Two years ago, the world lost one of the best players in MLB history. Not only was Frank Robinson a trendsetter, but he was one of the best players and one of the most important people in baseball.
MLB History: Early Life and Early Career
Robinson was born on August 31st, 1935 in Beaumont, Texas. After his parents separated, he moved with his mother to California and he was raised in West Oakland. Robinson would develop as a standout athlete, the only way to escape his neighborhood, and star on a local American Legion team. After graduating high school in 1953, Robinson would sign his first professional contract with the Cincinnati Reds for $3,500.
Robinson would start his professional baseball career in Utah with Class-C Ogden where the deeply religious state saw African Americans as inferior human beings. He would be promoted the following year to Single A Columbia South Carolina where he stayed for two seasons. Finally, in 1956, Robinson would be promoted to the Reds.
MLB History: The Show
While the Reds had struggled for much of the prior decade, Robinson was joining the franchise at a great time. With fellow sluggers Ted Kluszewski and Wally Post, the Reds would lead baseball in home runs, while Robinson would cruise the NL Rookie of the Year award.
Robinson would continue to be a fixture for the Reds and become one of the better hitters in baseball. Able to drive the ball, Robinson was frequently among the league leaders in home runs and batting average. In addition, he would win a Gold Glove in 1958 while frequently appearing in all star games.
In 1961, Robinson hit .323 with 37 home runs and would lead the Reds to the NL Championship Game while winning the NL MVP award. However, Robinson was also starting to develop a bit of a reputation. As a fierce competitor, Robinson memorably fought fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews and off the field was arrested after pulling a firearm following a racist comment by a cook.
MLB History: The American League
Initially, Baltimore proved to be a difficult change for Frank Robinson and his family. Racial tensions made it difficult to rent a house as the Robinson family struggled to adapt to the change. However, Robinson was able to take things in stride and famously told a reporter who confused him with Hall of Fame Third Baseman Brooks Robinson, “can’t you see we wear different numbers?”
On the field, Robinson proved to be the missing piece for the beginning of the Orioles dynasty. Trying to prove his former owner wrong, Robinson would set out on a campaign for the MLB history books. Robinson would quickly win over the Orioles fans when he crushed a May home run well over 500 feet while making incredible defensive plays.
Robinson would continue his magical campaign and would eventually belt 49 homers, drive in 122 runs while batting .316, winning the American League Triple Crown. He would win his second MVP award; becoming the only player in MLB history to win the award in both the American and National Leagues. Meanwhile, the Orioles would sweep the Dodgers in the World Series with Robinson taking home MVP honors.
Unfortunately, injuries would get the better of Robinson in 1967 and 1968. However, a resurgent 1969 saw Robinson finish third in MVP voting while the Orioles would drop the World Series to the Mets.
In 1970, the Orioles, led by manager Earl Weaver, would dominate baseball. Robinson would continue to play a critical role and even hit two grand slams in one game. The Orioles would eventually make it back to the World Series and beat the Reds in five games.
MLB History: The Manager
Unfortunately, 1971 would be the last year in Baltimore for Robinson as a player, after the team lost the World Series to the Reds. He would bounce around the next few years with both LA teams and Cleveland before finishing his career in 1976. Robinson would finish with a .294 average and 586 home runs for his career.
Meanwhile, in 1975, Robinson would find himself as the player manager for the Indians. His promotion would again create MLB history as Robinson became the first African American manager in the sport. Robinson would serve as Cleveland’s manager until 1977 and would also have managerial stops with the Giants, back in Baltimore and eventually the Nationals finishing in 2006.
Robinson would finish him managerial career with over 1,000 wins and a .475 winning percentage.
MLB History: The Accolades
Robinson would become one of the more decorated figures in MLB history. Besides his two MVP awards, he would also attend 14 All-Star games, win a Manger of the Year award in 1989, see his number retired by Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Cleveland (who also put him in their personal Hall of Fames), would enter the Nationals Ring of Honor, and would be enshrined in Cooperstown on his first ballot in 1982. Robinson would also serve as an important figure in the Civil Rights movement in Baltimore fighting against segregated housing and a passionate speaker with the NCAAP.
Sadly, Robinson passed away two years ago on February 7th, 2019 at the age of 83.
Simply put, Robinson was one of the greatest hitters and players to ever play the game.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images