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CR’s Robinson had front row seat to history – continued

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Last week, the Herald ran part 1 of its conversation with Craig Robinson, a Council Rock alum who played shortstop for six seasons in the Major Leagues. Robinson was Atlanta’s starting shortstop the night Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s iconic home run record.
 
The Phillies selected Robinson out of Wake Forest in the 1970 draft. Robinson made his big league debut in September 1972.

Robinson was summoned to the big leagues for good on July 27, 1973, when shortstop Larry Bowa broke his leg. The Council Rock grad made a strong first impression, hitting .278 in his first 30 games while handling his first 70 chances cleanly. With a healthy Bowa blocking Robinson, yet Robinson showing ability to compete at the big league level, something had to give.
 
“I was expecting to be traded, and I was, because I wanted to try and play regularly. It was going to be tough in Philadelphia,” Robinson admitted, “because Bowa played so well for many years. I didn’t really get my arms around being a utility guy or someone who could fill that role like I probably would have today if I had been in the same situation.”
 
The April tension contributed to Robinson’s slow 1974 start. But he closed the year with a 12-game hitting streak, batting .396 and drawing four walks.
 
“I started to relax,” Robinson recalled. “I took a bit of pressure off of myself. I played better and had a better experience at the plate. That was the big difference. In the beginning, with the Hank Aaron thing and the first regular starting job that I had, there was a lot of adrenaline moving through me.”
 
Robinson played three more seasons with the Braves and Giants. When Robinson didn’t make the Braves roster in 1978, he turned to coaching. Atlanta’s Triple-A Richmond affiliate posted consecutive top-two finishes from 1981 to 1983 with Robinson on staff.
 
Several of Robinson’s teammates also successfully forayed into coaching. Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson and Johnny Oates all won a World Series, a League Manager of the Year, or both. Robinson found similar personality traits in the four future coaches.
“They have very good social skills. They are good customer service people. There is a certain ease to talk to them and approachability,” Robinson described. “And they listened to you.”
 
When a Major League job fell through, Atlanta assigned Robinson to manage its rookie ball Pulaski (Va.) affiliate in 1985. One of his players, Dave Justice, would eventually win National League Rookie of the Year while making three All-Star games. Pulaski pitcher Tommy Greene was a critical part of Philadelphia’s 1993 pennant run. Robinson worked with both when they were barely out of high school.
 
The young Justice was raw but “ended up being a very, very good hitter. Tommy Greene was a big strong kid who threw the heck out of the ball,” Robinson described. “It was obvious that both would have the opportunity to play in the big leagues if things fell their way. And if you get lucky. You’ve got to have some luck.”
 
The Bucks County Hall of Fame inducted Robinson in 2016. His coach at Council Rock, Al Speakman, had been inducted the year prior. Robinson, the son of a teacher and a Lower Moreland principal, was arguably better at football while in high school.
“Al Speakman was a great baseball coach who was very good fundamentally,” Robinson praised. “He gave me a nice start in pro ball. I grew up a Phillies fan for sure. If you grow up in Philadelphia and aren’t a Phillies/Flyers/Eagles fan, you’re kind of out in left field.”
 
Robinson pivoted out of baseball as cleanly as he turned a double play, spending 30 years in Shreveport, La., and progressing through the ranks at Caesars Entertainment. “It was a wonderful training in customer service and interacting with people all of the time,” Robinson described. “I fit in to it.” His family still lives in the Delaware Valley and Robinson visits them from his Florida home several times a year.
Robinson is still very much a people person. And with baseball immortals as his co-workers, Robinson yields some fascinating – and history making – anecdotes.

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