Ray Robinson ’41, a longtime magazine editor who wrote biographies of sports stars from his youth, most notably Lou Gehrig ’23, died on November 1, 2017, in New York City. He was 96.
Robinson was born in New York City on December 4, 1920, and graduated from DeWitt Clinton H.S. in the Bronx. Growing up, he watched the dominant Yankees teams of the 1920s and ’30s, as well as the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson first encountered Gehrig, one of his favorite players, after writing him to ask for an interview for his school newspaper. The interview did not work out, but Gehrig gave him tickets to a game.
Robinson studied for a time at the Law School before serving in the Army during WWII. He began writing for local newspapers while stationed at military bases in the southern United States, and after being discharged was an editor at various magazines such as Seventeen and Good Housekeeping. But baseball and other sports were his passion.
Robinson edited more than a dozen editions of Baseball Stars, annual collections of short biographical essays by burgeoning writers including Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap and George Vecsey. In recent years he was a regular at a monthly lunch with New York City sportswriters like Lawrence Ritter, Robert Creamer and Marty Appel, and broadcasters like Bob Costas.
Robinson’s biographies include Matty, an American Hero: Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants (1993) and Rockne of Notre Dame: The Making of a Football Legend (1999). Of Robinson’s sportswriting, The New York Times said in its obituary: “ … [It] mixed careful research with personal recollections, [and] was more realistic than reverential.” Appel, author of Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss and other baseball books, said, also in the Times, “He could be trusted not to exaggerate a story or a fact; it was what it was, and you could trust Ray’s memory.”
In many articles and in the book Iron Horse: Lou Gehrig in His Time (1990), Robinson portrayed the humble and hard-working Gehrig as a human being instead of the mythical hero many see him as, without hiding his own admiration. Robinson was at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, when Gehrig gave his famous “farewell” speech; Robinson called it “baseball’s Gettysburg Address.”
Robinson’s other books include American Original: A Life of Will Rogers (1996) and Famous Last Words (2003), a collection of memorable deathbed statements. He also wrote articles for the Times about baseball players like Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr., the Baltimore Orioles shortstop who broke Gehrig’s consecutive game record, ending his own streak at 2,632. Robinson sent Ripken a copy of his Gehrig biography, but Ripken refused to read it until after he broke the record in 1995. When he did, he returned the book with
an inscription: “It’s safe to finally read.” Reflecting on the episode, in 2007, Robinson wrote, “I cherish the autograph — and understand his superstition.”
Robinson, a devoted alumnus as well as a longtime friend and contributor to CCT, was predeceased in March 2017 by his wife, the former Phyllis Cumins, whom he married in 1948. He is survived by his children, Nancy Miringoff SW’76, Steve and Tad; their spouses; and four grandchildren. In recent years Robinson worked with the ALS Association to raise awareness of the disease. Memorial contributions may be made to the ALS Association, Greater New York Chapter, 42 Broadway, Ste 1724, New York, NY 10004; als.org.
— Lisa Palladino
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