Man, this is one I knew was coming, but knew it was going to hurt all the same. Frank Robinson passed away today. Major League Baseball lost one of its greats. Frank Robinson was an innovator, a legend, a hero, a role model. For those who were fortunate enough to see him play, we knew we were seeing one of the best to ever set foot on a field. His accomplishments almost look fictional when you look at them now.
- 586 Home Runs
- 2,943 hits
- 1, 812 RBI
- 1,829 runs
- 204 stolen bases
- NL ROY 1956
- NL MVP 1961
- AL MVP 1966
- Triple Crown 1966, 49-122-.316
- World Series MVP 1966
- 2X World Series Champion
- 14X All-Star
My initial introduction to baseball, sports for that matter, was as a 6 year old in 1970. My Reds, the Big Red machine, made it to the World Series that year. Keep in mind, this was long before the mass coverage we have today. So when the World Series rolled around, I was just then finding out who Frank Robinson was, with the exception of the Topps card that I had. And yes, I still have my 1970 Frank Robinson card. And no, you can’t have it. Baseball coverage was a little different then. Postseason games were played in the afternoon, even on weekdays. I’d get home from school and rush to the living room to turn on the TV. I had to cheer on my Reds. Something else happened too. I saw a few players that I hadn’t had the chance to watch because they were in the American League. Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell. And Frank Robinson.
My gosh, Frank Robinson was a treasure. That sweet swing, the raw power, the way he glided in the outfield. I was pulling for the Reds, of course, but I was also thoroughly enjoying watching Frank Robinson play baseball. I was astounded by how good he was. And this is coming from someone who got to see Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Johnny Bench on a regular basis, quite often in person at Riverfront Stadium. Robinson just had something special about him; an ‘it factor’ that couldn’t be defined with one word or even one sentence. He just stood out, even among greats.
When his playing career was coming to an end, Frank Robinson became the first black manager in MLB history. I remember all the news coverage and the hubbub surrounding it. It seemed odd to me though, and here’s why. I was raised in a household that never mentioned race. It simply didn’t matter what the color of your skin was. Looking back at it years later, I realized how monumental it really was. It was a huge step for Robinson and for baseball in general. Like he had in so many other facets of his life, Frank Robinson became a positive influence. He became a beacon of hope for millions of African American kids. I never met Frank, but I would imagine it was just another day at the office for him. He never seemed like a ‘me first’ guy. Just play ball.
Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I haven’t been to Cooperstown yet. I’m suddenly inspired to make that happen, possibly this summer. The baseball heroes of our youth live on forever in those halls. I want to be there and relive those days. I’ll be sure to stop by and say hi to Frank while I’m there. RIP to one of the best.