OPINION — Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: There’s no questioning Robinson’s greatness

Brooks Robinson was great.

A great American, Arkansan, husband, father, man and, of course, baseball player.,

In 1975 while working for UPI in New York, a discussion turned into an argument over who was the greatest third baseman of all time.

Yours truly emphatically said Brooks Robinson, and Bill Madden -- who went on to become a legendary baseball writer and columnist for the New York Daily News -- said it was someone else. Don't remember who, but it doesn't matter.

The argument got a little heated when a voice of reason, Ira Miller, asked: "Which one was called the Human Vacuum Cleaner?"

End of discussion.

A few summers ago, a poll was conducted for 30 days about who was the greatest athlete to be born in Arkansas?

The clear favorites were Keith Jackson (Little Rock Parkview High School, Oklahoma and the NFL) or Donnie Kessinger (Forrest City, Ole Miss and 15-year major league shortstop), but the people's choice was Brooks Robinson.

Anyone who spent part of their youth at Little Rock's Lamar Porter Field, their baseball hero was probably Brooks Robinson, who never forgot his roots or his days as a fabled Doughboy, an American Legion team based in Little Rock. That led to his being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, the only organization he played for in his 22 years, when he was 18.

By now everyone knows he has gone to that field of dreams in the sky and that his career was amazing with 16 Gold Gloves -- which ties him for second all-time with pitcher Jim Kaat and behind only pitcher Greg Maddux (18). Neither Kaat or Maddux played every inning of every game.

He owned two World Series championship rings and from the time he left Little Rock until his death at 86, there is absolutely no indication he changed.

Accolades have come from all over the world from former teammates, opponents and coaches. Umpire Ed Hurley once said of Brooks Robinson, "He came down from a higher league."

After his career, Robinson became a very successful businessman and like when he was a player and was asked for an autograph, he would comply and ask the fan about his family, how many kids did he have, etc.

He rarely talked about himself.

In the early 1980s, he was invited to an Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame dinner the night before the annual golf tournament. He was a 1978 inductee and like his 1983 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame was voted in the first year he was eligible.

At that dinner, we were both early and we chatted about him throwing an Arkansas Gazette paper route growing up and that he still tries to keep up with the Arkansas Razorbacks, who offered him a baseball scholarship.

That night there many great athletes in attendance, but the prom king was Brooks Robinson, who tried to spend time with everyone.

Brooks Robinson probably had a little introvert in him, but he overcame it with a soft smile and soothing voice.

During his major league career, he was known to take a year to prepare a glove for play and then he only used it in games. He was selective about his bats, too.

He played in 2,896 games in his career with 10,654 at-bats, 2,697 hits and 1,357 RBI.

His nicknames included "Mr. Oriole" and "Hoover," a brand of vacuum cleaner.

His career field percentage was an incredible .971. He turned more down-the-third-base-line hits into outs than probably anyone in history.

In May of 1975, not long after the argument about who was the best third baseman of all time, your trusty scribe had decided seven months in New York was enough and turned in his notice.

On my last day, Madden gave me a Brooks Robinson bat complete with the No. 5 on it. It is still cherished.