When I attended junior high school in early 1971, one of the sports magazines I read contained a clever poem that paid tribute to the 1970 sports season. One verse summed up the defensive skills of Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.
“Pity the poor Big Red Machine, Brooksie stripped its motor clean.”
The poem might have come from Sport magazine, but I am not 100 percent sure. But here’s something I definitely know: Brooks Robinson was a defensive dervish during the 1970 World Series, just like he was during his 23-season career with the Baltimore Orioles. Doug Wilson, in his 2014 biography of Robinson, wrote that the Cincinnati Reds, who lost the World Series in 1970 in five games to Baltimore, were “continually flummoxed in attempts to drive the ball through the left side of the Orioles’ infield.”
Robinson, who turns 79 on Wednesday, was one of baseball’s truly nice guys. He won 16 Gold Gloves between 1960 and 1975, was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1964 and led A.L. in RBIs that same year. He also was named the World Series MVP in 1970. His fielding percentage was .971 and he made 264 errors during his career, He was slow afoot but to his opponents, Robinson was “the human vacuum cleaner” thanks to his lightning-quick reflexes.
To honor No. 5, here are five Brooks Robinson cards representing various stages of his career.
1957 Topps No 328
This is Robinson’s rookie card, and boy, does Brooks look young. This is one of the key cards in the 1957 product; from a personal view, it’s the one card I need to finish off my birth-year Topps set. I checked out the prices for Robinson’s debut card in the “Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards” and found this gem: it lists for $1oo in VG condition, $2oo in EX, and $00.00 in NM condition. Hey, that’s the book’s typo, not mine. Actually you can find a good looking Brooks Robinson rookie card on eBay for around $400. Of course, you’ll pay a lot more for a truly high-end example.
Of the 2,548 Robinson cards submitted for grading to PSA, only one card has earned a gem mint 10 rating. A total of 32 graded out at PSA 9. The highest graded card among the 422 submitted to SGC is a 92, and there are seven of them.
1968 Topps 3-D Prototype
This is an extremely tough card to find. Topps issued 3-D cards as a test in 1968, but before those were released, the company created a prototype featuring Robinson. The card measured 2 1/4 inches by 3 1/4 inches and had square corners. The team name “Orioles” was in red block letters at the top of the card, and the photo showed Robinson at the plate, bat cocked and ready for the pitch.
The design is similar to the 1967 Topps regular-issue set, the only difference being the team name at the top, rather than the bottom. The card back had a rubber-stamped notice that identified it as a Xograph 3-D set. Some prototypes do exist without the stamped back; an unstamped example was sighted at the 2012 National, for example. The “Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards” lists the Robinson at $90,000 in near-mint condition.
1967 Dexter Press Premiums
If you’re collecting on Brooks Robinson baseball cards on a budget, this glossy, 5 ½ inch-by 7-inch card was issued by Dexter Press of New York and is one of the nicer looking cards of the 1960s. Robinson, like all of the players in the 229-card set, was photographed during spring training from the waist up. There is a black facsimile autograph above the photograph, and the card has a quarter-inch, white border that frames the picture. There is a biography on the back of the card.
You can find both the ’67 and ’68 Robinsons for about the cost of a restaurant meal.
1971 Topps #331 World Series Game 5
Never mind that the photo Topps used to highlight Game 5 of the 1970 World Series was actually a play from Game 3. Robinson made a diving stop to rob Johnny Bench of a base hit and end the sixth inning in Game 3, but he did it all during the Series and made two more spectacular plays in the Game 5 Series clincher. The caption for the card summed up the third baseman’s overall defense in the Fall Classic: “B. Robinson Commits Robbery!”
“This guy’s in another world,” NBC announcer Curt Gowdy said after Robinson dived to his left to rob Bench for the second time in the game. “I mean, he’s unbelievable.”
Perhaps Robinson’s larceny was inspired by similar robbery in the 1969 World Series. In the ninth inning of Game 4, Ron Swoboda made a skidding, diving catch in right-center field to prevent the Orioles from scoring more than one run. That one run tied the game and the Mets won in 2-1 in 10 innings. Who was victimized by Swoboda’s catch? Brooks Robinson.
The high-angle solo shot of Robinson coming up with the ball is a classic and one that captured his October brilliance for millions of kids. You can own a near mint example for around $20-25.
1975 Kellogg’s No. 18
1975 was Robinson’s last year as an everyday player and while his offensive statistics revealed a dramatic decline in production, he did win the last of his Gold Gloves for the Orioles.
For 14 years during the 1970s and ’80s, Kellogg’s distributed 3-D cards in “specially marked” boxes of its breakfast cereal, or the more impatient collector could order a complete set by mail. The 1975 offering is one of the scarcer sets to put together, especially since it contained a dozen Hall of Famers. Not as scarce as the 1971 version, but still hard to complete. Like many of the Kellogg’s issues, the 2 1/8-inch by 3 1/4-inch cards in 1975 were susceptible to cracking. An uncracked Robinson seems like quite a bargain when you see them for sale at $15-25.
By the way, a complete PSA 8 graded “set” of base Robinson’s Topps cards from 1957-77 sold not long ago for $5,595.
Here’s a list of the current most watched Brooks Robinson cards for sale on eBay.