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by Harold Friend
On Jan. 19, 1961, the New York Yankees announced that they had signed Robin Roberts.
It was an interesting move, since Roberts, who won 234 games with the Philadelphia Phillies, had only one win and 10 losses in 1961. Robin Roberts Couldn't Explain His Lack of Success
Roberts was at a loss to explain his recent losses.
"I don't know whether it was the arm or the head that bothered me last season. I couldn't explain my success when I was successful, so I don't know if I can explain my failure."
Best Pitcher in Baseball
Robin Roberts was the best pitcher in baseball during the early 1950s. He won at least 20 games from 1950-1955, working more than 300 innings in each of those seasons.
In his best year, which was 1952, Roberts won 28 games, lost seven, and had an ERA+ of 141, with a 1.021 WHIP.
Whitey Ford Understood
Whitey Ford, who like Roberts, had won a few games, understood what Roberts meant when he said he didn't know why he lost it.
Whitey shook up the baseball experts when he expressed the belief that successful pitching didn't require much great mental ability.
"In fact," Ford, who was coming off a 25 win season, told reporters, "give me a pitcher with two fine pitches and needle-eye control and I would say a lot of brains could be an awful handicap."
So Did Jim Konstanty
Roberts' Phillies teammate, Jim Konstanty, who was the National League's MVP in the Phillies' great season of 1950, concurred.
"During a couple of my good years with the Phillies, especially 1950 when we won the pennant, I was being hailed as one of the game's cleverest pitchers.
But when, a couple of years later, I wasn't doing so good, I suddenly became very stupid. Just how I could lose all my intellect over a winter I wouldn't know.
But I do know that when my stuff and control came back a little later with the Yankees, I was a smart pitcher again.
The only brains I needed with my two pitches was perfect control. When I didn't have that control, why, the batters simply knocked my brains out. That was all there was to it."
Roberts Thought He Could Help
Despite his inability to explain his success and then his lack of success, Roberts was confident that he could help the 1962 Yankees.
"I'll be able to pitch for the Yankees. I anticipate being able to pitch well and hope to be a starting pitcher for Ralph Houk.
I'll try to get by with my fast ball and two breaking pitches, the curve ball and the slider. I don't plan to add a new pitch."
Yankees' pitching coach Johnny Sain, when Roberts reported for spring training, commented that "I think the big fellow will help us, and everybody from the National League tells me he can still be a fine pitcher with a good club behind him."
Roberts had a decent spring training, but Yankees' general manager Roy Hamey and manager Ralph Houk thought that their team had enough pitching, which can be a dangerous thought. They released Roberts on April 23.
Not Even the Mets?
The move didn't hurt the Yankees, but Roberts was devastated. The Mets, who would lose a record 120 games in 1962, never considered signing him. They signed journeyman pitcher Dave Hillman, who had never won more than eight games in a season. Roberts' reaction was despair. "Maybe I'm more unemployed than I thought."
Gene Mauch, who was Roberts' manager in 1961 with the Phillies, was blunt. "Robbie can't even throw his fast ball past your aunt Matilda."
Four Good Years in Baltimore
On May 22, the Baltimore Orioles picked up Roberts.
It was an excellent move for the Birds, who had a kiddie pitching staff that included Chuck Estrada, Milt Pappas, Jack Fisher, and Steve Barber, none of whom was over 24 years old.
Roberts was not only a steadying influence. He was an effective pitcher.
He won at least 10 games for four consecutive seasons, had an ERA above 3.00 only once, and twice worked more than 200 innings.
Robin Roberts was no longer the pitching great of the early 1950s, but he was a solid veteran starter who helped the Orioles and who could have added depth to the Yankees, especially in 1964, when the Yankees needed pitching.
By LOUIS EFFRAT The New York Times. (1962, January 19). Roberts Receives Yankee Pact Calling for Slight Pay Cut :$30,000 ACCEPTED BY FORMER STAR. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 53. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 89488793).
By JOHN DREBINGER Special to The New York Times. Roberts, Eager as a Rookie, Joins Yankees. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 55. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 89852949).
By JOHN DREBINGER Special to The New York Times. (1962, March 7). KONSTANTY BACKS A THEORY OF FORD :Yank Coach Agrees Pitching Is Pitching, Not Thinking.New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 38. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 90138662).
Career of Roberts As a Yankee Ends; Houk Is Regretful. (1962, April 26). New York Times (1857-Current file),25. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 80386381).
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1962, April 27). Sports of :The Last Robin Cruel Critique Beyond Reason On the Beam. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 55. Retrieved January 20, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 94101982).