Pirates remember Bob Robertson; so do O's
Missed bunt sign helped ex-Mount Savage slugger, Bucs to '71 World Series title

By Mike Burke, Times-News Sports Writer
Monday, June 6, 2005 9:39 AM EDT

CUMBERLAND - Bob Prince, the legendary play-by-play man of the Pittsburgh Pirates, called him "The Mount Savage Strongboy" who "can hit 'em out of any park, including Yellowstone." Had knee and back injuries not cut down what was already a productive and record-setting major league baseball career, today we might be calling Bob Robertson "Hall of Famer." For while the thick-armed red-haired slugger known as Robby had 500-home run power, he was saddled with 115-home run health.

Robertson, whose big-league career ran from 1967 to 1979, was as natural and powerful an athlete that baseball had seen since Mickey Mantle. Like Mantle, who was a switch-hitter, Robertson, who batted right-handed, hit them far and often. In fact, Robertson's career home run per at-bat ratio of 4.8 betters the 6.6 of Mantle.

"My career was pretty short," Robertson said Saturday from Williamsport, where he was watching his granddaughter Alexa Sivic play softball for the Cumberland Heat. "Eleven years ... but I've been through a lot."

Indeed he has. Touted in Pittsburgh as another Ralph Kiner, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Robertson missed all of 1968 due to a kidney obstruction. An excellent fielder, he set a major-league record for first basemen with eight assists in one game (June 21, 1971). His best offensive year was 1970 (.287 batting average, 27 home runs, 82 RBI), and he nearly matched those figures in 1971 (.271, 26, 72).

He hit a record three home runs in one 1971 National League Championship Series game against the San Francisco Giants. He scored the winning run in the first night game ever played in a World Series, and he made the putout that clinched the 1971 World Series for the Pirates. He took part in three no-hitters, one thrown against his team by the St. Louis Cardinals' Bob Gibson; and two thrown by his Pirates teammates, Bob Moose and Dock Ellis.

But perhaps Robertson is most famous for the bunt sign he never saw from Pirates third base coach Frank Oceak at Three Rivers Stadium in Game 3 of the '71 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

"People ask me all the time about the missed bunt sign," Robertson said. "I didn't know the bunt sign was on. Obviously I didn't see it. I was so focused on what I was trying to do.

"People forget we were down 2-0 in the series. I was in the on-deck circle and (Roberto) Clemente was on second and (Willie) Stargell was on first. I never bunted and we were playing on Astroturf. The only thing I had in mind was, if the ball was close, I wanted to hit it as far as possible and get something going."

On a replay of the home run, Clemente can be seen trying to call time out as Robertson swung away, sending the pitch sailing into the bleachers for a three-run home run. It was not until Robertson returned to the dugout that he realized his "mistake."

"(Orioles 20-game winner Mike) Cuellar threw me a good pitch down and away," Robertson said. "I never hit the ball to right-center, but I got that one.

"I came around the bases, sat down on the bench and Bill Mazeroski came over to tell me the bunt sign was on. I happened to look down to (Pirates manager Danny) Murtaugh, and he had his cap down over his face and he was laughing."

Robertson's three-run home run lifted the Bucs to 5-1 win in Game 3 and propelled them to a 4-3 World Series win over the Orioles, put in the books when first baseman Robertson caught the throw from shortstop Jackie Hernandez on a ground ball hit by the Orioles' Merv Rettenmund.

Rightly, the 1971 World Series will forever be remembered for the electrifying and inspiring play of the late Roberto Clemente and for the pitching of Steve Blass. But it was the three-run home run by the Mount Savage High School graduate, Bob Robertson, that ended up being the key hit of the series.

"They say (Orioles manager) Earl Weaver was a stickler for not missing signs," Robertson mused. "I'm sure he still doesn't think too much of me for missing that one."

The Orioles return to Pittsburgh tonight to open a three-game interleague series with the Pirates. It will be the Birds' first visit to Pittsburgh since the 1979 World Series, which the Bucs also won in seven games, and while Three Rivers Stadium is no longer standing, the replay of Robertson's home run is bound to be shown over the course of the next three nights at PNC Park and over the Orioles and Pirates television networks. "People always bring up the missed bunt sign," said Robertson, who lives in LaVale with his wife Carolyn. "I missed the bunt sign, obviously, and it's a good thing I did. The 1971 World Series was a great series. It was great for our area because you had the Orioles and the Pirates, and this week it's the same thing. It brings good interest to the area. Some people are for Baltimore, and some are for Pittsburgh.

"I do think the interleague is good, especially good for Pittsburgh and for the Orioles."

Robertson, who is employed by Bayliner, says he will watch the games on television, forgoing a return to Pittsburgh, the city where many of his historic baseball accomplishments took place.

"It's just a strange feeling for me sitting in the stands," Robertson said, "but, sure, I'll be watching at home."

And he'll remember.

"I remember staying at the Lord Baltimore Hotel (in Baltimore) after we lost the sixth game (of the '71 World Series). We got on the bus and went down to Memorial Stadium and won the seventh game, 2-1. I guess that's one of the high points of my career."

Next week: The high point of Bob Robertson's 11-year major league career and what keeps him busy today.