Thursday, May 6, 2010

Robin Roberts, 1926-2010. R.I.P.

Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts has passed away of natural causes. He was 83.

Roberts pitched the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies where he won 20 games or more six consecutive seasons beginning in 1950 when the Phillies won the NL pennant. Affectionately known as the Whiz Kids they would be swept by the Yankees in that year's World Series.

While Roberts would never again reach the World Series he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the first half of the 1950s. His best season came in 1952 when he went 28-7 with a 2.59 ERA and 30 complete games. These days starting pitchers barely make 30 starts and save for Roy Halladay are lucky to complete one or two games a season. Roberts would finish runner in the NL MVP balloting that year to Hank Sauer of the Chicago Cubs.

Since winning those 28 games no National League pitcher has matched that figure. Denny McLain, of course, won 31 games for the Detroit Tigers in 1968. But the only two NL pitchers to come close to Roberts were Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton who both won 27 games in 1966 and 1972, respectively.

Yet Roberts period of dominance pretty much ended after 1955. In his last season with the Phillies in 1961 he went 1-10 with a 5.85 ERA (of course that was the year the Phillies lost 23 games in a row). But he would remain in the majors until 1966 pitching for the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs. Those so-so remaining years are probably why he was not inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame until 1976. Still, with 286 career wins he could not be denied indefinitely. Although try telling that to Jim Kaat, Bert Blyleven and Tommy John with 283, 287 and 288 wins apiece and no plaques in Cooperstown between the three of them.

Until today, I did not know that Roberts had been a New York Yankee prior to the 1962 season but was released before he had a chance to pitch with them.

I remember watching Bob Costas interview Dick Allen last winter. He asked Allen who he thought was the greatest Phillie of all time. Without any hesitation Allen said, "Robin Roberts." This seemed to take Costas by surprise. I think Costas would have expected Allen to pick fellow slugger Mike Schmidt. Besides, Allen was teammates with Schmidt and not Roberts. Well, even if Roberts isn't the greatest Phillie ever he is certainly up there. Unfortunately, I don't have a link to the interview.

However, here is a nice piece that was done on Roberts just last summer.

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