Bill Robinson (outfielder)
Born: June 26, 1943|
Died: July 29, 2007 (aged 64)|
Las Vegas, Nevada
|September 20, 1966, for the Atlanta Braves|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 23, 1983, for the Philadelphia Phillies|
|Runs batted in||641|
|Career highlights and awards|
After his playing days ended, Robinson moved on to a very successful coaching career. He is cited as having been a key mentor in Darryl Strawberry's career, as well as several other young players he coached with the New York Mets. Overall, he collected three World Series rings, with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979 and as first base coach for the 1986 New York Mets & 2003 Florida Marlins.
Bill was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania to William Sr. & Millie Mae Robinson. He starred in basketball as well as baseball at Elizabeth Forward High School, and received a basketball scholarship offer from Bradley University. However, he chose baseball over basketball, and signed with the Milwaukee Braves upon graduation in June 1961.
After six seasons in their farm system, in which he batted .298 with 69 home runs & 339 runs batted in, Robinson made his major league debut for the now Atlanta Braves on September 20, 1966, pinch running for Hank Aaron, and staying in the game in right field. He got his first hit in his first start on September 25 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the Braves leading 4-2, Robinson hit an RBI single off Al McBean, driving him out of the game. For the season, Robinson collected three hits, including one triple in eleven at bats, and drove in three runs. Following his only season in Atlanta, Robinson & pitcher Chi-Chi Olivo were dealt to the New York Yankees for third baseman Clete Boyer.
New York Yankees
Robinson impressed upon arrival with his new franchise, receiving the James P. Dawson Memorial Award from Yankees sportswriters for the outstanding rookie in Spring training, and homering in the season opener. Things soon went south for the man who was expected to replace Roger Maris in right field. By the end of the first month of the season, he lost his starting job in right to Steve Whitaker, and was relegated to fourth outfielder duties. Following an 0 for three performance against the Kansas City A's on May 31, 1967, Robinson's batting average fell to a season low .101. By season's end, he managed to raise his average to .196 with seven home runs & 29 RBIs.
He held the fourth outfielder job with the Yankees through 1969 before spending the entire 1970 season with the Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. After which, he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Barry Moore.
Robinson spent one season in the ChiSox organization, batting .275 with fourteen home runs & 81 RBIs for their triple A affiliate, the Tucson Toros. On December 13, 1971, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor league catcher Gerardo Rodriguez. Tearing up the Pacific Coast League with a .304 batting average, twenty home runs & 66 RBIs, Robinson received a call up to Philadelphia in June 1972. Again a fourth outfielder, Robinson made 82 appearances, and displayed decent power, clubbing eight home runs in 188 at bats.
His breakthrough came in 1973. Platooning with Mike Anderson in right field, occasionally playing center & left, and making fourteen appearances at third base, Robinson batted .288 with 25 home runs & 65 RBIs. His numbers dipped drastically, however, in 1974, and just as the 1975 season was set to begin, Robinson was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Wayne Simpson.
Robinson batted .280, and reached the post season for the first time in his career his first season in Pittsburgh. He went hitless in two at bats, as the Pirates were swept by Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" in the 1975 National League Championship Series.
With the superstar outfield of Richie Zisk, Al Oliver & Dave Parker, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh experimented with Robinson at third base in 1976 despite his limited experience at the position. On June 5, Robinson hit two home runs against San Diego Padres Cy Young Award winning pitcher Randy Jones. When the game went into extra innings, Robinson hit a third home run in the fourteenth inning off Dave Freisleben.
Starting third baseman Richie Hebner signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies after the season, and Robinson went into Spring training 1977 preparing to take over the position. However, shortly into Spring training, the Pirates completed an eight player trade with the Oakland Athletics that brought Phil Garner to Pittsburgh, with the intention to shifting him from second to third base.
Injuries kept Robinson in the lineup despite his not having a regular position. An injury to Willie Stargell had him playing first base for most of the first half of the season. He responded by batting .305 with ten home runs & 46 RBIs heading into the All-Star break. Despite these impressive numbers, Robinson's name was kept off the 1977 Major League Baseball All-Star Game ballot due to his not having a regular position. Feeling snubbed, Robinson vowed not to participate in the mid-summer classic at Yankee Stadium even if National League manager Sparky Anderson selected him as a reserve.
His hot hitting continued after the break. Over the rest of the month of July, Robinson batted .367 with four home runs & seventeen RBIs to pull within a game and a half of the first place Phillies. for the season, Robinson put up career highs in home runs (26), RBIs (104), batting average (.304) & runs (74).
On December 8, 1977, the Pirates, New York Mets, Texas Rangers & Atlanta Braves completed a four team, eleven player trade that sent Al Oliver to the Rangers. This opened up a starting job for Robinson in left field, with John Milner (acquired from the Mets in this dealt) assuming the job of fourth outfielder and backup first baseman. Though his production fell off considerably in 1978, he was third on the Pirates in home runs (14) & RBIs (80) to Parker & Stargell in both cases.
After finishing second to the Phillies in the National League East for the last three seasons, the "We Are Family" Pirates of 1979 engaged in a season long battle with the Montreal Expos for the division. The season came down to a four-game set at Three Rivers Stadium September 24 to 26. The Expos came to Pittsburgh a half game up on the Pirates, and kept that half game lead with the split of a doubleheader on the 24th. Robinson was the hitting star of the game one win, with a home run, triple & three RBIs. For the series, Robinson batted .400 to help his team take three of the four games, and capture first place. The Pirates clinched the division to head to the 1979 National League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds on the final day of the season. Robinson, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning, singled with the bases loaded in his only at bat to drive in the two deciding runs in the Pirates' 5-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
The Pirates extracted some revenge for the 1975 NLCS, this time sweeping the Reds in three games to head to the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Robinson went five for nineteen, with two RBIs & two runs scores in the Pirates' stunning come from behind World Series victory.
Robinson was nearly dealt to the Houston Astros during the off-season, as he was 36 years old entering the 1980, and beginning to show his age. Injuries, and the emergence of Mike Easler as a younger, better option in left, limited Robinson to just 69 starts, mostly at first base. He saw even less action in the strike shortened 1981 season, batting just .216 in twenty starts. On June 15, 1982, he was traded back to the Phillies in a three team deal that landed the Pirates Wayne Nordhagen from the White Sox.
Splitting time with George Vukovich & Dick Davis in right field, Robinson performed decently in his limited role, batting .261 with three home runs. His role diminished further in 1983, and he was released on June 9 with a .143 batting average.
Shortly after retirement, Robinson accepted a job as hitting instructor (a title he insisted on being called as opposed to the more common term "batting coach") for incoming manager Davey Johnson's New York Mets. His players, most notably second baseman Wally Backman and outfielder Kevin Mitchell, affectionately called him "Uncle Bill."
During his tenure with the team, he also managed the Caracas Lions of the Venezuelan League in order to gain experience that would make him a more attractive candidate for teams looking to fill a managerial vacancy. Unceremoniously dropped at the end of the 1989 season, Robinson gave up his managerial dream, and signed to broadcast baseball games for ESPN.
He returned to managing in 1992, and led the San Francisco Giants' double A affiliate, the Shreveport Captains to a 77-59 record, and first place in the Texas League's Eastern Division. He also managed the Reading Phillies in 1996. Robinson also served as a minor league hitting coach for the New York Yankees and was a minor league coach and manager in the Philadelphia Phillies' farm system.
Robinson died at age 64 in a hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada; the cause of death is unknown, although he was known to be suffering from diabetes. He was working as the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor league hitting coordinator, and was in Las Vegas to visit the team's Triple-A affiliate when he died. Robinson was survived by his wife, Mary Alice, a son & a daughter.
- Malcolm Moran (October 23, 1986). "Players; Robinson and His Gifted Student". The New York Times.
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- "Atlanta Braves 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 2". Baseball-Reference.com. September 25, 1966.
- Fritz Peterson (June 26, 2015). "Remembering Bill Robinson". FritzPeterson.org.
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- "Pirates Awards". The Official Site of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
- Eric Prewitt (March 17, 1977). "A's Deal Garner in Nine Player Trade". Schenectady Gazette. p. 38.
- Jim Kaplan (April 25, 1977). "He's an Irregular Regular". Sports Illustrated.
- Scott Thompson (February 2, 2014). "Bill Robinson: A Baseball Survivor". Laurens County African American History.
- "Atlanta Sweeps Houston; Rose Gets 200 Hits Again". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. September 25, 1979. p. B3.
- "Oldsters Stargell, Robinson Lead Pirates to Division Title". Lodi News-Sentinel. October 1, 1979. p. 11.
- "National League Championship Series". Baseball-Reference.com.
- "World Series". Baseball-Reference.com.
- "Bill Robinson May Stay a Pirate". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. February 20, 1980.
- Neil Rudel (June 20, 1982). "Nordhagen a Hit in Pirate Debut". The Beaver County Times.
- "Baseball". Pittsburgh Press. June 26, 1987.
- George Vescey (March 27, 1988). "Sports of the Times; Robinson Ready for Next Step". The New York Times.
- "Robinson Sought for TV". The New York Times. February 19, 1990.
- "Sports People: Baseball;Giants Hire Robinson". The New York Times. December 17, 1991.
- "Bill Robinson, former '79 Pirate, dies at 64". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 29, 2007.