Thom Loverro: Robinson still defines third base years later

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Sports,Thom Loverro

When Ryan Zimmerman complained to reporters about the official scorer giving him an error on a ninth-inning throw in Friday night's 6-5 extra-inning win by the Washington Nationals over the San Diego Padres, he didn't mention Mike Schmidt. He didn't use George Brett or Chipper Jones to make his point.

He named Brooks Robinson.

"I would never complain about a play, but that's not an error," Zimmerman told The Washington Post. "I don't know if they have Brooks Robinson as a scorekeeper here or what."

You can parade around Mike Schmidt's 500 home runs all you want. You can cite George Brett's .390 batting average in 1980 and his 3,000 hits. Go ahead and make your case for the switch-hitting Chipper Jones.

Robinson remains the standard by which everything that happens around third base is measured - 36 years after he retired.

The day after Zimmerman used Robinson to make his point about an issue with the error he was charged, Robinson celebrated his 76th birthday.

Happy birthday, Brooks. Your name is still spoken in baseball clubhouses by players who were born seven years after you stopped playing.

You can debate who the greatest center fielder was - Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio or Ken Griffey Jr. You can argue who the greatest shortstop ever was - Ozzie Smith, Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken. Catcher? I'll take Johnny Bench, you take Mike Piazza.

No other position on the diamond is defined by one player as much as third base is by Robinson.

Gold gloves? Robinson had 16 straight, the most of any player in the history of the game, tied with pitcher Jim Kaat. He made 18 All-Star teams - 15 of those consecutively - during his 23 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. There is not one but two statues of Robinson in Baltimore.

This is something that goes beyond resume, statistics and accomplishments.

If Abbott and Costello were have to written the classic "Who's on First" comedy skit decades later, "I don't know" would not have been at third base.

Robinson would have been at third.

In 2011, some ESPN geek with a slide rule and a protractor listed the top six third baseman in the history of the game. In order, he listed Schmidt, Jones, Eddie Matthew, Brett and Wade Boggs. Sixth was Brooks Robinson.

He cited his weaker offensive numbers than the others, and this, of course: "He didn't walk much, leaving his on-base percentage nearly 100 points less than Wade Boggs', for example. But he was an amazingly durable player, a great teammate and a key member of some of the greatest teams of all time."

Durable. Great teammate.

Clueless.

This is beyond arguing who the greatest third baseman was. This is the very identity of the position, and there is no argument over that.

Third base is Brooks Robinson.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner