|Outfielder / Manager|
|Born: August 31, 1935|
|Died: February 7, 2019 (aged 83)|
Los Angeles, California
|April 17, 1956, for the Cincinnati Redlegs|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 18, 1976, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Runs batted in||1,812|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||89.2% (first ballot)|
Frank Robinson (August 31, 1935 – February 7, 2019) was an American professional baseball outfielder and manager in Major League Baseball (MLB) who played for five teams, from 1956 to 1976. The only player to be named Most Valuable Player (MVP) of both the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), he was named the NL MVP after leading the Cincinnati Reds to the pennant in 1961 and was named the AL MVP in 1966 with the Baltimore Orioles after winning the Triple Crown; Robinson's 49 home runs (HR) that year tied for the most by any AL player between 1962 and 1989, and stood as a franchise record for 30 years. He helped lead the Orioles to the first two World Series titles in franchise history in 1966 and 1970, and was named the Series MVP in 1966 after leading the Orioles to a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1975, Robinson became the first black manager in big league history, as the Cleveland Indians’ player-manager.
A 14-time All-Star, Robinson batted .300 nine times, hit 30 home runs 11 times, and led his league in slugging four times and in runs scored three times. His 586 career home runs ranked fourth in major league history at the time of his retirement, and he ranked sixth in total bases (5,373) and extra-base hits (1,186), eighth in games played (2,808), and ninth in runs scored (1,829). His 2,943 career hits are the most since 1934 by any player who fell short of the 3,000-hit mark. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1982.
Robinson went on to manage the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals. For most of the last two decades of his life, Robinson served in various executive positions for Major League Baseball concluding his career as honorary President of the American League.
Robinson was born in Beaumont, Texas. He was the youngest of ten children born to Frank Robinson and Ruth Shaw. His parents divorced when he was an infant, and his mother moved with her children to Alameda, California, and then to the West Oakland neighborhood of nearby Oakland. He attended McClymonds High School in Oakland where he was a basketball teammate of Bill Russell. He was a baseball teammate of Vada Pinson and Curt Flood. He also played American Legion Baseball.
In 1953, Bobby Mattick, a scout for the Cincinnati Reds, signed Robinson to a contract worth $3,500 ($33,855 in current dollar terms). He made his professional debut for the Ogden Reds of the Class C Pioneer League. He batted .348 with 83 runs batted in (RBI) in 72 games played. He was promoted to the Tulsa Oilers of the Class AA Texas League in 1954, but was demoted to the Columbia Reds of the Class A South Atlantic League. He returned to Columbia in 1955.
Robinson made his major league debut in 1956. In his rookie year with the Reds, Robinson tied the then-record of 38 home runs by a rookie and was named Rookie of the Year. The Reds won the NL pennant in 1961, and Robinson won his first MVP (in July he batted .409, hit 13 home runs, and drove in 34 runs to win NL Player of the Month), the last time the NL played a 154-game schedule. The Reds lost the 1961 World Series to the New York Yankees. In 1962, Robinson hit a career-high .342 with 39 home runs, 51 doubles, and 136 RBIs.
Robinson was noted as a fierce player. He spiked Johnny Logan in 1957, causing Logan to miss six weeks. He also got into a fistfight with Eddie Mathews in 1960.
Prior to the 1966 season, Reds owner Bill DeWitt traded Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for pitcher Milt Pappas, pitcher Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. The trade turned out to be very lopsided. DeWitt, who had a slew of successful trades including his time as GM in Detroit and in the early 1960s rebuilding the Reds, famously referred to Robinson as "not a young 30" after the trade. The Reds led the NL in offense in 1965 and needed pitching. Pappas, who was a consistent performer in Baltimore was a major disappointment in Cincinnati while Robinson had continued success in Baltimore. In Robinson's first year in Baltimore, he won the Triple Crown, leading the American League with a .316 batting average (the lowest ever by a Triple Crown winner), 49 home runs (the most ever by a right-handed Triple crown winner) and 122 runs batted in. On May 8, 1966, Robinson became the only player ever to hit a home run completely out of Memorial Stadium. The shot came off of Luis Tiant in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, and the home run measured 541 feet (165 m). Until the Orioles' move to Camden Yards in 1992, a flag labeled "HERE" was flown at the spot where the ball left the stadium.
The Orioles won the 1966 World Series, and Robinson was named World Series Most Valuable Player. In the Orioles' four-game sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Robinson hit two home runs—one in Game One (which Baltimore won 5–2), and one in Game Four (the only run of the game in a 1–0 series-clinching victory). Robinson hit both home runs off of Don Drysdale.
During the 1969 season, Robinson brought some humor to the Orioles' clubhouse by presiding over their kangaroo court, held after every Oriole win. As the judge, he would hear arguments from both sides and give out fines for minor infractions (such as one dollar per lady talked to during a game) and "awards," named after people notoriously bad at a certain skill and involving a prop the "winner" had to display until the next court session. For instance, Jim Palmer once won the John Mason Baserunning Award, a smelly, decrepit baseball cleat presented for baserunning gaffes. Palmer credited the kangaroo court for helping the Orioles bond as a team.
On June 26, 1970, Robinson hit back-to-back grand slams in the fifth and sixth innings in the Orioles' 12–2 victory over the Washington Senators. The same runners were on base both times: Dave McNally was on third base, Don Buford was on second, and Paul Blair was on first.
The Orioles won three consecutive American League pennants between 1969 and 1971. Before the 1969 World Series, Robinson said, "Bring on the Mets and Ron Gaspar!" He was told by his teammate Merv Rettenmund, "It's Rod, stupid." He then retorted by saying, "OK. Bring on Rod Stupid!" Baltimore won the 1970 World Series over the Reds.
Robinson was traded along with Pete Richert from the Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Doyle Alexander, Bob O'Brien, Sergio Robles and Royle Stillman at the Winter Meetings on December 2, 1971. When the 1972 Major League Baseball strike occurred, Robinson was one of three Dodgers out of thirty who voted against it. When the vote was announced, he said, "I don't believe in the strike, and I voted against it. But I was voted down, so now I'm on your side. I'm with you guys." The 1972 season was his first season in the National League since playing with the 1965 Reds. He played 103 games, while compiling a .251 batting average, 59 RBIs, 86 hits, and 19 home runs. Teammate Tommy John said, "Frank didn't have a great year in 1972, but he played hard all year...He set a positive role model for the team."
Robinson's only season with the Dodgers ended when he was dealt along with Bill Singer, Bobby Valentine, Billy Grabarkewitz and Mike Strahler to the California Angels for Andy Messersmith and Ken McMullen at the Winter Meetings on November 28, 1972. The transaction was the result of Robinson's request for regular playing time, something Dodgers general manager Al Campanis wanted for the team's younger prospects. It also reunited him with Angels general manager Harry Dalton who had worked in a similar capacity when both were with the Orioles. In his time with the Angels, he became their first designated hitter while also being teammates again with Vada Pinson. He played 147 games in 1973 and 129 in 1974. In his tenure with the Angels, he hit for a .259 average while having 50 home runs, 249 hits, and 160 RBIs.
On September 12, 1974, the Angels traded Robinson to the Cleveland Indians for Ken Suarez, cash and a player to be named later (Rusty Torres). Three weeks later the Indians named him their manager and persuaded him to continue playing. In his first at bat as a player/manager for Cleveland in 1975, he hit a home run off of Doc Medich of the Yankees. He injured his shoulder in 1975 and did not play often. He retired from playing after the 1976 season, after batting .226 with 14 home runs in 235 at bats for Cleveland from 1974 through 1976.
During a 21-year baseball career, he batted .294 with 586 home runs, 1,812 runs batted in, and 2,943 hits. At his retirement, his 586 career home runs were the fourth most in history (behind only the records of Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays). He is second on Cincinnati's all-time home run leaders list (324, behind Johnny Bench) and is the Reds' all-time leader in slugging percentage (.554).
Robinson managed in the winter leagues late in his playing career. By the early 1970s, he had his heart set on becoming the first black manager in the majors; the Angels traded him to the Cleveland Indians midway through the 1974 season due to his open campaigning for the manager's job. In 1975, the Indians named him player-manager, giving him the distinction of being the first black manager in the Majors. The Indians had a 79–80 record, and had an 81–78 record in 1976. Cleveland started the 1977 season 26–31, and fired Robinson on June 19, 1977.
Robinson managed the San Francisco Giants from 1981 through 106 games of the 1984 season, when he was fired. He finished the 1984 season as the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers on a contract worth $1. In 1985, he joined the Orioles front office. He was named the manager of the Orioles for 1988. He was awarded the American League Manager of the Year Award in 1989 for leading the Orioles to an 87–75 record, a turnaround from their previous season in which they went 54–107, and the division title came down to the final three-game series between Baltimore and the Toronto Blue Jays, but the Jays would win the first two games to clinch the division. It would be the closest Robinson ever came to managing a team to the postseason.
Robinson managed the Orioles through 1991, and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise from 2002 through 2006. After Robinson had spent some years known in baseball as the Director of Discipline, he was chosen by Major League Baseball in 2002 to manage the Expos, which MLB owned at that time. The Expos, who had losing records in the five previous seasons, finished the 2002 and 2003 seasons with 83–79 records. The Expos then next slumped to a 67–95 record in 2004, their final season before relocation to Washington, D.C.
In a June 2005 Sports Illustrated poll of 450 MLB players, Robinson was selected the worst manager in baseball, along with Buck Showalter, then manager of the Texas Rangers. In the August 2006 poll, he again was voted worst manager with 17% of the vote and 37.7% of the NL East vote.
On April 20, 2006, with the Nationals' 10–4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, Robinson got his 1000th win, becoming the 53rd manager to reach that milestone. He had earned his 1000th loss two seasons earlier.
During a game against the Houston Astros on May 25, 2006, Robinson pulled Nationals catcher Matt LeCroy during the middle of the seventh inning, violating an unwritten rule that managers do not remove position players in the middle of an inning. Instead, managers are supposed to discreetly switch position players in between innings. However, LeCroy, the third-string catcher, had allowed Houston Astros baserunners to steal seven bases over seven innings and had committed two throwing errors. Although the Nationals won the game 8–5, Robinson found the decision so difficult to make on a player he respected so much, he broke down crying during post-game interviews.
On September 30, 2006, the Nationals' management declined to renew Robinson's contract for the 2007 season, though they stated he was welcome to come to spring training in an unspecified role. Robinson, who wanted either a front office job or a consultancy, declined. On October 1, 2006, he managed his final game, a 6–2 loss to the Mets, and prior to the game addressed the fans at RFK Stadium. Robinson's record as a manager stood at 1,065 wins and 1,176 losses. He is one of just seven managers to have won 1,000 games without having made the postseason once, and he is the only one to do it since the Expansion Era began in 1961 (incidentally, five of those managers won pennants in the 19th century, while the sixth was Jimmy Dykes who retired as a manager in 1961).
|Games||Won||Lost||Win %||Finish||Won||Lost||Win %||Result|
|CLE||1975||159||79||80||.497||4th in AL East||–||–||–||–|
|CLE||1976||159||81||78||.509||4th in AL East||–||–||–||–|
|SF||1981||59||27||32||.458||5th in NL West||–||–||–||–|
|52||29||23||.558||3rd in NL West|
|SF||1982||162||87||75||.537||3rd in NL West||–||–||–||–|
|SF||1983||162||79||83||.488||5th in NL West||–||–||–||–|
|BAL||1988||155||54||101||.348||7th in AL East||–||–||–||–|
|BAL||1989||162||87||75||.537||2nd in AL East||–||–||–||–|
|BAL||1990||161||76||85||.472||5th in AL East||–||–||–||–|
|MON||2002||162||83||79||.512||2nd in NL East||–||–||–||–|
|MON||2003||162||83||79||.512||4th in NL East||–||–||–||–|
|MON||2004||162||67||95||.414||5th in NL East||–||–||–||–|
|WAS||2005||162||81||81||.500||5th in NL East||–||–||–||–|
|WAS||2006||162||71||91||.438||5th in NL East||–||–||–||–|
|MON/ WAS total||810||385||425||.475||0||0||–|
|Frank Robinson's number 20 was retired by the Baltimore Orioles in 1972.|
|Frank Robinson's number 20 was retired by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998.|
|Frank Robinson's number 20 was retired by the Cleveland Indians in 2017.|
In addition to his two Most Valuable Player awards (1961 and 1966) and his World Series Most Valuable Player award (1966), Robinson was honored in 1966 with the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year in any sport.
In 1982, Robinson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Baltimore Oriole. Robinson is also a charter member of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame (along with Brooks Robinson), and a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, being inducted into both in 1978. He was named to the Washington Nationals Ring of Honor for his "significant contribution to the game of baseball in Washington, D.C" on May 9, 2015. He was inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in 2016. The Reds, Orioles, and Indians have retired his uniform number 20. He is one of only two major league players, the other being Nolan Ryan, to have his number retired by three different organizations.
In 1999, Robinson ranked 22nd on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. He was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Three teams have honored Robinson with statues:
President George W. Bush awarded Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9, 2005.
The citation on the award read:
"Frank Robinson played the game of baseball with total integrity and steadfast determination. He won Most Valuable Player awards in both the National and American Leagues. He achieved the American League Triple Crown in 1966. His teams won five League titles and two World Series championships. In 1975, Frank Robinson broke the color barrier as baseball's first African-American manager, and he later won Manager of the Year awards in both the National and American Leagues. The United States honors Frank Robinson for his extraordinary achievements as a baseball player and manager and for setting a lasting example of character in athletics."
On April 13, 2007, Robinson was awarded the first Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award at George Washington University.
In his career, Robinson held several major league records. In his rookie season, he tied Wally Berger's record for home runs by a rookie (38). (The current record would be set by Pete Alonso in 2019.)
Robinson still holds the record for home runs on opening day (8), which includes a home run in his first at bat as a player-manager.
Robinson won the American League Triple Crown (.316 BA, 49 HR, 122 RBI). Only two players (Carl Yastrzemski and Miguel Cabrera) have since won the award in either league, and the two MVP awards, which made him the first player in baseball history to earn the title in both leagues.
Robinson served as an assistant general manager for the Orioles through 1995 when he was fired. He worked for MLB as Vice President of On-Field Operations from 1999 to 2002. He was responsible for player discipline, uniform policy, stadium configuration, and other on-field issues.
Robinson served as an analyst for ESPN during spring training in 2007. The Nationals offered to honor Robinson during a May 20 game against his former club the Baltimore Orioles but he refused.
In 2007 Robinson rejoined the MLB front office serving as a Special Advisor for Baseball Operations from 2007 to 2009. He then served as Special Assistant to Bud Selig from 2009 to 2010 and was named Senior Vice President for Major League Operations from 2010 to 2011. In June 2012, he became Executive Vice President of Baseball Development. In February 2015, Robinson left his position as Executive Vice President of Baseball Development and was named senior advisor to the Commissioner of Baseball and Honorary American League President.
While playing for the Reds in the late 1950s, Robinson attended Xavier University in Cincinnati during the off-seasons. While in Baltimore, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement. He originally declined membership in the NAACP unless the organization promised not to make him do public appearances. However, after witnessing Baltimore's segregated housing and discriminatory real estate practices, he reconsidered and became an enthusiastic speaker on racial issues.
Robinson met his wife, Barbara Ann Cole, in 1961. They married that year and lived in Los Angeles where Barbara sold real estate. They had two children. In 2003, he guest starred on an episode of Yes, Dear as himself, along with Ernie Banks and Johnny Bench.
On February 7, 2019, Robinson died of bone cancer in Los Angeles at the age of 83.