Professional Sports West Edition

Baseball Hall of Fame trailblazer Frank Robinson dies

LOS ANGELES — Frank Robinson, the Hall of Fame outfielder and two-time World Series champion who became the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball, died Feb. 7 at his Los Angeles home. He was 83.

Robinson was suffering from a long-term illness at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Ann Cole, his son, Frank Kevin and his daughter, Nichelle.

Born in Texas but raised in Oakland, Robinson was one of the best players of his generation, which is saying something because his contemporaries included Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente. All are in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.    

In his 1988 memoirs, “Extra Innings,” written with Berry Steinbeck, Robinson reflected with awe on the day he became the first black manager in major league history.

“One hundred thousand fans could not have been louder,” Robinson wrote about the historic moment. “It was the biggest ovation I ever received, and it almost brought tears to my eyes.”

“After all the years of waiting to become a big league manager — ignored because so many team owners felt that fans would not accept a black manager — I was on the job and people were loudly pleased,” Robinson wrote.

President George W. Bush presented Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for his accomplishments. The Indians, Orioles and Reds all have erected statues of him outside their stadiums.

“Frank Robinson’s resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “He was one of the greatest players in the history of our game, but that was just the beginning of a multifaceted baseball career.”

In his 21 seasons in the major leagues, Robinson was a 14-time All-Star who hit 586 home runs for the Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels and Cleveland Indians. At the time of his retirement, the 586 homers were fourth on the all-time list behind Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. 

He is the only player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both the American and National Leagues — with the Reds in 1961 and the Orioles in 1966.

Robinson was born Aug. 31, 1935 in Beaumont, Tex. and grew up in Oakland, Calif. He attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, where he played high school baseball and basketball. One of his basketball teammates was Bill Russell, who later rose to stardom with the Boston Celtics.

Robinson made his debut for the Reds in 1956, winning Rookie of the Year honors with 38 home runs and 83 runs batted in and a .290 batting average. In 1961, Robinson won National League MVP with a .323 batting average, 37 home runs and 124 runs batted in, leading the Reds to the World Series where they lost in five games to the New York Yankees.

“Frank Robinson is considered one of the greatest players to ever wear a Cincinnati Reds uniform,” the team said in a statement. “His retired No. 20 and statue gracing the gates of Great American Ball Park stand in tribute and appreciation for the immense contribution Frank made to the Reds.”

He spent 10 years with the Reds, making it to the postseason only once before being traded to the Orioles.

In his first season in Baltimore, Robinson won the American League MVP and became the 15th player to win the triple crown with 49 home runs, 122 runs batted in and a .316 batting average. 

He led the Orioles to the 1966 World Series championship, sweeping the Dodgers and earning the series MVP.

In 1970, Robinson helped the Orioles defeat his former team, the Reds, in five games for the franchise’s second championship.

“Frank Robinson was not only one of the greatest players in Orioles history, but was also one of the premier players in the history of baseball,” the Orioles said in a statement. 

On April 8, 1975, Robinson became the first African-American manager for a MLB team, leading the Cleveland Indians to a 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees.

“The fact that Frank hit a solo home run in his first at-bat that day as the Indians’ player-manager symbolizes his greatness as a Hall of Fame ballplayer,” the Indians said in a statement.

Robinson was a manager for 16 years, representing the Indians, Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals before retirement. He won American League manager of the year in 1989 for guiding the Orioles to an 87-75 record.

Robinson entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility, with Atlanta Braves right fielder Hank Aaron.

“Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies. We were friends,” Aaron said on Twitter. “Frank was a hard-nosed baseball player who did things on the field that people said could never be done.”

“I’m so glad I had the chance to know him all of those years,” Aaron’s tweet said. “Baseball will miss a tremendous human being.”

Robinson spent his retirement years in Los Angeles. He was a longtime Los Angeles Lakers season ticket holder. 

By Michael Livingston

Contributing Writer