Year Inducted: 1983 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 344/374)
Great defenders and the Hall of Fame can make for interesting debates. Ozzie Smith, for example, was an easy selection for the BBWAA and got in as the best defensive shortstop ever. Other positions, like catcher and center field, are also considered to have a high defensive component to them, and the best defenders at those positions are inducted (or in Pudge Rodriguez’s case, going to be in the near future). Yet, defense does matter all over the diamond, even at easy positions like first base and left field. The fact that defense is important is why a player like Brooks Robinson got inducted with more than 90% of the vote on his first ballot.
Robinson is the best defensive third baseman ever. That statement isn’t hyperbole, or embellishing anything, nor is it steeped in nostalgia. Brooks Robinson is the best defensive third baseman of all-time, and it isn’t even close. In his career, Robinson was worth over 359 runs defensively, playing his entire 23 year career with the Baltimore Orioles. The next closest player on the list is future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre with 226 defensive runs. The gulf between Robinson and Beltre is about as many defensive runs as former Red Sox third baseman Rico Petricelo had in his entire career. That’s how great defensively Brooks Robinson really was.
At the same time, defense alone doesn’t tend to get players into the Hall of Fame. Smith and Aparicio were dynamic baserunners, and many great defensive outfielders were also great hitters. Robinson, in his career, was a solid hitter, with a slash line of .267/.322/.401 with a wRC+ of 104. He collected a then-Orioles record 2848 hits, including: 482 doubles, 68 triples and 268 homers. While not one of the greatest hitters, Robinson developed a reputation for being a clutch hitter, driving in and scoring more than 1200 runs each.
Brooks Robinson’s defense alone wouldn’t have made him a great player, as can be seen with how players like Phil Rizzuto and Bill Mazeroski rank. The fact that he was such a good defender means that his roughly league average offense pushed him into the realm of greatness, instead of holding him back. Besides defensive runs, Robinson leads third basemen in nearly every other defensive category, including putouts, assists and double plays. Robinson earned the nickname “The Human Vaccuum Cleaner” during the World Series when facing the Reds (especially against players like Bench and Perez), Robinson gained national fame by making ridiculous, apparently superhuman plays at third base to keep the Reds down. It’s possible that, had that World Series not happen that this article doesn’t get written because great glove men don’t always get the respect they deserve in baseball. Brooks was one of the finest to ever lace up and should be remembered as such.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/20/16:
#61- One of the best hitters in the Hall of Fame, this right fielder could also run, field and throw. And was one of the greatest people ever to live, too.
#60- This left fielder teamed with Jimmie Foxx and Connie Mack to bring the A’s to dominance in the 1920’s and 1930’s.