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Where are they now?: Don Robinson

Thursday, May 16, 2002

By Rich Emert

Don Robinson was a fan favorite in his nine-plus seasons with the Pirates.

A hard-throwing right-hander, he also was a tough out and one of the best-hitting pitchers in club history. Robinson, who played 15 major-league seasons and went to the Giants (1987-91), Angels and Phillies (1992) after the Pirates, had four surgeries on his right shoulder and two on his right elbow and was able to bounce back after each operation. His best season with the Pirates might have been '82 when he was 15-13 as a starter with a 4.28 ERA. That same year, he hit .282 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 85 at bats.

A 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, Robinson was a major contributor on the Pirates '79 World Series team. He was 8-8 with a 3.27 ERA and had a save and a win in the three-game sweep of Cincinnati in the National League Championship Series.

In the World Series, he was the winning pitcher in Game 2 against the Orioles. Robinson, who will be 45 in two weeks, lives in Bradenton, Fla., and coaches an AAU team, the Titans, in the summer. The team is composed of high school players, and it compiled a 51-11 record last year and was rated eighth best in the country.

Q: How did you get involved with the AAU team?

A: Chet Lemon, who used to play for the Tigers, had a team, and I would take some guys and we'd go play his team, and it was always good. That's how it started, and what I do now is get some of the top players in the area and try to get them noticed and college scholarships by playing in a lot of tournaments. We play between 60 and 70 games each summer, and this will be my ninth year doing it, but it might be my last.

Q: Why is that?

A: I've been thinking about getting back in the game as a coach. A lot of guys from my generation of players are now managing in the majors, and I've had some people call me. The longer you are away from the game the more people tend to forget about you. I think I've got something to offer.

Q: Do you still follow the Pirates?

A: Sure, I've got a satellite dish so I watch all the games. I watched [Kris] Benson pitch the other night and I can relate to what he's going through. It's not easy coming back from surgery, but I think he's going to be OK.

Q: What's the toughest part of coming back after surgery?

A: It's hard to come back and find the same arm slot that you had before. I watched Benson, and he was all over the place with his arm. It just takes time for the mind to put things back together. Guys today are lucky because they have those rehab games in the minors where they go pitch to work things out. It wasn't that way when I played. When you came back, they put you out there. [Manager] Chuck Tanner would let you get your feet wet by letting you pitch the eighth inning of a game that was out of hand, but you had to come back and prove it in the majors.

Q: You were such a good hitter. Were you signed as a pitcher or a position player?

A: Both, but when they saw how hard I could throw they kept me as a pitcher. I was a good guess hitter. I was always looking to hit the curveball. I did that because in meetings we'd have before games the manager would always say to throw the opposing pitcher curveballs. I figured the manager of the other team was telling his guy the same thing, so I looked for the curve, and in most cases, the curve you throw the pitcher isn't a real good one.

Q: Did being a good hitter help you as a pitcher?

A: It kept me in games a lot longer. There were probably five to 10 games a year that the manager left me out there because I could hit, and that gave me more chances to pick up a victory.

Q: The Pirates used you as a pinch-hitter more than a couple of times. You had to like that?

A: The final game of one season, Chuck started me in left field against the Phillies and I went 2 for 3 with two RBIs. He took me out in the seventh and put Lee Lacy in for defensive purposes, and the first ball hit to him he dropped. I had a few chances before that and didn't drop one.

Q: What was it like being the youngster on the World Series team in 1979?

A: That was a great experience, and you could not have asked for a better group of guys to learn the game from. It was just such a loose bunch. The visiting clubhouse guys couldn't wait for us to show up. Win or lose, the music was always blasting. I can remember Chuck coming in after we were down three game to one to Baltimore in the Series, and he just said that he knew we hadn't played our best baseball yet and that all we had to do was win three games in a row and to turn the stereo back up. That's the way it was.

Q: Tanner was easy to play for, huh?

A: He just let you do whatever you wanted. We never had any meetings. When I was with the Giants, [manager] Roger Craig held a meeting once a week whether we needed one or not.

Q: Sounds like you didn't want to leave the Pirates, right?

A: When I was traded to the Giants, I cried.

Q: How about hitters? Were there one or two guys you had success against?

A: Mike Schmidt. I think he hit something like .116 against me, but he hit his 500th homer off me and that's all anybody remembers. He did it in the ninth inning to give [the Phillies] an 8-6 win. Von Hayes, who always hit me well, batted ahead of Schmidt, and I pitched around him to get to Schmidt. Then he hits a fastball over the fence and everybody said I gave up the home run on purpose. Come on ...

Q: Anybody else?

A: Tony Gwynn. I'm on his list of the 10 toughest pitchers he faced. Then there was Jack Clark, who must have hit six or seven game-winning homers -- what do they call those now, walk-off homers, where you walk off the field ... bus in 30 minutes -- off me.

Play "The Game" and send comments on "Where Are They Now?" to Rich Emert at emert196@attbi.com.

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