RIP Frank Robinson, 1935-2019

11 05 2020

The third of my “in memoriam” posts that I’m catching back up on is the one that hit home the most.  Frank Robinson was a Red, one of the ten numbers retired by the team.  The trade they made to send him to Baltimore easily represents the biggest mistake the Reds made.  I’d argue it’s the second biggest “oops” trade in the history of baseball behind the Red Sox dealing Babe Ruth to the Bronx for cash.

Robinson is one of the greatest players in baseball history.  But he sometimes gets forgotten.  He’s one of the great black players who stormed baseball after segregation had truly ended, but he’s always remembered after Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, and even sometimes after Roberto Clemente.  He didn’t play in New York so he isn’t revered like Mickey Mantle or Duke Snider.  But he had the numbers and talent to be mentioned with all those guys.

Robinson grew up in West Oakland California, the youngest of ten children.  He signed with the Reds out of high school in 1953 and climbed his way to the big leagues in 1956, where he took the National League by storm.  Slugging 38 homers, Robbie tied a rookie record that stood until Mark McGwire broke it in 1987.  He led the NL in runs scored and won the Rookie of the Year award. The Reds hit MLB record-tying 221 homers that year; they went 91-63 and were eliminated from pennant contention on the second to last day of the season.

From there, he was a consistent slugger in the latter half of the 50’s who led the Redlegs to general success they hadn’t seen in over a decade.  They couldn’t break through, however, until 1961.  Robinson really broke out that year, hitting 37 homers and knocking in 124 batters to take home the NL MVP.  Robinson’s great season was out-shined by the home run chase between Roger Maris and Mantle.  The Reds made the World Series, though they were sent home in 5 games by the Bronx Bombers.

Robinson was 4th in the MVP voting the next year, and statistically he was actually even better (39/136/.342, leading the Majors with 51 doubles and 134 runs scored).  He was solid if not quite as outstanding the next few years, and Cincy management thought they were seeing a decline and attempted to jump ahead of it.  They packed Robinson off to Baltimore for Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson.  Pappas pitched 2+ so-so years for the Reds and Simpson logged a total of 138 at bats for the franchise.  Robinson, meanwhile, put together one of the great seasons in baseball history in his first year for the Orioles.  In his career, Robbie led the league in homers, RBI and average one time each – all of them in that 1966 season.  He hit .316 with 49 homers and 122 RBI in an era that had become known for pitching domination.  The Orioles steamrolled the American League and then the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers.  Robinson was the Series MVP, and is kind of viewed as the ultimate “I’ll show em” in baseball history.  Robinson got hurt the next year and was never quite as effective; but he did help the Orioles to three more World Series berths, including one win over his former team in 1970.

Robinson finished his career out for the Dodgers, Angels and Indians, and in Cleveland he became the first black manager in MLB history.  He managed 4 different franchises – notably being at the helm for the Montreal Expos during their transition to Washington DC.  He was involved with MLB’s leadership through much of his later life, and was universally respected and admired throughout the game.

I’ve got Robbie’s autograph on a couple items – a baseball that’s part of my collection of 500 Home Run autos, and the card above.  I’ve had the idea of getting autographs of Reds MVP’s on their MVP year card; his is the only one I actually got.  My dad grew up near Dayton, and loved the Robinson and Ted Kluszewski teams from the late 50’s.  He was really nice both times I met him; the second time was in Chicago and I mentioned that my dad loved him and Kluszewski, he said “Big Klu was something else”.

Robinson died last February, and the world was a worse place after losing him.



2 responses

11 05 2020
Oscar Robinson

Thank you for that tribute to a man who really deserves it like no other. Pull up his name on Retrosheet and take a look at his list of accomplishments! ASTONISHING! My daughter and son-in-law met ‘Robbie’ when he was managing the Nationals and I have a nice pic of the three of them. My daughter said he was very gracious and kind.
I would love to past the picture here, but not sure how to do that.

17 05 2020

Thanks, Brad. Glad you enjoyed it. My very small experience with him has been the same. There are some bad guys in the world of sports – at an autograph show you most likely can’t single them out. You can tell the genuinely good ones and from my perspective he was very clearly one of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: