60 years ago tomorrow, Phillies’ Hall of Famer Robin Roberts pitched his first game as a Phil.
Roberts went to Spring Training in 1948 and roomed with another rookie, Richie Ashburn. They would become two of the greatest players in Phillies history. Each has had his uniform number retired and each is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
As a 21-year-old, Roberts began the 1948 season with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, then a Phillies farm team in the Class B Inter-State League. He posted a 9-1 record with a 2.06 ERA, completing 10 of 11 starts. In 96 innings, he struck out 121. A sign that he was something special came on June 5 when he tied the league record with 18 strikeouts in a 4-1 win over Trenton.
After dominating that league, Roberts was called up by the Phillies. Upon learning that he was headed for the big leagues, his Wilmington teammates gave him a going-away present, a pen and pencil set.
Less than 24 hours after being promoted, he was on the mound in the Major Leagues. Allowing single runs in the third and seventh innings, Roberts and the Phillies fell to the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-0, on June 18, before 13,501 fans at Shibe Park. His line: 8 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts.
“I felt a bit nervous pitching to Stan Rojek in the first inning,” said Roberts in an Associated Press story. “I guess any fellow would feel that way pitching to his first hitter in the big leagues. But once I walked him and struck out Frank Gustine [second hitter], I felt natural the rest of the way.
“As long as I can keep my fast ball alive and fool ’em with a curve once in a while, I’ll try to give ’em a battle all the way.”
Five days later, Roberts recorded the first of his 234 Phillies wins, 3-2, over the Cincinnati Reds at Shibe Park. It was the first of 272 complete games, a Phillies record that may never be broken.
Later this season, Robbie will be honored during the pre-game festivities as part of Toyota Alumni Night on Saturday, Aug. 9 at Citizens Bank Park. All fans will receive a commemorative print of Roberts, courtesy of Toyota.
36 Robin Evan Roberts RHP
B-T: S-R… HT: 6-0; WT: 190… BORN: Sept. 30, 1926, Springfield, IL… RESIDES: Temple Terrace, FL.
CAREER: Pitched 14 years with the Phillies, 1948-61… Also pitched for the Baltimore Orioles (1962-65), Houston Astros (1965-66) and Chicago Cubs (1966) before retiring in 1966.
HOW OBTAINED: Signed to a $25,000 bonus by the Phillies following graduation from Michigan State University in 1947.
WINS: 20-game winner six straight years (1950-55)… Led NL in wins, four straight seasons, starting in 1952… Making third start in five days, he won his 20th game as the Phillies clinched the pennant at Brooklyn, Oct. 1, 1950…Won a career-high 28 games in 1952 and set a club record with an .800 winning percentage; won 21 of his last 23 decisions that year.
MISC: Never pitched under 304 innings from 1950-55…Led the Phillies in innings pitched from 1950 through 1960…Put together a streak of 28 straight complete games in 1952-53…Led the NL in complete games and innings pitched, five times; wins, four times; shutouts and strikeouts, twice…Phillies career leader in games pitched, complete games and innings pitched, and was the leader in wins and strikeouts until Steve Carlton came along.
HONORS: Selected to seven consecutive All-Star Games… Shares All-Star Game record for most starts, five, with Lefty Grove and Don Drysdale…Named Player of the Year by The Sporting News in 1952 and was chosen as the Pitcher of the Year three times by the same publication (before Cy Young Award was established)…Number retired in 1962…Elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.