ROBINSON, FRANK

ROBINSON, FRANK  (31 August 1935-7 February 2019) was a Hall of Fame baseball player and the first African-American manager in the major leagues, for the CLEVELAND INDIANS.

Robinson was born in Beaumont Texas to Ruth Shaw and Frank Robinson, but grew up in Oakland. He attended McClymonds High School, where he was  a basketball teammates of future Celtics legend Bill Russell. After graduation, he was signed to a contract by the Cincinnati Reds in 1953. Three years later, he made his major league debut, being named to the All-Star team as a rookie and winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award, the first player to do so as a unanimous choice. In 1961, he was named National League MVP as the Reds went on to win the National League pennant.

After the 1965 season, Robinson, derided as “an old 30” by Reds General Manager Bill Dewitt, was traded to the Orioles. In his first season in Baltimore, he led the Orioles to the pennant and won a Triple Crown. He was awarded the American League MVP award, becoming the first and to date only player to do it in each league. The Orioles won three straight pennants from 1969-1971, and Robinson was a big part of every one of them. In 1971, he homered in the All-Star Game at Tiger Stadium, and was named that game’s MVP.

The Orioles traded Robinson to the Dodgers following the 1971 season, and after one season, they traded him to the Angels. Robinson, who by then had experience managing winter teams in Puerto Rico, was angling to manage in the major leagues. He was shipped to Cleveland on 12 September 1974, in a trade that made front-page news.

Following the 1974 season, Ken Aspromonte was fired as manager, and Robinson was named to replace him, becoming the first player-manager of the expansion era. On a cold Opening Day the following year, Robinson, before more than 56,000 fans, inserted himself into the lineup as designated hitter. In his first at-bat for the Indians, he hit a home run. Robinson retired as a player after the 1976 season, with a total of 228 plate appearances for the Indians. The last 12 of his 586 home runs (at the time, fourth in major league history) were hit in a Cleveland uniform. He was fired as Indians manager in 1977.

After his time in Cleveland, Robinson was a manager in San Francisco, Baltimore and Montreal/Washington. In 1982, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot, and in 2005, George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

His number 20 is retired by the Orioles, Reds and, following a ceremony in 2017, the Indians. (He is one of two players – the other being Nolan Ryan – to have his number retired by three different teams.) Robinson’s retirement ceremony in 2017 also saw the dedication of a statue in Heritage Park at PROGRESSIVE FIELD to go along with statutes of him in Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Robinson married the former Barbara Ann Cole on 28 October 1961, and they had a son, Frank Kevin, and a daughter, Nichelle.

 

Vincent Guerrieri


 

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