Friday, December 29, 2023

Filling A Void

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Last Saturday, on an idyllic fall afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles did something they hadn’t done since 2016: take the field for a playoff game.  Between then and now, there have been many dark seasons, with three reaching the dubious 100-loss milestone.

Plagued by the cringe-worthy ownership of an ailing Peter Angelos and his family’s adversarial jockeying for team control, the organization, at least off the field, has been adrift (sound familiar, D.C. football fans?).  That chaos aside, the baseball operations have been crushing it.  The Orioles parlayed those poor seasons and draft capital into arguably the best young roster and farm system in MLB.  In 2023, ahead of all expectations, that talent announced its arrival with a 101-win season and the AL East Pennant.

Despite the euphoria, there is a tinge of sadness in Birdland.  A black circular patch with an inlayed orange “5” adorns the Orioles’ uniform.  The patch is a tribute to Orioles legend Brooks Robinson, who passed away on September 26th.  Robinson was 86 years old.

The measurables of Robinson’s baseball greatness are distinguished: 18 All-Star games, 16 Gold Gloves, league MVP (1964), Roberto Clemente Award (1972), two World Series championships (1966, 1970), World Series MVP (1970), Baseball Hall of Fame member and an unimaginable defensive highlight reel.  How good was he at third base?  For decades, if anyone at any level made a great play on the hot corner, teammates and opponents simply needed to utter “Brooks” with a tip of the cap.  You knew because you knew.  He was the best.

But in a full account of Robinson’s life, the baseball player would be in the shadow of the man.  Stories are the best way to understand Brooks Robinson, the human.  Scott Van Pelt, ESPN anchor and Maryland native had one.  His dad caught a Robinson foul ball at Memorial Stadium and gave it to Scott, who, as kids are apt to do, lost it down a storm drain after a stray throw.  Years later Van Pelt told the story within earshot of a Robinson acquaintance.  Apparently, the story got back to Robinson because, shortly thereafter, Van Pelt received a signed Robinson ball with a note that it hopefully eased the pain of the one that got away.

Sportscaster Rich Eisen had his story.  As a younger lad he was part of a charity golf tournament and, as youth sometimes does, vigorously imbibed the night before.  Nursing a hangover, he became frustrated when the shuttle to the course no-showed.  Eisen called the hotel front desk and asked if anyone was there from the tournament.  Somehow Robinson ended up on the phone with Eisen, addressed his concern and had a shuttle sent within minutes. 

I have two.  I was in Robinson’s company just once – an autograph show in Baltimore.  His interactions were fascinating.  Robinson treated everyone with the warmth of a long-time friend.  I mean everyone – staff, fellow luminaries, kids and star-struck, nobody autograph hounds like me.  The second is his voice.  I don’t remember Robinson the player, but I do remember him broadcasting Orioles games.  His delivery was so down-to-earth and unassuming.  To this 10-year-old kid, he made comic book stuff – major league baseball and greats like Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray – seem like reality (albeit an extraordinary one).  He invited you into the Orioles’ living room, so to speak.  All were welcome.  He made Orioles baseball feel like family.

Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Whatever the name Brooks Robinson immediately brings to your mind, be it a signed ball sent to atone for an adolescent mistake, commandeering a shuttle to a golf tournament, a ridiculous play at third or even a voice over the airways on a perfect summer night, he made us all feel a little better – in the moment and about the course of humanity.  With Robinson’s death, the world is left less friendly, less humble, less decent and less kind.  His passing leaves a void; the challenge for those left behind is to fill it.   

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