As far as I know, this was my first signed Baltimore Orioles card, and I’m sure the story of it is familiar to most of you, as we all received our first autographs by sending in multiple UPC codes from packages of Big League Chew along with the order form on the back of the package that gave us our choice of Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Billy Williams, or Juan Marichal on logoless (endorsed by the Major League Baseball Alumni Association, but not Major League Baseball itself) cards for $5 postage and handling.
The importance of Brooks Calbert Robinson, Jr. (can you imagine what it’d be like if he went by “Cal”? Baltimore pet owners would simply have no choice) goes without saying to any Birdswatcher. Brooks spent his entire 23-year-career in Baltimore (the first player to do so, and a stay only matched by Carl Yastrzemski in Boston for loyalty to any franchise) and was an All-Star in fifteen of them* and Gold Glove winner in each of the 16 years that make up 1960-1975.
Personally, my favorite quirk about Brooks’ career was that he was the first player to win a league MVP, an All-Star MVP and a World Series MVP award. The only other player to do is fellow Oriole Frank “No Relation” Robinson (NL MVP 1961, AL MVP 1966, WS MVP 1966, All-Star MVP 1971). Achievements like that make it really easy to take pride in your team.
Brooks was the American League MVP in 1964 when he took 18 of 20 first place votes over runner-up Mickey Mantle. Brooks hit .317 (second only to Tony Oliva’s .323) with 28 home runs, led the AL with 118 RBI and committed only 17 errors in 494 chances for a .972 fielding percentage for the Birds, who won a franchise-high 97 games and finished 2 games behind the Yankees for the pennant.
In 1966, Brooks won the All-Star Game MVP, despite the AL losing the game 2-1 in 10 innings. Brooks led all players on either side with three hits (counting for half of his team’s entire tally). His second-inning triple (and subsequent score on a Sandy Koufax wild pitch) gave the American League its only run. The only other extra-base hit of the game was a Roberto Clemente double, which certainly doesn’t hurt Brooks’ case.
Brooks was the first Oriole to win All-Star MVP, and as of 2013, the Orioles have produced more All-Star MVPs than any other franchise (6 - Brooks in 1966, Frank Robinson in 1971, Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1991 and 2001, Roberto Alomar in 1998, and Miguel Tejada in 2005. Personally, I will always argue that George Sherrill’s bases-loaded, 12th inning strikeout of Adrian Gonzalez and scoreless 13th and 14th innings in the 15-inning 4-3 AL win in 2008 were much more important than JD Drew’s 7th inning home run, but alas - fan voting determined the game’s MVP and Democracy simply does not work). Brooks would finish second in AL MVP balloting in 1966, behind teammate and Triple Crown Winner Frank Robinson, and ahead of fellow Bird basher and future Barbecue mainstay Boog Powell.
Boog would get his AL MVP award in 1970, but Brooks grabbed his third different MVP award in 1970, shining as the hero of the World Series, where he batted .429 with 9 hits and made several spectacular plays en route to becoming the first third baseman ever named World Series MVP. His Game 1 home run broke a seventh-inning tie (and gave the Orioles a 14th straight victory through the last 11 regular season games and an ALCS sweep of Minnesota) and he hit his second home run of the series in Game 4 - the Orioles’ only loss of the series, where a Lee May three-run home run in the eighth inning prevented an Orioles sweep.
Brooks retired in 1977 and he and Frank Robinson were the first players inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame that same year. Six years later, Brooks was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility.
You can find two statues of him in Baltimore - The Human Vaccuum Cleaner is in action on Washington Boulevard in a 2011-dedicated grey statue with a golden glove preparing to make a throw to first, and you can find him in a more relaxed and bronze state at Oriole Park at Camden Yards unveiled on September 29, 2012.
At the time of his 1996 Big League Chew autograph, Brooks was the President of the Major League Baseball Alumni Association. As of 2013, he still is. It’s silly to think that there was a time where you could have your pick of Hall of Famers for $5 each, and I can’t help but remember that 16 years ago, a little kid in Prince George’s County buying shredded bubble gum from the Party City at Beltway Plaza Mall only had the money to pick one, so he went with the old guy he only knew from pictures and books about great baseball players. I’m glad I picked Brooks.
Although to be fair, the Marichal is pretty boss.
*=Major League Baseball played two All-Star games in each season from 1960 to 1962.