BERKELEY - Earl Robinson, a member of the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame who starred in both basketball and baseball as a Golden Bear in the 1950s, passed away Friday after a long illness. He was 77.
Enshrined into the Cal Hall of Fame in 1988, Robinson was inducted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor in in 2010 and in December 2011 received the Pete Newell Career Achievement Award, which is presented to the Cal men’s basketball alumnus who upholds the highest ideals of Coach Newell and the University of California.
Robinson suffered from congestive heart failure and experienced two cardiac arrests in August and September 2013. His cardiac function remained poor through nearly a year of hospitalization and nursing care until he died peacefully Friday afternoon in Fountain Valley, Calif.
Remembering Earl Robinson
l Going to Bat for Earl Robinson by Martin Snapp, California Magazine, April 2014
l Earl Robinson: A Man Worth Remembering by Dave Newhouse, Bear Insider, December 2013
l Earl Robinson Receives Pete Newell Career Achievement Award, December 2011
Ever modest, Robinson didn’t take personal credit when he received the Newell Award on the court named for his former coach at Haas Pavilion. Instead, he recognized many people in the crowd who came to support him, standing alongside fellow Cal Hall of Famers and former basketball players Andy Wolfe and John Ricksen, and pointing out others such as Rickey Henderson and former classmates Joe Kapp and Pete Domoto in the stands. He also made special mention of the students and Straw Hat Band.
“When they talk about an achievement award, you must remember that you never do this by yourself,” Robinson said.” It’s because of so many people. It is you that I share this award with. I am humbled by this award. You, the fans, supported us – I don’t care whether Wilt Chamberlain came in here, the great Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Elgin Baylor or whoever it might be. It was your support that made us feel that we could always compete. And so I accept this award in your honor.”
A 6-1 guard on the hardwood who matriculated from Berkeley High School, Robinson played under Newell and helped Cal to conference titles in 1956, '57 and '58, earning a spot on the All-Coast team twice and the All-Pacific Coast Conference squad three times. The last two teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament and reached the West Regional final. The '58 team nearly advanced the Final Four, only to lose to a Baylor-led Seattle team in overtime.
Robinson was voted Cal's Most Inspirational Player as a senior in 1958 when he also served as team captain. He had his best statistical season during his junior campaign when he contributed 12.1 ppg, and he finished his career with 882 points, which ranked among the school's all-time top five at the time.
Robinson, who roomed with Kapp while in college, was also a standout on the baseball diamond, where he earned All-America honors as a shortstop. During Cal's run to the 1957 NCAA championship, he paced the Bears with a .352 batting average. Because of his relationship with Kapp - the Bears' quarterback - Robinson was also a Cal yell leader during the 1957 football season.
“Robbie was like our older brother. He was very, very helpful to us younger guys,” Kapp told California Magazine for a story that ran this past April.
Robinson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the spring of 1958 when the National League organization first moved to the West Coast. In an era before sports agents, Robinson relied on the services of Cal law professor Adrian Kragen to negotiate a better deal with the Dodgers, and his $75,000 signing bonus was a record sum for a black baseball prospect at the time. Robinson made his Major League debut as a rookie third baseman in 1958, then was traded to the Baltimore Orioles before the 1961 season, where he converted to the outfield. He remained with the organization through 1964 and played in the Chicago Cubs' organization in 1965. Robinson finished his career with a .268 batting average.
During the winters of 1963-65, Robinson returned to Cal as an assistant basketball coach. Upon retiring from baseball, he became head basketball coach at Merritt College in Oakland for the 1966-67 season - the first African-American head basketball coach in the California junior college system. A year later, he moved to Laney College, where his team finished with a 19-8 record. He rejoined his alma mater as freshman basketball coach in the fall of 1968.
Robinson later taught speech and communications classes at Laney College and was credited with helping Rickey Henderson craft his well-received speech for the baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies in 2010.
In addition, Robinson also worked with the Oakland A's in the 1980s as director of special projects under team president Roy Eisenhardt and the Haas family's club ownership, and spent time as an English teacher at Oakland's Castlemont High School. He was a former vice president for the Board of Trustees with the Oakland Zoo and served three years on the Board of Directors for the California Alumni Association.
A date and time for a memorial service honoring Robinson are pending. Donations to help cover Robinson’s medical expenses and end-of-life costs should be made payable to Dennis Fitzpatrick. Contributors should indicate that the gift is for Earl Robinson’s fund and send it to:
1689 Comstock Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90024