Robby was 86 and Butkus was a few weeks shy of his 81st birthday.
Brooks Robinson, a native of Little Rock, Ark., embraced the city of Baltimore. Dick Butkus was a native of Chicago and he embodied his hometown with a strength and presence that would have Bad, Bad Leroy Brown shaking in his shoes. Both players helped define their sport and position to my generation of Baby Boomers.
I admired Brooks Robinson to the point that I shed tears over his death. I had a chuckle at the thought of Dick Butkus dying and it wasn’t a lack of respect to a player I so admired.
Dick Butkus was as much a part of my Halloween as he was my NFL. For several years as a scrawny little kid, I’d take a black magic marker and make a big 51 on the front of a white sweatshirt.
You see, Butkus was number 51 and I could think of no greater tribute than to intimidate the neighborhoods in Gulf Breeze as I growled, “TRICK or TREAT.”
I though of those days when I heard that Butkus had died and a part of me died with him.
There have been other great middle linebackers to come along since Butkus, but none filled the position as well as he did. The Bears were known as the Monsters of the Midway and nobody fit that description as Butkus did.
And there have been other great third basemen to play the hot corner, but none did it with the humility and grace as Brooks Robinson.
Robinson understood the importance of being a good reflection on the game of baseball, his family and the communities of Little Rock and Baltimore. Some players think about being a legend. Robinson was concerned about what his legacy might be.
He embraced the opportunity to be with the fans that he often referred to as, “I don’t call you my fans, I call you my friends.”
A columnist at a Baltimore newspaper once wrote, “In New York they name candy bars after baseball players. In Baltimore they name their babies after Brooks Robinson.”
As what did people name after Dick Butkus? In the movie “Rocky,” the title character named his dog Butkus.
If there is baseball in Heaven Brooks Robinson is 30-something again making impossible plays some ordinary at third base in the eternal field of dreams. And the next time I hear thunder ahead of the oncoming storm, I’ll think that Butkus found a running back to hit.
I am a sports writer and I have long measured the seasons of life by what kind of ball is bouncing on a field or in a gym. The spring season of my life was defined in many ways by Brooks Robinson in baseball and Dick Butkus in football.
I won’t wear a Dick Butkus jersey for Halloween this year, but if some young football player comes to my door, I know I’ll smile at a sweet memory of youth.