Everyone thinks Brooks Robinson is the greatest.”

— Tom Hanks character, Sleepless in Seattle

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It’s as sad as I knew it would be and I have cried as much as I knew I would. And I am not alone.

I am a 64-year-old man, the last living member of my immediate family. I’m retired from one job and I buy my reading glasses at the Dollar Store, with Medicare directly in my sights. Yet on Tuesday, my childhood came to a close once and for all. Brooks Robinson, the greatest third baseman who ever lived and, most importantly, a friend to every single person who met him, died at the age of 86.

He was an 18-time All-Star for the Baltimore Orioles, the 1964 American League MVP and a two-time World Series champion (1966 and ’70), while also being named the MVP of the Fall Classic in ’70. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, becoming the first third baseman to be elected in his first year of eligibility, all of which is secondary when it comes to Brooks Robinson and how we loved him so.

“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,” Baltimore’s John Steadman once wrote. “He’s an extraordinary human being, which is important, and the world’s greatest third baseman of all time, which is incidental.”

Brooks batted in runs 10 times in 1-0 games during his career, the most in Major League history. On the night he died, the Baltimore Orioles played superb defense and won, naturally, 1-0.

He will forever be 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, beginning with Cal.

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 extending 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.”

We put our faith in Brooksie, for when we reached out to him, he was always considerate to reach back to us.

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

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, I received an autographed postcard from the one and only, thanking me for wishing him a happy birthday. He did that with everybody who reached out to him.

In the summer of 1969, my uncle, Mort Peskin, took five of the cousins to an Orioles game, which the Orioles won over the Washington Senators on a disputed walk-off home run by Frank Robinson. Thrilling as that was, it was nothing compared to what we had experienced before the game, as Mort had arranged with Brooks for all of us to meet him outside of the Orioles clubhouse.

It must have been true love, because for the first and likely last time of my life, I was absolutely speechless. Brooks was so friendly and generous to every single one of us standing there in our No. 5 uniforms with our mouths agape. Yet he made us feel so comfortable and so welcome.

“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.”

It would not be the last time I would be with Brooks. He came to Dapper Dan dinners and other charitable functions here.

I was also so fortunate to be in Cooperstown in 1983 to cover his induction into the Hall of Fame, along with at least 12,000-plus Orioles fans who swarmed the village of 2,500 dressed in orange, including my mother, who had attended the first Orioles game in 1954 and who passed her love of baseball onto my brother and to me.

I believe that weekend will be the closest thing to heaven I will experience on this earth.

As he was a frequent guest and visitor to Western Maryland, in 1989 I enjoyed a lengthy interview with Brooks while standing along the bar during a meet-and-greet for the Vicki Via Dotson charity golf tournament.

Just hanging out at the bar with Brooks Robinson sipping gin and tonics and saying hello to one and all. I mean, doesn’t this happen to everybody?

Well, actually, that was the beautiful thing about him. So, yeah, it probably did happen to everybody, because Brooks had something friendly and inquisitive to say to each person who approached him. He made the conversation about all of us, which will always strike me about his decency and genuine care for others.

Whenever I happened to see him at the ballpark, he stopped and made time to talk, as he did with everybody who came his way. And he remembered everybody, always asking about Suter Kegg, who enjoyed a long friendship with Brooks and his wife Connie, “Homer” Van Roby and “Sonny” Peskin, which is what all of the Orioles called Van and my uncle Mort.

In fact, Suter mailed the article I wrote about the ’89 interview to Brooks, then received a very sweet thank you note from his wife, which she asked Suter to pass along to me. It will remain one of my most cherished possessions, because who does that? Who is that genuinely kind and considerate of others?

The Brooks Robinson family, that’s who.

Of course we began to love him because he was our favorite baseball player, but it didn’t take us long to understand our love for Brooks Robinson was never about baseball at all. It has always been about the goodness of this man, who, during the unveiling of both statues in Baltimore that bear his likeness (roughly 400 feet apart), told us, “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.”

Our friend Brooks Robinson will forever be celebrated in our hearts and in our memories. And he will be so very dearly missed.

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