Hall of Famer, USF coach Roberts dies at 83
TAMPA -- Robin Roberts is best remembered as a Hall of Fame pitcher who dominated on the mound with the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1950s, but Eddie Cardieri thinks of a man humble enough to follow that great career with nine years as head baseball coach at USF.
"He was one of the finest men I've ever met, period," said Cardieri, who spent three seasons as Roberts' top assistant before following him as USF's coach in 1986. "I was blessed, so blessed to have those years on his staff. A great baseball man, totally first class, very humble and very baseball bright."
Roberts, 83, died Wednesday at his home in Temple Terrace of natural causes, the Phillies announced Thursday morning. Cardieri said he had talked to Roberts just a few weeks ago and talked about golfing together -- 44 years after retiring as a player, Roberts could still play a full round of golf on a flat course like Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club.
"He liked to keep things simple and basic in baseball," Cardieri said. "He always said if you could throw two pitches for strikes, the command of those two pitches gave you a chance to win every game."
Roberts earned 286 career victories in 19 major-league seasons, including six consecutive years with at least 20 wins with the Phillies. He coached at USF from 1977-85, winning Sun Belt Coach of the Year honors four times and leading the Bulls to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1982. His impact can be seen a generation later in Bulls softball coach Ken Eriksen, who played at baseball at USF under Roberts.
"Robin was very unassuming. The guy could hold a conversation with anyone in any walk of life," said Eriksen, who called USF's 1982 season a "magical year." "He used to come out to our softball games, sit behind the third-base box and call me over between innings."
Eriksen said Roberts routinely brought other former major-leaguers to talk to his USF baseball teams, including Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, and Eddie Sawyer, who managed the Phillies' "Whiz Kids" team to the 1950 World Series.
"Most of the guys on the team, we knew every player for the last 20 years, so to meet these guys, you just said 'Oh, my God,'" Eriksen said. "He would call upon his days as a player, and he always a big proponent of making sure you kept your nose clean, told you that you were always representing your family and the University of South Florida."
Cardieri had the privilege of being Roberts' roommate on road trips for those three seasons on his staff, which meant a wealth of learning just from listening to a Hall of Famer talk about his experiences.
"The stories were great -- some of them were funny, and all of them were true," Cardieri said. "The way he told them, even if you'd heard it before, it still was a great story."