MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

If you are a Baltimore Orioles fan, tomorrow is a holiday.

So take the day off. Don’t bother to go to work; your boss will understand. It wouldn’t be appropriate to practice or support the principles of capitalism, anyway. Not tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a day to observe greatness, splendor and beauty. It is a day to consider kindness and to exercise goodness. Tomorrow, you see, is Brooks Robinson’s birthday.

The greatest third baseman who ever lived will be 86. Yet in Baltimore and in Maryland, he will forever be No. 5.

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

He is Mr. Oriole, not only for the way he played baseball, but for the way he became part of the community, and for his humble and gracious manners. He once tried to convince fans on the night of “2,131” at Camden Yards that Cal Ripken Jr. was Mr. Oriole, but nobody bought it.

When his friend and teammate Elrod Hendricks died, Brooks said, “We lost the most beloved Oriole of all time. Not only was Elrod loved here in the Baltimore area, but all over the country. Every ballpark that we would go into, he’d be the first one on the field signing autographs and saying hello.”

As we know here firsthand, Elrod Hendricks was a beautiful and loving man, and he came from a golden age when the Orioles and the Colts, as well as the 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 where a worthy cause or charity needed their help.

From the day in 1954 when the St. Louis Browns came to Baltimore, the Orioles have been a community-minded organization. Through thick and thin, Orioles in the Community and Orioles Reach have been constants in the Baltimore region, beginning with Brooks and his teammates of the 1950s and early ‘60s, and stretching to this day with the current Orioles.

“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 to those of us who grew up in The Wonder Years. But it’s been the simple principles of awareness and generosity that those ballplayers carried themselves with that still mean so much to the fans. They are the same simple principles that continue to provide fans with a sense of community ownership of the Orioles. How can ‘dem O’s, hon, not be part of the community, after all, when the Orioles players themselves have been so earnest in reaching out to the community?

In Baltimore and for the Orioles, thanks to Mr. Paul Richards, it all began with No. 5.

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 from what I came to learn, I was not the only one. He sent them to everybody who sent him a birthday card.

If you wrote him a letter today, I promise you would receive a card from him in return. This is, after all, Brooks Robinson.

“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’s not a man who knows him who wouldn’t swear for his integrity and honesty and give testimony to his consideration of others,” wrote John Steadman of the Baltimore News American. “He’s an extraordinary human being, which is important, and the world’s greatest third baseman of all time, which is incidental.”

“I watch baseball today,” Brooks said in an interview, “and a third baseman makes a great play, they say ‘That’s a Brooks Robinson play.’ And I ask myself, ‘Did I ever do that?’ “

“He was the best defensive player at any position,” said his former teammate, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. “I used to stand in the outfield like a fan and watch him make play after play. I used to think, ‘Wow … I can’t believe this.’ “

Sure, we began to love him because he was a Hall of Fame baseball player, but once we began to know him, we found our love for Brooks Robinson was never about baseball at all. It’s always been about the goodness of a man, who, on the day the first of two statues in Baltimore bearing his likeness was unveiled, said in a breaking voice, “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.”

No, Brooks. Thank you for the way you’ve treated us over the years.

Happy birthday, our friend.

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