Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Vintage Fridays: Frank Robinson, Hank Bauer, and Brooks Robinson, 1967 Topps #1

I look at this card - this wonderful, triumphant card - and can't help taking a flight of fancy. After all, there are a few guys on the 2013 Orioles who compare pretty favorably to the cornerstones of that 1966 World Champion club.

First, there's the slugger. Frank Robinson captured the American League Triple Crown, the Most Valuable Player award, and the World Series MVP to boot. You probably know the numbers by now: .316 AVG, 49 HR, 122 RBI. He also topped the league with 122 hits, a .410 on-base percentage, and a .637 slugging percentage to boot.

Chris Davis isn't really a threat for the Triple Crown, since Miguel Cabrera is a remorseless hitting machine, but he's still leading the world with 35 home runs and a slugging percentage right around .700. He's driven in 88 runs in 93 games, and even with a recent cold streak, he's batting a strong .312. If you're curious, Frank was batting .320 and slugging .613 with 25 homers and 64 RBI through 93 games played in '66.

Hank Bauer paid immediate dividends when the O's hired him as manager prior to the 1964 season. He took a talented but inexperienced team and led them to 97 and 94 wins in his first two seasons on the job. But life was tough in the top-heavy American League, and the Birds finished in third each year. 97 W's did the trick in year number three, and before you could say "sweep", the Orioles had dispatched Koufax, Drysdale, and the Dodgers in a four-game World Series.

When Buck Showalter accepted the O's managerial position in August 2010, the team's immediate hope was to stop the bleeding. At 32-73, they hadn't even won a third of their first 105 games. Buck seemed to provide an instant shot in the arm, as the Orioles went 34-23 down the stretch to avoid the near-inevitable 100-loss mark. They weren't able to carry that momentum into the 2011 season, as injuries and inconsistent pitching left the team mired in last place at 69-93. The Birds flipped the script in 2012, winning 93 games and eking out a postseason berth. They were bounced in the Division Series, losing an agonizing 3-1 elimination game to the Yankees, but for the first time in ages, there seemed to be a strong foundation for optimism. Now, it's the third full season under Buck, and the O's are right in the thick of another American League East dogfight. At 52-42, they're two games ahead of last year's pace, yet they're stuck in third place, five games behind the resurgent Red Sox and a game back of the pesky Rays. Will they match 2012's torrid second half stretch run and return to the postseason, taking a shot at Baltimore's first World Series in three decades? Time will tell.

Brooks Robinson was the homegrown star, a solid hitter with some pop in his bat and an otherworldly defensive presence at third base. He'd already won the A. L. MVP in 1964, but he gladly settled in as a complimentary piece to that other Robinson. He batted .269 with 35 doubles, 23 home runs, and 100 RBI, captured his seventh straight Gold Glove at the hot corner, and was even named All-Star Game MVP for his three hits in a losing effort.

This is where the comparison falters a bit. Manny Machado just celebrated his 21st birthday, so it's not altogether fair to hold him up against a Hall of Famer who collected 2,848 hits and 16 Gold Gloves and inspired an entire generation of Baltimoreans to name their kids "Brooks". But Robinson didn't bat over .300 at 21, as Manny has through the first 94 games of 2013. And Brooks never hit 39 doubles in a full season, much less a bit over half of one. And as for amazing defense, plays like this help the imagination to run wild:

Some enterprising person already compiled an animated image juxtaposing Manny's incredible throw with the one made by Brooksie to retire Lee May in the 1970 World Series.

There's a lot of baseball yet to be played, and the odds don't especially favor the O's in a charge to and through the postseason, but it doesn't sound as insane as it did even a year ago. That's all I could ever ask for.

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