college of education | fall 2002

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A Man for All Seasons
-- MSU Great and Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts Remembers His Alma Matter and Playing Days

Robin Roberts turns silent. He rears back in his chair and clasps his hands across his chest. After a moment, the septuagenarian allows a smile to crest on his broad face “There was no television back then,” he says of his youth in the 1930s. “We’d follow the major leagues through the radio and we knew who all the players were. I didn’t give any thought to being a professional athlete. The guys in the big leagues were bigger than life. You couldn’t associate yourself with them. I thought I’d be a teacher and coach.”

But associate with professional athletes he did. In his elegant career in Major League Baseball, Roberts pitched his way to 286 victories – only 23 other players have won more games. In a sport obsessed with statistics, his numbers speak for themselves. He struck out 2,357 batters and walked only 902, a ratio any pitcher would relish, and has a 3.41 lifetime ERA. For six consecutive seasons in the 1950s, the right-hander won 20 or more games for his beloved Philadelphia Phillies. In the seventh season, he won 19.

And to think that his career as a pitcher started at MSU almost by accident. The son of an immigrant Welsh coal miner, Roberts wound up in East Lansing as part of an Army Air Corps training program. After the war ended in 1945, he took his leave of the service and returned to MSU to play basketball.

He was good at it, but after his second season he made his way to legendary baseball coach John Kobs. He told Kobs he could play. Kobs asked him what position. The answer is classic Robin Roberts. “I told him, What do you need? He said he needed pitchers. So I became a pitcher.”

He never looked back. The summer before he finished his degree in physical education with minors in physical science and history, Roberts signed a contract with the Phillies and earned himself a $10,000 bonus. (He used the money to build his mother a house.)








He would spend the next 18 seasons on the mound for the Phillies and a handful of other teams. To look at him now, 36 years after he retired, one can still see at times the fire in his eyes, flickering when he recounts the pitch he threw to an aging Joe DiMaggio in the 1952 World Series. DiMaggio drove the fastball into the seats.

And yet there is nothing flashy about the man. Robin Roberts’ enduring appeal is atavistic, rooted in the belief that somewhere in the not-too-distant past things were better. In taking the measure of man like Roberts one is allowed to believe that Superman could be Clark Kent in his off hours, that our sports heroes could be decent human beings not simply to preserve their endorsement contracts, but because it fit their personalities as well as the cut of their uniforms. 

In the end, Roberts’ exploits on the field earned him the ultimate honor, induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He never did become a schoolteacher, but he did coach baseball at the University of South Florida for eight seasons.

It’s been a remarkable life, the Hall of Famer says as he leans forward and his eyes look away. He still loves the game, but there’s no denying things have changed. He turns pensive for a moment then brightens up. “It was different then,” he says softly. “We played for the love of it. I ended up involved with Major League Baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies and never regretted a bit of it. Not one bit of it. And I love coming back to East Lansing and Michigan State.”


| Back to Contents | A year to Remember: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 |