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Brooks Robinson saved a high school baseball all-star classic

The Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer, who passed Tuesday evening, contributed as much off the field in Baltimore as he did on it
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BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – Brooks Robinson made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles barely three months removed from a stalwart high school baseball career at Arkansas’ Little Rock Central High School, at the tender age of 18.

As news broke of his passing, at the age of 86, shortly before the start of the Orioles 1-0 victory over the Washington Nationals, Tuesday evening, tributes poured in from across the baseball universe. Everyone in Baltimore also had stories to share of the humble boy from Little Rock who adopted Baltimore and made it the base for the entirety of his 23-year Hall of Fame baseball career.

The list of honors and awards achieved by Robinson is almost too long to recall, but it includes 16 consecutive gold gloves, 18 All-Star games, American League Most Valuable Player in 1964, All-Star MVP in 1966 and World Series MVP in 1970. He appeared in four World Series with the Orioles and won two.

That only tells half the story.

Dubbed Mr. Oriole for his charm and approachability away from the field as much as his success on it, Robinson was everyone’s favorite player.

“Great player, great guy on the field, great guy off,” said Jim Palmer, also an Orioles’ Hall of Famer and a long-time television broadcaster with the team, in an interview with the Mid Atlantic Sports Network (MASN). “Respectful, kind. And you don’t meet too many guys like that. Brooks was a genuine person. There was no acting. Brooks was just a genuine person. Kind and nice and great player.

“I got here in ’65, he had been MVP the year before. You would never know it. He was just an ordinary guy, not to mention, helped me get to the Hall of Fame. (Wife) Connie was great to young wives. She couldn’t have been more gracious.”

Palmer’s recollection of Robinson as an “ordinary guy” is shared by many Baltimoreans, especially those affiliated with youth and high school baseball. Robinson served as grand marshal of more little league opening day parades and as a guest speaker at more post-season awards banquets than perhaps any athlete in the history of the City.

When Crown Central Petroleum launched its annual high school all-star baseball game in 1982, it tabbed Robinson as its honorary chairman and he delighted generations of young baseball players, with college and professional baseball aspirations, with appearances at pre-event press conferences and handing out awards after the games on the field. He appeared to have unlimited time for anyone and everyone who wanted to a share moment with him.

In 2004, when Crown pulled out of the contest and eventually went out of business, Robinson was called on to save the game, and he did.

Robinson contacted longtime friend Joe Geier of the Geier Financial Group, who promptly agreed to sponsor the game, which was first played at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and then moved to Oriole Park at Camden Yards when the major league team moved into their iconic downtown ballpark in 1992. It is played annually, usually on a Sunday afternoon, immediately following an Orioles’ major league contest.

Geir had only one condition for his sponsorship, the game was renamed the Brooks Robinson High School All-Star Game and it has been going strong ever since. The game has been played 41 times, with the most recent one taking place in June.

(Brooks Robinson speaks to the 2016 Brooks Robinson All-Stars during a press conference at Camden Yards, introducing the participants in that year's game.) 

Robinson continued to be very active with the game, but this past year, as his health declined, his appearance was scaled back to a video greeting to the players. His primary motivation for supporting the game was to give aspiring young baseball players a “big league experience.”

"It's nice for these kids to come down here and play in this ballpark," Robinson told the Baltimore Sun in 2004.

"Barry Bonds and the Giants will be here. And somebody will be playing where Cal [Ripken] played. The biggest thrill I ever had as a youngster was working out with the Little Rock Travelers, who were in the Double-A Southern Association back then. Just being able to get on the field and play is what it's all about."

Some of the stars that have played in the game include LaMonte Wade, a current star with the San Francisco Giants, Billy Ripken, the brother of Cal Ripken, Jr. and a longtime major leaguer who now is a broadcaster for the MLB Network, and San Diego Padres’ pitcher Josh Hader, currently one of the top closers in the game, just to name a few.

(A young Josh Hader was interviewed at the 2012 Brooks Robinson All-Star Game press conference, the day after graduating from Old Mill High School and the same day he learned he had been selected in the 19th round of the Major League Draft by the Baltimore Orioles. He would go on to become one of the game's top closers, first with the Milwaukee Brewers and now with the San Diego Padres.)

According to reports from family and friends, Robinson continued to follow the Orioles' amazing 2023 chase of the American League East title right up to his final days.

He last visited Camden Yards during the 2022 season when he was honored to celebrate the 45th anniversary of his retirement from baseball. He threw out the first pitch, signed autographs for fans and visited the current Orioles players and coaches in the club house.

Brooks Robinson, with current Baltimore Orioles' star Gunnar Henderson, prepares to throw out the first pitch during his final visit to Camden Yards, on September 24th, 2022, as he was honored in celebration of the 45th anniversary of his retirement from baseball.

Brooks Robinson, with current Baltimore Orioles' star Gunnar Henderson, prepares to throw out the first pitch during his final visit to Camden Yards, on September 24th, 2022, as he was honored in celebration of the 45th anniversary of his retirement from baseball.