Jul 16, 2016

1986 World Champion Mets Hitting Instructor: "Uncle Bill "Bill Robinson (1984-1989)

William Henry Robinson was born June 26, 1943 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. The six foot two, right handed hitting Robinson was a highly touted prospect, getting signed out of high school by the Milwaukee Braves in 1961.

After playing in the low levels of the minor leagues, he made a brief debut with the Braves now in Atlanta in 1967. The next season at AAA Richmond, he hit 20 HRs with 30 doubles & batted .312 getting traded to the A.L. New York club, along with Chi-Chi Olivo for the veteran; Clete Boyer.

Back in those days, the A.L. New York club was in ninth place with a 72-90 record. The front office was desperate for positive exposure, they hyped Robinson as the next Mickey Mantle. But Robinson struggled, in three seasons he only hit over .200 once, a best .240 in 1968.

In those years he played in over 100 games twice hitting a total of 13 HRs in those years combined. On December 3rd, 1970 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, playing at their AAA Tuscon team where he hit 14 HRs batting .275 with 81 RBIs. In December 1971 he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, spending 1972 at AAA Eugene batting .304 with 20 HRs.

He was ready for the major league & broke into the Phillies line up in their dismal 1972, season where they lost 97 games. In 1973 he had a big year, on another last place Phillies team, hitting 25 HRs with 32 doubles 66 RBIs while batting .288 average.

The next season he struggled as a fourth outfielder, behind Greg Luzinski, Del Unser & Mike Anderson hitting only .236 with 5 HRs & 29 RBIs. With the arrival of the excellent defensive Gary Maddox & Jay Johnstone in 1975, Robinson was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Wayne Simpson.

Robinson found his home in Pittsburgh, playing for the Pirates for seven years from 1975-1982. There he won two N.L. East titles & a World Series Championship in 1979. He would play in the outfield, at first base, and even a bit of third base. In the bicentennial year Robinson hit .303, tying Ritchie Zisk for the Pirate team lead in HRs with 21. He also drove in 64 runs while hitting 22 doubles.

His best season in the Steel City was 1977, as he led the team in HRs (26) RBIs (104) which were 8th most in the NL. This season Pirate slugger Willie Stargell had missed a lot of time due to injuries.

In the first two weeks of August he hit six HRs while driving in twenty runs hitting safely in 12 of 14 games. Robinson hit for a .304 average, while receiving 10% of the MVP voting. The next season he led all left fielders in fielding (.989%) hitting 36 doubles (6th in the NL) with 11 sac flies (2nd in the NL) although he struck out 105 times & his average fell to just .246.

In the 1979 Pirates Championship he hit two HRs in a game against the Atlanta Braves driving in four runs on May 2nd. A week later on May 9th he hit two more HRs in Atlanta driving in another four runs against the Braves.

At the end of May he hit HRs in back to back games at Shea Stadium, helping the Pirates beat the Mets twice.  In the first game he drove in both runs in the 2-1 win & then the next day Robinson drove in three runs in the 6-1 Pirate victory.

On June 3rd he hit two more HRs in a game against the Padres & then had another multi HR game four days later against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On the season season, Robby hit 24 HRs with 75 RBIs, batting .264 playing in 119 games in left field & 28 games behind Willie Stargell at first base.

Post Season: In the NLCS he didn’t get any hits in the Pirates three game sweep over the Cincinnati Reds, seeing limited action as a pinch hitter 0-3. He went 5 for 19 (.263) playing in all seven games of the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

In Game #2 he had a pinch hit base hit & then in game #6 drove in a run with a 7th inning sac fly off Jim Palmer driving in a run in the Pirates 4-0 win. 

In Game #7 he singled & was on base in the 6th inning, when Willie Stargell hit his famous two run HR, which put the Pirates ahead for good 2-1. In the top of the 9th inning, he was hit by a pitch from O's pitcher Dennis Martinez with the bases loaded, forcing in another run.

He put in another good batting average in 1980, batting .280, as he became more of a reserve player. His manager Chuck Tanner labeled him “the super sub” as he was still very valuable to his team. From there his career began to wind down & he was traded back to Philadelphia in 1982 finishing out his playing days in there in 1983.

In a 16 year career he batted.258 lifetime with 1127 hits 166 HRs, 229 doubles 29 triples a .300 on base % & 641 RBIs in 1472 games played.

Mets Coach: In 1984 when Davey Johnson took over as the New York Mets manager, he hired Robinson as a hitting instructor & first base coach. He preferred that title over that of hitting coach. Robinson once said “A good hitting instructor is able to mold his teachings to the individual. If a guy stands on his head, you perfect that.” Robinson helped a talented team of hitting stars put together one of the most powerful lineups in baseball in the middle eighties.

The players had a great relationship with him, some guys like Wally Backman and Kevin Mitchell even called him “Uncle Bill”. He’d get on his players, but never raised his voice.


Quotes: Daryl Strawberry said; “When I dogged it, Bill would get all over my butt, but he never yelled. He’d say, ‘You’re the best in this business son, now come on”. 

Keith Hernandez said Bill told him: “I can’t teach you anything, you’re a batting champion, you know what you can do.”

Robinson was a professional & true gentleman, did not allow players to go on the field without a full uniform. He’d even make them tuck in their shirts. If there was a brawl on the field, Robinson would be right in the middle of it, backing his team.

In those days the very confident Mets teams, were famous for “High fives”, but Robinson introduced the “low two”. When runners would stop at first with a hit, he would use his index & middle fingers to slap theirs, under handed below the knee. That too, was done quietly & professionally as everything Robinson did.

During a June game in 1986 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Robinson suspected Pirate pitcher Rick Rhoden (who was a former team mate of his) of doctoring up the baseball. He kept telling his hitters to get the ball checked by the umpire. Later in the game Robinson began shouting at Rhoden, he shouted back & all of a sudden punches were flying as Robinson went after Rhoden. Then benches emptied as Kevin Mitchell was the first Met to grab Rhoden protecting his coach.

After the Mets 1986 World Series win, the team underachieved for the next few seasons.

By 1989 someone had to take blame, rather than fire Davey Johnson, GM Frank Cashen chose to axe coaches Bill Robinson and Sam Perlozzo. Johnson protested in honor of his coaches, but was warned he would be the next to go if things didn't improve. Robinson was a respected coach & achieved success any where he went.

He worked in the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodger & A.L. New York clubs organizations, collecting two more World Series rings along the way. On both occasions when the big league teams won the Series, he was a minor league hitting instructor. He also managed in the Venezuelan League and was an analyst for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" in 1990-1991.

Passing: Robinson was known to be suffering from diabetes, on July 29, 2007, he was found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room at the age 64.

He was working as the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor league hitting coordinator at the time, visiting the team's AAA Las Vegas affiliate when he passed away.

In 2016 as the Mets celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1986 World Championship team, Robinson was represented by his wife & his son. They were warmly welcomed by the fans & players alike.

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