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Philadelphia Baseball Ghosts: William "Yank" Robinson

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In the first entry to an offseason series on baseball players born in Philadelphia who didn't necessarily stay there, we look at a fielder with solid instincts who chose to deny himself one of the sport's small luxuries - a glove.

"The dead-eyed stare," a common pose at the time, indicated a lack of desire to be photographed, some say.
"The dead-eyed stare," a common pose at the time, indicated a lack of desire to be photographed, some say.
BMW Sportscards

For many players, Philadelphia becomes merely a second home. What we aim to do is take a look at those whose squirming, shrieking forms first breached within our city limits before setting off on their grand baseball adventure somewhere else in the vast world.

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William "Yank" Robinson

DOB: September 9, 1859

What was happening in Philadelphia at the time: Little did 1859 Philadelphia know, but they were enabling drunkards to wander around exotic, dangerous animals by founding the city's Zoological Society, from which would eventually spawn America's first zoo, from which would spawn overpriced beerfests attended by busloads of squawking suburbanites. But more importantly, that year saw the completion of the USS Valley City, a Civil War gunship that mowed down Confederates and whatever else collateral damage got in the way until it was lost at sea in 1882, where it's probably still turning racists into dust clouds.

MLB career: 1882-92, Detroit Wolverines, St. Louis Browns, Pittsburgh Burghers, Cincinnati Kelly's Killers

Bio: Robinson came from a poor family; in that he fled from one at a young age as he pursued his dream of playing baseball and not being poor anymore.

He had an innate ability to gnarl his body at queer angles to field, catch, or stop the ball from any of the positions ar which he played, which is all of them but center field. But his fielding skills were far from feared since he also refused to play with a glove.

An artist's rendition of this concept:

Not sure why "applauding the ball as it arrives" was a part of the game back then, but I'm sure there was a perfectly good explanation.

In 1885, the owner of the St. Louis Browns, Chris Von der Ahe (a man once kidnapped by his own bondsman for failing to pay debts), decided he liked how this Robinson kid could play so many positions. He brought the 26-year-old aboard in exchange for $2,100, the first big payday for a player who would eventually get the reputation of a rather wealthy fellow, followed slowly by the reputation of a far less wealthy fellow. And then a dead one.

As is the case in so many baseball tragedies, Robinson's career boiled down to complaints of his pants being too tight. The Browns manager, Charles Comiskey ordered him to go get a normal pair that fit him, but instead of doing that, Robinson sent a kid to get the pants he needed, only a gate keeper refused to re-admit the kid. So Robinson very calmly and very rationally screamed at him, reducing the gate keeper to tears, and causing him to convince Von der Ahe to strike Robinson with an unspeakably expensive fine: $25. "...enough to build a stone front house in aggregate," Robinson would bitch later, using the sort of imagery and three-syllable words for which disgruntled drunks are known.

Naturally, he was so against paying this amount that he threatened to never play baseball again. There was a brief hold-out in which he used his standing as a popular teammate to build a posse who also went on strike until Von der Ahe yelled at them to knock it off. It was a silly fight, but we're talking about a class clown vs. an owner who went ape shit because he saw a utility player.

The fine disappeared and Robinson returned, only to jump ship to the Pittsburgh Burghers the following season,  "where he continued to be fined for drunkenness," according to Nineteenth Century Stars: 2012 Edition.

Robinson refused to admit he was feeling sickly in 1893 and proved how healthy he actually was to everyone by dying of quick consumption at the age of 34.

What a letter addressed to Chris Von der Ahe, owner, St. Louis Browns may have looked like:

Mr. Von der Ahe,

The nerve of you, believing me to be in your debt. I've only owed one man one thing in my entire life, and that is the good Lord Jesus Christ who allows me to get out of bed every morning and play baseball. Also, the child who pulled me out of a grain silo just before I suffocated.

But you are no omnipotent entity or my own horrified nephew, sir. You are simply a damned German demanding a tithe and by the good Lord American Jesus Christ I will not pay it.

What sort of society do we live in now, in which a man cannot make another grown man cry in public without facing some sort of financial burden? As if subduing another man by shouting at him should carry some sort of penalty? It is fools and foreigners like you who have set us back so; my only prayer is that future generations are not infected with such cowardice and avarice.

I won't fund your glorious stone front house, sir. I grew up in a small hole in the pavement outside a metal spike emporium. Now because I have managed to make more of myself than a diseased beggar or corrupt public official or whatever else my siblings have become, men like you choose to punish me. I won't do it. I won't allow you to destroy the integrity of baseball by suggesting in the slightest that my actions off the field were anything less than extremely professional.

In short, you are a money grubbing simpleton as assuredly as my death won't be from consumption.

I sleep in the bushes outside your home.

Yank Robinson Anonymous