American sports fans are mourning the loss of one of baseball's all-time greats: Frank Robinson, Major League Baseball's first African-American manager and the only player to win MVP in both leagues, passed away at his Bel Air, California home on February 7, 2019. The 83-year-old had been battling bone cancer for many years.
Frank, the youngest of ten children, was born in Beaumont, Texas, but grew up in Oakland, California. In high school, the talented sportsman excelled at both basketball and baseball. However, while he even led a state championship basketball team, baseball was his first love.
In 1956, 20-year-old Frank made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds. During his first year, he tied Wally Berger’s rookie record with 38 home runs, and set a National League-best with 122 runs scored and 83 runs batted in (RBI). The achievements, which earned him the "Rookie of the Year" award, did not stop there. Over the next four years, the amazing athlete became one of the league's best all-around players, averaging an impressive 32 runs a season.
In 1958, Frank won the Golden Glove Award LF (Left Field), and in 1961, after leading the Reds to their first National League pennant (championship) in 21 years, was declared the National League's MVP. Though Frank continued his impressive performance over the next six seasons, in 1965, the team's owner Bill DeWitt, calling him "an old 30," traded him to the Baltimore Orioles. "I was hurt and angry," Frank said at the time. "I feel I have something to prove and the quicker I can, the better off I’ll be."
And prove he did! In 1966, after leading the American League (AL) in batting averages, home runs, and RBIs, Frank won the rare Triple Crown. That same year, he was named AL MVP, making him the first – and the only player ever – to win the title in both leagues. If that was not enough, he was also named World Series MVP for his contribution in helping the Orioles defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Frank took us from being a good team in 1965 to being a great team in 1966," Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer told the Baltimore Sun. "I'm glad Cincinnati thought he was 'an old 30' when they traded him." After leading the Orioles to a second championship in 1970, Robinson was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1971, where he played for two years, before moving to the California Angels in 1973 and then to the Cleveland Indians in 1974.
In April 1975, while playing for the Indians, Frank was given the opportunity to become the first African-American manager of a Major League team. Though given only an extra $20,000 to assume the additional responsibility, Frank took the offer. "They [Cleveland Indians} said this was the chance for you to break that barrier," he told Outside the Lines (OTL) in 2016. "Open the door and to let more African-Americans to have the opportunity to come through it."
Though Frank retired from playing in 1976, his managerial career was just beginning. In addition to the Indians, he also served as the manager for the San Francisco Giants (1981-84), his former team the Baltimore Orioles (1988-91), and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise (2002-2006). He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2005.
Frank, who faced racism and segregation and broke barriers as the first African American manager, was often compared to Jackie Robinson, MLB's first African-American player. However, he thought his hardships and accomplishments paled in comparison to Jackie's. Being the sport's first black manager "was nothing compared to what Jackie did or what he went through, but it was important because I was the first and that meant the door's open," Frank told OTL in 2016. "But how long the door would stay open depended on basically the way I conducted myself and the success that I would have."
Frank leaves behind a lasting legacy and a playing career that has been achieved by few players in baseball history. As MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred succinctly put it, "Frank Robinson's resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations. He was one of the greatest players in the history of our game, but that was just the beginning of a multifaceted baseball career."
R.I.P Frank Robinson
(August 31, 1935 - February 7, 2019)
Resources: ESPN.com, wikipedia.org, NPR.org, baseballhall.org, nbcsports.com,vnews.com