BY MASON BISSADA
Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson passed away Thursday at the age of 83. Robinson, a true trailblazer, was the first African American manager in Major League Baseball history and the only player to win the MVP Award in both the American and National leagues.
“Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies,” said fellow Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron via Twitter. “We were friends. 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. Baseball will miss a tremendous human being.”
Robinson still ranks 10th all-time with 586 career home runs. At the time of his retirement in 1976, he trailed only Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays on the All-Time list. He also accumlated a .294 batting average with 2,943 hits, all of which he earned in his time as a Gold Glove winning outfielder for the Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Indians.
Bursting onto to scene with Cincinnati in 1956, he hit 38 homers on the way to winning the Rookie of the Year Award, tying a 26 year old record that would last another 31 years until Mark McGwire ripped 49 in 1987. His impeccable resume included five World Series appearances, winning championships with the 1966 and 1970 Baltimore Orioles. He was the Most Valuable Player in the 1970 Series against his former team from Cincinnati.
The two time MVP made 14 all-star game appearances and won the Triple Crown in 1966. In 1971, he became the first player to homer for both leagues in the All-Star Game and was named the game’s MVP. In addition, he was awarded the American League’s Manager of the Year award for guiding the Orioles to an unexpected second place finish in 1989.
Robinson made history when he became the first African-American manager in MLB history, serving as player-manager for the Cleveland Indians starting in 1975. Robinson’s commitment to progress would pave the way for representation in baseball and in sports as a whole. During one of his first press conferences after being appointed player-manager, Robinson said that “If I had one wish in the world today, it would be that Jackie Robinson could be here to see this happen.”
Always a highly respected player with a flair for the dramatic, in Robinson’s first at bat as player-manager for the Indians he stepped to the plate on April 8, 1975 and homered off Yankees starter Doc Medich in front of 56,715 fans at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. That moment has routinely been voted the most memorable in franchise history. In 1982, Robinson joined Aaron as a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His No. 20 has been retired by the Reds, Orioles and Indians, joining Nolan Ryan as the only players in MLB history to have their jersey retired by three teams.
Born in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson was raised in Oakland, the youngest of 10 children. He would return to the Bay Area to manage the Giants from 1981 to 1984. He posted 1065 wins in his 16 season managerial career that also included a five year stint that covered the Expos last three years in Montreal, and first two after relocating to become the Washington Nationals.
“Heartbreaking news in the passing of my Dear Friend (and McClymonds High School) classmate Frank Robinson,” said Bill Russell, an NBA Hall-of-Famer and high school basketball teammate of Robinson, via Twitter. “It was my pleasure and great honor to have known him. We all know we lost one of the Greats, what we really lost was a Friend.”
The Robinson family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory can be made to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis or the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. He is survived by his wife Barbara and two children.