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Farewell to Robin Roberts, a boyhood idol

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  May 6, 2010 12:38 PM

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I don't want you folks to think all I'm ever going to address in this space are those who have passed on, but I've got to react to the news, and I lost a piece of my boyhood yesterday with the passing of the great Robin Roberts, who died at his Florida home of natural causes at age 83.

Robin Roberts was one of my three great boyhood idols. There was Ted Kluszewski, Elgin Baylor, and there was Robin Evan Roberts, the ace righthander of the Philadelphia Phillies.

From 1950 through 1955, there was no one better. He won 20 games or more in each of those years, peaking at 28-7 in 1952, but that's only half the story. His heart and competitiveness overruled common sense, both his own and that of his managers.

I rail about the way pitch counts and excessive caution have overtaken baseball as much as anyone, but there is no denying that things had to change, and the case of Robin Roberts may very well be Exhibit A. He was done as a great pitcher by the time he was 28, and here's why.

In order to amass 138 wins in those six years, Robin Roberts averaged 39 starts and 327 innings a year! In 1953, when he was 23-16 for a very average Phillies team (which, after winning the pennant in 1950, is all they ever were for the remainder of his time in Philadelphia), he made 41 starts and pitched 346 2/3 innings. My mouth hangs open.

Gee, I wonder why they said he had lost something off his fastball when he went 19-18 in 1956.

He re-invented himself as a useful finesse pitcher for both the Astros and Orioles, for whom he was 13-7, 2.91 in 1964. But the damage had been done. Such a thing would be unimaginable today, when 200 innings is considered to be a benchmark.

Robby was a stylist, with a beautiful, fluid motion. He had a routine in which he stretched to touch his toes, if not before every pitch, then quite frequently. He prided himself on his control, leading the league in fewest bases on balls per nine innings four times.

Because he was always around the plate, and because he did not believe in throwing at people, he gave up an all-time record of 505 home runs.

I had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice, and by all accounts he ranked very high in the Nice Guy rankings.

Now I wish all these great people, these Mieulis, Harwells and Robertses, would stop leaving us.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
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Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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