MLB Hall of Famer Robin Roberts

There’s been a lot of discussion lately of how the Washington Nationals might shut down phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg after he reaches 160 innings even if they’re in contention for the pennant. While the debate is understandable given his past injuries, it still highlights the differences in the expectations for modern pitchers versus some of the all-time greats.

Consider the career of Robin Roberts, the great Hall of Fame pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Roberts played for 19 seasons and compiled a 286–245 record with 45 career shutouts. He notched a lifetime ERA of 3.41, along with a staggering 305 complete games and 4,688⅔ innings pitched in 676 games. Even in a era when pitchers were expected to complete games and pitch on only four-days’ rest, Roberts was known for his incredible stamina. When interviewed after Roberts passed away, his teammate and fellow Phillies starter Curt Simmons said, “He was like a diesel engine. The more you used him, the better he ran. I don’t think you could wear him out. The end of the 1950 season, I was in the Army and I think Bob Miller had a bad back. I know Robin had to throw almost every day.” In a six-year span starting in 1950, Roberts won 20 or more games and pitched at least 304 innings in six consecutive seasons.

In many ways, Major League Baseball seems to be entering into a new era of the pitcher, as offensive production is decreasing and the game is once again being dominated by great pitchers like Strasburg. But it’s doubtful we’ll ever see workhorses quite like Robin Roberts again. Even the great Jack Morris pitched his amazing 10-inning game winner in game 7 of the World Series over 20 years ago.

While modern players will likely never match Roberts for his stamina, he remains a role model for all professional athletes for the class he displayed on and off the field. Just listen to the interview above for an example of why Roberts was widely respected as a true gentleman. When he passed away in 2010 at the age of 83, Marty Noble summed up the attitudes towards Roberts in the opening paragraphs of his obituary:

For the second time in three days, baseball lost one of its foremost gentlemen. Robin Roberts, as pleasant and gracious as any man in the game, died Thursday. As readily associated with the Phillies as any player has been with any franchise, Roberts was 83 years old when he passed away in Florida due to natural causes.

The most accomplished right-handed pitcher in the history of the Phillies, Roberts was a Hall of Famer, card-carrying member of the 1950 “Whiz Kids” and an active force in the creation of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Most of all he was an agreeable, genial man whose company was enjoyed by those who met him.

Like many players of his era, Roberts was a World War II veteran who broke into the big leagues after the war. He actually went first to Michigan State where he played basketball, but then tried baseball and was signed by the Phillies in 1948. In 1969 this seven-time All-Star was named as the greatest Phillie of all time.

When you consider what it takes to have a Hall of Fame career, durability, excellence and class are some of the most important characteristics. With his career and his life off the field, Robin Roberts should be an enduring example to the modern player. And while modern team General Managers try to protect “investments” like Strasburg, they should be reminded that the true great will rise to the challenge, if you let them.

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