The biggest crowd to attend a Baltimore Oriole regular-season game, 51.798, came to say goodbye and thanks to Brooks Robinson today.
They stood and cheered in the bright sun for nearly 15 minutes as Robinson circled the field, standing like a ticker-tape-parade hero in the back of a Cadillac convertible, '55 vintage, to symbolize the great No. 5's rookie year.
"Brooks, not retired, just called up to Cooperstown," said one bedsheet sign. "Take Brooks to the Series," pleaded another.
At the culmination of an emotional and stylish ceremony that delayed the start of today's Orioles-vs.-Boston Red Sox game for an hour, Robinson had the last word.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be standing here 23 years later saying goodbye to so many people," said the immortal third baseman in a clear, happy voice.
"For a guy who never wanted to do anything but put on a major league uniform, that goodbye comes tough . . . I would never want to change one day of my years here. It's been fantastic."
The chant [PARAGRAPH ILLEGIBLE]
Slugger Lee May, who has always called Robinson "Hoover," [WORD ILLEGIBLE] an ancient vacumm cleaner. "I hope Connie makes you use it plenty," said May, grinning at Robinson's wife. "You'll notice it's a lot like you . . . got plenty of miles on it."
A paradeof Gold Gloves, 16 of them, was marched out to the make-shift dais behind the pitcher's mound. A spokesman for Rawlings presented Robinson an enormous trophy, with one of his gloves on it, to stand for them all. Robinson almost dropped it.
Perhaps the most choked-up speaker was manager Earl Weaver. Unaccustomed to showing his feeling, he seemed on the verge of tears as he recalled Robinson's generosity to him a decade ago, "when he was a superstar and I was a rookie manager with 20 years in the minor league.
"Thank you, Brooks," finished Weaver. "Thanks one million [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
While many tributes [WORD ILLEGIBLE] touched with sadness [WORD ILLEGIBLE] helped make his jubilant day [WORD ILLEGIBLE] broke up laughing when [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] Beard. Maryland sports editor of Associated Press, said. "There some candy bar in New York I heard about. You open it up and it tells you how good it is.
"Around here people don't name candy bars after Brooks Robinson. They name their children after him.
Before the ceremony Robinson was loose and happy. "Spent an hour combing my bald spot," he said with a wink, "so I could leave my toupee home. Think I'll keep my hat on."
Inevitably, Robinson's mind turned back all the years to his first game, 22 years ago yesterday. " I went two for four and on my way back to the old Southern Hotel. I telephoned my parents.
"'Mom, I got two hits and knocked in the big run today,' I told her, I don't know why I spent so much time at York (minors). I belong up here, this is my cup of tea.'
"The rest of the season I went 0 for 18, struck out 10 times and hardly touched the ball. I remembers big (6-foot-8) Frank Sullivan who pitched for Boston. He turned me every way but loose. I learned a pretty good lesson."