FOR THOSE WHO EVER had the pleasure of watching Brooks Robinson play baseball, there is one picture sure to evoke a host of memories. That is the shot of Mr. Robinson running in full stride to his left, crouched low to the ground, glovehand outstretched, about to field a ground ball deep in the hole between third base and shortstop - and throw the batter out. It was a classic Robinson movement, something he did routinely, much to the displeasure of opposing teams and their fans. But even they realized Brooks Robinson was a man of special gifts, a master of the third-base position. And so, if they groaned whenever a ball was hit anywhere near him, they could simultaneously console themselves with the knowledge that they were about to watch perfection at work. Not fast, but gracefully nimble and possessing lightning-like reflexes, Brooks Robinson unquestionably was the best third baseman in modern-day baseball, and perhaps the best of all time.

From the statistics you can get an idea of his value to the Balitmore Orioles during the 17 straight years he was on the roster: his incredible endurance, the almost errorless fielding average, the 16 straight "Gold Glove" fielding awards the "Most Valuable Player" accolades. But you had to see Brooks Robinson in action to understand the impact this gentle but ferociously competitive man had on the game.

Brooks Robinson retired as a player Sunday, making official what he and everyone else knew had to occur before season's end. The recent years were difficult for him. Age stripped him of his power at bat and his quickness in the field, and business reverses forced him to stay on the Orioles' player roster beyond the time he should have. But because Brooks Robinson is as fine a human being as he was a baseball player, he made these last years easy on everyone. The Orioles' general manager said Mr. Robinson was "unquestionably the Orioles' most important and most beloved player. He will never be replaced in the hearts of his countless fans." Many of those fans live far beyond Baltimore.