When I was too young to exercise any judgement about the important things in life, I received from my dad the sense that my baseball hero ought to be Brooks Robinson. I do not remember ever having been in any doubt on the matter, at any point in my life.
I should explain that we lived in Rochester, New York, which had just begun an affiliation with the Baltimore Orioles, so although Robinson never played for the Red Wings, my allegiance to the Red Wings warranted a baseball hero who might play for the Orioles. That will have been a time when Robinson was just settling into his career; he might easily have slumped, succumbed to injury, been traded to the Kansas City A’s, or any of a thousand developments that would have complicated my admiration of Robinson, but instead he blossomed into being a steady (if not fearsome) batter, a loyal Baltimorean, and the best defensive third baseman to pick up a glove. All the obits report that he had various outlandish nicknames; those weren’t proper nicknames at all, but the sort of epithet that sportswriters and broadcasters dream up to attach themselves to greater men’s glory.
I’ve read a lot about Brooks, and as a theologian I’m amply aware of human frailty, but I’ve never heard a negative report about him. Many of his generation will have imbibed racism growing up, many of his contemporaries revelled in the libertinism that stardom afforded, many retirees complain about subsequent generations’ salaries or fame or style, many people are just plain mean in one way or another — but so far as I’ve heard, Brooks Robinson was simply a good, kind, man. I know that I won’t ever have an achievement to compare to his; I hope that I may at least be found to have shared in his goodness.
In this year when the O’s are at last back in postseason baseball (and have done it the Oriole Way, by building a team from the minors up), many will feel his death especially acutely. Vale, Brooks Robinson — one old priest in England is sadder this season.