Eddie Robinson, Baseball Lifer Who Outlived His Peers, Dies at 100

Eddie Robinson, a power-hitting All-Star first baseman who played for the 1948 Cleveland Indians’ World Series champions and the Yankees’ 1955 pennant-winners in a baseball career spanning more than 60 seasons as a player, executive, coach and scout, died on Monday at his ranch in Bastrop, Tex., near Austin. He was 100 and had been the oldest living former major leaguer.

His death was announced by the Texas Rangers, for whom he had been general manager from 1976 to 1982.

Playing for 13 years in the eight-team American League, Robinson appeared with every A.L. franchise of his time except for the Boston Red Sox.

At 6 feet 2 inches and 210 pounds — good size for his era — the left-handed-hitting Robinson clubbed 16 home runs and drove in 83 runs to help the 1948 Indians capture the team’s first pennant since 1920 en route to defeating the Boston Braves in a six-game World Series. Playing in every Series game, Robinson batted .300.

He drove in more than 100 runs and played in the All-Star Game in three consecutive seasons in the early 1950s, with the Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics, and in 1951 became the first White Sox player to drive a home run over the roof of the old Comiskey Park.

The Yankees obtained Robinson before the 1954 season in a multiplayer trade with the Athletics. He pinch-hit and played behind first basemen Joe Collins and Bill Skowron and flashed his power when 16 of his 36 hits in 1955 were home runs. He played in his second World Series when the Yankees lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games that October.

Robinson was traded to the Athletics, who had moved to Kansas City, during the 1956 season.

In his memoir, “Lucky Me” (2011, with C. Paul Rogers III), Robinson wrote how the Yankee owner George Steinbrenner offered him the team’s general manager’s post in June 1982 and related that he “considered George one of my real friends in baseball.” But he decided to work as a Yankee scout and consultant instead, since he was well aware of Steinbrenner’s reputation as a difficult boss.

“It didn’t take long for George and me to get crossways,” Robinson recalled. He told how Steinbrenner had cooled to him after he agreed only reluctantly to be present for an October 1982 draft session; he and his wife had had a trip to Europe planned. He continued as a Yankee scout through 1985.

William Edward Robinson was born on Dec. 15, 1920, in Paris, Texas, a small farming town in the northeastern part of the state, the only child of Edward and Hazel Robinson. His father owned a prosperous auto repair shop, and his mother was a homemaker. But, as he told it in his memoir, his father began drinking heavily when the Depression hit and lost his business. His parents divorced when Eddie was about 12, and he and his mother moved in with family members. As a youth he picked cotton to help the household get by.

Robinson played in semipro ball, then embarked on his professional baseball career with the Valdosta, Ga., team of the Georgia-Florida League in 1939. After several seasons in the minors, he made his major league debut in a brief stint with the 1942 Indians. He entered the Navy in World War II and was assigned to play for its baseball teams.

Robinson played in the Indians’ 1948 infield with Joe Gordon at second base and Lou Boudreau, their manager, at shortstop. Larry Doby, who had become the American League’s first Black player in 1947, was the center fielder and Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Gene Bearden, who bested the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the A.L. pennant, were the aces of their pitching staff. All of those teammates except for Bearden are in the Hall of Fame.

The Indians drew huge crowds to their cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium that season, and more than 80,000 fans turned out for two of their three World Series games there.

“I’m from Paris, Texas, population 20,000,” Robinson told The Plain-Dealer of Cleveland 50 years later. “I remember thinking, ‘Man, we’ve got four times as many people watching me play baseball.’”

Robinson played a role in a poignant baseball event in the summer of 1948.

When Babe Ruth, dying of cancer, was about to take the field at Yankee Stadium on the afternoon of June 13 for a ceremony retiring his No. 3, Robinson was in Cleveland’s dugout.

“He looked like he needed help physically, and I took a bat out of the bat rack and gave it to him,” Robinson told Major League Baseball in a 2020 interview. “He carried it up to home plate, and he used it as a kind of a crutch. When he came back, I got the bat and had him sign it.”

Nat Fein of The Herald Tribune in New York won a Pulitzer Prize for his rear view photograph depicting Ruth in Yankee pinstripes leaning on the bat, which belonged to Feller.

After the 1948 season, Robinson was traded to the Washington Senators, who dealt him to the White Sox in May 1950. He hit .314 that year, but Chicago traded him to the Athletics in January 1953.

After his time with the Yankees and second stint with the Athletics, Robinson played for the Detroit Tigers, the Indians in a brief second stint and the Baltimore Orioles, the successors to the old St. Louis Browns.

He retired as a player after the 1957 season with 172 home runs and a career batting average of .268. He was a four-time All-Star.

After his playing days, Robinson was a coach for the Orioles, a farm director for several teams, the general manager of the Atlanta Braves and the Texas Rangers, and a scout for the Red Sox, whom he worked for in 2004, his last year in baseball, as well as for the Yankees before that.

His survivors include his second wife, Bette (Farlow) Robinson; their sons Marc, Paul and Drew; and his son Robby from his marriage to his first wife, Elayne Elder, which ended in divorce.

Robinson was a guest of the Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland during the 2016 World Series, when the Chicago Cubs defeated them for their first championship since 1908.

He continued to follow baseball into his final years. But as he told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in an interview marking his 100th birthday: “I just don’t enjoy baseball today like I did in the Golden Age. It’s changed so much. The home run is the big thing, and the strikeout is overlooked.”

Robinson wryly laid claim to a particular milestone achievement. He said he had “set the record for standing up for the national anthem at baseball games.”

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