December 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jeff Robinson

Today is the 47th birthday of Jeff Robinson, a once-promising starting pitcher for the Tigers and one of my favorite short-timers.

Jeff Robinson

The 6 ft. 6 in. Robinson broke in with the Tigers on April 12, 1987 with a brilliant performance against the White Sox at old Comiskey Park. Robinson went seven innings scattering just six hits, giving up one run (earned), three walks and striking out five.

He finished the ’87 season with a 9-6 record and a 5.37 ERA. His nearly 2:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio had Tigers fans thinking that another Jack Morris was blossoming. Things looked good for Robinson in 1988, too: 13-6, 2.98 ERA, six complete games.

Then the injury bug started nibbling and eventually bit Robinson. One of his issues was a circulation problem in his throwing hand. If I remember this correctly, Robinson would place the ball in his hand in the split-finger grip (one of his best pitches) while he watched non-pitching games from the dugout. Apparently this caused the blood-flow problem.

Still, he pitched in 1989 for that hideous Tigers team and, relatively speaking, pitched admirably: 4-5, 4.73. In 1990 he posted a 10-9 record with a 5.96 ERA. It was his final year in Detroit. On Jan, 11, 1991, the Tigers dealt him to the Orioles for Mickey Tettleton. A steal? You bet.

Robinson didn’t fare much better in Baltimore during the ’91 season: 4-9, 5.18. The Orioles released him in November that year.

He signed as a free agent with the Rangers in January 1992. In just 16 appearances with Texas, Robinson went 4-4 with a 5.16 ERA. In June he was picked off the waiver wire by the Pirates. He started seven games for Jim Leyland‘s club (3-1, 4.46) before being released in late July. (His last start was against the Astros at the Astrodome on July 20 and the line wasn’t pretty: 4.1 IP, 7 hits, 6 runs — all earned.)

The Tigers signed Robinson as a free agent on July 31 and (I think) he was assigned to Toledo. At the end of the season he was granted free agency but never pitched again in the majors.

Somewhere in my office I have Robinson’s autograph on a Tiger Stadium ticket stub from a game he pitched — and won — in 1987. Or perhaps it, like Robinson’s potential, vanished seemingly overnight.

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