Earl Robinson, one of Cal’s greatest two-sport athletes, died Friday at the age of 77 after a long illness.
Robinson, who starred in basketball and baseball in the late 1950s, was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988. He was voted into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor in 2010 and a year later 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 was modest in his acceptance of the Newell award.
“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 graduate of Berkeley High, Robinson was a 6-foot-1 guard on the basketball team, helping Cal to conference titles in 1956, ’57 and ’58. He was twice an All-Coast selection and three times was named to the All-Pacific Coast Conference team.
Robinson was team captain and voted the team’s Most Inspiration Player as a senior, when the Bears advanced to the NCAA regional finals before losing to Elgin Baylor and Seattle U.
When he left Cal, he ranked among the school’s top-5 career scorers.
An All-America shortstop on the baseball team, Robinson batted .352 in 1957, leading the Bears to the NCAA championship.
A roommate of Cal quarterback Joe Kapp, Robinson also served as a yell leader during the ’57 football season. Kapp once said Robinson was “like an older brother” to other athletes on campus.
Robinson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958 and had a seven-year major-league career with three teams, compiling a lifetime .268 batting average.
He spent several offseasons as an assistant basketball coach at Cal, and in 1966-67 became head coach at Merritt College — the first African American head basketball coach in California junior college history. Robinson also coached and taught speech classes at Laney College.
Later, he famously helped Rickey Henderson prep for his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in 2010. His versatile resume also included stints as a director of special projects for the Oakland A’s in the 1980s, vice president for the Board of Trustees with the Oakland Zoo, and three years on the Board of Directors for the California Alumni Association.
Robinson suffered from congestive heart failure and suffered a pair of heart attacks last year. He spent most of the past year hospitalized or under nursing care before his death Friday in Fountain Valley.
Details on a memorial service 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