MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Brooks Robinson never had Marilyn Monroe sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. Third Baseman” to him on his birthday. Brooks Robinson has always had his family and friends, and a million little kids from the Wonder Years wish him a happy birthday, even as those same little kids are now in our 60s.

Or, as the great Gordon Beard famously wrote, “Brooks Robinson never asked anybody to name a candy bar after him. In Baltimore people name their children after him.”

Today is a national holiday, particularly in Bawlmer, hon, as well as in the state of Maryland.

Today is Brooks Robinson’s birthday, and No. 5 is now 85.

The greatest third baseman to ever play the game and the greatest Oriole of them all — that’s Mr. Oriole to you — is 85, and God love him because I thought he was starting to get a little long in the tooth when he was just 29.

That was back in the day when Baltimore was truly The Land of Pleasant Living and was known for its “Chesapeake Bay way of living.”

It was a golden age when the Orioles and the Colts, as well as the NBA Bullets, were not only part of the community year-round in Baltimore, but reached out to the community, living and working in Baltimore in the offseasons, and going anywhere in the state or region when a worthy cause or charity needed their help.

“Whether you want to or not, you do serve as a role model,” Brooks said. “People will always put more faith in baseball players than anyone else.”

It was a simpler time, or at least now it seems to have been a simpler time, and it has always been the simple principles of generosity and kindness that those ballplayers carried themselves with that still mean so much to the fans. They are the same basic principles that continue to provide fans with a sense of community ownership of the Orioles, even in light of the many partial sellouts the current team plays to now.

From the time our mother took my brother and me to our first big league game in the summer of 1966 when I was entering the second grade, to my first sophomore year at the University of Maryland, I sent Brooks Robinson a birthday card. (I stopped drawing them in 1969).

Without fail, within a month, I received an autographed postcard from the one and only, thanking me for wishing him a happy birthday. And I was not the only one. He sent them to everybody who sent him a birthday card. For this is what Brooks Robinson does.

This is about being good, kind, helpful and decent to others. It is about helping others when we can, but more than anything, it is about caring for others, whether we can help them or not. Because no matter what, we can always care for others, whether we claim to live by the art of the deal or if we’re just sensible enough to appreciate how fortunate we are to have each other and to understand that we depend on each other as we are depended upon by others ourselves.

This is about the greatest third baseman in the history of the greatest game ever devised, because he still doesn’t believe or care that he is. This is about sharing, being thankful, helpful and respectful. It is about being humble and gracious — generous and aware.

More than anything, it is about kindness. It is about understanding. It is about the embodiment of the words of Atticus Finch when he said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

This is about a man who was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1930s, but since the early 1960s in Jim Crow-torn Baltimore — a city at the heart of the Mason-Dixon line — has proven he is truly a man of all of our hearts.

Today is a holiday in Bawlmer, hon, as well as in the state of Maryland. For on the arts and culture side alone, it is important to remember that 45 years after he played his final game, fans and broadcasters alike, many of whom are too young to have seen him play, still use the term “Brooks Robinson play” when a third baseman creates a miracle for the baseball viewing eye.

Yet on the side of the equation that matters the most, it is enveloped in the perspective of the late John Steadman, who wrote in the The Baltimore News American, “There’s not a man who knows him who wouldn’t swear for his integrity and honesty and give testimony to his consideration of others. He’s an extraordinary human being, which is important, and the world’s greatest third baseman of all time, which is incidental.”

“How many interviews, how many questions — how many times you approached him and got only courtesy and decency in return,” wrote Joe Falls of the Detroit News. “A true gentleman who never took himself seriously. I always had the idea he didn’t know he was Brooks Robinson.”

There are millions of us kids from the Wonder Years who know he is Brooks Robinson because he has shown us it is better to be a kind and decent person than to be the greatest third baseman who ever lived.

On the day of the unveiling of the Brooks Robinson statue on Washington Boulevard Plaza, Brooks said, “To all my friends out there, you’ve always been good to me. I just want you to know I have never considered you fans. I’ve always considered you my friends. Thank you for the way you’ve treated me over the years.”

Thank you, Brooks. Thank you for the way you have treated us over the years. Thank you for being our friend. We love you

Happy birthday!

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT