Saturday, May 30, 2009

#100 -- Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson

When we get to the World Series subset (sometime in 2014 at the pace I'm going), I'll be able to share how Frank Robinson fits into my oldest baseball memory. As it is, he's one of the most underrated players in baseball history. When his name is mentioned now, it's more going to be associated with being the first black manager, taking over as manager of the 1988 Orioles and leading them to losses 9-20 to begin the season or doing a surprisingly good job with the Expos/Nationals.

Frank is the most underrated player of the last 50 years. He's a biscuit short of 3000 hits, has 586 lifetime homers (retired #4 on the all-time list), won a Rookie of the Year, 2 MVPs and a Triple Crown. Yet in a discussion of the greatest players, greatest right fielders, or even greatest Orioles, he seems to be forgotten.

Frank was a fierce competitor, whether as a player or a manager. I don't think you really wanted to get in his way. I heard stories about his time as a manager when he'd catch somebody jaking it. His intensity as a player was so fierce that Gene Mauch supposedly started fining any Phillie pitchers that brushed him back because his response would be to pound the ball mercilessly.

We all know the Reds traded him to the Orioles after the 1965 season. Red Owner/GM Bill DeWitt (father of Cardinal owner Bill DeWitt, Jr.) defended the trade because Robinson was an "old 30." Robinson had the greatest season of his career in 1966 winning the Triple Crown, his 2nd MVP and a World Series ring for the Orioles. Although DeWitt was gone from Cincinnati, I'm sure Frank got some satisfaction from helping the Orioles to a sweep in the 1970 World Series.

Frank had quite a career. He started as a high school teammate of Bill Russell (the Celtic, not the Dodger) and is still involved in the Commissioner's office. The Reds honored him as the Grand Marshall of their Opening Day parade in 2009 and he's still revered in both Cincinnati and Baltimore. However, no matter what he ever does, he's always going to be known for being baseball's first black manager. How did he do with that? He led the Indians to a winning record in his 2nd year (one of only 2 winning records in non-strike years between 1969 and 1985). He eased himself out of the lineup in 1975 in favor of Rico Carty at DH, but his first at-bat for Manager Robinson allowed Frank to lead by example. He homered off Doc Medich.

Frank Robinson deserves to be remembered not only as a black manager, but simply as a great baseball player.