Less than forty eight hours after the passing of Ernie Harwell, baseball has lost another Hall of Famer, as former Phillies ace Robin Roberts died this morning at 83.
At just 23 years old, Roberts was already in his third Big League season when he had a breakout year for the 1950 Phillies. The Whiz Kids emerged atop a tight N.L. Pennant race, thanks in no small part to Roberts starting three times in the season's final five days (h/t BLS). Roberts started and won the clincher against the Dodgers on the season's final day, going the full 10 innings and allowing just one run.
The Phillies went on to be swept by the Yankees in the World Series, a meeting we recapped in two parts prior to last year's Fall Classic. Due to his heavy workload down the stretch, Roberts was unavailable to start the opener, but came back to start Game Two, yet another start on short rest. In a forgotten pitcher's duel, both Roberts and the Yankees' Allie Reynolds held their opponents to a single run through nine. Roberts finally buckled in the tenth, allowing a solo shot to Joe DiMaggio. Two days later, Roberts returned with an inning of scoreless relief, but it was too late, as the Yankees swept the series.
That 1950 season served as a springboard for Roberts, who remained one of the NL's top starters for the remainder of decade. He led the NL in wins every year from 1952 through '55, starts from '50 through '55, complete games from '52 through '56, innings pitched from '51 through '55, and strikeouts in '53 and '54. He was an All-Star from 1950 through '56, and in the days before the Cy Young Award, finished in the top seven in MVP voting five times.
Roberts began to decline in the late fifties, and after a dreadful 1961 season, the Phillies sold him to the Yankees. Roberts pitched well for the Yankees in Spring Training, but the team elected to go with the rookie Jim Bouton rather than the 35 year old Roberts. He never appeared in a game for the Yanks and was granted his release in May. He immediately latched on with the Orioles, and enjoyed a bit of a career renaissance, lasting five more seasons with the O's, Astros, and Cubs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.
The Phillies retired Roberts' number 36 during a Spring Training game in 1962, while Roberts was with the Yankees. It was the first number retired by the Phillies and the first time in history an active player's number was retired by his former team. The Phillies will remember Roberts for the remainder of this season with a commemorative patch on their jersey and by hanging his uniform in the dugout during games.
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