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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Lucky Me: A Review

Baseball has a unique power that can suck people into a longtime-obsession—both for fans and those involved directly with the professional game. It’s a bug that when caught often becomes chronic. This is exemplified by Eddie Robinson’s Lucky Me: My Sixty-Five Years in Baseball (With C. Paul Rogers III; 2011; University of Nebraska Press), which chronicles his nearly seven decades as a player, scout and front office man.

Robinson was a good but not great first baseman who carved out a 13-year major league career with seven teams between 1942 and 1957. The four-time All-Star came from humble origins in Texas and became a big league regular in 1947 following a three-year stint in the military. Having access to details of his earlier years is fascinating; as a boy who always wanted to play professionally was able to live out that dream after toiling in the sandlots, the minors and for Uncle Sam.

Unlike some memoirs, Robinson is very candid throughout. He doesn’t mince words talking about why Lou Boudreau wasn’t his favorite manager. His description of how he and teammates once held down Phil Rizzuto and dyed his nether parts blue just before his wedding is cringe-worthy but also an honest look inside look at clubhouse shenanigans.

Following his playing career, Robinson went on to act as general manager, scout, minor league director and president for a number of teams. Here, his anecdotes are just as entertaining as those from when he was a player. Working for famous (or infamous) owners like Charles Finley and George Steinbrenner gave him enough material that another entire book probably could have been written.

The business of baseball is laid open in this book. This isn’t a “tell-all’ per se but Robinson wore so many hates, both literally and figuratively, during his career that he was privy to a much bigger picture than most others who publish similar work. He also doesn’t hold back from talking about situations that weren’t the most pleasant. From describing how he fired Hall-of-Famer Eddie Matthews as manager of the Atlanta Braves because of excessive drinking; to his disdain for former player and manager Davey Johnson, who he believes worked the system to get a bonus he didn’t deserve, there is a veritable treasure trove of his experiences over the years.

Robinson was also present during many major baseball moments through the years. This includes: playing with Lary Doby, the American League’s first African-American player, during his inaugural season in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians; acting as the GM of the Braves when slugger Hank Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th home run in 1974; negotiating with union head Marvin Miller just as the players started to get more of a voice.

Given his extensive experience in the front office, a little more detail of the art of the deal and the process of scouting and signing players would have been a welcome addition. Granted, these are Robinson’s memoires but over the years there were likely innumerable great stories on that side of the ball that didn’t make it to these pages.

On the other hand, Robinson does take on other issues like race and player/manager relations that are often glossed over or simply ignore in similar works. Their inclusion doesn’t have value because of sensationalism but because of its very real and pervasive impact in the game.

Anyone who likes baseball will enjoy Lucky Me. The amount of time Robinson devoted to baseball is staggering, and it is therefore not surprising how many stories he has to share. Other “lifers” (like Tommy Lasorda and Don Zimmer) may get more attention but there others out there who put just as much into the game and have had experiences that deserve the spotlight.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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