Roberts’ number retired while still an active player

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

The day the Philadelphia Phillies retired Robin Roberts’ number, his former teammates needed to look no further than the opposite dugout to find their former ace.

But at only 35 years of age, Roberts had already established a permanent legacy in the city of brotherly love.

On March 21, 1962, the Phillies officially retired Roberts’ No. 36 in a semi-private ceremony after Philadelphia’s Spring Training game against the Yankees in Clearwater, Fla. Roberts started on the mound that day for the Yankees, who purchased his contract from the Phillies following the 1961 season.

It marked the end of a 14-year run in Philadelphia that saw Roberts win a then-team record 234 games (still the team mark for a right-handed pitcher) and total seven All-Star Game selections. Over the 1952 and 1953 seasons, Roberts notched an incredible 28 straight complete games.

Roberts’ number was the first-ever retired by the Phillies, who began play in the National League in 1883.

“He had the best fastball I ever faced,” Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner said of Roberts.

But an incredible workload – one that featured six straight seasons of 300-plus innings from 1950-55 – began to take its toll at the end of the 1950s. In 1961, Roberts went 1-10 with an earned-run average of 5.85, prompting the Phillies to send him to the Yankees.

Roberts allowed five hits and three earned runs in three innings of work for the Yankees that day in 1962, but never pitched in an official game for the Bronx Bombers. He was released in May, but caught on with Baltimore, where he went 10-9 with a 2.78 ERA in 191.1 innings in 1962. From 1962-64, Roberts won 37 games with the Orioles before finishing his career with Houston and then the Cubs in 1965 and 1966.

Robin Roberts pitched for 19 seasons, recording a 3.41 ERA and 286 wins. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“I regret that I have not been able to give Robin Roberts more opportunities to pitch,” said Yankees manager Ralph Houk upon Roberts’ release, calling it the hardest thing he ever had to do in baseball. “Roberts has been a hard worker and a fine man around the club all spring.”

Roberts retired with 286 wins and a 3.41 ERA in 19 big league seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

“I never had a real job,” Roberts said. “I was always doing something that was unbelievably exciting for me.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series