It was near the 25th anniversary of a moment Robertson would never want to
commemorate. A guy at the plant had been asking him about his time in the big
leagues, a subject Robertson never brings up. It got Robertson reminiscing. Out
came the tape, and there Robertson saw himself, No. 18 in pinstripes, fluid and
compact, a 5-10, 160-pound shortstop with bowed legs and fast feet and a tidy
Afro above his handsome face. He watched himself grab grounders in the hole, up
the middle, doing it with a little Mizuno glove that Robertson's 12-year-old
son, Jace, uses to this day.
"Man, those were some good plays," Robertson said to himself. "I looked
Indeed, he did, and likely would've looked that way for much more than
274 games, the sum total of his big-league career, had it not been for a
pre-dawn sightseeing trip he made with a friend and fellow Texan, Shenikwa
Dawn Nowlin. The date was Aug. 18, 1983. The plan was to ride the Staten
Island Ferry and see the Statue of Liberty. The plan was not to be in a
horrific wreck on the West Side Highway, a crash that left Nowlin a
paraplegic and Robertson, the lucky one, with a broken neck and a career
that would never be the same.
Joining the Yankees in the spring of 1980, Robertson's glovework drew
immediate raves. He made the World Series roster in 1981, and after a few stints
on the Columbus shuttle, became the Yankee shortstop in 1983, emerging rapidly
as an integral part of the team, his defense tightening the infield, his average
rising over .290 before two hit-by-pitches hindered his stroke.
mid-August, the Yankees were a game behind the Blue Jays in the AL East. The
White Sox came to town. On the night of Aug. 17, the Sox beat the Yankees in 13
innings. The game took over four hours and ended after midnight.
Robertson had agreed to meet a friend who was in town visiting
from Texas after the game. Her name was Shenikwa Nowlin. A law
student at UT who was born and raised in Austin, Nowlin was a ballet
prodigy, former beauty pageant winner and Texas cheerleader - and
the girlfriend of Philadelphia Eagle tight end Lawrence Sampleton.
She and Robertson were friends, and now she was back in the city for
the first time in nearly seven years, after she spent two years in
Arthur Mitchell's renowned Dance Theater of Harlem. Nowlin was ready
to have a good time. Robertson was happy to oblige.
Neither of their lives would ever be the same.
"I'd give anything to take that accident back," Nowlin says.
"Every day I think about New York. Every day."
Robertson called Nowlin after the game, and they met at Studio
54, where they danced and reconnected. They neither drank nor took
drugs; Robertson later testified to that in court. It was around 4
a.m. by now, and the Yankees had a curfew (three hours after the end
of a night game), but neither Robertson nor Nowlin was ready to turn
in. All the Yankees had the next day was the completion of the Pine
They decided to go see the Statue of Liberty. Robertson drove
back to his Ft. Lee apartment to pick up a camera. He crossed back
over the George Washington Bridge, and turned south onto the West
Side Highway. He passed 125th St., 96th St. and then 79th St.
Robertson was driving about 70 MPH in a 55 MPH zone, police
estimated. He had never been on the road before. He came up fast on
72nd St. A notorious 'S' curve awaited there. By law, the sign
announcing it should've been placed 350 feet ahead of the turn.
Instead it was at the place where the turn began. By then it was too
An instant later, Robertson's jade-green 1982 Buick Riviera was
slamming into the concrete median, then into another barrier on the
right side, the car flipping over, its occupants thrown onto the
"To see the car, I don't even know how they got out of it alive,"
Harvest Robertson says.
His son had a broken neck, a cracked rib, a right-shoulder
contusion that would never allow him to throw the same way again.
Doctors told him that he'd been a millimeter from paralysis or
death. It took Robertson a few days to regain his faculties.
"What about Shenikwa? How's Shenikwa?" he asked. Nobody wanted to tell
him: his friend was in a coma, her spine crushed, her dancing days done.
Just the day before, Nowlin had spoken to Arthur Mitchell about returning to
For Robertson, the loss was not mobility, of course, but of his
big-league career, his promise and millions of dollars. He returned to the
Yankees the year after the accident, but wasn't the same player. He had a
great spring in 1985, then ripped up his knee and needed surgery. He hit
.328 that year in a part-time role, but at age 27, was viewed more as a
spare part than an infield anchor. He got traded with Ken Griffey to the
Braves, then bounced through the minors for four seasons, never to play in
the majors again.
"The saddest part about what happened to Andre is that it ended so quick,"
says Willie Randolph, his former second-base partner. Randolph loved Robertson's
low-key consistency, his knack for making the superb plays look routine. When he
first played alongside him, Randolph's thought was, "Hallelujah! This kid might
be my shortstop for the next 10 years." - From
December 20, 2008 - Daily News
"At the time of the injury he was already the best all-around shortstop the
Yankees had had since Phil Rizzuto. He was a great fielder, and he was going to
hit. He would've gone down as a great, great shortstop. It's a shame he never
got to be the player he was going to be," - Scout Al LaMacchia who signed
Robertson for the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Texas (UT), as a
fourth round pick in 1979.