Robin Roberts Before and After the Philadelphia Phillies

Last week, I wrote about how Robin Roberts carried the Philadelphia Phillies to the 1950 National League championship.

For most baseball fans, with the exception of old timers who live in the Philadelphia area, Roberts is linked to the Phillies forever and all time.

But, in truth, Roberts had a rich and rewarding life long before and long after he wore a Phillies jersey.

Born in Springfield, IL., Roberts arrived in East Lansing, Michigan as part of Army Air Corp training program. After World War II, Roberts returned to Michigan State College to play basketball where he led the Spartans’ in field-goal percentage in 1946–1947, captained the team during the 1946–1947 and 1949–1950 seasons and earned three varsity letters.

After his second basketball season Roberts tried out for the Spartans’ baseball team as a pitcher because it was the position that coach John Kobs needed most. After playing for Michigan State and spending his second summer in Vermont with the Barre–Montpelier Twin City Trojans, Roberts signed with the Phillies in 1947 for $25,000. With the money, Roberts bought his mother a house.

Roberts repaid the Phillies handsomely. Between 1950 and 1955 Roberts won 20 games each season, leading the National League in victories from 1952 to 1955. Six times he led the league in games started, five times in complete games and innings pitched and once pitched 28 complete games in a row. During his career, Roberts never walked more than 77 batters in any regular season. In addition, he helped himself as a fielder as well as with his bat, hitting 55 doubles, 10 triples, and five home runs with 103 RBI.

His 28 wins in 1952, the year he won The Sporting News Player of the Year Award, were the most in the National League since 1935 when Dizzy Dean also won 28 games.

Roberts followed up his 28 wins with another outstanding season. In 1953, he posted a 23–16 record and led NL pitchers in strikeouts with 198. In a career-high 346⅔ innings pitched, Roberts walked just 66 batters and his 2.75 ERA was second behind Warren Spahn’s 2.10.

A memorable Roberts’ career highlight came on May 13, 1954 when he gave up a lead-off home run to the Cincinnati Redlegs’ Bobby Adams but then retired 27 consecutive batters to win 8–1 on a one-hit game.

Roberts stayed with the Phillies until 1961. The following year Roberts signed with the New York Yankees but was released during spring training. Noting that April is bad time to get cut because other squads are set, Roberts said: “I didn’t know what to do. I was thirty-four years old.”

At the urging of his old friend and scout, Cy Perkins, Roberts signed on with the Baltimore Orioles. Perkins had once told Roberts that he would pitch a shutout when he was 40. Roberts pitched effectively for the Orioles; for parts of four seasons, Roberts went 42-36, 3.09 ERA.

From Baltimore, Roberts went to Houston were he continued to pitch well; 8-7, 2.77 during two seasons. Now 40, the end was approaching for Roberts. At the end of his last season with Houston, Roberts recalled: “I found my arm swelling up and had an arm operation to correct the problem.”

In 1966, Roberts joined the Chicago Cubs as the team’s pitching coach and spot starter. At the end of the year, Roberts elected not to return to the Cubs but instead chose to pitch in Reading of the Eastern League. In a bargain he made with himself, Roberts agreed to pitch until June 1st. If no team picked him up, he would retire. Although Roberts pitched well by notching a 5-3 mark that included the shutout Perkins predicted, he had no major league suitors.

After Roberts retired, many asked if he was sorry that he never reached 300 wins (286).  Roberts answered that “What I really was striving for was to pitch until I was forty-four or forty-five. I knew if I could do that, the wins would take care of themselves.”

The Phillies never gave Roberts much help. After 1950, the team was consistently at the bottom of the standings. After his professional baseball career ended, Roberts worked in an investment firm, did sports radio broadcasting and coached at the University of South Florida.

In 1976, six years after he became eligible, Roberts was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

2 Replies to “Robin Roberts Before and After the Philadelphia Phillies”

  1. Great post, Joe. Yesterday, I happened to post an infographic about tough losses. It shows that in 35% of Roberts’ losses, he went 7+ innings and allowed three earned runs or less. The 300 wins reapply SHOULD have taken care of itself anyway.

    Thanks for the good read!

  2. I need not repeat what I wrote recently about Roberts, for few, if any, in that Golden Era of baseball wore the mantle of thorough professionalism and sportmanship as well as he did. His name was never associated with the remotest of allegations of bad conduct toward his teammates or adversaries. He was, in my estimation, the “All American” professional baseball player, and although there have been more successful hurlers – and players – there was none more decent. To me, Roberts is the epitome of the theme of Grantland Rice’s quattrain:
    When the one great Scorer, come to mark against your name;
    It matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game.

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