles and the Robinson family. “An integral part of our Orioles Family since 1955, he will continue to leave a lasting impact on our club, our community, and the sport of baseball.”

Canadian pitching legend and fellow National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) formed a friendship with Robinson and he shared his condolences on Twitter on Tuesday.

“Heartbroken to hear of the passing of the legendary Brooks Robinson,” wrote Jenkins. “Mr. Gold Glove at 3rd base, a huge advocate for the players association, and great man and friend. My thoughts go out to the Robinson family, his fans, and the Oriole organization.”

Born in 1937 in Little Rock, Ark., Robinson evolved into arguably the best third baseman in major league history. From 1955 to 1977 with the Orioles, he was selected to play in 18 All-Star games, won 16 Gold Glove awards, slammed 268 homers and was a two-time World Series champion (1966 and 1970). For his efforts, the gregarious Arkansas native was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

What most people don’t know about Robinson, however, is that a gruesome injury he sustained in Vancouver almost ended his career, well before it became Hall of Fame caliber. In 145 games with the Orioles in 1958, the up-and-coming infielder hit .238 with just three homers. Despite his modest numbers, Robinson felt he had established himself as a big leaguer.

After the 1958 campaign, with Robinson’s 22nd birthday looming, the Orioles encouraged the young infielder to fulfill his military obligation that off-season. So, from October 1958 to April 1959, he was enlisted in the Arkansas National Guard. Although in good shape when he reported to the O’s spring camp in 1959, his timing – both at the plate and in the field – lagged behind that of his teammates. And shortly after arriving at the big league camp, Robinson could see that Billy Klaus had supplanted him as the O’s top third baseman. The night before the season opener, however, Klaus slipped in his bathtub and Robinson manned the hot corner for the O’s on Opening Day.

But when Klaus returned, Robinson was relegated to the bench, and by early May, with just 25 at bats under his belt, he was told by O’s manager Paul Richards that he was being shipped to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League Vancouver Mounties. Richards told the young Robinson that he needed to play and that if he got his game together, he’d be called up by the All-Star break.

Having already been up and down between the Orioles and the minors numerous times since 1955, Robinson wasn’t sure he’d ever return to the majors.

“My fears that I’d reached the end were realized,” wrote Robinson in his 1974 book, Third Base Is My Home, after being shipped to Vancouver. “I wasn’t of major league caliber. I’d been fortunate to play as much as I had. I was going down to the Pacific Coast League and I’d bounce around in the upper minors until one day, there just wouldn’t be a spot for Brooks Robinson.”

Robinson described his flight to Vancouver as “the lowest point” of his career.

Mounties manager Charlie Metro told Robinson that he’d be the club’s starting third baseman, and the talented infielder was just beginning to find his stride, when, a week into his West Coast stint, he suffered a serious injury. In the fourth inning of a game against Portland on May 17 at Capilano Stadium (now Nat Bailey Stadium), Robinson pursued a foul ball near the Mounties dugout.

“I went chasing a high, twisting foul near the Mounties dugout,” recalled Robinson in his 1971 book, Putting It All Together. “I moved in close, as far as I could, but it fell just beyond my reach. While trying to make the catch, I lost my balance and fell toward the dugout. As I slid back, my sweatshirt sleeve caught on a hook on the guardrail of the dugout and the hook dug into the muscle under the bicep. Caught, I hung there suspended, the blood running down my arm in a stream.”

It was Mounties trainer Doc Younker, who was inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, who pried him loose, bandaged his arm and rushed him to the hospital. The doctor told him that a tendon had been severed, but that the nerve was intact. If the nerve had’ve been cut, his playing days would’ve been over.

As soon as the wound began to heal, Robinson started exercising and he was back in action in two weeks and went on a hitting tear with the Mounties.

“I was hitting as well as I had at any time in my life,” he recalled in Third Base Is My Home.

By the all-star break, Robinson was hitting .331 with six home runs and 30 RBIs in 42 games with the Mounties. And true to his word, Richards called Robinson back up to the big leagues.

Robinson never returned to the minors.

“In retrospect that brief tour at Vancouver is one of the bright spots of my baseball career,” wrote Robinson in Third Base Is My Home.

6 thoughts on “Hall of Famer and former Vancouver Mountie Brooks Robinson dies

Add yours

  1. For those who were/are big Brooks Robinson fans – and who isn’t? – here is part of a story I wrote which appeared in the Vancouver Canadians 2014 yearbook. I hope you enjoy the detail that Doc Younker gave about the time Brooks Robinson’s career was saved.

    … You see, Robinson would soon become widely known as “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” for his fielding superiority in scooping up grounders and snagging line drives at the hot corner.

    But 55 years ago – on May 17, 1959 – Robinson snagged something else while chasing a pop foul at Vancouver’s beloved Capilano (now Nat Bailey) Stadium. Reaching for the ball over the Mounties’ dugout railing, he caught his right arm on a piece of metal protruding from the top of the chain link fence.

    The sharp object pierced Robinson’s throwing arm and coiled itself around the tendon. So he was literally hooked on the fence and Doc had to quickly figure out how to carefully get him off without career-ending damage.

    “I see him hanging on the fence,” recalls Doc as he relives in his mind’s eye one of the defining moments in both their lives.

    “What am I going to do? I’ve never had one of these [situations],” he remembers saying to himself. “All I’m thinking of is how I’m going to get Brooks Robinson off that fence. I got a stepladder and took him down with help from some of the players. I got a bottle of Merthiolate and put that on and put a tourniquet on him and wrapped him up in my white towels.

    “I called the ambulance, but they never showed up [so] I said I’m taking you to the hospital, I’m not waiting any longer. I put on all the lights on my car and somebody called [Nat] Bailey’s store on the corner [the White Spot near the ballpark on Cambie] and they went out and one of the guys stopped the traffic and I made a right turn down the street and away we went with the vehicle full of blood.”

    Younker says he got into a bit of hot water with the Mounties’ management over his decision to transport Robinson to the hospital himself. But, hey, you’d have to say his cool handling of Robinson’s impaling and his impatience with the ambulance service paid off big time as the pair were to be forever linked on their way to hall-of-fame immortality…

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: