Career Year: Brooks Robinson – 1964
Prior to 1964, Brooks Robinson had already established himself as the finest third baseman in the American League. In 1964, his performance in the field and at the plate established him – for that season – as the league’s best player.
Robinson was signed by the Baltimore Orioles – his only major league team – in 1955. In his rookie season of 1958, he batted only .238 with three home runs and 38 RBIs, and after a slow start in 1959 he found himself back in the minors. In three months at Vancouver (AAA), Robinson batted .331 and earned a trip back to Baltimore, where he batted .284 but still produced only four home runs with 24 runs batted in. But he was back with the Orioles to stay, a stay that would last 18 more seasons.
Fielding was not the problem. Robinson would win his first Gold Glove in 1960, and own that award every year through 1975, a record of 16 consecutive Gold Gloves matched only by pitcher Jim Kaat. It was his hitting that was questioned, and by 1960 he proved he could handle major league pitching. Robinson batted .294 with 14 home runs and 88 RBIs in 1960, made his first All-Star appearance. (He would be an All-Star 15 times.)
Robinson batted .287 in 1961 and in 1962 he batted .303 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs. His batting average slipped to .251 (with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs) in 1963.
In 1964 he batted .349 in April but produced only one home run and two RBIs. By the All-Star break, he was batting .317 with nine home runs and 48 RBIs. But Robinson caught fire in the second half of the season. He drove in 25 runs in August and 32 more in September. He batted .381 in September.
Robinson finished the 1964 season leading the American League with 118 RBIs. His 28 home runs would be the most in his career. His .317 batting average was second in the league to Tony Oliva’s .323. He was sixth in slugging percentage (.521), second in hits (194), third in doubles (35) and second in total bases (319).
And for the first time in the 1960s, the American League’s Most Valuable Player was not a member of the New York Yankees. That streak was snapped by Brooks Robinson.