Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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Bill Lyon: An old Whiz Kid salutes this year's team

Phillies legend Robin Roberts (left) paid a visit to the current team Monday at Citizens Bank Park. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Phillies legend Robin Roberts (left) paid a visit to the current team Monday at Citizens Bank Park. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Phillies legend Robin Roberts (left) paid a visit to the current team Monday at Citizens Bank Park. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer) Gallery: Phils vs. Yanks in 1950 Series

The other day, Cole Hamels walked past, with confusion and frustration walking with him.

"Hey, lefthander," Robin Roberts cried out to him.

Hamels turned.

"Don't forget," Roberts said, "how good you are."

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       They were christened the Whiz Kids, as in Gee Whiz, which in those naive and innocent Happy Days of 1950 was regarded as almost profanity.

    And on the mound they had a G-e-e-e-e Whiz by the name of Robin Evan Roberts, who redefined what is meant by indefatigable.

       The year the Whiz Kids went to the World Series, Robin Roberts and his elastic, electric right arm won 20.

       And had 21 complete games.

       Twenty-one.

       This is not a typo.

       Twenty-one.

       In the current era, The Closer is the fashionable job description. Robin Roberts was The Starter and The Finisher. He started 472 games for the Phillies. He finished 272 of them.

       So what was your pitch-count limit, Robby? Two hundred?

       He laughed.

       "I guess around 100, maybe 110. We weren't too into that, that much. I threw strikes, so that kept it down. I never asked the manager to take me out, or to leave me in. I just took the ball."

       Yes, took it and rarely gave it back. Took it three times in seven days in that 10-alarm September stretch drive of 1950, and then took it for one more start, and finish, on the last day of the regular season, when the Whiz Kids needed to beat Brooklyn to reach the Series.

       The Dodgers loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Roberts reached back, and from somewhere in the rubble of all that fatigue and overuse dredged up just enough guts-and-glory pitches to retire Carl Furillo and Gil Hodges, and the Phillies were ready for the Yankees. Ready, willing and almost able. Almost. But not quite.

       "We got swept," Roberts said, "but they were all close. Could have gone either way. We lost the first game, 1-0, the second one, 2-1 [when Joe DiMaggio homered off Roberts in the 10th inning], the third one, 3-2, and the last one, 5-2."

       The math comes out to five runs for the Phillies, total.

       But then Roberts was accustomed to meager support. In only four of his 14 seasons with them did the Phillies post winning records. His numbers are robust enough, but what might they have been with better teams?

       From 1950 through 1955, he averaged 23 wins, 27 complete games, 323 innings, and an ERA around 2.90. All while pitching every fourth day, sometimes every third, and sometimes even the occasional second, and without the aid of nuclear medicine or assorted pharmaceuticals or any of that do-do-that-voodoo-that-you-do-so-well.

       "I'd run and work out the day after," he said. "Played a lot of pepper. Threw some batting practice. And our version of long toss was shagging BP. We used our arms a lot."

       What a revolutionary concept.

       Fifty-nine years after his World Series, Robin Roberts (still fit and sharp at 83) is asked for his assessment of the current Fightin's. He does not hesitate.

       "Best Phillies team I've seen. They've got good players all over the place. They're a complete offensive club, they can run, they've got power, they're solid on defense, and it looks like [Brad] Lidge has come around."

       And the manager? Could Robin Roberts play for Charlie Manuel?

       "I don't know who couldn't. He's got a certain way to do things, and they do them. He's down to earth. No tricks."

       And then, sounding remarkably like Manuel, he said: "You know, the more I watch baseball, it seems like the less I know."

       So from afar does he second-guess the manager?

       "I find myself saying, 'I think I'll leave that up to Charlie.' "

       Besides piling up enough numbers to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, Robin Roberts earned an enviable reputation for grace, class and dignity. He was a gentleman. Sometimes, it seems like that roll call shrinks with each passing year.

     

    Bill Lyon For The Inquirer
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