Robin Roberts, the Hall of Fame right-hander who won 286 games and pitched the Philadelphia Phillies’ 1950 Whiz Kids team to the National League pennant, died Thursday at his home in Temple Terrace, Fla., near Tampa. He was 83.Bill Ingraham/Associated Press
Robin Roberts after winning his 200th game on Aug. 1, 1958.Enlarge This Image Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Robin Roberts last October.
The Phillies announced his death, saying it was of natural causes.
Throwing from a smooth, seemingly effortless motion through 19 major league seasons, Roberts displayed an outstanding fastball and extraordinary control and stamina.
He won at least 20 games every season from 1950 to 1955 and led National League pitchers five times in complete games, five times in innings pitched, four times in victories and twice in strikeouts. He still has the record for most victories by a Phillies right-hander, 234 over 14 seasons, and he often pitched for mediocre teams. He was a seven-time All-Star and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.
“He had the best fastball I ever faced,” Ralph Kiner, the Hall of Fame slugger, once said.
The Phillies hung a jersey with Roberts’s No. 36 in their dugout for their home game with the St. Louis CardinalsThursday afternoon and said the jersey would remain in their dugout for both home and away homes all season.
Roberts, with a 6-foot, 190-pound frame, took pride in powers of concentration so strong that he was often unaware of even the noisiest crowds.
“I stood out there in total isolation,” he told Donald Honig in “Baseball Between the Lines“ (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1976). “Nothing bothered me. I would concentrate to the point where I would not even see the batter; I would only see the bat as he swung. When I was pitching well, I saw only the catcher.”
Robin Evan Roberts was born on Sept. 30, 1926, in Springfield, Ill., a son of Welsh immigrants. His first bat was a cricket bat brought to America by his father, a coal miner.
He entered Michigan State on a basketball scholarship, but he also pitched in college and honed his talents in a Vermont summer league. He was signed by the Phillies for a $25,000 bonus, pitched for half a season in the minors, then made his debut for Philadelphia in June 1948.
He became a star in 1950 when the Phillies, a lackluster franchise for decades, put together a young ball club known as the Whiz Kids, led by Roberts, Curt Simmons and Jim Konstanty on the pitching staff; Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis and Dick Sisler in the outfield; Eddie Waitkus at first base; Mike Goliat at second; Granny Hamner at shortstop; Willie Jones at third; and Andy Seminick and Stan Lopata at catcher.
On the final Sunday of the season, the Phillies held first place by one game over the Brooklyn Dodgers when the teams met at Ebbets Field.
Roberts, making his third start in five days, dueled the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe in a 1-1 game. In the ninth, the Dodgers’ Cal Abrams was thrown out by a wide margin trying to score from second base on a single to center. In the 10th, Sisler hit a three-run homer, giving the Phillies a 4-1 victory and their first pennant in 35 years.
Lopata, who put the tag on Abrams at home plate, recalled in an interview Thursday how confident Roberts would be and how he could get out of jams. “Seminick and myself would tell him, ‘Try to hold the runners on and give us a chance to throw them out.’ He’d say, ‘They could steal second base, and they could steal third base, but they’d still be 90 feet away and they’d have to steal home.’
“Ninety percent of the time they stayed at third base,” Lopata said.
Roberts’s victory in the pennant clincher brought his record to 20-11, and he became the first Phillie to win 20 games since Grover Cleveland Alexander won 30 in 1917.
Roberts’s best season was 1952, when he was 28-7 for a fourth-place team and completed 30 of his 37 starts. His rising fastball almost always found a corner of the plate. Pitching at least 300 innings in each of his six straight 20-victory seasons, Roberts never walked more than 77 batters in any of those years.
Roberts was sold to the Yankees after the 1961 season, but was released the next spring without appearing in a game. He later pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. He ended his major league career after the 1966 season with a record of 286-245 and an earned run average of 3.41. He pitched 45 shutouts and struck out 2,357 batters.
But his remarkable control and his reluctance to brush back hitters came at a cost. He yielded 46 homers in 1956, a major league record at the time, and the 505 homers he gave up in his career are still a record.
Roberts was active in the formation of the players’ union, having been instrumental in the hiring of Marvin Miller as the first executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966.
After leaving the major leagues, Roberts was an investment executive, a baseball coach for the University of South Florida in Tampa and a minor league instructor for the Phillies.
Roberts is survived by his sons Robin Jr., of Blue Bell, Pa., Dan and Jimmy, both of Temple Terrace; and Rick, of Athens, Ga.; a brother, John, of Springfield; seven grandchildren and a great-grandson. His wife, Mary, died in 2005.
The writer James A. Michener, who grew up in Bucks County, Pa., paid tribute to Roberts after the Yankees’ Whitey Ford was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974 and Roberts was passed over.
“When he won, he was gracious,” Michener wrote of Roberts in The New York Times. “When he lost, so often in extra innings with his teammates giving him no runs, he did not pout. Day after day he went out there and threw that high, hard one down the middle, a marvelously coordinated man doing his job. If he had pitched for the Yankees he might have won 350 games.”
Roberts said he stuck to the basics.
“You don’t have to make a big study of batters beforehand,” he told Time magazine in 1956. “When I have good stuff I throw four fastballs out of five pitches. When you take up a hitter in a clubhouse meeting, no matter what his weakness is, it’s going to end up low and away or high and tight, and the curveball must be thrown below the belt. That’s the whole story of pitching. Keep your life and your pitching real simple and you’ll get along.”<nyt_correction_bottom>