Spectators look at the 9-foot bronze statue honoring Hall of… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
The crowd of about 1,000 surrounding his new statue showered the greatest glove man in the history of the hot corner with a spirited and loving ovation at Saturday's unveiling ceremony. Then something quite unusual happened.
Brooks Robinson wept.
"I haven't had an applause like that in a long time, believe me," he said, choking up along the way. "Thank you very much."
It was a very special tribute to a very special Baltimore legend, but nobody knew how special it would feel until Robinson had trouble finding the words to thank all the people who came together on a cool afternoon outside Camden Yards to show their appreciation for his great baseball career and a life so well lived.
"I've been to a lot of things with Brooks," his close friend and former teammate Ron Hansen said. "That's the first time I've seen him so teary-eyed and emotional about an affair."
Maybe it was the tableau. Robinson has been honored plenty of times — including a little ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1983 — but this was different. This was Brooks in a setting of such personal significance on so many levels that it's not surprising his emotions briefly got the best of him.
He didn't play at Oriole Park, but that is the home of the team he has represented so honorably — if not always officially — for more than a half-century. He is too self-effacing to talk much about his place in baseball history but humbly accepted his new place among the true immortals of Baltimore's storied sports past.
"Never did I expect to have a statue, let alone a statue 300 yards from a statue of the greatest player in major league history — Babe Ruth," Robinson said. "And another 300 or 400 yards away is the statue of the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Johnny Unitas, a dear friend of mine that I miss very much."
The statue, a 9-foot-tall creation of sculptor Joseph Sheppard that sits on the Washington Boulevard Plaza, portrays Robinson in a familiar stance, getting ready to make a throw from third base to first. The monument is situated in such a way that Robinson's likeness is positioned in correct relation to first base inside the ballpark.
It is a realistic representation, except for one small bit of artistic license. The statue is in classic bronze, except for the glove on Robinson's left hand. It is, as you might expect, the same color as the record 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards he won at third base.
"But it's not just about the golden gloves," U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski told the crowd. "It's about the golden heart that Brooks has. He's from a time when we knew our baseball players and we knew their names, but most important of all, they knew us."
Indeed, that was the message Robinson brought to the hundreds of fans who crowded onto the small plaza for the ceremony.
"To all of my friends out there," he said, "you have always been so good to me. I just want you to know. I have never considered you fans. I've always considered you my friends. Thank you so much for the way you've treated me over the years."
The testimonials flowed easily, probably because it isn't exactly tough to come up with something good to say about one of the nicest gentlemen ever to lace up a pair of cleats in any sport. Maybe the level of emotion traveling in both directions was heightened by the sad fact that Robinson has had to battle a series of serious health problems over the past few years.
"They don't make guys like Brooks anymore," said Emmy-nominated actor Josh Charles, a lifelong Orioles fan who joined Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mikulski, National Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson and other dignitaries on stage for the tribute. "A lot of athletes today could learn a lot just by looking at Brooks and seeing the way he conducts himself and handles himself. He said to everybody that he's never looked at the fans as fans, but as friends. That's the sense you get from him. He's an immortal."
The statue is the result of seven years of work and no small amount of personal expense by longtime friend Henry Rosenberg, who conceived of the monument in 2004 and undoubtedly envisioned it on the grounds of Camden Yards. The Orioles, however, did not cooperate in the effort and have announced that they will unveil their own permanent tribute to their six Hall of Famers during the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park next season.
Maybe this was the best outcome, because the statue now stands in an area where large numbers of fans congregate before and after Orioles games and passersby will see it every day regardless of season. O'Malley, who was mayor of Baltimore when the project was conceived, certainly approved of the location.
"Brooks, you always caught the ball and made the play," he said, "but the city of Baltimore is lucky to have caught you. … With this statue positioned at the gateway to Baltimore — the original land of the free and home of the brave — you will continue to welcome people to the city for years to come."
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.
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