The lively autobiography of Robinson, Lucky Me highlights a career that touched all aspects of the game from player to coach to front-office executive and scout. In it Robinson reveals for the first time that the 1948 Cleveland Indians stole the opposition’s signs with the use of a telescope in their drive to the pennant. This edition features a new afterword by C. Paul Rogers III.
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About the Author
Eddie Robinson, a four-time American League All-Star, played in two World Series, was general manager of the Atlanta Braves and the Texas Rangers, and was involved in the formation of the players union. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas. C. Paul Rogers III is a professor of law and former dean of the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and coauthor of several books, including Throwing Hard Easy: Reflections of a Life in Baseball (Nebraska, 2014), with Robin Roberts. Tom Grieve is a former Texas Rangers general manager and is currently a Rangers broadcaster. Bobby Brown is a former New York Yankees third baseman, a retired cardiologist, and a former president of the American League.
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My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball
By Eddie Robinson, C. Paul Rogers III
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESSCopyright © 2011 Eddie Robinson and C. Paul Rogers III
All rights reserved.
PARIS, TEXAS, ROOTS
When I was a youngster, getting a contract to play professional baseball was beyond my imagination. There's no way I ever could have envisioned myself as general manager of a major league club, and giving advice to owners. My high school didn't even field a baseball team when I was a kid growing up. That was during the Depression. Times were so bad people didn't have money to spend on clothes or movies. Whatever we had went toward necessities. If we got a new baseball, we played with it until the cover came off. Then we taped it up and played with it some more.
I was born on December 15,1920, in Paris, a small farming town of fifteen thousand in northeast Texas, a few miles south of the Red River and the Oklahoma state line. My folks were Hazel and Ed Robinson, who were loving parents. Since I was an only child I received a lot of attention during my early years. My father owned a prosperous auto repair business, and my mother was a homemaker, spending her days gardening, taking care of the house, and looking after me.
We lived peacefully until 1929 when the Great Depression hit. Times got tough very quickly. My father started drinking heavily and soon lost his business. About two years later, when I was twelve, my parents separated and divorced. My mother and I moved in with my grandmother and my mother's brother, Uncle Herbert. It was a struggle financially. The four of us worked at various jobs to make enough money to survive. I picked cotton every summer for a half cent a pound. The most I ever picked in one day was one hundred pounds; I made all of fifty cents that day. I also collected Coca-Cola bottles and turned them in for the one-cent deposit. That meant I could pay my way into a movie once in a while and could get a fifteen-cent haircut when I needed one.
My favorite Western star was Tom Mix, with his horse Tony. I also liked Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. The family's favorite radio show was Major Edward Bowes's "Amateur Hour" on Sunday night. I still remember the phone number to call in to vote — Murrayhill 8-9933. We also enjoyed "The Shadow," "Little Orphan Annie," "The Secret Three," and "Jack Annstrong, the All-American Boy." Every afternoon I'd stop whatever game I was playing, come inside, and lie down in front of the radio to listen to my favorite shows. I wanted to be a Western movie star when I grew up.
For fun my best friend Pee Wee Griffin and I hunted rabbits for meat for our families' dinner. We called the rabbits "Hoover Hogs" since Herbert Hoover was president and many people thought he'd brought on the Depression. One Christmas all Santa brought me was a box of .22 shells so that I could shoot more rabbits. My grandmother had to borrow five dollars from the local bootlegger so we could have Christmas dinner that year.
During the school year I attended the First Ward Elementary School. I liked school and made good grades. The first time I ever thought about playing baseball was in grammar school when I was about eleven years old. During recess we played softball, and I soon became one of the better players. I was the catcher and discovered I was a good hitter. My claim to fame was that I was the only kid who could hit the ball over the right field fence. From the beginning I threw right-handed but always hit from the left side. I don't know why; I guess I was just more comfortable that way.
At the end of grammar school in 1931 my school had an assembly to honor the seventh graders who were graduating and going on to high school. The teachers read their predictions of what they thought each student would become. When they came to me they said I'd play baseball for the New York Yankees. I guess those Paris, Texas, grammar school teachers were pretty perceptive.
There was a park near my home where folks played baseball, tennis, croquet, and volleyball. We called the baseball field the Thirty-second Street diamond. It had a large wire backstop, dirt infield, and a nice grass outfield but no fences. We had to drag, rake, and wet down the infield before every game. When the game began each infielder had to smooth the ground in front of his position as well as he could with his spiked baseball shoes, but bad bounces were common.
Growing up, I was fortunate to have Charlie Osborne as a neighbor. Since we had no high school baseball, Charlie put together a team so that his son Charlie Jr. and the rest of us would have a team to play on. Charlie Osborne became the first significant man in my life because he started me on the road to becoming a professional baseball player. Charlie's players were all between fourteen and twenty years old and played teams from neighboring towns. We became fondly known as Charlie Osborne's Cubs.
At first, I wasn't old enough to play on Charlie's team, but I worked out with them, and I was pretty good. So as some of the fellows left the team, some of us younger players moved in. I played first base. I didn't have a strong arm, but I was a pretty good hitter.
We played on Sundays and practiced during the week. Small towns in those days all had a baseball team. We played in the towns around Paris, or other town teams came in and played us. We didn't have unifonns. We just played in our overalls or tattered trousers. We were lucky to have equipment. In fact, we used to take up a collection at the games on Sunday to help buy balls and bats. If we broke a bat, we would nail it together and use it some more.
When the Cubs' original first baseman moved away from Paris, I became the new first sacker at the ripe old age of fourteen. For six dollars, which was a small fortune, I'd bought a new Bill Doak glove to play the outfield. I was paying it off at fifty cents a week. I couldn't afford a first baseman's mitt too, so I just played first base with my fielder's glove.
The Cubs held their own with the nearby towns, winning more games than we lost. I became the best hitter on the team and began to dream of playing professional baseball after I'd graduated from college. My parents had instilled in me the need to get a college education to succeed in life. My cousin George Robinson was attending the University of Texas in Austin and seemed to be having a good time, so I thought I might want to go there, too.
I enjoyed all sports as a kid and played football and basketball and participated in the field part of track and field for the Paris High Wildcats. I played center for the football team and made all-district. I was a decent basketball player and won medals in the discus and javelin in track. But baseball was always my favorite and best sport.
During my high school years my family continued to struggle to make ends meet. My uncle Louis Robinson owned the Northeast Texas Motor Freight Line, a prosperous business with big six-wheeler trucks that hauled freight from Paris to Dallas and Texarkana. When I turned sixteen, I started working for his freight line, loading trucks beginning at 5 a.m. and delivering produce and pharmaceuticals to local grocery and drug stores before 8 a.m. For the remainder of my high school days, my schedule never changed. A taxi would pick me up at my house at 4:45 a.m. For ten cents, the taxi drove me to the freight line where I worked until 8 a.m. Then I went to school all day and after school practiced whatever sport was in season. I'd be home for dinner and then manage to see my steady girlfriend, June Rowland, almost every night. I made six dollars a week at the freight line, which included working all day Saturday. It was a tough schedule, but thanks to the boundless energy of youth I managed to handle it.
I played for Charlie's Cubs in 1935 and 1936, my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Paris also had a semipro team called the Coca-Cola Bottlers. The Bottlers played once a week against tougher competition than the Cubs. The Coca-Cola Company sponsored the team, which wore fancy red satin uniforms. The Bottlers had no shortage of bats and balls and played their home games at a fonner professional field with a wooden grandstand, outfield fences, and a much better playing field. The Bottlers were managed by Pop Nobles, who owned a domino parlor and confectionery store in town.
I hated like the devil to leave Charlie Osborne. But Pop Nobles told me I'd have a much better chance of being seen by a professional scout if I played for the Bottlers. Pop didn't know much about managing a team, but he was able to recruit good players. The Bottlers went to the state semipro tournament every year, and that tournament drew a number of major league scouts.
When I went over to the Bottlers, I was a sixteen-year-old kid playing ball with grown men. I faced some pitchers who'd played pro ball, but I was still able to hit pretty well. That experience whetted my appetite. From that time on, I set my sights on becoming a professional baseball player. I couldn't wait from one Sunday to the next to play the game.
My high school football coach was Emmitt Wishard. He was succeeded as coach the following year, 1939, by Raymond Berry, who went on to coach at Paris High School for twenty-five years, becoming an East Texas legend in the process. Raymond Berry's son, Raymond Jr., played for his father at Paris High, but didn't start until his senior year. He then played receiver at SMU, catching thirty-three passes and one touchdown pass in three years. The Baltimore Colts drafted Raymond Jr. in the twentieth round, and he developed into a perennial all-pro receiver in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was elected in 1973 to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and became a successful NFL coach with the New England Patriots, leading them to Super Bowl XX. When Raymond Jr. played for the Colts, he frequented the Baltimore restaurant I owned during that time, along with other Colts such as Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti, Jim Parker, Alan Ameche, Art Donovan, and Big Daddy Lipscomb. I guess all roads lead from Paris, Texas.CHAPTER 2
BREAKING INTO PRO BALL
Pop Nobles was right about my getting noticed because we went to the state semipro tournament in Waco in 1937, my first year with the Bottlers. I hit well down there and was approached by Clyde "Deerfoot" Milan. He wanted to sign me to a professional contract with the Washington Senators organization. Milan was bom and raised in Clarksville, Texas, about twenty miles east of Paris. He'd been a fine major league player for the Senators and had once held the American League stolen-base record. He now was a coach for the Senators.
In those days you didn't have to wait until you were out of high school to sign a professional contract. If I signed, however, I would lose my last year of eligibility for football, basketball, and track. I was a good student and decided to wait to sign until I graduated.
I continued to play for the Bottlers in 1938 when I was a senior, and we again made the state tournament in Waco. We didn't win but were voted the best-dressed team because of our fancy red satin uniforms. I made the All-toumament team, and Clyde Milan still wanted to sign me, as did Bully McClain, a scout for the Knoxville, Tennessee, Smokies of the Southern Association. Back then, a minor league club had scouts who would sign a player to its minor league team and then hope to sell the player to a major league club if he performed well. Bully liked me and Red Beville, our best pitcher. He took us over to Little Rock, Arkansas, where Knoxville was playing, and let us work out in front of the manager, Neal Caldwell. Before the game in Little Rock, they let me hit and Red pitch. I hit the ball well, but then they asked me to take infield practice. I always had a scatter arm, and I showed it at an inopportune time. The opposing pitcher just happened to be walking along the stands behind home plate toward his dugout when I threw a ball over the catcher's head. It hit the pitcher on the leg and hurt him badly enough that he was unable to pitch that night. Caldwell got me out of there in a hurry. But the club told me I had some ability and that they'd think about signing me.
The Boston Red Sox offered to pay my tuition to the University of Texas to play baseball. Billy Disch, the UT baseball coach, invited me down to Austin to work out. The UT baseball field in those days was memorable because of a limestone cliff in center field that was in the field of play. I must have impressed Uncle Billy because he offered me a four-year scholarship. Then, when I graduated, I would sign to play for the Red Sox organization since they were footing the bill for my education. I would've loved to have gotten a college education. But times were still tough because of the Depression, and I was the principal breadwinner in our family because my parents were divorced. My mother and I talked it over and decided I should sign with a professional baseball organization. I figured in four years of pro baseball, if I was as good as I thought, I could be in the big leagues or close to it instead of starting in the minor leagues after college.
So I signed with the Knoxville Smokies and received a $300 bonus. I bought my mother a washing machine with part of it and paid off several debts I had around town. I owed about $15 to a couple of restaurants that had given me credit, and I was paying a dollar a week for a wristwatch I'd bought for my girlfriend for Christmas. Uncle Louis told me to make a list of what I owed in town and he'd go around and pay everyone. So that's what I did. I made a list, gave it to Uncle Louis along with the money to cover what I owed, and left town with all my debts paid. I left Paris for spring training in 1939, headed for Valdosta, Georgia, with six dollars and a bus ticket in my pocket.
Before I left I asked Pop Nobles to arrange for me to meet Jack Russell, a Paris native who was a veteran pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. I thought Jack might be able to give me some advice before I started my professional career. We met in Pop Nobles's confectionery store, and I asked him if there was anything he could tell me that would help me. He said, "There sure is. Don't ever save money on your stomach. Always eat at the best restaurants you can afford and don't try to pocket your meal money."
That was the last tiling I expected him to say. I thought he'd tell me I had to learn to hit the curveball or something. But I took his advice to heart and to this day still eat at the best restaurants in town.
In those days, Class A or A1 clubs, such as Knoxville, had farm teams. They'd develop players and then sell them to the big leagues. The Knoxville Smokies had a working agreement with Valdosta, Georgia, which had a new ballpark and its first professional baseball team. I had a feeling that if I didn't make the Smokies, I'd play for the Valdosta Trojans of the Georgia-Florida League.
Neal Caldwell, the manager of the Smokies, held a clubhouse meeting on the first day of spring training, and I was eager to get on the field and show what I could do. Neal was talking, and I was standing there pounding my glove without being aware of it. I guess I was making a lot of noise because, all of a sudden, he stopped, looked at me, and said, "Robinson, quit pounding that damn glove until we get out on the field." Well, that shook me up, but I figured at least he knew my name.
At the end of spring training, Caldwell called me in to tell me that I wasn't going to make their team, but they were going to option me to Valdosta. He said, "We think you're a great prospect. In fact, we think you're as good a fielder as Zeke Bonura right now." I knew Zeke Bonura was a major leaguer, and so that comment made me feel like I was as good as a big leaguer. The thing I didn't know was that Zeke Bonura was the worst fielder in the world. I later found out that when you mentioned Zeke Bonura's fielding, everyone would laugh.
Excerpted from Lucky Me by Eddie Robinson, C. Paul Rogers III. Copyright © 2011 Eddie Robinson and C. Paul Rogers III. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Tom Grieve
Introduction by Bobby Brown
Chapter 1 - Paris, Texas, Roots
Chapter 2 - Breaking into Pro Ball
Chapter 3 - Making Progress
Chapter 4 - A Taste of the Big Time and a World War II Detour
Chapter 5 - International League MVP
Chapter 6 - Big League Rookie
Chapter 7 - A Magical Year in Cleveland
Chapter 8 - An All-State Year in Washington
Chapter 9 - With the Pale Hose
Chapter 10 - A Year in Purgatory, er, Philadelphia
Chapter 11 - From the Outhouse to the Penthouse
Chapter 12 - Fun and Games with the Yankees
Chapter 13 - Playing Out the String
Chapter 14 - Coaching with Paul Richards and the Orioles
Chapter 15 - The Move to Houston and the Start of the Expansion Colt .45s
Chapter 16 - On to Kansas City and Charlie Finley
Chapter 17 - Back to the National League with the Atlanta Braves
Chapter 18 - Fun and Games with Ted Turner
Chapter 19 - Home to Texas
Chapter 20 - The Eddie Chiles Era
Chapter 21 - Working for George
Chapter 22 - Team Consultant--The Last Stage