When an article opens with the story of the Baltimore Orioles defeating my beloved Cincinnati Reds in the 1970 World Series, I have to admit, I’m unlikely to be very interested in what it has to say.
But I’ll make an exception for this article, which details the Catholic faith of Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who, like me, is a convert from Methodism to Catholicism:
When Lee May cracked a two-bouncer inside the third-base line in game one of the 1970 World Series, Brooks Robinson’s response was nothing short of legendary.
Wheeling three paces to his right, Baltimore’s third baseman fielded the ball in foul territory, took two more steps and threw against his momentum. The throw bounced once on its way to first baseman Boog Powell and beat May.
It was one of many in a spectacular defensive performance by Robinson that helped the Orioles defeat the Cincinnati Reds in five games, as the World Series MVP lived up to his nickname of the “Human Vacuum Cleaner”…
He remains…the only non-pitcher to win 16 Gold Gloves, given in recognition of defensive play. No one ever spent more consecutive seasons with a big league club than the 23 he logged with the Orioles from 1955-77.
Equally enduring is the Hall of Famer’s character.
One of Baltimore’s favorite adopted sons, he stands out as a class act from a bygone era, one whose life seems to embody the all-American values portrayed in a Norman Rockwell painting of the third baseman signing autographs at Memorial Stadium.
“A lot of times we have a Tiger Woods who’s not really who we thought he was,” said Jim Palmer, a Hall of Famer pitcher who played with Robinson. “Well, that’s not the case with Brooks.”
As Baltimore fans reminisce about 1970 and the star at the hot corner, Robinson remains humble and unassuming. The 72-year-old grandfather is committed to his family and his community, his Catholic faith sustaining him in the face of health concerns.
Raised a Methodist in Little Rock, Ark., Robinson never figured he would become a Catholic. But, after marrying Connie, his Catholic wife of nearly 50 years, the baseball standout was drawn to the church. With three sons and a daughter, Robinson thought it important for the entire family to attend church together.
“When the kids got older, they were inquisitive and wanted to know, ‘How come dad doesn’t go to church with us?’ “ Robinson said. “It made a lot of sense to join the Catholic Church.”
He began studying the faith with Monsignor Martin A. Schwalenberg Jr., the Orioles’ chaplain and one of Robinson’s tennis partners. He was received into the Catholic faith in the late 1960s at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium.
“I couldn’t be happier being a Catholic,” he said. “It’s worked out well for me and it’s been a good impression on my kids.”
Mary Lou LaMartina, a parishioner of St. Agnes in Catonsville and an administrative assistant at The Cardinal Gibbons School in Baltimore, organized the first Brooks Robinson fan club with friends as an 8th grader at St. Agnes School. Ronald LaMartina, her brother, was Robinson’s confirmation sponsor.
“He’s a very devout man,” said LaMartina, who refers to Robinson as a “big brother.”