The sheer alliteration gives it a stage-name sound and a marquee look.
To a lot of contemporary sports fans, Robin Roberts certainly fits the attractive, articulate, black female sportscaster who first achieved national prominence in the 1990s as an ESPN Sportscenter co-anchor.
But there’s this other Robin Roberts. An affable, low-key, 76-year-old white guy in Temple Terrace who used to coach the baseball team at USF. He’s best known by fans who remember the 1950s.
Roberts was one of his era’s most dominant pitchers, winning 20 games or more for six consecutive years for the Philadelphia Phillies. Seemingly, he started every All-Star game in the ’50s. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He was to Philadelphia what Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were to New York, Ted Williams to Boston, Stan Musial to St. Louis, Warren Spahn to Milwaukee, Ralph Kiner to Pittsburgh, Ernie Banks to Chicago and Duke Snider to Brooklyn. He was Roger Clemens in red pin stripes.
He was on the cover of Time magazine in 1956. He was that big.
These days he still follows the game intensely and gets out on the links as often as possible. In fact, he can still shoot his age. He’s on the board of directors of the Hall of Fame and makes the occasional guest appearance and memorabilia visit. He still throws out his share of ceremonial first pitches.
And he continues to cherish the memories and friendships that Major League Baseball has afforded him. Any question can propel Roberts into a story-telling reverie. And there’s a bunch in his recently published book, “My Life In Baseball.”
Don’t look for “My Life” on the New York Times’ best seller list, but for the hard-core baseball fan, it’s a nice read — filled with tales of another time and musings on the game since then. Perhaps its most impressive facet is its minute, almost Bob Graham-like detail.
“I think a lot of athletes can recall details of their career, because it was so important to them,” explains Roberts. “I still remember stuff from grade school. I get a kick out of folks who come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember the day you struck out so and so in a certain situation?’ Well, of course, I do. I was there.
“I’m not so good, however, on birthdays,” he concedes. “I know my wife (Mary, to whom he has been married for 53 years) has never been all that impressed.”
By today’s standards, “My Life” is uncommonly non-controversial. Roberts is neither Jim Bouton nor David Wells. He was one of baseball’s good guys, and the book reads that way. It is, however, punctuated with a couple of anecdotes on Jackie Robinson’s racial crucible, and there’s a chapter devoted to Roberts’ significant involvement in the players’ union.
“The ‘innocence,’ if you will, is real,” says Roberts. “I was the kind of guy who went to the ballpark and then back to the hotel. I’m not pulling punches. That was my way of living.”
He is, however, considering a sequel, he says impishly. Even has a title: “All The Stuff I Left Out.”
Today, he enjoys opportunities to mix with those who recall yesteryear as if it were yesterday. They remember him winning 28 games in 1952, and that number 23 came when he pitched all 17 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. They remember his personal pitched battles with Brooklyn Dodger ace Don Newcombe and his mano a manos with Stan Musial. They remember him pitching 28 straight complete games — and, no, that’s not a typo. They remember he could hit and run the bases.
They remember when Roberts, pitching on two days rest, won the final, pennant-clinching game of the 1950 season, 4-1, against the Dodgers and was literally carried off Ebbets Field by his teammates. It put the Phillies, dubbed the “Whiz Kids” for their relative youth, into the World Series for only the second time in franchise history.
Roberts, however, revels more in the memory of center fielder Richie Ashburn throwing out the winning run at the plate, Dick Sisler hitting the game-winning home run and Jackie Robinson coming over to the Phillies’ clubhouse to personally congratulate the winners.
And they remember Roberts pitching 10 innings before Joe DiMaggio beat him with a home run in a 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees in game two of that ’50 Series.
“You know, while I was playing I didn’t have the feeling that I was that important to people,” says Roberts. “So it’s very gratifying to meet these fans now.
“It’s also funny in a way,” adds Roberts. “They all know that I gave up my share of home runs. Well, if I had known that someone was counting, I tell ’em, I wouldn’t have thrown so many.”
Roberts’ career pre-dates free agency riches. He earned $530,000 — over 18 seasons. His top salary was $58,000. But he’s hardly resentful of the timing.
“Remember that the average annual household income in the United States in the mid-fifties was less than $4,000,” he points out.
“I’m certainly not one of those old ballplayers who insists that the way we did it was better,” states Roberts. “It was just different. I would, for example, much rather be pitching today with adequate rest and knowing I was going to go to the mound with great stuff.”
He even understands modern athletes, such as the Bucs’ Warren Sapp, who feel they owe fans nothing once the game ends.
“Look, when I won, I was pretty tired,” recalls Roberts. “When I lost, I wasn’t good company. Now you have people selling autographs and all