He Had The Nerve To Play Again
Dec 01, 2020Posted by james

He is the oldest-living former Major League Baseball player. Eddie Robinson celebrates his 100th birthday this month (December 15).

During a 13-year playing career, Eddie donned the uniforms of seven teams – Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators (now Minnesota Twins), Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, and the Athletics in Philadelphia and Kansas City. Just as he was pursuing a major league job with a September debut for the Indians during the 1942 season, Eddie was called to duty during World War II. Then, while serving with the U.S. Navy, he was diagnosed with a potential life-long medical condition that placed a brace on his right leg and jeopardized his baseball career.

While in Hawaii during 1945, a bone tumor paralyzed Eddie’s leg. A nerve suture as thin as a razor blade was performed on his shin bone. The nerve needed time to rejuvenate. The positive prognosis was the nerve slowly would grow — about an inch every three months — though Eddie might never enjoy complete function of his leg.

Surprising the doctors, the nerve grew about an inch per month. The nerve healed within nine months. The next step for Eddie was to strengthen the leg. The brace was worn until the first day of the Indians’ 1946 spring training camp.

Eddie didn’t make the big club that year. Instead, he played first base for then Triple-A Baltimore. He played on a tired and painful leg, yet enjoyed a good first half of the season. Then, during early August, Eddie swung at a ball and felt it crash against his right ankle. A fracture ended his season.

During the next spring training, Eddie hit that same ankle, limiting his time on the field through the early part of the regular season. Again, Eddie pushed uphill. He was determined that the latest injury was not going to stop him from becoming the Indians regular first baseman. By mid-season, Eddie was playing every game.

Though he played more than a decade, Eddie’s name usually does not come up in conversations about historic Major League Baseball moments. Still, Eddie did have his time in the spotlight.

Eddie’s clutch eighth-inning single to right field off Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves in the decisive game of the 1948 World Series provided the margin of victory for the Indians in the 4-3 win. Eddie batted .300 during the World Series. His final hit drove in his lone RBI to give Cleveland its last championship.

But, before all this occurred, Eddie participated in an iconic baseball moment. On June 13, Cleveland was in New York as the Yankees celebrated the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium. The pregame ceremonies welcomed Babe Ruth in what would be the slugger’s final public appearance. Babe was dying and he struggled as he made his way through the dugout to mount the steps to the field. Eddie grabbed a bat from the bat rack and handed it to the slugger. Babe used it for support, a sort of brace, as he walked to the microphone. When Babe returned to the dugout, he handed the bat to Eddie and signed it.

That bat has been preserved all these years as a baseball treasure, and Eddie appears in the famous photograph as Babe emerges from the dugout with the bat in his right hand while doffing his cap for the fans with his left hand.

Eddie certainly has been blessed. It’s been a long and good life for a guy who wasn’t supposed to play another game in the major leagues.

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