Jeff Robinson is making a name for his selves this season. He won his first games on April 17, beating the Cubs 12-7 and the Royals 8-6, and he hasn't looked back since. With his California cool and his right arms firing split-fingered fastballs, Jeff Robinson is 22-8 with a 2.91 ERA and eight saves. He has been in the thick of races in both leagues, so he may reach the World Series this fall, and there do battle against...Jeff Robinson.
Jeffrey Daniel Robinson, 27, is 9-2 with eight saves as a reliever for the second-place Pirates, while Jeffrey Mark Robinson, 26, is 13-6 with a 2.84 ERA as a starter for the first-place Tigers. Together, they are having the best season on the mound since Seattle Bill James of the Boston Braves and Big Bill James of the St. Louis Browns went 41-21 with a 2.38 ERA in 1914. (For hitting, no two players can top the George Burnses, who batted .293 and averaged 148 runs a year for seven teams between 1914 and '25.)
The Robinsons share more than a name. Pittsburgh Jeff, who's 6'4" and 200 pounds, was born in Santa Ana, Calif., on Dec. 13, 1960; his Detroit counterpart, who's 6'6" and 210 pounds, came into the world only 100 miles away in Ventura. Calif., on Dec. 14, 1961. "We're both blond, both tall, both skinny," says Jeff the Pirate, though Jeff the Tiger might balk at such a comparison. "They tell me he looks like Max Headroom," he says.
The similarity between the two has confounded the baseball card industry. Pittsburgh Jeff owns a handful of cards with his stats on the back and his namesake's face on the front. And in spring '87 the Major League Players Association mistakenly sent a royalty check to Detroit Jeff, thinking it was he who was pictured on the other Jeffs card. "It was a good sum of money, about $4,000," the Tiger recalls. "But I turned it back in. So you can tell him he owes me."
The Jeffs have never met, but they did pitch against one another in 1983. Pittsburgh Jeff was the starter for powerhouse Cal State-Fullerton in a game against little Azusa Pacific. He threw just one scoreless inning in a driving rain, while the other Jeff surrendered five unearned runs in four innings as Azusa lost 6-5.
Both were selected in the June '83 draft, but the senior Robinson has always seemed a year ahead. He broke into the majors for good as a Giants reliever in 1986 and learned the split-finger from manager Roger Craig. The Pirates thought enough of him to part with ace Rick Reuschel last season in a deal that also involved pitcher Scott Medvin. Between the two clubs, Robinson saved 14 games and won eight, and with Pittsburgh on Sept. 7 he became the first National League pitcher in a decade to strike out the side on nine pitches. The younger Robinson believes his progress was slowed because his team at Christian High in El Cajon, Calif., had a no-star system, thus curbing his aggressiveness. After a so-so minor league career, he broke in with Detroit last season and was 9-6 with a 5.37 ERA. But this year he has learned to change speeds more effectively, and his split-finger has been dazzling. Robinson has been the Tigers' most fearsome starter, yielding only 5.2 hits and averaging 7.4 innings per start.
These are not the only Robinsons pitching well this season: San Francisco's Don has a 2.72 ERA and has recently become a regular starter. But, try as he might, there is no way he can match the two Jeffs. Says Pittsburgh Jeff proudly, "People tell me, 'Hey, you started today and pitched in relief tonight. You're having a great year.' "