1956 Orioles Landed Minnesota All-Stater (And Some Kid Named Brooks Robinson?)

Here’s a treasure from my archives, circa 2000. At the time, I began looking hard at all the Minnesota natives who had made the majors. Among that list was Gordie Sundin, a teen who savored the smallest cup of coffee with the 1956 Orioles. He wrote:

“Hi, Tom —

Thanks for your inquiry and interest. It’s hard to believe you found me.

I did grow up in Mpls. I was ALL STATE in football, basketball and baseball at Washburn HS. I signed with the Orioles right out of HS and was on the active roster when I was 17 yrs old (in 1955, I was born 10/10/37).

Brooks Robinson and I signed together and remain good friends.

My elbow went bad (nerve damage) my first season and I was operated on in Baltimore in 3/56. Again, my elbow went bad and I was cut on in 1959.

I had some great experiences and for awhile I threw well out in the coast league for Vancouver 1957-59. I was on the Orioles Active roster  in ’55 and all of ’56.

I married my H.S. sweetheart, the former Mary Ann Dorsey — who was on the ’56 Olympic and world figure skating teams. We were also married in ’56. Big Year.

God bless. Thanks for the inquiry.
Gordie”

George Kell Believed in Fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Branch Rickey

Back in 1997, I wrote to Hall of Famer George Kell to ask of two baseball personalities he befriended.

First, I wanted to know about his dealings with famed general manager Branch Rickey. I had read that Kell helped Rickey with the early formation of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A few players who faced contract battles with Rickey complained how hard-nosed “The Mahatma” was in negotiations.

Secondly, I praised Kell for being a role model for fellow Arkansas native Brooks Robinson.

Kell replied:

“Thomas — Mr. Rickey got me involved in the FCA back in the early ’50s, and I found him to be just what he was advertised to be — a fine, outstanding Christian gentleman.

If I had anything to do with the formation of Brooks Robinson, I’m proud and flattered. He comes from a great background and is a fine role model.

Sincerely,

George Kell”

Dear Brooks Robinson: Please, Help Us! Signed, Your Forgotten Teammates

In 1975, Brooks Robinson basked in the twilight glow of a sterling career. Meanwhile, teammate Baltimore teammate Jim Hutto struggled for a second chance after his debut with the 1970 Phillies. Five more seasons of minor league exile followed.

Doug Gladstone is author of A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve

He caught up with Hutto, who tried to reconnect with his famous teammate years later. Hutto is one of the pension-less veterans who’ve sought recognition for their service to the game. As Gladstone tells it:

“There is also a tremendously poignant October 7, 2008 letter from Jim Hutto, the former Phillies and Orioles catcher, that is liberally quoted from. It was sent to Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Famer who now serves as president of the Board of Directors of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA):

“I am crippled with arthritis brought on by the abuse I put my body through playing baseball. I am permanently disabled physically, but my brain is still working. And it’s telling me that no one in baseball has the balls to do what is right and put our group of 900 or so guys on the same level playing field with all those other guys who are receiving benefits. I am just a regular person who played baseball once upon a time. At my age, I’m just trying to get out of bed every morning and do what I can to make ends meet. I am trying to get by with some dignity and as hokey as this may sound, I want to be able to look upon my baseball life as a good thing. The other 900 ballplayers feel the same way.’

Hutto is still waiting for the courtesy of a response.”

Please, go the Doug Gladstone’s website to learn more about this wrong. Buy his book if you can. Then, get ready to go to bat for 874 deserving players. Good letters can do more than obtain autographs. Good letters can change lives.

Tomorrow: the author tells all, giving a list of the people and places fans can contact with their protests.

Oriole Jim Pyburn’s Humble Homers

Jim Pyburn’s career in Baltimore whizzed by in a mere 155 games. From 1955-57, he couldn’t find a permanent home in the O’s lineup. He’s remembered as one of the team’s many pre-Brooks Robinson third basemen.

Pyburn surprised me with his answer to my letter. I asked if he could supply details on his most meaningful home run.

He belted all three on the road, the first against Dick Brodowski in Washington April 27, 1956. Pyburn followed with a two-run shot against White Sox hurler Gerry Staley June 20.

Nearly a year later, Pyburn’s last career homer (a two-run dinger) supplied the winning margin in a 4-1 win in Detroit.

He chose to reply in just one word:

“LUCKY”

Thanks again to Retrosheet.org for its valuable insights into another career.

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