Monday, October 12, 2009

Humberto Robinson, 79, 1930-2009, paved the way for Mariano Rivera

While Mariano Rivera is closing the door on games for the Yankees during the 2009 postseason, a tribute must be paid to the man who opened the door for Panamanians to play in Major League Baseball. Humberto Robinson was the first Panama native to play in the major leagues, making his debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1955, posting a 3-1 record in 13 games that season. Robinson went on to pitch in the majors again in 1956 and then from 1958-1960 with the Braves, Indians, and Phillies. He also made multiple appearances in the Caribbean Series representing Panama, including the final one in 1960. Sadly, Robinson passed away in a Brooklyn, New York nursing home on September 29th, 2009 after a long battle with Alzheimer's.


Robinson's death was almost exactly 50 years after his brush with a gambler's attempt to fix a late season game in 1959 while pitching for the Phillies. Robinson was approached by Harold Friedman, a former operator of a Philadelphia night spot. Friedman reportedly offered Humberto $1,500 to throw the September 22, 1959 game against the Cincinnati Redlegs. Robinson would not accept the offer which was made at a hotel the day before the game.

"I didn't want to talk about it," Robinson said.

He confided his secret with teammate Ruben Gomez, who advised him to report the situation to manager Eddie Sawyer. Robinson remained quiet, but Gomez went to Sawyer during the fifth inning of the game. Robinson performed beautifully, pitching seven innings, striking out five while only giving up three hits. He also hit a double and scored the first run of the game. He would later be congratulated by Commissioner Ford Frick for quickly reporting the attempted bribe. Friedman was sentenced two-to-five years in prison for his attempt to fix the game.

So while you are watching Rivera pitch his way into the record books this October, envision a similarly lanky Panamanian of 50 years prior who displayed integrity in the face of corruption and endured hoards of racial taunts during baseball's era of desegregation to pave the way for other Panamanians to flourish in the major leagues.

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