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(Helmar Brewing)

"I had a fella who used to manage the Detroit Tigers, Donnie Bush, and he told me more than once that if I was a white boy I would have been his third baseman.

"The third basemen they had back in 1929, Shubert, he played in the Major Leagues for quite a while, but l know he couldn't touch me playing third base. Oh, no. I used to think about him every day. You know after Bush told me I'd be his third baseman if I was a white boy, I said, 'Gee whiz, I could wrap him up.'"

--Bobbie Robinson

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Negro Leaguer of the Month archives
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4, Kyle McNary, McNary Publishing


Negro Leaguer of the Month

Negro Leaguer of the Month
May, 2000

William "Bobbie" Robinson
Position: Third Base
Career: 1925-1942
Teams: Mobile Black Bears, Indianapolis ABCs, Cleveland Elites, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons, Detroit Stars, St. Louis Stars, Cleveland Red Sox, Cleveland Stars
Ht: 5'-10", Wt: 170
Batted and threw right
Born: October 25, 1903 in Whistler, Alabama
Died: May 17, 2002 in Chicago, IL

Bobbie Robinson was one of a handful of exceptional fielding third basemen to play in the Negro Leagues. According to ex-players, Robinson ranks with Judy Johnson, Oliver Marcelle and Ray Dandridge when it came to playing the hot corner. He played a very shallow third base –usually on the grass – which made it difficult for teams to use bunting as a weapon, and he used a glove with very short fingers so he could “find” the ball easily after making a catch.

Robinson grew up Whistler, just outside of Mobile, Alabama and starting playing sandlot ball with fellow Alabamans Double Duty Radcliffe and Satchel Paige when he was still a kid on teams such as the Mobile Black Bears.

After several years of semipro ball in Alabama and Florida, Robinson's first black Major-League team was the Indianapolis ABCs in 1925 where Oscar Charleston was still in the prime of his great career. Robinson struggled to bat .200 his rookie year, but he was so good defensively that he stayed in the lineup.  Robinson always found time to sign autographs for fans, and he became a fan favorite because of his disposition and incredible play at third base.

After a few seasons with Cleveland and Memphis, Robinson came into his own with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1927 which featured his friend Satchel Paige, as well as star pitchers Sam Streeter and Harry Salmon.  Robinson batted .259 in league games and above .300 overall.

Robinson moved to the Detroit Stars in 1929 and had his best season as a pro, batting .313 with 12 doubles, six triples and four homers in only 265 league at bats, a rate that would give him about 25 doubles, 12 triples and 8 homers in a 154-game Major League schedule.  The Stars also featured Turkey Stearnes, Double Duty Radcliffe, Wade Johnson and player-manager Bingo DeMoss.

Robinson often batted in the number two spot in the batting order.  As a hitter, Robinson was a good line-drive hitter with excellent bat control. He had good foot-speed but didn't steal a lot of bases because he usually set the table for sluggers such as Charleston, Turkey Stearnes and Huck Rile.

In 1930, Robinson split time with the St. Louis Stars and Detroit Stars, and while playing with the St. Louis Robinson turned a triple play, which he lists as his greatest thrill. Several members of the Major-Leagues' New York Giants were in the stands that day and congratulated him after the game!  The other thrill he often recalled was a long double off Satchel Paige.

That same year Robinson played for the Detroit Stars versus St. Louis in the “flag series” to crown the Negro National League champions. Robinson suffered a terrible beaning at the hands of a Ted Trent fastball (he was looking for a curveball) and he spent most of the series in the hospital. He did receive a loser's share of the play-off money – about $2 he remembered (about $25 in today’s dollars).

“He fell at my feet,” remembered Radcliffe, the catcher for St. Louis that day.  “I thought he was dead!”

Robinson spent the 1930s with Detroit as well as the Cleveland Stars and St. Louis Stars.  He was known as a straight-laced player who rarely drank as much as a beer, and he was always faithful to his wife.  “I only seen him with one woman his whole life,” Radcliffe remembered.  “I can’t say the same about myself!”

Robinson was voted by the fans to start in the 1938 East-West All-Star game but Alec Radcliffe, a perennial All-Star, took his place for reasons that are unclear. Robinson, himself, didn't remember why he didn't play but suspects he may have been injured.

Robinson finished his career with the St. Louis Stars in 1940, batting close to .300, then spent the next half-century as one of Chicago's finest bricklayers.  Robinson kept the last bat he ever used in a game, and often took it out of his closet and swung it, even in his 90s!  “I used to look at that bat and say, ‘boy, you used to hit some line drives!’”

Robinson died at age 98 in 2002.