For a guy who is not a famous former athlete or coach, Dick Robinson has long maintained a unique role in the Lexington sports universe.
He is the behind-the-scenes guy who seems to know personally all the major sports figures in our area. Better yet, they all seem to know him.
"I call Dick 'Mr. Network,' " says Lexington Legends President Alan Stein. "Politics, government, athletics, he does know everybody."
"I like to call Dick 'Forrest Gump,' " says Chris Burke, the former St. Xavier High School baseball star and Houston Astros playoffs hero. "Dick has met everybody and done everything."
As of Monday night, the 71-year-old Robinson remained in critical condition in the University of Kentucky Hospital. The fitness devotee suffered a severe brain injury in a bicycle accident Saturday near his home in Georgetown.
It's genuinely amazing how many of our area's sports pies include a Dick Robinson thumb.
Famously, he was sitting in Wheeler's Pharmacy listening to former Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall on the phone being interviewed on the radio talk show of former basketball coaches Sonny Smith (Auburn) and Wimp Sanderson (Alabama) when Robinson was hit with inspiration.
Says Hall: "He took out a pen and wrote something on a napkin and handed it to me. It said 'The Joe B. and Denny Show.' "
Off that napkin came the idea for the popular daily syndicated radio call-in show that pairs Hall with former Louisville head man Denny Crum.
"Dick did our billings and helps us get guests," Hall says. "Through that show, we've developed quite a bond."
A Morehead State graduate, Robinson enjoyed an eclectic career that saw him: Coach college basketball (Oakland University in Michigan); sell insurance; serve as national president of the organization formerly known as the Jaycees; earn a doctorate degree; work in the administrations of two Kentucky governors; work for the Urban County Government; and serve as a major-league baseball scout.
After all that, he "retired."
Not long after, Robinson read a story in Baseball America that listed the 10 baseball agents with the most major-league players. He wrote all 10 a letter expressing interest in becoming aligned with them as an agent himself.
The only one of the 10 who called him was Chicago-based Barry Meister, who has repped Randy Johnson, Roy Oswalt and Tim Wakefield, among others.
"I invited him up to Chicago for a meeting," Meister said Monday. "I could see Dick had his heart in the right place. He genuinely wanted to mentor young people. He became a recruiter for us, mostly in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee."
In 2001, Robinson helped Meister land players who went No. 7 overall (Chris Smith of Cumberland University in Tennessee) and No. 10 overall (Burke from the University of Tennessee) in the major-league draft.
"Dick always comes across as someone you could trust," says Burke, whose home run in the 18th inning of Game 4 of the 2005 National League Divisional Series gave Houston a three-games-to-one victory over Atlanta.
"He was more than my agent. He was a mentor, a golfing buddy and, when I wanted to get back into college and finish up my degree, he helped me do that, too."
In recent years, Robinson helped Meister sign local stars such as Ben Revere (Lexington Catholic) and John Shelby (Tates Creek, UK). Revere is now an outfielder with the Minnesota Twins; Shelby is at Class AAA in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
"Dick was just an awesome help," says John Revere, Ben's father and the running backs coach at Eastern Kentucky University. "I've been in sports most of my life, but (the baseball draft) was something totally different. It was a great comfort to have someone local like Dick to get advice from that you felt like you could trust."
Meister said Monday that he had informed Ben Revere and Shelby of Robinson's accident and his grave condition.
"It hit them pretty hard. He is like a grandfather to them," Meister says.
Believe it or not, his work as a baseball agent and as producer of The Joe B. and Denny Show are not all Robinson is doing in his "retirement."
He teaches in the sports management program at Midway College. When the Herald-Leader ran a story before the 35th Bluegrass 10,000 road race this summer, Robinson was one of eight runners who had competed in all of the Lexington races.
"Just an extremely active guy," Hall said of Robinson. "Very disciplined. He mapped out his day every day, and he didn't waste time. People talk about a couch potato; Dick is the opposite of that. He has a plan for every moment of every day."
Besides the fact he knows everybody, there's one other thing that makes Dick Robinson stand out in the local sports galaxy.
As I can vouch from first-hand experience, Robinson is unusually nice to the people he knows.
"Some people go the extra mile for other people," says Meister. "Dick Robinson runs a marathon for people, he really does."