Tim Kurkjian’s Baseball Fix – How Brooks Robinson earned the nickname ‘Human Vacuum Cleaner’


You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1937, Brooks Robinson was born.

Twenty-five years later, future Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts joined the Orioles. In one of his first starts, on a swinging bunt down the third-base line, Roberts cut in front of Robinson, who was charging from third base. Roberts bobbled the ball; the runner was safe at first. Brooks, typical Brooks, in his wonderful Arkansas accent, playfully patted his new teammate on the butt and said, “Next time, let me have that one. I’m good on that play.”

The full “On this date …” archive

Brooks Robinson was good on every play. I believe he is the best defensive third baseman of all time. He won 16 Gold Gloves; only pitcher Greg Maddux won more (18).

Robinson’s legendary performance for the Orioles in the 1970 World Series earned him the nickname “the Human Vacuum Cleaner.” Reds manager Sparky Anderson said, “I’ve never seen anything like what he did to us in that series. He killed us.”

Robinson had fabulous hands, but he also had another prerequisite for a third baseman: His body was never in a hurry. Five-time Gold Glove third baseman Doug Rader once told me that playing third base “is like recovering a fumble.” But Robinson was able to slow things down, and relax, when others panicked.

“Brooksie used to take ground balls on his knees,” said former teammate Frank Robinson. “He practiced taking balls off his chest.”

Brooks won the American League MVP in 1964 and finished in the top four of the voting four other years. He got 2,848 hits. He played in 18 All-Star Games. He led the AL in games played four years in a row, playing at least 161 games in each season. He holds the major league record for the most games — 10 — in which he had the only RBI in a 1-0 victory.

Brooks Robinson is the single nicest man I have ever met in a major league uniform. I am not alone. He is beloved in Baltimore. He is beloved everywhere. When he used to play at Orioles Fantasy Camp, it made every camper’s week. Brooks also shares a birthday with Reggie Jackson. When Robinson retired after the 1977 season, Gordon Beard, a sports writer, spoke at a gala honoring him. Beard said, “In New York, they named a candy bar after Reggie Jackson. Here in Baltimore, we name our children after Brooks Robinson.”

Other notes for May 18

  • In 2004, Randy Johnson became the oldest pitcher ever to throw a perfect game. He was 40 at the time.

  • In 1988, in the 39th game of the season for the A’s, pitcher Dave Stewart committed his 12th balk, breaking Steve Carlton’s record for balks in a season. Stewart would finish with 16 balks.

  • In 1947, Hal Chase died. He is one of nine non-pitchers in history to play 1,000 games in the big leagues batting right-handed and throwing left-handed.

  • In 1951, catcher Jim Sundberg was born. He won six Gold Gloves. In spring training 1982, he fooled a young writer by pretending to hit him on the back of the head with a bat when all he had done was wave his hand against his hair. When I turned around, he said, “Oh my God, I almost hit you.” I was scared to death. The whole team was in on it. They howled.

  • In 1984, Prince Fielder was born. Former teammate Ryan Braun said if Fielder entered the world’s strongest man competition, “he could hold his own.” Former teammate Phil Coke said Fielder brought a tape into the Tigers’ clubhouse one day of him wrestling a sumo wrestler from Japan. “Prince,” Coke said, “just chucked this guy across the ring.”


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