In 2008, our family rescued a cockapoo. Thirty-one years after the greatest third baseman who ever lived retired in 1977, we named our new dog “Brooks.” In the late ’80s, I had tried to persuade my sister to name her first son “Brooks,” but she named him after our father instead. Oh well, I finally got my “Brooksie” when we adopted the cockapoo.
Why do we all know people in the Baltimore metropolitan area who have sons and pets named Brooks? It’s because this man was our hero when we were kids and into adulthood. We loved him. We loved how he played, we loved how warm and friendly he was, we loved that he was the real deal and never a phony, and we loved his Arkansas drawl and his “aw shucks” humility.
Oh, and we kind of loved him for the major role he played in the Orioles winning the American League pennant in 1966, 1969, 1970 and 1971, and the World Series in 1966 and 1970. When I was a kid, the Orioles making it to the postseason or coming close was one of the rites of autumn in Baltimore – natural law like leaves falling off the trees or Brooks vacuuming up ground balls at third.
There was great sadness in Baltimore as Brooks approached retirement. It was disorienting. We really didn’t know how to be Baltimoreans without Brooksie at third. I was a 5-month-old infant when Brooks played his first game as an Oriole. When he retired in 1977, I was age 22.
A group of friends and I got tickets for the sold-out Thanks Brooks Day at Memorial Stadium in September 1977. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and a complete emotional overload. Brooks circled the field on the back of a 1955 Cadillac convertible, and the place went nuts. The ceremony on the field included memorable presentations:
- Teammate Lee May had played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1970 when the Orioles beat them in the World Series and Brooks was named the series’ Most Valuable Player. May presented Brooks with a vacuum cleaner as he recalled the frustration of the Reds players being unable to get anything past “that Hoover at third.”
- An uncharacteristically sentimental Earl Weaver, the team’s manager, was choked up as he talked about how Brooks always did the right thing.
- Toward the end of the ceremony, Doug DeCinces, the player with the unenviable task of replacing Brooks Robinson as Orioles third baseman, picked up the third base bag and presented it to Brooks. Everyone knew he owned the damn thing.
Brooks was characteristically humble that day, and when he spoke you could have heard a pin drop. Lots of tears were shed by me and many, many others. People who were there have their own stories to tell about the day they said goodbye to Brooks Robinson.
DeCinces was an excellent third baseman and handled his daunting task with grace. Nevertheless, on the rare occasions when he missed a ground ball, the stadium would rumble with the murmurs of “Brooks woulda had it.”
In the years after he retired as a player, Brooks remained in our lives, calling the games with the great Chuck Thompson. Longtime Orioles public address announcer Rex Barney was like an uncle to me, and when I told him I had always wanted to see Fenway Park, he suggested I come up for a Red Sox-Orioles series. I took my seat on a flight to Boston next to none other than Brooks Robinson. The whole thing was an absolute thrill, and I learned that my idol did not have feet of clay. What a delightful human being!
My husband, Ted, and I took his youngest son, Stelios, to about 25 games per year when he was a kid. He picked up on my Brooks worship and made a point of adding a Brooks Robinson baseball card to his collection. When Rex Barney published a memoir, we had a book party at our home, and Brooks attended. I have the most wonderful picture of Stelios staring at Brooks with wonder in his eyes — this kid who hadn’t even been born when Brooks retired now probably asking him questions about where he stored all his Golden Gloves.
No matter how much we enjoy today’s Ravens and Orioles, for people of a certain age, there is considerable nostalgia for the golden days of the Baltimore Colts, the Orioles who won the 1966 World Series in four straight games, “that Hoover at third” during the 1970 World Series and childhood days spent at Memorial Stadium with our parents.
We remember it as a simpler time, and we think of it as a time of greater civility in sports. Baltimoreans name their kids and their dogs after Brooks Robinson because he was all heart and because no one is ever going to tell you a story about the time they saw him act like a jerk. Brooks Robinson was our hero in so many ways. We were privileged to have him in our lives, and we will never, never forget him.
Lynn Morrison Venetoulis is a native Baltimorean and avid Baltimore sports fan. She ran an advocacy firm in Washington for many years specializing in public health issues. The Venetoulis Institute, which publishes the Baltimore Banner, is named for her late husband, Ted.