The dismantling of the greatest Bronx Bomber lineup of my childhood, the offense that fueled the 1961 Yankees to 109 regular season wins, began in November of 1962 when Moose Skowron was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams. At least the Yankees had a decent prospect from their farm system, Joe Pepitone ready to take Skowron’s place. Yogi Berra was next to go when he switched roles from Yankee player to the team’s manager in 1964. Shortstop Tony Kubek’s sore back forced him into retirement after the 1965 season during which the Yankees fell from first to fifth in the AL final regular season standings. When the team fell all the way to last place the following year, all hell broke loose in the Yankee front office. Second baseman Bobby Richardson retired, Roger Maris was traded to the Cardinals for third baseman Charley Smith who would be needed to replace Clete Boyer who had just been traded for today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant.
I remember hoping that Bill Robinson was everything the Yankee front office was promising he would be when they swung that Boyer deal with the Atlanta Braves. They were using superlatives like the “next Mickey Mantle” to describe this then 24-year-old native of McKeesport, PA. He was supposed to be one of those five-tool-players who couldn’t miss at the big league level and he was going to lead the Yankees back to the top of the AL standings.
Unfortunately for Robinson and the Yankees, the young outfielder was no match for the hype that had accompanied him to the Big Apple. He hit a putrid .196 during his first season in New York and Boyer rubbed salt in the wounds of Yankee management by having a career year during his first season in Atlanta. Robinson then improved his batting average to .240 in 1968 but his 6 home runs and 40 RBIs that year reminded nobody of Mantle. When his batting average again went south of the Mendoza line in 1969, a shell-shocked Yankee front-office optioned him to their Syracuse farm team before finally trading him to the White Sox for somebody named Barry Moore.
Eventually, Robinson did evolve into a solid big league outfielder first for the Phillies and then Pittsburgh. He had his best big league season in 1977, when he hit 26 home runs, drove in 104 and batted .304 for the Pirates. Robinson later told Baseball Digest that getting traded to the Yankees was the worst thing that ever happened to him. He said he tried too hard to live up to his press clippings and when he hit a home run during his second-ever at bat as a Yankee, he found himself actually trying to become the next Mantle. The turning point came after he was traded to Chicago. The White Sox wanted Robinson to spend a second consecutive season in the minors. He was ready to call it quits but the parent club’s front office convinced him to be patient instead. He decided then and there to quit trying to be anybody but Bill Robinson and to simply have fun playing the game. Too bad that epiphany didn’t come to him about five years earlier.
|PIT (8 yrs)||805||2649||2451||328||677||135||15||109||412||46||136||469||.276||.313||.477||.790|
|PHI (5 yrs)||351||1072||996||119||260||61||3||41||136||13||57||201||.261||.300||.452||.752|
|NYY (3 yrs)||310||998||906||88||187||33||10||16||90||12||70||149||.206||.264||.318||.582|
|ATL (1 yr)||6||11||11||1||3||0||1||0||3||0||0||1||.273||.273||.455||.727|
One of the last amateurs to be drafted by the old Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957, this Charleston, South Carolina native, who was born on September 15, 1937, became the Mets’ starting third baseman in 1964. He led that Met team in home runs with 20 that season but he also led them in strikeouts, with 101 in just 127 total games. When Smith’s home run total declined the following season and his strikeout total climbed, the Mets included him with pitcher Al Jackson in a trade to St Louis for the Cardinals’ All-Star and former NL MVP, third baseman Ken Boyer. After playing just one season with the Cards, Smith was traded for another former MVP to replace another third baseman named Boyer.
The Yankees disenchanted slugger, Roger Maris had decided to retire after a broken hand had sapped much of his once record-breaking power. Instead, New York traded Maris to the Cardinals in exchange for Smith. The Yankees also dealt their starting third baseman, Clete Boyer, to the Braves for outfielder Bill Robinson so Smith was pegged to fill that hole at the hot corner. Both deals backfired on New York. Maris went to St Louis and enjoyed a successful two-year conclusion to his noteworthy career that included consecutive World Series appearances. Boyer had the best season of his career in Atlanta in 1967. During the three seasons Robinson played in Pinstripes his batting averages were .196, .240 and .171. Smith did a bit better. During his two years with the Yankees, he hit .224 and .229. Charley died in 1994 at the very young age of 57.
Charley shares his September 15th birthday with this Hall of Fame Pitcher.