Kicking off a great lineup of Dodger managers - Max Carey, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Bert Shotton, Charlie Dressen, Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda followed him - the jovial Robinson is perhaps best known for a spring training incident. He vowed to outdo Gabby Street's stunt of catching a ball dropped from the Washington Monument. He would catch a ball dropped from an airplane. The stunt was set up, but someone (many say it was Casey Stengel) substituted a grapefruit, which exploded on impact. With his eyes shut and his chest wringing wet, Robinson believed himself covered with his own blood until he heard his team laughing.
He managed the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1914 to 1937, winning pennants in 1916 and 1920 - from 1921 to 1931, the Dodgers finished in the second division every year but one (1924). He won with teams not given a pre-season chance, and ran his club far differently than the despotic McGraw ran the Giants. The Dodgers were known for their easy-going ways. Because Robinson gave his roster of cast-offs and characters freedom, the team was a constant source of oddities and anecdotes.
Dazzy Vance, a fireballer who only achieved stardom after age thirty, was Robinson's ace during the 1920s after Robinson gave him more rest between starts than was the norm in those days. Robinson had a knack for getting winning performances from discarded pitchers; Burleigh Grimes, the gruff spitballer who won 270 games with seven different teams, was another key member of the Dodger pitching staff.
Robinson played for 17 seasons in the majors. He became the catcher of the storied Baltimore Orioles, where he joined forces, under manager Ned Hanlon, with Willie Keeler, the great place-hitting outfielder of his day; Hughie Jennings, the outstanding shortstop firebrand and captain of the team; and John McGraw, the scrappy third baseman who was the dominant force of the team. Robinson was the cornerstone of the team, its catcher, directing the play of the others. He was one of Baltimore's better hitters, once making seven hits in a game, and he was durable enough to catch a rare triple header in 1896 and a double header the next day.
Robinson became fast friends with McGraw - the pair owned a billiards parlor in Baltimore - and when McGraw took over the New York Giants, Robinson came along to run the pitching staff. The men remained close friends until a sudden, bitter parting of the ways; why they split is not known. Robinson became the Dodgers' manager in 1914 and left a larger than life imprint on the team, which was called the Robins during much of his 18-year managerial tenure.
Picture from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.
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