On Saturday, January 11 I attended the Central Texas Hornsby Chapter of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) Winter Meeting on the Texas State campus.* It was an all day event with speakers discussing trips to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, contemporary baseball in Cuba, Round Rock Express announcer Mike Capps offering his insiders take on the Express and Rangers in the upcoming season, former player Matt Kata discussing his playing career, among other things. A much more detailed recap (with pictures by Ryan Pollack) can be found here.
As great as all the speakers were, the highlight for me was getting to see and hear 93-year-old Eddie Robinson tell stories of his almost continuous work history in professional baseball dating back to the late 1930's. The only reason his career wasn't continuous was that he spent 3 years fighting in World War 2. He had a career that including winning the 1948 World Series on a Cleveland Indians team that featured Bob Feller, Satchel Paige, & Larry Doby, 4 All Star appearances, while a NY Yankee he took singing senation Patti Page on a Tennessee Waltz if you know what I mean, helped sign & develop the original players that made up the then Houston Colt 45's (Astros), and then worked as General Manager for both the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers. Robinson spent a hour telling stories and answering questions and each story is worth it's own post. In the end, it was a story from his time as the Rangers GM that provided not just my favorite anecdote of the day.
In 1964 Robinson was scouting a top prep catching prospect named Richard Hough. They needed someone to throw batting practice and Hough suggested his younger brother, who at the time was a sophomore pitcher on the high school baseball team. During the first half of the showcase Hough was hitting home run after home run, impressing Robinson. During the break Robinson made a comment to the younger brother about Richard hitting all his pitches hard. The younger brother snapped almost instantly, "Yeah, but not when I put any of my stuff on it." Intrigued Robinson asked him to use his "stuff" when they came back from the break. He did and shut Richard down. Robinson took note on two things, to not draft Richard because he couldn't hit breaking pitches and to keep an eye on the younger brother.
The younger brother was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966 and spent years bouncing around their minor league system before being called up and becoming an underused relief pitcher that only had 1 start prior to turning 31. In 1980 Robinson called Tommy Lasorda and inquired about the younger brother and Lasorda admitted they really didn't have a place for him on the team and traded him to the Rangers for a minor league infielder. That pitcher went on to become the Rangers all-time winning-est pitcher (the record still stands) and is my all-time favorite pitcher. He is the legendary knuckleballer Charlie Hough and as a kid I was the only guy willing to trade Nolan Ryan baseball cards for Charlie Hough ones. I would even usually be able to get all their Charlie Hough's along with a Steve Buechele in that deal. Robinson said he was always a fan of knuckleball pitchers and even help develop Tim Wakefield after he was released by the Pirates and get him signed by the Red Sox and that Hough and Wakefield were two of his proudest moments as an executive. As for Charlie Hough, his stuff that caused his brother to go undrafted by Robinson led him to a long career highlighted by 216 wins and leading the league in starts twice, at the ages 36 & 39 and being 85th on the all time games started list.
*When Texas State University was known as Southwest Texas State Teachers' College, a young Lyndon Baines Johnson graduated from there with a teaching degree while working as editor on the school's paper and being involved in the student government.
Learn more about Eddie Robinson in Lucky Me: My Sixty-five Years in Baseball
And if you have not seen Knuckleball! featuring Charlie Hough, R. A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield & more yet find a way to see it immediately.