100 Greatest Phillies

100 Greatest Phillies: 3 – Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts
Starting Pitcher
1948-1961

Career w/Phillies: 3739.1 IP / 234-199 / 3.46 ERA / 1871 K

For Robin Roberts, pitching was a piece of cake.

“Too many people try to make it more complicated than it really is,” he said once. If the thousands of other men who toed the rubber felt the same way, then Roberts wouldn’t be that special. Instead, No. 36 is a Hall of Famer, a living legend and practically … almost … the greatest pitcher in Phillies history. The man who made it look so easy is truly a Phillie legend.

Making his Phillie debut at age 21 in 1948, Roberts gave up just 52 earned runs in 20 starts that first season. Immediately touted as a upcoming star, Roberts didn’t disappoint, going 15-15 with a 3.69 ERA in his second season. Better things was surely ahead for the right-hander.

Roberts handled a quick, moving fastball that breezed by hitters’ bats too often. But he also threw that baby across the plate – his career high for walks in a season is an incredibly low 77, which he recorded in just his third season, 1950.

That 1950 season was Roberts’ breakthrough, despite the high walk total. It was his first 20-win season, going 20-11 with a 3.02 ERA and 146 strikeouts. He was awarded his first all-star berth, as well. The season would set a benchmark for Roberts that he would outdo almost every subsequent season. For the next five seasons he won at least 21 games (leading the National League in wins four-consecutive seasons). His ERA, for a while, would continuously decrease. His strikeout totals would increase. He’d lead the league five-consecutive seasons in complete games.

The apex of Roberts’ career came in 1952. That season he won 28 games, recording a 2.59 ERA while walking just 45 hitters. As he started 39 games (and finished 30), that’s very close to one walk per nine innings. Pretty good stuff. Of course, he’d continue his dominance in 1953 with a 23-16, 2.75 ERA season. By this point he was starting close to 45 games per season.

But that workhorse mentality got the best of him, as Roberts’ shoulder began to feel the pains of labor. The velocity of his fastball died a bit, allowing hitters to catch up and bash him enough. As a result he suffered a bit more between 1956 and 1960, though he still won his share of games (73 in that five-year span). Still, Roberts got around a good lot, something he never enjoyed.

“I never slept when I lost. I’d see the sun come up without ever having closed my eyes. I’d see those base hits over and over and it would drive me crazy.”

Luckily not too crazy, but it could’ve been easy: The 505 homers Roberts turned to watch remain the most surrendered by a pitcher in baseball history.

After a 1-10 shellacking in 1961, the Phillies released Roberts. He could’ve toiled for a few more seasons; instead, he improved himself as a finesse pitcher, racking up a few solid seasons and likely securing his Hall of Fame election. He hung up the cleats in 1966 and was already a Phillies retired number. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Piece of cake, huh?

Comment: For six seasons, Roberts was damn near untouchable; he was clearly the best pitcher in baseball during that span. Otherwise, he had a few more solid seasons, earning himself easy top 10 placement and more. For his dominance, his loyalty, his hand in a pennant – all of that, he’s clearly in the Phillies Mount Rushmore. But he comes in at No. 3. You know who remains.

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