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Brooks Robinson and the threads of history

Brooks Robinson is a beloved Orioles legend who might never have been if any number of circumstances had been different.

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Greg Fiume/Getty Images

This post was inspired by Brooks: A Biography of Brooks Robinson, by Doug Wilson.

Frequently, Camden Chat moderators include a "This Day in History" feature in the Open Thread. Someone from outside the community might wonder about it. What do any of these emperors, battles and disasters have to do with the Orioles? The immediate answer would be "Well, nothing." It's a great starter for off-topic conversations while we wait for something to happen.

But can we be we sure the answer is nothing? History spins weird threads of causation and coincidence that, if you could unwind them, may connect events in surprising, unlikely ways. Take the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. What's it got to do with the Baltimore Orioles? Back then, the Orioles were a minor league team hundreds of miles from the flood zone. Even those ur-Orioles, the sad-sack St. Louis Browns, were too far north to be effected. So the answer is nothing, right? Wrong.

At the start of 1927, Bruce Robinson was working the family farm in the Arkansas Mississippi plain. The Great Flood washed away not only the Robinson farm, but the surrounding towns and the entire regional economy. Rather than attempt to rebuild, Robinson decided he could better provide for his wife and his young son, Brooks Calbert Robinson, if he moved the family to Little Rock.

Little Rock was a hotbed of local baseball. Bruce Robinson played American Legion ball, hitting lead-off for a team that won the State Championship. He grew up to be a firefighter, but he played for organized leagues into adulthood and even played a little semi-pro. So his son, Brooks Calbert Robinson Jr, grew up steeped in the game.

Young Brooks wanted to be a ballplayer. Period. Starting in 1951, Brooks Jr played on the same Legion team, the Doughboys. By 1952, he was the starting second baseman, just like his father. It was a highly competitive scene. That year, 11 players from his team signed pro contracts. It was a great place to get noticed. Soon, Brooks Jr was batting clean-up and doing some pitching too.

Another thread winds its way into the story by an even more circuitous route. Lindsay Deal was born in Lenoir, NC in 1911. Starting in 1935, he began a minor league outfielder's career that would take him all over the continent, from Montreal, QC to Meridian MS, including a cup of coffee with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939. Four different stops with the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association apparently sold him on the town, so Deal settled in Little Rock when he hung up the spikes.

Deal remained in touch with a catcher teammate from the Atlanta Crackers back in 1942. His name: Paul Richards. When the bird-dog scouts from all over the region starting paying a lot of attention to Brooks in early 1955, Deal wrote Richards a letter. It said "I think he [Robinson] measures up to having a chance in major league baseball. I think he is a natural third baseman, although he has been playing both second and third. ... This boy is the best prospect I've seen since Billy Goodman came to Atlanta to play when I was playing there." By that point, Paul Richards' thread had wound through the minor league management ranks and landed him the jobs of GM for the new Baltimore Orioles.

How important Deal's letter was in the Orioles' decision process, we'll never know. But the outcome was that the O's were one of two teams that met Brooks' contract requirements. He wanted a $4000 bonus and a major league contract. The Reds and the Orioles brought that to the table. (Forget the butterfly effect for a minute and just picture the 1970 World Series with Brooks Robinson on the other team. Shudder.)

At that point, the constant cords of history took grip - drives and needs. Brooks was driven to make the majors by the quickest possible route. He wanted the team that needed him the most. The Orioles farm was bare of infield prospects. The big club wasn't exactly jammed up with stars either. Paul Richards called Brooks and laid out the swift promotion plan he could expect if he played well. There would be no languishing in Class D ball. When the local scout, Art Ehlers, reinforced this case in a final pitch meeting, Brooks decided to sign with Baltimore.

Within weeks, after a work out for Richards at Memorial Stadium, Brooks was playing Class B for the York White Roses. By September of 1955, he would get his first major league call-up. It took several years for Brooks to hit well enough to become a regular, but the Orioles were cultivating their first home-grown superstar. Moderate rainfall in the Midwest 3 decades earlier and it could have all been different.

The stories presented as part of the 2016 Camden Chat Opening Day Marathon are written by members of our community. To add your voice to the site please consider writing a FanPost.