Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Frank Robinson 1935-2019

Frank Robinson passed away last week and with that the world of baseball lost a true legend.

When I saw last week that he'd passed away, I felt like I should do a tribute post. Others have already chipped in with their tribute posts so I may be a bit late to the party here but I figure it's appropriate, especially for a man that began his career with the Reds. I wanted to attempt to take a bit of a different approach and cover his playing and managerial career in card form.

Robinson signed with the Reds as an amateur free agent before the 1953 season. Before debuting with the Reds in 1956, he spent three years in the minors playing for the Ogden Reds, Columbia Reds, and Tulsa Oilers. This was a time before minor league baseball is what we know is at today where AAA is the highest level.

When Robinson debuted with the Reds in 1956, he made an immediate impact, not only winning the Rookie of the Year award but also making the All-Star team and finishing 7th in NL MVP voting. Throughout his Reds career, he made 6 All-Star teams (including 1956), finished in the top ten of MVP voting 6 times and winning once in 1961. He also won a Gold Glove in 1958 and was a part of the 1961 Reds team that surprised everyone by making a run to the World Series only to get thwarted by the Maris and Mantle Yankees. Then, in December 1965, the Reds made one of the worst trades in history, sending Robinson to the Orioles for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson.

Despite Robinson only being 29 at the time of the trade the Reds general manager felt Robinson's best days were behind him, according to various literature that I've read. Robinson would prove that theory wrong and continued to tear it up in Baltimore and won the AL MVP award in his very first season. He made the All-Star team in five of his six seasons with the Orioles (1968 being the lone exception) and also never finished lower than 11th in MVP voting in those same five seasons. He also won two World Series rings in 1966 and 1970, defeating his former team, the Reds, in 1970.

1972 Topps - [Base] #754 - Frank Robinson [Good to VG‑EX] - Courtesy of COMC.com
Image courtesy of COMC.com
After the 1971 season, Robinson was traded again, this time over to the Dodgers in exchange for Doyle Alexander, Bob O'Brien, Sergio Robles, and Royle Stillman. In his lone season in Dodger blue, he hit .251 with 19 HRS, and 59 RBIs in 103 games. That 1972 Dodgers team finished a respectable 85-70 which was good enough for 2nd place in the NL West, 10.5 games behind the Reds.

Just short of a year to the day when the Dodgers acquired him the previous off-season, they traded him up I-5 to the Angels as part of a six-player deal that netted the Dodgers Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith. The majority of Robinson's stint with the Angels was that of the newly minted DH position and still played a handful of games in the field. Despite being nearly 40, he still finished 15th in AL MVP voting in 1973 and made his final All-Star team in 1974.

At the tail end of the 1974 season, the Indians acquired Robinson in exchange for two players and cash. Robinson's on field career was winding down at that point as well as he was named the player-manager for the Indians, thus becoming the first African-American manager in MLB history. He retired from active playing in 1976 but continued to manage the Indians into the 1977 season when he was dismissed after 57 games.

1984 Topps - [Base] #171 - Frank Robinson - Courtesy of COMC.com
Image courtesy of COMC.com
In 1982, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 89% of the vote. This was also while he was the active manager of the Giants, a post he assumed in 1981 and would hold until 1984.

1989 Topps - [Base] #774 - Frank Robinson - Courtesy of COMC.com
Image courtesy of COMC.com
In 1988, he went back to his old team, the Orioles, taking over for Cal Ripken Sr. and helming a truly dismal Orioles team that went 55-106 and lost 21 straight to start the season. The Orioles turned it around in 1989 finishing 2nd in the AL East with and 83-79 record which was good enough to earn Robinson his first and only Manager of the Year award. After the Orioles dismissed in favor of Johnny Oates 37 games into the 1991 season, he wouldn't resurface as an on field manager until 2002.

2003 Topps - [Base] #279 - Frank Robinson - Courtesy of COMC.com
Image courtesy of COMC.com
His last managerial assignment in the majors was that of the Montreal Expos, leading the team through the last few years of their existence (2002-2004) and subsequently becoming the answer to the trivia question "Who was the last manager of the Montreal Expos?". The Expos didn't fair too bad under Robinson, posting back-to-back 83-79 seasons in 2002 and 2003 but the wheels feel off in 2004. He stuck with the team when they relocated to Washington and managed the first two seasons of the teams existence.

His uniform number 20 has been retired by the Reds, Indians, and Orioles, making him one of only two players to have his uniform number retired by three or more teams (Nolan Ryan being the other).

It's amazing to see what all he did during his professional baseball career from a young star with the Reds in the early 50s all the way to working for the Commissioner's office in recent years. He definitely had a long and distinguished career in baseball.

Farewell, Mr. Robinson. You will be missed.

1 comment:

  1. Can't get enough of seeing Robinson posts. I've learned a lot about him this past week.

    P.S. That Expos card is sweet!