SI Vault
Jeannette Bruce
August 14, 1972
If you have the impression that being married to a professional athlete is glamorous, fun, ego-building, frustrating or plain for the birds, you're only half right. Eight wives—and one ex—tell it like it is, and was
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August 14, 1972

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

If you have the impression that being married to a professional athlete is glamorous, fun, ego-building, frustrating or plain for the birds, you're only half right. Eight wives—and one ex—tell it like it is, and was

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"The last trip I ever took with David was in July 1970 to the British Open. I had never been away from the children for three weeks. I started dreaming about something happening to one of them. When I came back I told him I would never leave them for that long again. I realized I had reached the end of trying to tear myself between being a wife for a week and then flying home to be a mother for a few weeks and then flying out again to be a wife for a week. David probably resented my not being with him more, the children definitely resented my not being with them and I resented everybody tearing me apart.

"If I had to select one word to describe the sports wife, I would say 'tough.' It's funny how I keep finding girls from the South—they have a sort of earthy wisdom very young. Once I asked Carole Brewer, 'When do you think Gay will quit?' and she said, 'Gay will quit when we're flying over a golf course sprinkling his ashes on the fairways.' And it suddenly occurred to me that David was never coming home.

"So much depends on the kind of man you marry. Take Jack Nicklaus, for example. He is amazing. When he was really coming into his own, I'd see him in the supermarket buying stuff. Barbara was flying in with the children, and he wanted to have the house full of food when she got there. This is unheard of on the tour, you know. Then there's Winnie Palmer. I asked Winnie once if she had any idea when she married this golfer from the coal-mine area of Pennsylvania, if she ever thought he would be the Arnold Palmer someday, and she said with her little girl's smile, 'You wouldn't believe me if I told you yes.' But I do believe her. Absolutely. I think she made up her mind, literally planned it before it happened and decided how she would handle it. I used to think it didn't matter to Winnie whether Arnold was Arnold Palmer or not, or matter to Barbara whether Jack was Jack Nicklaus or not, but it does. It matters a lot. We are all ambitious women basically, adventurous and tough. I am going to make a strong statement. I do not know of many good marriages on the tour. It is very difficult for a man to turn down what is so available to him. I don't mean only other women; I mean the parties, the distractions. David has chosen golf over life. A friend of mine once said, 'A football player knows it's over by the time he's 40. A golf star is a golf star all his life.' And that's what happened, really. David became a star."

Barbara has had a profound effect on my personality. She came to know me, my moods, my actions and accepted them. Sometimes I like to talk about the game, sometimes not. She knows when, and it helps.

"Oh, did he really say that about me?" said Barbara Robinson. "Tell me more. That's news to me. Build my ego," and Barbara bounced up and down on the couch in the living room of her Ladera Heights, Calif. home. Having grown up in Los Angeles, the house was there, ready and waiting, when Frank Robinson got traded this year to the Dodgers. Barbara, at 31, is as youthful and bouncy as a teen-ager.

"When we were first married, almost 11 years ago, I used to be even more outgoing than I am now. I just loved people, period. Frankie taught me to judge people more closely, not to just love indiscriminately. I had to learn how to manage when he was gone; grocery shopping, which I had never done before, keeping a house. I couldn't cook. He ate what I cooked, and I don't know how he got it down. The first time I cooked frozen vegetables they were still almost frozen. He ate them without a word. Looking back, I think it was tremendous that he would eat the stuff I gave him.

"Frank has come out of his shell a little. He used to be very quiet and shy. Compared to me, he still is. I think he understands himself now, he knows himself as an individual. Maybe having me to take care of helped him. Somebody in the family had to be mature. Frankie had a pretty hard time with the Red-legs, so much so that he almost quit baseball. Oh, he loves baseball. It's his whole life. Trading a player is the owner's prerogative and presumably for the good of the team, but you don't discard a man like rubbish. I'm a great talker, tell me when to stop.

"In Baltimore, on the other hand, they were beautiful. They let us know that Frank might be traded, and we understood why it had to be done. It's a great team and living there was fantastic. Not all rosy, of course, but the most beautiful years of our life together.

"Frank is very easygoing and understanding. He thinks deeply. In Baltimore he got involved working for the drug program and he gave everything away. We have kids growing up, and we're scared of the drug situation, so I think it's beautiful that he's working to help, but he gave away my clothes, a brand-new carpet, our color TV, linens, books. We went back to clean the apartment out after we got traded, and I started looking for some of my stuff to pack. I only came up with one TV and we had four! Dishes, towels, the kids' toys, my bike, the kids' bikes. I'm sure God blesses him for that. The only thing is, I'm out of a bike. Being traded is very expensive, you know. They don't pay moving expenses. Not that there was much left to move. Well, God love him. As long as he stays healthy, I won't complain. If he's healthy, he'll hit."

So many of the football wives are really homecoming queen types. You can't really talk to them about anything much except makeup and clothes, or curtains and drapes.

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