LOS ANGELES (AP) Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the first black
manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win the MVP
award in both leagues, died Thursday. He was 83.
Robinson had recently been in hospice care at his home in Bel Air.
MLB confirmed his death.
An MVP with Cincinnati and Baltimore, Robinson cemented his legacy
when he became Cleveland’s manager in 1975. The Reds, Orioles and
Indians retired his No. 20 and honored him with statues at their
Fearsome and fearless in the batter’s box, Robinson hit 586 home
runs – he was fourth on the career list behind only Hank Aaron,
Babe Ruth and Willie Mays when he retired and now ranks 10th. He
won the Triple Crown while leading the Orioles to their first World
Series championship in 1966.
An All-Star outfielder in 12 seasons and a first-ballot selection
to Cooperstown, Robinson also was a Rookie of the Year and picked
up a Gold Glove.
Robinson’s place in the game’s history extended far beyond his
abundant playing skills.
While still active, Robinson fulfilled his quest to become the
first African-American manager in the big leagues. In his first
at-bat as a player-manager for Cleveland, he hit a home run.
Robinson also managed San Francisco, Baltimore and Montreal. He
became the first manager of the Washington Nationals after the
franchise moved from Montreal for the 2005 season – he also was in
the Nationals’ Ring of Honor.
More than half the major league teams have had black managers since
his debut in the Cleveland dugout.
Robinson later spent several years working as an executive for MLB
and for a time oversaw the annual Civil Rights Game. He advocated
for more minorities throughout baseball and worked with former
Commissioner Bud Selig to develop the Selig Rule, directing teams
to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new
For all he did on and off the field, Robinson was presented the
Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005.
Born Aug. 21, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson attended
McClymonds High School in Oakland, California, and was a basketball
teammate of future NBA great Bill Russell. But it was on the
diamond, rather than court, where fame awaited Robinson.
Former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, who also gained first-ballot
entry into the Hall, once called Robinson, “the best player I ever
Starting out in an era when Mays, Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted
Williams were the big hitters, Robinson more than held his own over
21 seasons. He finished with 1,812 RBIs and hit .294 – he played in
the World Series five times, and homered in each of them.
Robinson was the only player to hit a ball completely out of old
Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and once connected for grand slams in
consecutive innings of a game. But didn’t just slug away, as
evidenced by a .389 on-base average boosted by 1,420 walks against
1,532 strikeouts. Extremely alert on the bases, he had 204 steals.
Robinson played the game with grace, yet was known as fierce
competitor who combined hard work with natural talent. He crowded
the plate, yielding to no pitcher, and didn’t seem to care about
being brushed back or getting hit by a pitch 198 times.
“Pitchers did me a favor when they knocked me down,” Robinson
said. “It made me more determined. I wouldn’t let that pitcher get
And opposing pitchers noticed.
“Frank Robinson might have been the best I ever saw at turning his
anger into runs. He challenged you physically as soon as he stepped
into the batter’s box, with half his body hanging over the plate,”
Hall ace Bob Gibson once wrote.
“As a rule, I’m reluctant to express admiration for hitters, but I
make an exception for Frank Robinson,” Gibson wrote.
Robinson carried a similar philosophy as a baserunner,
unapologetically sliding spikes high whenever necessary.
“The baselines belong to the runner, and whenever I was running
the bases, I always slid hard,” Robinson declared.
Robinson broke in with a bang as a 20-year-old big leaguer. He tied
the first-year record with 38 home runs for Cincinnati in 1956,
scored a league-high 122 times and was voted NL Rookie of the Year.
Robinson was the 1961 NL MVP after batting .323 with 37 homers and
124 RBIs for the pennant-winning Reds, and reached career highs in
runs (134) and RBIs (136) in 1962. He was an All-Star, too, in
1965, but Reds owner Bill DeWitt decided Robinson was an old-ish 30
and time to make a move.
That December, Robinson was the centerpiece in what would
ultimately be one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history,
going to Baltimore for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and
outfielder Dick Simpson.
Robinson became an immediate hit with the Orioles in 1966 as the
unanimous AL MVP.
On May 8, he hit a ball out Memorial Stadium. The drive came
against Cleveland ace Luis Tiant and the spot where the ball sailed
over the left-field wall was marked by a flag that read “HERE”
that remained in place until the Orioles left for Camden Yards in
Robinson batted .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBIs during his
first season in Birdland. He then homered in the first inning of
the 1966 World Series opener at Dodger Stadium and capped off the
four-game sweep of Los Angeles with another homer off Don Drysdale
in a 1-0 win in Game 4.
Robinson hit two home runs against the Reds – of all clubs – in
teaming with future Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson to
win another crown for the Orioles in 1970.
All told, Robinson was an All-Star in five of his six seasons with
Baltimore, reaching the World Series four times and batting .300
with 179 home runs. The cap on his Cooperstown plaque carries on
Pappas went 30-29 over two-plus seasons with the Reds, Baldschun
won one game in 51 appearances over two years with Cincinnati and
Simpson hit five home runs as a part-time outfielder for the Reds
during two mediocre seasons.
Robinson was traded to the Dodgers before the 1972 season. He
played for the California Angels in 1973 and was dealt to Cleveland
late in the 1974 season.
Hired to guide the Indians in 1975, he made an immediate impact.
Opening at home, and batting second as the designated hitter,
Robinson hit a home run in the first inning as Cleveland beat the
Robinson had coached for the Orioles and worked in their front
office when he became their manager in 1988 after the team opened
at 0-6. Things didn’t get much better right away as Baltimore went
on to lose its first 21 games and finished 54-107. The next season,
the O’s went 87-75 and Robinson was voted AL Manager of the Year.
Tough and demanding, he went 1,065-1,176 overall as a big league
A no-nonsense guy, Robinson also had a sharp wit. That served him
well in Baltimore where, in addition to being a star right fielder,
he was the judge for the team’s Kangaroo Court, assessing playful
fines for missing signs, uniform mishaps and other things he deemed
At the time, the Orioles had a batboy named Jay Mazzone, whose
hands were amputated when he was 2 after a burning accident.
Mazzone capably did his job for years with metal hooks and became
good friends with Robinson.
Some players, though, initially weren’t sure how to treat the teen.
“Frank Robinson broke the ice,” Mazzone said. “He was running
his Kangaroo Court and calling a vote among the players, whether to
fine somebody or not.”
“It was either thumbs up or thumbs down,” he recalled. “After
the vote, he said, `Jay, you’re fined for not voting.’ Everybody
laughed. After that, I was treated just like everybody else.”
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