Matthew Taylor: Brooks Robinson’s memorable final homer embodied Orioles magic

I figure it’s appropriate to end my first week of guest blogging for in the traditional manner I end each week on my blog. It’s a nod to Orioles history that I call “Flashback Fridays.”

This week’s Flashback Friday relates to the Orioles’ next opponent, the Cleveland Indians, and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson, who has been released from Greater Baltimore Medical Center after recovering from an infection. Facing the Indians around this time of year, on April 19, 1977, Robinson added a final magical moment to a career full of them with the Birds.

Robinson entered the on-deck circle at Memorial Stadium in the bottom of the 10th inning as a pinch hitter for center fielder Larry Harlow. Baltimore trailed Cleveland 5-2 with one out and Lee May at bat. A tiny crowd of 4,826 at Memorial Stadium had grown smaller as the game wore on and the Orioles’ luck seemingly wore out. The Indians scored three runs off Tippy Martinez to open the extra frame.

Those who remained at the ballpark immediately cheered the sight of the baseball legend, who appeared headed for retirement at the end of the 1976 season. After singling in his final Memorial Stadium at-bat of the season several months earlier, Robinson gave the baseball to his daughter Diana with the following inscription: “Last hit, Memorial Stadium, 1976.”

Robinson dug in at the plate with two runners on and the gap narrowed to two following Lee May’s run-scoring single. It was his third plate appearance in nine games on the season. Indians manager and former Oriole Frank Robinson conferred with reliever Dave LaRoche and decided to keep the lefty in the game to face his old teammate. The two Robinsons would become the first players inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1977.

Brooks Robinson joked to reporters afterward: “Frank probably looked up and said, ‘Here comes old Brooksie. It’s a tailor-made double play.’ “

He also admitted that he didn’t expect much from the at-bat himself.

“It’s tough when you go up and pinch hit,” he said. “It takes a special kind of guy, and I don’t think I’m that guy.”

On this night, he was.

Robinson worked the count full against LaRoche. After fouling off numerous pitches to keep the at-bat alive, he drove a LaRoche offering into the left-field stands to give the Orioles the victory. It would be the final home run of his 23-season, Hall of Fame career.

The third baseman called it his “biggest thrill in a long time” and discussed the inscribed baseball he had given his daughter the previous season. “I may have to change that ‘last ball,’ ” he said.

Johnny Pesky once remarked of Robinson that “if he could run, he would be the perfect ballplayer.”

Robinson didn’t need to run against the Indians, as The Associated Press articulated in the lead to its game story: “Brooks Robinson gave it his best shot - then gave it his best trot.”

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds have appeared this week as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. Beginning Monday, Heath Bintliff of Dempsey’s Army joins the lineup. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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